Twain quote for the day

“Does the human being reason? No; he thinks, muses, reflects, but does not reason…That is, in the two things which are the peculiar domain of the heart, not the mind,–politics and religion. He doesn’t want to know the other side. He wants arguments and statistics for his own side, and nothing more.”
– Mark Twain’s Notebook

Will it get this bad?

Here is a perspective on recent government/political events with a long view from Ace of Spades.

“Previous generations of politicians could reach agreements on taxing and spending by punting their differences to the next generation — that is to say, where they could not agree, they could agree to borrow the difference, and expect the next generation to pick up the tab.

This was never moral nor responsible but it was workable so long as each generation was wealthier than the last, so that the next generation would have the money to pay for the previous one’s profligacy and irresponsibility.

What happens when that is no longer true?”

None of the possibilities are very pleasant, but Ace points out that some are worse than others:

“Government-Mandated Winners will come at the expense of Government-Selected Losers in the here and now, people who can and will object. Passionately, and even, possibly, violently.

The United States has been, thus far, exceptional in a fairly low level of social disorder and political violence. Such things plague most of the rest of the world, but the United States has mostly avoided such things.

But we avoided such things because we were always becoming richer, and could afford to float a certain amount of keep-the-peace debt.”

We are not going to let it get that bad, are we?

What is our national government supposed to do for us?

This diagram was posted on my son Jacob’s Facebook page, and it appears that it originated here.

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As far as labels go, I guess this is pretty accurate, if divisions of political thought are based entirely on the services one thinks the government should provide. Jacob styles himself a libertarian; in his 16 year old wisdom, the less government, the better (wonder where he got that idea?). He says voluntarism would be ideal, but would eventually result in anarchy, which has never been successfully implemented. Humans, being human, are not perfect, and there are those who would take advantage of those weaker than themselves. His choice is apparently minarchism, with the least government necessary to maintain peace.

Our Founding Fathers put a lot of thought into the subject. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state was a State in the classical sense–a country unto itself; they were bound together by a loose agreement basically for common defense, and the Founders realized that something more was needed. During the summer of 1787, they debated the proper role of a national government. Having just fought a war to free themselves from a tyrannical government, they were acutely aware of the danger of too much power in the hands of a few. The Constitution hammered out in Philadelphia was an effort to limit the powers of the central government to only those which were needed. As James Madison wrote, “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.”—Federalist No. 45. They were so sure of those limitations that some thought a Bill of Rights was unnecessary—“[A Bill of Rights] would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”—Alexander Hamilton (1788), Federalist No. 84. It seems obvious to me that Hamilton had an unfounded faith in future officials to follow the simple directions given by the Constitution.

What were the enumerated powers given to the national government? The Constitution is pretty specific, with a few exceptions. Article 1, Section VIII gives Congress the power to collect taxes and borrow money; to regulate commerce between the states themselves and with other countries; establish naturalization regulations and bankruptcy courts; coin money and punish counterfeiters; provide for copyrights and patents; regulate the armed forces and the militias, and declare war; and be the sole legislative authority for the District of Columbia. The President was to execute the laws passed by Congress; command the armed forces; and make treaties with other countries (with approval by the Senate).

The early Executive branch had only four departments—Department of State, Department of War (Defense), Department of Treasury, and Department of Justice. There are now fifteen Cabinet departments, most of which the Founders could not have envisioned. Why would you need a Department of Education when the Constitution does not even mention Education? Our government now has its fingers in many parts of our lives that Mr. Madison would find astounding.

Going back to the diagram, where does that leave us? What goods and services should be provided by government? The diagram does not distinguish between federal and state governments, and some of those services are primarily state provided (or should be). The Constitution obviously envisions those included under classical liberalism. The “safety net” services are a stretch requiring some very creative reading of the Enumerated Powers, but most Americans, including me, would be reluctant to give them up.

Should or could we go back to a government limited to the powers granted in the Constitution? At this point, it would be very difficult, and would have to be done over a considerable period of time. Folks are reluctant to give up benefits they already have, and I do not see that happening any time soon.

More to come…

Default on the debt? Cannot be done

Today there is still a lot in the news about the so-called government shutdown, but politicians are also warming up the hyperbole/propaganda/ outright lies about the debt limit due to be reached next week. It burns me up to hear the President of the United States say that if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, the government cannot/will not pay the interest on US government bonds–money the government has borrowed and on which interest is owed.

“As reckless as a government shutdown is … an economic shutdown that results from default would be dramatically worse,” Obama said on Thursday. Clearly targeting Republicans, he said a default would be “the height of irresponsibility.”

Never fear, this will not happen. In fact, according to the Constitution, it cannot happen–“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”–Fourteenth Amendment, Section 4. If the administration chooses not to pay its debts, a constitutional crisis would ensue, and would probably be grounds for impeachment. So, I do not expect that to happen…even if the deadline for raising the debt limit is passed.

So, what happens? The government’s daily expenditures are about $16.7 billion(!!!). Treasury collects about $14 billion every day, so our daily borrowing habit is about $2.7 billion. The debt obligations will be paid, which means there is $2.7 billion less to spend on all the other things for which government pays. The only question is where we make the cuts. Democrats are terrified that taxpayers will realize that all we have to do to balance the budget is not borrow more money!

Senator Rand Paul, on Sunday’s Meet the Press, said it this way, “I think it’s irresponsible of the president and his men to even talk about default. There is no reason for us to default. We bring in $250 billion in taxes every month, our interest payment is $20 billion. Tell me why we would ever default. We have legislation called the full faith and credit act and it tells the president, you must pay the interest on the debt. So this is a game. This is kind of like closing the World War II memorial. They all get out on TV and they say, we’re going to default. They’re the ones scaring the marketplace. We should never default.”

So, do not buy in to the hyperbole and faux panic. There is no “crisis” coming, and those who say there is are either lying, or have a profound ignorance of our Constitution.