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A Multi Factored World

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Random Thoughts from Thomas Sowell at Town Hall:

Global warming, due to greenhouse gasses, is the latest in a long series of one-factor theories about a multi-factor world. Such theories have often enjoyed great popularity, despite how often they have turned out to be wrong.

One of the most richly rewarded skills in politics is the ability to make self-interest sound like idealism. Nowhere is this tactic more successful than in so-called “campaign finance reform” laws — spending restrictions that prevent challenger candidates from buying enough publicity to offset the free publicity that incumbents get from the media.

If what you want from politicians are quick and easy answers, someone is sure to supply them, regardless of which party you follow. History can tell you where quick and easy answers lead. But, if you don’t want to bother reading history, you can just wait and relive its catastrophes.

 

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The Beast Is Us

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from National Review, Kevin Williamson, Starving the Beast in Kansas:

Unserious men promise to Starve the Beast and balance budgets by eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse,” the formulation relied upon by, among others, Donald Trump, 2016’s poster-boy for terminal unseriousness. Delusional politicians insist that significant tax cuts can be offset by simple gains in efficiency — but if it were that simple, then why not implement those cost-saving measures first and the tax cuts afterward?

(Answer: Because it is not simple.)

There are gross spending abuses at every level of government, from Harry Reid’s federally subsidized cowboy-poetry festivals to million-dollar paydays for superintendents of small suburban school districts. These are work for the meat cleaver, not the scalpel. But about 80 percent of what the federal government does is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other health-care spending, national defense, and paying interest on debts incurred by previous Congress’s refusal to implement taxes sufficient to pay for that spending. Most of what state and local governments spend their money on is public schools, state universities, police, roads, and ordinary municipal services. Yes, it’s bonkers that Lubbock, Texas, spends about a quarter-million a year on a city manager, but that’s still chump change compared with what schools and police cost.

We are not going to balance the federal budget without cutting Social Security and other popular entitlements as well as the military, and Kansas is not going to bring its spending down to match a lower revenue line without touching education and the roads. It isn’t going to happen.

Yes, conservatives believe in smaller government, but conservatives also believe in prudence — and that our political calculations must in the end take account of reality. And here’s the reality that every politician eventually discovers: You can promise to Starve the Beast, but in the end, the Beast is Us.

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Change and Vandalism

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from Charles Cooke at National Review, Conservatives Refuse to Repeat the Mistakes of History (a fundraising letter)

Tricky as it may be to acknowledge, the eternal verities care little for the zeitgeist. Fashions may change, and the shape of the mob may morph, but the truth does not. Markets, not governments, yield real and sustainable progress. Strength, not weakness, is the finest prophylactic against war. Laws, not benevolent men, serve as the guarantor of Liberty. There is nothing old-fashioned about civil society or local knowledge; no evolution that will render our Constitution moot; no technological replacement for a healthy and humble admiration of the divine. Each generation must learn these axioms anew, and if it does not, we will face decline and fall.

Properly understood, American conservatism is no enemy of advancement and change. On the contrary: Commerce, as Schumpeter put it, is the author of creative destruction; Socialism on the other hand, is a boon to the status quo. But there is change and then there is vandalism; there is the man who cycles his crops and then the man who torches his field; there are those who wish to revise, and then there are those who wish to burn all that came before them to the ground. G.K. Chesterton held that one should never tear down a fence before one understands why it is there. Ensuring we understand why our fences stand where they do is a tireless and never-ending job.

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The Iron Law of Political Reform

George McGovern

From the Wall Street Journal, How George McGovern Made Donald Trump Possible by Phillip Terzian:

Mandate for Reform was issued almost 50 years ago, and half-forgotten as soon as its guidelines were adopted. But looking at it, I realized that I held in my hands the Rosetta Stone for understanding the agony of today’s Republican Party. The proposals of the McGovern Commission conform to my iron law of political reform, and its corollary: Today’s reforms are invariably enacted to correct yesterday’s reforms—and most reforms are intended to correct problems that aren’t really problems.

But the astonishing fact is that over the same period the Republican Party has in effect embraced the McGovern reforms—and with a democratic zeal unmatched by Democrats. The party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower now entrusts its delegate-selection process and presidential choice to the influence of TV debates and to primaries (often in states where Democrats can and do cross lines to cast a ballot). There are no superdelegates at Republican conventions to save the process from itself—or in 2016 to save the GOP from Donald Trump.

Have Republicans lately wondered why people who ought to run for president don’t, and why people who shouldn’t run for president jump right in? Read 1970’s Mandate for Reform. In a half-century we’ve gone from a shrewd, top-down selection process to a traveling carnival of the lowest common denominator.

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The Loss of American Competitiveness

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from The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

Experts on economic competitiveness, like Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, define the term to include the ability of government to pass effective laws; the protection of physical and intellectual property rights and lack of corruption; the efficiency of the legal framework, including modest costs and swift adjudication; the ease of setting up a new business; and effective and predictable regulations.  It is startling to find out how poorly the United States now fares when judged by these criteria.  In a 2011 survey, Porter and his colleagues asked HBS alumni about 607 instances of decisions on whether or not to offshore operations.  The United States retained the business in just 96 cases(16%) and lost it in all of the rest. Asked why they favored foreign locations, the respondents listed the areas where they saw the U.S. falling further behind the rest of the world.  The top ten reasons included:

  1.  The effectiveness of the political system
  2. The complexity of the tax code
  3.  Regulation
  4. The efficiency of the legal frameworks
  5. Flexibility in hiring and firing