Tax Increases or Books: A Library Fights Back

This video tells the tale of how Troy, Michigan’s public library cleverly and successfully fought back (with the help of an ad agency) against a Tea Party effort to shut it down in lieu of authorizing a 0.7% tax increase to keep it open. This story is probably a common one in the age of austerity. Although the election was almost two months ago, this is the first I heard of the campaign.

I’d like to believe that the Tea Partiers are sincere in their chagrin over the sense that they’ve lost control of their government. We on the left certainly can understand that. But they repeatedly show poor value judgment, as in this instance in Michigan. They can often seem to embody Oscar Wilde’s quip about a cynic knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. But they’re witless cynics if they don’t know that 0.7% added to a yearly tax bill is a very small price to pay for a library.

Does the Left Have a Patriotism Problem?

[I]t should not be lost on anyone that it is conservatives who typically carry around copies of our Constitution in their pockets. It is the Tea Party that refers relentlessly to the nation’s Founders. The movement’s very name invokes a key event in Revolutionary Era history to imply that there is a kind of illegitimacy to the current government in Washington akin to that of a king who once ruled the American colonies far from our shores. Representative Mike Pence of Indiana perfectly captured conservatives’ inclination to believe that their entire program is a recapitulation of the nation’s founding documents. “There’s nothing that ails this country,” Pence told a 2010 meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, “that couldn’t be fixed by paying more careful attention to the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.”

While the right was talking about history, liberals were talking about—well, health-care coverage, insurance mandates, cap-and-trade, financial reforms, and a lot of other practical stuff. One can offer a sympathetic argument here that progressives were trying to govern in a rather difficult moment and didn’t have time to go back to the books. But the left’s default was costly, and it was noticed by an editor of this journal in the spring of last year. “Beyond the circumscribed world of academic journals and conferences,” Elbert Ventura wrote in these pages, “history is being taught—on TV and talk radio, in blogs and grassroots seminars, in high school textbooks and on Barnes & Noble bookshelves. In all those forums, conservatives have been conspicuous by their activity—and progressives by their absence.” Ventura ended with this alarming coda: “If we don’t fight for history, progressivism itself will be history.”

E.J. Dionne, “Why History Matters to Liberalism

It’s almost accepted as a truism that people on the right in the US are more patriotic–or, at least, more comfortable with expressing patriotic sentiment–than people on the left. This is not too controversial a notion on left or right, though you will certainly find many in the Democratic Party full-throatedly denying that it’s based on fact. Liberal Democrats, they say, can get just as teary-eyed over “The Star Spangled Banner” as the most politically constipated Bircher. You will also hear among a certain kind of Democrat the sort of argument you hear among liberal Christians comparing themselves to fundamentalists, about the ersatz nature of right-wing patriotism compared to “real” liberal patriotism.

But I think most people would agree that those on the right are far more comfortable wrapping themselves in the flag than those on the left. To test that, ask yourself how you think the fellow in the photo below would feel about corporate tax rates, government regulation of companies’ CO2 emissions, federal investment in renewable energy sources or subsidization of early childhood education in the barrios of our Southwestern cities.

Image Continue reading

#OWS and #TeaParty: Is a Meeting of Minds Possible?

Mid-South Tea Party member Jan Allen stands in front of the sign-in desk at a meeting where two Occupy Memphis members were speaking, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, in Bartlett, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Van Jones tweeted a link to this blog post, which links to a news item about a meeting between #occupyMemphis and Mid-South Tea Party members,  which he apparently took to be a good sign. I share Jones’s optimism about the enormous potential for positive change in the search for common ground between these two movements. From the quotes in the news item, it’s clear that Jones and I are not alone Continue reading

#OWS Economics: Ron Paul on Wealth and Privileges

4. Government may not redistribute private wealth or grant special privileges to any individual or group.

–from The Ten Principles of a Free Society

Continuing my gradual critique of Ron Paul’s Ten Principles, the next in line is relevant to what I’ve been talking a lot about these past few weeks, the great impetus behind #OccupyWallStreet: income inequality.

It’s significant that the godfather of the Tea Party movement (the original form of it, anyway) includes wealth redistribution in his principles of liberty. It points up an area where these two movements can either come together or get driven apart.  There’s no question about where #ows stands on this point. Income inequality is a key symptom of the disease #0ws arose in response to, and one of its goals, I would argue,  is to force a correction of what it views this to be: a moral wrong. If Paul is any indication (and I’m sure he is), the Tea Party is not so much troubled by this gap as it is by the idea that government should try to close it. Continue reading

#TeaParty Rep. Loses Cool with Skeptical Constituents

Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois demonstrates his concept of representative democracy at a townhall held in a bar in his district last weekend. What exercised the Congressman’s patience was the suggestion, apparently popular among the unrattled attendees, that, as I suggested yesterday,  private banks were as much at fault for the depressed or recessed economy as politicians. Walsh displays the Tea Party mindset at its most rigid worst when he asserts that consistency of ideology is more important than accuracy of fact. He doesn’t want the people of his district to forget is that he will not stray from the Tea Party (Republican) line that  private interests are more important than the public interest.

The bottom line: The people get it. Some politicians don’t and don’t want to get it.

PS: Perhaps the most astonishing moment of this video is when Walsh says, “”What has made this mess is your government­, which has demanded for many years that everybody be in a home.” Is a Tea Party Republican actually blaming the American dream of universal home ownership for the economic mess? Is he really suggesting that the American dream is the product of government rather than of individuals? Setting aside the question of whether or not this is right, this seems to be a startling position for a conservative, pro-market, pro-individualist to be taking. I wonder if this will be a new shade of conservatism: anti-American Dream libertarianism.

 

#OWS Economics: Who’s to Blame?

Here’s an interesting video from a Texas-based libertarian, John Barksdale (my spelling may be incorrect), who calls himself order9066. I’m impressed with the research he put into this subject, and I take his point very well that it was not just Republicans who were responsible for throwing out the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prohibited financial holding companies insured by the FDIC from owning other companies engaged in financial speculation such as Wall Street investment firms or insurance companies, with the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999.

While this video does serve as a corrective for the idea that Democrats share little or no blame in the gutting of New Deal protections that set-up the disaster of 2008, it goes overboard in pushing Republicans into the background of the blame picture. After all, the three authors and main sponsors of the bill were all Republicans, and both houses of Congress were, in fact, controlled by the GOP.  But it does highlight two main points: The fingerprints of “Third Way” Democrats in Clinton’s White House (including Clinton himself, of course) are as much in evidence on the financial deregulation of the late 1990s as the Republicans’ are; and Congressional Democrats were ineffective, at best, in preventing (and, at worst, complicit in bringing on) Glass-Steagall’s demise. Continue reading

Unleash the Entrepreneurs?

US Chamber of Commerce's major contribution to jobs creation dialog: A giant banner taunting the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue.

What’s wrong with this rosy picture of entrepreneurship painted by the Manhattan Institute’s Edward L. Glaeser in his article “Unleash the Entrepreneurs” at City Journal?:

Three years have passed since the financial crisis of 2008, and unemployment rates remain painfully high. As of August 2011, America employed 6.6 million fewer workers than it did four years earlier. To try to fix the problem, the Obama administration has pursued a variety of Keynesian measures—above all, the huge stimulus package of 2009, which included not only direct government spending but also such features as tax credits for home buyers and temporary tax cuts for most Americans.

Such policies ignore a simple but vital truth: job growth comes from entrepreneurs—and public spending projects are as likely to crowd out entrepreneurship as to encourage it. By putting a bit more cash in consumers’ pockets, the tax cuts in the stimulus package may have induced a bit more car- and home-buying, but the next Steve Jobs is not being held back by too little domestic consumer spending. Tax credits for home buyers and the infamous program Cash for Clunkers encourage spending on old industries, not the development of the new products that are likelier to bring America jobs and prosperity.

Unemployment represents a crisis of imagination, a failure to figure out how to make potential workers productive in the modern economy. The people who make creative leaps to solve that problem are entrepreneurs. If we want to bring America’s jobs back, our governments—federal, state, and local—need to tear down barriers to entrepreneurship, create a fertile field for start-up businesses, and unleash the risk-taking innovators who have always been at the heart of our economic growth.

Isn’t the default position of American economic policy precisely what Glaeser is selling as the solution to the nation’s economic problems? It looks to me like advocating hitting oneself in the head with a baseball bat to prevent injuries caused by hitting oneself in the head with a hammer.  Glaeser and all “free marketers” are slaves to the notion that entrepreneurship in itself is a panacea for all economic and social ills. What they seem to ignore is that some entrepreneurship can cause economic and social ills. As an example, consider the many franchise-based companies (think food-service) that pay their employees unlivable wages with flimsy benefits packages, forcing many  to supplement their incomes with public services like food stamps or to use emergency rooms as primary doctors offices. Continue reading

Liberals Are Terrified of #OccupyWallStreet

TNR: Liberals should be nervous

Picking up where we left off yesterday, The New Republic has now offered its official two cents on the protests on Wall Street and, as one would expect of the stuffy self-appointed organ of the liberal power elite inside the Beltway, it disapproves.

[T]o draw on the old cliché, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Just because liberals are frustrated with Wall Street does not mean that we should automatically find common cause with a group of people who are protesting Wall Street. Indeed, one of the first obligations of liberalism is skepticism—of governments, of arguments, and of movements. And so it is important to look at what Occupy Wall Street actually believes and then to ask two, related questions: Is their rhetoric liberal, or at least a close cousin of liberalism? And is this movement helpful to the achievement of liberal aims?

This task is made especially difficult by the fact that there is no single leader who is speaking for the crowds, no book of demands that has been put forward by the movement. Like all such gatherings, it undoubtedly includes a broad range of views. But the volume of interviews, speeches, and online declarations associated with the protests does make it possible to arrive at some broad generalizations about what Occupy Wall Street stands for. And these, in turn, suggest a few reasons for liberals to be nervous about the movement.

The Editors responsible for the unsigned editorial then go on to outline the differences between #ows’s radicalism and TNR’s proper liberalism (the former is dreamy, “group-thinky” and utopian, the latter skeptical, pragmatic and pro-capitalist) , before urging liberals to stay the hell away. Continue reading