Yesterday Greece said “no” to the EU in an election in which “yes” was not an option and the world treats the vote as news. It is not news. It is “olds” as it is long since past the time that there was ever any hope of Greece regaining solvency and paying its debts.
Now we have the spectacle of both sides yelling past each other. Thomas Piketty takes the Hellenic side that Germany should forgive Greece’s debt while Stephen Moore says that Greece should just declare bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is debt relief. Whatever you call it, the creditor isn’t getting all of his money back. But neither is the debtor going to get any further infusions of cash.
So let’s look past all the hyperventilation and see where all this is likely to lead:
1. Greece is euphoric today about yesterday’s vote, but soon Greece is going to find what real austerity looks like. What it called austerity before was really just not getting as much free money as it wanted. Now it will get none. Greece basically is the adult child without a job who rebels against his German parents, even as the child is totally reliant on an allowance. Yelling, “You can’t tell me what to do!” may have felt good yesterday, but without access to the parents’ trust fund, they don’t have anything else to live on.
2. Greece can’t leave the Euro. Sure it can exit the Eurozone and go back to printing the drachma, but its past debts and future purchases are not denominated in drachmas. Gasoline is not sold in drachmas. Neither is natural gas, iron, timber, or anything else. Aside from some agricultural products, Greeks must import most everything they need and pay for it in a currency not of their own creation. This is why the “let’s just devalue” crowd is always wrong about devaluation being a path to plenty. If it were, Argentina would be a booming paradise. (Foreboding warning to Greece: Argentina has a lot more natural resources than does Greece.)
3. Socialism doesn’t die until it kills off everything else first. Fresh off its “victory” the Tsirpas government will not bow to realists in his own country and instead will steal everything they can from Greece’s upper class. The result will be a flight of capital and talent until there is none left. So while ultimately it didn’t matter how Greece voted yesterday, the resounding “no” vote was the worst possible outcome since it emboldens Syriza, a party whose platform apparently is to oppose math.
4. The EU is stronger without Greece. This is true not necessarily because Europe would be without the dead weight of Greece, but because Greece’s exit will be a cautionary tale to the other PIGS. When the reality sets in about how desperately out of money Greece is, when the country no longer has cheap credit available to it, when devaluation after devaluation takes its toll on the country, none of the remainder of the EU will soon seek a similar fate. Greece is about to find that it is the bum on the street corner holding the “will work for food” sign. (And just like the real bum on the corner, by “work” it doesn’t mean actual work until it has ran out of every other option.)
5. There will be no rush of new EU members. Countries on the fence about joining the common currency will see from Greece’s plight that it is much more difficult to unwind from the euro than it is to never join it in the first place. And Europe has seen that it better be careful about whom it lets into its club. Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Poland may soon become strong enough to become full fledged members of the Eurozone, but will Europe want them? Britain and Sweden already are strong enough, but neither is silly enough to want it. Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Montenegro are in even worse shape than Greece. And Hungary and Romania, in addition to having economic difficulties, are beset with internal political problems–which goes without saying since internal political problems always have an adverse economic effect. In other words, the EU is about as big as it is ever going to get.
6. Relations between Germany and Greece aren’t nearly as bad now as they are going to get. Starved for hard currency, Greeks, who already hate Germany, now will have to get used to being subservient to individual German tourists who are drawn there for cheap vacations while they feast inexpensively on delights that the Greeks themselves no longer can afford. Meanwhile, the Germans are about to have even more reason to be mad at the Greeks when Athens refuses to reimburse Germany for its 2010 and 2012 bailouts that most rank-and-file German never supported in the first place. Ironically, relations between the two countries would have been much better had Germans never bailed them out five years ago.
Because we always must heed the law of unintended consequences, Americans–particularly Republicans–probably should be more circumspect in their calls for the government to erect a border fence.
We live in a time when the American economy no longer is a beacon to the world’s entrepreneurs and when members of both parties want to implement laws inhibiting American companies from relocating overseas.
It would be a shame if a border fence, once built, wasn’t necessary to keep foreigners out, but instead became a convenient means of keeping Americans in.
Jonathan Gruber, a paid White House Obamacare consultant, said that “Seniors do a terrible job choosing health care plans.” A slide deck he circulated in 2013 claimed “12 percent of seniors allegedly picked the lowest-cost Medicare Part D plan and could on average save up to 30 percent more.”
Gruber seems to be saying that if one-in-eight adults make (what he perceives to be) a bad choice, then the government should step in and dictate what eight out of eight adults should choose.
Shorter version: You’re too stupid to know what’s best for you.
Ron Fournier doesn’t like being lied to:
Appearing on an academic panel a year ago, [Jonathan Gruber] argued that the law never would have passed if the administration had been honest about the fact that the so-called penalty for noncompliance with the mandate was actually a tax.
“And, basically, call it ‘the stupidity of the American voter,’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass,” Gruber said.
He called you stupid. He admitted that the White House lied to you. Its officials lied to all of us—Republicans, Democrats, and independents; rich and poor; white and brown; men and women.
Liberals should be the angriest. Not only were they personally deceived, but the administration’s dishonest approach to health care reform has helped make Obamacare unpopular while undermining the public’s faith in an activist government. A double blow to progressives.
Right up to the last sentence I made the same point in March of this year:
Progressives believe that they know better than others how others should live their lives. That makes Progressivism inherently anti-democratic and requires that its adherents subvert truths and manipulate rules to advance their ends.
Democratic governments follow where their people lead. Progressive governments—those led by people who see popular opinion as wrong—lead their people in a direction that they do not want to go. When the subterfuge is discovered, or when the unpopular project spectacularly fails, popular opinion turns viciously against the Progressive.
What Fournier gets wrong is that he de-links the lying from progressivism. They can’t be separated. That is because progressivism cannot survive without the lies–at least not in a democratic society.
Definitionally, progressivism is the belief that an enlightened elite knows better how people should live their lives than the people know themselves. The progressive views government as a tool for leading the populace toward change, whereas the democrat (small “d”) views government as responsive to what the people want. In other words: a democratic government does what the people want it to do, while the progressive government demands that the people do what it wants them to do, whether they want it or not.
When a minority wants the government to do what a majority does not wish to do, the minority has a choice: it can make the case to persuade, or it can lie. Since progressivism requires that the majority subvert its will to what its leaders want, its only option, if progressivism is to succeed, is to lie.
Even as he supported the intent of the law, Fournier finally admits “Obamacare was built and sold on a foundation of lies.” If he takes a step back, he will have to see that it is not just Obamacare that is built on a foundation of lies; it is progressivism itself.
So, contra Fournier’s assertion, the progressive will not be bothered at all by Gruber’s lying–except for his having been caught. The question facing Ron Fournier going into the future, is that now that he has found himself duped by the Administration and its allies’ lies, will he allow himself to play the part of the useful idiot the next time?
Here’s another “Kinsley Gaffe” from Herr Gruber:
Obamacare was “a very clever, you know, basically [sic] exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.”
A month ago I postulated that the President did not give into Republican demands to delay Obamacare, even when it was becoming obvious that Obamacare was not ready for rollout, because of his arrogant, personal hatred for the GOP (It’ not business; it’s strictly personal).
Jonah Goldberg offers a more damning alternative. (Hat tip: Glenn)
“Why Obama didn’t do this and why it didn’t occur to him are good questions. Hubris obviously played a role, as it does in nearly everything this White House does. But the best answer is he didn’t know how terrible things were over at HHS.”
Occam’s Razor tells us that the simplest explanation is usually right. And in this case, the simplest explanation may be that the President really didn’t know just how screwed up was the execution of his signature legislative accomplishment. That he really did think that just by passing the law that America’s health care would be better. That he thought that just by throwing $600 million at a software system was enough to guarantee success. The simplest explanation, therefore, may be that the man is just incompetent.
That is also the scariest explanation.
Remember a couple weeks ago I said that it was purely for personal reasons that the President would not compromise by asking for a one-year budget deal in exchange for giving Republicans a one-year delay in Obamacare? Well the President only got a 90-day budget deal and it looks like it is his side that now needs an Obamacare delay.
If Republicans really want to destroy Obamacare, they would assure the Administration that there is no chance that Congress will obstruct the President’s signature plan.
Republicans want a delay in Obamacare. Because of the many significant problems with the rollout of Obamacare, and because he has delayed parts of the law himself some 19 times, President Obama should want a delay in Obamacare too. One year gives Democrats an opportunity to fix systemic errors in the software, the regulations, and the law. One year gives nothing at all to the Republicans–nothing–except the opportunity to crow a little bit.
That the President can’t compromise in a way that gives him everything he wants, plus the extra time he needs, is not about business. It’s strictly personal.
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link. While you’re here, take a look around.
MORE: Allahpundit and Evan McMurray dissect Wolf Blitzer’s wonderment that it isn’t the Democrats who are the ones begging for a year’s delay.
Exit question: Do national Democrats hate the Tea Party so much that they would take all the (well-deserved) negative reaction over the Obamacare Follies rather than to give in on just the delay even while it benefits them more than Republicans in the long run?
ALSO: Thanks to Ed and Moe.
With a weekend to digest recent events, I have concluded that Newtown is really just the continuation of that timeless discussion regarding the correct balance of individual rights and responsiblities against the ability and wisdom of government to control events.
An obviously mentally unstable man steals some firearms and kills more than two dozen of the most defenseless victims. Immediately, as after all such events, there goes up a cry for more restrictions on the individual ownership of guns. However, even if that were the right course of action, as John Fund points out, in a country that contains over 200 million privately owned firearms, prohibition is not possible. To outlaw gun ownership would be as futile (not to mention damaging to the cause of limiting violence) as would be an attempt to return 11 million illegal aliens to their homelands or a second attempt at the prohibition of alcohol. Some things are just too entrenched to ever completely end.
Another group has argued for a greater ability of the government to diagnose and detain mentally ill individuals. While certainly there is great merit in having a serious adult conversation about the role of mental illness in violent crime, proposals to return to an era of committing people to the Cuckoo’s Nest, are as fraught with societal danger as are proposals to ban guns. Granting to government the power to forcibly hospitalize the mentally ill who might perform violent acts is as anathema to the American way, as giving government the power to imprison those who might commit a crime. Just how many scores of thousands of imprisoned innocently insane is the right number to save the lives of the next score of innocent children?
If phrasing the trade-off that way doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then I suggest that you don’t have an appreciation for what the American ideal of freedom means. Our system was purposefully designed to default to government inaction and individual freedom. While it is understandably frustrating to victims and their families, our rules prefer that the guilty go free rather than to wrongfully imprison an innocent man. That is no less true for the criminally insane than it is for the just plain criminal.
Shit happens. Sorry to so crassly phrase it, but that’s just the way life is. As we grow more technologically advanced, we have had great success in controlling–even eliminating–some of that shit. Smallpox is completely gone. Polio is rare. Malaria is almost non-existent outside of the third world. The same is true of hunger–the real, dying of starvation kind. We have even the ability to screen out telemarketers without ever touching the phone.
While shit still happens, less of it happens than happened before. So it is not surprising that we look around for other shit to stop. But sometimes in our zeal to stop it all, we lose sight of the trade-offs. How many millions of man-hours of economic productivity, for example, are lost every day in airport security lines in an effort to stop a hijacking that takes place less often than once-a-year?
Rare tragic events sharpen the focus more clearly than does the every day cost of preventing them. I remember a couple dozen years ago the sad story of an airplane lap child who died when he struck the bulkhead during turbulence. Immediately a cry went out to require infant seats on aircraft. In one of those uncommon examples of when Washington considers the whole issue–that which is unseen as well as that which is seen–Congress wisely chose not to act. I say wisely, not because I wish for infants on airplanes to die, but because a serious analysis of ALL of the facts indicated that the solution would lead to more deaths than it would save. That was because if parents were forced to buy an extra ticket for their infant, some significant percentage of them would opt to drive rather than to fly. And by driving, they would make their infant child far more susceptible to accidental death. Shit happens. And sometimes we just have to let it happen, because in trying to stop it, we inadvertently add to the pile of shit.
So what should we do to mitigate the risk of shit? Confiscation, as Ed Schultz suggests? Only if you want criminals to act with less caution, not to mention the real risk of igniting a civil war. Outlaw automatic weapons as Rupert Murcoch demands? It wouldn’t have helped as they were already outlawed in 1934 and Mr. Lanza’s weapons were not automatic. Reinstituting the “assault weapons” ban that limits the size of magazines as Senator Schumer wants? That wouldn’t have helped either; as Mr. Lanza reportedly overcame that limitation by having “hundreds of rounds of ammunition in multiple magazines.” Enforce tighter restriction on gun possession by the mentally ill? That might be worth analyzing, but it still wouldn’t have helped here, as apparently Mr. Lanza shot his own mother dead and then stole her guns. More cops in schools? There are 132,000 schools in the nation; even ignoring the $13 billion additional cost, is 132,000 new police really going to stop the violence? In a mall in Clackamas it apparently only limited, but did not stop, the bloodshed. Add to the list of places where guns are illegal? They are already illegal in schools; perhaps that is why schools and other gun-free zones are such a target-rich environment.
In epidemiology there is a concept known as “herd immunity.” If enough of the population is vaccinated, epidemics can’t occur. Even the uninnoculated benefit because their vaccinated neighbors prevent a disease’s spread from getting out of control. Herd immunity doesn’t stop the disease, but it does stop its spread. The evidence of recent gun violence suggests that if enough law abiding citizens are armed, the death toll of mass murder events may similarly be limited by a form of herd immunity. It is worth considering that the answer to gun violence is the counter-intuitive: more guns.
But what I would even more strongly suggest is that more restrictions on individuals is a worse response than doing nothing. Whether it is to leave a hundred million citizens more susceptible to everyday violent acts because, unarmed, they are at the mercy of armed criminals, or to add to the already swollen number of Americans forcibly detained, any heavy-handed governmental reaction to events such as what occurred in Newtown is likely to be worse than the problem it is meant to cure.
Government was never meant to be the last line of defense against evil. We individuals are. We are the militia. That is the meaning of the Second Amendment. Shit happens. And when it does, hopefully enough of our herd is ready to deal with it before shit gets out of control.
Guy Benson echoes a similar theme:
I’m skeptical that proposing more grief-fueled laws is a meaningful solution. And even if one could accurately project that passing Gun Law X would save Y number of lives, where do Constitutional rights come into play, and who gets to weigh those factors? If curtailing the First Amendment could also be scientifically proven to save some quantifiable number of lives, would we tolerate additional government limits on those core, specifically-enumerated freedoms? These are extraordinarily difficult questions.
Megan McArdle does too:
What Lanza shows us is the limits of the obvious policy responses. He had all the mental health resources he needed–and he did it anyway. The law stopped him from buying a gun–and he did it anyway. The school had an intercom system aimed at stopping unauthorized entry–and he did it anyway. Any practical, easy-to-implement solution to school shootings that you could propose, along with several that were not at all easy to implement, was already in place. Somehow, Lanza blew through them all.
. . . It would certainly be more comfortable for me to endorse doing something symbolic–bring back the “assault weapons ban”–in order to signal that I care. But I would rather do nothing than do something stupid because it makes us feel better. We shouldn’t have laws on the books unless we think there’s a good chance they’ll work: they add regulatory complexity and sap law-enforcement resources from more needed tasks. This is not because I don’t care about dead children; my heart, like yours, broke about a thousand times this weekend. But they will not breathe again because we pass a law. A law would make us feel better, because it would make us feel as if we’d “done something”, as if we’d made it less likely that more children would die. But I think that would be false security. And false security is more dangerous than none.
For McArdle’s crime of pointing out the obvious truth–nothing that gun control advocates have proposed would have stopped Mr. Lanza’s murderous spree–New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait awards her the “Worst Newtown Reaction Award.” I urge you to read his column, and then, if you can stomach it, read the comments. There really are two Americas. And Chait and his readers apparently have never stepped foot in the America west of the Hudson River.
Daniel Greenfield offers his thoughts on individual rights and responsibilities versus the government’s ability to control events:
The clash that will define the future of America is this collision between the individual and the state, between disorganized freedom and organized compassion, between a self-directed experiment in self-government and an experiment conducted by trained experts on a lab monkey population. And the defining idea of this conflict is accountability.
The headline unemployment rate fell below 8% percent for the first time in nearly four years to 7.8%. Good news, right? Not really. Buried in the report is the reason for the decline:
” . . . total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 114,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.
“The number of unemployed persons, at 12.1 million, decreased by 456,000 in September.”
Wait: How can unemployment fall by an amount equal to four times the number of newly employed people? Simple. If you stop looking for work, you’re not unemployed.
Because of population increases America needs to see between 150,000 and 180,000 new jobs added each month just to stay even. We’re nowhere near that:
“In 2012, employment growth has averaged 146,000 per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011.”
September job growth is below this year’s average, which has fallen slightly from last year’s average. Simply put: new jobs aren’t being created at a rate that sustains a vibrant economy. This is not a recovery. And it never has been.
Republicans upset over President Obama’s decision to ignore the illegal immigration of hundreds of thousands of young foreigners should be overjoyed by the precedent the President sets. Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor asserts that by ignoring Congress, Obama is “reshaping the power of the presidency.” Actually, he is just re-asserting a power the presidency had long exercised until relatively recent history. While I happen to believe that the United States would be better off with greatly expanded legal immigration opportunities, even those conservatives of a more xenophobic persuasion should find plenty to like about Obama’s Friday announcement.
The decision to cease enforcing particular provisions of immigration law was not, as some commentors have asserted, a presidential usurpation of legislative power. The Executive branch is not making law, as was the case when it attempted to declare carbon dioxide to be a pollutant in violation of the powers granted to the EPA by Congress. Instead, this is a case where the President disagrees with a law on the books, and thus unilaterally decides not to carry it out.
We have a long history of a passive aggressive presidency. Thomas Jefferson refused to spend $50,000 to buy gunboats to patrol the Mississippi River and America’s border with the French colony on its western bank when his purchase of Louisiana in 1803 made moot that border. I’m sure there was some Congressman in whose district those boats were to be made who objected to this first use of presidential impoundment power. Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge were both famously cool toward the idea of enforcing the Volstead Act outlawing alcohol. Grover Cleveland didn’t fill numerous appointments, believing that government payrolls had grown bloated through patronage and spoils.
Since the very beginning of our Nation’s founding, there has been (by design) a healthy tension between the Legislative branch, which writes laws, and the Executive Branch, which executes those laws. Laws were only de facto valid when they were both on the books and willingly enforced. As every law is a limit upon the people, this created a very high barrier to restrictions on individual rights. In modern parlance we would say that it is a “feature, not a flaw,” as the tension between the branches reinforces the desired ideal that the default position of the federal government is inaction.
If President Obama’s frustration over a “do nothing” Congress prompts him to respond with a “do nothing” government, then I’m all for it. Imagine the good that could be done if a Republican president used Obama’s precedent: By not filling tens of thousands of authorized positions, he could shrink the size of government. By refusing to enforce some environmental regulations, he could remove barriers to economic growth and greater employment. By canceling unnecessary weapon systems, he could remove the influence of earmarks from the defense budget.
Instead of complaining about Obama’s decision, conservatives should applaud anything which increases government inaction. Meanwhile Democrats who applaud the President’s decision for the short-term advantage it might give them, should be very wary of handing a precedential hammer to a future Republican president who could use it to smash big government.
Thanks for the links from Glenn, Rand, and Allah. And thanks all for the comments. I expected this post to produce some complaints. Let me address some of them as they generally boil down to a few general ideas:
Liberals don’t respect precedent when it goes against them. That’s a matter of opinion, and somewhat irrelevant. However, if I were offering advice to the Romney campaign (I’m on active duty so I can’t do that) I would tell them to respond to this presidential move by listing the laws that he intends to ignore as soon as he becomes president. Commenter Smart Dude says: “Call this ‘The Obama Rule’ and shove this right in the[ir] face. . . There have to be a thousand insane regulations that need not to be enforced. Start with the War on Coal and the shutting down of irrigation water to Western agriculture.” I’m sure that Romney could score many political points with this approach, particularly in the realms of spending and environmental restrictions. Additionally, there is much entertainment value in this approach, as American voters would have the fun of watching David Axelrod contort himself explaining why ignoring one set of laws is good while ignoring another set of laws is wrong.
Conservatives believe in the rule of law; and this measure violates that. This is why I hate labels. There are those who believe in a strong legal system that punishes miscreants; they are often called “conservative.” There are those who believe in a legally enforeable system that regulates morality and they are often called “conservative.” There are those who believe that government should allow individuals maximum latitude and that individuals should rise and fall on the consequences of their actions; they too are often called “conservatives.” I could offer a dozen other depictions of conservative beliefs, half of which would conflict with the other half. Instead, I dispense with those labels and use “more individualism” versus “more centralization” when it comes to who gets to exercise power. So while I believe in “law and order,” I am always cognizant of the fact that law is not an established fact but a transitory event. Free men should always question whether or not a law still makes sense. And if one determines that it does not, it is his duty to violate it. (Believe me, I’ve lived a half-dozen years in a country where people did not believe that way, and 70 years later, they’re still confronting the ugliness of their inaction.) Does it still make sense to prohibit employment and education opportunities to American residents who, through no fault of their own, came to the States as minors and have been raised as Americans? I don’t think so. Similary, does it make sense to prohibit the reconstruction of a reservoir that provides literal sustenance to a community because a bird is threatened? Again, I don’t think so. Some laws are so intuitively stupid that they deserve breaking. And guess what: if you disagree, you get a vote next November and every fourth November after that.
It is an unconstitutional usurpation of legislative authority. I’ve mentioned several historical examples of why presidents have ignored the law. I don’t think that any of those were considered to be unconstitutional at the time. (Admittedly, the end of impoundment is a pet peeve of mine; to understand why, you only have to have spent one September as a government employee.) To one degree or another, executives of any organization have to prioritize what it is that their organization will do. My background is the army. If a company commander were to comply with every directive, order, regulation, and mandate that came before him, he would have no time remaining to actually train his soldiers. His soldiers’ time instead would be consumed by diversity training, dental appointments, and half-day Thursdays. Every new “good idea” seemingly requires a four-hour annual block of instruction. The military is no different from society at large. Complying with the myriad rules (and often contradictory rules, at that) exhausts the ability of an executive to execute anything meaningful. Hence, the job of the modern executive is to determine which rules one can “get away with” violating on the way to actually accomplishing something. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. This precedent recognizes that fact.
Thanks to all commenters, and keep the comments coming in.
Jim Delong pens this: “Broad illegality is also useful to maximize bureaucratic discretion. Make everything illegal, and then pick and choose what to enforce.” That’s a horrific vision of the future (present?) wherein everything is subject to the whims of whomever is elected. Thus, it’s a valid criticism of what I have written. Although, more precisely, it’s an indictment of the legislative branch, although not without the complicity of the executive. If we are there, then, well, God help us.
BTW, Jim Delong has a new book out. I bought it and like what I’ve found so far.