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The Fundamental Defect of the Compassionate State

From the October 2014 issue of Hillsdale’s Imprimis, William Voegeli writes The Case Against Liberal Compassion


A first step in that direction is to note a political anomaly pointed out by Mitch Daniels, the former Republican governor of Indiana. Daniels contended that disciplining government according to “measured provable performance and effective spending” ought to be a “completely philosophically neutral objective.” Skinflint conservatives want government to be thrifty for obvious reasons, but Daniels maintained that liberals’ motivations should be even stronger. “I argue to my most liberal friends: ‘You ought to be the most offended of anybody if a dollar that could help a poor person is being squandered in some way.’ And,” the governor added slyly, “some of them actually agree.”

The clear implication—that many liberals are not especially troubled if government dollars that could help poor people are squandered—strikes me as true, interesting, and important. Given that liberals are people who: 1) have built a welfare state that is now the biggest thing government does in America; and 2) want to regard themselves and be regarded by others as compassionate empathizers determined to alleviate suffering, it should follow that nothing would preoccupy them more than making sure the welfare state machine is functioning at maximum efficiency. When it isn’t, after all, the sacred mission of alleviating preventable suffering is inevitably degraded.

In fact, however, liberals do not seem all that concerned about whether the machine they’ve built, and want to keep expanding, is running well. For inflation-adjusted, per capita federal welfare state spending to increase by 254 percent from 1977 to 2013, without a correspondingly dramatic reduction in poverty, and for liberals to react to this phenomenon by taking the position that our welfare state’s only real defect is that it is insufficiently generous, rather than insufficiently effective, suggests a basic problem. To take a recent, vivid example, the Obama Administration had three-and-a-half years from the signing of the Affordable Care Act to the launch of the website. It’s hard to reconcile the latter debacle with the image of liberals lying awake at night tormented by the thought the government should be doing more to reduce suffering. A sympathetic columnist, E.J. Dionne, wrote of the website’s crash-and-burn debut, “There’s a lesson here that liberals apparently need to learn over and over: Good intentions without proper administration can undermine even the most noble of goals.” That such an elementary lesson is one liberals need to learn over and over suggests a fundamental defect in liberalism, however—something worse than careless or inept implementation of liberal policies.

That defect, I came to think, can be explained as follows: The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. Or it may be, at least in some cases, that it just isn’t possible for the government to bring about what liberals want it to accomplish. As the leading writers in The Public Interest began demonstrating almost 50 years ago, the intended, beneficial consequences of social policies are routinely overwhelmed by the unintended, harmful consequences they trigger. It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.


This the fundamental premise of the The Road to Serfdom.  Private virtues can be a vice in the public domain.

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Transfers – Taxes = Net Taxes

from Carpe Diem, Mark Perry writes Adjusting for transfers and taxes reduces income inequality between highest and lowest quintiles by 50%  and New CBO study shows that ‘the rich’ don’t just pay their ‘fair share,’ they pay almost everybody’s share


Here’s another way to think about the burden of the “net payer” top income quintile. The average household in that income quintile made a contribution net of transfers in 2011 in the amount of $46,500. That would be equivalent to the average household in the top quintile writing four checks: 1) one check in the amount of $8,600 that would cover the average net transfer payments of a household in the bottom quintile, 2) another check for $12,500 to cover the average net transfers of a household in the second lowest quintile, 3) a third check in the amount of $9,100 to cover the average net transfer payments to a household in the middle income quintile, and 4) then finally writing a check for the balance of $16,300 that would go directly to the federal government, which for the households in the quintile as a whole would have covered almost 100% of the non-financed federal government spending in 2011. So except for a small contribution net of transfers in the amount of $700 from the average household in the fourth quintile, the highest income quintile is basically financing the entire system of transfer payments to the bottom 60% AND the entire operation of the federal government. And yet don’t we hear all the time that “the rich” aren’t paying their fair share of taxes and that they need to shoulder a greater share of the federal tax burden? Hey, they (the top 20%) are already shouldering almost the entire federal tax burden along with almost the entire system of entitlements and transfer payments! And that’s not “fair” enough already?


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Reading 2014 11 13

Jonthan Grubers Freudian Slip

AMA vd Emmanuels 75 and out

Gruber and Obama

Meet the guy who found those Gruber Obamacare clips

Chelsea’s rebellion

Gruber under oath ?

Voter Stupidity is GOP Ammo

Obamacare was Designed to Deceive

A Sign of Dysfunction

It wasn’t just Obama

The Honest Man

Progressives Lie

Jeff Jacoby on Cheap Gas and Political silence

Howard Dean Calls Obamacare Architects Elitist

Who are You calling Stupid

Brilliant Obscurity

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Weaponizing Compassion

From the October 2014 issue of Hillsdale’s Imprimis, William Voegeli writes The Case Against Liberal Compassion


All conservatives are painfully aware that liberal activists and publicists have successfully weaponized compassion. “I am a liberal,” public radio host Garrison Keillor wrote in 2004, “and liberalism is the politics of kindness.” Last year President Obama said, “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. When I think about what I’m fighting for, what gets me up every single day, that captures it just about as much as anything. Kindness; empathy—that sense that I have a stake in your success; that I’m going to make sure, just because [my daughters] are doing well, that’s not enough—I want your kids to do well also.” Empathetic kindness is “what binds us together, and . . . how we’ve always moved forward, based on the idea that we have a stake in each other’s success.”

Well, if liberalism is the politics of kindness, it follows that its adversary, conservatism, is the politics of cruelty, greed, and callousness. Liberals have never been reluctant to connect those dots. In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt said, “Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” In 1984 the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neill, called President Reagan an “evil” man “who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations . . . . He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.” A 2013 Paul Krugman column accused conservatives of taking “positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.” They were, he wrote, “infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness . . . . If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick.”

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More Thoughts on the Election


The stock market is moving higher, unemployment is consistently sliding, oil prices are down, the deficit is declining, and we have disengaged from unpopular conflicts.  So why did the GOP do so well?

The biggest reason in my opinion is the stagnation and loss in middle class incomes.  It is the 55 year old who was laid off who now has to take a job at a much lower pay.  It is the 30 something who sees little opportunity for promotion.  The very wealthy are doing fine, and the dependent class has had benefits expanded, but the cost of the welfare state largely falls on the middle class taxpayer. That is a broad sector that is taking the brunt of a slow growth economy.  The problem is not the minimum wage,  it is the stagnant and declining middle class wages.

The supply siders of the Reagan revolutions were criticized for their trickledown economics.  But the supply side was not about trickle down- that was a label used by its critics.  Supply side was about stimulating greater investment.

Ironically it is the Obama Fed that has practiced trickle-down economics though lower interest rates, and it has not worked.  They have proven unable to counter the stifling fiscal policies as it has in the past.  It has come at the cost of retired seniors and savers.  It has stimulated large corporations and Wall Street, but it has not translated into better wages for the middle class.

Almost equal in tipping the election was the perception of lying from the president over Obamacare.  Just as George H Bush lost the re-election when he betrayed his read-my-lips-no –new- taxes pledge; Obama lost a lot of valuable credibility when his assurance made repeatedly that you could keep your doctor and your health plan proved to be blatantly false.  Voters do not like to be lied to.

The loss of credibility was compounded by the perception of corruption from the billions lost on the Solyndra type loans.

The Democrats’ play to racist and sexist paranoia also fell on deaf ears. This perpetuation of the 60’s is lost on the young who just do not see the problem remaining to the degree it is played. In a sense they feel that by electing a black man twice they have proven that period has passed.

This certainly does not indicate a new found infatuation for Republicans- far from it.  In spite of these major problems with the administration there was only a shift of a few points that turned the tide as drastically as it did.