Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

My Beautiful Balloon

with 21 comments

So, over the last several days, I have been trying very, very hard not to comment on the debt ceiling, or the debt ceiling debates, or the whole crisis-mode 24-hour news cycle that has been making finding out what happened locally–like whether they’ve caught the runaway leaping cow–nearly impossible.

Now that it’s all over, though, I find myself absolutely flabbergasted.  And mostly I’m absolutely flabbergasted because, in fact, nothing actually happened.

Here’s where we are, as of this morning:

The Tea Party did not get any actual cuts in the funding of government programs.  The government will spend more money next year than it did this year, on practically everything.

The “cuts” supposedly in the deal are only cuts to possible projected expenditure.

And that’s the first way nothing changed–we do this all the time.  If government spends $100 on Head Start today and wants to spend $200 on Head Start tomorrow, but we only let them spend $150, we call this a “cut.”   In fact, we call it a drastic cut.  We come up with some ridiculously extreme sounding percentage (Head Start funding cut by 25%!), even though in fact the budget increased by an even larger percentage. 

If what the Tea Party wanted to do was to roll back government expenditure, it failed.

I’m not actually sure that that’s what the Tea Party wants to do, but we can get to that another time.

On the other side of the aisle, Progressives also failed to raise taxes on the “wealthy”–and yes, at the standard that $250,000 a year is “wealthy,” that deserves scare quotes.

In a way, Progressives lost less heavily than the Tea Party did.  The Tea Party failed utterly.  The Progessives got at least some growth in government.

And, in fact, they were never interested in taxing the wealthy anyway.  If you want to tax the wealthy, you don’t raise income tax rates on people making more than $250,000 a year, or even $1,000,000 a year.   You go after specific provisions in the tax law and target them narrowly, you hit the estate tax rates–and then you recognize that even when you do that, you’re in danger of catching ordinary, non-wealthy people in the web.  

In case you wonder why we never get a raise in the capital gains rates: it may have less to do with fat cat Wall Street lobbyists and more on the senior citizens’ lobbies.  Why?  Because, for most Americans, the only time they’ll come into contact with the capital gains tax is when they sell their big family house for one in order to buy a cheaper one and live on the difference during their retirement.  Every time you raise the capital gains rates, you’re in danger of making it impossible for Grandpa to retire.  Every time you provide a loophole for him to get through, a lot of richer people will find a way to use it to shield their own money.

I am not, for my part, much interested in the level of taxation.  Maybe I would be if income tax rates were higher than they are, or much higher than they are.  But my primary concern is with the areas into which government is allowed to intrude.

The core functions of government are the military, the police, and the courts, and the legal structures that go to maintain them–Congress, for instance, and the Department of Defense.

The secondary functions of government are those things that must be done if society is going to function at all–building and maintaining roads and bridges, establishing currency, and that kind of thing.

After that we get into lots of things that we may want to do, and that we may even have good practical arguments in favor of doing, but that are not strictly necessary to a functioning society.  We know they’re not strictly necessary, because society has functioned without them before, and societies in the world today function without them. 

Any sane approach to the budget would cut those things in the third category first, and would start with cutting those things in the third category that don’t seem to be much more than busybodying for the sake of busybodying.

I mean, I’m sorry, but I don’t care how fat the children of America are getting.  It’s none of Washington’s business.  How will be cure the “epidemic of obesity?” you ask.  We won’t.  Just because there’s a problem doesn’t mean government is supposed to solve it.

The same for the literally thousands of little programs meant to “address” problems like school bullying, self-esteem, body image, drug and alcohol abuse awareness (note the last word), and on and on and on–literally thousands of them, all of them small, all of them eating up money in the form of salaries, pensions and benefits for staff and administrators.

Just above those are the programs that are bigger and have a constituency, but are just as expendible in a time when we don’t really have enough money to fund things that matter:  The National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, NPR and PBS.

Of course, I’d  do more than that, if it was left up to me–I’d get rid of the entire Department of Education, for instance, because education in this country is supposed to be a local (or at best state) concern, not a federal one.  I’d get rid of the Department of Homeland Security and put its necessary functions into the Defense Department and get rid of the duplications.  And there are lots.  I’d abolish the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Labor, elminate about three-quarters of what they do and put the rest in a single smaller department. 

And while I was at it, I’d get rid of the right of departments to issue regulations with the force of law.  If it’s going to be a law, it will have to be voted on by elected representatives who can be held accountable for what they do and how they do it. 

But now I’m past the budget and on to other things.

But it doesn’t matter, really, because we’re just back to the same old same old.  Budget “cuts” that aren’t really cuts, taxing the rich who aren’t really rich.

It’s what we do.

Written by janeh

August 3rd, 2011 at 7:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

21 Responses to 'My Beautiful Balloon'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'My Beautiful Balloon'.

  1. Perhaps somewhere there is a sensible economist who plays well with legislators. Perhaps this country could develop a taxation system that brings in enough income to support services we all need without imperiling resources individuals and families need. (Corporations are “persons” who seem more than capable of taking care of themselves.)

    Perhaps the capital gains problem would diminish if each household were allowed a homestead exemption. Go ahead and sell one house to fund your retirement. Shut down the offensive programs of the “Defense” Department. I probably don’t need to be defended from tribesmen in Afghanistan. I probably do need to be defended against contractors who drink deep from money borrowed from the Social Security trust fund.

    Create jobs by recycling the equipment “defense” contractors have scattered across the planet. Create jobs in industries that transform tools of war and weapons of mass destruction into machinery designed to keep the planet and the species that live on it balanced and healthy.

    Many of us who work with the general population see that physical, cognitive, emotional, and social capacity are not evenly distributed. I taught public school, worked for the state human services and state health departments, then taught at a regional university. Abilities vary. You teach at a community college, and have mentioned that student abilities vary.

    Some of the variation seems to come from heredity, some from the physical and social environments including education, and some from personal choice. Seems reasonable to me that society as a whole would fund health, environmental, and education programs that help capable people manage well. Seems reasonable to me that nations, states, and communities would fund programs that help incapable people manage.

    Cancer survivors like Ayn Rand need financial support and effective health care. Not all of them are capable of managing independently. Along with many others who paid taxes for at least 40 quarters, Rand received Social Security and Medicare. Others who didn’t have regular income receive SSI and Medicaid.

    Some individuals and families can manage independently. Individuals and families who have invested in property, insurance, the social security and Medicare programs can manage. The worthy poor can get help from family, friends, and private charities. The unworthy, incapable, incompetent poor we have always with us.

    Sensible employers, landlords, and health care providers avoid some people whenever possible. Some people wind up homeless. Some wind up living in housing projects. Federal and state governments fund public and private prisons to isolate some of them. Dickens’ Scrooge suggested that they die and reduce the surplus population. What do you suggest?

    BTW: do not eat at restaurants that refuse to comply with health department regulations that have the force of law.


    3 Aug 11 at 9:36 am

  2. Okay. I can’t help myself. I’m trying, but it’s a kind of jumpy day around here.

    1) MM says I should refuse to eat in restaurants that follow the regulations made by unelected agencies.


    I didn’t object to the regulations. I objected to the way in which they were instituted.

    All I want is for anything that has the force of law to be passed AS a law, by people we elected and can therefore reject in the next election cycle.

    That is how the Constitution says our laws should be passed. And there’s a good reason for it.

    It provides a brake on power grabs of all kinds.

    I’m sure my state legislature would have no trouble passing laws regulating health and safety issues in restaurants. I don’t need a department of unelected bureaucrats to do that.

    And that will be true, I think, of any rule or regulation that has the support of the people.

    What will be in jeopardy is regulations that most of the public does not support–and those will include things I want regulated and those things I agree with the majority should not be regulated.

    That’s how a democracy works.

    It really isn’t too much to ask that any regulation tht has the force of law be passed AS a law.

    2) I don’t know if Ayn Rand took Social Security–but she should have.

    This is an argument I’ve never understood, and it comes up in different guises.

    Ayn Rand–and you, and I–have no choice about paying Social Security taxes. We may love SS or hate it, but it doesn’t matter. We pay those taxes or we go to jail.

    And Rand, like me, will have paid much more in SS taxes than most Americans, because Rand, like me, was self employed. A self employed person pays BOTH HALVES of the SS tax–employees, on the other hand, pay one half while the employer pays another.

    So, required to pay INTO the system whether she wanted to or not, she SHOULD have taken SS payments when she was old enough, and that does not make her a hypocrite.

    IF she could have opted out and didn’t, that would be something else.

    I hear this same kind of argument about black writers who oppose Affirmative Action–you benefited from AA! If you oppose it, you must be a hypocrite!

    But Thomas Sowell or Ward Connelly had no choice about whether AA was applied to them. They weren’t even allowed to know about it IF it was applied, or on what basis. They’re no more hypocrites for opposing it than a white student at Ole Miss who was admitted to the University during segregation is a hypocrite for advocating the end of segregation there.

    3) There IS an exemption to the capital gains tax–a single exemption meant to cover that one last sale of the house to use the money for retirement. But laws are written as abstractions, and that exemption benefits rich people more than poor people, and the richer the more it benefits.

    My point was not that the way we treat capital gains is necessarily the right way, just that any time we try to do something else with it it evokes responses from more people than the billionaires lobby, and any tax-and-exempt loophole we create for one group often benefits another.

    4) I don’t like much of what the Defense Department does, either, but the fact remains that maintaining a military is a core function of any government. One way or another, you have to protect your citizens from being invaded and conquered by another country. If you can’t do that, your society ceases to exist.

    Whatever we do or don’t want to do about people born with fewer abilities, people who are disabled, people who’ve rendered themselves half brain dead with methamphetamine, etc, the simple fact is that even if we do NOTHING about any of it, society would in fact still continue to exist.

    It may not be the soceity we want, but it would not be a society that had simply ceased functioning.

    The real question here is what, if anything, we SHOULD do about such issues, plus what, if anything, we WANT to do about such issues.

    Those two questions do not necessarily have the same set of answers.

    And the answers depend, to an extent, on what we think we CAN do about such issues.

    Nothing I know of can change the fact that some people are born smarter than others, just as some people are born better looking than others, and that these differences will have at least some effect on the outcomes of peoples’ lives.

    The question is–should we “do” something about that? And if so, why?


    3 Aug 11 at 1:13 pm

  3. Back in the early 60s when I was in college, we used to sit around in the snack bar at the university and argue about all manner of things. These were the days of “Camelot” when Kennedy was president, so a lot of what we discussed was how to help those who were less well off than we were.

    The Young Democrats would argue that x, y, and z were necessary: “Don’t you think pregnant women need good, nutritious food?” “Don’t you think old people need good health care?” “Don’t you think children need a good education?” “Don’t you think…”

    It was hard for any of us to argue against what they were saying until…

    They made the jump and said, “Therefore the Federal government should be taking care of all of these things,” and then my reaction was WAIT JUST A MINUTE HERE!

    The Federal government is the WORST way to deal with these problems. Anything that can be done at the local level should be done at that level. Anything that can’t be done at the local level but can be done at the state level should be done at the state level. Only those things that can’t be done at the state level should be done by the Federal government.

    And yet we have had almost 50 years of the Federal government taking over responsibility for more and more of those “worthwhile” things that should be done at the state or local level. And in the process, of course, the money is being drained away to pay the salaries of the administers in the bureaucracies set up to run the programs that are going to “take care of” all those worthwhile projects. And additional money is being spent to pay the salaries of the staffers, and the cost of the offices, and the office furniture, and the office utilities, and the office supplies. And then more money is drained away at the state and local level to pay the salaries of the people who have to fill out the necessary paperwork required by the federal bureaucracies. And of course those people need offices, and staff, and utilities, and supplies. And of course they require the people below them, like, say, the teachers, the small business owners, the engineers, the farmers, and all the rest of “The American People” have to spend hours filling out the forms the local and state bureaucrats need to enable them to fill out the forms the Federal government requires.

    When you are thinking about donating to a charity, it is a good idea to check it out first and see how much of the money you give them will actually get to the people the charity is designed to help, and how much will go to the administrative costs of running the charity. You might find that Charity A has administrative costs of 15%, which means that for every dollar you donate, 85 cents would go to the people the charity is supposed to be helping. This would be a good charity to donate your money to. On the other hand you might discover that Charity B has administrative costs of 85%, which means that for every dollar you donate, only 15 cents would go to the people being helped. This would obviously not be a good charity to donate to.

    The Federal government falls into the latter category because the administrative costs are way too high. For every dollar in taxes sent to Washington, a very large percentage of it is spent on the cost of administrating all the programs Congress has set up to help solve all of our problems for us.

    In short, I agree wholeheartedly with Jane. The Federal government is the least efficient way to handle the social problems in our society. The more it steps in to rescue us, the more we need rescuing.

    BTW: I have eaten in restaurants that don’t comply with the U.S. health department regulations. These restaurants were not, of course, in the U.S. Yes, the restaurant situation in Taiwan was horrible back in 1977 (it may have improved), but I also have eaten in restaurants in Italy, Russia, Norway, Holland, Germany, Spain, England, Ireland, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic without having any more problems than I’ve had eating in U.S. restaurants. Yes, of course those other countries also have good health regulations for restaurants, but they have far, far fewer regulations than the U.S. does, which regulations cost their restaurants far, far less money to implement.

    The U.S. goes overboard with its regulations, not just as far as restaurants are concerned, but in all aspects of our lives. Yes, we need regulations. No, we do not need regulations that “protect” us from every possible thing that might hurt us.

    Case in point: Back in the 50s the airlines used upholstery fabric that gave off poisonous vapors when it burned, killing anyone who survived the initial plane crash. Regulations were put in place that required “non-lethal” upholstery to be used. Good regulation.

    Another case in point: Every year some children suffered excessive burns or even death when their pajamas caught on fire (in house fires, or by accidentally coming in contact with a lit cigarette, etc.) because cotton flannel has lots of little fibers sticking out, which make it more flammable than plain cotton fabric. New regulations were put in place that all fabric used in children’s sleepwear needed to be non-flammable. And so it came to pass.
    Unfortunately, the fire-retardant chemicals used to make flannel non-flammable made the fabric stiff and not soft and definitely not snuggy. In addition, chemicals can be absorbed through the skin, and no one knows exactly what the long-term effects of exposure to those flame-retardant chemicals might be. Will the children who grew up wearing those “safe” non-flammable jammies have a higher cancer rate than the children who grew up wearing homemade jammies that were made out of the old-fashioned flannel? Who knows?

    U.S. regulatory agencies are not themselves required to operate on a Cost/Benefit plan. They do not have to determine how much a regulation will cost and how many people it will benefit. I have worked as a tech editor for a company connected to the nuclear energy industry, and I have seen regulations put into effect that cost over 1 billion dollars, and that will potentially save the lives of 2 Americans. (The billion dollars were not, actually, tax dollars, but were borrowed dollars added to the Federal deficit.)

    Here’s another example:

    About ten years ago I had a young friend who was part of a network of volunteers who moved (and maybe still move) homeless cats and dogs across the country to their “forever homes.” The way it worked is that if, say, Mrs. Jones in Boston went on-line and found a springer spaniel in an animal shelter in Terre Haute, then she would pay the shelter’s adoption fees, and a network coordinator would enlist the help of volunteers to transport that cocker spaniel from Terre Haute to Boston. Each volunteer would drive the dog in his/her private automobile along a 50-100 mile stretch of the route, passing the dog off to the next volunteer at a designated meeting place.
    You can imagine the total cost for everyone’s gasoline to do this. I tried to reason with my friend that all that gas money spent by all those volunteers would be better spent in buying dog food or cat food for a local animal shelter or in providing free spaying and neutering for family pets. But all she could see was the individual dog or cat that was going to its “forever home.”

    We cannot afford to have a government that enacts laws and regulations based solely on the criteria, “Will this act/regulation benefit someone?”.

    Cost/Benefit? Not taken into account. Just like the Federal regulatory agencies.


    3 Aug 11 at 2:32 pm

  4. I should have proofread my last posting more carefully… sigh… The springer spaniel should have stayed a springer spaniel.

    And actually, the billion dollars was not tax money or federal deficit money, it was the cost to American industry.

    Next time I’ll try harder to see what I’ve written before I hit the “submit comment” button.


    3 Aug 11 at 2:38 pm

  5. BTH: I really like the sound of “a sensible economist who plays well with legislators.”

    Wish I’d thought of that phrase.

    Wish there were an actual person like that.


    3 Aug 11 at 2:44 pm

  6. I have a question.

    Isn’t there anyone out there besides me who remembers that Constitutional Amendments can be enacted without Congress?

    We don’t need Congress to initiate a balanced budget requirement. We don’t need Congress to “give” presidents line-item veto rights. We don’t need Congress to initiate term limits. We don’t need Congress to limit the power of Federal regulatory agencies.

    There are ways to bell the cat that don’t require the cat’s cooperation.


    3 Aug 11 at 2:57 pm

  7. http://www.usconstitution.net/constam.html

    I’m still learning the mechanics of how this blog works. The above web address didn’t go through. It may or may not go through this time.


    3 Aug 11 at 2:58 pm

  8. Sadly, every word in the original post is true. As for the subsequent comments:

    Blood-sucking contractors. Must we do the whole Nye commission merchants of death business again? You can make a case for less military spending–but doing it all with the Civil Service won’t get you there. DoD started hiring contractors because they–WE, actually: I have a stake–were cheaper than Civil Service. As we write, the Defense Department is admitting that by the time they own up to health care, pensions and supervisory costs this is still true. Also, we’re easier to move and much easier to get rid of. Neither hiring more GS-13s to replace BAE nor building a Federal aircraft factory to replace General Dynamics is likely to return us to the budget of 1928. The waste in the system generally comes from buying the wrong things. Write your congressman, who told DoD what they had to buy.

    Social Security taxes. Could we also put to rest the notion that I only pay half? A tax which is a fixed percentage of my wages is a payroll tax–and a labor cost. The money my boss has to send to the Feds for “his” half of Social Security taxes is money he can’t offer as wages and pay as bonuses–meaning salary or my next raise–should there be such a thing–will be lower by the amount of the additional Social Security tax the company pays. FDR sold Social Security as only coming half from wages, but it wasn’t true in 1935, and it still isn’t true today.

    When you tax wages, the money comes from the wage-earner’s pocket, just as when you tax rental income, the poor schmoe who can’t afford a house pays. There isn’t any other place for it to come from.


    3 Aug 11 at 4:02 pm

  9. How well did the health, education and welfare systems work in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Poland and Czechoslovakia during the period 1940 – 1945?

    Defense is the primary duty of a government, everything else is secondary.


    3 Aug 11 at 4:03 pm

  10. I agree that defense is the primary duty of a government. But why is the U.S. required to provide the bulk of the defense for so many countries around the world? Why do we still have troops stationed in Germany, for example?

    I realize that the rationale is that we have them there so that if “our interests” are threatened anywhere around the world, the troops will be closer to where we need them than they would be if they were all in the U.S.

    Could we perhaps reevaluate what “our interests” are? The government decided years ago that the U.S. military had the duty to protect any American citizen anywhere in the world. For example when an American businessman was kidnapped in Morocco, President Teddy Roosevelt sent in the marines and essentially took over Morocco. Of course a lot of American marines were killed in the process, but oh, well, I guess they didn’t count.

    Can we still afford this kind of reaction when any American citizen gets into any kind of trouble anywhere in the world? Because if we do want to continue providing military protection for our citizens no matter where they wander around the world, then we will have to keep stationing our troops all around the world. And in the process, of course, we weaken our defenses at home, especially when we send the National Guard abroad.

    If we need to keep troops stationed all over the world just to keep our citizens safe, why don’t other countries need to do the same? Why don’t France and Norway and Italy and Brazil need to have military bases all over the world to protect each and every one of their citizens?

    I agree with jd that defense is the primary duty of government, but I do NOT think that defense of every single citizen who wanders off some where in the world is the primary duty of government.


    3 Aug 11 at 4:54 pm

  11. Now that the cold war is over, I can’t think of any good reason to have US troops in Western Europe.

    And I wasn’t aware that the US provided military assistance to its wandering citizens.


    3 Aug 11 at 7:08 pm

  12. I’m not sure the U.S. does provide military assistance to its wandering citizens. But I am sure that such potential assistance is one of the rationals used in the post-cold-war era by our government to justify continuing to have bases scattered around the world, i.e. “We need to be able to move troops in rapidly if American citizens gets into trouble.”

    And of course the U.S. needs to have troops stationed around the world to protect the foreign petroleum that we are dependent upon, and to protect other “national interests.”

    It all fits in with the war games: If such and such a country does this, then we can respond quicker if we have troops already stationed in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Korea, etc. It’s the quick response syndrome, usually coupled with the dire scenario that will occur if we are unable to provide a response that is 24 hours or 48 hours slower.

    So we close bases right and left in the United States, but keep our bases in places like Germany, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea and untold other countries around the world. Now we have added Afghanistan and Iraq, both countries where we will undoubtedly have military bases for years to come.


    3 Aug 11 at 7:29 pm

  13. The troops in Europe are down to four brigades, and shortly to go down to two. They’re (a) proof of sincerity in our commitment to NATO (b) needed for joint training, and (c) an enlistmant incentive. To be sent repeatedly to Afghanistan is bad enough–but to alternate that with tours at Ft Polk is downright cruel. Have you ever looked at where the Stateside bases are?

    And yes, if American citizens overseas get into a mess, we try to get them out–and not just us. The French, British and Canadians have all been involved in getting people out of Lebanon and Libya in recent years. Generally the lesser powers make arrangements with the greater, so we might be on the hook for, say, stray Taiwanese. I don’t know that this is a serious cost. Having the ships, bases and trained manpower that would let us secure the Straits of Hormuz or convince the Russians they can’t have Lithuania back is expensive. Once you’ve paid for that, sending the Sixth Fleet to evacuate US citizens from Lebanon costs more like a training exercise, and may serve as one. Seriously cutting defense is going to involve cutting some countries adrift. If we’re not prepared to do that, we’re going to have to go on spending four cents on the dollar. But remember it was ten cents on the dollar under Eisenhower and JFK.

    And speaking as an ex-soldier, no, our deaths would not count the same way as those of the people rescued. This is why firefighters go into burning houses, and why police don’t wait until the fuss is over before responding to calls. Risking our necks on behalf of our fellow citizens and the republic as a whole was what we got the big bucks for. Every now and then some officer would tell us that the most important thing about a training exercise was safety, or some politicians will say that the most important thing in the military is to look to the welfare of the soldiers. This is nonsense. You can be perfectly safe staying home. The most important thing in a training exercise is to be ready to fight, and the important thing about a soldier is that the nation is defended. It’s not that safety is unimportant, or that soldiers shouldn’t be looked after, but an Army doesn’t exist for Fourth of July parades.

    Contemplate that Dutch brigade at Srebrenica. The Dutch pay one or two cents on the euro for their army–but it looks as though they might be being overcharged.


    3 Aug 11 at 7:40 pm

  14. What Robert said.

    This perennial argument that many civilians love to make: that they agree that defence is important, even vital, but they don’t agree that we need to have our forces overseas, or here, or there, or everywhere, particularly NIMBY, gets to be tiresome after a while, like after the first thousand or so times, and that’s just this year alone. Australia’s problems in this regard are trivial compared to the United States’, but they share the common thread that defence policy is, like education and health policy, something that everyone believes they have expertise in. Most don’t have the slightest understanding of the real issues.

    Just a few things to remember, in addition to those excellent points Robert made:

    1. In the context of an all-volunteer force, it takes at least a year, and often longer, to recruit and train a soldier to a point where that individual can be posted to an operational unit. That alone costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per enlisted recruit, millions in the case of officers.

    It then takes at least another year, and many millions of dollars, to bring that unit up to operational readiness, assuming that the majority of its members are not recent recruits but experienced, second or later enlistment personnel. Apart from the strategic aspects, having a range of bases in attractive overseas localities offers a cheap and effective means of attracting recruits and retaining skilled personnel.

    2. It takes an instant in time and the mere stroke of an executive pen to destroy a nation’s aircraft carrier capability. We did it here in Australia 20 or so years ago. But it takes at least 25 years and gazillions of dollars for a nation to rebuild such a capacity. Russia still hasn’t got an operational carrier capacity even though it’s been working on the project off and on for the last 30 years or so. There is much angst about China building aircraft carriers. Even when they launch the ships, it’ll take many more years for them to become operational.

    So, it’s much more cost-effective for the US to retain and maintain their carrier fleet than it would be to dismantle it and try to replace it with land-based aircraft (an idea which, even if it were not inherently impracticable, would demand many more overseas bases than currently exist with all the flow-on additional costs) or to rebuild it in some future defence emergency.

    There are a minimum number of ships, aircraft and personnel necessary to provide a _minimal_ operational carrier force presence in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans essential for the direct defence of the continental United States. These include not only the carriers and the myriad, but essential, support ships and their crews, but also the additional ships, aircraft and personnel to allow for unavoidable periodic maintenance, refit and rest for the crews. With the recruiting, training and other support mechanisms in place, it doesn’t cost a whole lot more to augment that minimal force to conduct other discretionary operations such as those in the Gulf and other current hot-spots.

    But this doesn’t stop the perennial calls for the forces to be wound back and to divert the “savings” to suit some radical agenda or other.


    3 Aug 11 at 10:15 pm

  15. It’s also rather counter-productive to say the US (or any other country) shouldn’t try to protect it’s international interests overseas. If the only source of some essential substance – like oil – is overseas, and the economy is going to collapse without it, any country is going to do its best to ensure the oil supply continues, and sometimes that’s going to involve war.

    Of course, there are limits – should a major power really go to war to ensure, say, the supply of bananas? Probably not. And finding replacements for oil, particularly internal ones, is no doubt an admirable goal. But until that happens, there’s a valid reason for ensuring that the lines of supply are protected and local countries are stable. That can often take military strength as well as diplomatic skill.

    I think it would come as a great suprise to many people in these days of sending ships and planes to Lebanon that ‘protecting random citizens’ comes well down on the list of the duties of an Embassy. Their main job is to represent the interests of their country, although they will offer some services to stray nationals in trouble. Many years ago when I was travelling in what was then Behind the Iron Curtain, a Danish friend and I ran into visa problems on a weekend. I had a US passport then, and of the two embassys we managed to get into the US one, where some junior officer was summoned, explained to us kindly and courteously just where we’d gone wrong on the visa thing and found a cheap hotel room for us so we at least had a place to stay until we approached the local authorities on Monday with our little problem. I don’t think another embassy would have offered that much help on the weekend – certainly the Danes all seemed to be away! The US has perhaps been more open to helping all of its citizens when they are abroad than some countries, which no doubt figures into some Ameicans’ views on how far they should go to do it.


    4 Aug 11 at 6:25 am

  16. As those great American philosophers Thelma and Louise said, “You get what you settle for.” That seems true of food and public servants. For years the best barbecue joint in eastern Oklahoma had a dirt floor, and legislators made special trips to eat there. The Health Department sanitarian said he was very grateful for the cement floor, when it was finally poured. I suspect that food in restaurants that meet regulations devised by bureaucrats is somewhat safer than food protected by the patronage of legislators.
    Bureaucrats, legislators, and voters have been known to be mistaken about issues involving responsibility and consequences. Complying with regulations devised by bureaucrats (aka tax-supported professionals) consumes time and money. Charlou mentions regulations that cost industry a billion dollars and might save the lives of two Americans. Please, name two Americans who should and could be immortal for only half a billion dollars.
    Regulations promulgated by elected officials might not be an improvement, considering how influenced elected officials can be by their donors/owners. I’m also perpetually doubtful about the wisdom of voters in Oklahoma. They elected our U.S. and state Senators and Representatives, and 70% voted to keep Sharia law out of Oklahoma courts.
    Robert suggests I write my Congressman about the defense budget. My congressman votes with his party on defense bills. He is a graduate of a Baptist seminary, belongs to six Chambers of Commerce and the NRA. His maiden speech in Congress was a strong anti-abortion statement. I suspect that I’d get form letter back, thanking me for my concern and eventually another letter asking for a campaign donation.
    I think that necessary national institutions are those that protect a country and its citizens. I would prefer that national institutions also protect other residents, because I’m old enough to remember post WWII revelations about the Nazis. According to the blog, necessary national institutions include the military, the legal system, the highway system, and the currency system.

    Listed as institutions “not strictly necessary, because society has functioned without them before and societies in the world today function without them” are the Departments of Education, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Labor.

    For me, it’s not a question of can or should societies function without nation-wide institutions in these areas, but how can a civilized industrialized nation’s institutions function well in these areas.

    I don’t think Ayn Rand was a hypocrite. I think she was profoundly mistaken about responsibility and consequences, and better off in the long run for having paid FICA for herself when she could. Landlords, mortgage holders, utility companies, and health care providers appreciate the availability of Social Security and Medicare, and SSI, LIHEAP, and Medicaid. However, there are those who don’t have resources. What are the consequences of doing nothing for those who can do little or nothing for themselves?


    4 Aug 11 at 11:11 am

  17. Today I received a forwarded email that was actually good, so I traced it to its source to get an accurate copy. For those of you who have never see Charley Reese’s “final column” (it wasn’t actually his last column) about who is responsible for the mess this country is in, here’s a link:



    4 Aug 11 at 3:07 pm

  18. Well, okay.

    A couple of things.

    First, I didn’t say that the police, the military and the courts were “necessary” functions of goverment. I said they were CORE functions of government. Those are very different things.

    A core function of government is something that all governments must have at all times and all places. Without them, no society above the hunter-gatherer level can survive, and no technologically and culturally sophisticated society could go without for a single day.

    But governments perform many functions that are necessary to their societies given the times and circumstances immediately obtaining.

    For instance, it was almost certainly a necessary government function that was performed when the newly-minted US decided to inaugurate a postal service. Whether we’ll still need a government-run postal service in, say, 2050 will depend on conditions pertaining in 2050.

    Times change, circumstances change, the necessary functions of government change.

    The core functions of government do not change. They never have, and human nature being what it is, they never will.

    Second, I didn’t say that laws made by legislatures would necessarily be “better” than those made by bureaucrats.

    I said that laws made by bureaucrats are wrong. They’re morally and politically wrong. They’re wrong even when the substance of the regulation is a good thing. And the substance of regulations imposed by unelected bureaucrats are by no means always a good thing.

    Democratic societies are legitimated by the consent of the governed. Regulations issued by unelected bureaucrats are both inherently illegitimate–they don’t have the consent of the governed–and inherently tyrannical.

    Legislators may make good decisions, and legislatures may make bad ones. But they have the support of the majority of the people, or the people kick them out at the next election.

    And that’s the way it should be.

    And democracy has not gone wrong if the majority votes in a way we don’t want, or think is bad, or any of that.

    Part of this, of course, is that I have no use for “professionals”–by which I mean, being told I have to take X’s opinion because she’s an ‘expert.’

    Experts do a lot of harm. Let them suggest, and then let the people decide.

    And if the people do not decide the way I want them to, well, that’s part of the price we all pay for democracy.


    4 Aug 11 at 3:12 pm

  19. Very well put.


    4 Aug 11 at 4:43 pm

  20. Aha! I remembered what I forgot.

    MM said:

    >>>However, there are those who don’t have resources. What are the consequences of doing nothing for those who can do little or nothing for themselves?

    And, of course, that’s a good question, put both this way and in its mirror: what are the consequences of doing something for those same people?

    The question(s) are actually much more complicated than they look–if Mary can “do little or nothing” for herself, why is that? Was she born mentally or physically handicapped? Was she the victim of a crime or a natural disaster? Did she spend her productive years working just enough to get the money to drink so that now she’s 65 and has nothing in the bank?

    There are all kinds of reasons why people may be “able” to do little or nothing for themselves, and each of those reasons likely should evoke a different response from us, both as individuals and as a society.

    As I said in my original post, there may be good practical reasons for why you want the government to do X, and it’s possible that the government SHOULD do X.

    Take, for instance, Head Start. I’ve seen all the research. Head Start doesn’t “work,” if by “work” you mean bring poor kids up to speed with their middle class peers on an academic level.

    We pour a lot of money into Head Start, and we do not get what we say we want to get out of it.

    But we may get other things out of it. In my experience, one of the things Head Start DOES do, and is very successful at doing, is to bring parents (usually mothers) into contact with schools in such a way that they learn to understand that they can and should tract their kids’ progress, that there are people on site who are available to help the kid with tutoring or other support services if the kid needs them.

    And it often provides the kids with the only safe, calm and entirely orderly environment they’ve ever seen.

    That last thing is not minor. If you asked me what I think my poorest and least accomplished students needed MOST, I wouldn’t say programs or social workers or any of it–I’d say regular times for meals, regular schedules for their days, a sense of order and structure in their lives.

    Many of them have none. And when they have none, they don’t get to my classroom at all. They drop out at fourteen–it’s illegal, but the do it anyway–and have kids, or gang initiations.

    I wasn’t ruling ANY program off the table. I don’t actually object to the programs, only to the attitude that comes with too many of them–“society spends all this money supporting you, so society should get to tell you how to live.”

    But in this case, I was only saying that when there really is not enough money to go around, the core functions of government should be funded first, the necessary structural stuff should come next, and only after we’ve taken care of that should we start debating the rest of it.

    As to eliminating departments–I don’t see why it’s a good thing to have departments that do nothing but duplicate what other departments do. Why spend all that money on the buildings, the utilities, the extra personel, if you already have another department set up to do the same thing? Homeland Security is a silly department. It does nothing that somebody else wasn’t already doing. And it’s caused more, not less, chaos and confusion in trying to do it all again its own way.

    The Dept of Education is different. Education is not a federal responsibility. It’s a responsibility of municipalities. Each community gets to decide for itself what its children should learn, at most within parameters defined by its own state government.

    What the Dept of Education gets you is No Child Left Behind.


    4 Aug 11 at 4:47 pm

  21. Again, I want to remind everyone that saying something NEEDS to be done is not the same thing as proving the government needs to do it.

    In addition, showing that the government does indeed need to do something is not the same thing as proving the Federal government needs to do it rather than state or local governments.

    I lived in Russia for three and a half months, back when it was part of the Soviet Union. That was about 3 months longer than I needed to see just how bad a system works when everything is decided by a central government.

    When we arrived in Moscow, the potato harvest was just starting. Whoever in Moscow was supposed to have organized the potato harvest for the entire country had forgotten to arrange for the extra farm laborers needed. Obviously the potatoes had to be harvested or the country would face mass food shortages, so all the colleges and universities were told that they would start classes a month late, and all the students were told where to report to harvest potatoes.

    A month later, when the students returned to classes, one of them told me that the year before no one had remembered to order the necessary trucks to transport the harvested potatoes to the storage facilities.

    Having people in Washington, D.C., make decisions about how local districts in the U.S. should run their schools, how individual Americans should manage their lives, and how towns should spend their tax monies, is ridiculously stupid, no matter what “good intentions” the legislators may have.


    4 Aug 11 at 10:17 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 190 access attempts in the last 7 days.