Posts tagged ‘Recovery Act’

Republican Fail on Obamacare

I find Republican strategy in the recent Obamacare and budget fight to have been insanely aggravating, and that is coming from someone who hates Obamacare.

Yes, I understand why things are happening as they are.  From a re-election strategy, their approach makes total sense.  A lot of these House guys come from majority Republic districts where their biggest re-election fear comes from a primary challenge to the right of them.  I live in one of these districts, so I see what perhaps coastal media does not.  In everyday conversation Republicans are always criticizing their Congressmen for not rolling back Obamacare.  Republicans need to be able to say in a primary, "I voted to defund Obamacare".  Otherwise I guarantee every one of them will be facing a primary opponent who will hammer them every day.

But from the perspective of someone who just wants the worst aspects of this thing to go away, this was a terrible approach.  Defunding Obamacare entirely was never, ever, ever going to succeed.  Obama and Democrats would be happy to have a shutdown last months before they would roll back his one and only signature piece of legislation.  They may have caved in the past on other issues but he is not going to cave on this one (and needs to be seen not caving given his recent foreign policy mis-steps that has him perceived as weak even in his own party).  And, because all the focus is on Obamacare, we are going to end up with a budget deal that makes no further progress on containing other spending.

The Republicans should have taken the opportunity to seek targeted changes that would more likely have been accepted.  The most obvious one is to trade a continuing resolution for an elimination of the IPAB, one of the most undemocratic bits of legislation since the National Industrial Recovery Act.  Another strategy would have been to trade a CR for a 1-year delay in the individual mandate, a riskier strategy but one the Administration might leap at given that implementation problems in exchanges are giving them a black eye.  Finally, an even riskier strategy would have been to tie a CR to a legislative acknowledgement that the PPACA does not allow subsidies in Federally-run exchanges.  This latter might not have been achievable (and they might get it in the courts some day anyway) but if one argues that any of these is unrealistic, then certainly defunding Obamacare as a whole was unrealistic.

I think as a minimum they could have killed the IPAB, but now they will get nothing.

Update:  This line from All the President's Men seems relevant:

You've done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you've got people feeling sorry for him. I didn't think that was possible. In a conspiracy like this, you build from the outer edges and go step by step. If you shoot too high and miss, everybody feels more secure. You've put the investigation back months.

Obama Meets With James Taggert and Oren Boyle

Amanda Carey via the Daily Caller:

On Wednesday, President Obama met with a group of about 20 CEOs in a five-hour long summit, reportedly in an attempt to soothe the souring relationship between big business and big government. From almost all accounts, the "charm offensive" was successful.

By the end, Boeing CEO John McNerney is reported to have said, "We all wanted to move beyond the talk that made this confrontational environment. We made our apologies." Honeywell International CEO David Cote said after the meeting, "Government is the enabler of business"¦Government and business need to work together."

What Cote did not mention is that his company has already been working closely with the Obama Administration, and was a major beneficiary of the Recovery Act "” as were many of the other companies represented. According toRecovery.gov, Honeywell received over $44 million in grants from the Department of Energy (DOE) for renewable energy initiatives. Honeywell also raked in more than $24 million in a variety of different government contracts from agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense.

Can the Aviation Equalization of Opportunity Act be far behind?  The meeting of 19 CEO's and a leading VC (who feeds noisily at the green energy trough) sounds like the corporate state round-table.

It is Still Amazing This Was Once Law in This Country

From the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, eventually struck down by the Supreme Court:

Whenever the President shall find that destructive wage or price cutting or other activities contrary to the policy of this title are being practiced in any trade or industry or any subdivision thereof, and, after such public notice and hearing as he shall specify, shall find it essential to license business enterprises in order to make effective a code of fair competition or an agreement under this title or otherwise to effectuate the policy of this title, and shall publicly so announce, no person shall, after a date fixed in such announcement, engage in or carry on any business, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, specified in such announcement, unless he shall have first obtained a license issued pursuant to such regulations as the President shall prescribe. The President may suspend or revoke any such license, after due notice and opportunity for hear ing, for violations of the terms or conditions thereof. Any order of the President suspending or revoking any such license shall be final if in accordance with law.

With this law, all commerce was to be conducted only at the President's pleasure. The law also instituted code authorities, modeled on Mussolini's economic system, that would set prices, wages, production quotas and nearly every other business practice in an industry. To some extent, I would argue that the recent health care bill is the first modern American code authority.

The Timeless Appeal of Triumphalism

What is it about intellectuals that seem to, generation after generation, fall in love with totalitarian regimes because of their grand and triumphal projects?  Whether it was the trains running on time in Italy, or the Moscow subways, or now high-speed rail lines in China, western dupes constantly fall for the lure of the great pyramid without seeing the diversion of resources and loss of liberty that went into building it.  First it was Thomas Friedman, and now its Joel Epstein in the Huffpo, eulogizing China.    These are the same folks who tried, disastrously, to emulate Mussolini's "forward-thinking" economic regime in the National Industrial Recovery Act.    These are the same folks who wanted to emulate MITI's management of the Japanese economy (which drove them right into a 20-year recession).  These are the same folks who oohed and ahhed over the multi-billion dollar Beijing Olympics venues while ignoring the air that was unbreathable.  These are the same folks who actually believed the one Cuban health clinic in Sicko actually represented the standard of care received by average citizens.  To outsiders, the costs of these triumphal programs are often not visible, at least not until years or decades later when the rubes have moved on to new man crushes.

Epstein, like Friedman, seems to think that the US is somehow being left behind by China because its government builds much more stuff.  We are "asleep."  Well, I have a big clue for him.  Most of the great progress in this country was built when the government was asleep.  The railroads, the steel industry, the auto industry, the computer industry  -  all were built by individuals when the government was at best uninvolved and at worst fighting their progress at every step.

Epstein in particular thinks we need to build more trains.  This is exactly the kind of gauzy non-fact-based wishful thinking that makes me extremely pleased that Epstein in fact does not have the dictatorial powers he longs for.   High speed rail is a terrible investment, a black hole for pouring away money, that has little net impact on efficiency or pollution.   But rail is a powerful example because it demonstrates exactly how this bias for high-profile triumphal projects causes people to miss the obvious.

Which is this:  The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital.  It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies.    And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world.  It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China's, 1/8 of Germany's).  But here is the real key:  it is almost all freight.

As a percentage, far more freight moves in the US by rail (vs. truck) than almost any other country in the world.  Europe is not even close.

modalsplieuusjapan (source)

You see, passenger rail is sexy and pretty and visible.  You can build grand stations and entertain visiting dignitaries on your high-speed trains.  This is why statist governments have invested so much in passenger rail -- not to be more efficient, but to awe their citizens and foreign observers.

But there is little efficiency improvement in moving passengers by rail vs. other modes.   Most of the energy consumed goes into hauling not the passengers themselves, but the weight of increasingly plush rail cars.  Trains have to be really, really full all the time to make an energy savings for high-speed rail vs. cars or even planes, and they seldom are full.  I had a lovely trip on the high speed rail last summer between London and Paris and back through the Chunnel -- especially nice because my son and I had the rail car entirely to ourselves both ways.

The real efficiency comes from moving freight.  More of the total energy budget is used moving the actual freight rather than the cars themselves.  Freight is far more efficient to move by rail than by road, but only the US moves a substantial amount of its freight by rail.    One reasons for this is that freight and high-speed passenger traffic have a variety of problems sharing the same rails, so systems that are optimized for one tend to struggle serving the other.

Freight is boring and un-sexy.  Its not a government function in the US.  So intellectuals tend to ignore it, even though it is the far more important, from and energy and environmental standpoint, portion of transport to put on the rails.  In fact, the US would actually probably have even a higher rail modal percentage if the US government had not enforced a regulatory regime (until the Staggers Act) that favored trucks over rail.   If the government really had been asleep the last century, we would be further along.

The US has not been "asleep"  -- at least the private individuals who drive progress have not.  We have had huge revolutions in transportation over the last decades during the same period that European nations were sinking billions of dollars into pretty high-speed passenger rails systems for wealthy business travelers.   One such revolution has been containerization, invented here in the US and quickly spreading around the world.  Containerization has revolutionized shipping, speeding schedules and reducing costs (and all the while every improvement step was fought by the US and certain local governments).  To the extent American businesses are not investing today, it has more to do with regime uncertainty, not knowing what new taxes or restrictions are coming next from Congress, than any lack of vision.

I would argue that the US has the world's largest commitment to rail where it really matters.  But that is what private actors do, make investments that actually make sense rather than just gain one prestige (anyone know the most recent company Warren Buffet has bought?)  The greens should be demanding that the world emulate us, rather than the other way around.  But the lure of shiny bullet trains and grand passenger concourses will always cause folks like Epstein to swoon.

Update #2: The author Joel Epstein emailed me a response to this post.  I will give it to you in its entirety:  "You should get out of the country more often."  Wow, he played the provincial American card on me.  Except that I have been to about 20 countries, from Singapore to Argentina to Hungary.  Besides, I really don't understand what the hell he means by this in the context of my post, except as a bid for some sort of intellectual superiority.   Anyone else understand?

Postscript

Boring, but environmentally friendly and cost-effective:

10.9.2004-04

Sexy, but environmentally useless (at best) and tremendously costly:

high-speed-rail21

So, explain to me what drives these guys investment thinking.  Can it be anything but triumphalism?

Update: Energy use comparison of passenger modes. Note how close rail transit and cars, both at average occupancies, are in this analysis.  The differences in freight are much larger:

transenergy

Life Support for Government

I have warned about this before:

In fact, Hollywood's portion of the stimulus package reveals an important factor of the Recovery Act: The money is not going to areas that would more directly stimulate the economy but instead to provide ongoing life support to deficit-ridden federal, state and local agencies.

That is the main impression I have gotten when reading the stimulus jobs data base -- the fake districts and BS accounting did not catch my eye so much as the fact that all the jobs seemed to  be saved jobs in government agencies.  I am pretty sure that had the stimulus been originally sold with its true goals -- to help stave off financial accountability in state and local governments -- it would have had more difficulty passing.

Though some of us saw this even in the bill itself (this blog, Jan 27, 2009)

So do you see my point. The reason so much of this infrastructure bill can be spent in the next two years is that there is no infrastructure in it, at least in the first two years!  42% of the deficit impact in 2009/2010 is tax cuts, another 44% is in transfer payments to individuals and state governments.  1% is defense.  At least 5% seems to be just pumping up a number of budgets with no infrastructure impact (such as at Homeland Security).  And at most 6% is infrastructure and green energy.  I say at most because it is unclear if this stuff is really incremental, and much of this budget may be for planners and government departments rather than actual facilities on the ground.

More Steps Towards a European Style Corporate State

In Europe, economies are run by a troika of politicians, leaders of large corporations, and major unions.  These groups run the economy to their benefit and against entrepeneurs, nwe competitors, foreign competition, low-skilled workers, upstart competitors, and (most of all) consumers.   Q&O discovered someone on the HuffPo of all places starting to see what is going on:

When I heard the word "corporatist" a couple of years ago, I laughed. I thought what a funny, made up, liberal word. I fancy myself a die-hard capitalist, so it seemed vaguely anti-business, so I was put off by it.

Well, as it turns out, it's a great word. It perfectly describes a great majority of our politicians and the infrastructure set up to support the current corporations in the country. It is not just inaccurate to call these people and these corporations capitalists; it is in fact the exact opposite of what they are.

Capitalists believe in choice, free markets and competition. Corporatists believe in the opposite. They don't want any competition at all. They want to eliminate the competition using their power, their entrenched position and usually the politicians they've purchased. They want to capture the system and use it only for their benefit.

This applies to workers as well as employers -- just replace capitalists with "free workers" and corporatists with "unions" in the above paragraph.  This helps to explain why Obama is not actually pro-labor, but pro-union.  Via TJIC:

Workers in Barack Obama's new economic order fall into two categories "” those who are worthy of the president's energies, and those who aren't. You may be surprised to learn where you rank.

Obama doesn't weigh the value of workers based on their paychecks, what they do or whether they slip their feet into wingtips or steel-toed boots in the morning. His sole interest is in whether they have a union card in their wallet.

If they do, the president is in their corner, working hard to make sure they don't get the short end of any stick. But if they are among the 88 percent of American workers who don't belong to a union? Ask Delphi's salaried employees what Obama thinks of them.

As part of Delphi's restructuring in bankruptcy court, the Troy-based auto parts maker dumped its pension plan onto the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.

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That usually means a continued pension check, but one that is much smaller. And for Delphi's salaried workers, that's what they can expect.

Delphi's union-represented workers, however, will dodge that bullet. The Obama administration swooped in and, in an extraordinary deal, is forcing General Motors to make the 46,000 union workers and retirees whole. GM used to own Delphi, and relies on the supplier for much of its parts.

"The U.S. government is taking care of a select group of people and tossing the rest of us under the bus," Peter Beiter, a retired financial manager for a Delphi plant in Rochester, N.Y., told the New York Times.

And it's doing so with the tax dollars of those like Beiter who aren't in the favored class of workers. GM is operating with more than $50 billion in government bailout money.

That gives Obama the freedom to force GM to subsidize the pensions of union workers it has no legal obligation to, and who are employed by an entirely different company.

If you want to see where we are going, read this (and this) about the National Industrial Recovery Act, which FDR modelled after Mussolin-style fascism, whose economic system he greatly admired.

How Mussolini-Style Fascism Almost Came to the US

First, it was the National Recovery Act, where FDR explicitly tried to creat an economic system modelled on Mussolini-style fascism.  This was killed by the Supreme Court.  But the will of government to create an economic system where private companies win and lose based on how well connected they are to politicians never goes away.  The lastest attempt to set up such a managed system was via the Lieberman-Warner climate bill:

But perhaps even more pernicious is the way that "carbon credits" are distributed.

The credits are best described as a pulled-out-of-thin-air government-created fiat currency,
that is accepted only by the government in exchange for the
government's permission to let you emit CO2. (If ever a system was perfectly set up to be abused and politicized by politicians, this is it.)

Government bureaucrats will decide
sector by sector and industry by industry which companies get the
credits. Implicitly, that same decision by government regulators also
determines which companies will need to buy credits from the politically-connected companies who could get their carbon credits for free.

Roosevelt and Mussolini

I have elaborated a number of times on the parallels between the National Recovery Act and Mussolini-style fascism, as well as the frank admiration Roosevelt had for what Mussolini was doing in Italy.

David Boaz goes into much more detail

Roosevelt himself called Mussolini "admirable" and professed that he
was "deeply impressed by what he has accomplished." The admiration was
mutual. In a laudatory review of Roosevelt's 1933 book Looking Forward,
Mussolini wrote, "Reminiscent of Fascism is the principle that the
state no longer leaves the economy to its own devices."¦Without
question, the mood accompanying this sea change resembles that of
Fascism." The chief Nazi newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter,
repeatedly praised "Roosevelt's adoption of National Socialist strains
of thought in his economic and social policies" and "the development
toward an authoritarian state" based on the "demand that collective
good be put before individual self-interest."

New Deal and Fascism

On a number of occasions, I have pointed to the strong echos of Italian-style fascism in Roosevelt's New Deal, particularly in the National Recovery Act, which was practically a copy of Mussolini's political-economic model.  David Gordon reviews a new book called the Three New Deals which delves deeper into this parallel development on matters of state control of the economy between Roosevelt, Hitler, and Mussolini.

Roosevelt never had much
use for Hitler, but Mussolini was another matter. "'I don't mind
telling you in confidence,' FDR remarked to a White House
correspondent, 'that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that
admirable Italian gentleman'" (p. 31). Rexford Tugwell, a leading
adviser to the president, had difficulty containing his enthusiasm for
Mussolini's program to modernize Italy: "It's the cleanest "¦ most
efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It
makes me envious" (p. 32, quoting Tugwell).

Why did these
contemporaries sees an affinity between Roosevelt and the two leading
European dictators, while most people today view them as polar
opposites? People read history backwards: they project the fierce
antagonisms of World War II, when America battled the Axis, to an
earlier period. At the time, what impressed many observers, including
as we have seen the principal actors themselves, was a new style of
leadership common to America, Germany, and Italy.

Once more we must avoid a
common misconception. Because of the ruthless crimes of Hitler and his
Italian ally, it is mistakenly assumed that the dictators were for the
most part hated and feared by the people they ruled. Quite the
contrary, they were in those pre-war years the objects of considerable
adulation. A leader who embodied the spirit of the people had
superseded the old bureaucratic apparatus of government.

He also gives us a good hint as to why so many people on the left today are trying to find way to paint the American economy as somehow broken or at some historical low point:

He concludes the book by recalling John T. Flynn's great book of 1944, As We Go Marching.

Flynn, comparing the New Deal with fascism, foresaw a problem that still faces us today.

But willingly or
unwillingly, Flynn argued, the New Deal had put itself into the
position of needing a state of permanent crisis or, indeed, permanent
war to justify its social interventions. "It is born in crisis, lives
on crises, and cannot survive the era of crisis"¦.

Technocrats

Preface:  Over the years, technocrats have always had a distaste for capitalism.  Their desire has always been the curb to bottom-up disorder and inherent chaos of succesful capitalism with top-down order and control.  In the early half of the 20th centruy, the leading economic argument against capitalism was technocratic-fascist:  That capitalism and competition were wasteful and disorderly and should be replaced with a more orderly state control.  The ultimate legislative result of this thinking was FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act, his emulation of Mussolini-style corporate fascism which was fortunately struck down by the Supreme Court.

While numerous large-scale failures of state economic control have mostly beaten back the technocratic argument, we can still see the fundamental failure of this approach in the last few weeks with the government's handling of the Katrina recovery:

A few days ago I had thoughts on top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to hurricane relief.  After watching the relief effort over the last couple of days, I am more convinced than ever that part of the problem (but certainly not all of it) with the relief effort is the technocratic top-down "stay-in-control" focus of its leadership.  Take stories like this:

Lots of
people including yours truly have volunteered to bring (including food,
generators, food, etc., to be self sufficient for a week or so) the most
important thing which is a boat but have been told NO under no uncertain terms.
"My" town is under water, people are in critical condition, and I have skill
sets and assets - including a boat which will come out of the hole in 14 inches
of water - and we are being denied the opportunity to help. And quite frankly,
that REALLY PISSES ME OFF.

And this:

A visibly angry Mayor Daley said the city had offered emergency,
medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday
to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of
Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank
truck.
[...]
Daley said the city offered 36 members of the firefighters' technical
rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-and-rescue
equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police vehicles and
two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health workers, a mobile
clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and Sanitation workers
and 29 trucks, plus other supplies. City personnel are willing to
operate self-sufficiently and would not depend on local authorities for
food, water, shelter and other supplies, he said.

While turning down offers to help, when everyone agrees not enough is being done, may seem unthinkable, these are actually predictable outcomes from a bureaucracy of technocrats.  Technocrats value process over results, order and predictability over achievement.  More important than having problems fixed is having an ordered process, having everything and everyone under control.  In this context, you can imagine their revulsion at the thought of having private citizens running around on their own in the disaster area trying to help people.  We don't know where they are!  We don't know what they are doing!  They are not part of our process!  Its too chaotic! Its not under control!

Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse - after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be in government trying to override those efforts.  But most emergency organizations are off the scale in this regard.  99% of their time, they don't actually have an emergency to deal with - they are planning.  They are creating elaborate logistics plans and procedures and deployment plans.  Planners, rather than people of action, gravitate to these organizations.  So, once a disaster really hits, the planners run around in circles, hit by the dual problem of 1) their beautiful plans are now obsolete, since any good general can tell you that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and 2) they are by nature still planners, trying to get order and process underway and create a new updated plan, rather than just getting every possible resource out there fixing the dang problem.

The army has had to deal with this conundrum for years.  How do you have soldiers who are good planners before a battle, but men of action and initiative once the battle is underway?  How do you run a fundamentally top-down organization such that when it matters, individuals will take the initiative to do what needs to be done?  Its a really hard problem.

Unfortunately, I fear that the lessons from this hurricane and its aftermath will be that we need more top-down rules and authority rather than less.  It is the technocrats on the sidelines who are most appalled by the screw-ups, and will demand more of whatever next time.

Here is an example of what I think we should do instead.  Let's accept that we can't plan for everything, can't have every resource stockpiled for an emergency, and that our biggest resource is our private citizenry.  Let's provide rules of engagement for 3rd parties to come into the disaster area and help with minimum supervision.  There might be different rules for trained rescue people and untrained private citizens.  Here is an example of the type of thing that might work better:

Every private citizen with a boat larger than X and a draft less than Y who would like to help can bring their boat and three days food and clothing to such and such boat ramp.  All municipal firefighters and rescue teams that want to help, come to such and such building, check in, and we will assign you a sector.  Rescue crews need to bring their own food, equipment, and waterproof paint to mark the buildings you have searched.  Then, go out to the boat ramp, find a boat and driver in the pool there, and go.  FEMA will bring in a fuel truck to refuel boats and will indemnify all boat owners for damages.  All survivors found should be brought back to the dock, and ambulances will be standing by.

Update: OK, I know some of you don't believe that this is a control issue for the bureaucrats.  Well, here is more evidence, from the Red Cross web site, via Instapundit.

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

  • Access
    to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local
    authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply
    cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and
    continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into
    New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people
    from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

Update #2:  Still reluctant to believe that control over the process is more prized by bureaucrats than results?  Try this, from CNN and via Instapundit:

Volunteer physicians are pouring in to
care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from
caring for Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems rise.

Among
the doctors stymied from helping out are 100 surgeons and paramedics in
a state-of-the-art mobile hospital, developed with millions of tax
dollars for just such emergencies, marooned in rural Mississippi.

"The
bell was rung, the e-mails were sent off. ...We all got off work and
deployed," said one of the frustrated surgeons, Dr. Preston "Chip" Rich
of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We have
tried so hard to do the right thing. It took us 30 hours to get here,"
he said. That government officials can't straighten out the mess and
get them assigned to a relief effort now that they're just a few miles
away "is just mind-boggling," he said....

It travels in a convoy that includes
two 53-foot trailers, which as of Sunday afternoon was parked on a
gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials
for several days would not let them deploy to the flooded city, Rich
said....

As they talked with
Mississippi officials about prospects of helping out there, other
doctors complained that their offers of help also were turned away.

A
primary care physician from Ohio called and e-mailed the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services after seeing a notice on the
American Medical Association's Web site about volunteer doctors being
needed.

An e-mail reply told him to watch CNN that night, where
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt was to
announce a Web address for doctors to enter their names in a database.

"How crazy is that?" he complained in an e-mail to his daughter.

Dr.
Jeffrey Guy, a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University who has been in
contact with the mobile hospital doctors, told The Associated Press in
a telephone interview, "There are entire hospitals that are contacting
me, saying, 'We need to take on patients," ' but they can't get through
the bureaucracy.

"The crime of this story is, you've got millions
of dollars in assets and it's not deployed," he said. "We mount a
better response in a Third World country."

Update #3:  Yes, there's more.  The Salvation Army has also been blocked, and the reason?  Their efforts did not fit snugly into the technocrats plans (via Cafe Hayek):

As federal officials tried to get some control over the deteriorating
situation in New Orleans, chaos was being replaced with bureaucratic rules that
inhibited private relief organizations' efforts.

"We've tried desperately to rescue 250 people trapped in a Salvation Army
facility. They've been trapped in there since the flood came in. Many are on
dialysis machines," said Maj. George Hood, national communications secretary for
the relief organization.

"Yesterday we rented big fan boats to pull them out and the National Guard
would not let us enter the city," he said. The reason: a new plan to evacuate
the embattled city grid by grid - and the Salvation Army's facility didn't fall
in the right grid that day, Hood said in a telephone interview from Jackson,
Miss.

"No, it doesn't make sense," he said.

Update #4:  I can't help myself.  Here is another:

The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the
story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is
confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets
and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention
Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center.

Update #whatever-I-am-up-to: Welcome Instapundit readers!  I have posted a follow-up on big government and disaster preparedness here.

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I Guess I am an Extremist

I have not really had the time to do the research to form an opinion about Bush's judicial nominees, and the MSM is not very helpful in its coverage on the issue.  I wrote here that the judiciary has started to overreach of late, legislating from the bench to advance an agenda generally supported by the Democrats.  I don't know the candidates well enough to decide if these proposed judges are conservative activists who want to legislate from the bench but for conservative ends, or if they represent a first shot at reversing extra-constitutional judicial activism (which I would support).

However, I may have started to develop an favorable opinion on a couple of judges, based on what I have learned from their detractors.

Take this example, from a NY Times editorial, March 6, 2005.  In disparaging how extremist Bush judge nominees are, they use the example of:

Janice
Rogers Brown, who has disparaged the New Deal as ''our socialist
revolution.''

Woe is me, I must be an extremist.  First, the New Deal was clearly a "revolution", in that it was one of two events (the other being the Civil War) in the last 200 years that fundamentally changed the role of the federal government in what was a massive reinterpretation of the Constitution.  But was it socialist?  We can argue about whether the New Deal legacy that reaches us today is socialist or not- many quite normal non-extremist folks would argue yes and many similarly rational folks would argue no.

However, arguing the nature of the New Deal from what programs reach us today leaves out a lot of the picture.  Much of the New Deal was voided by the Supreme Court.  While some was re-passed later once FDR had a chance to remold the court with his own (for the time) extremist ideologues, some of the most socialist-statist-fascist legislation never was reinstituted.

The most dramatic of these institutions that fortunately were left on the cutting room floor was the National Industrial Recovery Act, or NRA.  Roosevelt actually modeled the NRA on Mussolini's fascism in Italy, so I guess it might be more correct to call it fascist rather than socialist but in practice, I can't ever tell those two apart.*

The image of a strong
leader taking direct charge of an economy during hard times fascinated
observers abroad. Italy was one of the places that Franklin Roosevelt
looked to for ideas in 1933. Roosevelt's National Recovery Act (NRA)
attempted to cartelize the American economy just as Mussolini had
cartelized Italy's. Under the NRA Roosevelt established industry-wide
boards with the power to set and enforce prices, wages, and other terms
of employment, production, and distribution for all companies in an
industry. Through the Agricultural Adjustment Act the government
exercised similar control over farmers. Interestingly, Mussolini viewed
Roosevelt's New Deal as "boldly... interventionist in the field of
economics." Hitler's nazism also shared many features with Italian
fascism, including the syndicalist front. Nazism, too, featured
complete government control of industry, agriculture, finance, and
investment.

If you are not familiar with the NRA, you need to be if you are going to come to a conclusion about the New Deal and just how statist FDR's aspirations were.  The actual text of the act is hereHenry Hazlitt has a long evaluation here.  In the end, the NRA was scrapped in large part because it was a disaster for the economy.  Many blame the NRA for strangling the recovery that began in 1933-34 and thus extending the depression.  Parts of the law (collective bargaining, minimum wage) were incorporated in other later legislation, but the core concept of organizing industrial cartels with government backing to run industries and set prices, wages, and production levels died, fortunately.

Update:  More here.  Mr. Gregory quotes John Flynn's The Roosevelt Myth:

[Mussolini] organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state-supervised trade association. He called it a corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and
could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards,
etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized
into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a
corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the
same thing. These code authorities could regulate production,
quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the
supervision of the NRA. This was fascism. The anti-trust laws forbade
such organizations. Roosevelt had denounced Hoover for not enforcing
these laws sufficiently. Now he suspended them and compelled men to
combine.

*  I disagree with people who want to argue that socialism is freedom but without property rights while fascism is property rights without other freedoms.  Neither of these conditions are stable, and both converge to the same destination of suffocating statism, just with different starting points and different people in charge.  One of the things that drive libertarians nuts is being presented with a grade school civics book that has a linear political spectrum with fascism on one end and communism on the other.  Are those really my only two choices? 

 

Respecting Individual Decision-Making

As a capitalist and believer in individual rights, one of the things I notice a lot today is just how many people do not trust individual decision-making.  Now, I do not mean that they criticize other people's decisions or disagree with them -- in a free society, you can disagree with anybody about anything.  I mean that they distrust other people's free, private decision-making so much that they want the government to intervene.

Interestingly, most people don't think of themselves as advocating government interference with people's private decisions.  However, if you ask them the right questions, you will find that they tend to fall into one of several categories that all want the government to intervene in individual decision-making in some way:  nannies, moralists, technocrats, and progressive/socialists.  Though the categories tend to overlap, they are useful in thinking about some of the reasons people want to call in the government to take over parts of people's lives.

By the way, before I get started, just to avoid straw-man arguments like "well, you just want 12-year-olds to have sex with dogs", there are three philosophical limitations that apply to decisions made by individuals or between individuals:

  • The decisions or agreements are made without fraud or physical coersion
  • The decisions are made by adults (the very definition of adulthood is the legal ability to make decisions for oneself)
  • Decisions and areements don't violate the constitutional rights of others

That being said, here are examples of the government interventionism of  nannies, moralists, technocrats, and progressive/socialists.

Continue reading ‘Respecting Individual Decision-Making’ »