Serve-the-check instead of Starve-the-beast

Here’s an interesting article “Modernizing Conservatism”, yes, not my typical subject matter. Written from a Conservative’s viewpoint it critiques some of the pillars of American Conservatism that might not be effective or useful anymore.

The part I found the most interesting is the argument against the popular Starve The Beast concept in our current political discourse. As I understand it (a big caveat) the Starve The Beast idea is that the only way to shrink the size of government is by cutting budgets severely. Because, while everyone agrees that government is too big (!) congress does not have the will to shrink it by eliminating parts of it.

So instead, do it indirectly, so that the cause and effect are separated enough and it will get through. You cut budgets in a macro way today, meaning, budget caps, tax cuts, and so on — don’t go into too much detail about the specific stuff you are cutting. And then, tomorrow, the impact of the cuts are noticed but it’s too late because the dies are cast and the beast shrinks or dies.

The problem with this is that we (the people and the leadership) like the benefits of big government so much that we revert to deficit spending despite the macro cuts. See for example the unfunded Iraq war that was explicitly kept ‘off the books‘. And so the beast doesn’t starve, the bill is just passed on to future generations.

The Serve The Check concept says, make sure that everything the government does shows up on our tax bills. I think this implies actually raising taxes. Maybe break them out into bits that can be identified: this line goes to the military, this line goes to health care and so on. Now we can see in painful detail on our tax returns what our taxes will be and we, the electorate, will insist on shrinking government.

“Long-term evidence indicates that the starve-the-beast strategy not only fails, but may make the problem of unrestrained spending growth worse, suggesting that a “serve the check” strategy might be a more effective means of curbing the growth of government spending.

The simple explanation for this seeming paradox is that the starve-the-beast strategy currently allows Americans to receive a dollar in government services while only having to pay 60 cents for it.3 Rigorous analyses from centrist economists Christina and David Romer of UC Berkeley4, and from libertarian economist (and Reagan White House alumnus) William Niskanen conclude that the starve-the-beast strategy fails.

Strikingly, Niskanen’s analysis found that lower taxes correlated with higher levels of federal spending. As a result, Niskanen argues that raising taxes may be the most effective way to reduce gov-ernment spending.” (from Modernizing Conservatism)

Ok I am going on and on. Here’s the article: Modernizing Conservatism

Wall Street Journal has some sensational data visualization

I don’t know if you need an account to see the amazingly useful, elegant and well implemented bit of data visualization in the Wall Street Journal. Typical of a nerd like me, I focus more on the design and technical elements than the data that it is trying to show. The data, by the way is polling data sliced in all kinds of ways that are useful and easy to use. Well done WSJ!

Screen Shot 2011 12 21 at 9 22 45 AM

Nation Building

Here’s a topic I have never written about before… Nation Building. I just want to point you to a great article I read in the Globe yesterday that puts some meat on the question of “Nation Building,” when has it happened before? How long does it take? What is really happening? How does it start and how does it finish?

Here’s the crux of the argument in “How to build a nation” – The Boston Globe

“Identities are chosen strategically, they evolve over time, and people make decisions about what identities to prioritize,” said Jeremy Weinstein, a political science professor at Stanford University who studies ethnic politics and democratic transition in Africa. “This suggests there is room for fluidity and change.”

The lesson of history, it appears, is that tribal division isn’t a permanent condition: It’s just the default when people don’t yet have a nation they have a good reason to identify with. As it turns out, there are examples to follow. And it does not take centuries — or even more than a generation — to build a sense of citizenship. In fact, what we know about forging national identities actually makes the situation in the Middle East seem less dire than it would first appear. (from “How to build a nation” – The Boston Globe)

An excellent article.

The flaw in the deal

I am assuming that you’ve followed the nonsense that has been going on in Washington D.C. about our so-called debt ceiling. If not this post will be meaninless and boring to you.

The deal stipulates that a new super-commision will be formed to sort out the additional 1+ Trillion in defecit reduction.  A majority of the commission has to agree on the particular program which will then be sent to the Congress for a “simple” up or down vote.

The famous triggers are designed to force this commision to come to a recommendation and the congress to accept them, because if they don’t there will be trouble. Trouble in the form of a forced set of cuts to Social Security (which liberals will hate) and to Defense (which conservatives will hate.) So the commision is amost guaranteed to come up with a compromise, even if very difficult, because the alternative, the trigger will be unacceptable.

Hmm. Didn’t we just go through this? There was an alternative which would be so unbelievably painful, that both sides could not help but make a compromise. That didn’t happen. No, the tea party decided to hold us all hostage (yes, I think that analogy is apt) and threaten to let the untinkable happen if they didn’t get their way.

The same damn thing will happen again with the so-called select committee. They will hold out to get everything they want even if it would mean serious and dangerous cuts to defense and serious and inhumane cuts to social security.

I don’t know who or why anyone thinks this time will be different.


Americans Elect – A viable third party?

It’s unusual to see Thomas Friedman to throw his weight this thoroughly behind an outside organization:

“The goal of Americans Elect is to take a presidential nominating process now monopolized by the Republican and Democratic parties, which are beholden to their special interests, and blow it wide open — guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated independently, will not only be on the ballot in every state but be able to take part in every presidential debate and challenge both parties from the middle with the best ideas on how deal with the debt, education and jobs.” (from The New York TImes)

I am not sure this is for real, but it sure sounds interesting. I am signing up.

Fillibuster: Congress is totally broken

Thomas Geoghegan has a fantastic column in the New York Times explaining the mess we are in because of the perversion of the fillibuster rule. I don’t know how we are going to get out of it, but… come on! You should definitely read the whole thing. Here’s a key quote. Doesn’t it make your blood boil?

“But the Senate, as it now operates, really has become unconstitutional: as we saw during the recent health care debacle, a 60-vote majority is required to overcome a filibuster and pass any contested bill. The founders, though, were dead set against supermajorities as a general rule, and the ever-present filibuster threat has made the Senate a more extreme check on the popular will than they ever intended” (from New York Times, “Mr. Smith Rewrites the Constitution”)

An excellent paper about Curaçao Politics

This is probably not high on your radar, but if you have interest in the island of Curaçao you may have heard about the big referendum issue that is being hotly debated these days.

I won’t even try to capture the sides of the argument, rather I want to refer you to this outstanding paper written by people from Harvard Law School that cover the issues and sides thoroughly. It is, by the way, extremely well written.

The paper is called “A Look Through the Constitutional Prism” and it was written by Jeremias Prassl and Ben Gardner.

Here’s a taste:

“These issues were counterbalanced by a major advantage we brought to this study: being European, currently based in the United States, and without any past, present or future connection with the Antillean islands or the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we could offer each and every respondent a neutral ear; whilst many a probing question may have been challenging an interviewee’s perception, we strived to maintain strict neutrality whilst gathering data in order not to prejudice our findings.” (from A Look Through the Constitutional Prism)

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