The Public Policy

The Public Policy

The High Cost of Liberalism

By 4.22.14

Liberals advocate many wonderful things. In fact, I suspect that most conservatives would prefer to live in the kind of world envisioned by liberals, rather than in the kind of world envisioned by conservatives.

Unfortunately, the only kind of world that any of us can live in is the world that actually exists. Trying to live in the kind of world that liberals envision has costs that will not go away just because these costs are often ignored by liberals.

One of those costs appeared in an announcement of a house for sale in Palo Alto, the community adjacent to Stanford University, an institution that is as politically correct as they come.

The house is for sale at $1,498,000. It is a 1,010 square foot bungalow with two bedrooms, one bath and a garage. Although the announcement does not mention it, this bungalow is located near a commuter railroad line, with trains passing regularly throughout the day.

Lest you think this house must be some kind of designer’s dream, loaded with high-tech stuff, it was built in 1942 and, even if it was larger, no one would mistake it for the Taj Mahal or San Simeon.

The Public Policy

Statistical Frauds

By 4.15.14

The “war on women” political slogan is in fact a war against common sense.

It is a statistical fraud when Barack Obama and other politicians say that women earn only 77 percent of what men earn — and that this is because of discrimination.

It would certainly be discrimination if women were doing the same work as men, for the same number of hours, with the same amount of training and experience, as well as other things being the same. But study after study, over the past several decades, has shown repeatedly that those things are not the same.

Constantly repeating the “77 percent” statistic does not make them the same. It simply takes advantage of many people’s ignorance — something that Barack Obama has been very good at doing on many other issues.

What if you compare women and men who are the same on all the relevant characteristics?

First of all, you can seldom do that, because the statistics you would need are not always available for the whole range of occupations and the whole range of differences between women’s patterns and men’s patterns in the labor market.

The Public Policy

TSA Goes Coin-Flipping

By 4.2.14

Twenty years ago it was the U.S. Postal Service that was the iconic example of what’s wrong with the federal government. The Post Office was big, bloated, and known for sketchy service. Making matters worse, the Post Office often appeared to be fighting off bankruptcy. Federal Express turned criticism of the Post Office into a major advertising campaign for its overnight delivery service.

Today, the representative example of bad government is the Transportation Security Administration. TSA has a labor force of 65,000 employees. It has cost the American taxpayer about $75 billion. This includes more than $60 billion spent through 2012 and nearly $8 billion spent in each of 2013 and 2014.

The Public Policy

The Navy Department’s New Math

By 3.19.14

Faced with the dire prospect of a rapidly shrinking fleet of 280 ships, the Navy’s top brass are simply reclassifying a couple hospital ships and its small patrol craft deployed overseas to inflate the numbers. It’s an accounting sleight-of-hand that will fool no one and should be an embarrassment to the entire defense establishment.

There was a time when counting ships in the fleet was really simple. Just count up those big, gray ships one-by-one and you were done. Now, in a thinly veiled effort to disguise the troubling lack of newly constructed warships joining the fleet, the Navy is reclassifying a few non-combatants to make up for glaring holes in the fleet.

The changes, quietly noted in the recently released Defense Department’s 2015 budget proposal, add the dozen vessels to the battle force to help make up for the planned retirement of 10 frigates, a submarine and other ships.

The Public Policy

Dave Camp’s Capitulation on Carried Interest

By 3.6.14

Once again, according to a White House summary of his 2015 budget unveiled this week, President Obama will call for “closing loopholes” that he says help “Wall Street.” Once again, upon closer examination, these “loophole closures” are actually tax hikes that will hit Main Street the hardest.

There is something different this year, but that “something” is bad news for taxpayers and entrepreneurs. The difference is that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has unfortunately signed on to some of these destructive proposals in the “tax reform” bill he introduced last week.

In particular, both Obama and Camp’s “carried interest” proposals would tax much of the capital gains of partnerships as ordinary income as well as subject them to hefty payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security. Small business folks and innovative entrepreneurs who structure their firms as partnerships will be hindered by both the cost and complexity of Obama and Camp’s provisions aimed at “Wall Street” fat cats.

The Public Policy

Victims of the Common Good

By 2.5.14

“We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.” So said Hillary Clinton at a fundraiser back in 2004. Conservatives, in a rush to tag Clinton as a Marxist, sometimes strip out the context; she was talking about repealing President Bush’s tax cuts. But her remark is a nice motto for modern progressivism, which constantly demands that the rich finance a bulging public sector that acts for the common good.

This has been the theoretical foundation of the Obama presidency. The stimulus would borrow from a wealthier future generation to energize the economy. Obamacare would take resources from the health insurance companies and give them to the uninsured. Repealing part of the Bush tax cuts would force the rich to “pay their fair share” for programs to help the poor. The government, having defined the common good, then gets to enforce it on its own terms. It’s a nice gig, if you can get it.

The Public Policy

Fannie, Freddie, and the Big One

By 1.17.14

Twenty years ago today, the 6.7-magnitude Northridge Earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, killing 60, injuring 7,000, and damaging more than 82,000 buildings. The price tag for the quake was a record $20 billion in property damage, only about half of which was insured.

The two decades since Northridge have seen significant efforts to mitigate earthquake risk through retrofitting, as well as the creation of a state agency in California dedicated to providing earthquake insurance to all who seek it. Alas, despite those steps, there is significant evidence that not only are we less prepared for a major quake today than we were in 1994, but that the financial brunt of any such disaster would mostly fall squarely on the shoulders of U.S. taxpayers.

The Public Policy

Get the Kludge Out

By 1.15.14

Niall Ferguson has characterized the current state of America as “The Great Degeneration.” Another commentator has recently introduced a new term into the public domain to describe our present political and governmental distemper.

In Yuval Levin’s very useful conservative policy journal, National Affairs, we find an honest and perceptive liberal, Professor Steven M. Teles of Johns Hopkins University, decrying the size, complexity, and incoherence, not to mention ineffectiveness, of American government as a “kludgeocracy.”

The Public Policy

The War on Poverty at 50

By 1.8.14

With the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty at hand, the New York Times undertook a guided tour of the vast and murky battlefield, offering a surprising -- for the Times -- admission. To wit, poverty isn't just about what the government does, or doesn't do, for poor people. It's about, in part, how poor people live, voluntarily or otherwise.

The Times didn't make a big deal about what it called "sociological trends (that) help explain why so many children and adults remain poor, even putting the effects of the recession aside." That the story so much as acknowledged the impoverishing effects of family breakdown is the really big deal, given the broad commitment of American liberals to the notion of job-training, better education, minimum-wage hikes and so on as the keys to overthrowing "inequality."

"More parents," the Times story notes, "are raising a child alone, with more infants born out of wedlock. High incarceration rates, especially among black men, keep many families apart. About 30 percent of single mothers live in poverty."

The Public Policy

The Best Way to Cut Spending: Cut Spending

By 12.18.13

We live in an age of mad austerity. Bits of debris crumble portentously off our bridges thanks to dried-up infrastructure funding. Scientists are forever one paycheck away from shutting down their research. What’s left of the civil service has been cut to ribbons by the late sequester. The recent government shutdown nearly annihilated the economy until (in the nick of time!) Republicans finally surrendered.

That’s America right now if you’re on the neo-Keynesian left. To its partisans, the government isn’t a leviathan, but a delicate Jenga tower—pluck a single dollar and you risk toppling everything. This is how a spending cut as piddling as the sequester becomes a nightmare scenario, or why any attempt to balance the budget is regularly denounced as right-wing extremism.