Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.

Big Government Archive



August 2015



Third Time Won’t Be the Charm in Greece

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Economics & the Economy, Foreign Affairs & Policy, Free Markets, Taxes

Greece is getting bailed out for the third time in just five years, proving yet again that lessons from political mistakes are rarely heeded. As I wrote last month in a column for EveryJoe:

The simple explanation is that Greece tried socialism and it predictably failed, as socialism is wont to do… More specifically, Greece has saddled its economy and its people with heavy taxes to fund a corrupt government weighed down by excessive pensions for their bloated workforce. A byzantine and oppressive regulatory system further stifles growth and prevents the economy from keeping up.

To put some numbers on the problem, Greek debt exceeds 177 percent of its GDP. That means Greeks would have to work almost two years to produce an equivalent amount of goods and services. It’s unfunded future liabilities, which includes generous pensions, tops 875 percent of GDP! Its yearly spending on pensions alone accounts for a whopping 16 percent of Greece’s GDP, and overall the government spends upwards of 50 percent.

If all this proves that Greece is suicidal, it was its entrance into the European Union that gave it the rope needed to hang itself. When it joined the EU, Greece suddenly had access to levels of credit it never had before thanks to the implicit backing of stronger EU economies like Germany. Creditors determined – correctly, apparently – that if Greece couldn’t pay its debt then they would be bailed out by the larger economies. And like a kid that got his hands on his parent’s credit card for the first time, Greece went nuts. In economic terms that’s called a moral hazard, and the latest bailout has only reinforced it.

This week’s announcement of yet another bailout will only exacerbate the moral hazard, and demonstrates the continued folly of the EU’s grand experiment with a common currency without a common fiscal policy.

Continuing to prop up Greece’s bloated government will not solve the problem. There are no good solutions, but the least bad option is for them to go bankrupt and solve the root of their problem, which is excessive government spending.

Instead, Germany and the rich EU nations are offering yet another loan to the demonstrably irresponsible, on condition that they raise taxes and cut spending. Unfortunately, only one of those conditions will help while the other will prove counterproductive. Leftist bleating about ‘austerity’ conflates tax hikes with spending cuts, but the former is bad for growth and saps the political will for belt tightening, while the latter is a proven path toward fiscal solvency.

What Greece needs is to tear down its bloated bureaucracy and insane regulatory regime, but that won’t happen so long as the EU continues acting as enabler.



March 2015



Obama’s Warped Perspective

Written by , Posted in Big Government

President Obama is calling on young people to have some perspective about this whole marijuana business. When asked in an interview with Vice about marijuana legalization, their audience’s “number one question,” he went into lecture mode:

First of all it shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority. Let’s put it in perspective. Young people, I understand this is important to you. But you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs. War and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.

So Obama wants to focus on issues where (he thinks) the public supports more power and control for government, and not an area where it clearly and in growing numbers wants less. Is anyone really surprised?

You have to give it to him. He is a committed ideologue. Nothing is more important than expanding the state.



February 2015



Safety is Overrated

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Culture & Society, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

Modern obsession with risk avoidance is threatening our liberty and harming the development of future generations. I explain in my most recent column at EveryJoe:

Society overrates the prevalence of criminal and physical dangers to children, so parents fail to realize that it is the relative safety of their own children in their day-to-day activities that even allows them to obsess about the smallest of dangers. The playground equipment that many of us grew up on and survived just fine, for instance, is being torn down or cemented into place by panicked governments, and replaced with safety-first boregrounds that no child wants to use.

Aggressively trying to eliminate all risk that children face is likely to create more problems than it solves. Overzealous government bureaucrats and helicopter parents that refuse to grant their children any independence are doing the next generation a disservice. Obsessing over even tiny risks leads to decisions that deprive children not only of fun, but of opportunities to learn independence, confidence, and self-reliance.

It’s not just little kids we’re coddling, either. Universities – once a bastion for free wheeling debate, intellectual confrontation, and experimentation – are increasingly stifling debate and insulating students from any difficult experience by insisting on so-called “safe spaces.”

Today, any time an event features a speaker that doesn’t toe the politically correct, “progressive” line, it faces ritual denunciation by students and faculty alike. Assuming a speaker is not outright disinvited, the event may be accompanied by school administered “safe spaces” and counseling services for student traumatized by the mere presence of different views, as happened last year at Brown when a debate participant had the audacity to oppose the dubious rape culture narrative.

You can read the rest here.



January 2015



Celebrating Gridlock

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Liberty & Limited Government, Waste & Government Reform

There was, predictably, a lot of end-of-year handwringing about Congressional gridlock and a lack of legislative productivity. In my recent column at EveryJoe, I explain why we should be celebrating gridlock instead of whining about it.

Chastising a session of Congress as “unproductive” due to gridlock has become a sort of tradition for statist media. Whenever a new year roles around, columnists and editorial boards begin wagging their figurative fingers at Congress for failing to meet some arbitrary threshold of activity, before sagely calling on the next session to do better.

…These arguments are not new. The same stories were written last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. They are also fallacious, suffering from flaws both logical and methodological.

…The whole exercise comes off as little more than poorly disguised concern trolling, where those with ideological axes to grind seek to discredit opponents without having to engage in the messiness of debating what policies are right or wrong.

You can read it all here.



January 2015



Who Wants an Internet Running at the Speed of Government?

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Government Meddling, Liberty & Limited Government

My most recent column for EveryJoe explains why the most recent proposals in the name of “net neutrality” are a bad idea.

Most agree that it would be bad for the internet if the service providers (ISPs) that connect users to the internet arbitrarily blocked or throttled access to certain sites. The internet has thrived as a bastion of freedom, and no one who appreciates the vast economic and social benefits derived from its emergence wants that to change. Yet due to their misunderstanding of both the architecture of the internet and the government’s interest in it, it is those who claim most loudly to want to save the internet that have put it in jeopardy.

By seeking to make the government arbiter of the net, agitators for regulation to enforce net neutrality would put responsibility for the net’s protection in the hands of those least capable of dealing with its complex and continuously evolving nature. To make matters worse, they would do so to fight off a largely imagined problem…

Read the rest here. I should add, because I may not have done a good enough job of this in the piece, that specific legislative proposals are not the same thing as ideas. You can get the warm and fuzzies over net neutrality (though as I argue in the piece there’s a lot of misunderstanding over even existing internet rules), and still not believe that government regulation is the way to go.

I also want to direct anyone looking for more info to TechFreedom.



December 2014



Perhaps the Most Important Issue for the New Congress to Get Right

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Economics & the Economy, Liberty & Limited Government, Taxes, Waste & Government Reform

My column this week at EveryJoe argues the need for reform at CBO and JCT. It may seem like inside baseball type stuff, but it is critically important if we ever want to be able to shrink government.

Imagine you were participating for years in a high stakes contest that was consistently rigged in favor of your opponent. Specifically, the contest hinges heavily on the verdict of third-party judges that claim neutrality, but in fact choose to interpret the rules in a way that tilts the field in favor of the opposition.

Now, image you have the opportunity to replace those judges with new ones, as well as to make their deliberations more transparent and accountable. Would you take advantage and replace the judges, even if the opposition cried foul? The answer to this question may seem obvious, but for Congressional Republicans it’s not just a hypothetical, and they are pondering once again making the stupid choice to accept the status quo.

The organizations represented by the biased judges in this scenario are the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), which score policy proposals and predict the impact of legislation on the economy. They’ve typically held tremendous power over what does and does not make it into law, and for years have been actively hostile to the limited government agenda.

With current CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf’s term about to expire, Republicans not only have the power to name a better replacement, but also the opportunity to make some much needed rule changes that will ensure a fairer, more accurate, and more accountable legislative scoring system.

You can read the rest here.

Since I wrote the piece, news has leaked that Republicans intend to replace Elmendorf. This is good news, but it’s only a start. As the article explains, much more needs to be changed than just the man at the top. This Washington Examiner editorial also makes the case for moving toward accurate scoring.



November 2014



Don’t Abolish Midterms Just Yet

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Election Time, Waste & Government Reform

A New York Times op-ed by a Duke professor and a student argues that midterm elections are passé. A cynic might conclude something about the timing of this realization – that it coincides with an election in which the party favored by academia (and the New York Times) is likely to receive an electoral shellacking. But the argument is worth taking at face value, so let’s consider it on the merits.

Schanzer and Sullivan say that midterms once made sense, but that times have changed. For one, they argue that the need for close electoral accountability has diminished thanks to modern technology:

Twitter, ubiquitous video cameras, 24-hour cable news and a host of other technologies provide a level of hyper-accountability the framers could not possibly have imagined. In the modern age, we do not need an election every two years to communicate voters’ desires to their elected officials.

Perhaps. Communicating with elected officials is certainly easier than ever before, as is taking the pulse of the electorate, but does greater access to public desires translate into legislative results? I find that politicians are most concerned about public views come election time. Longer terms for House members would thus reduce incentives for representatives to adhere to public desires.

Reading between the lines, one gets the impression that’s precisely what the authors want. They worry over the fact that “Americans’ confidence in the ability of their government to address pressing concerns is at a record low,” and grumble that the “main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president.” Indeed, it appears to be any obstacle to an imperial presidency that most motivates the authors.

“The realities of the modern election cycle,” they complain, “are that we spend almost two years selecting a president with a well-developed agenda, but then, less than two years after the inauguration, the midterm election cripples that same president’s ability to advance that agenda.”

In other words, this appears to boil down to the standard statist complaint over “gridlock.” Though they also throw in some identity politics for good measure:

Another quirk is that, during midterm elections, the electorate has been whiter, wealthier, older and more educated than during presidential elections. Biennial elections require our representatives to take this into account, appealing to one set of voters for two years, then a very different electorate two years later.

Again, a cynic might note that the kind of voters the authors would prefer politicians stop appealing to tend to favor an ideology and party that academia (and the media) loathes. But not to worry, they have a solution:

There’s an obvious, simple fix, though. The government should, through a constitutional amendment, extend the term of House members to four years and adjust the term of senators to either four or eight years, so that all elected federal officials would be chosen during presidential election years. Doing so would relieve some (though, of course, not all) of the systemic gridlock afflicting the federal government and provide members of Congress with the ability to focus more time and energy on governance instead of electioneering.

For many, anything that limits the energy politicians spend on governance – that is, the time spent imposing their whims on the rest of us – is likely to be a good thing. Gridlock, in other words, is a feature rather than a bug.

Political tools tend to be blunt instruments, and attempts to solve societal problems through the political process are often hamfisted and counterproductive. Certainly some problems need political solutions, but there is good reason for the process to be arduous and time consuming. The impulse of individual politicians in the face of any problem is to preen and overreact in order to demonstrate that they are “doing something.” It is up to institutions, then, to slow things down and force deliberation into the process. If midterm elections contribute to that process, then they are a net positive.



October 2014





September 2014



Is Government Threat of Punishment Keeping Private Universities from Cutting Tuition?

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Economics & the Economy, Education

Federal policies unquestionably deserve some blame for skyrocketing tuition costs. Washington subsidizes student borrowing, and colleges in turn raise prices to capture federal dollars. Higher prices put pressure on Washington to increase subsidies and the cycle repeats.

But there are obviously other forces at work as well. In a typical market you would expect competition to drive prices down, for instance. However, cutting prices doesn’t have the expected effect. Ike Brannon explains:

[W]hy don’t private colleges simply reduce tuition and reap the benefits? Indeed, a few colleges have done precisely that, and have been rewarded with a sharp spike in applicants the first year or two afterwards.

However, the gains from such a tuition reduction are short-lived: the typical pattern from a unilateral price cut is that by the third year the market has forgotten the gauzy rhetoric behind the price reduction and perceives the cut-rate tuition as an indicator of an inferior good, and applications decline.

Colleges in this way act as a Veblen good, meaning demand is proportional to price, rather than inversely proportional as we would expect from the law of supply and demand. Colleges with higher tuition are perceived as more prestigious and of higher quality and afford their alumni bragging rights. Thus, slicing tuition in a vacuum can reduce demand.

But one college president proposed a solution that would benefit consumers. Unfortunately, the government sprung to action and threatened him with legal repercussions:

Private colleges can cut tuition and avoid such a death spiral, but only if they do so in concert. However, the specter of a few dozen private colleges organizing to reduce prices — which might seem like an unmitigated good to parents — risks the ire of the Justice Department, which launched an investigation when a college president suggested such an idea at a public conference. College presidents don’t like being told by an officer of the government that they’re risking jail time, and any nascent discussions quickly ceased.

The government has criminalized “price fixing” in the name of protecting consumers. But as we see here, good intentions mean little once government bureaucrats with tunnel vision are brought into the equation. Regardless of the rule’s intent, prosecutors are prepared to punish colleges for potentially agreeing to lower tuition despite both its obvious benefit to consumers and the action’s alignment with stated policy goals.

Government policies helped create the problem of exorbitant tuition costs, and now it is actively working to prevent others from solving it. To quote Ronald Reagan, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”



August 2014



Risks Come in Many Forms

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Culture & Society, Foreign Affairs & Policy, Gun Rights, Liberty & Limited Government, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

The New York Times editorial board has some sound advice for Great Britain as it worries about the threat of home grown terrorists. It’s a serious problem, and one which the UK has largely invited on itself through a failed experiment in cultural appeasement that has only served to embolden extremism. Be that as it may, NYT editors are right to warn against overreactions that undermine civil rights by concluding that, “scrapping civil liberties should not be the first line of defense in a democracy.”

Terrorists pose a safety risk, and mitigating that risk should be done with respect to civil liberties rather than trampling them. But there are a great many risks in society, and unfortunately the NYT editorial board fails to consistently apply this principle on other issues. They have no problem curtailing rights for the illusion of security when doing so confirms their ideological biases, such as limiting speech in the name of removing money from politics, or scrapping the Second Amendment in the name of reducing violence.

In fact, just a day before sternly warning the Brits against overreacting to their homegrown extremism problem, the very same New York Times editorial board overreacted to a single gun accident caused by the irresponsibility of parents and an instructor that allowed a young girl who couldn’t handle the weapons and its kickback to shoot an Uzi, ultimately resulting in the instructor’s death. Not only did they use the unusual incident to finger wag at defenders of the Second Amendment and note in horror all the various ways in which gun enthusiasts enjoy their hobby, but they also demanded the restriction of rights in response. Citing a similar incident over half a decade ago (giving indication to  how rare these events are) where a young child accidentally killed himself at a gun range, the NYT editors praised his state of Connecticut for reacting by banning access to certain guns even at gun ranges for those under 16, regardless of the level of supervision, precautions taken, or capabilities of the shooter. They then lamented that there will be no “swift action in Arizona, where the gun culture is deeply entrenched.”

Rights are precarious things. They are at their most vulnerable when the populace is scared. The New York Times recognizes this when it comes to foreign threats, but fails to understand that domestic panics over extremely low risks of harm are just as dangerous.