Bizarre Arguments and Behavior
Walter E. Williams
Some statements and arguments are so asinine that you'd have to be an academic or a leftist to take them seriously. Take the accusation that Republicans and conservatives are conducting a war on women. Does that mean they're waging war on their daughters, wives, mothers and other female members of their families? If so, do they abide by the Geneva Conventions' bans on torture, or do they engage in enhanced interrogation and intimidation methods, such as waterboarding, with female family members? You might say that leftists don't mean actual war. Then why do they say it?
What would you think of a white conservative mayor's trying to defund charter schools where blacks are succeeding? While most of New York's black students could not pass a citywide math proficiency exam, there was a charter school where 82 percent of its students passed. New York's left-wing mayor, Bill de Blasio, is trying to shut it down, and so far, I've heard not one peep from the Big Apple's civil rights hustlers, including Al Sharpton and Charles Rangel. According to columnist Thomas Sowell, the attack on successful charter schools is happening in other cities, too (http://tinyurl.com/nxulxc).
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently stated that we must revisit the laws that ban convicted felons from voting. Why? According to a recent study by two professors, Marc Meredith of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Morse of Stanford, published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (http://tinyurl.com/pgolu8x), three-fourths of America's convicted murderers, rapists and thieves are Democrats. Many states restrict felons from voting; however, there's a movement afoot to eliminate any restriction on their voting. If successful, we might see Democratic candidates campaigning in prisons, seeking the support of some of America's worst people.
Decades ago, I warned my fellow Americans that the tobacco zealots' agenda was not about the supposed health hazards of secondhand smoke. It was really about control. The fact that tobacco smoke is unpleasant gained them the support of most Americans. By the way, to reach its secondhand smoke conclusions, the Environmental Protection Agency employed statistical techniques that were grossly dishonest. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to ask a Food and Drug Administration official whether his agency would accept pharmaceutical companies using similar statistical techniques in their drug approval procedures. He just looked at me.
Seeing as Americans are timid and compliant, why not dictate other aspects of our lives -- such as the size of soda we may buy, as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried in New York? Former U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman John Webster said: "Right now, this anti-obesity campaign is in its infancy. ... We want to turn people around and give them assistance in eating nutritious foods." The city of Calabasas, Calif., adopted an ordinance that bans smoking in virtually all outdoor areas. The stated justification is not the desire to fight against secondhand smoke but the desire to protect children from bad influences -- seeing adults smoking. Most Americans don't know that years ago, if someone tried to stop a person from smoking on a beach or sidewalk or buying a 16-ounce cup of soda or tried to throw away his kid's homemade lunch, it might have led to a severe beating. On a very famous radio talk show, I suggested to an anti-obesity busybody who was calling for laws to restrict restaurants' serving sizes that he not be a coward and rely on government. He should just come up, I told him, and take the food he thought I shouldn't have from my plate.
The late H.L. Mencken's description of health care professionals in his day is just as appropriate today: "A certain section of medical opinion, in late years, has succumbed to the messianic delusion. Its spokesmen are not content to deal with the patients who come to them for advice; they conceive it to be their duty to force their advice upon everyone, including especially those who don't want it. That duty is purely imaginary. It is born of vanity, not of public spirit. The impulse behind it is not altruism, but a mere yearning to run things."
Wisconsin Success Story
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law today a $541 million tax cut returning $406 million to state technical colleges to reduce their property taxes. Another $98 million will go to low-income taxpayers, reducing the state's lowest bracket from 4.4% to 4%. Walker first proposed the rate cuts in January, and the last procedural hurdle for passage was cleared this past week when the state Assembly passed the bill 61-35. That was fast.
The bill's passage barely rated 10 lines in The New York Times, which chose to bury the story deep inside the paper's A-section. Leftmedia outlets have done all they can to keep the Wisconsin success story out of the headlines as well. Walker, who survived a truly vicious recall effort after taking on the state's unions a couple years ago, has been behind a drive that has improved the state's economy, brought accountability to the school system, and pushed the unemployment rate down to 6.1%, its lowest since 2008. A recent poll reports that 95% of business owners in the state are optimistic about the future of the economy in Wisconsin.
The story of Wisconsin's recovery is one that Republicans around the country need to follow. Media outlets that care about reporting the facts should take heed as well. Walker's success has come despite the attempts of leftists to block his efforts at every turn with increasingly despicable methods. From shirking their legislative duties to preventing a vote on Walker's reforms to bussing in union thugs during the recall effort so as to shut down the capitol, Democrats have been merciless in their attempts to prevent the pro-business, small-government model from succeeding. They are particularly set on blocking it in the state that birthed the “progressive” movement a century ago.
Meanwhile, Walker's Democrat opponent, Mary Burke, is using her own underhanded tactics in an attempt to unseat the governor. She released an ad claiming that the state's unemployment rate is rising, and when she was called out on the blatant falsehood, she offered no regrets, saying in effect that the ends justify the lies. She will have a tough time convincing voters that Wisconsin is in need of new leadership, so expect the lies and mischaracterizations to keep on coming. That's the one tool that leftists know how to wield.
Republicans and Blacks
Recently former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added her voice to those who have long been urging the Republican Party to reach out to black voters. Not only is that long overdue, what is also long overdue is putting some time -- and, above all, some serious thought -- into how to go about doing it.
Too many Republicans seem to think that the way to "reach out" is to offer blacks and other minorities what the Democrats are offering them. Some have even suggested that the channels to use are organizations like the NAACP and black "leaders" like Jesse Jackson -- that is, people tied irrevocably to the Democrats.
Voters who want what the Democrats offer can get it from the Democrats. Why should they vote for Republicans who act like make-believe Democrats?
Yet there are issues where Republicans have a big advantage over Democrats -- if they will use that advantage. But an advantage that you don't use might as well not exist.
The issue on which Democrats are most vulnerable, and have the least room to maneuver, is school choice. Democrats are heavily in hock to the teachers' unions, who see public schools as places to guarantee jobs for teachers, regardless of what that means for the education of students.
There are some charter schools and private schools that have low-income minority youngsters equaling or exceeding national norms, despite the many ghetto public schools where most students are nowhere close to meeting those norms. Because teachers' unions oppose charter schools, most Democrats oppose them, including black Democrats up to and including President Barack Obama.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent cutback on funding for charter schools, and creating other obstacles for them, showed a calloused disregard for black youngsters, for whom a decent education is their one shot at a better life.
But did you hear any Republican say anything about it?
Minimum wage laws are another government-created disaster for minority young people.
Many people today would be surprised to learn that there were once years when the unemployment rate for black 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds was under 10 percent. But their unemployment rates have not been under 20 percent in more than half a century. In some years, their unemployment rate has been over 40 percent.
Why such great differences between earlier and later times? In the late 1940s, inflation had rendered meaningless the minimum wage set in 1938. Without that encumbrance, black teenagers found it a lot easier to get jobs than after the series of minimum wage escalations that began in the 1950s.
Young people need job experience, at least as much as they need a paycheck. And no neighborhood needs hordes of idle young men hanging around, getting into mischief, if not into crime.
Republicans have failed to explain why the minimum wage laws that Democrats support are counterproductive for blacks. Worse yet, during the 2012 election campaign Mitt Romney advocated indexing the minimum wage for inflation, which would not only guarantee its bad effects, but would put an end to discussing those bad effects.
Are issues like these going to switch the black vote as a whole over into the Republican column at the next election? Of course not. Nor will embracing the Democrats' racial agenda.
But, if Republicans can reduce the 90 percent of the black vote that goes to Democrats to 80 percent, that can be enough to swing a couple of close Congressional elections -- as a start.
Even to achieve that, however, will require targeting those particular segments of the black population that are not irrevocably committed to the Democrats. Parents who want their children to get a decent education are one obvious example. But if Republicans aim a one-size-fits-all message at all blacks they will fail to connect with the particular people they have some chance of reaching.
First of all, Republicans will need to know what they are talking about. There are books like "Race and Economics" by Walter Williams, which show that many well-meaning government programs have been counterproductive for minorities. And there are people like Shelby Steele and the Thernstroms with valuable insights.
But first Republicans have got to want to learn, and to be willing to do some thinking, in order to get their message across.
The Proper Size of Government
Based on a large body of empirical research examining the relationship between the size of government and economic outcomes, the United States should scale back
A large body of empirical research has examined the relationship between the size of government and economic outcomes, and based on that research, the United States has much room to scale back. In addition, and close to home, Canada's recent experience with government retrenchment is an example of a country shrinking government without a trade-off in economic and social outcomes. In fact, a smaller government could achieve better outcomes for the American people.
Di Matteo’s analysis confirms other work showing a positive return to economic growth and social progress when governments focus their spending on basic, needed services like the protection of property. But his findings also demonstrate that a tipping point exists at which more government hinders economic growth and fails to contribute to social progress in a meaningful way.
The fundamental question is at which point incremental government spending impedes economic growth and social outcomes, or achieves the latter only at great marginal cost. Government spending becomes unproductive when it goes to such things as corporate subsidies, boondoggles, and overly generous wages and benefits for government employees. In these cases, regular Americans do not see tangible benefits from additional spending.
Di Matteo examines international data and finds that, after controlling for confounding factors, annual per capita GDP growth is maximized when government spending consumes 26 percent of the economy. Economic growth rates start to decline when relative government spending exceeds this level. In other words, there is a hump-shaped relationship between the size of government and economic growth (this relationship is often referred to as the Scully Curve, named after the economist Gerald Scully).
According to OECD data, the size of government in the United States was approximately 40 percent of GDP in 2012. While Di Matteo’s estimate of the tipping point is based on international data, it suggests that President Obama should reduce government to boost the U.S. economy. This conclusion is supported by a larger literature (see here, here, here, and here) that has also found that a smaller size of government than what currently exists in the United States would translate into higher annual economic growth.
Canada as Example
For a real-life example of how scaling back government has led to positive and practical economic benefits, Americans should look north. For much of the second half of the 20th century, the conventional wisdom in Canada favored increasing the size of government. This led to significant growth in government as a share of the economy from 1970 to 1992 (see accompanying chart). Specifically, total government spending as a share of GDP went from 36 percent in 1970 (just over 2 percentage points higher than in the United States) to 53 percent when it peaked in 1992 (14 percentage points higher than in the United States).
This massive growth in government spending — along with a corresponding increase in government debt — led the country down a precarious path that attracted unwanted international attention. In fact, in a January 12, 1995, editorial, the Wall Street Journal called Canada out on its debt problem, saying it had “become an honorary member of the Third World” and warning that it “could hit the debt wall.”
Soon after, the federal and many provincial governments took sweeping action to cut spending and reform programs. This led to a major structural change in the government's involvement in the Canadian economy. The Canadian reforms produced considerable fiscal savings, reduced the size and scope of government, created room for important tax reforms, and ultimately helped usher in a period of sustained economic growth and job creation.
This final point is worth emphasizing: Canada's total government spending as a share of GDP fell from a peak of 53 percent in 1992 to 39 percent in 2007, and despite this more than one-quarter decline in the size of government, the economy grew, the job market expanded, and poverty rates fell dramatically.
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