Poverty, the Welfare State, and the Failure of Centralized Government

September 24, 2015

Phineas Fahrquar:

Centralize everything in DC’s hands, if you want to achieve perfect mediocrity.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

As we get deeper into an election season, many politicians feel compelled to discuss how to deal with poverty.  And some of them may even be serious about trying to improve the system.

This hopefully will lead to big-picture discussions of key issues, such as why the poverty rate stopped falling in the mid-1960s.

If so, it helps to look past the headline numbers and actually understand the scope of the problem.

Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute explains that the official poverty data from the Census Bureau overstates the number of poor people.

…the official poverty rate is a positive embarrassment today. The poverty rate manifestly cannot do the single thing it was intended for: to count the number of people in our country subsisting below a fixed and absolute “poverty line.” Among its many other shortcomings, this index implicitly assumes that a family’s annual reported income…

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(Video) Why we’re losing liberty

September 7, 2015

Via Prager University, Princeton University Professor of Jurisprudence Robert George looks at several reasons for the decline of liberty in America — from the growth of the national government particularly since the New Deal, to the growing willingness of the courts to “legislate from the bench” and the acquiescence and even collusion of the other two branches in that– and identifies one key reason: citizens’ own ignorance of our founding documents.

Here’s Professor George:

In other words, you’re not going to be a very successful owner, if you don’t understand the “owner’s manual.”

The Best-Ever Argument for Federalism

December 21, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

Competition among the states as a check on the greed and foolishness of progressives, with Vermont as an example.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

I’m a big fan of federalism for both policy and political reasons.

Returning programs to the states is the best way of dealing with counterproductive income-redistribution policies such as welfare, Medicaid, and food stamps.

Federalism is also the right way of unwinding bad education schemes like Obama’s Common Core and Bush’s No Bureaucrat Left Behind.

And the same principle applies for transportation, natural disasters, and social issues such as drugs.

And I can’t resist pointing out, for the benefit of those who think such things matter, that federalism is also the system that is consistent with our Constitution’s restrictions on central government power.

Simply stated, federalism is good news because we get innovation, diversity, and experimentation. States that make wise choices will be role models for their peers. And it’s also worth noting that states that screw up will provide valuable…

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Did Obama threaten state governors?

March 10, 2014
Not likely to be bullied.

Not likely to be bullied.

Via Moe Lane, that’s sure what it sounds like in the video below. Rick Perry of Texas was speaking as part of a panel at the Republican Governors Association late last February; the group had had a meeting (1) with President Obama, and what he told them left Governor Perry disturbed. Here’s the video, followed by a transcript.

“When you have governors, and we all compete against each other — we are the laboratories of innovation — and for the President of the United States to look Democrat and Republican governors in the eye and say, ‘I do not trust you to make decisions in your state about issues of education, about transportation infrastructure,’ — and that is really troubling,” he said.

Perry expressed his own fears regarding Environmental Protection Agency restrictions choking off America’s energy production and a possible reduction in his state’s national guard.

“As a matter of fact, he [Obama] said at that meeting, he said, ‘If I hear any of you pushing back, making statements about Washington spends too much money, you’ll hear from me,” he said, adding, “I’m highly offended by that.”

Obama takes everything personally, doesn’t he? Criticize him or oppose his policies as part of the normal give and take of politics, and to him it’s a personal affront. And, if you offend him, perhaps by speaking out on behalf of the people of your state, by God you’re going to hear from Obama, himself!

That is the mark of a thin-skinned, petty personality. A punk. And weren’t the Democrats supposed to be against “bullying?”

It’s also telling about how he sees the governors: not as fellow heads of state and government, with their own experiences and perspectives to draw on (2), but as errand boys. It’s how someone who grew up in the Chicago thugocracy works. “Federalism? Just shut up and do what you’re told — or else.”

Perry’s remarks about the threat to the state national guards are well-taken, too; not only do the guard units provide invaluable reserves of skills, knowledge, and talent to fill out the military in wartime, but governors rely on their guard units to deal with all sorts of emergencies, from riots to disaster relief.

Seems to me Governor Perry and his colleagues were right to be perturbed.

(1) I think this was the same meeting after which Louisiana Governor Jindal and Connecticut Governor Malloy went after each other a bit.
(2) Many of whom had far more executive experience prior to taking office and far better records of accomplishment in office than a certain president I can think of.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

Instead of a Government-Guaranteed Income, How About a Practical Plan to End the Washington Welfare State?

December 20, 2013

Phineas Fahrquar:

Hmmm… Block-granting the entire welfare state to the states to allocate as they need, then gradually eliminating it — a federalist approach. I like it.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

The welfare state is a nightmare.

Programs such as Medicaid are fiscal catastrophes. The food stamp program is riddled with waste. The EITC is easily defrauded, even sending checks to prisoners. And housing subsidies are a recipe for the worst forms of social engineering.

The entire system should be tossed in the trash.

But what’s the alternative? Some libertarians argue that we should eliminate the dozens of Washington programs and replace them with a government-guaranteed minimum income. I address this issue in an essay for Libertarianism.org.

Some libertarians argue that the state should provide a minimum basic income, mainly because this approach would be preferable to the costly and bureaucratic amalgamation of redistribution programs that currently exist. It’s hard to disagree with the notion that the current system is a failure. The Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner has produced a searing indictment of the modern welfare…

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Secession? No, try federalism

November 20, 2012

In the wake of the presidential election earlier this month, a lot of people expressed their disappointment with the results by submitting petitions for secession at the White House web site. Petitions were received from all 50 states, and there were several counter-petitions from progressives urging the government to let them go.

To be honest, and even though I signed South Carolina’s to support my friend Gay Patriot, I looked at these as just blowing off steam after a disappointing election loss, just as liberals fantasized about secession in 2004. I didn’t and don’t take them seriously.

My mistake, in at least one respect. As Prof. Glenn Reynolds points out in an op-ed in USA Today, petitions such as these and more serious secession movements in Scotland, Catalonia, and elsewhere arise from anger at a central government from which they feel alienated for various reasons. While the petitions themselves may not be serious, the resentment and irritation caused by being forced to obey one-size-fits-all laws you hate is very real. And, if left to fester, it can lead to more serious problems.

What’s the answer, if secession isn’t it? Reynolds looks back to the handiwork of a very smart group of men who came up with a solution suited to a large, diverse republic, and suggests we give federalism a try:

So what’s a solution? Let the central government do the things that only central governments can do — national defense, regulation of trade to keep the provinces from engaging in economic warfare with one another, protection of basic civil rights — and then let the provinces go their own way in most other issues. Don’t like the way things are run where you are? Move to a province that’s more to your taste. Meanwhile, approaches that work in individual provinces can, after some experimentation, be adopted by the central government, thus lowering the risk of adopting untested policies at the national level. You get the benefits of secession without seceding.

Sound good? It should. It’s called federalism (1), and it’s the approach chosen by the United States when it adopted the Constitution in 1789. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

Surely Reynolds wrote this with a wink and a smile, for federalism is the way were are supposed to operate, and our problems have grown as the federal government has usurped more and more of the states’ proper role, turning gradually from a government of limited powers to Leviathan. Consider it another way: the more the federal government tries to do everything, the less it can do anything well.  The national economy and health care systems are too large and too diverse, and there’s too much information coming in, for them to be directed top-down by a few hundred (or even a few thousand) pols and bureaucrats in D.C. The needs of people differ in various parts of the country, and the resources needed to even try to manage everything nationally wind up being diverted from those things only the federal government can do well, such as national security.

The solution, as Reynolds writes, is to recognize those spheres of competence and respect them, something that’s happened less and less since the progressive era. This isn’t to say that the enumerated powers of Article 1, Section 8 are the end all and be all; the Founders themselves recognized that the Constitution would sometimes need amending (2) –including granting the federal government more power– and put in place procedures for doing just that. It’s through ignoring those limits and procedures that we’ve reached a point whereat so many think, with some justification, that the United States Government is becoming a threat to their liberty and prosperity.

Change won’t be easy, and the genie of the progressive administrative state probably can’t ever be wholly put back in the bottle. But for the health of our body politic we have to keep trying.

(1) Also “states’ rights,” but that term was forever tainted thanks to defenders of slavery and Jim Crow hiding behind it, back in the day.
(2) And I do think several are needed to deal with the progressive-statist tendency to grab more and more power. Professor Randy Barnett’s Bill of Federalism is a great starting point for discussion. Oddly enough, in the wake of their defeat in 2004, progressives themselves were arguing for federalism. Bipartisanship!

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

October 12, 2012

Phineas Fahrquar:

This looks like a reasonable solution that has the benefit of respecting our federalist traditions, while stabilizing Medicare.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

This election season has seen lots of talk (and demagoguery) about whether investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners should be hit with class-warfare tax policy.

And there’s also been lots of sturm and drang about the best way of averting bankruptcy for Medicare, which is the federal government’s health care program for the elderly.

But there’s been surprisingly little discussion so far about the issue of Medicaid, which is the federal government’s health program for poor people.

I’m not prone to optimism, but I can’t help but wonder if this is because even statists grudgingly accept that the program needs to be reformed.

If so, the right approach is block-granting the program back to the states. Here’s some of what Paul Howard and Russell Sykes had to say about the issue in the Wall Street Journal.

Medicaid, America’s safety-net program for more than 62 million low-income uninsured…

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