Spend Your Way to Prosperity

We’ve just been notified by the President-elect that he’ll get the deficit under control, but not for the foreseeable future. No, we must spend our way out of this terrible economic situation that George Bush got us into. We must spend, spend, spend–everybody sing it with me . . .

I’m glad I’m not the only one who wonders if all the thoughtful economists are at a conference somewhere and not checking their email:

Prevailing wisdom among politicians, media talking heads, and a sizable number of economists is that a downpour of government money is needed to “stimulate” the economy into recovery.

[…]

Eight years and two recessions later [after 2000], government spending now sucks up 35% of the nation’s economy and is trending higher. During that time we have witnessed the first $2 trillion federal budget and the first $3 trillion dollar budget.

With all the money federal, state, and local governments have been spending shouldn’t we be experiencing a boom? It would seem to me that proponents of government spending as a cure for our economic cold have it backward.

I’m afraid that Barack Obama is a strong proponent of Rooseveltian logic: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I’m here to say that we should also fear a future in which we are governed by those who should fail a high-school business math course.

Thune Supports the First Amendment

I’m glad to see that Senator Thune is the co-sponsor of a piece of legislation which should effectively shortstop the reintroduction of the appallingly unfair Fairness Doctrine:

Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and John Thune (R-SD) have introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act (S. 34) today.  The bill aims to prevent a return to the Fairness Doctrine, which essentially requires any holder of a broadcast license to promote a balanced view of the issues they discuss.

[…]

[Thune says, in part] “I advise every American to be hesitant when government officials offer to regulate the media in the name of ‘fairness.’ Our support for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech means that we must support the rights granted to even those with whom we disagree. Simply put, giving power to a few to impose ‘fairness’ in the media is a recipe for an Orwellian disaster.”

Lovely work there and spot on with that statement. While I’m not holding my breath for the chances which this bill actually has to become law (given the current numbers of freedom-loving elected peoples in the Senate and the House), I like the idea of anticipating what the opposition is planning to do, and acting first. May this be only the first of many sorties.

Madoff for Head of Social Security Administration

Bernie MadoffBy now, we are all somewhat familiar with Bernard (Bernie) Madoff:

Bernard Madoff, who stands accused of bilking sophisticated investors out of $50 billion, is reported to have told two of his executives that his business was “a giant Ponzi scheme.”

Though he was working with a large sum of money (by most people’s standards), there was and is a group which is working “magic” with much larger sums of money:

By now we all know the government does not invest our payroll taxes and pay our benefits with the profits our money earns. In the beginning, writes economic historian Charlotte Twight in “Dependent on D.C.”, Americans were told Social Security was an insurance program. But the government was unable to sustain that bald lie.

In reality, our money, rather than being invested and kept in an actual “trust fund,” is immediately given to current retirees in Social Security benefits or to their healthcare providers in Medicare benefits. The government’s promise to pay for your retirement pension and medical care is just a promise. And a lie.

[…]

The money just won’t be there. In the next 75 years Social Security and Medicare have a combined unfunded liability of $40.3 trillion. Social Security’s problems get most of the attention, but Medicare will be the killer. At present it accounts for all but $4.3 trillion of the unfunded liability, and as we aging boomers keep demanding new, improved and more expensive medical care, the deficit will only get worse

Without massive changes, the above future will come true. I think it very unlikely that he current Congress will do anything to address the issue of these absolutely mind-blowing future liabilities. No one wants to touch the grandfather of all social programs or its rather-worse-for-wear partner.

Therefore, I have a recommendation. Since Mr. Madoff successfully (from the standpoint of “successfully bamboozled his clients”) ran his scheme for decades before it came crashing down, perhaps he is just the one to who needs to be selected as the new head of the Social Security Administration. After all, he has private sector experience which is germane to public sector needs–and he’s a long-time contributor to liberal causes.

He’s perfect for the job, don’t you think?

More Indications of Unreality

When one accepts a job in the public sector as a Senator or Representative at the federal level, the job comes with a salary in excess of $170,000 and the understanding that one is now available to work and that one’s personal schedule takes a back seat. Or not:

The Ocala Republican [Cliff Stearns] wrote to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday asking her to move votes scheduled for Thursday evening and Friday so House members from Florida and Oklahoma can go to the Bowl Championship Series national title game.

Speaker Pelosi and I agree on very little. This is, however, one of the times when I think she’s doing the right thing. Didn’t these folks just get done with an extended Christmas break?

Bye Bye Partisan?

A partisan is someone who take a part, a position, based on certain principles which are held in common with others. Partisanship gets a bad rap, these days. I believe it shouldn’t. I was reminded of this today when reading about Tim Johnnson’s swearing in as South Dakota’s senior senator:

Johnson says he hopes Congress will work together in a bipartisan fashion with the new president to address the many issues facing the nation.

Is it too much to ask, Senator, that you revise your statement to something along the lines of “may the best partisan win”? Government is nothing (in a representative democracy) if it is not a competition of ideas. I do not think I want to see everyone just getting along. The last time that happened, you and I got stuck with a bill in excess of $700,000,000,000.

Good News On Housing

Flag of CubaIf you are one of many concerned about housing (price, availability, etc) here in the US, here’s a bit of context:

Another sign of change has cropped up in communist Cuba with President Raul Castro’s announcement that Cubans can build their own homes with their own money.

[…]

Mercopress said the Cuban government has reached just roughly half its annual goal of 100,000 new homes per year, and the situation worsened after the island nation was hit by three hurricanes in 2008 that destroyed about a half million homes.

Under [Raul] Castro, Cuba also has transferred vacant farmland into private ownership, given farm workers raises and moved taxi drivers and other jobs over to the private sector. The government also has allowed Cubans to own cell phones and computers and to rent cars and stay at hotels.

There you have it. If you lived in Cuba, you would now be able to build a house with your own money. Of course, later on in the article, we are reminded that the average Cuban earns/receives about $17 per month, so maybe permission to build and building are two different things.

Perhaps you could still afford to buy a cell phone, now that that is legal, too.

Minnesota Recount Nears Critical Point

Some have been reporting that the recount in the contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is over, with Franken being chosen as senator. This is not quite right, as Scott Johnson of PowerLine points out:

In “MInnesota Senate Recount, Update XVI,” John Hinderaker presents a lucid exposition of the issues still at play in Al Franken’s 225-vote victory over Norm Coleman in Minnesota’s Senate election. First came the canvas, won by Senator Coleman. Then came the mandatory recount, won by Franken. Now comes the election contest, which Senator Coleman’s team has vowed to file today. The filing of an election contest prevents state authorities from issuing a certificate of election in favor of Franken.

While I am all in favor of the folks in Minnesota following the process, I do hope that this election is not a harbinger of elections to come, with the results being determined by the people who try to figure out who voted (legally speaking) rather than by the voters themselves. Here is to a clean resolution, if that is possible, to what has been a very interesting electoral battle.

New-Fangled Old-Fashioned Schooling

A school desk somewhere.For a variety of reasons, there are still many parents who are concerned that their offspring may not be receiving the type and level of instruction which they believe is necessary. So, the parents are taking things into their own hands:

The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74% from when the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36% since 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007. “There’s no reason to believe it would not keep going up,” says Gail Mulligan, a statistician at the center.

Notice that last line where the statistician says “There’s no reason to believe it would not keep going up.” What this article doesn’t tell you is that it will keep going up as long as other types of schooling (predominantly public schooling) declines.

The category of “other reasons” rose to 32% in 2007 from 20% in 2003 and included family time and finances. That suggests the demographics are expanding beyond conservative Christian groups, says Robert Kunzman, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Education. Anecdotal evidence indicates many parents want their kids to learn at their own pace, he says.

There you have it, a tacit statement that “conservative Christian groups” were the ones who figured out early on that homeschooling was a good way to go. Now, a number of other people have come to the same conclusion.

Yes, homeschooling is definitely about inculcating offspring with certain values and mores, but it is also about ensuring that they can read, write and perform arithmetic at levels necessary to function as eventual adults. It is surprising that parents find such a future attractive?

Raise This

Most of us are familiar with the term “pay for performance.” The concept is something like this: you work hard and achieve success, you make more than someone else who didn’t work as hard. Well, the US Congress is apparently able to be rewarded regardless of how well it performs:

[Long list of financial woes.]

So what do you do now?

Well, if you’re a member of Congress, you give yourself a raise.

Beginning this week, US representatives and senators will be paid $174,000 a year. That represents an increase of $4,700 and the 10th time since 1998 that congressional pay has been given a boost.

[…]

But even if they don’t meet the ethical standards of the 1930s, couldn’t they at least obey the Constitution they took an oath to uphold? The 27th Amendment bans members of Congress from giving themselves a raise without first facing the voters: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” The House and Senate can boost salaries in the next Congress, but they are constitutionally barred from boosting their own.

Alas, the 27th Amendment is a dead letter. Congress claims that putting its salary on autopilot – it goes up every year without a vote – gets around the constitutional restriction, and the Supreme Court has refused to rule on the issue.

Congress? Instead of raising salaries, how about raising your level of historical understanding. I’m talking about those really old documents called the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. I’ll tell you what, why don’t you throw in the Federalist Papers and the anti-Federalist Papers, too? If you are going to be coming back to work soon, I think it is past time for some employee-funded on the job training.

Pop quizzes will be daily. The mid-term is required. Your final exam will count for 50% of your grade. We’ll use a 6-point scale. Nobody with less than a C makes it to the next session.

I’m thinking this just might work.