American Elephants

A Word About Freedom, From a Brit Who Loves America: by The Elephant's Child

Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament, had an essay in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, adapted from the Encounter Books Broadside, Why America Must Not Follow Europe.

He suggests that Barack Obama is neither a socialist nor a New Deal big spender in the model of FDR or LBJ.  He says, if anything, he bets that President Obama would verbalize his ideology using the same vocabulary used by Eurocrats.

He would say he wants a fairer America, a more tolerant America, a less arrogant America, a more engaged America. When you prize away the cliché, what these phrases amount to are higher taxes, less patriotism, a bigger role for state bureaucracies, and a transfer of sovereignty to global institutions.

He is not pursuing a set of random initiatives but a program of comprehensive Europeanization: European health care, European welfare, European carbon taxes, European day care, European college education, even a European foreign policy, based on engagement with supranational technocracies, nuclear disarmament and a reluctance to deploy forces overseas.

Mr Hannan runs through the possibilities: slower growth, less fear of sickness or unemployment, and America no longer a superpower, and asks if a European future is really so terrible.  Yes, he says.  He has seen it firsthand for 11 years and knows what the European political model means.

The critical difference between the American and European unions has to do with the location of power. The U.S. was founded on what we might loosely call the Jeffersonian ideal: the notion that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people they affect.  The European Union was based on precisely the opposite ideal.  Article One of its foundational treaty commits its nations to establish “an ever-closer union.”

From that distinction, much follows. The U.S. has evolved a series of unique institutions designed to limit the power of the state: recall mechanisms, ballot initiatives, balanced budget rules, open primaries, localism, states’ rights, term limits, the direct election of public officials from the sheriff to the school board.  The EU places supreme power in the hands of 27 unelected Commissioners invulnerable to public opinion.

The will of the people is generally seen by Eurocrats as an obstacle to overcome, not a reason to change direction.  When France, the Netherlands and Ireland voted against the European Constitution, the referendum results were swatted aside and the document adopted regardless.  For, in Brussels, the ruling doctrine — that the nation-state must be transcended — is seen as more important than freedom, democracy or the rule of law.

As a British citizen, Mr. Hannan says, he sees the American republic as a repository of the traditional freedoms of England, which found their fullest and most sublime expression in the old courthouse in Philadelphia. In Britain, colossal sums are being commandeered by the government to fund bailouts and nationalizations without any parliamentary authorization.  Legislation happens through standing orders which allow ministers to make laws without parliamentary consent.

He sees us making the same mistakes Britain has made; expanding government, regulating the private market, centralizing its jurisdiction and breaking the link between taxation and representation. And abandoning its sovereignty.

Do get the broadside, it’s really inexpensive.


Update from a Devastated Japan: by The Elephant's Child

The 4,689 ft. Japanese volcano Shinmoedake erupted today, sending ash and rocks into the air in a plume two and a half miles high.  It erupted in January in its first major eruption in 52 years.  Access to the entire mountain has been restricted.

A survivor of the tsunami has been found ten miles out to sea, riding on the remains of his roof.  Hiromitsu Shinkawa, 65, was spotted among the debris and wreckage on the ocean.  As the tsunami approached, he made the decision to return to his home  in Minami Soma in Fukushima prefecture  to collect belongings.  He had been at sea for two days.  His wife, with whom he returned home, is still missing.

Nearly 300,000 people, left homeless, were bedded down in makeshift emergency shelters. Temperatures dropped to near-freezing and with no electricity, survivors were struggling without heat, food and in some cases clean water. In Tokyo, some say that there is little sign of damage. The international rescue effort in arriving with search and rescue teams,  and trained sniffer dogs. 10 US naval ships neared the affected region. Our aircraft carriers have enormous ability to help.

Authorities said that another massive aftershock may be expected. The death toll has reached 100,000 and rising. There is probably no country in the world that is so well prepared for a major earthquake, yet the “big one”  with a 30 foot tsunami is simply beyond understanding.

It looks to me as if their preparations for earthquake prevented much damage, and it was the tsunami that was responsible for the devastation. And it could happen here. The exact scenario that we saw in Japan has already occurred here in the Pacific Northwest, and the coastlines are vulnerable.   I’ve been through a couple of fairly big quakes in California, and the Nisqually quake here. The quake here was very different feeling, deeper.  Are we well prepared?  I don’t know.

Light Bulbs and the Nanny State by The Elephant's Child

Nick Gillespie of Reason shares my exasperation with the Light Bulb Police.  I think most people are really unaware of the approaching ban, and when they suddenly find out that they cannot buy normal light bulbs, that they are stuck with the revolting CFL bulbs, and that they are going to be forced to replace most of the fixtures in their homes, you are going to have a very angry populace.

Congress is undoubtedly too busy with attempting to get the budget under control to devote much effort to repealing the incandescent bulb ban.  Do understand that there is no reason whatsoever for the ban.  We are not short of electricity, we have natural gas supplies in abundance for at least 200 years.  And with natural gas so plentiful, the price of gas should drop.  We have plentiful supplies of coal as well.

So why are the Nannies banning incandescent bulbs?  Because GE, Phillips and Sylvania can buy CFL bulbs very cheaply from China, which sell here at a much higher price, and make lots more money.  These companies apparently wrote the bill that bans incandescents.  That kind of collusion used to be illegal, but who worries about things like that these days?  The administration, charged by the Constitution with enforcing the law, feels no obligation to obey the law itself.

Overspending, Overregulation: Exporting American Business! by The Elephant's Child

Earlier this month the non-partisan General Accounting Office (GAO) released a 345 page report detailing 34 major areas of wasteful duplication in government spending.  Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) said it makes Congress look like a bunch of jackasses.  He pointed out that ending the duplication  could save the government $100 billion to $200 billion every year.  A no-brainer, right?

Liberals responded to the report with polite applause,  Sen. Harry Reid bubbled with enthusiasm. “I think there are duplicative programs around here that we could eliminate.  Those are some of the things we could do over the long term that could save some money.” Nothing to see here, please go back to sleep.

Liberals continue to believe in Keynesian economics, that government spending creates a “multiplier effect” that stimulates the economy. They like believing that because it allows them to continue spending, which they believe gets them votes.  Unfortunately they are impervious to evidence.

Goldman Sachs released a report purporting to show that the $61 billion in cuts in the House fiscal year bill would reduce economic spending by up to 2% this year.  Economist Mark Zandi issued a report claiming that Republican plans would reduce economic growth by .5% this year and by .2% in 2012, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of next year. These are the same gurus who promised that their $1 trillion stimulus would keep unemployment below 8%. That worked well.

Brian Reidl of the Heritage Foundation explains why government spending does not stimulate economic growth:

Congress does not have a vault of money waiting to be distributed. Every dollar Congress injects into the economy must first be taxed or borrowed out of the economy. No new spending power is created. It is merely redistributed from one group of people to another.

Congress cannot create new purchasing power out of thin air. If it funds new spending with taxes, it is simply redistributing existing purchasing power (while decreasing incentives to produce income and output). If Congress instead borrows the money from domestic investors, those investors will have that much less to invest or to spend in the private economy. If they borrow the money from foreigners, the balance of payments will adjust by equally raising net imports, leaving total demand and output unchanged. Every dollar Congress spends must first come from somewhere else.

A recent poll from The Hill found that voters are nearly unanimous on debt reduction, and a majority want Congress to cut spending.  Whether that means that people are really aware of the seriousness of the problem remains to be seen. Americans have a lot of plain old common sense, and understand debt and balanced checkbooks.

President Obama said that “rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business — burdens that have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.”  Unfortunately here is a big distance between Obama’s rhetoric and his followup. No one believes him.

American companies are strangling in red tape.  George Buckley, CEO of 3M told the Financial Times recently that “Politicians forget that business has choice.  We’re not indentured servants and we will do business where it’s good and friendly.  If it’s hostile, incrementally, things will slip away.  We’ve got a real choice between manufacturing in Canada and Mexico — which tend to be pro-business — or America.”

The regulatory burden falls even more heavily on small business than on giants like 3M. Small businesses are the engines of growth and source of as much as 2/3  of all new jobs.The Small Business Administration (SBA) says that for companies with 500 or more employees, the cost of regulation comes to $7,765 per worker.  For companies with fewer than 20 employees, it’s $10,585 per worker.

Shrinking government entails more than just cutting our $3.7 trillion in spending, which is hard enough with unwilling Democrats, but we must also slash the regulatory state. The economy will not recover and the unemployed will not find new jobs with governmental dithering, meaningless rhetoric and liberal foot-dragging.

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