Sunday, January 09, 2011

The shooting of Rep. Giffords

Rep. Giffords appears to be one of the more decent people in the Democratic party and I join with many others in deploring what happened to her. I made my comments on the issues raised by the shooting earlier today (below)


Horrors! A conservative GOP!

I hope the writer below is right but I am not so sure. Were the Nov., 2010 election results an endorsement of Tea Party ideas by a majority of Americans? I greatly doubt it. I think that in 2010 a yellow dog could have defeated the Democrats after their many unpopular moves -- but most centrally, their failure to bring unemployment down. In British and Australian politics there is a saying that opposition parties don't win elections, governing parties lose them. I think that was true in the USA of Nov. 2010. The one comfort is that Obama and his party show no signs of learning from their setback, so should still be unpopular in Nov. 2012 -- JR

An alarm has been sounded for Republicans who advocate big-government, abortion, gay marriage, and gun control: Take heed! The GOP is being taken over by (gasp!) actual conservatives!

Offering a review of Monday's debate between the four individuals vying for the mantle of RNC chair, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank first belittled, then bemoaned, the lack of ideological diversity among the candidates:

"There were two white women, two white men and the African American incumbent on the dais, but not a shade of ideological diversity. As a debate, it was about as successful as Carlson's time on Dancing With the Stars. As a cultural indicator, it was extraordinary. [Grover] Norquist and [Tucker] Carlson, serving as cardinals of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, administered a long series of loyalty checks, and the candidates were nearly dissent-free. Abortion? All opposed. Lower taxes? All in favor. Gay marriage? All opposed. Cutting spending? All in favor."

It is clear from Milbank's article that he expects his readers to be as shocked and dismayed as he is by the ideological homogeneity that seems to have infected the GOP. The question is, why? Why should Milbank or anyone else be surprised – in the wake of a staggering electoral victory fueled in no small part by a grassroots movement pushing back-to-basics constitutional conservatism – that aspiring leaders of the GOP all agree upon basic conservative principles like limited government, fiscal discipline, and support for traditional family values? The whole idea behind the party system, after all, is to provide a forum for like-minded individuals to work together in the pursuit of shared ideals, and to help the voting public discern which party best represents their own views, interests, and policy goals.

Unfortunately, in recent years this has rarely been the case. Hypocrisy – while certainly nothing new in human affairs – had badly infected the Republican Party. The party of limited government and fiscal discipline had aided and abetted an explosive growth of the size of government and the national debt, and the self-appointed guardian of traditional family values had been decimated by a string of shameful scandals.

It is largely due to this hypocrisy that the American people were so hungry for change in 2008. Even many who would normally not agree with Mr. Obama's policy positions felt that something different was needed in Washington; any change had to be better than more of the same. Thus the American people elected a man with unwavering faith in the superior capability of Big Government, a man who believes in the redistribution of wealth and supports abortion on demand, a man who is a reliable friend to organized labor and the environmental lobby, and a proponent of nationalized health care. In short, the American people elected a Democrat.

If Obama had won the Presidency under this mantle only to slash entitlement spending, appoint an anti-Roe justice to the Supreme Court, ignore his Speaker's cry for comprehensive health care reform, and backpedal on the push for cap-and-trade legislation, he would have been painted as a hypocrite and a disgrace to his party. There are assumptions that people make about what it means to be a Democrat, and the agenda that a Democrat is likely to pursue while in office. The same is true of Republicans. This is why political parties go to the trouble of drafting a party platform in the first place, to clarify what they stand for, what principles guide their leadership and inform their decisions, and how they view the relationship between citizens and their government.

How one answers these questions determines (in America, anyway) on which side of the aisle one falls politically. But for far too long there has been little to no correlation between what GOP said it stands for and what it actually does. Thus this "ideological cleansing" of which Milbank complains may actually help eliminate the cognitive dissonance that the American people have experienced as a result of Republicans saying one thing and doing another.

If the GOP is successful in achieving basic ideological unity within its party, then the American people will have an easier time determining if the conservative approach to government is something they support, and the charlatans inside the Beltway will have a harder time gumming up the works with politics as usual.



Advice for the new Congress from the original conservative insurgent

By Marc A. Thiessen

This week, as conservative insurgents take their seats in Congress, I can't help but think that my old boss, the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), would be thrilled. Before there was a Tea Party there was the New Right, and Helms was its most successful leader. He turned his surprise election in 1972 into a three-decade run driving the Washington establishment crazy. Were Helms still alive, he would have some advice for the GOP class of 2010.

* Ignore the national media. Once when the New York Times wrote a nasty editorial about Helms, I drafted a vigorous rebuttal. Helms smiled at me kindly and said, "Son, just so you understand: I don't care what the New York Times says about me, and nobody I care about cares what the New York Times says about me." The liberal elites were powerless over Helms because he simply did not care what they said. Neither should you.

* Embrace obstruction. Before they dubbed Republicans the "Party of No," the Left dubbed Helms "Senator No." He wore the moniker as a badge of honor. He was unafraid to block bad nominees, bad legislation and bad treaties. If you do the same, the federal bureaucracy will come to fear you - and you will stop bad things from happening without lifting a finger. One State Department official reportedly kept a picture of Helms on the wall behind his desk - a reminder that "that S.O.B. is always looking over my shoulder."

* Helms understood that some ideas before the Senate are irredeemably flawed and need to be killed. But Helms also practiced "constructive obstruction" - such as the time he blocked the confirmation of all U.S. ambassadors until the Clinton administration agreed to negotiate on his State Department reform legislation. Eventually the administration got its ambassadors and Helms got the dismantlement of the U.S. Information Agency and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Learn to obstruct constructively.

* Learn the rules. Helms was able to say no because he mastered the rules. If you do the same, you can tie the Senate in knots and force important votes. Once, Helms was doing just that in late December, when a senator approached him and said "Jesse, if you don't relent we're going to be here singing 'Silent Night.' " Helms replied, "If I don't get my vote, we're going to be singing 'Auld Lang Syne.' " He got his vote.

* Don't be afraid to wage losing battles. Helms often said, "The good Lord does not expect you to win, he just expects you to try." At times you might find yourself a minority not just in Congress, but within your own party. Who cares? Do what you believe is right. Like Helms, you will find that if you stand on principle, many battles you lose today you will win years later as the country moves your way.

* Be a happy warrior. Helms was once asked by a reporter if he would allow Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to be confirmed as ambassador to Mexico. Helms winked and replied: "No way, Jose." Take tough stands, but do it with a smile instead of a scowl.

* Be kind. Helms was hated by the left but beloved in the U.S. Senate. He always invited the Senate pages for ice cream in the senators' dining room, and he would keep the king of Jordan waiting if he saw a group of tourists in the Capitol who looked lost ("Have you come to visit your money?" he would ask). He was kind to liberals and conservatives, senators and elevator operators, and especially to his own staff, whom he referred to as his "Senate family." A reputation for kindness will serve you well - especially when you are forcing colleagues to take uncomfortable votes or miss their flights home.

* Focus on constituent service. The people of North Carolina gave Helms the freedom to fight for his beliefs, even when they disagreed, because they knew that no one would fight harder for them when they needed him. You won't be around long to oppose runaway spending if you don't making helping your constituents your top priority.

* Don't forget values. Helms was a spending hawk, but he also believed that "we will not long survive as a nation unless and until we restore the moral and spiritual principles that made America great in the first place." As you fight for fiscal responsibility, don't forget to fight for the unborn and the traditional family, which is the foundation of our society.
Jesse Helms was the original conservative insurgent. Follow his example, and you will leave a lasting mark in Washington. You may even shut down a government agency or two.



Government causes Conflict

Human differences such as race, ethnicity, religion, and language have always been sources of conflict. Despite arguments to minimize the importance of these differences, people still exhibit preferences in these areas when choosing a spouse, friend, business partner, employee, neighborhood, and other associations. People do not associate randomly. Efforts to deny such assortative behavior in the name of political correctness are foolhardy.

Far more worthy of our efforts is to acknowledge, not necessarily sanction, assortative behavior as natural. We should ask: How can we minimize the probability that such preferences will produce conflict?

The Marriage Market

Examination of marriage can provide concrete insights for our discussion. Like many other transactions, marriage is a contractual relationship where goods and services are exchanged under mutually agreeable terms. Most people tend to seek marriage partners similar to themselves in race, ethnicity, religion, language, and socioeconomic status. It may be tempting to dismiss marriage choices as trivial but, given their impact on society, that is utterly erroneous.

Highly educated people tend to marry other highly educated people. High-income people (or those with prospects for high income) tend to marry other high-income people. Just these two aspects of choice create an income distribution more skewed than would be the case if high-income and highly educated people chose opposites as partners. Thus marriage decisions have an important impact on society.

Despite the widespread use of race, ethnicity, religion, and other characteristics as criteria in mate selection, there is very little social conflict or controversy in the matter. It is such a nonissue that people hardly ever think of the marriage contract as an activity rooted in discriminatory choice. Moreover, if the discriminatory features of marriage were brought to people’s attention, they would probably respond, “So what!”

One suspects that marriage decisions pose few social problems because they are voluntary. Other than sanctioning the contract once it has been made, government plays only a trivial part unless there is a dispute. Interestingly enough, we only observe conflict in the marriage market when people use government or quasigovernment institutions, like the church, to impose restrictions according to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or religion.

Different Preferences, No Conflict

Freedom of choice can be found elsewhere. Just as people have strong preferences in race, ethnicity, and religion, they have strong preferences in goods and services. Some people strongly prefer Cadillacs while others prefer Volvos. Despite those differences, we seldom hear of conflict between the two groups. People simply purchase the cars they prefer.

In fact free markets are a great leveler of men; personal attributes have less importance. When a person buys a Cadillac or Volvo, his least concern is the race, ethnicity, or religion of the workers who produced the car. The person’s greatest concern is likely to be whether he has gotten the highest quality car for the lowest possible price.

Whenever government allocates resources, there is increased potential that preferences will give rise to conflict. Education is a good typically financed and produced by government, and as such it has been the focal point of considerable conflict. Some parents prefer that their children have a morning prayer in school. Other parents have the opposite preference. Both preferences appear to be legitimate exercises of parental prerogatives.

The problem arises because when schools are publicly produced, they will either have prayers or no prayers. Parents who prefer morning prayers must enter into political conflict with those who do not. There is a lot at stake. Parents who lose will have their kids in a public school not to their liking. Then the alternative is for parents to bear the financial burden of tuition at a nonpublic school, plus be forced through property taxes to pay for public school services for which they have little use.

A conflict-reducing method, if education is publicly financed, is to have it privately produced. Each parent could be given a voucher equivalent to the per capita expenditure on education. Parents who wished for their children to have a morning prayer would simply enroll them in such a school, and parents who preferred otherwise would enroll their children in an appropriate school. There would be little scope for education conflict between the two groups of parents. Instead of adversaries, they could be friends.

The primary reason government allocation of resources enhances the potential for conflict is that most government activity is a zero-sum game whereby one person’s gain can only be achieved through another person’s sacrifice. Parents who win the political struggle for prayers in school would benefit at the expense of those who were against prayers in school, and vice versa. By contrast, with market provision of goods and services we have a positive-sum game where everybody wins. This applies to any good or service. If the choice between Cadillac and Volvo were decided collectively, we would witness the same kind of conflict that arises over school prayer. Instead of people with differing tastes in automobiles getting their way and living in harmony with one another, those with strong preferences for Volvos would have to organize with like-minded people against those who had strong preferences for Cadillacs.

Race and Ethnicity: Government versus Markets

People have racial or ethnic preferences and will seek to indulge them. They will do so whether there is market or government allocation of resources. However, there is a key distinction. With government allocation part of the costs of preference indulgence tends to be borne by people other than the decision maker. With preference indulgence under market allocation, the decision maker tends to bear a greater proportion of the cost.

Suppose for purposes of simplicity that a black worker has the same productivity as a white worker, but the black worker offers his services for $5 while the white worker demands $8. If the decision maker is a government bureaucrat, the indulgence of his discriminatory preferences for the white worker is virtually free. It is taxpayers who bear the burden of paying $8 rather than $5; the bureaucrat takes home the same pay whether he discriminates or not; his cost of indulging his racial preferences is zero.

By contrast, in the private sector, the owner paying $8 for the work that could have been done for $5 an hour means a lower residual claim of $3. The cost of racial preferences is directly borne by the decision maker. Basic economic theory postulates that the higher the cost of doing something, the less it will be done. Therefore, it follows that we expect to see less racial discrimination in the private sector than the public sector. Similarly, when the political atmosphere changes to favor discrimination in favor of blacks, we expect to see more of it in the public sector.

The fact that it costs something to discriminate explains why those who wish to engage in it typically seek some form of government intervention. Intervention makes discrimination less costly to the discriminator than otherwise. The essential ingredient of intervention that makes discrimination less costly is restriction of peaceable, voluntary exchange.


No comments: