Friday, March 15, 2013

Political Portents for Obama's Second Term

You can see why the ancients looked to the heavens for portents of the future.  They had no other way of figuring out the moods and the ambitions of the divine gods that ruled over them.

In the modern era, we look to the media for political portents, because it is hard for ordinary humans to figure out what is really going on in the councils of government behind the political PR and the interminable spin.

In the last couple of weeks there have seemed to be some real portents in the sky telling us that things are going to change.

There's the general malaise pointed out by Peter Wehner in Commentary.  Not only is the president's approval rating in the 40s, but Democrats are starting to "grouse."  When did you last hear about Congressional Democrats "grousing."

Then there is the story of the president dissing Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) at a closed-door meeting of House Democrats.  You should'ha listened to my State of the Union speech, the president told this freshman Democrat after egregiously insulting the rest of the meeting.   When did we last hear anything negative from a closed-door meeting of Democrats?

Then there is Sen. Patty Murray's (D-WA) stupid budget.  No spending cuts.  No entitlement reforms.  Just a trillion in tax increases.

So the Democrats are running out of gas.  And no wonder.  They have been on a roll since 2006, winning Congress back decisively in 2006 and the presidency in 2008.  But last fall they only won the presidency by a few points.  And now the future of congressional Democrats diverges from President Obama.

The president may be boldly proposing to take back the House in 2014, but most Democrats know better.

Think of an army.  Think of a great offensive.  You prep for it; you build up supplies.  Then you attack and advance.  But eventually you just run out of gas.  It's time to shorten the line and consolidate.

Really.  After you have nationalized healthcare, what is left to do?

The basic problem for Democrats, of course, is told in Patty Murray's budget.  They are out of ideas.  They don't know what to do about all their programs except for increasing taxes.

But more than that is the fundamental error of the administrative welfare state.  It's one thing to propose a nice little pension program to help the poor.  It's one thing to help seniors and the poor with health care.  It's one thing to help the illiterate get their basic three "R"s in government schools.  But when these activities dominate the whole economy, you have a problem.

And the problem is simply "mistakes."  How do you fix mistakes?  Well, we know that with the price system, everyone is on their toes all the time fixing mistakes.  That's what the price system does to you and for you.

But in government mistakes are terribly hard to fix.  That is way Social Security is such a burden.  If everyone were saving for their own pension then the democraphic shift towards longevity and fewer children would simply be solved as people retired later.  But government just sits around and does nothing while the unfunded mandate piles up.  With Medicare the problem is that people don't care what their routine medical care costs.  It's not like reading the supermarket circular for the week's bargains.  So grannie just keeps going to the doctor hoping he'll propose a wonder drug to fix her aches and pains.  So with welfare, and so with education.  They cannot adapt to change and they cannot fix problems.  Because change just isn't what government does well.  That's why "change" usually takes a revolution.

This is no mystery.  It's because of the difference between the price system and the political system.  The political system is a springtime for freeloaders, where politicians are promise free stuff to their supporters.  The price system is a cooperative system.  I think about what you might want to pay for, and produce it.  You think about what I might want, and produce it.  If I am right, I get to collect $300 and pass Go.  If I am wrong then I better figure out a better way to serve you.

That's the problem with Patty Murray and her budget.  It makes absolutely no attempt to "do something" about the federal government's appalling finances.  What about those $1 trillion deficits as far as the eye can see?  Pay no attention to that deficit behind the curtain!  Keep all the programs and pile on the taxes.

Which takes us to Herbert Stein's Law.  If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

But it sure would be nice to stop before we hit the wall at the end of the box canyon.  You know what that will mean: Minorities and women hardest hit.

1 comment:

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