Relentless Pursuit of Wisdom and Liberty

The weblog companion of, dedicated to pondering, "If Patrick Henry could see us now..."

Monday, February 28, 2005

Social Security actuaries report on H.R. 530

The official actuaries of the Social Security program have officially scored Rep. Sam Johnson's H.R. 530, which is based on the Cato Institute's 6.2% Solution. Cato quotes from the report:
According to the official "scoring" by the Social Security Administration of Rep. Sam Johnson's reform legislation, which is based on the Cato Institute's own Social Security plan, the bill "would eliminate Social Security's long-range actuarial deficit" and restore the system to "sustainable solvency." Social Security Administration actuaries predict that over the program's 75-year actuarial window, "the overall effect of the proposal is to transform the projected $3.7 trillion long-range unfunded obligation for the program under current law into an expected positive Trust fund balance of $1.8 trillion at the end of the period."
Additional Highlights From the Social Security Administrations Actuarial Memo Regarding HR 530

* The "transition cost" (in present value) would be approximately $6.5 trillion. This is just over half the unfunded liability of the current system (using an infinite horizon measure). The legislation also compares very favorably to other Social Security reform plans. In terms of giving workers more control and ownership of their retirement funds, Johnson's bill clearly provides the most "bang for the buck."

* On a cash-flow basis, the legislation does require significant short-term transfers of General Revenue. However, by 2046, the system would begin running a surplus, allowing any short-term debt to be repaid. Indeed, by the end of the 75-year actuarial window, the system would be running surpluses in excess of $1.8 trillion (in constant $2005).

* Much of the short-term cash-flow shortfalls are due to the redemption of recognition bonds, not to the diversion of payroll taxes to the individual accounts. These recognition bonds convey many benefits in terms of ownership as well as speeding the date at which Social Security changes from deficit to surplus. It is essentially a prepayment of future Social Security benefits, and is not a new expense. Johnson's bill is the only Social Security reform bill with recognition bonds. Adding recognition bonds to other bills would considerably increase their short-term cash-flow deficits. The costs of the Johnson bill also include the cost of increasing the minimum Social Security benefit to 100 percent of poverty, a significant increase over the current minimum Social Security benefit.

* Individual accounts would eventually accumulate assets in excess of $38 trillion (in constant $2005). This would lead to substantial new savings, new investment, and economic growth.

* Once short-term debt is paid off, the employer portion of the payroll tax could be reduced to 3.04 percent. This would pay for disability and survivors' benefits.

* The Social Security Administration analysis shows that Rep. Johnson's bill can provide large individual accounts while restoring Social Security to permanent sustainable solvency, and can do so in a fiscally responsible manner. While the up front costs will be significant, they will be less than those for other big-account plans, and eventually those costs will be more than offset by the savings to the system.
Good news from the bean-counters - note especially the point that the so-called "transition costs" are not new costs, but only existing future obligations brought forward in time. Now let's see those big-government liberals talk about how they believe the actuaries on some other tax-raising plan but not this one.

Just how many absurd laws are there in the U.S.?

The precise answer to that question may never in fact be known, but a couple students from Cornwall, England are going to try and find out:
Undeterred, a couple of students from Cornwall are intent on making American criminal history by spending their summer breaking as many US laws as possible.

Starting in the liberal state of California, they hope to evade the attention of local police officers when they ride a bike in a swimming pool and curse on a crazy-golf course.

In the far more conservative - and landlocked - state of Utah, they will risk the penitentiary when they hire a boat and attempt to go whale-hunting.

If they manage to outwit state troopers in Utah, and perhaps federal agents on their trail, they will be able to take a deserved, but nevertheless illegal, rest when they have a nap in a cheese factory in South Dakota.
Pretty amazing how easy it is for politicians to pass new laws that they feel are absolutely necessary, and to rail against "archaic, anachronistic" limits on government power that were set a couple of hundred years ago - but how seldom we hear our venerated legislators talking about repealing useless and pointless laws when they expand government's role in our lives. They don't call 'em "lawmakers" for nothing, I guess.

More on dangers of two-partyism

The Heritage Foundation reports that the Senate will take up debate today on the Bankruptcy Reform bill. Of the amendments that are spooled up and ready to be introduced are the following:
Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Edward Kennedy will propose a $2.10 increase in the federal minimum wage. To be expected from a liberal legislator with no understanding of economics and the job-killing impact of wage floors. As an alternative, GOP Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum will propose a $1.10 increase in the federal minimum wage. One will hope that those in the Senate who know a little something about economics will vote down both of these horrendous amendments, but the two soon-to-be proposed amendments offer yet another lesson in the dangers of having only two parties capable of passing legislative acts and setting executive policy: Party A says, "Here, take this cold anchovy pizza." Party B says to its loyal constituents, "You'd better support and accept this cold pepperoni pizza if you don't want to be stuck with those anchovies!" Nowhere is a choice offered for those in either party (or outside of both) who actually want hot pizza. So it goes, down through the decades, until you're left... Here: 2005 and surrounded by the two majority parties, each supporting its own brand of big government.

Public debates on Social Security reform

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute's Project on Social Security Choice will be debating New York Times columnist (and vehement opponent of Social Security reform) Paul Krugman in a public forum at the New York Society for Ethical Culture at 7pm on Tuesday, March 15th. I'll follow up if I find out the debate will be televised.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Misplaced distrust of so-called "assault weapons"

Here we go again:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Friday that she will reintroduce legislation banning assault weapons after a [L.A.] city maintenance worker was reported to have shot and killed two fellow employees with an AK-47 assault rifle.

'Once again, we've seen the tragic consequences of the ready availability of assault weapons throughout our society,' Feinstein, a California Democrat, said in a statement.
You've just gotta love how the gun grabbers so eagerly overlook obvious considerations in introducing such knee-jerk legislation. Number one, even after the federal "assault weapons" ban expired, California still has a state law on the books banning the same rifles - so this guy was already breaking the law, why does a federal ban need to be re-introduced? Number two, the so-called "assault rifles" that are banned by the state law and that were banned by the federal law, being semi-automatic (not "machine guns" no matter what politicians and the media try to convince you), are in fact no more dangerous than their legal counterparts - so banning them doesn't change the total firepower legally available, only restricts the choices a law-abiding citizen can make. For number three, read the end of the article:
Sampson and Flores earlier Thursday afternoon had a dispute over Sampson being late for work, police said. Sampson later abandoned his city-owned truck on Interstate 10 in west Los Angeles and took a bus to where he parked his car. He then drove home, changed from his work clothes into a suit, armed himself with the AK-47 and drove to the field office, where he waited for Flores, confronted him and shot him, police alleged.
The guy went home, changed, brought his gun back to work and shot his boss. He didn't go on a shooting rampage, spraying bullets around haphazardly, killing anyone in sight. He went after one very specific individual. He could have accomplished his goal with any type of legal firearm on the market, or even with a knife or baseball bat. The tool he used to commit the crime is insubstantial to the reason the crime was committed, nor did it significantly contribute to the werewithal needed to commit the crime. And yet still the first thing we hear from the gun-grabbers is wailing that "assault rifles" are bad and we need to prevent normal people from owning them as well as criminals.

Just one lesson I'd love to see everyone learn: tools aren't evil, even when put to evil purposes.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Those darn civilians with guns

Breaking news from Texas: a 43-year-old man came gunning for his ex-wife of 22 years and their adult son yesterday. He came prepared, wearing a bulletproof vest and waiting for them outside a courthouse. He was able to kill his ex-wife and wound his son, but was chased away and later cornered by police and killed.

Why am I interested? Because the only reason the son survived was the goodwill of an unrelated fellow citizen who saw the event going down and drew his own legally-carried concealed pistol and returned fire. According to reports, they exchanged rounds and the intervening good samaritan was killed. Before we start wailing about guns on the streets, read this quote about how it happened:
[T]he police chief said Wilson shot at Arroyo several times but his rounds weren't penetrating the armor.

"They traded shots, missing each other, and then the gunman hit Wilson and Wilson went down," Tyler Morning Telegraph publisher Nelson Clyde III said in Friday's editions of the newspaper. Clyde watched the shooting from a nearby restaurant.

"The gunman walked up to Wilson and shot him while he was on the ground," Clyde said.
So on the one hand you've got basically a madman who's intent on killing his own son, who would wound someone and walk up to them and without remorse finish them off point-blank; and on the other a bystander who's willing to lay his life down to protect someone he doesn't even know. Ask yourself which man you'd rather have own a gun, and which man is more likely to follow whatever gun control laws we see enacted. Personally I hope there's a Mark Wilson on hand if I ever find myself in the middle of a situation like that. Now realize that while it's very easy to take the gun out of Mark Wilson, the law-abiding citizen's hands, it's almost impossible to take it out of David Arroyo, the criminal's hands. That realization should preface and inform every conversation and debate about the principle and efficacy of gun control legislation.

AARP and Rock the Vote - strange bedfellows

This just in: the ostensibly non-partisan youth voting group Rock the Vote has partnered up with the AARP in damning Social Security reform and personal accounts. This makes so little sense it's hard to even talk about. Rest assured that this 30-year-old will be writing Rock the Vote letting them know that they don't represent me - just as I did to the AARP letting them know that they won't represent me when I'm 50.

The Heritage Foundation debunks the polling methodology used in the push-pull poll quoted by RtV.

Another follow-up: Cato's Social Security Conference

I mentioned before that I was looking forward to hearing about the Cato Institute's two-day conference on Social Security. I'm not sure when they posted them, but I just found that Cato has posted video and audio files covering every minute of the proceedings. I haven't had a chance to watch/listen to it all, but I did check out the first section of the second day, when they heard from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), speaking about their various bills in front of Congress at the moment.

Also featured are sections on the crisis, evaluation of reform plans, women and minorities, and politics and polling as they relate to reform - with recent Nobel prize-winning economist Edward Prescott giving a keynote on Day 2.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Follow-up on libertarian/conservative roundtable

Regular readers might remember a reference I made about a roundtable discussion being hosted by America's Future Foundation focusing on whether or not libertarians and conservatives have any common ground, and whether or not they should stick together or go their separate ways. I promised to follow up on any coverage of the event, so here you go.

Reason's Julian Sanchez gave his take, and I feel like this is the way my mind works too:
The real options aren't "marriage" and "going our separate ways"—as Nick pointed out, it's not clear how much of a real "marriage" there is now. Let's instead say that libertarians and conservatives are Friends with Benefits. We'll happily collaborate on particular issues or for particular candidates in an ad hoc way, but the same can be true of libertarians and liberals. The ACLU, after all, had a booth at CPAC where they were handing out op-eds by Bob Barr. Nobody supposes they are (or should be) "married" to conservatives just because they can find common ground on particular issues. And as Albert Hirschman observed in Exit, Voice and Loyalty, while sometimes the absence of an exit option can prompt useful deliberation, it's precisely the option (and threat) of exit from an organization that magnifies voice within an organization.
If people thought, wrote, advocated, and acted more according to principles than to group identity, the world would be a much better place.

National Review's Eric Pfeiffer also touched very briefly on it, mostly to comment that it was very hard for the four panelists to define conservatism.

Apart from specific coverage of the panel, there's more on the overall discussion at Instapundit and the Volokh Conspiracy.

State legislatures vs. No Child Left Behind

USA Today has a story that could signal another revival of federalism, this time from the parties who were supposed to support it in the first place: state legislatures.
A bipartisan group of state legislators wants the Bush administration and Congress to give states sweeping new control over how they rate schools, teachers and students under President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law, saying the law as it stands is a 'rigid and inaccurate yardstick' of success.

In a report issued Wednesday, the National Conference of State Legislatures says the law sets unrealistic expectations and defies common-sense notions of how to rate schools.

The report comes as legislatures in several states consider laws limiting the federal government's role in schools.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the federal government - even our closest elected officials, U.S. Representatives - is unhappy about this turn of events:
In Congress, though, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized groups that want it "both ways."

"They want the funding No Child Left Behind is providing, but they don't want to meet the high standards that come with it," Boehner said in a statement. "This should not be acceptable to anyone."
So you've got state legislatures saying they want to control the education of their own children, and members of the federal legislature saying that's "unacceptable". NCLB is as bad for our schools as Social Security is for our workers, and the inability of those affected to opt out of either one is what's unacceptable.

The War on ... um ... Candy?

The Austin Statesman ran an educational story last weekend about Austin High School:
When Austin High School administrators removed candy from campus vending machines last year, the move was hailed as a step toward fighting obesity. What happened next shows how hard it can be for schools to control what students eat on campus.

The candy removal plan, according to students at Austin High, was thwarted by classmates who created an underground candy market, turning the hallways of the high school into Willy-Wonka-meets-Casablanca.

Soon after candy was removed from vending machines, enterprising students armed with gym bags full of M&M's, Skittles, Snickers and Twix became roving vendors, serving classmates in need of an in-school sugar fix. Regular-size candy bars like the ones sold in vending machines routinely sold in the halls for $1.50.

"There was no sugar in the vending machines, so (student vendors) could make a lot of money," said Hayden Starkey, an Austin High junior who said he was not one of the candy sellers. "I heard kids were making $200 a week just selling candy."
This kind of thing can be very instructive - but only to the open-minded - on the efficacy of the War on Anything (Junk Food, Drugs, Guns, etc.). Illegal or not, if people want something, they'll get it somehow, and there ain't nothing anyone can do to stop it. Given the fact that drug users want drugs, criminals want guns, and fat kids want candy bars, the only effect that outright bans have is that law-abiding people are deprived of something that would otherwise - in a free society - be available to them. Outlaw chocolate and only outlaws will have chocolate.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Two great reads on political labels and the dangers of the two-party system's James Leroy Wilson wrote a great piece on the futility of labels as an indicator of the principles to which one holds:
So, call me Federalist, or Anti-federalist. Patriot or Rebel. Progressive or Populist. Liberal or Conservative. Libertarian. Call me American for supporting Jeffersonian principles. Or call me Anti-American when Jeffersonian principles conflict with the policies of our Glorious Leader, President Bush. Call me Right-wing because I want taxes cut. Call me Left-wing because I think everyone deserves a fair shake.

Call me whatever you like. I don’t know if it matters anymore. All I want is what the Revolutionary leaders wanted, to get our freedoms back.
This kind of label-definition creep is what I find myself continuously wanting to rail against. Part of the "railing" process though, involved my being educated about the labels and the parties they refer to, hence my near-future reading of Why Parties? by John Aldrich.

Kristian Karlsson of Tech Central Station, in an indirect kind of way, addresses the dangers of a two-party system as the policies proposed by those two parties come to be closer and closer to each other:
However, it was always clear that the opposition wanted lower taxes. The man on the street would be able to distinguish between the social democrats and the opposition; the ruling party wanted higher taxes or at least status quo and the opposition wanted lower taxes. Well, no longer.

The conservative party has grown impatient with its unpopularity. After the former party leader was kicked out a year and a half ago, his successor decided to give up the battle for ideas and move the party platform closer to the electorate. The ambition to lower taxes was one thing that was quickly toned down. So far, the move has been reasonably popular among the party members. Since the last election, the party has soared in the polls, up from 15 percent to about 25. No one seems to remember that the numbers were pretty much the same four years ago, when the party still fought for meaningful change.
This echoes a continuing rumination of mine (and a hopefully continuing conversation with a good friend) that the two dominant parties in this country are able to offer steadily more unappetizing policies to their constituents by simply stating that the other guys are worse and they better just take their medicine.

LttE - Two views of Social Security

Submitted to the OC Register on 2/22/2005 in response to "I'm entitled to my Social Security benefits, which reads:
Last year I paid $4,000 into Social Security, in addition to more than $11,000 in federal and state taxes ['It's time to 'means test' Social Security benefits,' Letters, Feb. 17]. I can't begin to calculate how much sales taxes I paid. As a result, I could only afford to put $3,000 in my 401(k). My wife works full time as a teacher and I didn't include her tax bill in the above equation.

We do not qualify for government assistance. While students at my wife's school are served free breakfast and lunch, we pay for our daughter's lunch. When my daughters are ready for college, financial aid will not be available to them.

I am 38 and have a lot more years of paying into Social Security ahead of me. If it is still solvent when I get to that age, I am taking that entitlement. If we are only going to give Social Security payments to people who qualify for them, it should be renamed welfare because that is what it would be.
Text of my letter:
John Craine’s Monday letter was meant as a defense against means testing, which he rightfully derides as bald-faced welfare. The stance he takes, though, makes a much bigger point regarding the value of personal choice – between paying and collecting or opting out completely.

Mr. Craine insists that since he has paid all that money into the system, he will surely demand the payments to which he is entitled. Holding that view is perfectly fine, and I’m certain he shares it with a great many people.

However, another significant portion of the population would gladly and anxiously remove their claim on benefits from the future liabilities column of the Social Security balance sheet. We don’t even care about the vast sums we’ve already paid into the system – we’re willing to give all that up as a sunk cost if we’re allowed to practice a little personal responsibility and opt out from both the paying and the collecting.

Effectiveness of gun ownership and the "castle doctrine"

Just found this little ditty from the Oklahoma State Senate:
'The purpose of the law is to protect the victim of crime who defends his home and his family against unlawful intrusion from any criminal prosecution or civil action,' Sen Ford said last week.

'We considered it outrageous that someone who protects his home and family should suffer. Our law says you can use any force, including deadly force, to defend your home.'

It has been an unqualified success. Since the Make My Day Law came into force, burglary has declined by almost half in Oklahoma. In 1987, there were 58,333 cases; in 2000, just 31,661.

While crime rates throughout America fell in the 1990s, Make My Day supporters point to a second statistic in Oklahoma they say proves the impact of the new law: while burglary rates plunged, other forms of theft stayed constant. In 1988, there were 96,418 cases, in 2000, 96,111.

Similar anti-burglar laws have now been adopted in Colorado and Arizona.
Prior to the Make My Day legislation, the law, as it remains in most American states, sanctioned force in self-defence and the defence of property, but only on the basis of "reasonable" response to the violence offered by the criminal. This allows a baseball bat against a baseball bat, a knife against a knife, and a gun against a gun - although in theory the householder should allow the burglar to shoot first.
I'm glad some states have recognized the way most current laws hold law-abiding homeowners at a disadvantage in force escalation during a confrontation in their own homes and have rectified that shortcoming by giving homeowners the opportunity, being on the right side of the law, to escalate the level of force used to defend their families against criminals engaged in a crime in the home. The operative statistic above is the 26,000+ reduction in burglaries in OK between 1987 and 2000. What is unfortunately missed by advocates of stricter gun control is that in a society that recognizes the benefits of gun ownership and the ability to defend one's home and family, those benefits extend even to those who don't choose to arm themselves.

It's folly to think that every one of the 26,000+ homes that weren't robbed in 2000 belonged to a gun owner and that the criminals who would haved burglarized those homes knew that and stayed away because of that knowledge. We can only conclude that some of those 26,000+ homes were not defended by an armed citizen, but that the criminals stayed away simply for the reason that they might have a gun owner in them and they just didn't know for sure. God bless Freedom, an abler defender of life and safety than the state will ever be.

Single-payer vs. own-your-own healthcare

There's an excellent article over at written by a doctor describing the differences between the current third-party-payer system of employer-provided HMOs, the single-payer system (by which they mean the citizen through taxes) advocated by anti-free-marketeers, and the privately-run, take-responsibility-for-your-own-health system advocated by those who believe in the free market and personal responsibility.

For those uber-wonks out there who want to read a much more detailed breakdown, Milton Friedman's 2001 piece is fantastic.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Super Size Me and the schools

Also in the Register today was a featured letter regarding the Oscar-nominated documentary Super Size Me and the "educationally-enhanced" version of it that's being distributed to schools in an effort to better educate kids on fast food and making more healthy choices. This prodded me to blog a post I had been meaning to since I sat down with my wife Kristi to watch the film a couple of weeks ago.

Kristi is a very healthy person, disdaining fast food and never eating beef or pork, and she wanted to watch it. I agreed to join her reluctantly, expecting an anti-capitalist screed by a Michael Moore clone. I was pleasantly surprised by the humor and candor Morgan Spurlock displayed throughout the movie. Of course, his methodology was horribly lacking and not scientific at all, and the conclusions he came to ("I ate nothing but McDonald's and didn't walk more than a half-mile a day for 30 days, and I gained weight and risked heart disease!") should have been obvious to all even without his efforts. But one part of his film stuck with me, and added further vindication to my conclusions on public and private schools.

During one section of the film he left the McDonald's side of the issue and highlighted what kinds of foods are served to the kids in America's schools, and what they tend to choose when left to their own devices. There were bad kids who ate chips, cookies and soda (which I never did growing up, no, never!), but there were good kids who ate healthy or brought lunch from home. Likewise, there were bad schools that served pizza and mac & cheese and cake and brownies, but there were good schools that offered steamed vegetable dishes and the marginally-better Gatorade rather than soda.

This only affirmed my belief that every issue that can be made about schools, no matter which side you fall on, and no matter what it's about, is one more thing that can be made a competitive advantage by private schools in competing with each other, and therefore a decision factor that parents would be able to use to decide what school is best for their kids. Every kid (and every parent) is different, so it's obtuse in the extreme to believe that a one-size-fits-all solution is going to turn out the best graduates. But if parents want their kid to attend a school that serves healthier food, they should be able to choose that school. If they're going to be sending homemade lunches to school with their kid, maybe they'd rather save money on a school with a more thrifty lunch program (or none at all), and they should be able to choose that school.

Everywhere I look, more examples of this variety jump out at me. I have yet to come across an issue or component of school policy that can't be used as a determinant that, in a privatized school system absent of government control, would empower parental choice in their kids' education - but if I ever do, rest assured that I have the intellectual honesty to post here about it.

Eminent domain and Social Security in Sunday's Orange County Register

Protectors of private property rights will definitely want to peruse today's Commentary section, as they focused on Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court action regarding Kelo v. New London, CT (unfortunately, they printed an extra column or two that they didn't post to their website). Coming on the heels of the Michigan Supreme Court last year overturning the 1981 Poletown decision (in which the court stated that property rights would cease to exist if the government has the power to decide whether or not privately-owned land could be put to better use by another owner), the SCOTUS has the opportunity to uphold the Fifth Amendment by dealing a powerful blow to eminent domain abuse once and for all. As bad as it might be to see government condemn or take a property for legitimate public use (a road, a park, or even a government building), it's even worse when a city can take private property from a homeowner and sell it to a corporation simply because the corporation will build a megastore that will bring in more sales tax revenue than the homeowner pays in property taxes. Stay tuned here for commentary on whatever news comes out later this week.

Also in the Register (and I can only assume in other papers nationwide) was a full-page ad in the Nation/World section (essentially Part II of the front page) taken out by AARP regarding Social Security:
If you have a problem with the sink, you don't tear down the entire house. Let's not turn Social Security into Social Insecurity. Yes, the program is in need of reform, which can be done with a few moderate changes, but it is not in need of a radical overhaul. Creating private accounts that take money our of Social Security is an extreme measure that will hurt all generations and could add up to two trillion dollars in more debt. Let's not stick our kids with the bill. Call your legislators at 1-800-307-8525 and urge them to oppose private accounts that put Social Security at risk.
Interesting. Just for grins, first I'll count the falsehoods and misrepresentations, and then ask a couple of questions.

1) The program as it exists is just about as close to Social Insecurity as it can get - when Congress and the president can simply vote to raise taxes and remove benefits, and the Supreme Court has already ruled that nothing can stop them, how secure is it, really?
2) The "few moderate changes" have been made time and again over the past 70 years, each time with the only effect of pushing out the crisis just a few more years, and hitting the working low and middle classes the hardest. Even removing the payroll tax cap (currently $90,000) would only postpone annual deficits by 6 years, and would result in the highest marginal tax rates in the world!
3) Private accounts wouldn't take money out of Social Security, it would only reduce the amount going to pay current benefits. You can argue this is merely semantics, but the reduction in unfunded obligations that would come with private accounts is significant enough to demand the distinction be made.
4) Private accounts would not "hurt all generations" - those over 50 wouldn't even see any changes to their finances, those under 50 have a choice to hope the system will still be there when they retire or take responsibility themselves, and those under 20 and yet to be born will be relieved of some of the burden of supporting the retirees of their day. There would come a day when my grandkids would be wishing that more people in my kids' generation elected to create personal accounts instead of relying on them for their retirement!
5) The much-maligned "transition costs" aren't additional costs being added to the system as a result of personal accounts, they are simply time-shifted obligations that the system already has. Any increased costs we incur in the near term will be offset by drastically reduced costs in the long term. And there have been several options floated to pay those costs other than more debt - reduced federal spending being one that the AARP and other sucklings on the federal teat don't even want to consider.
6) Private accounts don't "put Social Security at risk" any more than a legislated tax reduction and benefit reduction would put it at risk - for that's what the whole gist of reform is about: people voluntarily choosing to pay less in taxes (though they'd still be forced to save that amount) and receive less in benefits later.

One can't help but wonder why in the world the AARP is so dead-set against freedom of choice and personal responsibility in their attack on Social Security reform. Don't they want the 20- to 40-year-olds to consider AARP benevolent towards them when they start turning 50 and 55? I never thought about it before, but after these shenanigans, I certainly won't be joining them when I turn 50. Don't they understand that their constituency of those over 50 won't be affected at all by these proposed changes? Don't they understand that their constituency of those over 50 have kids and grandkids that they'd love to see be able to provide for their own retirement and have a family nest egg they can pass to their heirs? I can promise you that no matter how it goes in Washington for reform, the AARP will be negatively affected in the years and decades to come. There are far fewer of the 50+ demographic who wholeheartedly support AARP's actions on this issue than there are in the 15-50 demographic who are coming to understand that the AARP stands for nothing but its own power and influence and will lie and cheat in any way it can to swell it.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Same brain behind both misleading "clawback" article and Reid's calculator

An interesting connection was reported in the RNC's response to Sen. Reid's "calculator": it appears that the guy who crafted the assumptions and underlying calculations that the calculator uses is the same guy behind the awfully misleading "clawback" article in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago that had to be corrected (even though the story was quoted by many other media outlets including the NY Times and LA Times without being corrected). His name's Jason Furman and he was a Kerry campaign official ("Director of Economic Policy"), also working in the past for Clinton and Gore. Interesting. You can read about what's wrong with the assumptions and calculations at the RNC press release above or from The Heritage Foundation.

LttE - Truth and guesses about Social Security

Submitted to the OC Register on 2/18/2004. In response to "It’s time to 'means test' for Social Security benefits" and "Democrats are in denial about Social Security".
Letter-writers John P. Lotz and R.B. Fisher are definitely on the right track in making the point that Social Security is insurance - that fact seems lost on just about everyone these days, especially those trying to “protect” FDR’s legacy. Means testing on its own won’t fix anything, but it certainly will enhance the public’s awareness that it is indeed insurance, and maybe at some point in the future we won’t be forced to buy it, just like we’re not forced to buy life insurance or health insurance.

On the other hand, Joel H. Goodman is flat-out guessing when he states that removing the cap on payroll taxes would solve “most of the ‘crisis’ for the [next] 75 years”. According to the Social Security Administration’s own actuaries in its 2003 report, removing the cap completely would only delay the start of annual deficits by 6 years, from 2018 to 2024. Removing the cap AND only paying benefits on the first $90,000 of income (an alternative to means testing) would only delay it one more year, to 2025.

The best reason for reforming Social Security

People can talk about how much larger returns are acheivable by personal accounts, about the deficits the program will start running in 2018 and the tax-funded cashing in of T-bills that will have to take place to pay all benefits, about the emptying of the Trust Fund in 2042 and the subsequent 27% benefit cuts, but all those things are, IMO, no more than peripheral issues that just happen to illustrate just how bad the future of the program looks. I mean, sure, I want to try and prevent my kids and grandkids from getting slammed by higher future taxes to keep the program solvent, but because I never expected to draw Social Security benefits, I could care less about future benefit cuts. But even the positive fiduciary effects of reform are, again IMO, just side effects of actions that should be taken for a much bigger reason.

That reason is freedom, and we're starting to hear a little bit more about this underlying support for reform, rather than all the number-crunching - which can be manipulated (a la Sen. Harry Reid's laughable "How Much You'll Lose Under Bush's Plan" calculator) and is mostly ignored by John Q. Taxpayer. The best thing that can happen is to give American workers the ability to opt out completely of Social Security, keeping every penny of the payroll tax, and foregoing all future claims of benefits - this is the path that increases freedom and personal responsibility the most. Failing that, I'll take an incremental step in the right direction, with the fervent hope that as that step is well-received and vindicated, another can be taken in the future.

News flash: Federalism still alive in South Dakota

The role I believe the revival of federalism can play in the advancement of liberty in America has been the subject of several letters to newspapers, and I still intend to write a column-length commentary on it at some point. Fortunately, some members of the South Dakota House feel the same way:
The State Affairs Committee unanimously approved HB1249, which would make it a felony to do abortions if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, is overturned. The bill would allow exceptions in cases where a pregnant woman's life is at risk.
Personally (and I'm sure many of my Christian friends and family will disagree), I'd rather the federal government (both the Supreme Court and Congress) get completely out of the business of defining murder and marriage, leaving those definitions where they were placed in 1789 - the states. The State Affairs Committee of the South Dakota House has taken the first step in that direction, defining abortion as murder just as it uses its existing state law (not a federal law or court decision) to define manslaughter and negligent homicide.

One head-shaking quote from the Planned Parenthood rep on the scene:
"Making abortion illegal never has and never will stop women from having abortions," Looby said, urging the committee to reject the bill.
Yikes. Making robbery and assault illegal has never been able to stop everyone from mugging and beating people either - but it sure makes people think twice about it first, and pay the price after if they get caught.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Interesting event on conservatives and libertarians

The America's Future Foundation is hosting something of a round table discussing whether or not the ideologies of conservatives and libertarians can still find success in the post-Cold War world:
During the Cold War era, conservatives and libertarians united around hostility toward communism and liberalism. The National Review's Frank Meyer called this union 'fusionism,' and argued that it wasn't just a marriage of convenience, but a union based on the deep compatibility of liberty and tradition. Increasingly, however, that ideological marriage has been punctuated by long, sustained spats: over war, gay marriage, stem-cell research, and a host of other issues. Just another rocky patch, or is it time for a divorce?

Arguing to keep the marriage together will be W. James Antle III of The American Conservative and Jeremy Lott of the Cato Institute. Amy Mitchell of The American Spectator and Nick Gillespie of Reason will take the side of divorce.
Can't say I'll be flying out to D.C. to attend, but I certainly look forward to some coverage of it from the four represented entities.

Unfortunate news for the CA Performance Review

It looks like Gov. Schwarzenegger has decided to drop his plan of reorganizing the behemoth executive branch of the California government:
In a major setback to his program to reorganize the state bureaucracy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped Thursday his plan to eliminate or consolidate 88 boards and commissions.
Sad news indeed. The Governator had hundreds of thousands of limited-government believers behind him and his efforts to downsize the humongous state government we're saddled with, and he's called this part of it off. I hope he can resurrect it in some form or another in the months and years to come.

I guess I don't know much about the Little Hoover Commission, but it appears that my original impression that it was related to Stanford's Hoover Institute was in error.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Social Security reform questions for the AARP

Rich Lowry of National Review has some very pointed questions for the AARP regarding its very hostile opposition to personal accounts. Here are my favorites:
Since Bush has said that any proposal won't affect anyone 55 years of age or older, what possible reason — other than sheer ideological hostility — do you have to oppose reforming the system?

Your group's advocacy suggests that reform puts at risk the benefits of current Social Security recipients, even though cutting those benefits is off the table. Are you routinely so dishonest, or is this a special case?

In 1950, 16 workers supported each retiree. By 2040, there will only be two workers per retiree. Does it occur to you that that is very bad news for workers? Or is your ultimate ambition to have each retiree supported by his own individual worker? Perhaps this worker can be made to fan his designated retiree with a palm frond and deliver him fruity drinks poolside?

The current system is already a bad deal for young people. Any tax increases or benefit reductions will make it worse over time. Do you realize that your members have grandchildren? Or do you believe the financial futures of those grandkids just don't matter much to your members?

You complain that allowing young people to have personal retirement accounts will add to the nation's debt. But if you cared about avoiding debt, why did you support the hellishly expensive Medicare bill?

Kyoto's effect on outsourcing

Something to think about when you consider the Kyoto Protocol, scheduled to go into effect today for all 35 developed nations who ratified it (including most of Europe, some of the Far East, Canada, and Russia, but not including Australia and the U.S.): those two up-and-coming economic powerhouses China and India have, every chance they've gotten, told the world that there's no way they'd ratify something like the Kyoto Protocol, and it's easy to see why. They realize that agreeing to such an intrusion on their sovereignty would significantly harm their industrial development and economic growth (read: slow the increase of their citizen's standards of living) just at the time when they most need to be firing on all cylinders to power down the on-ramp to the 21st century global economy highway. What's that likely to mean once the countries who have ratified the Kyoto Protocol start cracking down on businesses that aren't keeping up their end (of an "agreement" they never agreed to)? Those companies will just outsource those parts of their business that have the highest emissions to countries that haven't ratified Kyoto. The same would have been true of American businesses if we had ratified Kyoto - thankfully it won't be. It might not be too extreme a view to actually anticipate some "insourcing" to the U.S. from those countries who have shackled themselves with the protocol.

Now, consider what groups of people you typically find crying foul over any kind of offshore outsourcing, and those you typically find extolling the many virtues of extra-national accords like Kyoto. In most cases, they're the same people - those who just can't shake the wrong-headed idea that more government control over business is a good thing.

Hat tip: Neal Boortz.

Update: Bruce Bethke, the Original Cyberpunk, agrees.

Teachers/abusers: public vs. private schools

It took a massive public outcry to prevent the Orange Unified School District from revoking the charter from Santiago Charter Middle School during the trial of one of Santiago's teachers, Sarah Bench-Salorio, for allegedly having sex with three former students. I couldn't find any news more recent than 2 February regarding the new rules.

With that in mind, I wonder how much media coverage there will be advocating the investigation of the public schools where two of the seven NAMBLA members arrested for seeking boy-sex trips to Mexico were teachers? My guess is, probably not much, given that the mass media would have Americans believe that everyone who works at a government school is a paragon of virtue and industriousness, while those awful homeschoolers and nasty private Christian schools are rank with abuse. Too bad for them it just ain't true.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Laffer Curve and Social Security reform

Well, after a bit of a respite from blogging to enjoy a family-filled weekend (and being incredibly busy at work), I'm back!

The calls by opponents of Social Security reform for higher taxes (either by raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax or by repealing the 2003 tax cuts) ring very hollow in light of the impact of significant tax cuts on federal tax revenues:
It takes about two minutes of “Googling” to find out that the big tax rate cuts of the past 100 years (under President Harding in the 1920s, Kennedy in the 1960s, Reagan in the 1980s and Bush in 2003) have produced higher economic growth and higher government revenues.
This is the Laffer Curve at work, and those calling for higher taxes just don't get it. And endlessly repeating that the 2003 tax cuts were "for the rich" is counter-productive. As federal tax revenues have risen in the last couple of years, the percentage of those revenues paid by the wealthiest portion of taxpayers has risen as well. How this works is obvious: when tax rates are lowered, it gives people incentive to increase their productivity - to work more - because a smaller portion of the extra marginal income they make is eaten up by taxes, and they get to keep a larger portion than before. But the extra income does produce extra taxes that are added to existing revenues, resulting in higher revenues.

The higher tax rates espoused by opponents of reform would result in lower total federal tax revenue and would make the unfunded liabilities of Social Security worse instead of better.

Monday, February 14, 2005

What a great weekend!

Kristi and I had an absolutely awesome weekend, inviting 30+ friends and family over yesterday for a little get-together celebrating Riley's imminent (6 weeks as of today) arrival. This was decidedly not a "baby shower" in any classical sense of the phrase (no silly games, for one), but a great time was had by all. I found myself way too busy talking to anyone and everyone to take any photos myself, but Kristi's dad Lance has some good ones that I'll post here when I can wrap my hard drive around their constituent bits.

Friday, February 11, 2005

NRO's editors on HR 418, the REAL ID Act

So yesterday the House passed HR 418, which I wrote a little about yesterday. The Senate now has to hold hearings and debate over whether they will pass an identical version or alter it. It appears likely that the Senate version will be attached (as another of those wonderful things called "riders") to a supplemental appropriations bill supporting the troops in Iraq. National Review's editors praise the bill's passage, but in the very last line make an absurd appeal to the same warmed-over party-solidarity argument I've been opposing since before I started writing anything relating to government:
But however limited this measure is, it performs an important political function; no lawmaker who opposes it can ever again plausibly claim to support border control.
This is an absolutely ridiculous statement, considering that only a few of the provisions of the bill have anything to do with border control, and that mostly the bill's effect will be to expand the power of the federal government over the liberties of American citizens. Lovers of liberty should start a pool to see how long it will be before citizens have to deal with requests for "Your papers, please" every time we cross a state border.

Two quick thoughts on Social Security commentary

I read a couple of columns this week that, overall, expressed doubts about whether or not the personal accounts proposals are the right thing to do and whether or not they'll "save" Social Security. Obviously I think the answers to those two questions are "of course they are" and "probably, though that's not why they're the right thing". But beyond those two overarching concerns, the following excerpts suggested to me wholly different points than those intended by the authors.

Former Senator Bob Kerrey had this to say about the "contract" between generations:
Across all generations and within both major parties, Social Security and Medicare are seen as a vital part of American life. They represent a powerful intergenerational contract between younger Americans in the work force who agree to be taxed on behalf of older, eligible Americans. What makes the contract work is that the expectation of those in the work force is that when they pass the age of eligibility, successive generations of workers will not object to the taxes that must be imposed on them to cover the costs of their income and health benefits.
The point that the Senator is missing isn't just the voluntary nature of contracts - but that's enough to call into question his conclusions of the success of the program. If the contract works because each generation submits to the payroll tax in expectation of the next generation financing their benefits, it would seem to me to make the system stronger, per person, to allow those who wish to opt out completely to do so. It might even be argued that allowing opt-outs could even help to mitigate the demographic challenge facing the program (the ubiquitous worker-retiree ratio initially 16-1 and declining into the future). Every 40-year-old who opted out would deprive the system of a portion of the taxes funding the Social Security benefits of their 67-year-old parent, but those benefits would still be funded by other workers who choose not to opt out. But that same 40-year-old would remove himself from an obligation of several 15-year-olds to fund his benefits later - so the taxes of those several workers could be spread among the other 40-year-olds who didn't opt out. There are certainly costs associated with avoiding the reduction of benefits to current retirees and those close to retirement, but IMO they would be definitely worth a stronger system going forward and the increased freedom of choice obtained by allowing opt-outs.

This OC Register article detailing some of the concerns of bond industry giant PIMCO's CEO Bill Gross is the source of the other contrarian observation:
It's no secret that the massive baby boomer generation is slowly moving from workplace to retirement status. This will leave far too few young workers to runthe nation's businesses - no less pay the Social Security tab.

Gross says this American business climate - weakened by a worker shortage - will not produce the stellar investment returns the president's plan is banking upon.
The upcoming shortage of workers will in one way or another force many Americans to stay employed far longer in life.

Heavy demand for their services may keep folks working. Or an economy stifled by worker shortages won't create the wealth required for a satisfying retirement.
While his concerns seem valid about downward price pressure on investment vehicles as large numbers of baby boomers sell them off in retirement to smaller numbers of current workers trying to build a portfolio, I'm more interested in the unstated effects of the worker shortage he's predicting. I'm far from an economics expert, but I do know what tends to happen when the supply of something drops - the price goes up. It works with gasoline, and it works with labor: labor shortage = higher wages. Higher wages means more principal to save for retirement, which would help offset any decreased returns if historical market averages don't match expectations in the decades to come. More than just upward pressure on wages, I find it very encouraging for educated hard-working 30-year-olds with lofty career aspirations, especially when the baby boomers start retiring in earnest and opening up those upper management positions coveted by their younger proteges. Bill Gross fears that a worker shortage will stifle the economy; I tend to have faith that the ingenuity of the American people (and the technological adeptness and fresh ideas of the new set of managers & executives, whose average age will be dropping as the boomers retire) will be able to stave off economic stagnation as productivity gains continue to increase. Time will tell.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Social Security - GOP Senator Graham floats payroll tax increase

Here we go. One of the legislators offering Social Security reform plans is a GOP Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, and his proposal is getting a reasonable amount of press due to it being one of the first bills officially proposed. Now it appears that he's going against both the President's plan and the underlying purpose of reform - he's reportedly considering a raising of the payroll tax cap (currently $90,000).

I definitely wish the media would pay more attention to some of the other proposals on the table, like the House Republican Study Committee's or the Cato Institute's 6.2% Solution - if all we keep hearing about are these half-hearted efforts from weak-kneed compromise-minded politicians, we'll be in exactly the spot I keep complaining about: "accept this watered-down proposal full of pork, loopholes, and riders, or you'll suffer something much worse from those other guys!"

I look forward anxiously to some published comments on the results of the Cato Institute's Social Security Reform Conference that went on the last two days - and at which Senator Graham made those remarks. Stay tuned here for links when that happens.

Rep. Ron Paul on HR 418 The REAL ID Act

The House is voting today on HR 418, the bill that will enact the immigration provisions without which Reps. Sensenbrenner and Duncan refused to pass the intelligence reform bill late last year. Unfortunately, the bill does very little of what it's purported to do, and does a lot that no one's talking about. The always-principled Rep. Ron Paul from Texas spoke against it on the House floor yesterday:
The REAL ID Act establishes a national ID card by mandating that states include certain minimum identification standards on driver’s licenses. It contains no limits on the government’s power to impose additional standards. Indeed, it gives authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to unilaterally add requirements as he sees fit.

Supporters claim it is not a national ID because it is voluntary. However, any state that opts out will automatically make non-persons out of its citizens. The citizens of that state will be unable to have any dealings with the federal government because their ID will not be accepted. They will not be able to fly or to take a train. In essence, in the eyes of the federal government they will cease to exist. It is absurd to call this voluntary.
This bill establishes a massive, centrally-coordinated database of highly personal information about American citizens: at a minimum their name, date of birth, place of residence, Social Security number, and physical and possibly other characteristics. What is even more disturbing is that, by mandating that states participate in the “Drivers License Agreement,” this bill creates a massive database of sensitive information on American citizens that will be shared with Canada and Mexico!

This bill could have a chilling effect on the exercise of our constitutionally guaranteed rights. It re-defines "terrorism" in broad new terms that could well include members of firearms rights and anti-abortion groups, or other such groups as determined by whoever is in power at the time. There are no prohibitions against including such information in the database as information about a person’s exercise of First Amendment rights or about a person’s appearance on a registry of firearms owners.

Libertarians and religion

NRO's Stanley Kurtz asks on The Corner if it's even possible to be a libertarian and religious in a real, practical sense:
Here’s a question I feel sure Corner readers can answer. To what extent are contemporary libertarians religious? What proportion of folks who read, say, Reason Magazine belong to a church or synagogue and attend services either regularly, or even with moderate regularity? What proportion of libertarians are self-consciously atheist or agnostic and/or attend church seldom or never? Does the answer differ for intellectual types and folks who may have broadly libertarian sensibilities but don’t keep up with Reason or all the libertarian blogs? Is it even theoretically possible to be a libertarian today and adhere to a traditional religion–as opposed to being “spiritual,” or belonging to a very liberal church? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but here’s my guess. Theoretically, you can be a libertarian and also be traditionally religious. In fact, this combination was probably found fairly frequently prior to the sixties and seventies, before “the social issues” moved to the political forefront. But nowadays, the vast majority of libertarians are probably either self-consciously secular, or are religious only in some thin, non-institutional, or highly qualified sense. Again, this is just my guess. I’m interested in what Corner readers say the answer is, because I think you will know. Also, are there any writings about the relationship between libertarianism and religion? I’d be interested in either substantive discussions or empirical studies of the compatibility, or lack thereof, between religion and libertarianism.
And I say resoundingly, YES!!! My email reply to him:
As a Christian who holds principles and ideals closer to the Libertarian Party (but with some reservations) than to the Republican Party, I can honestly say that, yes, it's absolutely possible for one to be a Christian and a Libertarian. The two maxims "render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to the Lord what is the Lord's" and "do unto others what you would have them do unto you" apply equally well to Christianity and to Libertarianism (and much better than they do to the GOP platform) and are in no way mutually exclusive.

I can't point you to any empirical studies, but here are a few essays on the subject by a few of my favorite writers:
Vox Day
Stephen Yates
Bill Barnwell
James Leroy Wilson

Attempts to unionize Wal-Mart

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't support employee unions - I think they're destructive and counter-productive. I supported the grocery stores and the temporary replacement workers in the recent UFCW strike at Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons. So it should come as no surprise that I vigorously applaud the recent news that Wal-Mart will close the Quebec store which experienced the first successful attempt to unionize Wal-Mart employees:
Wal-Mart said it is shuttering the store in Jonquiere, Quebec, in response to unreasonable demands from union negotiators that would make it impossible for the store to sustain its business. The United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada last week asked Quebec labor officials to appoint a mediator, saying that negotiations had reached an impasse.
I certainly recognize the right of employees to exercise their First Amendment freedom of association (oh - did everyone forget that "peaceably to assemble" part?), and band together to negotiate with business or other groups. There should never, IMO, be a case where government steps in to prevent a body of employees to unionize in order to attempt to obtain a better deal. But for that freedom to exist, there must also exist the freedom of businesses to open, close, move, resize, hire, fire, and basically operate at their own discretion (within the law of course). And that absolutely includes closing a store at which a union has just formed.

Businesses are owned and operated by people, just as they are staffed by people, and the customers they serve are - you guessed it - people. The free market decisions made by all three of those bodies of people (each of which are just as free as the next to exercise those decisions) are what drives our incredible economy and those decisions, when freely made, should be honored and applauded, not decried and restricted.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bruce Bethke on the State of the Union

So I meant to post some comments on the State of the Union, but just never got around to it. In lieu of those comments, I offer an incredibly amusing take by an incredibly gifted (IMO) writer (and coiner of the term cyberpunk), Bruce Bethke:
Lincoln went on, frowning. "And what is this 'income tax' he keeps talking about? We managed to run the country for 130 years without any such thing as an 'income' tax -- except during the Civil War, and then we repealed it as soon as the war was over."

Teddy shook his head. "I told Taft it was a bad idea."

"Did not!" Taft shouted from the next table over. "It's Wilson's fault!"

On the other side of the room, Wilson jumped up and shook his fists in the air. "Yeah! Taxes! More taxes! Bring it on!"

Teddy could only shake his head again. "Idiot."

"The only two certainties in life," Lincoln observed, "are death and taxes. And the only good thing about death is that Congress never tries to make it more fair." Our glasses were empty, so I went and got another pitcher. When I got back, Junior was talking about Social Security.

"I can't believe it!" FDR shouted from across the room. "You're still trying to maintain that mess? For crying out loud, it was an emergency measure we rammed through in the middle of the Great Depression! It was never supposed to last this long!"
And more:
Teddy interrupted. 'You had to create a new government agency for Homeland Security? Why? Don't you still have Winchester and Colt?'

Before Ronnie could answer this as well, Lincoln thumped his fist on the table. 'And what is this pledging to end tyranny and install freedom everywhere business? I swear, he sounds more like Wilson with every word.'

Across the room, Wilson leaped to his feet again. 'Yeah! Intervention! Nation-building! Bomb 'em 'til they love democracy! BRING IT ON!'

Motivations of our elected officials

Neal Boortz agrees with me:
In the 10 years since the Republicans have controlled Congress, the size of the federal government has doubled. President Bush has gone on a spending spree that makes Bill Clinton look like a cheapskate. Unfortunately, politicians of neither party are going to ever truly cut spending. With the Democrats you get tax and spend, with the Republicans you get borrow and spend. Take your pick.
Let's face it. Short of a tax revolt by American citizens, we are NEVER going to see any meaningful cuts in the size and the power of the Imperial Federal Government of the United States. It just flat isn't going to happen. It takes only minutes after that swearing-in ceremony for a new member of the House of Representatives or the Senate to realize that this is a pretty cool gig. The perks, the power, the prestige ... all very hard to give up. Within minutes after that first swearing-in the new politician will have that great epiphany: "Whatever else I do here in Washington, I've just got to keep this job." From that moment on every move, every step, every vote, every phone call, every letter, every interview is conducted in such a way that reelection will be all but ensured.
Friends and family (and the OC Register's Letters Editor) will recognize that last idea from stuff I've written before: no longer does an elected official first ask himself, "What's the right thing to do, the best for my constituents and the common good?" but instead, "What will get me reelected?"

He finishes with a strong prediction:
And just how do you ensure your reelection? You make sure that you collect as much money from the taxpayers as you possibly can, and you spread that money around your home district or state. It doesn't matter how innocuous the spending program. It can be a half-million dollars to restore Lawrence Welk's boyhood home, eleven million to spruce up the King Center in Atlanta, hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidies for farmers in Williamson County, or a new backstop for the softball field at your local elementary school ... the money must be spent!

I don't care if you're 16 years old, or 66. You will never in your lifetime see a federal budget where less money is spent in one year than in the preceding year. The prime directive for government is to grow itself and increase its power. Nothing is going to change. The American people feed off this government. It absolves them of the necessity for responsibility for their own lives. I don't see that changing in my lifetime, or my daughter's.
I sure do hope he's wrong, for Riley's sake. But I fear he's absolutely right.

OC Blog on Tischio's Register column

Jubal over at OC Blog calls out Mike Tischio and the dreadful lack of substance in his shrill cries against merit pay for teachers and horrendous Klan imagery:
It's too bad that Tischio, unable to muster an intellectually sound argument against merit pay for teachers, seeks to discredit the idea by calling his opponents Klansman. And I have no illusions that his superiors at whatever district employs this clown will advise him to temper his remarks -- after all, they're only directed at the people who pay his salary, benefits and retirement.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Riley's room is all done

Those visiting from OC Blog or Res Ipsa Loquitur may not care so much about this (welcome nonetheless!), but Kristi and I have finished painting Riley's room - check out The Aquarium Project here for photos. We're at T-minus 7 weeks, and we can't wait!

Just one first-glance thought on Bush's 2005 budget

Anyone paying any attention to the presentation to Congress of the Bush Administration's 2005 budget must have been aware of the quoted 150 programs and agencies that were going to be targeted for elimination. Obviously we'll hear more about the details in the coming weeks as Congress, ahem, "massages" the budget, but the AP reported a snippet that was very encouraging for believers in not only limited government in principle, but local control for education specifically:
About one-third of the programs targeted for elimination are in the Education Department, including federal-grant programs for local schools in such areas as vocational education, supporting drug-free schools and Even Start, a $225 million literacy program.
We can be sure that Democrats and teachers' unions will cry foul, but those of us who see the requirements foisted on public schools by the NCLBA as doing more harm than good should be encouraged.

Media spin: demonstrated

In the ongoing debate over Social Security reform, it's always important to remember not only what's being said, but who's saying it and why. This will help keep us from depending on one and only one source for news and opinion.

Over the weekend, I noticed that a couple of different media outlets reported what was essentially the same news item, but presented it in vastly different ways. That news item was the general feeling in the House about the President's (long-awaited) specifics proposed in his State of the Union address.

The Los Angeles Times, for example, used "President Hit With Party Flak on His Social Security Tour" for a headline to a story that supposedly detailed the ways in which Republicans were resisting Bush's proposals for personal accounts:
[Senator Chuck] Hagel [R-Neb.] called for Congress to take a slow approach. "We've got time here to explore a wide range of options," he said, adding that it was more important to get the job done right. "Technically, we're not in a crisis — but we will be," Hagel said.
Hagel expressed doubt that Congress would enact any changes this year. "I don't know if we can pass a bill this year…. If we wait until next year to get it done, that's OK too," he said.
In Washington, Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which will write Social Security legislation, said Bush's proposal to divert a portion of Social Security taxes into individual investment accounts faced a "tough political sell" on Capitol Hill.
At the same time, a group of conservative Republicans signaled that it wanted to go further than Bush had proposed: allowing younger workers to quickly set aside as much as 6 percentage points of the 12.4% Social Security tax in the private accounts. Bush has proposed a diversion of 4 percentage points, up to a cap of $1,000, a ceiling that would rise by at least $100 annually.

"Do large accounts and have them vest with the people as quickly as possible," Rep. John B. Shadegg (R-Ariz.) said at a meeting of more than 50 conservative House Republicans in Baltimore. "Our belief is we should be bold and we should go far, and we believe it will help every American."
So here you have three examples of how Republicans are supposedly going against the President, when what you actually have is a Senator saying, "let's take our time and do it right, even if it takes until next year", a Congressman saying, "this is going to be a tough sell", and a group of Congressmen saying, "that's not enough, we want to go farther." I'm really not sure how those three statements constitute what the Times calls "getting hit with party flak", but the Orange County Register and National Review disagree about the meaning behind some of the conversations going on on the Hill these days.

The Orange County Register ran "House GOP group ups ante on Bush" for a headline detailing the submission of the House Republican Study Group's more aggressive 6% plan, advocating (as they often seem to do) the best plan for workers and retirees rather than the best party-line answer:
The group's chairman, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, said at a retreat here that the members' objections to new or increased taxes to pay for the president's plan was "deafening."

He said the group also called for allowing workers to set aside 6 percent - instead of the president's proposed 4 percent - of their wages, roughly all of their Social Security payroll tax, for individual accounts.

Pence said the group planned to call for the individual accounts to be available to young workers "immediately" or as soon as possible, rather than in 2009, as Bush had proposed.
National Review ran a staff editorial under the headline "House Undivided", in which they praised House Republican's increasing support of the President's plan:
"I'm not naively optimistic, but I'm cautiously optimistic," says [Majority Whip] Rep. Blunt. Support for reform along the lines Bush has in mind is already the "prevailing" view among House Republicans and is on its way to being the "preponderant" view.
What's the lesson, you ask? Read everything you can, from as many different sources as you can, then you can more readily separate fact from fiction and form accurate opinions about the issue at hand.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Georgia's eminent domain travesty SB 5 may be dead

When we last left Georgia's SB 5, it was gaining support in the state legislature and was threatening some very scary eminent domain provisions. Thankfully, it appears that Georgia's Republicans (who control both houses and the Governor's office) are listening to their constituents and have conceded that SB 5 will likely die a quick death. Another bill, SB 86, has been drafted and is being fast-tracked in order to guy the eminent domain provisions in SB 5. The story is far from over, though, as the language of GOP former supporters of SB 5 indicates:
"I would find it hard to believe this bill is going anywhere," said state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), a former co-sponsor who has taken his name off the bill. "Personally, I wouldn't vote for Senate Bill 5 if it just had verses of the Bible in it. The name Senate Bill 5 is an anathema to the people of Georgia."
"I don't believe the author of the bill meant for it to be, or believes that it is, what Neal Boortz and other people are saying that it is," Balfour said. "But I think the bill has been totally tarnished."

Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said SB 5 likely will move forward in some form. One co-sponsor has suggested the final version could be a combination of SB 5 and SB 86.
So it's just the name that people don't like, eh? Think again. The private property advocates among us will just have to hope that the people of Georgia see through whatever new name lawmakers devise for the bill, and kill it just as quickly as this one.

OC Blog - Returning the favor

The guys over at OC Blog favored me with a plug and had very kind things to say:
Relentless Pursuit of Wisdom and Liberty -- The blog of a dude named Jason Trippet of Fullerton. Thoughtful, well-written stuff. Especial emphasis on Social Security reform.
OC Blog is a good look at what's going on "behind the Orange Curtain" as they say - you'll find a link under "Daily Reads" on the right ------>

LttE - Prop. 69 goes too far

Submitted 02/04/2005 to the OC Register:
Jenn Stewart is correct in stating that Prop. 69 will require every felon in the state to submit a DNA sample to a state database - and if that's all the law was designed to do, it would have been a good and effective law.

Unfortunately, it also mandates that every single person even arrested for a felony also contributes a DNA sample to the database, whether or not they actually get charged, or whether or not DNA would help prove guilt or innocence in those cases.

Worse, the burden of removing the sample (and the data from its analysis) would fall completely on the innocent people who were arrested in error and forced to give the sample. Even then, discretion is given to a court to deny its removal, a decision completely unappealable by the innocent person.

Personal Social Security accounts already exist!

Here's an interesting story I haven't heard before:
But privatized Social Security has been a fact of life for municipal employees in Galveston County, Texas, for nearly a quarter century. Local government workers voted overwhelmingly in 1981 to opt-out of Social Security in favor of a locally controlled system that has since been widely described as a phenomenal success.

Under federal law at the time, municipal workers had the option of not participating in the Social Security program, replacing it with private retirement accounts. The private system is subject to regular payroll deductions and employer matches, essentially mirroring Social Security tax withholding and employer match provisions.
Under Galveston's "Alternate Plan," the county withholds approximately six percent of each employee's salary for retirement. That money, along with a partial match by the county, is invested in personal accounts for each participating employee. The remaining county match covers the cost of disability and life insurance policies for employees, which also pay benefits much higher than those offered by Social Security.
Sounds an awful lot like my favorite proposed reform plan (even more than the President's), The Cato Institute's 6.2% Solution, in which workers can opt to divert their entire 6.2% portion of FICA taxes - in return for renouncing any claim to future payments from Social Security - while their employers will still pay their 6.2% portion of FICA into the Social Security account to pay current benefits. In case anyone's still confused, this is exactly how personal accounts will contribute to a shrinking of the SS deficit - revenues will still come in but future liabilities are reduced. Rasmussen Research released a poll in 1999 that over a third of younger workers would opt out of the system even if they never received a penny back from all the taxes they've already paid. Count me in that set.

One more quote from the story about the Galveston Alternate Plan:
Amid growing enthusiasm for an alternative to Social Security, the Democrat-controlled Congress voted in 1983 to end the provisions giving municipal workers the option to leave the federal system.
My question, even more than Why the heck did they end it after only two years? is Why the heck were only municipal workers allowed to do this and not regular joes like all of us and our dads and our grandmas?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

NRO's The Corner on State of the Union

Seen on National Review Online's blog The Corner:
BAD PARENT? [posted by Kate O'Beirne]:
I must say, as the mother of a two twenty somethings, concern about their "retirement security" is way, way down on my list of things to worry about.
I would contend that yes, that would contribute to making her a bad parent. Maybe I'm spoiled by the blessing of a conscientious father who was concerned for my retirement from the time I could understand what retirement was, but I'm a parent of only one, who's 20+ years away from being a twentysomething, and I can honestly state that my support for real Social Security reform comes just as much out of concern for Riley's retirement (and tax burden, for these two are inextricably linked) as out of concern for my own.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Thoughts before the State of the Union 2005

This article on National Review got me really thinking, both about the platform the President ran on and the source and extent of his "mandate". Ms. Campbell urges GWB not to forget the plurality of exit poll respondents who said "moral values" were what determined their vote, nor his own Christian base, as he has seemed to do of late, downplaying his support of the marriage amendment and abortion reform:
Yet he has said precious little about the moral issues that voters ranked as their chief concern on Election Day, and what he has said has not inspired their confidence. The president told the Washington Post last month that he would not lobby senators for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage because so many senators consider it unnecessary — a caveat not mentioned on the campaign trail. "Senators have made it clear that so long as [the Defense of Marriage Act] is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen," Bush said. "I'd take their admonition seriously. . . . Until that changes, nothing will happen in the Senate." Conservatives had barely begun to complain before Bush suggested to the New York Times last week that he plans to use his bully pulpit, not his political capital, to reduce abortions: "I think the goal ought to be to convince people to value life. But I fully understand our society is divided on the issue and that there will be abortions. That's reality. It seems like to me my job is to convince people to make right choices in life, to understand there are alternatives to abortion, like adoption, and I will continue to do so."
I may not have voted for Bush but I certainly approve of his approach regarding these issues. In my view, Social Security and tax reform are national issues, therefore need to be dealt with at the national level - hence his energy towards those ends. Gay marriage and abortion on the other hand, should not be nationalized any more than straight marriage and murder are nationalized (and they aren't, with the horrific exception of federal authorities having the power to bring federal charges against someone already acquitted of breaching a state law against murder). Campbell's own reasoning supports this:
Why would a leader brave enough to push a divisive Social Security reform plan and bold enough to pledge an end to tyranny around the world appear to be backing down on the very issues that sealed his reelection? After all, the political winds are blowing in his favor: A 2004 poll from Zogby International found that 56 percent of Americans support more restrictions on abortion and believe that abortion should never be legal or legal only in cases of rape, incest, or a direct threat to the life of the mother. A majority of Americans also oppose same-sex marriage, and overwhelming majorities of red- and blue-state voters approved state bans on same-sex marriage last November. Given such strong support for the president's positions — not to mention his own campaign promises on these issues, which accounted for much of the support he received from traditionally Democratic Catholic, Hispanic, African-American, and union voters — Bush's sudden apparent loss of nerve is odd and unsettling.
I don't see Bush as losing his nerve - I see him as taking the hint from those 12 states that overwhelmingly passed gay marriage bans last fall (and the 27 that already had them on the books, like California) and 1996's Defense of Marriage Act (allows states to recognize or refuse to recognize marriages from other states as they see fit) that federalism is working as intended in the area of marriage and no enlargement of federal power is necessary. So here we have a surprise that Bush is actually acting like a limited-government conservative - and not so much of a surprise that the big-government conservatives are crying foul.

What exactly the President is supposed to do concerning the already nationalized issue of abortion (with or without the ~3/4 majority who don't think it should be available "on-demand" as it currently is) other than nominate justices to the Supreme Court who believe in federalism and original intent, I have yet to hear from those same folks. So far, Bush has his priorities in the right places, focusing on Social Security and tax reform, leaving marriage to the states, and nominating the same judges he would anyway. Now if we can just get him to drop that awful "illegal alien amnesty that's not amnesty" plan that no one likes but him...

How federal money begets inefficiency

Conservative columnist Star Parker has this to say about the "faith-based initiatives" program put in place in 2003 by President Bush:
Unfortunately, the president's program, in its current form, is truly a case of good intentions gone awry. The grant concept is deeply flawed and I predict that the organizations getting these federal grants will in short order start looking like the same government programs we were trying to get away from.
But more fundamentally, federal grants will change the way churches think about how to serve their communities. Time, energy and creativity will no longer be focused on coming up with creative solutions to problems but on how to structure programs to qualify for grants. Even now, as the welfare-reform time limits are running out on millions of single women with children, their pastors are busy attending seminars on how to apply for federal funding.
This insight is spot on (and nowhere near new or groundbreaking). What's more interesting (IMO) is that the same logic applies to public schools and the funding of local governments. Instead of teachers focusing solely on how best to teach the kids under their care, they've found themselves ever more restrained by their administrators (and the politically strong teacher's unions, who care little about the teachers they "represent"), who force them to teach certain subjects, and teach them a certain way - all in the quest to obtain more state and federal funding, which is always tied to lesson plans and test scores. Test scores the measuring of which can change just as rashly, such that the rating of the school won't drop and they won't lose any funding - but over time those measures lose all value in the assessing of students' progress. Welcome to nationalized education. And we wonder why charter schools (distinguished from private schools), which operate outside the control and restrictions of state and national Boards of Education, are doing so much better than regular public schools.

The same is true of local government - eminent domain abuse is on the rise, with city councils and mayors casting about their towns looking for prime real estate to "condemn" in order to turn it over to private developers to build malls or big-box retail stores. Why, you ask? Because they've learned how to game the system - sales taxes fill local governments' coffers much faster than property taxes. They are no longer attempting to govern with a sense of propriety and service to the community, but only to aggrandize their own power. The Supreme Court decision on New London, CT can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Social Security reform petition

I'm always unsure if things like this are more effective than writing or calling one's own Congressman, but Progress for America is collecting signatures for a petition to be forwarded to Congress urging reform including personal retirement accounts.

Add your signature to the petition here.

Social Security column in OC Register

I was fortunate enough to get a rebuttal column printed by the Orange County Register on Sunday 30 January. I wrote it in response to this column (registration required, or bypass using BugMeNot) from 16 January. I'm very excited about my continuing development as a writer, and I look forward with anticipation to my next opportunity to get printed. You just never know where something like this will lead, in terms of networking opportunities, etc. I got a call yesterday from one of the leaders of a Rotary Club group in south Orange County who wants me to come speak about Social Security reform - what a trip!

Read my column here, as always, comments welcome!

Welcome to everyone visiting from Rich Outten's blog - thanks for the plug, Rich!