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Qaddafi, Gaddafi, Gadhafi: No Matter How You Spell It, He’s D-E-A-D

October 22, 2011

What can you say about a 69-year-old dictator whose own people felt the need to murder him? That he was vain and deluded? That he was pompous and vengeful? That he was lucky to have lasted 42 years as king of his hill? That he was, in the end, merely human and made of mortal flesh? The answer is “all of the above, and more.”

What more can we say about the deposed and summarily dispatched Libyan potentate Moammar al-Qaddafi/Gaddafi/Gadhafi/Khadafy, that man of multiple transliterations and personalities… that matchless Mad Dog of the Middle East (to use Ronald Reagan’s memorable phrase)?

Well, it seems he had a major crush on Condoleezza Rice. Found among the personal possessions at his imperial compound in Tripoli was an album filled with photos of the demurely fetching former Secretary of State. “I support my darling black African woman,” Qaddafi once gushed during a TV interview. “I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders… Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much.”

He proved to be an ardent suitor. During Rice’s state visit to Libya, Qaddafi presented her with a diamond ring and a locket containing his photograph, then treated her to a special viewing of his Condi Rice photo album. Ever the cool professional, Rice described the experience as “not standard diplomatic practice.”

What else can I tell you about the late Colonel Qaddafi that you might not already know? With a little help from Wikipedia and a few other sources, I’ve assembled the following fascinating facts:

  • He was born in a tent on the Sahara sands — the Arab equivalent of a log cabin. One grandfather was a martyr in the struggle against Italian occupation; one grandmother was alleged to be (would you believe?) Jewish. Of course we never heard about the Jewish granny directly from Qaddafi, most likely because he was a devout anti-Semite.
  • He attended his nation’s military academy at Benghazi — a ticket to social mobility for a desert Arab — and had attained the rank of lieutenant when he headed the bloodless military coup that overthew Libya’s King Idris in 1969. He was all of 27 at the time. Qaddafi immediately won a promotion to colonel, a rank he wore with pride throughout his years in power.
  • After taking power, Qaddafi scrapped the old Christian calendar. He renamed July Hannibal after the ancient North African general who challenged Rome. August became the month of Nasser, in tribute to Egypt’s chieftain.
  • He despised the native (and non-Arab) Berber population of Libya, which his scrambled mind somehow came to associate with foreign imperialism. After taking power, he made it illegal for Berbers to give their children traditional Berber names and outlawed the teaching of their language in schools. He moved them en masse from their native villages into specially constructed public housing.
  • He counted among his friends and allies some of the vilest despots of his time: Uganda’s Idi Amin, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Liberia’s Charles Taylor — even Serbian genocidist Slobodan Milosevic. If they were sufficiently evil, chances are they were FOM (Friends of Moammar). Imagine these international Goodfellas stepping out together for a night of bowling followed by a chummy killing spree. Whoever said it’s lonely at the top?
  • He was a sartorial peacock who favored outlandish gowns and uniforms along with the ever-present sunglasses. He never traveled without his so-called Amazonian Guard, a crack coterie of Hollywood-glamorous female virgin bodyguards trained in the martial arts. (I’m not making this up.) But his favorite traveling companion was his Ukrainian nurse, a healthy-looking blonde who professes nothing but fond memories of her old boss. Their relationship was said to be strictly professional. As for the Amazonians, who knows?
  • He started out as a proponent of Pan-Arabism, with his eyes on a united Arabia that would span the desert lands from Morocco to the Persian Gulf. When that dream fizzled, he set his sights on a future United States of Africa. (Give the man credit; he thought big.) In fact, just a few years ago he was crowned “King of Kings” by a consortium of more than 200 African tribal chieftains.
  • He was afraid to fly over water and stayed resolutely on the ground floor when he traveled. Members of his inner circle noted that he wouldn’t climb more than 35 steps.
  • He was known for making strange and sometimes incomprehensible public statements, once referring to HIV as “a peace virus, not an aggressive virus.” 
  • He declared a jihad against Switzerland last year, calling it an “infidel state” and urging the U.N. to partition it among France, Germany and Italy. (One of his sons had been arrested there and briefly detained after a hotel scuffle in Geneva.)
  • He survived at least seven attempts on his life until his luck ran out while he hid in a drain pipe outside his hometown of Sirte. Despite all the gruesome video footage played repeatedly and almost zestfully by CNN and other networks, nobody captured the moment of his death. Word has it that he was shot with his own golden gun after being roughed up and pinned against a truck. His reported last words: “Don’t shoot!”

Don't call him Mr. Congeniality: Portrait of a defunct dictator

But what about Qaddafi’s politics? Where did the late “Dean of Arab Leaders” stand on the left-right spectrum… and did he even have a coherent political philosophy?

Like the man himself, Qaddafi’s political views defied conventional description. He was an ardent socialist who vastly improved his people’s healthcare, housing and sanitation through direct government intervention. Libyans enjoyed the best standard of living in all of Africa during his rule. At the same time, he personally siphoned the lion’s share of Libya’s oil wealth and kept it for his family — along with a tiny elite of close friends and associates.  The state controlled the economy, and he controlled the state. In short, you might call Libya’s economic system a socialist kleptocracy — a strange melding of far left and far right, with nothing in between.

Make that an Islamist socialist kleptocracy. Unlike the secular Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi imposed a heavy (and mandatory) dose of Islamic faith and morality upon his people. Alcohol, gambling, homosexuality, adultery and casual public displays of affection were strictly verboten. He also believed in exporting Islam and defending it against all threats, real and imagined. He became infamous for his role in state-sponsored terrorism, from the dastardly Lockerbie bombing to gun-running for the IRA. He reveled in the prospect of an Islamic Europe.

Only after 9/11 did he soften his militant bravado, probably to avoid retaliation by the U.S. and its allies. (Smart man.) Then, as the Arab Spring swept across the deserts of North Africa, he turned against his own people. Refusing to surrender power, the aging dictator fought a bitter and ultimately futile civil war against the forces of democracy and change. These cockroaches!, he fumed as his people marched against him. Surely they must be on hallucinogenic drugs supplied by foreigners!  

The old fox managed to evade his pursuers until they finally trapped him in that drainpipe near his birthplace. His last moments on this earth must have been a hellish blur of terror and stress hormones. Paradise seemed beyond his reach; he died stripped of all dignity, like a prize hog at the slaughterhouse.  Allah-hu akbar!, his killers shouted when the deed was done. God is great!

It would be pleasant to think that the new Libya will emerge as a shining model of representative democracy, but I’m not ready to place any bets just yet. The manner of Qaddafi’s forced exit merely succeeded in turning my stomach.

140 Comments leave one →
  1. redjujube permalink
    October 22, 2011 3:47 am

    Say whatever you want about Gaddafi, he was looney as hell, killed a lot of people, whatever, it’s all true I’m sure. BUT he didn’t kill even one tenth the number of innocent people George Bush killed. Bush should be hunted down just like Gaddafi and shot. Same with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. I would be proud to kill any one of them or all of them. They purposely lied to start a war for their own profit. Saddam was absolutely no threat to America and they knew it. They knew al Qaeda was not in Iraq. They knew Saddam didn’t have a nuclear program. They knew that all his WMD had been destroyed after the Gulf War and that he didn’t have missiles capable of reaching America as Bush said he did. They authorized torture dungeons. They destroyed the country’s infrastructure leaving the population without clean water. Hundreds of Iraqi children die every day from water born diseases. Those 4 murderous barbarians killed more people than Saddam and Gaddafi combined yet they remain free today. They are the worst terrorists this world has seen in a long, long time.

    I hope al Qaeda strikes another deadly blow against America. If America condones what Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice did then they bloody well deserve a hundred more 9/11s. If Iraq deserves it then so does the United States of Azzholes.

    • October 22, 2011 9:53 am

      How many people do you think George Bush Killed ?

      There have been slightly under 5000 US casualties since the start of Iraq.
      Most sources including wikileaks and Iraq Body Count list total casualties at just over 100,000.

      Estimates just from Libya’s current Civil war are 30,000 to 50,000.

      I am glad Qaddafi is gone. I am glad his own people got rid of him. I wish role in the process had been restricted to cheerleading – just as I wish we had not invaded Iraq.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 22, 2011 11:24 am

      Well, you have done it, you have provided a context in which every other poster here is moderate by comparison!

      Its probably pointless to debate this tripe but Bush lied about the cost of the war, yes, and for that he deserved huge condemnation. He destroyed our economy, or went a long way towards it.

      But Bush and almost no one knew whether or not Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, he wanted everyone to believe he did have them as it gave him a powerful position in the Arab world. Even people very close to him believed he had them. Unfortunately for him, we also believed he had them. Bush id not lie about that, he was wrong, there is a difference.

      So, you’d like to kill Americans and hope Al Queda will do so with you? Speaking of loony as hell….

    • AMAC permalink
      October 22, 2011 8:03 pm

      What a terrible position to have. How can you be so hateful that you would wish harm on inoccent people? The Bush hating reminds me so much of the Obama hating and its just as ignorant. You may be intelligent, (i don’t know you), but you certainly don’t appear to be reasonable. It’s fine to attack their positions and reasoning, but statements like, liar, idiot, and of course azzhole, just show that you have a position not worth investigating or understanding.

      • October 22, 2011 9:09 pm

        I think most of us agree that we invaded Iraq on pretty flimsy evidence, and that it was a “pre-emptive” war (i.e., a war of aggression). We shouldn’t have gone in, and once in we should have left as soon as the Iraqis voted for their new government.

        I’m a believer in taking out tyrannical heads of state as a relatively bloodless alternative to committing a nation to war. Why should thousands of innocent people die under horrible circumstances because of their leaders? Why is it legal to kill those innocent people but not the leaders? To me it just reveals the elitist nature of war and governments. We could have attempted to target Saddam Hussein or instigate a coup before committing troops.

        But I’m getting off on a tangent. Most of us agree that there’s a difference between tyranny and a war to remove a tyrant. Granted, people suffer either way, and that’s wrong. But anyone who would wish al-Qaeda to rain destruction on Americans is as bloodthirsty than any tyrant. I’m hoping this person was just letting off steam.

      • October 22, 2011 9:43 pm

        We do not typically overtly take out tyranical heads of state, because:

        That is an act of war,

        Because though it is relatively hard for an individual to take out democratic leaders, it is trivial for most nations. Our president is only safe from foreign nations because of the consequences.

        Immediately after JFK was assisinated LBJ is on tape telling Hoover to get the investigation moving and that the result MUST be that Oswald acted alone.

        Far more classic obstruction of justice than anything Nixon ever did.

        I do not buy all the conspiracy theories, but I do think as Johnson did – and pretty much said. Any possibility other than Oswald acting alone had implications that were inconceivable. If the Cuba or the USSR were involved – the consequence would have been global annihilation. Even most of the lessor possibilities would have torn the nation apart.

        I have admitted that I reluctantly supported the War on Iraq at the time.
        I was very very deeply troubled by the bush “pre-emptive war” doctrine.

        My theory on the WMD’s is that Saddam was intent on developing them, and beleived he had the weapons programs that we were trying to root out. That his own people were lying to him – either they had chosen – like Heisenberger, to sabatoge their own efforts, or they had failed and were lying to cover their own failure. Regardless, no one who knew could tell Saddam he did not have any WMD programs without experiencing a horrible death.

        But that is just a theory.

        What matters is not what Saddam did or did not have, but what we could legitimately do about it. I do not like the fact that Iraq might have had WMD’s. I am not happy that Pakistan and India do, that South Africa did, that North Korea does, that Iran likely Will and that Israel probably has H-Bombs. To date only one nation has used nuclear weapons in Anger – the United States. While I beleive (though not strongly) that use was justified, and I beleive we should take every step short of war to prevent other states from aquiring nuclear weapons, I do not beleive we are entitled to go to war because a nation that is hostile to us may be on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons.

        Afghanistan and to a greater extent Iraq provided us with an opportunity to confront Al Qeda directly on the battlefield thousands of miles away from the US. Whether it is Bush or Obama we are taking the fight directly to the Terrorists – and I think we are benefiting from that.

        But the ends still do not justify the means.

      • October 22, 2011 9:56 pm


        Alot of my work over the past decade has been in defence. There is some modern weird geek military thing.

        By the sixties we had developed H-Bombs, and there just really was no rational reason to try to develop any bigger a weapon. US weapons development shifted from bigger to more accurate, and as accuracy improved to smaller, First it was more accurate targeted nuclear weapons, then it was being able to hit and destroy a harden target – even a nuclear one, with a conventional weapon. Smaller and more accurate percolated through the entire military. As accuracy improved targeting shifted up the chain of command. Our military has essentially become assassins. Whether it is the soldier on the ground with a handheld weapon that can take out a tank, or being able to call up a battlefield controller who can chose from a broad array of choices to take out a specific target, we are increasingly using smaller and smaller and more accurate weapons and smaller units to target a smaller and smaller portion of our opponents military. Taking out command and control – means killing generals rather than privates.

        We went after Saddam in Iraq – but we needed to make it appear a natural consequence of war not an assassination. We went after Gadafi. I suspect we chose to let his own people do the actual killing, But we took out his fleeing convoy, and could easily have ended up killing him.

        But if we had a weapon that could take out a specific despot anywhere in the world tomorow, we could not use it. Adn we could have such a weapon if we wanted.

  2. Giuliano Taverna permalink
    October 22, 2011 8:00 am

    What kind of a delusional moron are you? Show me the mass graves that Bush created, show me the villages where he gassed women and children for the crime of being Kurdish? Show me where Americans targeted Iraqi civilians in an indiscriminate campaign of rape and torture? You can’t because comparing Saddam Hussein to bush is like comparing Hitler to Winston Churchill, both were responsible for deaths, but the context and scale bears no comparison by anyone of sane mind and objective view.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    October 22, 2011 8:24 am

    Even in this democracy, we still condone acts that seem contradictory to sense. However, there is a vast difference between us and a state like Libya or Iraq, where one or a few deranged individuals can condemn an entire sub-population without reason. Yes, we do have people living in dire straits here as well, but not by the word of a dictator. And we don’t feel it’s right for people to suffer. There is a need for less spin and more truth here. In these countries there is a need for humanity.

    • October 22, 2011 9:11 pm

      Well said, Anonymous. Nothing more to add.

    • October 22, 2011 10:03 pm

      Our government was formed to secure our rights – not alleviate our suffering.
      Free people are capable of alleviating their own suffering.

      Gadafi or Saddam or other despots inflict suffering on their people – by depriving them of their rights.

  4. Priscilla permalink
    October 22, 2011 9:22 am

    Don’t forget “Khadafy”

    • October 22, 2011 9:13 pm

      Right… I included “Khadafy” in the body of the article but maybe I should have put him in the title for a little more variety. 😉

  5. October 22, 2011 10:00 am

    Why do you think Qaddafi’s socialism is a mix of right and left ?

    Libya’s economic and political structure looks no different from any other marxist totalitarian state.

    Argued differently, there really is no right and left in totalitarian states. There is an underlying ideology which in the past century has been pretty close to universally socialist. But the top is characterised by chronyism, and extreme wealth – at least in comparison to the rest of the nation.

    Across the world and modern history, the only socialists states that have not devolved into totalitarian regimes, have been the European socialist democracies.

    • Giuliano Taverna permalink
      October 22, 2011 10:30 am

      I wouldn’t describe European social democracies as socialist. They are mixed market economies based on capitalism with social safety nets and government regulation. Its the same economic model all modern states have with the exception of totalitarian or failed states.

      Lets be very clear about terms, socialism describes collective ownership over the means of production and its theoretical system would use labor, rather than capital, as the primary unit of exchange. By that definition no state has ever existed that could be described as socialist, and I would argue that the reason for this is the sheer impracticability of such a system.

      Also I would describe The Gaddafi regime as a patronage state where wealth was primarily distributed to clients of the regime at the exclusion of its internal rivals. Its simply not the case that anything like an equitable system existed under him.

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 22, 2011 11:17 am

        Oh, Bless you, Guiliano, you know what socialsim actually is. Please stick around here.

      • Priscilla permalink
        October 22, 2011 5:56 pm

        I would say that most, if not all, of us know the strict definition of socialism. But, just as we know that America is not strictly a democracy, but a democratic republic, we know that it is now commonly accepted to use the term “socialist” to describe an economy that is heavily regulated, lacks free market competition, and in which the state attempts to promote the welfare of its citizens through redistribution of wealth.

        When Newsweek’s cover announced “We Are All Socialists Now” the subheading read: “In many ways our economy already resembles a European one. As boomers age and spending grows, we will become even more French.”

        Far be it from me to defend the editorial wisdom of Newsweek, which I think is pretty much of a rag these days, but, clearly, it has become acceptable to refer to “European socialism” and expect that most will know what is meant by that.

        That said, I have very little clue about how to describe an economy ruled by a crazed oil potentate . Guiliano’s description seems about right.

      • Giuliano Taverna permalink
        October 22, 2011 8:12 pm

        hmm, does it not let me reply to replies? Not really accustomed to this format. In any case,,, if you want to be specific America is a federation of states which must have a republican form of government. The federalist system distinguishes us from most nation states in that the central government can’t just govern everything. Given the sheer size of America that’s probably for the best, most of our individual states have economies on about the same scale as member states in the EU, which is a confederacy rather than a federation.

        As for the state of the economy, well its a convoluted nightmare of broken or defunded social programs counter balanced with obscene levels of corporate welfare and a co-mingling of public and private interests based solely on electoral politics. A good example of that would be the corn subsidies… which exists because Iowa is an important primary state and are the reasons we use corn syrup in everything instead of sugar and why uncooked beef can cause e-coli, (the cows are being fed corn which screws up their digestive system.)

        Also I came because I know Rick from a message board, and saw his facebook post about this. Which I would have replied to… but I got sidetracked laying into whoever posted that absurd nonsense about Iraq. I mean its not that I like Bush… but he wasn’t Saddam Hussein, he wasn’t even Uday Hussein’s gimp.

      • October 22, 2011 8:35 pm

        Lets be clear about terms – no one owns the definition of socialism, or capitalism, or …

        There are many definitions of socialism. Most do not require Ownership of the means of production by the state. In Marxist theory socialism is the transitional state between capitalism and communism. The earliest 19th century socialists – pre-dating Marx were not advocating government ownership of the means of production.

        There is nothing wrong with your personal definition. Nor is there anything wrong with a far broader one.


        so·cial·ism noun /ˈsōSHəˌlizəm/ 

        1) A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole

        2) Policy or practice based on this theory

        3) (in Marxist theory) A transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of communism

        As the united states today meets all three definitions. It would be difficult to argue that the European social democracies do not.

      • Giuliano Taverna permalink
        October 23, 2011 11:52 am

        If you want to be clear about terms you shouldn’t conflate different uses of the same word. When we use the word socialism in political discourse, we are really talking about leninism or stalinism, that’s what Americans think of when they hear the term, and that’s what politicians are trying to make them think. The broadening of the definition of socialism seems to me to be counterproductive as it overlaps well into progressivism.

        I’ll never see the point in intentionally using such a vague and possibly inflammatory description when more specific terms can be used. It seems to me a childish attempt to provoke reactionaries into a response. a sort of, yeah i used the s word, what are you going to do about it?

        Knowing that people will always take the terms said and draw from them the worst possible interpretation in a debate, I tend to pick my words very carefully. The broader the definition, the less useful the term. Case in point, the term republic has dozens of definitions, and indeed states that call themselves republics can have very distinctive characteristics. For that reason most people specify by adding qualifiers, like democratic republic.

  6. October 22, 2011 10:13 am

    The most interesting issues all this raises for me are not about Qaddafi’s death but our role.

    I reluctantly supported our invasion of Iraq. Sadam Hussein’s treatment of his own people was horrendous. Estimates of those executed run as high as 800,000. Kurdish victims alone may number 300,000.

    Ultimately, it is essential that a nations people bring about their own release from tyranny – even if we are unhappy with their subsequent choices.

    US conflicts since World War II have shown a pattern increasing the importance of the president. Pres. Obama’s conduct of Libya was little more than the next step expanding the power of the president to unilaterally engage in small wars.

    Is the left, right, moderates, happy with circumstances where the president can unilaterally participate in small war, so long as there is Nato political cover – or any of a number of excuses presidents have used since FDR ?

    • AMAC permalink
      October 22, 2011 7:45 pm

      I don’t like that the president can basically declare war without congressional approval. I think such actions should be reserved for times of national emergency, such as attacks to the US, not US interests. With as often as congress is in session and called into special session, I think we can wait 10 or 12 hours to take action in most cases. I say 10 to 12 hours because I think under some critical circumstances, we could have a congressional vote in that time frame. I can think of many circumstances and hypotheticals in which the President might need to act immediately, but when looking back through history, we have made some bad choices and should reign in that power some. I think right now, I would say immediate action if attacked on US soil (including foreign embassy and bases) by another country’s army. I do believe in checks and balances and think that is a case where we have reduced the accountability processes.

      • October 22, 2011 8:42 pm

        There are constitutional complexities. The president has near unlimited power to conduct war – but congress must declare it and must fund it. Absent a declaration of war the president has fairly broad power outside our borders to protect the country. Conservatives have argued that limits on the presidents authority to conduct military actions short of war are unconstitutional. At the same time republican presidents have loosely conformed to those limits, but presidents of both parties have increasingly pushed those limits.

    • Giuliano Taverna permalink
      October 22, 2011 8:19 pm

      Do we really want to trust congress with issues of foreign policy? They can’t even fund the FAA without 60 votes to block a filibuster. I’ll take the imperial president over the corrupt ineffectual oligarchy.

      If congress were required for this, they’d still be arguing about it and Gaddafi would have joined the genocide club.

      • October 22, 2011 8:58 pm

        If you presume a powerful federal government that can easily do as it pleases – then no. But if you presume our country was deliberately constructed with a powerful federal government, but also myriads of constraints that enable numerous special interest to prevent using that power – except where there is near unanimity of purpose – then yes I would trust congress with deciding when we can commit an act of war against another nation.

        And I would be perfectly happy to defund the FAA. There is no special reason the government needs to run air travel. Carter deregulated freight transport – rail and truck, and millions of people did not die.

        Government is the only thing that demands and gets more power the more and greater its failures.

        And I would be perfectly content if We had stayed out of Libya – whether Gadafi remained in power or not. While I am happy that he is gone, the ends do not justify the means. The people of each nation are responsible for their own government. While US actions contributed to the collapse of the USSR, we did not invade, or wage war on them. Ultimately brutal totalitarian regimes collapsed fairly peacefully – when government lost the consent of the governed. I would note collapse started in the most brutal states in the USSR.

        It is probable that change in the mideast may be more violent. It is probable that the new regimes will not be to our liking – and some may be worse than the tyrants they replace. But it is not our role to decide what government Iraq, or Libya should have. Even in Afghanistan, it was our right to destroy a government that directly aided and sheltered those commiting acts of war against us. Having deposed the Taliban, we should have departed. The right to determine the nature and form of afghanistan’s government belongs to the afghans – not us. If they had chosen to invite the taliban back in – which is essentially happening now, that would be their business.

        It is not our job to establish governments for other people.
        Our right to wage war is limited to response to acts of war – preferably though not exclusively against the US.

      • Giuliano Taverna permalink
        October 22, 2011 10:01 pm

        I’m not really big on libertarian arguments against the alleged evils of government regulation. Also citing Carter for precedent is like asking an pyromaniac about fire safety.

        As for what is or is not our job… I really don’t care. I’m against indiscriminate slaughter and if our trillions of our tax dollars have to go to bail out wallstreet, two billion seems like a reasonable price to save thousands of innocent people from a raving lunatic.

        Also Thomas Jefferson ordered a naval invasion of Libya without the consent of congress, so yeah even mr small government realized the necessity of decisive action and the futility of congress.

        All the worlds problems, won’t just solves themselves, and no… we can’t ignore them. Like it or not the world includes America. And its not as if we don’t have enough of our own problems… we should be so lucky as to have the president be able to order nation building here like he and his predecessor did in Iraq and Afghanistan… sadly it doesn’t work that way. Also I’m not saying I love the idea of Caesar, I just hate the corrupt idiots in the senate. Maybe if we had an educated engaged electorate we wouldn’t have a broken government. The filibuster wasn’t designed with the current GOP in mind. You shouldn’t need 60 votes to do everything. A simple majority should be enough… but silly me its not like we live in a democracy or anything.

      • October 22, 2011 10:41 pm

        If there is a problem with libertarian arguments – make your case. I have a problem with dismissing any argument without reason.

        Carter may have presided over the largest and most successful deregulations ever. The Volker deliberately induced recession to bring inflation under control started under carter. To Carters credit he continued doing the right thing even though it would likely cost him the election. To Reagan’s credit he continued it.

        As for the alleged problems with Big Government – what does work ? There is very little in the way fo government programs that is not pretty much a failure.
        I beleive you trashed several yourself earlier. What distinguishes us, is that you appear to beleive that government sometime fails and that given that we have the right people running it things would be different.

        I grasp that government pretty much always fails, that there is no such thing as the right people, that government power automatically attracts the corrupt or corruptible. Further that government power attracts those who will bend it to their ends. All those corporatist subsidies required business AND politicians and bureaucrats.

        If you really want an intellectual debate over exactly how small government should be – I will be happy to engage. And contrary to the perceptions of many here I do not know exactly what the answer is – except that it is far smaller than we have now.

        Jefferson’s words and his deeds were not in sync – is that really news ? I will even concede that some of the “Big Government” actions that Mr. Small government engaged in may have been good things. Further Jefferson was more than just a small government enthusiast, he had a very specific agrarian model of small government, almost a Physiocrat.

        How well has nation building worked for us ? Myriads of nations have evolved towards greater freedom – without our invading them. Aside from Japan and Germany where has our nation building worked ?

        You can not force democracy on people, they must chose it. They must understand it – and still want it, and they must be willing to die themselves for it, or someone who is willing to die or atleast kill will take it from them.

        God not the stupid electorate again! And I get accused of being condescending. Lets just assume people are idiotic sheep. Are they not entitled to be if they so choose ? I want more freedom – and I beleive my natural rights entitle me to it, and that government – even democratic government that takes that freedom from me is despotic. But I am not so arrogant as to demand others follow the same path. If the electorate choses something else – socialism even for themselves – they are free to do so – so long as they do not presume they are free to impose it on me.

        The Fillibuster was not designed with the specifics of today in mind. But like myriads of other more constitutionally rooted checks and balances – many of which have been seriously eroded over time, it was designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority.

        Why exactly should it only take a majority to accomplish anything ?
        The mere fact that it requires a majority in the house, senate and the signature of the president already vitiates simple majority rule.

        What is the compelling philosophical argument that a mere 51% of us have the power to do anything. We are not a strict democracy. Our founders though in many ways no better than modern politicians, were students of government history. They nearly universally despised democracy. They knew the greek democracies were short lived failures. They patterned this country after the Roman Republic – and they tried hard to address its flaws.

        There will always be a Caesar waiting in the wings. Whether your strong leader is a Hitler, Stalin or Mao, or a more benign despot like the fictional Galadriel whom all would love and despair, there are reasons why top down fails – the “right” leader does not change that.

      • Giuliano Taverna permalink
        October 23, 2011 11:36 am

        My issues with libertarianism could comprise an entire book. The main thrust of it is the simple fact that if the market could do it, it would have already. Some public necessities are just not possible without direct government intervention. For example a corporation or business will never build a network of roads, for the very simple reason that they would benefit not only themselves but also their rivals equally, and being that they will have been the ones to pay for it, they will be at a disadvantage relative to their rivals who got those roads for free and still have the money to invest on more self interested pursuits.

        In every case where central government is weak or non existent in history we haven’t gotten some minarchist utopia. Instead the rich simply become regional potentates. It always devolves into feudalism. If you want an idea of what a libertarian regime would be like, go to Somalia. Smaller government than that you can’t get.

        Also yes we are modeled on the roman republic, and just like the roman republic we are starting to fall apart as we near 300 years into our history, as a direct consequence of our ascension to the status of a global superpower which precipitates the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In short we are going to have a Caesar and we are going to have a civil war for all the same reasons the Romans did. People forget that the very idea of the Tyrant in the greek world was of a populist leader who gained control by appealing to the mob against the ruling oligarchs. Naturally it was several generations later that those tyrants started to fit the modern understanding of that word. This should be instructive not in the sense that it recommends tyranny but in that it clearly outlines the pitfalls of an oligarchy which is only concerned with protecting its own wealth and power and not at all concerned with the well being of the hoi polloi.

        As for my critique of social programs, you may notice that I didn’t criticism them in principle. That’s because I not only agree with them in principle, I know them to be vital not only to the stability of our government but to capitalism itself. How on earth can you even call an economic system “capitalist” if the vast majority of people have no capital? That’s feudalism and if you want to see what socialism is like, by all means keep defending the rich in their increasingly transparent attempts to suppress and disenfranchise the poor. We’ll have a civil war and a Caesar in short order.

  7. Rob Anderson permalink
    October 22, 2011 1:24 pm

    Allow me to inject a little humor. I recall the first time Khadafy (remember the t-shirt “Khadaffy Duck – I’m Desshpicable!”?) menaced the United States, back in ’81, with his “line of death.” At that time Larry David was not the “genius” behind Jerry Seinfeld’s show or “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, but just a cast member (along with Michael “Cosmo Kramer” Ricards) on ABC’s SNL knock-off “Fridays.”

    That show had it’s own take on “Weekend Update” called “Friday Night News”, and David appeared as a “special commentator” to tell us all about his good buddy “Mo Khadafy”, in particular the night they spent carousing with some comely young women. So David calls up Khadafy, who can be heard on a phone line, and chats with him. At one point “Khadafy” gets angry about how David got all the hot women back in the day, to which David replies “Look Mo, I don’t fondling some redhead’s breasts on a beach in Jersey compares with threatening the stability of the free world.”

    It was a pretty funny bit. I’m surprised no one remembers it and has asked David for his thoughts on the real Khadafy’s death.

  8. AMAC permalink
    October 22, 2011 7:52 pm

    I also like the fact that this was done by Qadaffi’s own people. I don’t know how wise it is to impose democracy on others. I believe democracy is the absolut best form of government, but if the governed don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter what I believe. I want to praise the uprising, but am also hesitant to praise too much until we see what they want to do with their country. We saw what the Afgan’s did with their country once we assisted in the forcing of the Soviets out. I hope for the best but can’t help but be just a little worried. It seems it would be hard to do worse than the predecessor, but who knows. I will try to be optimistic and hopeful.

    • October 22, 2011 9:08 pm

      Over the past half century the overwhelming majority of the world has moved to more strongly democratic governments – and to more capitalism. There have been myriads of problems, but the net result has been far better than whatever preceded it.

      Those nations such as some of africa and the mid-east that have been largely left out of that transition, should choose to join it on their own – because they beleive it is the best choice.

      If Egypt, Libya, ….. chose to depose the tyrants that currently lead them and replace them with new tyrants, that will be sad – but it will still be the choice of their people. Deposing one despot for another is still a good thing. Gadafi adds another warning to the long list of the common outcome of many tyrants. The next guy may be looking over his shoulder a bit. Further the Libyan people – with way too much help from us, deposed Gadafi. If the results prove undesireable – they can do it again. Eventually they will get it right.

      I suspect it is unlikely that Gadafi would be gone today but for our aide. At the same time, the uprising against Gadafi made it clear the end was near. Without our aide – a tommorow without Gadafi was still coming, brought about by his own people.

  9. October 22, 2011 9:14 pm

    Freedom – whether in the US or Libya, includes the freedom to F**K up.

    The government of Libya is up to the Libyan’s – even an act of war against us or others, only grants us the right to punish that aggression – not rebuild the country to our liking.

    I hope for a more pro western Libya or Egypt or Iraq or Afghanistan. But that is up to those peoples.

    We have no more right to dictate to the people of other nations, than we have to trade the rights of a minority for the desires of the majority in the US – even when what the majority wants seems imminently reasonable.

    • AMAC permalink
      October 23, 2011 12:18 am


      I can agree that we should not go in and set up our form of government from the get go. I do believe that if we get into a conflict, we have a responsibility to that country (their people) to restore their infrastructure and help them start many basic services (education, defense, civil services) at least to their prior levels. I don’t think we should destroy and then leave, even if the destruction is warranted. It is for our best long term interests to help, otherwise we just foster a new generation of people that hate the US and the West. While it will take a time and a lot of cash to do these things, we should be prepared to do them if we are prepared attack. There should also be a set plan with a realistic time table to get these things done. It is so frustrating to have no idea when we will leave. It is even more frustrating not to know what goals we need to accomplish so that we can leave. I know it is not a popular opinion, but if the people want a theocracy, that’s what they will get (by election or another way). If that is what we ended up assisting in building in Afghanistan or Iraq, maybe with our help, it would at least be a peaceful and more pro US theocracy than many of the ones that exist today.

      • October 23, 2011 6:48 pm

        We have an obligation in Iraq, because we should not have gone in in the first place.

        Elsewhere the issues are more complex. We rebuilt Europe and Japan after WWII. Purportedly the Marshall program was incredibly important and effective. I do not really know enough about the details – we all know Europe and Japan recovered amazingly. To what extent the Marshall Plan was responsible is something that does not seem to get questioned. At the same time we did NOT repeat the mistakes of WWI and saddle Germany and Japan with impossible reparations.

  10. Giuliano Taverna permalink
    October 22, 2011 10:10 pm

    And before I forget again… I have one response to the actual article we are all supposed to be talking about. I agree with it but I want to point out a detail… Gaddafi and his hero worship of Hannibal. The Carthaginians were Lebanese mercantile imperialists, and they ran an apartheid regime where Libyans were second class citizens, who were really only used as cannon fodder for Carthaginian army. Which is why the Romans were able to turn the natives on Carthage so easily toward the end of the second Punic war, and during the third. The Carthaginians had more in common with the Italian colony of Africa, than anything else, and ironically enough the Romans from Italy, essentially liberated Africa from them, (the Africans got full roman citizenship under Caracalla, something they never got under Carthage, and emperor Septimus Severus was African, from modern day Libya, can’t imagine why Gaddafi didn’t think to name a month after him.)

    I just find that all rather humorous and worth pointing out.

    • AMAC permalink
      October 23, 2011 12:09 am

      It is humurous. So many dellusional types idiolize historical figures and manipulate the actual history to fit their own ideas. Dhlii is correct that we modeled our democracy more so after Rome than the Greek democracies. The purest for of democracy I have every studied at length is the Athenian government. Any citizen could vote on laws and policy. Of course, you could argue over who was considered a citizen, as slavery was an establishment in Athens. The Roman society was a less harsh version of the Etruscan, though the government was not a duplicate. I study history fairly regularly and also take the occasional summer course, if an interesting topic is taught. I enjoy hearing history quoted incorrectly or used in a context like you discussed.

      Also, I understand the fear that congress would stall and possibly put our country at greater risk by not putting our country’s needs ahead of their own. However, I am more worried by the idea that we get into conflict after conflict with one person making the decision.

      • Giuliano Taverna permalink
        October 23, 2011 11:41 am

        Well its not as if we actually have dictators, the president can’t maintain military action without the consent of congress. They can start one but congress could theoretically block the action before it even gets off the ground and move to impeach the president. The fact that they never have, and never will isn’t an institutional problem, its simply a symptom of the very problem that gave rise to our increasingly powerful executive branch.

        It really is as Benjamin Franklin said, we have a republic if we can keep it, and we aren’t doing a terribly good job at the moment.

      • October 23, 2011 6:32 pm

        I do not think our founders idolized Rome – nor should we. But they did look at history, and The Roman Republic worked better than Greek Democracy and autocracy. They started with the Roman republic and made their own adjustments from there.

        I am perfectly happy to consider anyone’s reasoned argument for changing the structure of our government – our founders did not presume they got things perfect. At the same time their choices are not wrong because they were made two centuries ago. I personally do not beleive progress breaks properly constructed law and government – though it does break bad law and bad government. I chafe at the argument that modern times require something different – maybe so – but if so it is something that needs demonstrated not presumed, and I want to hear a compelling argument first.

        I have no problem with the left concept of a “living constitution”. We are not bound by the thought of our founders. They did not pass us the inalterable word of god in the form of the constitution. At the same time, when we sought to significantly change the meaning of the constitution – we should have amended it. The New Deal as an example was wrong – not just because it was bad policy, but because the meaning of the constitution was made fungible to circumstances – without going to the trouble to change it. What we are left with is a supreme court that can find whatever they want. The consequences of foundationless interpretation is meaning that changes with the makeup of the court.

        This is also why I would strongly oppose controversial rules changes in congress. I think removing budgetary issues from being subject to filibuster was a mistake. I think eliminating the filibuster would be a mistake. I think the recent act of overruling the senate parliamentarian was a mistake. Whether the changes are made by the left or right – they will be used by the other side soon enough.

        As an example as APACA passed the senate via reconciliation, it can be removed the same way. If it had required 60 votes to pass, it would have required 60 votes to repeal. Eliminate the fillibuster entirely and you are giving the Republican Senate that is almost certain to come the ability to do whatever they please with 51 votes – or 50 if the republicans take the whitehouse too.

        Whatever power you wish to give one party – you must remember that in the future it will be wielded by another.

        Whether that is in the house, senate, or executive.

  11. AMAC permalink
    October 23, 2011 6:06 pm

    I agree that congress could use several options to block the action. I just wonder how much damage an irresponsible president could do before we could stop him. And yes, we are not doing a very good job right now. The country and our officials are so polarized, that we have subtituded argument for debate, and positioning for problem solving. As to the article, I have recently read where the leader of the Libyan leader has promise to keep and honor Islamic law. I am a person of faith, but do not want or advocate a theocracy in ANY religion, regardles of label or denomination. I hope that the country moves to a more stable and peaceful government that exist in so many parts of that world. I hope that we are not trading one terrible dictator for another. A theocracy places so much importance on their faith that reason and logic seem to matter little. Let’s hope for the best!

    • October 23, 2011 6:42 pm

      I think our involvement in Libya was a mistake – I think our involvement in Iraq was a mistake.

      I beleive we were entitled and obligated to go into Afghanistan and remove or destroy the Taliban and Al Qeda. I do not beleive we had any obligation to restore stable or sympathetic government. That was the business of the Afghan people. If they chose chaos or even the Taliban back it was not our business.

      In Iraq I subscribe to the you break it you bought it school of thought. We went where we should not have. We were obligated to fix things.

      In both Afghanistan and Iraq, it was not the military victory that was difficult – even today it is my understanding that we could annihilate the Iranian government in under 90days.
      It is the peace, the nation building that is difficult – it is something a people really must do for themselves.

      It is yet to be seen what Libya will mean. What role are we planning on taking in creating their new government. We have been on the outside in Egypt. Whatever comes there the credit and blame resides with the Egyptians. I am hopeful we will be smart enough to step back in Libya. It is far more important that the Libyan’s removed their government, than it is precisely what they replace it with. So long as they grasp they have the power to remove it, it is likely they will eventually end up with something they and we are happy with.

  12. October 23, 2011 7:44 pm


    I will probably concur that some minimal government is necescary – and frankly debates on how small government can be are theoretical. We are not going to arrive at a minarchist government anywhere in the world anytime soon.

    At the same time, since man first joined in tribes, there has never been a truly free market or libertarian government. While trade has occurred for thousands of years capitolism, free markets are only a few centuries old, and even so have only been relatively free.

    We do not and never have had a free market. We do not know that the market would have failed at many things – because it has never been given the opportunity.

    There have been plenty of successful private roads. Almost all publicly provided services were at one time or another provided successfully privately somewhere. The US had a successful private electrical grid – before FDR. Hoover Dam was conceived and would have been a private project – but for government pushing out private enterprise.

    If something has a value to the public as a whole, then private enterprise is perfectly capable of financing, and profiting from it – almost certainly at lower cost than government.

    The PA Turnpike was to be privatized to save money under Gov. Rendell. Rates were guananteed, and PA would be paid rent essentially. The deal was torpedoed, and since then rates have doubled and the state is loosing money.

    In the recent deficit crisis we were discussing the possible shutdown of federal parks – yet some federal parks are privately operated – charging fees equal or lower than when operated by government, being maintained and improved – at no cost to the public, and paying the government for the privilege of running them.

    Government has failed in Somalia. It is no libertarian Utopia – at the same time, it is doing better than it was before, better than it has in a long time.

    You presume that a “weak central government” and disorganized anarchy are the same.
    The governments of Hong Kong and Singapore are weak – in the sense that they do not take on all the roles that government elsewhere does, and in the sense that the cost of government is about 1/3 of what it is here, and 1/4 that of europe. No one would accuse Hong Kong or Singapore of Anarchy.

    We do not have any models for government smaller than those yet larger than that of failed african states.

    I will be happy to agree that “The Rule of Law” is essential, and must be implimented somehow. Regardless of how it is provided, absent the rule of law we have failure.

    But the supposed minarchist states you cite are generally weak, corrupt, and without the rule of law.

    I will be happy to agree that there are many parallels between the US and Rome. Including the fact that government has overreached and seeks to be all things to all citizens.

    I will be happy to agree that the impetus towards a Caesar exists and my grow. And I suspect if we chose a tyrant – we will chose a Galariel before a Hitler. But Tyranny always ends badly.

    I do not disagree on the threat of a corporatist or other Oligarchy and the likelyhood – near certainty that that leads to Tyranny. You are not saying anything Hayek did not say 70 years ago in “The Road to Serfdom”. The only question is whether the path to Tyranny is inevitable – and what form it will take. There have been far more benign Tyrannies than Hitler, Stalin, Mao, …. But I can not think of any that would be prefered over even a slightly more free society.

    It is a common myth of the left that Libertarians favour corporate oligarchs. I would not dispute that those with money will seek to leverage government power – and that the ends will be bad. What separates the left from libertarians is means. The left seeks to thwart this by restricting rights, and redistributing wealth and growing government. They have a track record of failure – the more power government has the more vulnerable it is.

    Capitol – wealth is not distributed, it is created. Virtually all modern economics accepts that. If you start with a zero sum postulate. If you presume there is only so much to go around and if one person has a lot, that had to come at the expense of others – there is no room for discussion. I do not think even Marx truly believed that.

    Once you accept that what one person has did not come at the expense of others, the entire redistributive system fails.

    You presume the bottom of the pyramid is stocked with people in abject poverty. I will not argue that there is no misery anywhere, nor that free markets are perfectly “fair” or even perfect meritocracies. What I will argue is that even if you confine yourself to only the lowest quintile, free markets improve the circumstances of those at the very bottom more than any other system.

    You keep postulating that free markets naturally evolve into autocracy. Yet history says the reverse. For most of human existance humanity has lived in abject poverty. For all the wealth of the pharoh’s – not one owned a refrigerator, car, or could get cured of the most common ailment – things readily available to the bottom fifth of the US.

    Conditions for almost everyone did not improve until the advent of capitalism. The progress of the modern era is intrinsically intertwined with free markets. The rate of progress for most of human history is barely perceptible. Louis the XIV lived little better than Ramesses II.

    Adam Smith observed that the primary beneficiaries of free markets would be the masses.

    The very fact that you wish and beleive that a middle class life for most everyone is achievable proves its success. No peasant three centuries ago to aspire to more than they were.

    How can you recall what the poor or even middle class had four decades ago and what they have now and still pretend that free markets are only about the rich.

  13. October 25, 2011 11:30 am

    As Brooks seems to be somewhat popular here.

    He is painting a picture of the majority of independents that is at odds with most “moderates” here.

    • Priscilla permalink
      October 25, 2011 1:06 pm

      Brooks really hits on the key issue of the moment, I think…which is not rich vs. poor, or banks versus people, or socialism versus capitalism. The issue is that most “average Americans” no longer believe that the federal government is on their side. He makes a good point that, even though Republicans are as much at fault as Democrats for the mess that we are in, they “win” the argument, because the GOP stands for less federal government interference in the average American’s life – and to the average American, federal government interference translates to higher taxes, less freedom, more special interest group favoritism, etc.

      Note, please: I am not saying that the GOP actually IS the party of less government (lord knows, Bush was a very “big government” president) , just that Republicans tend to get elected in order to keep taxes low and government small. Democrats tend to get elected to expand social welfare programs, cut defense spending, etc. So, I guess the question is: Do people really want the federal government to continue to try and spend us out of recession, or do they want Washington to try a more supply side approach?

      • October 25, 2011 3:14 pm

        Priscilla: I think you’re half right: the American people no longer trust the government OR the private sector, which is a scary predicament when you think about the combined amount of power wielded by both entities. The Tea Party is more government-averse, and the Occupy Wall Street movement is more business-averse, but they both say something about the powerlessness of the average citizen in dealing with these two behemoths.

        Hmm, I smell a future column here.

      • Priscilla permalink
        October 25, 2011 4:14 pm

        Good point, Rick. All of the “Bigs” – government, labor, business, banks – seem to be aligned these days, leaving the “Smalls” feeling pretty powerless.

        It’s not particularly ideological, and possibly explains why people across the political spectrum can all legitimately feel that they are outsiders.

      • October 25, 2011 7:23 pm

        The GOP on occasion adopts limited government rhetoric.
        Both parties bear responsibility for this mess – though not equally.
        Bush was a spendthift. Still the 2007 deficit was $161B, the entire deficit for 8 years of Bush is approximately the same as 2 years of Obama.

        Both parties bear approximately equal responsibility for the housing bubble – and the resulting recession.

        All other things being equal the GOP will probably spend less money – though Clinton with a republican congress was very pretty good economically.

      • October 25, 2011 7:31 pm

        I do not think anyone here has ever argued that business manipulation of government – “corporatism” is a good thing. I think the left, this blog, OWS, libertarians, and probably even the Tea Party and GOP would agree.
        Hayek devoted an entire chapter of “The Road to Serfdom” to the various means that big business used to manipulate the state that inevitably lead towards a more powerful state, and possibly totalitarianism.

        What we do not agree on is how to accomplish the end of less business influence of government.

        Libertarians and those conservatives that do more than pay lip service to limited government grasp that whatever power is vested in government will be abused, corrupted, and bent to the ends of others. We grasp that big business actually needs government to create the barriers to entry that prevent its being consumed from below.
        We also grasp that all efforts to diminish the influence of others on government – aside from limiting government, will fail.

      • October 25, 2011 8:57 pm

        Dave: Yes, I’m glad we agree on this core issue. Even Occupy Wall Street’s main objective is disarmingly non-ideological: to stop the influence of money on government. So they’re not even blaming the private sector exclusively; they recognize, as we do, that the private and public sectors are partners in crime.

        How do we break the partnership? I don’t think limiting the size of government will make a difference as long as the key players (i.e., members of Congress and the Senate) are beholden to corporate donors. The best solution I’ve seen so far is that plan to establish a blind trust for campaign contributions. Corporations could donate as much as they want to their favorite candidates, but the candidates would have no idea who is donating.

        Would such a plan make it more difficult for candidates to raise funds? It probably would. But we also need to reform campaigning in general so it doesn’t require a fortune to be a contender. (For starters, I’d ban all campaign advertising, 95% of which is unadulterated bull, anyway.) Let candidates gain their exposure through the media, including the internet.

  14. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 25, 2011 5:20 pm

    Ian approves of the thoughts of Brooks, Priscilla, and Rick.

    Oh boy, we are in deep ****

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 25, 2011 5:44 pm

      Well, not all the thoughts of Brooks, but the main tenor. Also he uses independents in perhaps a sloppy way that seems to imply the middle of the spectrum, but that is not what independents are. Or perhaps he used it correctly to mean everyone, both right, left, and center with no party affiliation and I misunderstood him.

      Polls seem to me to be all over the map as to who the general public distrust most. Brooks took the polls showing that its government.

      The most interesting thing in the piece to me is that people are POed with Federal but not state and local government, in other words its not the very concept of government, its the klutzes in congress. They are less popular than having blood drawn right now, single digits, so I guess they are the most distrusted.

      • October 25, 2011 7:37 pm

        I will agree with you that it is possible to find a poll to back most any position you wish. I also suspect that Brook’s picture of the middle is slightly skewed to the right – though OWS does not even represent the 1%. At the same time, I think Brook’s middle is more accurate than what TNM claims. I do not think the US political center has been to the right of “moderate” as most on TNM portray my entire life.

      • Priscilla permalink
        October 25, 2011 9:45 pm

        I think that the reason that people feel less oppressed by their local and state officials is because they perceive that in local and state elections, particularly in municipal races, it is still possible to “throw the bums out.” The difficulty of ousting federal incumbents has been well documented, and one of the reasons that the tea party movement is so hated and feared by establishment politicians is that has succeeded rather spectacularly in ousting a whole bunch of them. There are other reasons, of course, many having to do with the perception of the tea party as a socially conservative and/or Republican movement, but, the truth is that establishment Republicans hate it just as much as Dems…well, not quite as much, but a lot.

        Also, state sovereignty has been steadily eroding via unfunded federal mandates and expanded interpretations of Article 1, and voters in many states (Arizona, for example) believe that the federal government has abdicated its responsiblity, particularly in regard to immigration laws. More and more, we see governors positioning themselves as protectors of states rights, which just makes their citizens more angry at and fearful of the feds.

      • October 29, 2011 12:02 pm

        I am not a particularly big fan of state and local government.
        The federal government is often cold distant and impersonal in its oppression. Local governments can be very hot, immediate and personal in F’ing you over.

  15. AMAC permalink
    October 25, 2011 11:05 pm

    I know that I look at the federal and state government bodies more as middle man, even though that is not always the case. It is also agre with Priscilla in that it is very popular for local and state politicians to blame the federal government for many problems and position themselves as defenders of the locals. It is very easy to have a cynical view of the federal government which is composed of more politician we did not elect than politicians we did elect (i.e. politicians from other states). I admit to having a cynical view most times, but I wouldn’t say our system is broken, but it could use some remodeling. So many ideas to tweak our system get discarded because they are not seen as the intent of the founding fathers. I think the beauty of our system is that we can change anything, and it is our right and responsibility to change it as needed. I do think we need to seriously cut back on spending, but we need to invest in our country as well. Our investment should not be limited to infrastructure, but also in development of high growth potential markets and industries. I understand that the Chinese government is pumping large amouts of government and private money into the area of robotics. This obviously is an area that we should be seriously investing in that has the potential to be a booming industry for our country. Large amounts of this money would be going into development, which does not create a large amount of jobs now, but could produce many in the future. We need officials looking to get us out of this mess, but also looking to position this country as a leader in the future.

    • October 26, 2011 9:01 pm

      My distrust of government is not limited to the Federal Government.

    • October 26, 2011 9:04 pm

      China has expended enormous research resources in many areas, there is no evidence that they have a technological edge over the US in anything. They are improving, but they have a long way to go. I do not beleive that the success of one nation comes at the expense of another.

      If you are opposed to cheap labor in the form of outsourcing, offshoring, or immigrants, how can you favor robots ?

      • AMAC permalink
        October 26, 2011 9:21 pm

        Because if we lead the robotics industry, that creates jobs in the US that will be lost by buying robotic technology from another country to eliminate jobs in the U.S. I thought that would be obvious by my comment. I want the US to invest in development of many areas, to ensure we create the jobs and the industry in the U.S. We have fallen behind China in many areas of technology and I would like to see us lead the way as opposed to playing catch up.

  16. October 26, 2011 9:22 pm


    A limited government has far less ability to reward whatever interests try to bribe it.
    I can not think of a more effective way of preventing politicians from being bribed by outside interests, than to deprive them of the power that outside interests are seeking to use.

    All solutions that involve regulating contributions either run afoul of the constitution – specifically meaning they intrude on our rights, or they are unlikely to work.

    I can probably come up with all kinds of objections to the blind trust idea – but it is about the most benign one I have heard here. It still infringes on rights – If there is a right to anonymity, there is a right to be identified. How do you make it work ? Company X contributes to the blind trust for candidate Y, then the CEO announces having made a substantial contribution at a press conference. Are you prepared to make that illegal ? What about if they do not announce the amount of their contribution ? What if they only announce their support. What if they secretly inform the candidate ? In the end you are going to have created a myriad of new crimes all of which are at odds with free speech.

    This is essentially the problem with all top down solutions. They look good in the abstract – well some do, but the unintended consequences multiply as they are implemented.

    Then you start banning things – it really does not matter whether you think something is Bull. If somebody wants to spend their money on it – what is that to you, how are you harmed ? If the internet is an effective way to run a campaign cheaply then why do you need to ban anything ?
    In the long run I suspect the internet will significantly diminish the return of traditional advertising – but let that happen on its own. Candidates are already trying to figure out how to effectively use the web to get their message out cheaply. When somebody manages to slay an incumbent who spent ten times as much – then the advertising landscape will change on its own.

    We mostly do not disagree on ends, just means. But means are important. If you are willing to sacrifice your rights to the means then you never had them in the first place. If you have no rights then you have no way of insisting on the ends either.

    • AMAC permalink
      October 26, 2011 9:40 pm

      Yes, a limited government would have far less power and influence to reward those who seek to buy it. And I do agree we need to reduce the government, although not so much as you. I can agree we should reduce the government and have given many, many examples of some of what I would reduce or eliminate. But if we scale back the government to “libertopia” levels, the government would also have far less power to protect the working class citizens from being exploited. The market rates would be decided by a handful of people and undoutedly their would be plenty of people who would seek to manipulate it in their own interests.

      • October 27, 2011 3:00 pm

        I argue that little government does is of real benefit to us, and I will continue to do so. But I have repeatedly said I have no expectation we will ever get to some kind of libertopia.
        I will be happy to aggree with virtually any proposal to reduce government at any level in any way.

        What is exploitation ? If an exchange involves fraud or force, the governments role enforcing the rule of law is sufficient. Absent fraud or force I do not grasp the claim of exploitation. Market rates are decided by the market. I would be interested to here of a successful monopoly or cartel that did not depend on government. Standard oil is the normal example. Yet from its inception Standard oil grew by competing, improving quality and reducing costs. Immediately prior to its break-up pieces were 1/10 what they had been when it started. Standard Oil only remained dominant so long as it provided its product at a lower price than anyone else.

  17. Pat Riot permalink
    October 26, 2011 10:31 pm

    Imagine you are part of a group of multi-millionaires and billionaires, and you and your very powerful group are interested in GROWTH for your respective corporate holdings, including expansion into new markets, partly because your chief BUZZ in life is mega-profits and the power that comes with mega-profits…

    Then let me ask this question: Would you favor fragmented, quasi-functional western-type democracies with laws and policies that would allow beauracrats and others to be approached by your corporate deal makers (whole regions of new customers, eventually, yee-hah!!!), or would you favor stubborn dictators who thumb their nose at the USA and western ways?

    Sadly I think our ousting of Gaddafi Khadaffy and Saddam Hussein has much less to do with human rights (for the oligarchs calling the shots) than many people want to believe. If the movers and shakers at the top of the economic triangle were for human rights above profits, then what problems, including our many domestic problems, could have been getting solved over past decades? No need to connect dots for conspiracy theories–just look at what is getting stronger and what is getting weaker, year after year after year.

    It is a crucial, crucial goal for Moderates to work to separate BIG MONEY’s suffocating influence over our political process and our freedoms…

    • Priscilla permalink
      October 27, 2011 9:43 am

      Agreed that big money is a corrupting influence, but simply imposing more regulation, whether it be through legislation such as Dodd-Frank (supposedly passed to protect consumers) or by administrative fiat is an inadequate response.

      Bribery and corruption have been part of politics forever….part of business and banking as well. And, certainly, part of unions. The only thing that ever stops politicians, fat cats and union thugs from corruption is getting caught and getting punished. And, in order to expose and punish corruption, we need more transparency, more law enforcement and the public will to insist on it. Ideological politics and demagoguery are distractions….the more people that buy into the political distractions, the less likely there is to be any real attempt to get government and business figures to own up to what is actually going on. We’ll just go on blaming the tea party, the Democrats, the Republicans, millionaires, poor people, libertarians….you name it…..instead of the actual real people who are engaging in the corruption.

      Part of the problem is the breakdown of traditional journalism, and what is commonly referred to as the mainstream media. Their job is to shine the light on corruption, and they simply can’t or won’t do it. The internet and social media have begun to fulfill that role,albeit in a rather disjointed, chaotic way. I think that it is crucial that moderates to see past the political distractions and call out corruption wherever they see it…..even if it is within their favored party.

      • October 27, 2011 3:36 pm

        What can big money buy ?

        Can it buy a marketplace ?
        Maybe you can briefly set prices below what the competition can afford and drive them out of the market – contrary to progressives meme’s that has actually happened rarely if at all. But ultimately you must sell at a profit, or go out of business. Even if you have managed to secure a monopoly – without government you can not prevent someone else from competing – except by keeping prices low enough to make that impossible.

        Can it buy political influence ?
        I think we all agree on that.

        Corruption in business is less important than government.
        The harm of a corrupt business, is ultimately to the business itself.
        The harm of political corruption is great and is to all of us.
        Even when small political corruption erodes our faith in the entire government process. A corrupt election means we can not trust that the winners even were our choices. It is more important that we beleive an election was legitimate than that we get the best candidate.

  18. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 27, 2011 11:33 am

    I agree with 90% of this, Priscilla. The problem is that some of the worst behavior is not illegal, or barely so.

    Roland Arnal got his billions ripping off poor people, they went bankrupt and lost their houses and down payments, he went to the Netherlands as our Ambassador after greasing the political machine, and it was perfectly legal. Changing that type of thing does mean new regulations. More than that, new criminal laws. Every once in a while a financial crime is an actual crime and someone is jailed. Usually too lightly, in a nice minimum security hotel.

    As a sort of non-sequiter. or maybe not, here in Vermont at least once a year a hunter shoots what he was sure was a deer, but was in fact a person. They never get serious time, involuntary manslaughter, no prior history…. If they got serious time in a few years hunters would start to be sure that it wasn’t a rustle in the bushes but a fully visible actual deer before they pulled the trigger.

    Well, same with financial crimes, big and smaller. A clerk for my local power company embezzled 1.5 million dollars over a 10 year period, bought luxury condominiums cars jewelry, etc. Husband “never suspected anything”, she will get less than 2 years, him zero time. A local clothing store in business for 40 years, out of business now, more than 600,000 embezzlement. Again, light sentence. I did a search and came up with a long list of recent embezzlement cases in 6 figures in my little county, the victims were dentists, churches, resorts, etc. $325,00 missing, who knew? Guess dentists must be loaded.
    Seems that ome people are not waiting for the Government to redistribute, they are ready to do it themselves! (Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m agin it).

    Partial enforcement,.weak or non existent laws for financial crimes. Rob a bank with a toy pistol get a small amount of money, ten years. Steal millions or billions, little risk of serious punishment.

    Will legislatures do something about this?

    BTW I agree with your previous point that people really hate the Fed Congress because we can’t get rid of them. As compared to locals where its at least possible.. My congresspeople don’t even have to campaign, but they do collect millions in donations. If I have not misunderstood, when they retire they can do with that war chest as they please.

    To make this a Khadaffi-relevant post, hey, Arnal was a piker, the Khadaffis were the richest organized criminals/politicians in the world, they owned an entire oil rich country. Shades of the Russian Tsars.

    • October 27, 2011 3:58 pm

      I would appreciate more information on Mr. Arnalli;

      Nothing I can find says he ripped off poor people.
      He offered them loans and mortgages. He did not force them to borrow. He did not force them to do anything as best as I can tell. Nor did he cheat them. They new what they were buying or should have.
      If you are claiming Mr. Arnalli was responsible for houses losing the value – how was he able to do that ?

      Further how did the bankruptcy of poor people benefit him ?

      I am not happy with rich people buying ambassadorships. I do not even grasp why they would want to, or why we should want them. But even FDR sent Joe Kennedy to England – and certainly not because he bought the post.

    • October 27, 2011 4:09 pm

      As to shooting bushes, though we have unfortunately been moving away from it, almost all crimes – atleast in the past require intent. That was an important element we inherited from English common-law and one we would be stupid to abandon.

      Mistakes are not crimes. Accidents are not crimes. Often the results are horrendous, sometimes they are worse than the harm of actual crimes – but they are still accidents.
      We punish people for accidents and mistakes in civil court – the burden of proof is lower, no one goes to jail but you can lose everything you own. We can not really compensate people for the loss of a child, or spouse with money – but we do it all the time. We have no other means. Any eye-for-an-eye leaves us all blind. You are the one opposed to religious fundamentalists.

      If you are planning on embezzling – do not come to Lancaster, PA. You will get jail time, and you will have to pay back what you stole in its entirety – Plus fines and costs, and you should be prepared for the fact that if you stole 10,000.00, it is likely that whatever institution you defrauded is going to pile every loss they have ever experienced on to your charges – so you will have to repay far more than the 10,000 you stole. After serving jail time, you will not get off parole until you have repaid the entirety of what you were convicted of stealing. In Lancaster that usually means lifetime parole.

      Oh and do not think that being innocent will help. In Lancaster the judges call a trial “a slow guilty plea”.

    • October 27, 2011 4:11 pm

      Khadaffi, Mubarak, Hussein, ……

      We have all these examples of strong leaders with powerful government – exactly what I am constantly told we need here, and yet you tell me these are worse. That there is more corruption, that the rich get richer at the hand of government.

  19. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 27, 2011 11:54 am

    Here is an excerpt from New York Magazine. Its obviously from the liberal perspective. I can’t find a strong Khaddafi angle in it, well, its about getting some money back from the top of the pyramid, as may now happen in Libya, how’s that? <— Humor, don't bite.
    God help me, after months of discussing economics with dhlii, I seem to becoming (or admitting to myself that I am) a liberal (notwithstanding the fact that I can't stand the loony left or even many more ordinary but still obnoxious liberals) because I find myself agreeing with most of this.
    "Rising income inequality, like climate change, is an ideologically inconvenient issue for conservatives. They would prefer not to discuss it altogether. If forced to discuss it, they will generally either deny its existence or simply carry on as if it doesn’t exist.
    The underlying facts, like the facts of climate change, are stark. Over the last few decades, income growth for most Americans has slowed to a crawl, while income for the very rich has exploded. That’s a reversal of the three decades following World War II, when all income groups got richer, with the poor and middle class rising at a faster rate than the rich. Crucially, the Congressional Budget Office’s new analysis shows that changes in government policy over this period have made inequality worse. (In CBO-speak: “The equalizing effect of transfers and taxes on household income was smaller in 2007 than it had been in 1979.”)
    We’re not having a debate about how to reverse or even stop the growth of inequality. Nobody has a real plan to do that. The Democratic plan is to slightly arrest the growth of inequality by hiking taxes on the rich a few percentage points, so as to minimize the need to cut the social safety net. The Republican plan is to slash taxes for the rich and programs for the poor, thereby massively increasing inequality.
    That is a hard position to defend in the context of exploding inequality, and conservatives would rather not defend it. Instead the right’s response has been to persistently deny or ignore the facts. Rick Perry, pressed by a reporter to explain why he was proposing a tax plan that would widen income inequality further, replied, "I don’t care about that." The Wall Street Journal editorial page today dismissed the Tax Policy Center, whose calculations persistently show the ways in which various Republican tax proposals would widen inequality, as “liberal.” It didn’t even pretend to dispute the substance of the calculations. Eric Cantor gave a speech about income inequality centering on stories about how his grandmother worked hard and pulled herself up by the bootstraps in the old days. It was a nice speech if you like stories about plucky grandmothers. It failed to grasp the central dilemma, which is that it was a lot easier for poor people to move up sixty years ago, when tax rates on the rich happened to be far higher, than it is today….."

  20. Priscilla permalink
    October 27, 2011 1:46 pm

    Well, I am not a Perry supporter, but i agree with him on this. All of the current angst over income inequality misses an important point. There has always been, and will always be, income inequality, even in societies that have implemented massive redistributive policies (Soviet Russia, China). Redistribution does not equalize incomes, yet liberals are consistently calling for it as the solution. “Correcting” income equality through regulation and redistribution simply lowers opportunity for everyone. All of the current rhetoric about income inequality is meant to stoke anger and envy and get people to vote for politicians who say that they will punish the rich by taxing them at a much higher rate. The fact that that will not solve our fiscal problems doesn’t get a lot of mention……..

    I watched this interview with Richard Epstein on PBS. It’s interesting because the interviewer challenges him on this whole income inequality thing, and he is able to explain much better than I just did why income inequality, in and of itself, is not something to worry about in an otherwise healthy and growing economy. (Epstein is not a libertarian,btw, but he has said that he votes for anyone but the two major parties, and he has voted for Libertarian candidates. Just wanted to get that out of the way).

    • Priscilla permalink
      October 27, 2011 2:09 pm

      Ok, so I have discovered that Epstein has described himself as “an accidental libertarian,” and I guess that will discredit him with most of the commenters here. Too bad, because I think he makes a lot of sense, and does not get bogged down in ideological rhetoric. Anyway, for what it is worth, I think that it’s fine for rich people to be rich, as long as they achieve their wealth through legal means and pay their taxes. If they choose to create charitable foundations that will distribute their wealth to the less fortunate, all the better.

      I’m more interested in getting rid of cronyism between the rich and those who make the laws.

      • October 27, 2011 4:16 pm

        I was going to say I have communicated directly with Richard Epstein on several occasions, and I would be hard pressed to describe him as anything but libertarian. He is a Cato scholar and a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover institute.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 27, 2011 3:18 pm

      But doesn’t cutting safety net programs for the poor while giving upper level earners a tax cut seem like the wrong thing to do? I’m not a recipient of the safety net and I live in a state with less unemployment, and little urban blight type poverty, but for anyone who lives in a city or metropolitan area environment, I would think that being surrounded by increasingly desperate poor people (or being an increasingly desperate poor person) would be a concern.

      • October 27, 2011 4:33 pm

        Which do you want people on the dole or people with jobs ?

        Even the FDR safety-net programs grasped that if the government pays people – except those who are actually unable to work, it must expect work from them. If you pay people not to work, you destroy the incentive to work.
        Further you destroy their dignity and self reliance.

        WPA programs often required people to relocate halfway across the nation. Separated workers from their families.

        We no longer require work from safety net beneficiaries – primarily because government unions beleive they are entitled to the jobs we would have those on the safety net perform.

        So long as you beleive that there is a limit to jobs and wealth and growth, and that anything one person gets comes at the expense of another you will have idiotic policies on the safety-net, minimum wages, automation, immigration, outsourcing, …..

        Wealth is created. Labor is an important way to do so. Depriving someone of the opportunity to work – because you think the pay would be too low, or whatever reason is theft and destructive. Fifty percent of young black males are unemployed. Most of them have neither the experience, nor education to hold even a minimum wage job. Myriads of government training programs have at best done nothing. Arguably they have made things worse.
        The way to a minimum wage job – is to build the skills necessary to be worth minimum wage, and from there to move further up the ladder. If you do not permit people to obtain the only jobs their skills warrant at pay that they are actually worth then you impoverish them forever.

      • Priscilla permalink
        October 27, 2011 4:44 pm

        Yes, of course it does. Safety nets are essential, and you would be hard pressed to find any politician that would say otherwise. But I think that there is a big difference between cutting safety nets for the poor and shoveling money into social programs that are not cost effective. Detroit’s free breakfast and lunch school program, for example, which is a federally funded program, is now available to all students, regardless of income. Federal job training programs, meant to help people get off unemployment, have been found to be practically worthless, yet tens of billions of taxpayer dollars continue to be spent on them. There are hundreds of similar examples. I am not in favor of cutting programs for the poor and the disabled, but, in addition to good intentions, there should be some real oversight and efficacy to these programs. Why raise taxes on anyone just so that politicians can continue spending money like drunken sailors, paying no attention to who benefits most, as long as they are getting re-elected?

      • October 27, 2011 5:24 pm

        Do you really beleive that it requires the equivalent of 25-50% of the economy (Federal/Total government) to manage safety-nets ?

        Separately, ignoring that small percentage of people who for one reason or other are actually unable to work, and ignoring issues such as what is “unable to work”.

        What is the level of income we should essentially guarantee ?
        Should we require work from those able to for that safety-net income ?
        If not how do we provide any incentive to take work when it actually is available ?

        If forget how you feel about immigration, but I would point out that the safety-net is incompatible with any immigration policy that allows people in at the bottom.

        Basically you can not have a safety-net and have allow poor into the country.

      • October 28, 2011 9:53 am

        We’re getting close to the optimal solution here. Yes, we need safety-net income programs, but they should be of two types: a dole for those who are physically or mentally incapable of holding a job, and government-backed job programs (like the WPA) for those who want to work but can’t find anything in this hiring-averse climate. If those jobs are in distant locations, I don’t see why the entire family can’t move… after all, it’s common for people in lucrative professions to relocate their families when a better job comes up.

        As for those who simply prefer not to work, I don’t think we can force them (I’m just enough of a libertarian to honor the wishes of the individual over those of the state). If they find themselves reduced to utter poverty, they might join the work programs, turn to crime or simply end up on skid row. If they fall into the latter two categories, the government would still have to look after them… but they’d be a small minority, and overall it would be a lot cheaper than the unintentionally disastrous Great Society welfare system that paid people to stay idle and produce babies.

    • October 27, 2011 6:57 pm

      Wow! I just watched. Excellent. Unfortunately the link to PBS did not seem to work for me I had to find the video on youtube.

      Maybe someone here will listen if it is not me saying these things.

      This is from Sept. 2008, but it is about the same issue – and despite the rhetoric, inequality has actually declined during this recession – as it typically does during downturns. As most of us would agree the rich can afford to be hit harder by recessions – and they are.

      Again maybe this will sound more credible coming from the Federal Reserve than from me.

      • Priscilla permalink
        October 27, 2011 11:35 pm

        Dave, I knew you would fact check me on the libertarian thing, so I double checked 😉 Also, how do you get the videos to actually show in the window…do you embed them?

    • October 27, 2011 6:59 pm

      Given that it is likely we will get a republican, Perry is not the worst possible choice – not good, but not the worst.

    • October 28, 2011 10:16 am

      Priscilla: I don’t think most of us OWS subversives (other than a few hard-line socialists) are calling for equal incomes across the board… we just want to retool the system so that the financial elite will stop siphoning money from the middle class and depositing it in their own pockets. The “1%” have been redistributing income (upward) for at least 25 years. Just look at the banks with their credit-card usury and 0.5% interest rates on savings accounts. How did we allow this to happen? Look at the investment wizards who pocketed huge sums with reckless (and perfectly legal) credit default swaps and other “financial products” that they knew were junk. These self-entitled Wall Street dudes robbed me — and most of our generation — of future financial security, and yet they didn’t break any laws in doing so. Neither did the CEOs who made $30 million a year while they shipped middle-class jobs to Asia. But I don’t want them to get away with it any longer.

      Bottom line: We need to tighten the controls on the big-money elite so that it’s no longer legal to repackage bad debts, charge 30% interest on credit, or receive huge financial rewards for reckless and destructive behavior. It doesn’t mean everyone will be earning $60,000 a year. It just means that we’d make it harder for the elite to benefit financially from rapacity and arrogance. As it should be.

  21. Anonymous permalink
    October 27, 2011 10:17 pm

    Of all the people who have been permitted to be paraded in front of us by the GOP, Perry is the worst. He makes Bush look witty, quick, and educated. He reminds me of the kids at school who didn’t know what chapter we were on. Yeah let’s put him in charge.

    • AMAC permalink
      October 27, 2011 11:54 pm

      I don’t like to attack the intelligence of politicians. If they were not intelligent, they probably wouldn’t be able to continually get elected. I did not personally approve of the job Bush did, but I don’t think he was stupid and he certainly was educated well (Ivy League). Rick Perry is my last choice for president (right after myself and the vacant option!), but I don’t know that you can call him stupid or slow. I do think he is misguided and given to shape his views on what gives him the best chance to get elected (as all politicians do). We all get excited and like to call certain opinions stupid when we don’t agree with them. I am sure I have done the same and would regret it.

      • October 28, 2011 9:28 am

        AMAC: There are different kinds of intelligence. I’m sure Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have aced his SATs, but he had a sound mind (until Alzheimer’s set in, at least), impressive people skills and a natural talent for leadership. FDR was said to have “a second-class intellect but a first-rate temperament.” (Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was also an eloquent speaker.) George Washington was no intellectual giant, either, but had superb judgment to go along with his sterling character.

        Of course it’s nice when we can find leaders who combine brilliance with other outstanding leadership traits (Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt come to mind), but it’s also a sad fact that highly intelligent politicians often turn out to be mediocre or ineffectual in office: look at both Adamses, Coolidge, Hoover, Carter and the current occupant of the White House.

        That said, I don’t know if Rick Perry’s combination of indifferent intellect, aggressive ignorance and an inability to think on his feet makes for a winning presidential profile. He’s telegenic and forceful, but I’d say he’s probably best confined to state politics, where he can’t cause too much damage (except to the inhabitants of death row).

    • October 28, 2011 9:34 am

      Perry reminds me of the flashy high school jocks who had all the fun while the intelligent nerds trudged through their teen years shouldering mountains of homework. And then, to add insult to injury, the intelligent nerds would typically end up working for the Rick Perrys.

      • AMAC permalink
        October 28, 2011 3:54 pm

        Rick- “He’s telegenic and forceful, but I’d say he’s probably best confined to state politics, where he can’t cause too much damage (except to the inhabitants of death row).”

        Easy for you to say, I live in Texas! He is a prototypical politician whom switches “opinions” based on polling results. In a succesful attempt to remain and thrive in politics (in Texas) he switched parties and ideas to represent the more conservative ideas that were developing and now thriving in this state. His opinions are based on electability rather that values and science (in my opinion). As I stated, he is the worst option available to be president, but not an idiot. Would I say that he is one of the geat thinkers of our time, of course not. He must be smarter than I am, I still have to earn an honest living! I respect his office as he is my governor, so I must respect him. I disagree with almost everything he says, vote against him each election, and respect him again when he wins. I am just a little old fashioned that way. I don’t have a problem with stating my disagreements and voicing my opositional opinions of his policies, but I don’t attack him personally. That is just one of the many things that turns me off to politics. When, as an executive, I would have to meet with other executives to decide certain policies and actions to improve our production, there were frequent disagreements. We would have spirited debates regarding hours or labor reduction, spending cuts, etc. These meetings were productive and I think and excellent microcosm of what democracy is about (Multiple perspectives, voices being heard, collective decision making), Of all the crazy ideas that were spoken aloud, no person was ever called stupid, arrogant, etc. We were able to respect each others ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds.

        I am all for a radical moderate movement. And given the current look of politics, what would be more radical than logic, reason, and respect?

  22. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 28, 2011 7:16 am

    Dhlii:Do you really beleive that it requires the equivalent of 25-50% of the economy (Federal/Total government) to manage safety-nets ?

    Me: Total Govt, Federal, State, and Local are at between 40-45% of GDP, which I admit surprised me and I concede that that is too much.

    However, local government is the elementary and high schools. Years back I put some effort into debunking a leftwing colleague’s idea that we spend much more more on Defense than education. Yes, at the federal level, no, in total because k-12 is mostly local with some fed and state.

    So, Govt. at all levels provides K-12, Defense, Roads, etc. The safety net, which comes under the heading of discretionary non-defense spending, and far from all of that either, is a few percent of gdp at best. Conservatives always want to gut it, like that is going to get us some great savings, not admitting to how small a piece it is really of the Federal budget (or total govt spending, even less).

    Provide me some data that show that the safety net is 25-50% of the economy!

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 28, 2011 7:32 am

      I found a conservative site dedicated to the idea of cutting the safety net.

      Its puts cost of the safety net at 280 billion. The GDP is ~14.5 trillion.

      Got a calculator?

      280 billion/14.5 trillion = 1.9% of gdp. Bit less than 50%.

      But go ahead, cut it in half, throw all those lazy bums off the dole, we will save a whopping 0.9% of the gdp. Of course that will turn out to be far more costly when all the unintended consequences have to be paid for, but what the hell, throw the bums off the dole anyhow. There are jobs out there, no mater whether what your condition, potted plant, triple amputee, 17 year old un-wed mother, inner city teenager, go get a job ya’ll!

  23. Priscilla permalink
    October 28, 2011 9:13 am

    Honestly Ian, citing a web site/organization that no one has ever heard of , and then assuming that every conservative subscribes to everything it stands for is kind of arbitrary and uncalled for, don’t you think? And, if you’re going to cite it, at least read it….it clearly includes welfare entitlement programs, which bring the percentage of GDP much higher….but I don’t want to parse the intentions of an organization that I knew nothing about until 5 minutes ago.

    That said, I did give it a look, and it seems to me that what the organization stands for is actually pretty close to the point that I was making in my previous comment. On the home page, it states as its purpose “Most of us would agree – we have a duty to help the poor. We also have a duty not to do more harm than good. It’s a delicate balance. So how are we doing? This website reports on the federal antipoverty programs and answers that question. We conclude it is time for meaningful change.”

    How does that translate into forcing poverty-stricken triple-amputee single parents off the dole? And is your position that, no matter how wasteful and useless a “safety net” program may be, if liberals say that it’s good for poor people, we should all gladly have our taxes raised to pay for it? That is obviously a rhetorical question, but your response to this issue of wasteful government spending is exactly what I mean when I say that moderates should be willing to put aside ideological and stereotypical views and try and find common ground. You cannot possibly believe that all federal poverty programs are effective and efficient, yet, if someone – or some organization – suggests that it’s time for “meaningful change,” you immediately go for the jugular, charging that conservatives are heartless animals who care nothing for the poor.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 28, 2011 9:46 am

      You missed my point. My point is that 280 billion, what I found from a very quick search, is a far cry from the 50% of the economy mark that dhlii cited and that these programs make up in fact a tiny proportion of GDP.

      Dhlii asked a rhetorical question about whether I’d prefer people on the dole or working. In an economy where the actual unemployment level is approaching 20% the people on these safety net programs are not about to find work in large numbers, cutting the programs by 50%, which I have heard proposed by conservatives, just throws these people on the street.

      I was all for welfare reform, and it worked out well. Its been done, this severe downturn is not the time to go fishing for savings of some tiny fraction of the Fed budget by slashing the safety net. I’ll say it, that would be heartless. It would also be stupid, as it would cost a lot more than it saves in the long run.

      Do you own research if you disagree with my 280 billion figure for the safety net. I do not believe I am far off.

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 28, 2011 10:09 am

        If you do go looking for a figure Priscilla, or anyone else, please lets agree that we are talking about the actual safety net, not every program or entitlement that helps people, We are talking literally about the safety net, things like welfare, food stamps, etc I’ll be generous and let you call extended unemployment a safety net program. This is what I found on unemployment, it averages 106 billion/year during the last three years of the great recession.

        NEW YORK ( — Unemployed Americans have collected $319 billion in jobless benefits over the past three years due to the federal government’s unprecedented response to the Great Recession, according to a CNNMoney analysis of federal records.

      • Priscilla permalink
        October 28, 2011 11:28 am

        For the sake of discussion, let’s accept your definition of safety net programs, and I’ll accept your figures. I think that it skinnies down the actual spending on social programs a bit, but, for the time being let’s agree to agree on your definition.

        My point is that the government’s throwing money at a problem very rarely solves it, and frequently makes it worse. If we can agree on that, then we can also agree that cutting spending on programs that don’t do any good, and may be wasteful and harmful as well, is not a terrible, evil, bad, heartless – or stupid – thing to do. And, to be clear, very often the proposals are to “cut spending” on these programs, as opposed to “cutting the programs.” In other words, free lunch for poor kids may be a good idea….but free lunch for rich kids? Kinda ridiculous and wasteful.

        Interestingly, it is entitlement reform that has been most demagogued by liberals as proof of the outrageous heartlessness of conservatives, who want to “end Social Security and Medicare.” The fact is that SS and Medicare are going to end of their own accord, by going bankrupt, if they are not reformed. But everyone wastes endless amounts of time and energy arguing over who is mean and who is nice and who is heartless and who is kind, while ignoring the reality of what is happening. That is stupid.

      • October 28, 2011 12:25 pm


        If there is a reason to beleive that profits can be made from them – jobs will be created.

        The economy is bad because we F’d up. We created alot of wealth that proved illusory. Now we have to adjust to its sudden loss.

        Beyond that there is no fundimental economic reason we can not have full employment. Business will employ so long as it beleives it can do so profitably.

        That requires one or all of several things:

        Adjustments in wages. The overwhelming majority of un-employed are low skill workers. Eliminate the minimum wage. That will instantly make many businesses profitable that are not currently. Further these workers will build the skills necescary to get better paid in the future.

        Reduce government uncertainty.
        Quit generating new, burdensome and stupid legislation. Quit threatening Cap & Trade, repeal APACA, Dodd Frank, The new CFPB.
        Make it clear that in the future government is not bailing anyone out.
        Kill Fannie and Freddie – or at the very least release them from government control and revoke government guarantees.

        It is not just the burden of each of these it is the uncertain burden of each of these. We still do not know the full cost of any of them. Even if it eventually meets the most optimistic projections – in the meantime businesses worry and do not hire.

        Reduce the regulatory burden of government. This is less important than new legislation – existing legislation is already priced. Its cost is not uncertain, and it is already factored into the cost of everything. But it is a burden on the economy.

        Regadless, jobs come from businesses willing to invest and take risks. The impediment to that is government.
        Eliminate the impediments and the jobs will be there.

        If you do not beleive this – where do you think they are going to come from ?

  24. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 28, 2011 10:22 am

    OK, I get 73 billion for food stamps. As well, I find for 2010 that 4.4 million people received welfare (down for more than 12 million prior to reform.) If I accept a 7000 per person average benefit per year I read online I get about 30 billion for welfare.

    Welfare, food stamps, extended unemployment, its all at about 200 billion per year. Throw in school lunch programs and whatnot if you wish, my figures say that the safety net is going to fall between 200-300 billion/year.

    Its a far cry from 50% of the economy as Dhlii stated.

    • October 28, 2011 11:52 am


      You are misunderstanding me. Between 46 and 50% is the TOTAL cost we pay for all government.

      My real point is WHY does government – particularly the federal government cost so much ?
      If the safety-net only costs $200-300B/year and defence is only $600B, where is the other $3T ?

      I do not care specifically what you cut. I will be happy to see you cut anywhere. If the
      “safety-net” is really so cheap and really so sacred to you – while I will still argue that it is a mistake – fine cut elsewhere.

      But $3.8T/year for the federal government and nearly as much again for State and Local government – about 50% of the entire economy, is way way too much.
      leThe cost for “the Rule of Law” is between 5-8% of GDP – and is mostly born at the state and local level. We know that GDP, standard of living, median income, and conditions for the lowest quintile improve as the total size of government decreases towards 15% of GDP.
      We have no real data below that. All we have is corrupt and failed states. It is likely there is a minumum government necescary that it is somewhere between 8% and 15% – though the US had less prior to the civil war. That BTW is the optimal total cost of government not the optimal cost for federal government.

      The entirety of SS and Medicare are supposed to cost less than 13% (according to FDR that was supposed to be less than 5%).

      The bottom line is I do not care how you add up the numbers – nor what part of government you beleive is indispensable we are paying FAR FAR TOO MUCH for what we are getting.

      I gave you numbers before. We could provide a guaranteed national income of about $13K/year for every “poor” adult in the country for far less than we are paying for the “safety-net”

      I am not saying we should provide a guaranteed national income – there are lots of problems with that. The point was about what government costs.

      Are we atleast in agreement that government costs too much for the actual benefits it provides ?

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 28, 2011 12:44 pm

        Dhlii: Are we atleast in agreement that government costs too much for the actual benefits it provides

        I’ll agree that govt is too large a hunk of gdp. As to the above, I’d have to go case by case, not in general, as you believe. There are good government programs. Meet us halfway sometime?

  25. October 28, 2011 12:01 pm


    My wife was a social worker in the 80’s and they studied the structure of the “safety-net”. The most efficient way to address the needs of the least well off is CASH. Whether it is free lunches or free medical care, or food stamps or whatever. Non cash benefits are far more expensive to administer – I do not know what today’s cost for food stamps is, but in the 80’s I beleive it took $10 to deliver $1 in benefits to the needy.

    If you give people cash you must trust them to spend it wisely according to their needs. And some will screw up, and you must live with that.

    But the net tends to be significantly better. Despite the problems associated with essentially a guaranteed income, which is what Cash to the poor essentially is, there is more dignity, rather than teaching the poor how to work the system, you allow them to manage their own lives. A larger percentage figure out how to climb the ladder.

    Further $1 in cash costs just a bit more than $1 to administer.

    No food stamps, no lunch programs, no government free healthcare – and no costly programs to administer.

    I do not actually beleive this is the solution to all our problems – just far better than what we have.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 28, 2011 12:41 pm

      That, I’ll admit is interesting. Don’t know how you would do it though, politically.

  26. October 28, 2011 12:10 pm


    I would prefer that un-emplyment was not manditory, and that it was not government run, and that government did not decide to infinitely extend benefits – which is a well known pro-cyclic response – i.e. it makes recessions worse.
    But ultimately unemployment is supposed to be a self funding insurance program.

    I am not opposed to insurance. I am opposed to state mandated, or worse state run.
    The same is true of much of the rest of the safety net.

    It is unlikely that we really will privatise Social Security, as an example – which was also supposed to be an insurance program. Its very ponzi nature (does it help if I just call it a pyramid scheme ?) makes it almost impossible to end. If we allowed everyone under 40 to invest privately – their choice, we would still have to demand 13% of their income for the rest of their lives to fund those already collecting. This is why it is a ponzi scheme. Current beneficiaries are paid from current contributions NOT past investment. That is illegal for anything other than government.

  27. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 28, 2011 12:23 pm


    I applaud you for accepting my approximation and walking away from the 50% figure.

    I do not know if most dems truly do not accept the reality that entitlement need to be reworked. Believe it or not I’m not actually That much of a political junkie. I certainly accept that fact (entitlement reform) and I think anyone in their right mind should. It should be in many cases a nonpartisan mathematical exercise. For SS, it was last done, successfully, under Reagan. Obviously political blood will be shed about how medicare gets reworked, some will win, some will lose that means politics and partisanship, its inevitable.

    I’m all for rich kids not paying for school lunches. We can all agree on that. My point is that people, mostly conservatives, imagine this safety net cost is huge and just filled with excesses, fix that and we are well on our way. Its a myth. You could eliminate the whole shebang, it would have a minor effect. Detour–>I did an analysis years ago, I had to admit that getting rid of hummers would have almost no effect on the levels of Human greenhouse gas emissions. There were no soft targets there. Back on track–> Its the same with the budget, everyone believes in their own favorite soft target. In reality there are very very few.

    People can be for things that are cruel without being cruel people, just via ignorance. Cutting the safety net now in the middle of 20% unemployment and a high rate of foreclosures etc. would do no good, in fact it would do financial harm. As we are educated people here we should be able to avoid cruel actions through ignorance. I’d hope that once we have seen what the reality is on the safety net cost we could just move on. Its just not worth it to throw 1 undeserving person out of a program if one has to throw a lot of deserving (or lets say, Truly Qualified) people off as well.

    I am actually pretty conservative on defense, I think there is a lot of true evil in the world that can’t be ignored. I’ve been in the (National Guard) Infantry. I actually fear Commies and Radical Muslims more than m any (not speaking of American muslims, mostly harmless). I favor a strong defense and paying for it. Nevertheless, I do think it can be seriously evaluated and reworked. The cost of the Iraq and Afghan excursions is in the trillions. I was all for Afghan and did not oppose Iraq. In the future I will be more cynical, we can’t afford to be a paper tiger, but we will be one if we are bankrupt. Non discretionary wars are among other horrible things, economically horrible.

    • October 29, 2011 11:55 am


      The problem with entitlements is that when it actually comes down to details all but the most extreme proponents support less than we have – they just do not know it.

      In a discussion above with Rick he was moving towards a WPA type work program that would be far smaller than what is in place now.

      I have problems with the entire concept of the safety net for all but those who actually can not work. Even there I think private charity is a far more effective choice.

      But the modern “safety-net” is not just for the unable to work, not even for the poor. SCHIP covers people above the median income in much of the country, up to double the median income in some instances. That is just one example.
      The reason the entitlement system is so expensive is that the bottom three quintiles receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes – on the whole.

      This is distorted a bit by Social Security and Medicare, regardless government benefits to the lowest quintile are less than 10K/year greater than those to the middle 20%, and less than 5k above the average.

      The problem is that we are all on the dole. Benefits to the lowest quintile are almost $25K per year per household.

      The safety net is no longer a day of hard labor building a public park in a remote part of the country, it is a raft of benefits, some means tested and some not many available to nearly anyone, and almost all available to a majority of us.

  28. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 28, 2011 12:29 pm

    Oh Jeez, I need new glasses I read Priscilla’s response as a Dhlii response. So my last response is to both, not just dhlii.

    Oh, just give me an edit option so I won’t look so stupid sometimes…..

  29. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 28, 2011 12:39 pm

    Anyhow, we are moderates here, right? So the thing we could be about is avoiding the demagoguery that comes with partisanship and talking about numbers and budgets in the most rational way we can while avoiding the extreme proposals, which are not going to fly in any case, even if someone believes in their heart and soul that they are true and proper and logical. We as moderates should be throwing cold water on both sets of demagogues and the idea of demagoguery itself. I, having a liberal bias in some ways may throw water on the righties and Priscilla may on the lefties but we can throw it on our “own” too, right?

    Most of what I was responding to above was Priscilla as it turns out. Again, sorry about that.

    • Priscilla permalink
      October 28, 2011 2:20 pm

      Well, yeah, that was kinda my point. Are we agreeing? **faints**

  30. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 28, 2011 1:07 pm

    Dhlii: If there is a reason to beleive that profits can be made from them – jobs will be created.

    Me: true but no very helpful right now. In most cases there are many levels of reasons why, one of them I harp on, its that demand-side thing, too few people have disposable income to buy anything significant. That’s important, its not the whole story but its important.

    Dhlii: The economy is bad because we F’d up. We created alot of wealth that proved illusory. Now we have to adjust to its sudden loss.

    Me: hard to disagree with that.

    Dhlii: Beyond that there is no fundimental economic reason we can not have full employment. Business will employ so long as it beleives it can do so profitably.

    Me: also do not disagree, depending on wha tfundamental means. A recession is sort of like a nervous breakdown, the brain is still there and theoretically ought to work but…

    Dhlii: That requires one or all of several things:
    Adjustments in wages. The overwhelming majority of un-employed are low skill workers. Eliminate the minimum wage. That will instantly make many businesses profitable that are not currently. Further these workers will build the skills necescary to get better paid in the future.
    Reduce government uncertainty.

    Me: I understand that logic and half agree. I certainly woud lnot raise the minimum adn do not believe the govt can legislate good wages. But I would not cut because the benifit in creating jobs would be balanced by having people who are already living with insuffiicient funds suddenly be even worse off. I can’t supprt that.

    Dhlii: Quit generating new, burdensome and stupid legislation. Quit threatening Cap & Trade, repeal APACA, Dodd Frank, The new CFPB.

    Me: cap and trade is a paper tiger, A it ain’t likely to happen and B its not that costly.
    Repeal Dodd Frank, now we disagree. Never!

    Dhlii: Make it clear that in the future government is not bailing anyone out.

    Me: no one can guarantee what future govts will do. We should regulate enough to let there be no too big to fail financial institutions, control the maximum leverage, etc.. The shut down of credit was a national financial heart attack. That cannot be permitted.

    Dhlii: Kill Fannie and Freddie – or at the very least release them from government control and revoke government guarantees.
    It is not just the burden of each of these it is the uncertain burden of each of these. We still do not know the full cost of any of them. Even if it eventually meets the most optimistic projections – in the meantime businesses worry and do not hire.
    Reduce the regulatory burden of government. This is less important than new legislation – existing legislation is already priced. Its cost is not uncertain, and it is already factored into the cost of everything. But it is a burden on the economy.
    Regadless, jobs come from businesses willing to invest and take risks. The impediment to that is government.
    Eliminate the impediments and the jobs will be there.

    Me: You have a blanket unwillingness to regulate. Its a weak point in your philosophy. I don’t want to be the anti-dhlii and argue the opposite, to never regulate — Always regulate. No. I’m happy to get rid of idiotic regulations, there are plenty of those. But not willy nilly and not refuse to write new ones. Dhlii thats a pipe dream and you know it. The financial institutions will always mutate, the laws and regs need to stay in the game and change too.

    Dhlii: If you do not beleive this – where do you think they are going to come from ?

    Me: at the moment, I have no clue. Really I don’t. Joke–> China?

    Now, I think I have met you halfway in some areas. Where can you meet me halfway?

    I’ve terrible deadlines to meet until monday. I must stop this today, please excuse me!

    • Anonymous permalink
      October 29, 2011 9:03 am

      Let me phrase this differently;

      So long as it is not possible for business to profitably employ those without jobs –
      there will be no jobs.

      So long as there is uncertainty about the ability of business to profitably employ those without jobs – there will be few jobs.

      You can stimulate the economy all you wish – to no or negative effect.

    • Anonymous permalink
      October 29, 2011 9:17 am

      I think the odds of even the GOP lowering or eliminating the minimum wage – even if they had total control of the federal government is about zero. Further even if they did so, most states have their own minimum wages – often higher then the federal one. So the effect would be negligible.

      But ignoring the political realities

      Either you believe the minimum wage works or you do not.
      There is one fairly well discreditted study more than 10 years ago that claims the effects of the minimum wage age negligible. There are myriads over the past several decades that claim it is significant. We are in the midst of a near perfect experiment in the US territories – that seem to demonstrate they effects on poor workers are devastating.

      This all matters because it is primarily the same broken logic with the same contradictory effects that permeates the lefts approach to helping the disadvantaged – whether something works, even whether it directly harms those it is intended to benefit is irrelevant, so long as it sounds good.

      The usual attack on he minimum wage is reductio ad absurdum. Why not a minimum wage of $100/hr ? We constantly argue that the minimum wage should rise – why, why $7.25 why not higher, why not much higher ? why not much much higher ?

      Most of us grasp that no one will pay someone more than they are worth (what they are caoable of producing in a given job, not their value as humans) – atleast not for long. The minimum wages is the lower bounds of employ-ability. If you can not produce atleast that much – then you can not be employed – worse still you will not get the opportunity to become more productive.

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 29, 2011 9:56 am

        Here we have an area where our beliefs overlap 90%.

        See,I’m not THAT liberal.

        i don’t think that there is any chance it would be repealed. If it were it would help some, hurt others.

    • October 29, 2011 9:21 am

      As I am sure you guessed the prior two posts are me.

      What e\is it that you think Dodd Frank does that has even the slightest bearing on what went wrong ?

      I do not think there is anyone – not ever Sen. Dodd or Repo. Frank that beleives that anything in it is in anyway related to anything that went wrong.

      So you are putting tornequette on your arm while you bleed out from a wound to your leg. Meanwhile your arm turns blue and dies.

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 29, 2011 10:01 am

        We are not going to agree on one word or even one letter of this one.

        I’d suggest not arguing about it, we two different belief systems, and nothing is going to happen about dodd-frank anyhow

      • October 29, 2011 10:12 am

        What part of Dodd Frank has anything to do with anything that went wrong ?

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 29, 2011 10:34 am

        We’ve had arguments like that in the past they just make us cross ( well, they make me cross anyhow) and don’t get anywhere. I’ve read Dodd_Franks outlines, I like it. I wish it went further. If you don’t believe in regulation in the first place, or government, of course you will hate Dodd Frank.

        Lets agree to disagree.

    • October 29, 2011 9:51 am

      I do not believe that no controls are needed. I believe government regulations not only do not work, but can not work. As you note financial institutions change and mutate – change is the only constant in the universe. Government and regulators are not (and should not be) sufficiently flexible to adapt. What law we have needs to change as slowly as possible – if at all. We want business to change to be more efficient, productive, and serve us better – we do not want business changing purely to work arround the defects of regulation – but that is precisely what happens. Any adaptation to regulation that does not directly deserve the purpose of the regulation is pure waste. Even those adaptations that serve the regulations purpose come at a cost – if that cost is greater than the benefit as is often true, then they are wasteful.

      There are better ways to “regulate” business. All government regulation of business comes at the expense of private regulation. The more I rely on government to conform the behavior of business, the less I pay attention myself. If I buy my health insurance personally and privately and I feel my insurance company has not lived up to their obligations, I can sue the insurance company. If I receive my insurance through government or a third party such as an employer – BY GOVERNMENT REGULATION I can not sue.

      But again, we are not going to repeal all government regulation tomorow. We can start with a moratorium on new regulation until recovery is well underway. We can actually require real independent cost benefit analysis for all new regulations. We can require all law and regulation to sunset – so that we are forced to periodically re-examine their value.

      I am not going to cede the argument that little if any government regulation is worth its cost. ‘It is very rare to have the conditions required for effective regulation.
      But I also grasp that even if somehow I persuaded you the country is not changing that dramatically.

      Are you at the very least willing to agree that something must be done about burdensome and ineffective regulation ?
      I am perfectly willing to discuss any option that has more substance then the internal cost benefit analysis that every president since atleast Nixon has paid lip service to.

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 29, 2011 10:15 am

        Not being able to sue the the govt. is a valid point. Nothing is perfect.

        Who would not agree that there are absurd regulations we could do without, but your belief systems and mine will find little overlap about what those are.

        Arnal, whose company developed mortgage terms that were disgustingly favorable to his Ameriquest company and bascially a robbery of his customers and sold them to millions of poor people who lacked the cultural capital to understand what they got into, it made him filthy rich and ruined many of his customers, thats wrong in my universe and fine in yours. It was destructive and had bad results for individuals and society. Society needs to regulate that. What he did should be a crime.

        Regulation has costs and benefits, any regulation hurts some innocents, and does not catch all the guilty, its impossible to be 100% effective. some are more harmful than helpful,sure.

      • October 29, 2011 10:30 am

        It is not just about not being able to sue government. In most areas government regulates, a frequent and deliberate tradeoff that business gets for regulation is restrictions on lawsuits. Business fears consumers far more than government. I used insurance as an example – you can not sue your insurance company if you did not pay for the insurance policy. Making all health insurance private and transferring ownership to the beneficiary of the insurance would do far more to reign in insurance company abuse than any government regulation.

        Those businesses that are most dismissive of their customers are those most heavily regulated,

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 29, 2011 10:38 am

        Yes, sometimes we agree.

        I’m off to split the remainder of my woodpile, perhaps some other “brilliant plan” will fly into my head.

      • October 29, 2011 11:06 am


        Can you please explain to me how you can defraud or cheat someone by lending them money that they do not pay back ?

        Presuming that you are correct and Arnal like countrywide and many others wrote mortgages to people who would not be able to pay them, then they defrauded the people they sold the mortgages to not the borrowers.

        The root cause of the problem was that the government forced everybody to relax lending standards.

    • October 29, 2011 10:10 am

      I will be happy to meet you much closer to your position than even half way – so long as you do not expect quit arguing for more. But I do not actually believe that it will require much change to be arguing from a solid economy.

      Can we agree to actually cut spending ? Now, not in 5 years ?
      Can we agree that 25% of the economy is too large for a federal government ?
      Unlike the GOP I do not care where you cut. There is little I think the federal government does that is critical – and even those things we still spend far more than we need.

      I think we need to look at reducing spending on “safety-net” programs – because I believe they actually harm those they are supposed to help. Essentially the floor we put under the poor is also a ceiling above them trapping them into dependence.
      But if you want $200B or 450B for a safety-net – I will be happy to agree – if you are willing to agree to cut government back to 18-19% of GDP – and I do not care what you cut to do so. Corporate welfare – hack away, defence – go at it., Wherrever you are willing to cut, I am willing to agree.

      If you can agree to that, the tax issue goes away completely – current taxes will produce sufficient revenue to pay for that government.
      I would like to see tax reform. But primarily to clean and simplify the tax code – lower rates, less deductions. It is particularly important to simplify anything that is a tax on capitol.

      The big deal for me is what direction are you looking to head. I will likely support anything you propose that takes us even the smallest step towards smaller less burdensome government.

      When I say that neither you nor TNM is actually moderate, one of the big things I mean, is you still believe the answer is more government, more regulation, more taxes, more spending. The country as a whole is not prepared – possibly ever to go where I would take it. But the overwhelming consensus is to reverse the trend towards more, and take atleast baby steps towards less.

      Which way are you headed – towards more or less ?

      If it is more – we have no common ground of significance.
      If it is less we are just dealing with details.

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 29, 2011 10:30 am

        While splitting wood yesterday the following came in to my head:

        Decrease fed spending across the board by 2% per year. have departments heads make the cuts in their programs, every thing gets 2% smaller in real dollers each year. Defense, food stamps, entitlements.

        Increase taxes on those making over 500,000 by 1% per year, those making over 1,000,000 by 2% per year, and those making over 5,000,000 by 3 % per year.

        Do this until the budget is balanced.

        Pass a bill that says no unfunded wars. You want a war, choose a tax to fund it.

        Close the famous tax loopholes.

        There are many ways I can criticize my own plan, for one thing this congress cannot mandate that next years congress cut the budget by 2%.

        The numbers are funny numbers, i.e., I have no reason for picking 2% other than the fact that it is small enough that no one should scream bloody murder,but over a few years it starts to add up.

        You won’t like the tax part, I’m sure, but everyone has to give somewhere. The increases are small enough not to ruin anyone unexpectedly, while adding up over time.

      • October 29, 2011 11:16 am


        If you just freeze federal spending exactly where it is now, you will have cut the budget by $8T over the next ten years.

        Congress claims that they have already cut $2T I think and they are working on another $2T – that puts them less than 1/2 way to a freeze.

        If you cut federal spending by 2%/year for 5 years you would be back between !8-19% of GDP (assuming 2.5% growth), and well on your way to a balanced budget without doing anything else.

      • October 29, 2011 11:27 am

        There are some problems with across the board cuts.

        Are you going to cut Social Security and Medicare Spending ?
        If so how ?

        Whether you cut SS and Medicare they are starting to cash their IOU’s.
        Where is the $200-$600B/year of IOU;s that Medicare and SS are cashing going to come from ?

        They sort of reduce the national debt – but as those IOU’s are not measured as part of it official debt and as Medicare and SS will continue to need the money long after the “trust fund” has been exhausted it is pretty much irrelevant.

        The other issue is how do you expect each department head to continuously extract 2% from their budget without cutting programs, services, and staff ?

        Ultimately somebody must make the tough decision as to what needs cut and what does not.

        I believe Def Sec Pennetta has already anounced that /dept,. Defence is planning for $450B of cuts over the next 10 years,. that is just about 2%/yeart for 10 years

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        October 29, 2011 1:22 pm

        My comments, were, as I said, funny numbers, just a rough sketch by a guy splitting wood.

        There is only so far you can go cutting entitlements, I probably went too far. I’d cut medicare faster and SS probably not at all. SS is a separate issue that needs to be dealt with, as Reagen dealt with it, after the election is over. No one is going to say anything reasonable in campaign season. As to medicare/medicaid, cat by 2% and let the medical system accept less money to do the same thing, let the providers become more efficient.

        Without those tax increases on upper incomes I would not support it. My primary target is the deficit. .Without taxes on the 500,000 plus earners the entitlement cuts are not palatable. Those taxes make the plan work faster on the deficit, we could balance a budget and then start paying down the debt as we did after WW2.

        Any such plan if submitted by real persons would undergo an analysis by OMB. They would make a stab at predicting the consequences. Putting millions of federal workers out of work at this time of 20% real unemployment is not my intention. Let them freeze their salaries, that would go a long way.

        When I worked for the State of Vt a recession hit and as it got worse the Commissioners of each department were asked to make 2% cuts in budget and found ways to do it with minimal loss of personnel. That went on for a year or so.

  31. October 29, 2011 10:24 am

    A more than 160 year old explanation of the housing crisis

    If you understand what Bastiat has written in a few sentences about wealth, money, and credit, you have grasped almost the entirety of economics. You then know why the housing bubble produced an economic downturn, why didling with money or spending or jobs programs can not fix things. Our wealth is what we produce. If we want more wealth we must produce more. There are no substitutes.

    Or as Smith said – “all money is belief” only what we produce is real.

  32. Ian Robertson permalink
    October 29, 2011 2:17 pm

    Dhlii: If you just freeze federal spending exactly where it is now, you will have cut the budget by $8T over the next ten years.

    Me: That’s 800 billion per year on average. Since the fed budget is ~3.7 trillion, 800 billion looks to me like a deep cut of about 25%, not a freeze. And what they have already would be a ~12% cut. What is the discrepancy, your end or mine?

    • October 31, 2011 11:16 am

      The current budget is 3.8T, With no increases over 10 years that is 38T.
      The current 10 year budget is 46T. So a spending freeze alone would result in a $8T savings over the next decade.

      I will conceded that this sounds screwy. But I am not the one that created the political rhetoric that treats reductions in the rate of increase as cuts.

      All this should be kept in mind when listening to the budget debates.
      Neither party is talking about “cutting” spending by even 1/2 of 8T.
      In other words the most extreme proposals still intend to increase total government spending by atleast $4T or 400B/year.

      There is a hidden problem – and a major part of the reason we are starting with a 46T budget for 10 years. Currently medicare rather than contributing funds for the operation of the federal government is cashing in approximately $200B of “Trust Fund” IOU’s each year. Soon Social security will be doing the same. Further into the future even the IOUs run out.

      Regardless, it is still true that if you can freeze total federal spending at $3.8T you will save $8T compared to “budget” that both parties and the media are using as a baseline for the next decade.

      I do not understand why you are having so much trouble grasping that no one is really talking about paring down the size of the federal government.
      they are talking about substantial cuts or even eliminating some services – but they are cutting in order to maintain or increase others. The net is still an increase.

      As I have said repeatedly. I will be happy to support actually cutting anything. All the sacred cows of either party.

    • October 31, 2011 11:21 am

      I am also not sure why you are arguing with me on this one.

      You were the one proposing a 2% across the board cut everywhere.

      I was happy to see you putting something forward.

      All I was trying to point out is that you do not need actual spending cuts, nor do you need any tax increases.

      The entire debate is distorted by the fact that both parties have accepted 10 year projections with an 8T increase in spending built in. Both parties want credit for “cutting” when all they are doing is reducing the rate of increase.

  33. Priscilla permalink
    October 30, 2011 12:02 pm

    Ross Douthat is another NYT “conservative,” but he sounds pretty reasonable and moderate to me in this column:

    “The story of the last three decades, in other words, is not the story of a benevolent government starved of funds by selfish rich people and fanatical Republicans. It’s a story of a public sector that has consistently done less with more, and a liberalism that has often defended the interests of narrow constituencies — public-employee unions, affluent seniors, the education bureaucracy — rather than the broader middle class. ”

    I’d be interested in everyone’s take……

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 30, 2011 2:25 pm

      Priscilla, To my surprise, I was able to agree with you this time, there is a moderate aspect to this opinion piece. Its conservative, but moderate-conservative. I found two or three assumptions that I can dispute, strawmen, (they’re Everywhere!) but have no time for hitting them now, deadlines, distractions followed by distractions and deadlines.

      Maybe in a few days. New York Times moderate conservatives are often better spoken than their raving liberals, ironic, eh?

    • October 30, 2011 11:01 pm

      Priscilla: Just a drive-by response to the quote you cited (I haven’t read the column yet): Everything he says is arguably true except for his reference to “THE story of the last three decades.” It’s only half the story. The other half, of course, is the advent of the new Gilded Age, characterized by almost unprecedented rapacity within the private sector and an increasing sense of self-entitlement — on the part of CEOs, investment bankers, hedge fund managers, corporate lobbyists and their ilk. We can’t ignore the rise of the new plutocracy when we talk about the last three decades. These people have walled themselves off from the rest of American society, and I see nothing but trouble brewing as a result of this trend.

      But yes, I fault liberalism too for wasting funds and catering to “the interests of narrow constituencies.” I’m Mr. Moderate, after all. 😉

      • October 31, 2011 10:36 am

        This is not my impression of the past 3 decades.
        I do not a rgue that there was mis-behavior – but there has always been.

        In 2008 we elected the most socialist president since FDR in a near landslide.
        Certainly not indicative of a powerful plutocracy – unless you are arguing that the rich and powerful are increasingly statist.

        The objective and interest of every CEO should be the benefit of shareholders.

        We are the shareholders. The largest body of invested capitol is our IRA’s, Pensions, and other similar investments.

        The CEO’s Hedge, Bond, Equity Fund managers you malign are the people trying to assure that as Social Security is able to deliver less and less, most of us will still get by.

        “One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.” Thomas Sowell

      • November 2, 2011 11:04 am

        Dave, how would a strong plutocracy affect the outcome of a popular election? They’re the 1%, after all. So we could say that Obama was elected despite the rising power of the plutocracy. (The plutocracy influences politics by bribing selected representatives to do their bidding.)

        And do you still seriously expect us to believe that Obama is a socialistic president? Come on, he’s practically a Republican! We’re talking about a president who used taxpayer money not only to bail out the big banks, but to reimburse Goldman Sachs for 100% of its bad investments during the financial crisis! (Nobody reimbursed ME.) He hasn’t proposed any federal works projects for the unemployed. All of Obama’s top financial advisers have been former Wall Street insiders, and I’m sure the president is beholden to big-money interests who funded his campaign.

    • October 31, 2011 11:02 am

      It is what I would expect from a “moderate” at the New York Times. Mr. Douthat seems closer to moderate as in the middle of American politics in most of his views than most here.

      Our view of the past is clouded by our immediate problems. We must concurrently grasp that the past 3 decades have not been as dismal as the past 3 years, at the same time that the seeds of our current problems were sown by mistakes in the past.

      Prior to 2008 rants about redistributing wealth fell on deaf ears. Even during the 2008 election Pres. Obama’s wealth redistribution remarks to “Joe the Plumber” nearly derailed his campaign. In 2007 even most of the poor would have laughed at the claim that they were no better – or even worse off than 30 years ago. It is false, anyone who old enough to have voted in 1980 knows better or is suffering from poor memory.

      The comparison to other developed nations is even weaker. Over those same decades US growth has been almost a full percent/year greater than that of Europe. Our problems are small in comparison to those facing most of the rest of the developed world.

      Last quarters growth was 2.5%. Pathetic for a recovery, but atleast present. Further good news was that growth was entirely private. Government is shrinking – albeit far too slowly.
      The pathetic growth we are experiencing right now – sufficient to maintain the balance as new workers enter the market, but insufficient to improve employment, this is what Europe has experienced for much of the last three decades.

  34. October 31, 2011 11:38 am

    This entire thread has been somewhat strange.

    I am the evil economic fundamentalist.
    I am purportedly care not on whit for the poor.

    Yet Ian is prepared to cut the federal budget across the board by 2% for ten years,
    and Rick is prepared to require anyone on government assistance relocate to the boonies and work on WPA style projects.

    I have little doubt that even the most liberal poster here would not only be able to cut federal spending significantly, but would do so with relish – given that they actually looked at how federal money was spent.

    If you are wondering what is wrong with the economy today, I would strongly suggest looking at

    “The ideas embodied in the New Deal Legislation were a compilation of those which had come to maturity under Herbert Hoover’s aegis. We all of us owed much to Hoover” (Rexford Tugwell, 1946).

    There only significant distinction between government handling of the current economic crisis and that of Hoover/FDR during the depression is that Mellon tightened the money supply while Bernanke has expanded it.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      October 31, 2011 12:01 pm

      Dhlii, Ah, now I See, I had a hunch it was not funny math on your part this time but something more fundamental, I get it, the budget was projected to 46 trillion over ten years, and that is due to entitlements, basically, medical ones.

      With health care costs increasing much faster than the rate of inflation and with the demographic baby boom situation its not hard to see why this is, although the 10 trillion figure puts it into concrete terms.

      To cut those health care costs everyone would have to get off their high horse ideologically and talk sensibly about what is driving those faster than inflation increases..

      The baby boom is not forever, its going to have to be survived, the situation will reverse following it.

      It may take rather drastic cuts in those medical entitlements to survive the baby boom.

      But the other half of the equation is revenues. Given that we are in dire straights with the deficit I would think that any rational person would accept the need for increased revenues to go along with cuts.

      I’ll be reasonable again, I concede that its nearly pointless to increase revenues if there is not also a believable process to bring entitlements under control. Both sides need to go together. Otherwise, Hitler won in the long run, he got us to screw ourselves into oblivion..

      So, given reasonable arguments about the size of government and reasonable figures about the budget, as we can see I’ve been willing to modify my ideas, well, how reasonable of me, how moderate! So, join me, moderate your tax ideas? Because otherwise this little negotiation process will just hit a dead end and be a microcosm of the bigger actual process..

      • Anonymous permalink
        October 31, 2011 4:58 pm

        The problem with SS and Medicare are larger than the Baby boom. The system never worked as designed. It is a ponzi scheme remember.
        FDR guaranteed rates would never exceed 2% – actually 4 2 from your employer and 2 from you, but if you think your employer does not count all taxes he must pay for you as part of your cost – well I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

        The Baby boom aggravates the problem. It may even make it insurmountable. We are talking a shortfall that is atleast 4 times the size of the entire economy. We just can not spread that out far enough.

        SS and Medicare are the primary drivers of the increase to 46T. But they are not the only ones.

        In 2009 Pres. Obama increased the baseline budget by over $1T. Some of that was putting on budget items Bush had kept off budget. Such as the Iraq war. But that does not cover most of the increase. Further there is no TARP, No Stimulus, no Fannie and Freddie bailout moving forward. Presuming even stable employment, Unemployment compensation should decline as a cost.

        Basically there is no really good reason the budget can not revert to the 2.7T that it was in 2007. There is another 11T between in hidden increases.
        The last Clinton budget was 1.8T
        The last Reagan Budget was 1T.
        Inflation since Reagan was 92% so the Reagan Federal Government would cost $1.92T today
        Since Clinton it has been 32% – the Clinton federal government would cost 2.37T today.

        Medicare and Social security are huge problems moving forward.
        But they do not explain how the federal budget got to be 3.8T, and they explain less than half of the increases over the next decade.

        There is a separate reason many have taken a hard line on tax increases. Reagan was snookered into tax increases with promises of spending cuts of $2 for each $1 of increase. The famous Bush I read my lips increase that may have cost him the election against Clinton was another 2/1 deal. Even Clinton had a $2/1 deal. The current super committee is proposing a 2/1 deal.

        Tax inccreases are extremely difficult politically to roll back.Promised spending cuts almost never happen. In every instance above the spending cuts never materialized.

        If we give congress $1T in tax increases for $2T in spending cuts, the tax increases will take effect immediately. The spending cuts will never happen.

        The next issue is that there really is no such thing as a $1T tax increase. There appears to be a limit to tax revenue at slightly above 20% of GDP.
        Re-arrange the tax code however you please you can not collect more.
        The fact that taxing capitol does not increase revenue has been know back further than FDR. Further it appears that the more “progressive” you make the tax code, the greater the proportion of taxes that are paid by the middle class. This is less counter-intuitive than appears. As Keynes noted wages are sticky – the middle class can do little to significantly alter their taxes. But as we see right now investment is not. If there is not sufficient return on investment, capitol will not be invested. There will be no profits to tax. 10% of $1T is far larger than 90% of zero.

      • October 31, 2011 5:08 pm

        Again my browser forgot who I am.

        I will be happy to agree with any tax increase that:
        Actually produces revenue.
        Does not on net harm the economy.

        The problem is you can not accomplish either with taxes on capitol.

        One of the reasons we need a balanced budget amendment – and I do not think that would be some miracle cure panacea, is that it would allow congress to implement automatic spending decreases without running afoul of the constitution. Eons ago – Grahm-Ruddman actually worked until it was eviscerated by the courts.

        The argument that the federal government needs to raise more revenue pre-supposes that the federal government should grow larger.

        If you wish to earn more money at your job – you must be more valuable. You must create more wealth. If government is to collect more revenue it must provide more value. Given that the overwhelming majority of us see the government as wasting more than .51/$ no I do not see any reason the federal government needs more revenue.

    • November 2, 2011 10:56 am

      Just a quick correction here, Dave. I didn’t say I’d require anyone on government assistance to move to the boonies. I don’t like the idea of forcing anyone to do anything. What I said was that unemployed people and their families could move to boonies if that’s where the jobs are, just the way executives relocate their families when a better opportunity comes up. The alternative would be for them to stay where they are and NOT work. Sounds pretty consistent with libertarian values to me, doesn’t it?

  35. October 31, 2011 12:21 pm


    I commend you for offering a proposal – even just thoughts while cutting wood.

    I would love to see a real 2% cut in federal spending, but that is not going to happen.

    Right now the real contest is between social security, medicare and the rest of the federal government. These will soon enough take and additional 500B to $1T to maintain benefits.

    And this is where I think you and I will diverge the most.
    They are going to require this additional money – because they are Ponzi schemes and that have reached the failure stage. The current problems are far worse than what Reagan faced.
    I beleive the conservative estimates of the unfunded mandate are in the neighborhood of 54T, more reasonable ones are higher. There is no amount of growth that can resolve that problem.

    While I would love to see a transition to a private system that required real investment rather than the government slight of hand that has created the problem with social security and medicare, that is highly unlikely to happen. Though it would be a very good thing for people under 40 today, it would be disasterous for those of us who bet or were forced to bet that the federal government would make good on its promises.

    I will stress – the government – WE, promised ourselves, those older and those younger, that social security would be there, would take care of them and would not be an impossible burden for their children. That was a lie. There is no way around that.

    What we must do is figure out how to keep as much of the promises we have made as we can without self destructing. That is actually quite hard as we have dug a very deep hole and until we admit that and atleast quit making further promises we can not keep, we are making the problem increasingly worse.

    The immediate problem is Medicare, it is already in the red. Further whether you agree or not it is responsible for the lions share (if not all) of medicial cost increases since its inception.

    I will agree to whatever fixes the leftist moderates here wish to impose – with one big proviso. When they fail – as they are certain to, that we abandon the statist stupidty that government can possibly mandate a cost effective medical system, that you can provide a service as little of no cost to the beneficiary and not expect demand to sky-rocket (and the real cost to the rest of us to follow). You can put in the “Doc-Fix” – like Nixon and FDR before you can implement all the price controls you wish – but they will fail.

    Ultimately we must make ordinary basic medical care something that in one form or another each of us pays for.

    Inevitably medical care must be rationed. The question is whether government rations it for everyone, or each of us makes our own choices.

    Note I am talking about ordinary care. Medical care that we excercise choices over – do we visit the doctor because we have a cold or the flu or do we stay home with over the counter medicines tea and chicken soup.

    People do not chose to get cancer, or most other life threatening and expensive medical issues. Imposing the cost of these on those needing the care will not radically shift medical costs. Catastrophic medical care is not the major culprit for run away health care expenses.

    The problems with social security are larger, but less immediate and easier to fix.
    Both parties are currently proposing revising the COLA increase formula.

    There is plenty of evidence that we have significantly overstated inflation over the 3 decades, and that we have done so to the greatest extent with government benefits.
    I have no idea what congress is proposing, but switching to a real inflation rate based on actual price increases across the entire economy, rather than the CPI bread basket approaches using a weighted list of essential commodities would be a big first step.

    Ultimately inflation should be zero. Governments do not like that – a small amount of inflation makes life much easier for government and the federal reserve. People like periodic bumps in their salary – even if the net effect is that they have less to spend.

    Deflation – which is actually the natural economic trend scares the crap out of government. The finance industry has been prohibited from indexing contracts and mortgages to adjust for deflation since the great depression turning them into advocacy groups for minor inflation.

    Whether we can abandon the concept of the safety-net entirely, we must abandon the idea of “universal” benefits. I do not propose to raise taxes on the wealthy. I plan to lower them dramatically. At the same time the wealthy get more benefits from the federal government than any group but the poor.

    If the safety-net is for the poor – it should ONLY be for the poor. We need to work back towards eliminating direct benefits to all groups but the poor.

    Those of us that can afford to do so – and that includes everyone but the poor, should arrange for their own health care and retirement. If there is a safety-net, it should apply only to those that can not manage without it.

    We can start by phasing out social security and Medicare for the wealthy, We should already allow anyone to opt out of Medicare without losing social security. But eventually we must get the middle class off the dole.

  36. Priscilla permalink
    November 1, 2011 9:32 am

    Off topic (although we already were), but I read this morning that the OWS protesters in Zuccotti Park are angry that homeless people have shown up, having heard about the free food and entertainment, and are eating “their” food and sleeping in “their” park. The protesters are complaining that the police have told the homeless to come to Zuccotti if they want some good food.

    Ironic, isn’t it?

    • November 2, 2011 7:56 am

      From what I was seeing the homeless have been there for some time.

      Aside from the free food and entertainment they noted that Zuccotti Park had become a place where they could stay without getting hassled by police.

      There is some serious money coming in to prop up OWS – it might as well go to feeding the homeless.

      The rest is again right out of Hayek. Groups purporting to offer ideological solutions to most everyone’s problems always end up imposing one size fits all solution strongly favouring the membership of their core. The difference between the Nazi’s and the Soviets is not ideology. Soviet socialism was blue collar, Nazi was white collar. OWS is a leftist student utopia – that does not have room for the homeless. This is typical of leftists solutions. Implemented they are and actually must be exclusionary.

  37. November 5, 2011 9:13 am

    like you post: to my @uconglnm twitter

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