Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Progressivism, Working Hard, Playing by and Changing the Rules ... Hypocrisy in Action

Progressivism is the Fundamental U.S. Economic Problem

Progressives have a problem, even though they can't or won't admit it. The progressive formula for economic progress, as used herein, is simple and essentially looks to more government intervention to make our country function better. It's largely based on Keynesianism and promotes an active role for government in solving our economic problems.

With the progressive movement, there is no going back toward more personal freedom and free markets. There is only the forward movement.

And to progressives forward always means more government, which in turn means more taxes and fewer personal freedoms, less economic growth, weaker economies and so forth. An endless downward spiral and a trap set by the liberals and from which they can't escape. Their constituents, such as public sector unions and  those benefiting directly from government programs, won't allow that, being aligned with and dependent on bigger and bigger government themselves

In that vein, history teaches that U.S. Government expenditures were approximately 3% of GDP prior to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Then they grew increasingly and consistently to a level of 18%-19% by the 1980s. Now they're 24% or higher, even after the "peace dividend" of the 1990s. Note the trend?

In basic economics more individual freedoms and adherence to free market principles require less government control and intervention. And vice versa. There's always only 100% to split. The more government takes, the less people get to keep. MOM starts at 100. OPM starts at 0.

So MOM + OPM = 100. And 100 - OPM = MOM's Remainder. Period.

Today's Progressive Dilemma

Some people wonder what the progressives plan to do to get our country out of the economic mess we're in today. The answer is simple, because there's only one play in the progressives' playbook. Have the government do more. And that's exactly what has been occurring for the past eight decades.

Our national debt grows exponentially each time our economy falters as government runs to the rescue. As a result, over time our economy has become more and more dependent on government, and our nation has gone deeper into debt.

As have our citizens. But as the government does more each time hard times hit, there is less freedom the next time for the magic of the free market system to work its wonders. So we go deeper in the fiscal and debt hole each time we use government to get us out of the hole. Short term fixes turn into long term economic growth inhibitors.

Playing by the Rules

To take just one current example of playing by the rules and the ongoing progressive need for more and more money to fund government operations, Mitt Romney pays all the taxes he owes, and nobody has disputed that simple fact. Yet progressives say he doesn't pay enough. Why's that? Well, it's not because of anything he's doing or has done. It's because as a result of "progressive progressivism" we are running escalating and dangerous fiscal deficits each year while piling up more national debt.

And due to progressivism, we have no credible plan to halt the growth of our national debt levels, let alone ever repay those debts. Nor will we ever have any concrete plan for doing so from the progressives. It's simply not in their "grow the government" playbook nor is it ever in the best 'SHORT TERM' interests of their constituents.

The real reason we keep adding to the deficits and debt each year isn't because Romney doesn't pay enough taxes, although he may not. It's simply due to the fact that our U.S. economy isn't growing sufficiently. And it can't grow at anywhere near its potential as long as government takes an increasing share of the nation's economic output. Thus, it's an endless downward spiral as a weak economy coupled with an ever growing progressive government system makes for an overly indebted nation.

Accordingly, the rules need to be changed to encourage individuals to act and restrain the progressives from expanding government's role and entitlement/redistribution  programs continuously. Otherwise, the bubble of all economic bubbles will keep growing --- until it finally and inevitably bursts.

But how to change the rules when times are tough is the problem, even though that's precisely when the rules are in the greatest need of being changed.

Progressive Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy comes in lots of shapes and forms. Progressives seem to have mastered it.

In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out. Why not make it five?

Donations to charity, mortgage interest and local property taxes are tax deductible? Why?

The answers to why three strikes and deducting property taxes from income before paying income taxes are simple; because those are the rules. We all play by the rules, even if we wouldn't have made those rules the way they are had we been able to choose the rules ourselves. That's how a free and fair society operates. Work hard and play by the rules --- remember?

So since we're all members of the same larger community of Americans, we follow the rules. So what's the problem? What's the conflict between playing by the rules and trying hard to change them at the same time? I can't think of any. But read on.

The House That Government Built tells a great story about the hypocrisy of the progressives and the rules by which we play, and some of us hope to change:


Ever since Republican convention officials announced their We-Built-It theme for Tuesday night, pundits have been gleefully pointing out that the GOP festivities will be held in an arena constructed with 62% government funding. Just shows what hypocrites these Republicans are, goes the received wisdom.

Maybe not. It's true that the Tampa Bay Times Forum was originally constructed with $86 million from local taxpayers. It's true too that the Tampa Convention Center just two blocks away, where reporters covering the GOP gathering will be working, offers an even more egregious example of government subsidy. Still, it's also true that finding a sports facility these days that would meet a convention's needs and hasn't in some way been underwritten by government largess is no easy thing.

Which provokes the great unasked question: What does it say about America circa 2012 when even those campaigning for less spending find themselves the beneficiaries of that spending?

Lord knows Republicans have more than once dropped their own snouts in the federal trough. How often have we watched the same Republican who decries the expansion of some welfare program happily go on to vote for more federal funding for ethanol? This brand of imposture was vividly on display in the highway and farm bills passed in the 2000s by a Republican House under the leadership of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Nevertheless, the hypocrisy Republicans now find themselves accused of is of a different order. The idea behind the snarks about the publicly financed Tampa arena is that people are somehow guilty of hypocrisy when they benefit from an environment they did not create and might have opposed on principle had they had the chance.

Back in February, the New York Times gave us a taste of this when it profiled a hard-working tea partier who turns out to have used the earned income tax credit, to have signed up his children for federally subsidized school meals, and to have an 88-year-old mother who twice had hip surgery paid for by Medicare. "Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It" ran the headline, implying that people such as this man are phonies or too stupid to realize the contradiction.

It's not only people at the lower ends of the income scale. In college, this columnist paid tuition with student loans guaranteed by the federal government. I deduct my mortgage interest on my taxes. I drive on highways improved by President Obama's stimulus. I do and have done all this even though I believe that prices would be lower and most people would be better off if we didn't have these subsidies.

Or take Paul Ryan, who's become the newest example. This month the GOP's vice-presidential candidate found himself accused of hypocrisy when the press found that he'd sought stimulus funding for his own congressional district—after having voted against the bill.

Surely the real issue here is whether people have any meaningful choice. Because government funding tends to crowd out private funding, it leaves fewer and more expensive options in its wake. Generally that means you have to be as rich as Warren Buffett or living in the most inaccessible Ozarks backwoods to be in a position to forgo federal dollars.

That goes for institutions as well. In education today, almost every university, private as well as public, is heavily involved with government, not least through student loans. The rare, noble exceptions tend to be small liberal arts colleges such as Grove City or Hillsdale.

The same goes for medicine. Americans used to start up private hospitals all the time. Does anyone imagine you could build a hospital today to serve the entire community and keep it all private? If not, haven't we lost something?

The political reality, alas, is that the existing dynamic works to the advantage of those who want even more government. That's because it imposes an impossible standard for purity.

Under this standard, a congressman who votes against a spending bill that passes is deemed a hypocrite unless he then stands aside as federal dollars are doled out to everyone but his constituents.

In like manner, a husband and wife who believe the government should get out of housing face the same charge if they take the mortgage-interest deduction on their taxes. Almost no one can meet that standard, which is the whole point of initiatives such as ObamaCare: Where once federal programs targeted the needy, they now are designed to implicate us all.

So here we are in Tampa in August of a presidential-election year, where the advocates for small government find themselves in the dock because Florida officials once spent millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize the wealthy owner of a hockey team. Definitely there's a "gotcha" here. It's just not what the champions of Big Government think it is."

Summing Up

Progressives always want more, bigger and more intrusive government. As more and more government has become the rule, some of us want to reduce its size. We want to choose a new normal.

The individual exercise of free choice is also sometimes known as freedom. But even though free, as members of the greater society, we still play by the existing rules while those rules remain in effect.

That's only common sense. If I believe as a batter that I should be allowed five strikes, or even only one strike, before being called out on strikes, that's my prerogative. However, unless and until I can get the rules makers to change the three strikes rule, that's the one I must and do follow.

There's nothing hypocritical about me lobbying for a five or even a one strike rule while playing by the three strikes rule. But there is something very hypocritical about others criticizing me for advocating changing those rules which I believe need changing while conforming to them at the same time.

Otherwise government could never get smaller than it is today. Now wouldn't the big government guys love that?

And neither could taxes be reduced --- only increased. Nor could existing government programs be eliminated. Nor could federal spending be cut? And wouldn't the progressives love that, too?

But isn't that pretty much where we find ourselves today? Having been bribed, aka "saved," one too many times?

It's time to change the rules in a serious way and put We the People back in charge.

That's where I'll place my trust --- in We the People and not the progressive do gooders spending OPM and driving us into the poor house as a result of a government based, stalled and weak economy.

Thanks. Bob.

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