Topic: Government and Politics

Race-Based Government in Paradise?

The current Supreme Court term is a bit of a letdown for those of us who track and comment on the machinations of One First Street; a steady diet of technical statutory interpretation questions without many “meaty” constitutional issues. Well, yesterday Cato filed its first amicus brief of the term in a case that itself is fairly sui generis — the issue is whether Hawaii can sell certain state lands without getting approval from a weird racialist commission called the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA). But the case has broader ramifications for the Court’s equal protection jurisprudence. Moreover, as Cato’s resident Hawaii expert (we have a low bar here for that niche), I can say that the case threatens to set a terrible precedent for a state that has otherwise been a model of racial harmony.

In the 2000 case of Rice v. Cayetano, the Supreme Court held that a race-based scheme allowing only statutorily defined “Hawaiians” to vote for the OHA’s trustees was unconstitutional. Despite Rice, and despite Justice John Marshall Harlan’s dissenting statement in Plessy v. Ferguson 112 years ago that “[o]ur Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens,” the OHA continues to view Hawaiian citizens through racial lenses. This practice has spawned numerous lawsuits, including the present legal crisis in which the state’s sovereign authority to manage its land for the good of all of its citizens has been replaced with a court-imposed duty to hold the land for the benefit of one racial class.

Specifically, the Hawaii Supreme Court blocked the sale of certain state lands based on a mistaken (and race-based) interpretation of a joint resolution that Congress passed in 1993 to apologize to Hawaiian people for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii — which was itself based on a slanted view of history. Cato’s brief, joining with the Pacific Legal Foundation and the Center for Equal Opportunity, argues that race-based government is impermissible under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, that the Constitution’s Indian Commerce Clause does not provide a basis for laws that grant preferences to “Native Hawaiians,” and that the Apology Resolution neither amended nor rescinded the federal laws that gave the State of Hawaii full control over the disputed land.

For other filings in the case, see here. Argument is scheduled for February 25.

Investment: Government and Private

There is much excitement about a federal “stimulus” plan focusing on state and local infrastructure spending. At first blush, it seems like a pro-growth idea to get unemployed construction workers off the couch and onto the job site building new government highways, bridges, and the like.

However, national income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis puts some perspective on such government investment ideas. (See Tables 1.1.5 and 3.17)

The government isn’t the only entity that builds “infrastructure.” New semiconductor plants, refineries, and electricity transmission wires are private infrastructure, which is every bit as important to economic growth as government highways. Indeed, U.S. private infrastructure investment is 4.6 times larger than all federal, state, and local investment combined.

The figure shows that gross private domestic investment was $2.1 trillion in 2007. That compared to $340 billion of gross investment for state and local governments and just $123 billion for the federal government. And note that most ($82 billion) of the federal investment was for military hardware, and thus did nothing for our standard of living in the sense of creating consumable products.

What is the policy upshot? It is far more important for the government to create an environment where private investment can thrive than it is for the government to invest itself. 

The private sector puts new factories and equipment in place when it can earn at least a normal return on the income generated over future years. The government skims off roughly a third of the return in income taxes (and most of that money dissappears down the economic black hole of transfer spending). A reduction in that skim would cause relatively little government revenue loss compared to the huge leverage effect it would have over the gigantic private sector investment budget.

So, let’s cut the corporate income tax, and while we’re at it, privatize as much state and local infrastructure spending as we can.

Blagojevich Rex

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is innocent until proven guilty.

That said, as I blogged in October, this is a man who thinks he has the power to write the laws:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s agenda was dealt a major blow Friday after a state appellate court ruled he doesn’t have the power to expand state-subsidized health care without lawmakers’ approval…

Last year, Blagojevich sought to expand health-care coverage through an “emergency rule” allowing families with higher incomes—up to $83,000 a year for a family of four—to sign up. The move was quickly shot down by a legislative rules-making panel and blocked by Secretary of State Jesse White, but Blagojevich signed up people anyway…

“This is a clear and predictable message to the governor that no matter how laudable the goal is, he is not a one-man legislature and he has to work in conjunction with the General Assembly to pass this kind of program,” said state Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago).

So it hardly stretches credulity to believe that a man who fancies himself a monarch might also be guilty of lesser acts of corruption like using his office to enrich himself, which is pretty much what all politicians do.

The Auto Bailout vs. Free Speech

I’ve been blogging at the Politico’s Arena site. Today’s comment is worth posting here as well:

Surprise! President Bush is willing to spend taxpayers money and inject the federal government into the economy – yet again. The financial bailout might have been justified on the grounds that finance is the lifeblood of the entire economy, and a frozen credit system brings every industry to a halt. But a bailout for a specific manufacturing industry has all the hallmarks of lemon socialism. It puts the federal government in the business of picking winners and losers, reduces the incentive of other industries to avoid excessive risk, creates a lobbying frenzy, and brings the inefficiency of the government sector to the normally more efficient private sector, which under free enterprise must stay in the black or go out of business. But I want to focus on a particularly scary part of this bailout bill.

The bill provides that if the government gives companies money, the government will make some of their decisions: limit executive compensation, ban dividends, review large contracts, get rid of their executive jets (certainly a reduction in corporate efficiency, where the time of their top executives is the most valuable resource), make “green” cars rather than the cars consumers want, and so on. But it adds a new twist: The bill currently bars the car companies from pursuing lawsuits against California and other states trying to implement tougher tailpipe emissions standards. Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic suggests taking that concept further and requiring General Motors to fire a vice chairman who has expressed skepticism about the catastrophic effects of global warming.

This ought to scare any genuine liberal. Congress is going to use our money to censor political dissent? Usually libertarians warn that if you take government money, you’ll eventually find yourself subject to government restrictions on your freedoms. In this case, there’s no phase-in, no “eventually.” Congress wants to tell private companies, private individuals, that once they take government money, they will shut up and toe the government’s line.

If economics isn’t a good enough reason to oppose this bailout, preserving independent thought ought to be.

Blagojevich

Don’t blame me, I gave him an “F.

From the Cato Report Card on the Governors:

Rod Blagojevich … has been relentless in his advocacy of large tax increases on businesses. In 2007, he pushed for a massive $7.1 billion annual tax increase in the form of a business gross receipts tax and increased payroll taxes, the largest proposed or enacted hike of any governor in this study. Blagojevich has proposed schemes to wallop businesses nearly every year, including plans to raise taxes on refineries, gaming businesses, software companies, and businesses in general through “loophole” closing initiatives. His approach ignores that Illinois is competing against other states and nations for investment in the global economy.

When doing the study, I wondered how a governor could be so reckless with the economy of his state. We know the answer now: There appears to be a total and complete lack of public interest sentiment in this character. It is all me, me, me.

Shocked, Shocked.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-AZ) on the judicial filibuster, circa 2005 [.pdf]:

Republicans seek to right a wrong that has undermined 214 years of tradition – wise, carefully thought-out tradition. The fact that the Senate rules theoretically allowed the filibuster of judicial nominations but were never used to that end is an important indicator of what is right, and why the precedent of allowing up-or-down votes is so well established. It is that precedent that has been attacked and which we seek to restore….

My friends argue that Republicans may want to filibuster a future Democratic President’s
nominees. To that I say, I don’t think so, and even if true, I’m willing to give up that tool. It was never a power we thought we had in the past, and it is not one likely to be used in the future. I know some insist that we will someday want to block Democrat judges by filibuster. But I know my colleagues. I have heard them speak passionately, publicly and privately, about the injustice done to filibustered nominees. I think it highly unlikely that they will shift their views simply because the political worm has turned.

Uh, never mind:

Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, warned president-elect Barack Obama that he would filibuster U.S. Supreme Court appointments if those nominees were too liberal

For the case against the case against the judicial filibuster, check here and here. For good arguments against the JF, check here.

Blagojevich: Business as Usual

Reading over the complaint against Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) - which is highly entertaining, by the way - I’m struck not by the brazenness of his attempt to “sell” the Senate seat, but by how typical it is of the horse-trading done in politics.

Fawned over by lobbyists and staff, politicians tend to collapse together the public interest and their personal interests. It is the norm - not some outrageous deviation - to exchange political favors for help with attaining higher office, including campaign contributions. It’s only a small step from there to private emoluments.

Blagojevich may have crossed a legal line, and his foul language certainly sounds in corruption. (Didjya think that politicians don’t swear when they talk to their buddies?) But it’s a line politicians touch their toes to all the time.

Only if you pretend that politicians are selfless do you find Blagojevich’s horse-trading unusual.