Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Self-Evident Truths

  1. When politicians say they are ready to compromise they probably are not
  2. Economic growth in the US remains stubbornly mediocre and employment is a major problem
  3. World economic growth is slowing and could easily weigh negatively on US economic growth in coming months
  4. Accommodative monetary policy has been controversial but most of us understand that too low interest rates for too long is a major risk for economic growth
  5. Dealing with defaulted housing and other financial contracts must be accelerated yet if such policies result in a return to dangerous attitudes and practices in household and business debt, then we will have accomplished very little
  6. The fiscal cliff is deep but is only one of many. Once that one is skirted we remain at 3,000 meters
  7. The real fiscal challenge involves a more permanent fix to overcoming the economic risks associated with unsustainable national government deficits and debts
  8. Without pointing fingers it is clear than once a country reaches a point wherein a minority of citizens pays benefits to a majority of citizens, a democratic political system will be challenged to find ways to balance its budgets and accomplish its goals
  9. Pre-university education continues to fail to adequately prepare enough students for life’s challenges
  10. There is a very large group of friends and relatives who are not heterosexual and who very much want the same kinds of rights as other Americans.
  11. Too many school districts do not graduate even 50% of their students
  12. University education is becoming unaffordable
  13. We have more hope than reality when it comes to controlling costs of healthcare and pensions
  14. Notwithstanding women’s rights to choose no one wants risky surgery to become a form of birth control
  15. Immigration has always been a source of strength for the US but unfettered and illegal immigration will threaten security and social cohesion
  16. Mandate has more than one meaning. A look at Wikipedia says that a legitimate mandate occurs when a government wins election because of its promise to put in new specific policies. A second definition points out that a large margin of victory supports the notion of new specific policies that were part of the campaign.
As I write this we are one week beyond a major presidential election. We all know that the Democratic Party won the presidency by a large number of electoral votes but by a slim popular margin. The House and Senate remain respectively Republican and Democrat. Many Democrats are decrying a mandate – often expressed as a mandate to tax rich people at higher rates. Many Republicans have noted that a conglomeration of minority interests resulted in the Democratic victory and they worry about the loss of voice of the once-majority parts of America in the democratic process. Of course those brief sentences do not fully represent the feelings of most Democrats and Republicans.

These self-evident truths above imply that our nation has a lot of things to accomplish in the coming years. These truths also emphasize just how much we stand to lose if we fail to act. But failing to act is where we seem to excel. Hey mom we had a swim meet at school today and I decided to debate stroke mechanics with my coach and I missed my event. Sorry I didn’t compete.  That sounds pretty stupid. But that is exactly what we have been doing – and we pay those guys and gals in government handsomely to debate mechanics.

The above list was written in such a way that I at least tried to be objective. I know it is impossible to be totally objective as one who has since the age of 18 had a secret love thing for Ayn Rand. But I tried to lay things out in way that focuses on real challenges. I doubt, however, that the challenge statement is the problem. When we take off our Obama blinders and our Romney goggles we all know that this country needs a lot of work. So if that is true, then what is the problem? Why do we have such a dysfunctional government? 

The problem is that we have different approaches to solving these problems. These different ways are sometimes supported by very different assumptions about human instincts and behaviors. They are buttressed often by different religious beliefs. But those differences have always existed. Somehow Reagan worked with Democrats and Clinton worked with Republics. The history of legislation in the US is full if not dominated by parties working together to solve national problems and challenges.

I hear some of my Republican friends saying that we simply cannot compromise our basic beliefs. Some of them worry that the country is becoming too socialistic – too much run by government. Some of my Democrat friends point at the plight of the middle class and think that it is impossible to allow rich people to keep low tax rates. These are, I think, entrenched positions. Right now I am hearing and reading about too many people already drawing lines in the sand. A line in the sand means to me that the self-evident truths will take a back-seat to basic beliefs.

Both sides say the same thing – if we compromise then we will be kicking the can down the road and we will be worsening the country. So like good Tarheels from North Carolina, they dig in their heels for the good of the country.  These are not bad people. They care. 

But coming up with a solution is not necessarily a compromise. For example, aside from raising the tax rate on households and small businesses earning $250,000 per year, there might be other less disruptive ways to increase tax revenue from wealthy people. If we would earnestly work on this we might find ways to do this without causing unnecessary impacts of higher rates on the economy. Furthermore, some Democrats draw a line at Medicare and Social Security. But surely there are changes to recipients of these programs that would be less objectionable than others.  Finding a way to generate more tax revenue and finding other ways to slow the growth of government spending is a no-brainer. Finding these ways does not mean giving up on one’s core principles. It leads to advancing those principles because it means finding solutions to real problems.

But if people gain power in today’s society not by finding solutions but by being passionate and stubborn orators, then I suppose we will have lots of lines drawn in sand in a sandbox that will get smaller and smaller. I am not for compromise. I am not for kicking cans. I am not for giving up on principles. I think we can have all that and a solution. We just need to get away from the microphones and work hard at solutions.


  1. Hello, LSD. Back to the old game of solution hide and seek, eh? Or kick the can (down the road, down the road, down the road, down the road . . . . .)? Congress probably will reach several compromises in the next several months. Only the ones who got the best of the deal will be happy, and they have mostly been liberals since the New Deal. Compromise has not been helpful to this country as it has drifted ever more rapidly to socialism-lite. I’ve heard since the e-wreck-sion that Rs need to get with it and that the liberal/socialists will, due to some some-time-in-the-future economic calamity, see the errors and dire consequences of their profligate spending (helped along by some compromising Rs—gotta give credit where its due) and say “mea culpa.” But that won’t ever happen since the Fed is the world’s ATM: The liberals/socialists will never run out of OPM. So, it’s unlikely the liberal/socialists will ever see the error of their ways—particularly if go-along-to-git-along Rs continue to capitulate/compromise. It’s like ground hawg day and deja vu redux all over again.

    Rs need to stand their ground—no compromise on tax rates, no compromise on reduced govomit spending. Let the cliff be the dire consequences the liberals/socialists feel; I don’t care if the Rs get blamed—elections are two years away. Given the trend toward socialism, it doesn't matter if Rs ever run again for office—it’s over, baby, it’s over.

  2. Hi Charlie -- speaking of predictable -- you have once again stuck to your guns. Seems to me that your prognosis contributed to the outcome of the 2012 election. Despite what happened in 2010 I doubt more of the same by Rs will not help them in 2014. But if we are both alive at that time we can try to recall this conversation and decide who owes who a six-pack of prunes.

  3. I really don't see what is so hard about the whole situation. Government data shows repeatedly that an across-the-board reduction in marginal tax rates always leads to increased revenue to the national coffers. Even the hero of the Democrat Party.....I refuse to call it "Democratic" because it isn't.....JFK understood that phenomenon. Lower tax rates are not the problem; uncontrolled spending of the increased revenues is the problem. The whole argument orbits around "social justice." The rich must pay their "fair share" because............well, just because it's the right thing to do. Don't bother to take a logical approach. Emotion works better.

    I'm with Charlie. Somebody must stand their ground against increased tax rates and uncontrolled spending. I'm just not sure the Republicans are sold out 100% on those positions. The GOP is now chasing it's tail by buying into the argument that it must reach out to the demographic groups it lost so badly. The only way for it to do that is to become a Democrat Party Plus. Of course, then it becomes a battle of largesse, and we continue to dig that hole all the way to hell.

    1. Fuzzy,

      There is a big difference between supporting bad policies for demographic groups and reaching out to those groups. As I said in the last posting there is no sin in trying to improve understanding of the best ways to help people. Conservatives have one approach while liberals have another one. Conservatives can compete on that score and can make their case better for a conservative approach to education, immigration, abortion, or whatever. As far as spending and tax rates go -- I have never suggested that higher tax rates on the rich or unbridled spending is appropriate. Never once. But that is different than saying there isn't a way to legislatively solve the budget crisis.

  4. Dear LSD. You, too, have stuck to your blank-filled guns of compromise at any cost. Sticking to my predicable guns of no compromise might be construed as fatal—fine, let’s have liberty or not. It’s binary—one or a zero. This is time, once again, unfortunately, that try men’s souls—or convictions. Give me liberty or slow socialist death.

  5. Dear Charles,

    Read my blog again -- a little more slowly this time. I say point blank that there should be no compromise. I make a distinction between compromise and making progress on our worst problems. I am totally against higher income tax rates and totally for slowing government growth -- especially in Medicare and Social Security. But I guess that is too progressive for you. The zero-one approach works in checkers but alas with 300+ million people it just ain't gonna work.

  6. Lar, you can reach out to those "demographic" groups all you want, but your hand better have something in it if you want them to listen.

  7. Fuzzy,

    That greatly oversimplifies the richness of diversity among so-called demographic groups. All old people do not vote the same. The same is true for immigrants, young people, blacks, gays or any other demographic you want to name. The election was close. These people voted for McCain and Reagan and others in varying degrees. These issues are not as simple as giving away something. Many of them can be reached in other ways.

  8. Dear LSD. I’ve copied parts of your blog below after reading them very slowly, very slowly, repeatedly . . . to evidence that I’ve read it I’ve read it I’ve read it I’ve read it I’ve read it.

    “Finding a way to generate more tax revenue and finding other ways to slow the growth of government spending is a no-brainer. Finding these ways does not mean giving up on one’s core principles. It leads to advancing those principles because it means finding solutions to real problems.”

    “Read my blog again -- a little more slowly this time. I say point blank that there should be no compromise. I make a distinction between compromise and making progress on our worst problems.”

    I get what you say. I get what you say. I get what you say. I get what you say. This is what I say, and I repeat the position, principle I’ve previously made, as follows but not verbatim.

    You see progress as finding ways to agree without compromising principle. I find that contradictory because the liberal agenda has been successful only by Rs/conservatives giving a little here, a little there—in the spirit of kompromise. In doing so the Rs/conservatives have chipped away their core principles—so what part that is chipped away constitutes “not giving up on one’s core principles?” If the Rs/conservative agenda for less taxes and smaller govomit prevailed since the New Deal why then does the top 1% of taxpayers pay about 30% of income taxes (that’s not progressive enough according to the “wealthy have to pay more taxes” and they’re asking for more!!!!) and why has the govomit budget ballooned since to take a greater bite of GNP?

    “Finding a way to generate more tax revenue and finding other ways to slow the growth of government spending is a no-brainer.” What? What? If a no-brainer then why are we facing the fiscal cliff? . . . . because it is not a no brainer . . . . because the libs want more taxes at any cost and big govomit at all cost . . . it’s their DNA . . . and the Rs/conservatives want the exact opposite . . . their DNA. Any compromise by either side will kick the can down the road . . . . down the road . . . . down the road . . . . down the road . . . . get a good parachute for the trip to the floor. No compromise at all cost!

    1. Charles, Excellent summary of your position. It is nice the way that more discussion hones in on the real issues. The way you describe it now is much harder to deal with -- mostly because it is so complicated. I have lamented with you many times of the constant historical drone for larger government -- more spending and higher tax revenues to go with it. I criticized Bush for his so-called compassionate conservatism. What this proves is that in a large modern democratic country -- for this trend to occur over so many years -- the conservative has been unable to withstand the demands for ever-larger government. As you say compromise has not helped. But one has to wonder the impacts of not finding solutions. When you say at all cost -- I doubt you have many people with you. Mostly because people do not know what that means. My guess is that if there are solutions in the next years -- conservatives will be blamed for whatever cost comes. If liberals have won over the last 100 years to grow government, I wonder how conservatives are going to change that in 2013. I'd rather see conservatives continue to find good solutions. You want to call that a compromise but I don't. I think it would help if you would explain just how the no compromise approach will bring about a conservative victory.

  9. Well, I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree on this point. Personally, this election was bought more than it was won.

  10. Fuzzy -- that's always your prerogative.