Here we go again

It’s a target rich environment today in our Advocate. Once again we can turn to the opinions and commentary section, section B – the last two pages in the print version. Only three headlines and a few interior lines get my goats today. I have a herd of goats, but they’re all related.

David Broder says “It’s the economy, Mr. President.” Then goes on to talk about the president’s agenda, and the politics, and the taxes and the government programs, the borrowing and the deficit, and … on and on about what can more or less be called “our current system.” Yes, well, it’s a mess. Can anybody deny it? No, not really. Not even the happiest guy thinks all is hunky dory. But what is the message of Broder’s headline? It’s that the president is the one to do something about it. He’s the one who is supposed to put in place the policies to make the economy into whatever he thinks it should be, with able consultation, no doubt, from any and all with an opinion on the matter.

But what’s wrong with the entire thing? Easy. It’s the idea that the president is somehow responsible for the economy. And congress, courts, public opinion, pundits, media, academics, and public policy and non-profit groups all talk about how they would remake the economy to fit some predetermined ideal that they hold dear. It’s royalism, or if you prefer, socialism. Don’t like those labels? How about fascism? Or crony capitalism? Or state capitalism? Or regulated capitalism? How about communism or communitarianism? Why not social justice and economic justice? The labels are infinite almost. About the only label that need not apply in this melange of government by any name is “free” “open” “unfettered” “unregulated” “responsible” “pay as you go” “private” “independent.” All the words that we like to think we are are the words that do not rear their ugly heads in Broder’s commentary. The very thing that would make the economy exactly what it is supposed to be – as determined by the 300,000,000 with cooperation of the 6,000,000,000 people who actually live the economy – is missing. That’s the problem.

But the economy cannot be made to be one thing or another. You can push and pull all you want. All you’ll get is everyone pushing to every pulling, and pulling against every push, as, in time honored fashion, everyone does what they can to avoid the government. An economy of 300,000,000 local folks and 6 Billion out-of-town folks can’t possibly be controlled, or molded, or cajoled, or anything. All these busybodies can do it momentarily shift the equation a bit until the next problem wells up. And why do these problems well up? Because of the law of unintended consequences – and more importantly – the nature of economic math. Even more important – people do not want to be pushed and pulled, but merely want to do what they want to. And they will do it to the point of illegality if they have to – ask the black marketeers in any well controlled economy.

Meanwhile, George F. Will, says “idea to fix US financial woes scary.” Yes, they are. Mostly because of what the “president” is supposed to do, supposedly. But even Mr. Will is all for regulation, just different ones. Even he is for government intervention – just of a different type. Even he talks about taxes, and rules, and process as set up by the Federal Reserve Bank. Even he is besotted by government. It is only his brand that he wants. He wants a better president to do what is necessary. It’s still all politics, and lobbying, and complying, and targets set by government for this or that reason. As if the whole thing was a toy.

Meanwhile, up there in Shreveport the local paper opins thus: “what cuts can be made that can most quickly stem the bleeding.” Well, folks, more “cuts” is what causes bleeding as near as I can figure. Does the paper mean to say that because of the bleeding that cuts must be made? Not clear. Of course, if you are bleeding, which is the metaphor that there’s no cash to pay for what you want, then cutting the bleeding would work. But that’s not quite the way the sentence reads. But I’m picky. Meanwhile, someone titles this piece: “present cutback must consider future needs.” Yes, well, the future need is to avoid the bleeding right? Which means the cutbacks must be permanent right? But that’s not the implication – it is that as soon as the “Economy is back on its feet we can all return to the tax and spend world of delusion until the next bleeding episode starts.” Which is an odd way to promote sound public policy.

This piece complains that “Jindal needs to outline soon what smaller government will look like.” Well, it’s not to hard to see. The governor needn’t be the one to point the way. It’s so obvious that one can hardly believe that the brilliant folks at the Shreveport Times can’t see it. Why, it’s just to cut the government until it is no longer involved in the economy. How simple. What would it look like? Well, no Agriculture Department. No Department of Economic Development. No Tourism Department. No tax credits, for there would be few taxes to pay. Why, slash and cut the government till there’s little left, and leave it like that. All the economic involvement should end, leaving a skeleton of reasonable laws like “don’t run a red light” “don’t steal” “don’t kill” — the reasonable stuff – the stuff that every pro-government person says immediately when you propose to cut the economic development department “but you can’t get rid of all government.” Well, true. No one is saying that. But sure Economic Development which hands out favors while impinging others resulting the same economy should go. And a few more agencies I can think of off the top of my head. Presto, smaller government.

It’s the economic invovlement that is the problem. And the government keeps wanting more. Sure, it’s the power – right Mr. Broder? It makes no difference to a powerful man whether the economy is bad or good. He’s still living high on the hog. Does any politician suffer? Ever? When the economy is bad? Absolutely not. So why should they care?
Meanwhile, our Advocate prints this piece of opinion from the Shreveport Times to alert us as to how they are thinking on the other side of the state. Is it different than we think down here? Absolutely not. So what’s the point? Perhaps to avoid saying it themselves? Who knows. What the Times up there says is that the “realm of higher eduction” — always nice to use a royal word when speaking of royal measures, that’s for sure – and “health care” things are not right. These are the two biggies that “lack constitutional protection.” Well, yes, they do, probably because they are not constitutional. But that’s a more detailed argument than I’m going to make here.

On health care – if people kept their own money, and doctors and hospitals and clinics and nurses were allowed to sell their services where they wanted for what they wanted, then the balance between what people want, what people provide, and what the price is will be met with an awe and shock process of things actually costing what the traffic will bear. Instead, the whole thing is so over regulated and taxed, and subject to rules and measures, that it is impossible for the balance to ever be met. The number of adminstrators alone approaches half the cost.

Let’s look at a simple thing like a stress test. I did one recently. I had no idea what it cost. I was not billed. I had insurance. But suppose the machines (there were several parts) were $200,000. The nurses are $30,000 a piece, two per test. And the electric, paper, office supplies, etc, were $2,000. Whatever the numbers are – that’s what they’ll be. There’s no way for them not to be the numbers. Makes no difference who pays the numbers – the prices are the prices. Now, if a business owned the stress test machinery, they’d figure out the cost of the machine, amoritize it over time. They’d figure out the cost of whoever was willing to work for them. If they paid too low, they’d get no staff. The potential staff would go to work for some other provider of stress tests. They would figure in the costs of the lights and bricks, and whatever else they needed. Just like any business they’d figure it out. Dry cleaners do. Convenience stores do. Why can’t stress test givers? They have a service, some people need and or want it. Just like piano makers, and shirt sellers. It makes no difference to the state budget what the price of pianos are. Nor what the price and supply of shirts is. So why should health care be different? You have a right to music, to shirts and to a stress test equally. And you know far better whether you should pursue one or the other. In the end we’d have exactly as many stress test machines and workers and tests as were required by the demands put forth by consumers. Just like we do for chocolate bars and underwear. The supply and price of these is hardly regulated – well, at least not to the degree that stress tests are.

Instead, it is dictated by a board how many stress test machines shall be in how many public hospitals, and what the workers shall be paid – and then they go to anyone but the consumer to get the money. First they try to go for the insurance companies, themselves so regulated as to be but mere appendages of the state right now. Then the stress test givers go to the state budget to get the money. Only it is determined that there is not nearly the money for the expected costs for stress tests as first assumed, because no one did the numbers and there are too many administrators of the money given — and so stress tests are eliminated. But not the workers, for they are good state workers. Nor are the machines sold to whomever can use them – for the stress test is a well regulated closed market that already is facing budget constraints. So what is the Times up there’s solution? To merely hunker down until the economy can be fixed by the president so that the tax revenues can go up, so that the budget can grow – and stress tests paid for. Meanwhile, are there any less stress tests required? No, for there are just as many stressed people. Will there be any less workers? No, they will either be unemploed, redeployed, or over-worked. Will there be any less machines? Nope, they’re all built.

And so what we get is the merry go round. One pundits call for one man to make the policies and decisions for 300,000,000 – the other pundit calls for him to make other decisions – the newspaper up in Shreveport wants one man to make decisions for 4,500,000 of us. And if that is not royalism, the king must be good, I have no idea what to call it. It is no longer a free, open, unfettered economy that’s for sure. It’s what can the politicians do for us, noblesse oblige. It no longer is what the country was meant to be. It is no longer limited government or a level playing field, nor is it fair or decent. Rather it is all politics. All the time.

This is what we have wrought – all politics all the time as every decision hinges on whether the government makes a tax, a rule, a regulation, a law, a program, or whatever they want to call it – a mandate is popular of late. It’s mush of course. They have painted themselves into every corner of a polyhedron and all they can think of doing is changing the color of the paint for the next go round. And they think that if they spin it all fast enough no one will notice.

Oh well, mathematically, it all must come crashing down. Government is simply not any more immune to mathematics than any other entity on earth. And nobody can continue to tax, spend and borrow without eventually running out of money to tax, money to spend, and money to borrow. How long it will take is always hard to say. It depends on whether the people wake up now and start to dismantle it, or whether we muddle along as does Europe. We’ll have 9 to 12 percent unemployment forever. We’ll have sclerosis of the economy as the government returns to the medieval medical process of bleeding people to save them, of cutting them to help them, and of taxing and spending with wild abandon as the leaders lead ever more distant, but comfortable lives, from those of us who pay for it with our labor.

Ask Louis XVI how long it lasted – he could tell you – since about the time that Francis II built Fontainbleu and began bankrupting the French state. That was 1540 or so. It took until 1789 until the heads rolled. Of course, they had a less elastic political system. But when we have commentors talking about the “Kennedy Seat” in Congress, much as the Counts of Foix had a seat in the French Parliament, and the Earl Spencer had his seat in the House of Lords in London, well, then, we are a little further along the way than we might imagine.

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