“Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant.” James Madison
There is so much of a media show of good feelings coming out of Washington now, mostly about how the party in power will deal with all the crises we have that all need immediate solutions. It is true that some do, like the failed distribution of COVID19 vaccinations, but not all problems are a crisis and even at that most are inappropriate for government involvement, let alone intervention. But everything is put in the context of a crisis that needs an immediate solution, even if that solution is not sustainable, is contrary to the Constitution, has long term negative consequences, or even immediate consequences that are counterproductive.
As long as “good intentions” can somehow be spun to justify the most egregious violations of liberty, it’s fine because the greater good is spun out as greater than liberty. Those that question presidential orders, tie-breaking legislation, demands for fair shares, lobbying activities, economic bobbling heads and endless political pundit briefs have been overwhelmed by the tsunami of feel good politics and media right think that such concerns have little if any chance of being heard. Gone are any pretenses at the bi-partisanship collaboration promised by the new administration; now it’s go along or go away.
There should be no surprises here as it’s what duopolists do; the Democrats do it to the Republicans, who then do it to the Democrats, and so on. Well what would we expect, it’s the Potomac Two Step and you can only dance if it’s your party that runs the party. So while the power gorging goes on, at least until the mid-terms, the spite spectacle will rock.
By the way, disregard all these outcries about tie breaking in the Senate. Madison’s Constitutional Dilemma only pertains to the Senate in that a tie is broken with a vote from the Executive Branch, i.e. the Vice President. In the House, the tie-breaker is the Speaker, who comes from among those elected to the legislature, but while they can vote as any other member of the House, they usually reserve the right unless required to either break a tie, or actually effect one in order to kill a proposed bill as ties in the House do that; so there is no issue regarding the separation of powers doctrine in the House. Ties don’t happen often in the House in any event, but in the Senate it now happened 270 times, meaning on that many occasions the executive branch literally legislated.
This is why it’s called a dilemma, and Madison often said he wished a better way was constructed, such as George Mason’s suggestion that the President of the Senate be chosen and would act the same as the Speaker of the House so as to maintain the separation of powers doctrine. We would be better served had that been the solution chosen; to have the executive branch allowed to legislate is a dangerous flaw in our Constitution and should be addressed with an amendment; for now, we will have to live with Madison’s dilemma.
So on to our current dilemmas and crises. Funny how the Republicans, the self-proclaimed voices of fiscal temperance, created the largest budget overruns and contributions to the debt burden in history over the last four years, now balk because the Democrats will likely break that record; so they now find that old time religion of frugality. Is it an effort for redemption or following a script when you hold the loosing hand? Regardless, don’t be impressed as their ploy to go with a stimulus package for half what the Democrats want is like advocating taking just a little poison, rather than ask why take poison at all. Game over, tie breaker done, the full Monty goes in to play.
If you are concerned as to where all of this feel good money will come from, that’s easy stuff. You have printing presses at the UST, and a central bank called the Federal Reserve to “create” all the money needed, and spending with one party rule in the White House and Congress will never be easier; that is until you get the bill. Milton Friedman once astutely observed “Keep your eye on one thing and one thing only, and that’s how much government is spending, because that’s the true tax.”
If you are listening to the financial news lately, you may be struck with the mounting concern about inflation due to all this spending. The chorus was started when Lawrence Summers, former Chief Economist for the World Bank and Under Secretary of the UST, questioned the wisdom and long term consequences of the stimulus plans; this from someone who often drank the cool aid of modern monetary theory and financial stimulus. The reaction from many who also drank that stuff was vociferous, as if Summers was guilty of heresy; well maybe he was because as Ron Paul once observed, truth is heresy in a culture of lies. Instead of dismissing those concerns, they had the temerity to tell us inflation doesn’t matter. Really, then explain stagflation which happens often when money and credit expansion in a recession creates such phenomena?
As an example of how financial stimulus can cause inflation, take the inane debate over setting a minimum wage. If history tells us anything, it is the absurdity of wage and price controls. According to the Congressional Budget Office, less than 900K Americans could potentially rise from the poverty level with a $15/hr. minimum wage, but the economic effect on businesses, especially small businesses, would be devastating, killing 1.4M jobs. Don’t expect the House to talk much about facts because Representatives have just a two year term, and talking facts can kill votes. Oh, you heard the Republicans say that? No you didn’t, you heard them say that such a wage increase is too large, something smaller is better. This ignores the obvious by playing a quantitative game. Common sense should inform us that when the cost of labor goes up, so do prices, and when that happens, those on minimum wage will find a larger paycheck that buys less.
Politicians play the emotional game because sadly it works in a culture that no longer wants to deal with facts. Tell the masses that they are oppressed because those billionaires are stealing from them by providing goods and services that they are told they can’t live without. Oppression makes people feel bad, so propose what makes people feel good; ask them to think and you might as well slit your political throat.
Consider the cries for taxing the rich. Now first define who the rich are, and we get a statistical reference as those who earn about $400K/yr. or more as of 2018 CBO and OMB statistics. With the swelling ranks of paper money billionaires over the past few years that is projected to rise to $500K/yr. for 2020. This appears to be the defining tipping point for the despised 1%. So now let’s get ready to at least slit our wrists and consider some facts from the very same CBO, who had the audacity to cross check facts with the good will people at the IRS: the top 1% pay 40% of tax revenues, the top 10% pay 70%, the top 50% pay 97%; so simple arithmetic shows that the bottom 50% pay just 3%. Please note that these are rough and rounded statistics as of 2018; preliminary projections for 2019 and 2020 are even more skewed to the top carrying even greater burdens. As John Adams pointed out, facts are stubborn things.
The feel good stuff seems never ending; consider government guaranteed student loan forgiveness as an example of this free stuff for all mentality. Keep in mind that when you hear the term government guarantees, it’s actually tax payer guarantees. The spin is that the loans present a huge burden on those least able to pay, but that’s simply not the case. According to a study by the Brookings Institute, the highest income group of 40% (top two quintiles) of American households hold 58% of this debt, the middle quintile hold 22%, and the lowest income group of 40% (bottom two quintiles) of American households hold 20%. The total debt of student loans is $1.6T, of which about 15% are in default at any one time. The American tax payer is currently left with approximately $250B of loan defaults already, but the feel good spin is to add another $1.35T to that burden, which is what cancelling that debt means. The banks that make the loans hold the guarantees, and the educational institutions paid from those loans already have the money. Feeling better yet?
So in the feel good spirit we have executive orders, but given all the press about Joe Biden’s Presidential Order mania, his predecessor in just four years managed more than seven times that, but in fairness Joe just got started. Of course he has a long way to go to match the three presidents that came before him, but he’s off to a good start. It’s doubtful though that he’ll beat Garfield, Wilson and certainly not FDR, but his term is young. One of the orders to note is the closure of all Federal lands to oil and gas exploration and harvesting. Now consider the fact that almost 28% of the entire US is federal land. In Alaska, one of the most oil and gas rich states in the US, more than 61% of the state is federal land, and accounts for 20% of all US oil and gas production. So Biden decrees that all federal land will no longer be available for this.
So what happened to the nation of laws and not of men? Is not a law that says no harvesting oil and gas on federal lands the venue of Congress, the legislative branch, and not the President, the executive branch? This corruption of the Constitution regarding executive powers has been going on at least and most prominently since Wilson and Roosevelt, but it doesn’t get a free pass; it’s absurd as we do not elect kings. Why then, when the American economy can at long last look forward to starting up again, and all that means for energy supply and demand, would we have a suppression of availability of 9% of capacity?
Granted, cleaner energy is the way of the future, but by definition, the future is not now. We are dealing now with a clear and present economic crisis, so why provide a body punch when we are just getting back on our feet? That really doesn’t feel good and certainly does none of us any good. Not to pick on any one issue, but why is it that politicians always seem to prefer policies that feel good over policies that actually do good? The answer is because the former provides power, and the later provides solutions; when you solve a problem, there’s no longer a need for power, and without power, politicians have serious withdrawal symptoms, and so are left with panic mongering that everything, in this case climate change, is a crisis more deserving consideration than economic recovery.
Then you have healthcare. We’re not talkingCOVID19, but the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Consider that with that act health care cost actually rose about 40% from $2.60T/yr. to $3.65T/yr. The intent was to make health care more “affordable”; the actual consequences are anything but. Despite that we hear we will get an expansion of ACA, although we also hear that the Medicare-For-All is supposedly not realistic. So what then, will we see only another 40% hike because doing more would mean even more than that? Less is not more here, more will mean less care, but you will pay more. But that’s fine because you will feel good about that, right?
As justification, there are those that claim that the Constitution actually provides for the welfare of the country in the General Welfare Clause (Art. 1, Sect. 8). That is an incorrect and self-serving interpretation of the power elite of what the founders, principally Madison, intended as he and others explained in the Federalist Papers. Madison clearly defined that clause as not a means of benevolence but as a means test that a tax must be for funding clearly enumerated powers only, and further that charity is not a legislative power. Again, what feels good does not guarantee what does good, and as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
On that subject of COVID19, both regarding vaccinations and stimulus aid, we have a constitutional issue in that the administration and Congress, and also some states such as New York, have proposed and in some cases are actually proceeding based on racial profiling. Take a look at the various application forms to schedule a vaccination and you will see questions for racial profiling. Vaccination centers are being located according to the racial composition of a location, and with stimulus aid according to the same criteria. The problem is that this violates the 14th Amendment, specifically The Equal Protection Clause. To spin such practices as “progressive” is an oxymoron if there ever was one as it is patently regressive to act on the basis of race. Trump used the race card and we rightfully railed against that, yet we now have even a more polarizing situation.
Then there’s the power play with another crisis raising the cries for anti-trust actions, mainly against “Big Tech”. Yes, the FANG are in the progressive cross hairs. The problem is, according to current law, they’ve done nothing wrong, except of course be amazingly successful by providing invaluable technology making life so much easier with benefits our forefathers could not even imagine. To combat such atrocious behavior politicians will simply change the laws so whatever the accusation is will suffice as proof because government should have the power to do that, right? No, but big corporations will be complacent if not complicit as they play the cronyism game, ushering in the kind of socialism Benito Mussolini taught his most famous pupil, Juan Peron, specifically that “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Are we there yet?
We can only hope that the Supreme Court will be there for us; maybe, but there’s a solution for that too. Biden has convened a special commission for this crisis “to fix the problem with the Supreme Court”, and such ideas as stacking it, changing tenure, broadening composition via a judicial lottery, and other ideas for “solutions” have been suggested. You see, when an administration is aware that they will have constitutional issues, they need to find a way to control those who rule on constitutional issues, you know, like they do in Russia and China. Don’t think that can’t happen when you already have some in Congress praising China for how it controls free speech, especially on the internet, because “…they got it right.”
A friend of mine said he read somewhere on social media a joke that the government accidentally shut itself down due to the ban on non-essential businesses; on the one hand, it was humorous, but it does evoke the horror of lockdowns. There have been many such draconian actions by governments, but time and again they have done little if any good, and a great deal of harm. To decree someone’s business is “non-essential” is basically putting them out of business. The pitiful spectacle of having them then put on the public dole condemns them to a slow death; we have a staggering rise in crime, alcohol and drug addiction, depression and in some cases suicides. Indeed, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville wrote during his early 19C tour of the US, “We note that humans, when faced with an imminent danger, rarely remain at their habitual level; they rise far above, or sink far below, but it is more common to see, among men as among nations, extraordinary virtues born of the immediacy of adversity.” So let’s all hope for some extraordinary virtue soon.