This quote from Texas Republican Congressman Randy Neugebauer during the debate on the federal agriculture appropriation recently struck me as emblematic of an intractable systemic problem as well as the major reason his party is no longer in the majority: “When you step back and look at it, less than one-half of one penny of each tax dollar goes to agriculture programs.” The article in which he was quoted went on to say that his district has received $1.23 billion in taxpayer money from 2003-2005. Here in a nutshell is the basic principle of the unabated growth of government—a small incremental contribution spread over a large population that provides significant funding benefiting a small but powerful vested interest.
More from the “when will we learn” file:
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently indicated in Congressional testimony that the Fed won’t be entirely convinced that the risk of inflation is behind us until it sees a rise in unemployment and a reduction in business activity. This kind of commentary, along with business headlines like “Years of Global Growth Raise Inflation Worries”, perpetuate the theory of the Phillips Curve, which is the discredited notion that there is a necessary inverse relation and tradeoff between the rate of unemployment and business activity and the rate of inflation in a growth economy. Memo to Bernanke—economic growth is not the cause of inflation. Whatever credibility the Phillips Curve might have had thirty or more years ago should have been finally eliminated by our experience since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, during which we have had unprecedented economic expansion while inflation almost disappeared. Meanwhile, the late Milton Friedman’s pioneering work finally convinced central bankers that inflation is a monetary phenomenon, the result of excess creation of money. Most economists who learned Friedman’s lessons well now realize that our escalation of commercial real estate and commodity prices properly reflect the depreciation of the dollar relative to gold. Alas, it seems we must continue to re-educate so as to avoid costly mistakes, such as fixing the wrong problem with protectionism and higher taxes.
I haven’t wasted any time on the televised Presidential “debates” that have been staged by either party, but it is difficult to avoid the saturation of follow on coverage of the events, and I am struck more than anything by the pedestrian quality, the lack of depth, and the line of questioning. Former Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell obviously shares my disdain for this process and recently outlined some key issues that have escaped inquiry, especially and conspicuously for the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. In fact, these are questions that any serious candidate from either party should be required to answer very early in the process, and they are worth noting here:
You have said that your position on same-sex marriage is “evolving”. What is your current position on it and its counterpart, civil unions, and what in your opinion is the difference between them?
What is your position on guns and the Second Amendment? Do you believe that this amendment secures the right of law-abiding citizens to purchase and possess firearms?
What is you view of religious freedom and the role of faith and religion in public life?
(Obviously, as Blackwell notes, these first three questions are about the “social
issues”, about which Howard Dean complained in 2003 that he was tired of
questions about “guns, God, and gays”, a perennial problem for Democrats.)
How many troops would you keep in Iraq, and for how long, to achieve your objective there?
How would you fight radical jihadists and their global network and with what policy would you replace the Bush Doctrine?
It occurred to me that Hillary in particular, if she is ever truly confronted with these questions by the mainstream media in a manner that eliminates the third option of the famous Clinton “triangulation”, has only two options in answering—she lies or she is candid. In either case, she eventually loses, but with the latter option it’s over sooner, so let’s hope some responsible journalist pins her down on these issues, but don’t bet on it.
We should all be aware of the truism that “ideas have consequences”, and I have admired Richard Weaver’s work of that name for its insight into the origins of a number of ideas that have had negative consequences over the past several centuries. About three years ago, the cover story in Foreign Policy magazine featured a survey of eight leading thinkers on their suggestions as to the ideas that will be most destructive in the coming years. The eight dangerous ideas suggested were the war on evil, undermining human free will, the continuing irrelevance of the concept of the United Nations, spreading the system of democracy, the pursuit of transhumanism through the biosciences, religious intolerance, the irresponsibility of free money, and anti-Americanism. Obviously, these are pretty eclectic, having been suggested by a range of highly respected observers, and I don’t intend to get into the pros and cons of each, although I will say that some of these are very dangerous indeed and some seem quite acceptable to me.
Another and even broader effort of this type is being conducted by a blog called The Edge, whose founder, John Brockman, has written a book named What is Your Dangerous Idea? Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable, in which he asks 108 thinkers and scientists to describe their most dangerous idea, and invites readers and bloggers to suggest their own. I haven’t yet read the book, but I look forward to at least reviewing it for a flavor of the dangerous ideas identified.
Finally, I have recently completed a first reading of The Regensburg Lecture, by James V. Schall, which is an in depth analysis of Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture that created such a stir in the Arabic Muslim community last fall. More about the book later, but relevant point here is that in this lecture the Pope has his own thoughts about dangerous ideas and he identifies one idea that he describes as the single most dangerous to our kind, which is the idea that God approves violence in His name. And, upon returning from his recent visit to Turkey, he discussed the challenge that this idea poses for us: “On the one hand, we must rediscover the reality of God and the public relevance of religious faith; on the other, we must ensure that the expression of this faith be free, exempt from fundamentalist distortions and capable of firmly repudiating every form of violence.” Think about this, for it is this dangerous idea of violence in the name of God and the sources of its propagation that we should ponder as we contemplate our future approach to relations with Islamic cultures.
By the way, what is your dangerous idea? Send me your thoughts.
The violence in Gaza in mid-June between the Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas was almost universally blamed by the international punditry on President Bush and Israel. But in truth, they confirmed only one thing. Remember, Israel dismantled its Gaza settlements in August 2005, a unilateral concession without anything in return on which to pursue a pilot plan in order to answer the questions—do the Palestinians really want a state and a civil society? And can they organize and sustain one? In the January 2006 parliamentary elections they turned their government over to Hamas, which has as its religious duty the elimination of Israel, and we now have the answer to those questions—no, all they want is the destruction of Israel. All the comments about the failure of the Bush vision for a two-state strategy are nonsense. What failed is Islamic extremism—again—to the detriment of peace and the Palestinian people.
As shameful as it is to admit, the real front in the war we now fight is not in Iraq, but is inside the Beltway. It is incredible to contemplate the comments by a Republican U. S. Senator that “the chances for success are limited”, not by our prospects on the battlefield, but by the “short period framed by our own domestic political climate”. This in spite of acknowledgment by the same Senator that there is progress being made in the situation on the ground in Iraq. In fact, it is widely anticipated that the report to be delivered in September by Gen. Petraeus is expected to be moderately to strongly positive, and a recent moderately positive appraisal of progress by two Brookings Institution analysts upon their return has led a few House Democrats to suggest that such an appraisal will be a “big problem” for their party, i. e., success for America is now defined as problematic for its majority party. It’s now pretty clear—if losing in Iraq will guarantee victory in 2008, that’s OK with the mainstream of the Democratic Party and their fellow travelers in the media. We used to have a word for that.