Posts tagged ‘Matt Welch’

Government Prioritization Fail: Adding Staff When It Is Least Essential

Matt Welch has a good article here about a self-refuting NPR piece, which was obviously supposed to be a scare story about the loss of Sequestration money but turned out to be an illustration of just how stupid the sequestration panic was.  It's funny listening to the podcast of this episode as the NPR hosts desperately try to support the Administration position.

But one thing I thought was funny was this bit illustrating pre-sequester government staffing prioritization:

NPR's David Greene brings on Yvette Aehle, director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany, Georgia, to talk about the terrible danger that passengers will face now that Aehle's airport stands to lose its air traffic controllers:

AEHLE: Well, I don't really want to say anything is less safe. It's just a better opportunity for people to listen and to be heard and to understand where they are. And also, I'd like to point out that we don't have 24-hour tower coverage here currently. Those air traffic controllers are only directing traffic between 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week. And most of our heavy traffic is outside of those hours.

So the government chooses to staff the control tower only half the day.  But they choose to staff the tower during the 12 hours of lightest traffic, presumably because the employees wanted day jobs rather than night jobs.

As an aside, I will confess that my business of running public parks benefits from this.  The biggest management load on parks is obviously on weekends and in the evenings (in campgrounds).  Most employees of public agencies only work weekday days.  Its incredibly typical that public parks employees will take their vacations in July and August, by far the busiest months.  One advantage  (other than the obvious cost advantage) we have over public operations is that public agencies can't or won't ask their employees to work weekends and defer their vacations out of the summer time.  We are perfectly happy to hire people with very clear expectations that the job involves work on weekend and holidays.

I will give you my reminder of how to understand most government agencies:  Ignore the agency's stated purpose, and assume that it is being operated primarily for the benefit of its employees.  One will very often find that this simple heuristic is far better at explaining agency decisions than relying on the agency's mission statement  (this does not mean that there are not dedicated individuals in the agency truly, even selflessly, dedicated to the stated mission -- these two notions are not at all mutually exclusive.  Government agencies do not act badly because they are full of bad people, they act badly because their incentives cause good people to do stupid things).

Public vs. Private

In a critique of Obama's inaugural address, John Cohen writes:

To suggest that anyone who'd like to see less heavy-handed government regulation thinks one person can do everything alone is a straw-man argument. It indicates a lack of understanding of how the private-sector economy works and how libertarians or conservatives actually think about economics. The private sector isn't just a bunch of people "acting alone." As Matt Welch pointed out in his critique of the speech, making and selling an object as basic as a pencil is such a complex endeavor that it takes lots of different specialists. No one person has the knowledge to accomplish that seemingly simple task; that's how decentralized knowledge is in society. And with a truly complex product, like a computer or movie, the need for people to work together is even greater still. The private sector isn't fundamentally about everyone being secluded and isolated from each other; it typically involves many people working together.

With markets and private enterprise, cooperation occurs voluntarily, for mutual gain.  With government, "cooperation" occurs at the point of a gun, via coercion, generally solely to improve the interests of some third party who has clout with the political class.

Fact-Checking

Matt Welch no the fact-checking genre:

But the real problem with such lists isn’t the lack of partisan diversity; it’s the glaring lack of lies told to the public in the service of wielding government force. Only one of PolitiFact’s Top 10—Obama blaming 90 percent of the 2009−12 deficit increase on George W. Bush—involved an official lying about his own record. The rest all focused on the way that politicians (and their surrogates) characterized their competitors’ actions and words. This isn’t a check on the exercise of power; it’s a check on the exercise of rhetoric.

And when it comes to rhetoric that motivates journalists into action, nothing beats culturally divisive figures from the opposing political tribe. So it was that in May 2011, the respected Nieman Journalism Lab set the mediasphere abuzz with an academic study of more than 700 news articles and 20 network news segments from 2009 that addressed a single controversial claim from the ObamaCare debate. Was it the president’s oft-repeated whopper that he was nobly pushing the reform rock up the hill despite the concentrated efforts of health care “special interests”? Was it his promise that “if you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan,” something that has turned out not to be true? Was it the way Obama and the Democrats brazenly gamed and misrepresented the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of the bill, claiming it wouldn’t add “one dime” to the deficit?

No. The cause for reconsideration of the ObamaCare coverage was not the truth-busting claims made by a sitting president in the service of radically reshaping an important aspect of American life but rather the Facebook commentary of a former governor, Sarah Palin.

Here is the issue with media bias:  It is not that journalists sit in some secret room and craft plans to overthrow their ideological opposition, Journolist notwithstanding.  It is that a monoculture limits the range of issues to which the media applies skepticism.  I am as guilty as anyone.  Hypotheses and pronouncements that do not fit with my view of how the world works are met with much more skepticism, checking of sources, etc.    The media is generally comfortable with a large and expansive role for government and seldom fact-checks the arguments for its expansion.

In fact, as I have written before, the media has an odd way of covering itself against charges of being insufficient skeptical about new legislation:  They raise potential issues with it, but only after it passes.

Science and Politics

Matt Welch's description of science and politics strikes a chord

Even more interesting than the soft consensus in favor of government intervention was a strong undercurrent that those who disagreed with it were guilty of denying basic truths. One of the questions from an audience full of Senate staffers, policy wonks, and journalists was how can we even have a rational policy discussion with all these denialist Republicans who disregarded Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous maxim that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”? Jared Bernstein couldn’t have been more pleased.

“I feel like we’re in a climate in which facts just aren’t welcome,” he said. “I think the facts of the case are that we know what we can do to nudge the unemployment rate down.…I think the consensus among economists is that this is a good time to implement fiscal stimulus that would help create jobs and make the unemployment rate go down. I consider that a fact.”

In science, you insist most loudly on a fact based on how much it has withstood independent peer review. In politics, it’s closer to the opposite—the more debatable a point is, the more it becomes necessary to insist (often in the face of contrary evidence) that the conclusion is backed by scientific consensus

Nostalgianomics

For those on the Left who wish to return to the economic organization of the 1950's, recognize that this era of more uni0ns and a greater dominance of the economy by hard-core manufacturing also had strong social inhibitions to half the adult population working paid jobs.  As women entered the work force in droves in the 1970's to the present, most of the jobs they found were in the new service industries whose displacement of manufacturing you lament.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the Battleship game box my son found in a stack of old games at his grandparents house.   The boys having a blast while the girls are washing the dishes.

Update: More from Matt Welch and Michael Barone.  Money quote:

The ongoing left-of-center brainscrub of its own 20th century anti-authoritarianism remains one of the great curiosities of our time.

The Health Care Trojan Horse: Property Rights Edition

For years I have warned that government-funded health care will be used as a Trojan horse for a nearly infinite body of legislation under the pretext that X [where X = nearly every activity or individual choice] has implications for health care costs.  Here is the latest chapter of this ongoing saga:

New stand-alone fast food restaurants have been banned from setting up shop in South Los Angeles, due to rising health concerns by the city council.

This story also mixes in a good portion of corporate statism as well, as it represents pretty transparent protectionism of current competitors against new entrants:

Perry's new plan bans new so-called "stand alone" fast food restaurants opening within half a mile of existing restaurants.

So McDonald's, who is likely firmly entrenched in the area, is unaffected, but potential new entrants challenging McDonald's are out.

For even further points, one can see another powerful constituency at work.  I suppose commercial real estate developers complained about potential loss of tenants, so this was added:

Such stand-alone establishments are on their own property, but those same restaurants are OK if they're a part of a strip mall, according to the new rules.

Obviously the same food is much more nutritious if served in a leased building rather than on a piece of land the restaurant owns itself.

Read the whole thing, its a great example with a lot of fact-free pronouncements by politicians about market failures.  via Matt Welch

Well, You Had To Expect This Was Coming

Via the Washington Post:

President Obama urged reluctant lawmakers Saturday to quickly approve nearly $50 billion in emergency aid to state and local governments, saying the money is needed to avoid "massive layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters" and to support the still-fragile economic recovery.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama defended last year's huge economic stimulus package, saying it helped break the economy's free fall, but argued that more spending is urgent and unavoidable. "We must take these emergency measures," he wrote in an appeal aimed primarily at members of his own party.

Of course, in retrospect we have learned that the first stimulus was mostly about saving government jobs as well, rather than creating any private stimulus.   Government workers are among the Democrats most reliable political supporters, and the SEIU, among other organizations, have had close ties to Obama for years.  State and local governments are finally facing some accountability for spending and being forced to roll back spending increases of the last few years that have far outpaced inflation and population growth, so of course Obama wants to short-circuit this accountability process.

Think about this -- every one of these bailed out governments have certainly had local legislative deliberations and likely votes on bonds and tax increases over the last year.  If their problems still persist, its because the local taxpayers don't want to pony up any more money for their local government and the local legislators refuse to cut spending sufficiently.  So if Smallsville, California won't pony up more money for their government and won't balance their budget, why should I be on the financial hook to bail them out?

Andrew Coulson looks at one of these groups, teachers, and wonders what all the fuss is about -- its about time we laid some public school employees off after years of rapidly declining productivity:

I have been looking for a good excuse to clear my reader cache of a whole series of articles on government salaries and pensions, and this seems a really good time.

Much like the bailout of billionaires on Wall Street, the government worker bailout is targeting a group already doing much better than their peers in private industry.  (via Carpe Diem)

Related, via Carpe Diem:

"Who are America's fastest-growing class of millionaires? They are police officers, firefighters, teachers and federal bureaucrats who, unless things change drastically, will be paid something near their full salaries every year--until death--after retiring in their mid-50s. That is equivalent to a retirement sum worth millions of dollars.

Chris Edwards has a related essay, focusing on federal government pay.

Matt Welch looks at two DC-area counties and shows how their relative financial health is closely related to their hiring and pay policies.

Not Good

From CBS News, Via Matt Welch:

In a case that raises questions about online journalism and privacy rights, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a formal request to an independent news site ordering it to provide details of all reader visits on a certain day.

The grand jury subpoena also required the Philadelphia-based Indymedia.us Web site "not to disclose the existence of this request" unless authorized by the Justice Department, a gag order that presents an unusual quandary for any news organization...

The subpoena (PDF) from U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis demanded "all IP traffic to and from www.indymedia.us" on June 25, 2008. It instructed Clair to "include IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information," including e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, and Indymedia readers' Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and so on.

This is remeniscent of the indimidation subpoena and later arrests at the Phoenix New Times orchestrated to stop the paper from criticizing Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Life of the Libertarian

From John Hasnas via Matt Welch:

Libertarians spend their lives accurately predicting the future effects of government policy. Their predictions are accurate because they are derived from Hayek's insights into the limitations of human knowledge, from the recognition that the people who comprise the government respond to incentives just like anyone else and are not magically transformed to selfless agents of the good merely by accepting government employment, from the awareness that for government to provide a benefit to some, it must first take it from others, and from the knowledge that politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics. For the same reason, their predictions are usually negative and utterly inconsistent with the utopian wishful-thinking that lies at the heart of virtually all contemporary political advocacy. And because no one likes to hear that he cannot have his cake and eat it too or be told that his good intentions cannot be translated into reality either by waving a magic wand or by passing legislation, these predictions are greeted not merely with disbelief, but with derision. [...]

If you'd like a taste of what it feels like to be a libertarian, try telling people that the incoming Obama Administration is advocating precisely those aspects of FDR's New Deal that prolonged the great depression for a decade; that propping up failed and failing ventures with government money in order to save jobs in the present merely shifts resources from relatively more to relatively less productive uses, impedes the corrective process, undermines the economic growth necessary for recovery, and increases unemployment in the long term; and that any "economic" stimulus package will inexorably be made to serve political rather than economic ends, and see what kind of reaction you get. And trust me, it won't feel any better five or ten years from now when everything you have just said has been proven true and Obama, like FDR, is nonetheless revered as the savior of the country.

Will It Have A Bar?

Via Matt Welch, from the USA Today:

The measure contains funding for a new destroyer and 10 C-17 cargo planes that the Pentagon did not ask for. It also includes hundreds of smaller earmarks for projects of special interest to individual lawmakers, among them $25 million for a World War II museum in New Orleans and $20 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, a kind of think tank dedicated to the legacy of the late senator.

Maybe its not as bad as it sounds.  Maybe its just a driving school.

Proletarianization of the Middle Class

Marxism holds that the middle class will eventually disappear, as the world is polarized between a few large business owners and the masses of the proletariat.  Small and independent businesses would disappear, and most of the middle class would be pedestrianized.  The middle class was always a sticking point for Marx, and there is some question whether this is really prediction or wishful thinking.  I say wishful thinking, because Marx knew that he could not achieve his socialist end-state with a middle class in place -- he had to drive the middle class into the proletariat.

In a large sense, that is what was are seeing at the Democratic Convention -- the effort to convince the middle class that, against all reason and reality, they are actually not well-off, that they are marginalized victims.  It is an attempt to pedestrianize the middle class.  Thus we get this classic quote from Rahm Emanuel, via Matt Welch:

The truth is, the Bush crowd has been giving the middle
class a thumping. This November, the middle class is going to give it
right back. This election comes down to a simple question: do we want
four more years of Bush-McCain or do we want the change we need?

There
is only one candidate from the middle class, that understands the
middle class, and that can deliver the change the middle class needs:
Barack Obama. A strong economy depends on a strong middle class. But
George Bush has put the middle class in a hole and John McCain has a
plan to keep digging that hole with George Bush's shovel.

He's Not My Favorite Son

I am not a big fan of Arizona's John McCain.  I beyond my problems with the McCain-Feingold disaster, I have always suspected him of being a big-government populist, willing to intervene on any issue in the boardroom or the bedroom.  Matt Welch has taken the time to try to decode McCain, and comes to a similar conclusion.

They Were For Free Speech Before They Were Against It

Last week I wrote here and here about free speech and the defeat of the bill to protect such speech online.  Matt Welch has more, and wonders as I did why Democrats, who applaud themselves for their staunch support of free speech, have suddenly abandoned the cause:

I was reminded of that neat bit of self-delusion yesterday when reading news
that House Democrats had followed The New York Times' odious
advice
to kill
the Online
Freedom of Speech Act
, which would have exempted weblogs from Federal
Election Commission campaign finance rules. Once again, the party supported by
people who truly do believe they and they alone care deeply about free speech
has casually stomped on the freedom to speak.

The bill itself would have placed an extra layer of statutory protection over
what should already be (but isn't) protected by the First Amendment"”the right to
buy political advertisements online. As the mess of appalling FEC rules
currently stand, nobody can
legally purchase a broadcast, satellite, or cable advertisement that even
mentions a candidate for federal office within 60 days of a general election (30
days for a primary), unless he or she sets up or joins a political action
committee (PAC) and agrees to abide by the heavy regulations that govern PACs'
funding and disclosure....

I am a friend of free speech, they assure us at every turn, but we
need to draw lines
, because when yucky people spend money to communicate a
political message through the news media, it's just like child pornography,
reckless endangerment, and intellectual property theft. Combine this attitude
with a general cluelessness about the unintended speech-impairing
consequences
of FEC rule-making, and you get the obscene sight of the New
York Times
editorial board, which bathed itself and Judith Miller in the holy
waters of the First Amendment in 15
different editorials
, arguing with a straight face that "The bill uses
freedom of speech as a fig leaf."

While I took some shots at the NY Times myself, observing that they seem to be just like every other business facing a new source of competition:  They are running to the government to get the state to quash the upstarts.  However, I missed the wonderful irony that Welch found.  Consider the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It is indeed amazing that the NY Times believes that these words protect them from cooperating with a criminal investigation and allow them to ignore subpoenas, but believes that these same words do NOT protect political speech on the Internet. 

Extra credit work for those who support campaign finance limitations:  Find the clause in the First Amendment language above the differentiates between speech that was paid for and speech that was not paid for.