Part I: With a Little Help From My Friends – the Proper Role of Government
Some years back I heard a comment that has stuck in my head ever since: “What government does for anyone it should do for everyone, or it should do for no one.” This, in a nutshell, sums up the proper relationship of government to the citizens. To be specific:
- There is no justification for government to treat anyone differently from anyone else, especially when those policies are based on anything as shallow as skin color. The race card is bandied about all too often in today’s political discourse, but the only real, institutionalized racism lies in what Dr. Thomas Sowell calls ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations.’ That is to say, government policies that promote special preferences based on race or ethnicity. For members of the affected communities, it is hard to see how these policies can be anything but insulting; they operate on the assumption that the members of a selected group, solely because of a superficial characteristic, require special government assistance to achieve what their fellows accomplish on their own.
- It is not the proper role of government to shield people from the consequences of their bad decisions. There will always be a need for a modern, prosperous society to care for the truly helpless, such as people disabled through no fault of their own, children with no adults to care for them, and so forth. But the lazy, the indigent, the irresponsible – they have no moral claim on the fruits of the labor of the industrious. Government, and only government, has the power to tax – to claim a portion of your resources with force of law, with the implied threat of armed force if you try to abstain. In our age of ever-increasing welfare entitlements, that government has claimed a portion of every taxpayer’s proceeds toward just such a shield – requiring the industrious to toil longer and harder to support the indigent.
- Government functions on several levels; the founding principle of Federalism spells out what is appropriate for those levels. In our era:
- The Federal government, far from the Imperial colossus it has become, should be responsible for only a few things: Protecting our borders, maintaining a vigorous national defense and dealing with foreign powers.
- State governments bear one heavy responsibility: They are responsible for conducting elections. Popular media aside, there are no national elections; the “popular vote total” reported in Presidential elections is a canard, nothing but. States set electoral policy, including such things as verifying voter eligibility. Without integrity in elections, nothing else matters. State governments also handle highways and roads, which are vitally important to commerce, and state universities, which are important in providing industry with a capable, educated workforce.
- County and municipal governments are responsible for several things: Local police forces, fire protection, zoning and schools, including local community colleges; these last are the wellspring of competent tradesmen, who are also vitally important.
- Beyond these limited powers, government at any level must not seek to:
- Deprive anyone of private property with very narrowly defined limits (see: Kelo vs. New London.)
- Interfere with any free citizen’s personal life, property or possessions, until that citizen interferes with another citizen.
- Extend any preference to one citizen or group of citizens over another, for any reason.
It is the nature of government to grow, to become ever more intrusive; it is the nature of government that it is inefficient, even wasteful. Examples of this abound. Our Constitutional Republic was founded on the overriding principle that government must be constrained. No less an authority on the Founders than George Washington said “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” He was exactly correct; and the American people must remember that however dangerous, government and its various elected and appointed officials and their hirelings are our servants, not our masters. And if necessary, we should call on them to remember, as well.
Part II: Games without Frontiers – Foreign Policy
Nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests.
American foreign policy is in the purview of the Federal government. In fact, Constitutionally, it’s one of the few aspects of government that the Imperial Federal government is actually supposed to be in charge of. Foreign policy is a pie with several pieces:
- Foreign Aid. It’s true that foreign aid is only about one percent of the Federal budget, but aside from the spending concerns (more on that in a later post) there are matters of principle involved. The United States spends a lot of money abroad, much of it in places like Egypt, Sudan, Russia, Mozambique and Ethiopia. What is the compelling U.S. interest that justifies spending money on those places? In almost every case, there is none. We send a lot of money to fund despots, to prop up corrupt regimes, and to support people who plot against American interests. That should stop.
- Foreign campaigning. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Colin Powell noted “if you broke it, you bought it.” The United States should only engage in foreign wars if there is a compelling national security interest involved, if the United States, its territories or treat partners (see: NATO) are attacked, or if there is a clear and present danger posed to the U.S. and her citizens. Once a commitment is made, in accordance with Mr. Powell’s observation, we should be prepared to see the operation through to the end. In some cases it might take generations – something to consider before engaging in foreign adventures.
- Caveat: If America is attacked or our interests threatened, we should be able to respond vigorously, with overwhelming force. The Roman poet Lucius Accius famously said ‘Oderint dum metuant’: “Let them hate, so long as they fear.” There will always be those who hate America, for our freedoms, for our economic power, for whatever reason. Their hate should be tempered by fear – by fear of the overwhelming might of American arms. As Roman citizens traveled the roads of Rome freely, knowing their safety was guaranteed by Roman arms, so should American citizens feel secure in the world, knowing that the mightiest military machine in world history has their backs.
- Trade. We live in a global marketplace. Trade protectionism with its concomitant tariffs and embargoes stifles trade and hurts both consumers and workers everywhere. We live in an age where trade is more open and un-stifled than ever before. A law of economics states that in a free market, resources always move towards their best possible use. It makes no sense for advanced countries with educated, skilled workforces to make textiles when they can make laptop computers and high-tech medical devices. Lower-skilled work is best done in developing nations, where they provide valuable jobs to an emerging workforce and provide a flow of capital into those countries. Free trade is responsible for the emergence of a middle class in countries like India, for the first time in history.
- Immigration. We are well past the time when the United States can absorb an unchecked flow of immigrants from the world over. We should encourage immigrants with valuable, marketable skills; we should also vigorously enforce immigration laws. People who come here illegally should not be rewarded with “paths to citizenship.” They should be sent to the end of the immigration line.
The United States even now, even with our overwhelming debt, even with our runaway spending, even with our ever-expanding, monolithic Imperial Federal government, occupies a unique place in history. We are the heirs of Rome; not since the fall of the Roman Empire has one nation held the domination of economic and military might that America holds today.
American foreign policy should have two and only two objectives: To promote American interests and to secure the safety of American citizens at home and abroad. The United States Marines have an unofficial motto that reads “no better friend, no worse enemy,” and that’s how America should be viewed in the world.
Part III: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – Crime and Punishment
One of the (few) proper roles of government is to protect the lives and property of citizens.
In a free society, people interact with each other through trade – each exchanging value for value in voluntary transactions, in which each party realizes personal gain from that transaction. If someone seeks to obtain property from another through deceit, that is fraud; if they seek to obtain if by force or threat of force, that is robbery.
The use of force is only reasonable in reaction – a civilized person does not initiate the use of force, but may react to it. A citizen may use force in self-defense, in reaction to the use of force or the threat of force. Government is the citizen’s proxy in these matters, in the form of police forces and military forces, but ultimately the responsibility for a citizen’s defense lies in their own hands.
In recent decades, the right of self-defense has been codified in increasingly liberalized concealed-carry laws. During the debates that led to the adoption of these laws, opponents screamed of the horrors that would ensue from letting law-abiding citizens, who were willing to obtain permits, undergo background checks, and verify competency, carry concealed handguns. Predictions ranged from shootouts over parking spaces to “Wild West” mayhem in the streets. None of those things happened – not anywhere, ever. Concealed –carry permits holders, as a class, are far more law-abiding and peaceable than the citizenry as a whole.
Why is this important?
The criminal element in every society should live in fear. Would-be robbers, rapists, thieves should live in a constant state of terror – terror of discovery, of capture, of confrontation. In our major cities today, the opposite is true – in some neighborhoods criminal gangs have all but taken over. It is in precisely these locations that the citizenry had been largely deprived of their right of self-defense.
It is not the place of government to restrict the law-abiding citizen for fear of what they might do. It is the place of government to punish the criminal – swiftly and harshly. To that end, government should:
- Institute a penal system that is not cruel, but is unpleasant. Prisoners should not have access to cable television, smokes and conjugal visits. They should be required to work – hard labor is not out of the question – and prisoners who will one day be released should have access to educational materials, to assist them into their transition t civilized society. Prison is, above all, punishment. It should be spare, it should be difficult, and the malefactor who leaves prison walls should have foremost in his mind that he never, ever wants to go back.
- Recognize, in law, the citizen’s right to self-defense. Not only concealed-carry legislation but Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws, that assure a citizen’s right to defend home and family without any requirement to give ground. In the United Kingdom today, a homeowner that uses deadly force to prevent a home-invasion robbery is liable to se prison time for it – this is an obscenity, a deadly violation of the rights of men in a civilized society.
- Apply the law in an even-handed manner. No preferences for certain groups, no leniency for selected individuals, no matter what their connections, wealth or lack thereof. What the laws do for anyone, they do for everyone, or they do for no one.
Among the various rights of a citizen in a free society, two are paramount: The right to life, and the right to property – that is, to obtain property through trade, and to retain that property. The criminal element seeks to violate one or both of those rights through fraud or violence. It is the legitimate role of the citizen to use force – physical or legal – to stop them. That force must be used swiftly, fairly, and justly. A law-abiding citizen should never have cause to fear the law. A criminal should always have cause to fear the law, and the citizens that law represents.
For the alternative state of affairs, see Chicago.
Part IV: Friend of the Devil – Church and State
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Above is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the first item in the Bill of Rights. It’s important – important enough that the Founders made freedom of speech and freedom of conscience the first right recognized (not granted) by the Constitution.
The religious, especially religious activists, are fond of pointing out that the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in that amendment. (The phrase actually comes from Everson v. Board of Education) That’s a canard. Such a wall absolutely can and should exist. Here’s why.
There’s no mistaking that the United States is, by and large, a religious country. It was more so in the Founder’s day, and in that time there was also the memory of many who fled to the New World in search of religious liberty. The First Amendment, like the rest of the Bill of Rights, recognizes the inalienable human right of freedom of conscience.
Notice that I don’t say freedom of religion. Freedom of conscience covers more ground; it not only recognizes the freedom to worship, it also recognizes the freedom not to worship, protecting believer and non-believer alike from any would-be theocrats. To that end, Congress and, by extension, state governments, are proscribed from making any law that shows any preference for or discrimination against any religion – or the lack thereof. Remember the basic underlying principle: What government does for anyone, it should do for everyone, or it should do for no one.
But, like almost anything in government, there are limits to what we can and should tolerate. For example:
- Education. Specifically, science education. While we have publicly funded schools run by local governments, those schools must use time in science classes to teach science. There have been attempts to teach “alternatives” to science, particularly in the area of biology, where “creation science” and “intelligent design” have advocates among the religious. Neither of these doctrines are science. Neither of them have any basis in science. They don’t belong in the tax-payer-funded schools. Private schools? Knock yourself out. (More on education in a later segment.)
- Advocacy of violence. The recent Boston bombers were inspired by sermons preached in a Boston-area mosque; the anti-American, fundamentalist Islamist rants they heard there were instrumental in their decision to blow up Americans. Religious institutions that advocate violence or repression of any kind should not be protected under the First Amendment; that protection stops when the adherents violate other people’s rights.
In fact, there are some things churches have historically done very well – charities, for example. Many churches run food banks, clothing banks and so forth; applicants may be required to attend a sermon prior to receiving clothes or a meal, but nobody ever said charity had to come with no strings attached.
Should the religious have the right to advocate for public policies (except as denoted above) and political candidates? Of course. Every citizen has the right to advocate; that’s the point of the initial part of the First Amendment. However, as in any other area of public life, their right to swing their fists ends at the noses of their fellow citizens (see Education, above.)
Once again, we come back to that underlying principle: What government does for anyone, it should do for everyone, or it should do for no one. That’s what the first clause of the First Amendment means; that’s why government has to be completely neutral where matters of religion are concerned. The only barrier is the same as in any other area; no citizen may be allowed to violate the rights of another.
Part V: Stranglehold – Taxation, Spending and Debt
The United States of America’s fiscal situation is dire: We’re broke. As broke as we are, we’re going to get a whole lot broker in the next few decades. Why? Because our esteemed Congress insists on spending like drunken sailors with the major difference being (as President Reagan so pithily pointed out) that drunken sailors are spending their own damn money.
To bracket the problem, there are a few things that have to be clearly understood.
First: There is an upper limit to the tax revenues that the various levels of government can squeeze out of the economy; that limit is about 18-19% of GDP. That’s too much, but there it is – historically that has been all the blood that can be squeezed from the stone, regardless of what tax rates are inflicted. “Soaking the rich” doesn’t work; asking upper-income people to pay a little more of what some pol thinks is “their fair share” won’t change this fundamental limit.
Second, the Laffer Curve is a real thing. It’s a simple enough concept. Postulate a tax system with only one rate. If that tax rate is zero, obviously tax revenues will be zero. If that tax rate is one hundred percent, revenues will also be zero, or so close as to make no difference; there will be no incentive for anyone, anywhere, to generate any economic activity. Somewhere in between those points is a tax rate that will maximize revenues. The problem: That rate might change in reaction to outside pressures, like global markets.
Third, a nation’s economy is not a pie that has to be divvied up into shares. It grows and shrinks. Wealth is not distributed, it is created and earned. And tax policy affects incentives – people alter their economic behavior when that behavior is exposed to taxation.
Our tax system as it exists today is a disaster. No one understands it; an entire industry of attorneys, accountants, lobbyists and consultants has grown up around the necessity of interpreting and tweaking the tax code. So, what should the tax system do?
- Raise only that revenue that is required for essential government operation. (See Part I.)
- Tax consumption, not production. See the FairTax plan for the ideal way to do this.
- Honestly tax citizens. Corporations do not pay taxes; they collect them. Corporate taxes represent a back-door way to apply additional taxes to the citizenry.
- Eliminate double taxation. The best example of this is the capital-gains tax; this tax not only taxes return on investments made with money that has (in most cases) already been taxed once, it also reduces incentive to put money to work.
The other side of this coin is spending, and the debt that results in the Imperial Federal government’s propensity for irresponsibly, recklessly spending far more than it takes in. In the last few years, Federal spending and debt has skyrocketed. Some figures from the Heritage Foundation:
Overall Budget Trends
- Over the past 20 years, federal spending grew 71 percent faster than inflation.
- Entitlement spending more than doubled over the past 20 years, growing by 110 percent (after adjusting for inflation). Discretionary spending grew by 60 percent.
- Deficits have pushed up the debt each year since 2002 as federal spending exceeded revenue. Fiscal year 2012 marked the fourth consecutive year of $1 trillion deficits.
- Although debt held by the public surged from 33.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2002 to 73 percent in 2012, net interest costs have held below 2 percent of GDP because interest rates have fallen to all-time lows.
- In 1962, defense spending was nearly half the total federal budget (49 percent); Social Security and other mandatory programs were less than one-third of the budget (31 percent). Two major entitlement programs, Medicaid and Medicare, were signed into law by President Johnson in 1965.
- In 2012 entitlements were nearly 62 percent of total spending, while defense dropped to less than one-fifth (18.7 percent) of the budget.
Overall Spending Trends
- Federal spending per household reached $29,691 in 2012, a 29 percent increase (adjusted for inflation) from $23,010 in 2002. The government collected $20,293 per household in taxes in 2012.
- The excess of spending over taxes produced a budget deficit of $9,398 per household in 2012.
- For every $6.80 the federal government collected in taxes in 2012, it spent $10. Consequently, $3.20 out of every $10 spent was borrowed.
- Major entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Obamacare) will increase from 44 percent of federal spending in 2012 to 57 percent in 2022.
- Entitlement programs and net interest costs will reach 67 percent of federal spending in 2022, crowding out spending on national defense and all other programs.
Where the Money Goes
- Total federal spending has grown 43 percent faster than inflation in just the past 10 years.
- Some of the largest growth in federal spending has been in K–12 education, a state and local priority.
- Food stamps and other nutrition programs also have more than doubled in the past 10 years. Food stamp participation rates also more than doubled, growing from 19.096 million recipients in 2002 to 44.709 million by 2011.
- In 1993, Social Security surpassed national defense as the largest federal spending category, and remains first today.
- Federal energy spending has increased steadily over the past decade with the government increasingly subsidizing activities like energy efficiency, energy supply, and technology commercialization. An unprecedented $42 billion was spent in 2009 as part of the stimulus, a nine-fold increase over the 2008 spending level.
- Interest on the debt is the fifth largest federal spending category, even at today’s low interest rates.
See the article linked above for the complete (bleak) picture.
The entire picture of tax and fiscal policy, such as it is, by our Imperial Federal Government is an unmitigated multi-generational disaster; it is a cluster-fuck of cosmic proportions, the overarching, transcendent issue of our time. Runaway government spending and debt is the single greatest threat to the Republic today; greater than Islamic terrorism, greater than competition from Chinese manufacturing, greater than any environmental crisis. And this crisis can only be addressed in one of two ways; we can inflate our way out of it, or we can grow our way out of it. We should be doing the latter, but seem to be doing the former; the purchasing power of the American dollar is almost perfectly paralleling the decline of the Roman denarius during the decline of the Empire.
Things may well be past the point of no return. Neither party seems to have the political will to address the problem; one party seems to show some slight concern about low economic growth and the ridiculous tax system, while the other party intends to continue doubling down on bad policies. That’s not a comforting thought.
We have demagogued away our grandchildren’s future, and history will (rightly) damn us for it.
Part VI: Hot for Teacher: Education
For the purposes of this section, we will discuss K-12 education. Higher education will be taken on in a later section.
One can sum up the single most important change we need to make in American education in two words: Competition and choice. The performance of our public schools is spotty at best. Some public schools are quite good, while others, especially in our major cities, are awful. The stock response by the education establishment seems to consistently involve demands for more funds, but there is no demonstrated correlation between spending and education quality; for example, the Washington D.C. schools receive some of the most generous funding in the nation, and they are among the worst when it comes to producing literate, productive graduates.
To reform the current education system:
- Remove the Imperial Federal government from education altogether. Eliminate the Federal Department of Education completely, close the doors, RIF the bureaucrats. There is no Constitutional justification for its existence. (In that respect, add it to a long list.) In our current system, public schools are managed primarily by municipal and county governments. That’s a better system; all the Imperial Federal government seems to be able to do is add a layer of bureaucracy and waste more tax dollars.
- The issue of educational standards frequently comes up when discussing Federal involvement. The main answer to this is simple: It’s not working. The Federal Department of Education sets standards, the states set standards, and our kids aren’t learning. It’s time to try something else.
- Establish a voucher system at the various state levels. Parents would have the choice to use the voucher to send their children to a traditional public school or to one of the myriad non-traditional private schools that would follow as surely as flowers follow rain.
- Another issue that frequently crops up here: In a voucher system, should parents be allowed to use their voucher to send their children to a religious school? Yes, with qualifications: There is no First Amendment issue involved if the voucher system treats all religious institutions equally. However, there would inevitably be exceptions; for example, an Islamic madrassa that promotes violence should not only be ineligible, it should be shut down.
- Ideally, remove government from education entirely. Eliminate the taxes that support public schools (mostly property taxes) and place responsibility for education back where it ultimately belongs, with the parents.
- Will some parents neglect their responsibilities? Probably. Will there be consequences of their bad decisions? Yes. Is it the responsibility of productive members of society to shield them from the consequences of their bad decisions? No.
- Renew emphasis on trades. We need to move away from the “every child should go to college” paradigm. Every child does not and should not go to college. Every nation needs carpenters, mechanics, welders, pipefitters and other skilled trades. The trades are honorable professions that can earn the skilled tradesman a very good living. Start with middle school and high school shop classes and proceed from there.
- Reform the teachers unions. At all levels, the education unions are concerned with only one goal: To increase pay and benefits for their members and reduce their accountability to their employers – the taxpayers. This is a small part of a larger issue, in fact. Public sector unions are problematic at best. They negotiate their contracts with the very politicians whose campaigns they support, a fundamental conflict of interest on both sides, the result of which is that the public sector employees are not accountable to their actual employers – the taxpayers. Ideally public sector employees should be ineligible for collective bargaining.
A recent study by the libertarian Cato Institute revealed that “The amount we spend on education has increased dramatically and consistently over the past century, with a 25 percent increase in per-pupil expenditures, in constant dollars, between 1995 and 2005.” Have educational standards improved? Are high school graduates more literate, more informed, more capable of critical thinking than they were a generation ago? (Note: “Critical Thinking” as taught in the schools today all too often translates to “you’ll think as I damn well tell you to think.”) Are students better prepared for higher education or the workforce than they were a generation ago?
You need only read any internet message board frequented by the younger generation to see the answer to that.
Part VII: Animal House – Higher Education
In the last segment, we mentioned the fact that not all children need to go to college. In this segment, let’s talk about the ones that do.
Higher education is a system that is going through a catharsis. The rise of online education will forever change the college experience, reducing the importance of traditional brick-and-mortar schools and allowing new models in which classes are taught not by full-time academics but by professionals who have real-world careers in the subjects they teach.
In the meantime, our college/university system is not performing as it should. There are a number of ways we could improve the system, and quickly:
- Institute a broad reform of degree programs. It borders on fraud for institutions of higher learning to offer useless degrees. “Minority Women’s Studies,” “Ethnic Studies” and so forth produce graduates fit only to do one of two things: Remain in academia and perpetuate the fraud, or pursue a career that involves repeatedly asking “do you want fries with that?” Working against such a reform (among other things) is the fact that a college or university charges the same tuition for a nonsense degree as for a degree in the hard sciences, engineering or business, and the latter degrees are certainly more expensive to teach.
- Continue the decentralization of higher education begun by the rise of online universities. New online models such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) as described in a recent paper by the libertarian Cato Institute not only provide alternatives to traditional universities, they also:
- Provide cross-border opportunities to students in other parts of the world.
- Eliminate the need for extensive travel, housing costs and so forth for students that would otherwise have to attend a college or university in another city or state.
- Reduce the overall cost of higher education, perhaps dramatically so, by eliminating much of the overhead costs.
- Reduce, if not eliminate, the presence of the Imperial Federal government in higher education. Not only is there no Constitutional provision for the Federal government to be involved in higher education – and I remind you that the Tenth Amendment specifically prohibits the Federal government from engaging in any activity not specifically allowed – such involvement has proved to be wasteful and counter-productive. Let the states and private institutions handle college-level education, as was done throughout most of our nation’s history.
- Likewise, the Imperial Federal government should be removed from the financial aid process. Again, states and private foundations could deliver financial assistance and counseling more efficiently, and it has been shown that an excess of easy financial aid actually serves to drive tuition costs up; this comes as no surprise to anyone who has studied economics, but apparently it is quite a surprise to the Federal government.
Colleges and universities are tasked with producing a product. Their customers are the students and the student’s parents. The product should be a literate, functional adult with skills that are marketable in the private sector; the system must produce a graduate who can offer value to an employer.
In recent years we have seen the rise and decline of the unfortunate “Occupy” movement, many member of which were seen waving signs decrying their student loan debt and their difficulty finding jobs. (See columnist Zombie’s coverage over at Pajamas Media.) Among other things, one could see signs demanding forgiveness of student debt and elimination of tuition – yes, at least one protestor demanded that “knowledge should be free.”
Well, knowledge is free – you can get all you want at your local public library – but a college or university cannot be free. Educators and administrative personnel have to be paid. Buildings cost money, as does maintenance and utilities for same. But colleges and universities have an important task: To produce graduates capable of taking a productive place in society.
At the present they aren’t doing a very good job.
Part VIII: Drive my Car – Energy, Part I
The United States is in the beginning stages of an energy renaissance, one that has some prominent sheiks more than a little worried. The Bakken Formation in the north central U.S. and south central Canada is easily the largest oil and gas discovery in the last forty years. Estimates of technically recoverable oil average 3.65 billion barrels. That’s a lot of gasoline, heating oil and petroleum by-products. Meanwhile, on the Continental Shelf, estimates of technically recoverable oil average about 86 billion barrels. Detractors of exploiting those resources claim (accurately) that it would take years to bring those resources fully on line. But we’ve been denying the development of those resources for decades!
Whether people like it or not, our economy runs on oil and natural gas – especially oil, which runs our cars, trucks, locomotives and aircraft. We have untapped reserves here in the United States – reserves we aren’t exploiting. Why not?
Our energy policy needs some changing. What should change?
- The Obama Administration should immediately approve the Keystone pipeline project. The Imperial Federal government really only has authority to hold up the portion of the pipeline that crosses the Canadian/U.S. border, but that’s a key portion, since a great deal of the Bakken formation lies in the Great White North. The Canadians are enthusiastically developing their portion of the Bakken, and they want to sell that oil – and will, either to us or to someone else. (Read that to mean: China.)
- Likewise, the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the continental shelf needs to go. The Deepwater Horizon spill was accurately described as a disaster, but there’s a contributing cause that you don’t hear very often; the high-risk deep water drilling operation is the result of regulations prohibiting safer drilling in shallower waters, near shore. Some people with views of the water are going to have to get used to seeing some oil rigs.
- Refinery capacity. We don’t have enough. The reason for the Keystone pipeline running all the way to Texas? That’s where the refineries are.
- Related issue: There is an incredible patchwork of gasoline blends required by the several states. This drives the price of gasoline up, and serves no good purpose.
- Another related issue: For some reason, American automobile builders shy away from Diesels. My own favored builder, Ford, only offers a Diesel engine in the Super-Duty truck series and in commercial vehicles. If my own Rojito, a 1999 Ranger, had a 4-cylinder turbo Diesel instead of a 3.0 liter gasoline V-6, it would get better mileage, have more usable power, and last much longer. At present Diesel vehicles cost more, but economies of scale would reduce that if the auto companies started building more.
- Eliminate energy boondoggles. One of the most egregious? Exporting American trees to the United Kingdom to help them meet renewable-energy quotas. Markets, not governments, should drive energy development and use.
BTU-wise, combining oil, gas and coal, the United States is #1 in the world when it comes to energy resources. We have the capacity to be a net energy exporter. Instead, we are importing energy, and in so doing, sending hard currency to parts of the world where it is often put to bad use. We are, in the original meaning of the term, carrying coal to Newcastle.
The energy policies of the Imperial Federal government are well to the left of stupid. They are strangling growth and making us reliant on unstable regimes for the lifeblood of our economy. That needs to change – real change, not more words.
Part IX: Songs from the Wood – Environment
Everyone wants clean air, trees, grass, flowers and butterflies. But, like every other thing we want, these things come with a price – and that means that economic decisions have to be made.
Being well into middle age, I can remember when the nation’s highways were littered with trash, the air in big cities was all but un-breathable, and the Great Lakes were so polluted you couldn’t eat fish caught there – if you could find any. The United States has made incredible progress in environmental issues since the mid 1960s, but just as with many social issues, the environmental lobby is unable to admit victory and adopt a stance of quiet monitoring rather than activism.
Being also an outdoorsman who loves little more than a day in the mountains hunting, fishing or just loafing, I want the country to have wild places. I want pristine wilderness areas, even if I grow too old and infirm to enjoy them personally. But I don’t want them at the expense of human well-being. All things must come with a balance. To that end, American environmental policy must:
- Be based on science, not emotion. Take the anthropogenic global warming debate; while the Earth’s climate has changed continually throughout the Earth’s history, and indeed through most of that history has been warmer than it is now, the jury is still out on what impact humans actually have on that process; also, who is to say what the planet’s “correct” temperature is? A gain of a few degrees, like anything else, would involve some tradeoffs. Coastal areas may be in some trouble, and some marginal crop lands may descend into desert; on the other hand, places like the Siberian steppes and Alaska’s Matanuska Valley would bloom into the world’s new breadbaskets.
- Related issue: It’s common for some on the religious right to attempt to discuss the completely uncontroversial (scientifically speaking) issue of biological evolution in the same uncertain terms as anthropogenic climate change. This is, of course, crap. There is a wide variation of opinion among climatologists on the climate issue; there is virtually none among biologists on the topic of evolution. It does the political right inestimable harm when the evolution deniers start barking. The issue was decided in the late nineteenth century. Move past it.
- Also, an economic evaluation has to be part of the equation. Example: The Alaskan oil fields. Some members of the environmental community have been outright dishonest in their depictions of the North Slope oil fields as pristine alpine environments with flowers and wildlife; in reality those grounds are barren coastal tundra. The entire area proposed for development is less than one percent of the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We need the oil. Will there be an environmental cost? Yes. Should we be willing to pay it? Yes. Humans have needs, too; jobs, energy, economic progress. As the system exists now, that means oil and natural gas, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
- The National Forest system should stay in place. There have been those on the political right who advocate selling those lands into private hands, some say to pay off the Federal debt. I oppose that for two reasons:
- I have no faith whatsoever that the Imperial Federal government would use the money to reduce the Federal debt. It would, almost certainly, be put to use like a good portion of the Federal budget is now – buying votes.
- The National Forests now belong to the American people. In private hands, they would almost certainly be completely removed from public access. As much good as there is in Texas from an economic standpoint, the outdoor opportunities for hunters in that state are dismal; almost all land is in private hands, and leases are expensive. I don’t want to see the mountain states fall into that kind of a situation.
- A primary reason for the National Forest system being in place has nothing to do with environmental issues or recreation, although our National Forests are good places for both of those. Instead, the system exists to ensure a steady supply of a vital resource: Timber.
In the years since 1960 we have shown that you can have economic progress and environmental progress at the same time. But as with any issue, advocates have to be aware that at some point their continued demands for progress move into the realm of the ridiculous. (See the last installment for discussion of the Keystone pipeline, for example.) In this as in all matters, common sense must prevail.
Part X: Radioactive – Energy Part II
Let’s talk clean energy.
Like any other aspect of a modern economy, energy production should be left to markets, not enforced by government. At present, the technology in solar, wind and other “green” energy sources is wholly insufficient to support our economy. At present, there is no indication that those technologies will be economically feasible for most of our energy needs for the foreseeable future. Were it not for massive, wasteful and corrupt (Solyndra, anyone?) government subsidy, most of these programs would never get off the ground.
There is a clean energy technology that is economically and environmentally feasible available now. It is nuclear power, and we should be aggressively pursuing the next generation of fission power plants. Research into fusion plants is interesting, but at this point it is only that; while development should continue, it’s not solving today’s energy problems.
Objections to nuclear power, let’s face it, are frequently, if not predominantly, ill-informed and often hysterical. Popular culture does not help this situation, with idiotic television programming like “The Simpsons” presenting nuclear power plants as poorly maintained and excessively dangerous, and their operators as corrupt and uncaring. In fact, modern reactors, especially the new pebble-bed reactors, are extremely safe. Nuclear power could provide a huge boost to our faltering electrical generation capacity.
As we have seen in Part VIII, our energy future still relies heavily on natural gas and shale oil. But we can do more, especially for electrical generation. To pursue that end, the United States should:
- Remove Federal and state roadblocks to nuclear power plant development. Nuclear power as it stands today is an economically viable clean energy. While the waste is produces is nasty and long-lived, it is small-scale and can be managed, and modern reactors can re-use fuel to produce more usable product, further minimizing the waste product. There are geologically stable, deep-cave storage locations that already exist where such can be safely stored.
- Develop and commercialize the lithium-fluoride-thorium reactor. This technology has existed since the 1960s and is presently undergoing something of a renaissance. These reactors are safe and efficient. Scale of production could make them economically viable as well.
- Develop small modular reactors. This is a technology with global significance; small modular reactors have the potential to bring clean, cheap energy to remote locations. And it’s important to note that we’re not just talking Third World, here; there are plenty of Alaskan bush communities that would profit from cheap, clean electricity from such a system. And it would help with one other thing:
- Also, the United States should begin to decentralize and upgrade the power grid. Our grid as it exists today is highly vulnerable to an orbital EMP attack, a frightening scenario that is becoming possible for an increasing number of hostile, irrational and unstable nations, like North Korea and Iran. A well-planned EMP attack could send much of the United States back to the mid-1800s, technologically, and we are dangerously vulnerable. As a matter of national security and defense, this is an issue where the Imperial Federal government actually has a legitimate reason to be involved.
- On other “clean energy” fronts, the United States should:
- Immediately and unequivocally end the Imperial Federal government’s interference in the energy marketplace. Stop the wasteful ethanol subsidy, stop tariffs on imported ethanol and most of all, stop the fundamentally corrupt, cronyist subsidy of energy and alternative automobile manufacturers. If a private organization can build an electric care that consumers will want to buy, they will do so; if they can’t, they won’t. We’ve poured far, far too much money down this particular rathole already.
America’s energy future has to be partially nuclear. The arguments against nuclear power are outdated and all too often, inaccurate and hysterical. The marketplace is where decisions as to power production should be made, and market forces would almost certainly favor clean, modern, safe nuclear power.
Part XI: America – A Tragedy in Five Acts. (Conclusions)
In 1712, Joseph Addison penned the work paraphrased above. Cato, A Tragedy in Five Acts describes the last years of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis. Cato the Younger has been described as “Rome’s last citizen” (see the excellent Rob Goodman/Jimmy Soni work by that title.) One of my personal heroes, Cato stood in front of the oncoming totalitarian express train that was Caesar and shouted “stop!”
He lost. After the second Roman Civil War ended with Julius Caesar seated as dictator-for-life, Cato cut out his own stomach.
While by all accounts Cato was an unpleasant man in person – quick to anger, irascible, stubborn and inflexible – he was also widely known as incorruptible. In an era when political corruption and bribery was now only widely practiced but generally considered routine, Cato was immune to bribery. His personal philosophy of Stoicism was stern and inflexible as well; even though he sprang from Rome’s nobility, he wore only plain unadorned robes and even eschewed shoes.
He was a man committed to republican principles. In Rome’s populist rush to embrace Caesar, he fought to preserve those principles. He lost. He died. So did the Republic. Republican government was effectively dead in the civilized world, and would not rise again until 1776, half a world away, when a small group of rebels declared their independence from the world’s greatest empire.
We sit here now in the two hundred and thirty-seventh year of the great American republic, and we face many of the same crises that confronted Cato, and some he never imagined.
- Our Imperial Federal government has mortgaged our grandchildren’s futures, and continues to drive the public debt ever higher. There are apparently no longer any limits or even any lip service to fiscal sanity.
- Our government has grown as corrupt as the late Roman Republic. Our Federal government allows arms to cross the border into the hands of criminal cartels; they dither while embassies in foreign countries are burned and ambassadors are murdered; they pass out taxpayer dollars by the billions to political cronies to finance failed business experiments (see: Solyndra.)
- Our courts can no longer be relied upon to arbitrate the Constitution (see: Kelo vs. New London.)
- Too many of our citizens no longer see themselves as Americans first. Instead they divide themselves by wholly arbitrary lines: Skin color, ethnicity, political party. Of these, the first is certainly the most irrational, but in the last few years tension along the line of melanin content seems to have exploded, stoked by a professional grievance industry (see: Al Sharpton.)
Born in 1961, I am among the last of the Baby Boomers, a child of the Sixties and Seventies, who came of age during the Reagan boom of the Eighties. I remember very well the economic malaise of the Nixon-Ford-Carter years, and due to a lot of reading I have some understanding of the causes of that terrible period, and more to the point, how we rose out of it – and why we are not descending back into the economic morass of that time.
It seems strange to contemplate the idea that my parents (born 1923 and 1928) have, in their lifetimes, probably seen America’s best years. They were after all children of the Great Depression and young adults during the Second World War. But they also lived through the great American expansion of economic power and influence that rose after World War 2 and continued, with some minor ups and downs, until about 2007.
My grandparents (born 1894, 1894, 1898 and 1901) saw America’s expansion from a mostly agricultural, continental nation to a world power. They saw both World Wars and the rise of America as a global nation. My paternal grandfather spoke with great pride of his Army service in the First World War, and described his vivid memory of the first airplane he ever saw, a barnstorming biplane that overflew the small farm where he lived as a young man.
My children (born 1982, 1992 and 1996) have seen the rise of the Internet. They were born just prior to the dot-com boom and bust of 2000, and now are entering adulthood and starting families in the days of routine double-digit unemployment, anemic economic growth and slowly increasing inflation.
What will my grandchildren (so far born 2003, 2005 and 2010) see in their lifetimes? More runaway spending? More debt? More inflation? A spiral of ever-more-intrusive government?
The Roman Republic fell when one man, with an army at his back, looked at the Republic and saw a doddering old system that, he thought, had grown too corrupt to continue. The solution proved worse than the disease, as it destroyed the Republic and gave Rome an Empire – that is to say, a totalitarian monarchy that barely paid lip service to republican principles in the names of the Senate. There is, at present, no Caesar in America; there is no political leader with the strength to seize total power. The imaginings of conspiracy theorists aside, Barack Obama is no Caesar; he is not a strong man, he is not a self-disciplined man, and to be perfectly honest I do not see him as a particularly intelligent man.
However, while there is no Caesar, neither is there a Cato. We have no political leaders who possess the one attribute Cato had in full measure: Unshakable, incorruptible principles. We are lost in a forest of uncertainty, headed towards the edge of a fiscal cliff that our political leadership seems determined to take us over. The answer, I believe, begins in the ideas I’ve put forth in this Manifesto – it’s only a start, but I think it’s a good start. The chances of anything like this actually coming to pass, I’m afraid, are slight. I think there will be a major economic and political collapse first. And when republics collapse, they generally are not replaced by republics. We can read about Rome, but as a people we don’t seem to have learned from it.
I wish I could be more optimistic. I really do. But I plan for the worst and hope for the best, and advise all True Believers to do likewise.