“Politicians treat firefighters like pawns. When my house burned down, I learned how valuable public servants can be.”
That’s the tagline of an article on Salon.com titled “Thank God for Taxes.” Naturally the author cannot imagine how firefighting could be better as a private business. It never occurs to him. He just praises public “servants” and calls for more taxes.1
If Andrew Leonard could imagine private firefighting at all, he would probably imagine something like the rival firefighters in 19th century America that fought violently over who would get to put out the fire while the house burned down. But of course, this was caused not by a free market in firefighting but rather a combination of public property (fire hydrants, roads), lack of private property rights enforcement (sabotaged fire engines), and political machines (Tammany Hall) — politicians like Boss Tweed using neighborhood firefighting departments for their own political gain.
We don’t want your money,
let the motherfucker burn!
Or he might imagine private firefighters refusing to put out a fire until the owner paid some astronomical fee, which the owner couldn’t afford on the spot. In fact, he might vaguely recall an incident in Tennessee last December2 in which firefighters let a home burn down because the owner failed to pay a mere $75. “This is what would happen in a free market!” he’d cry, not recalling, or never bothering to learn, the details of the incident. But this was a government firefighting department rigidly adhering to bureaucratic internal rules,3 as government agencies are wont to do, not a private business responding to profit incentives.
Roger Ebert gives his two cents (for what that’s worth these days; thanks Fed!) on the Occupy Wall Street movement, if you care to subject yourself to the inane political views of a mainstream-leftist movie reviewer. What I found interesting was the comic at the end of his article:
I have a PhD in political science, and I can tell you it doesn’t take passing Poli Sci 101 to realize that electoral politics is no way to bring about radical change.
One would think the left-liberals in this country would understand that better than most. Obama was their great Hope-and-Change candidate, an alleged outsider destined to change the way corrupt Washington works, and look how he turned out: Bush 2.0. But I guess the memories of unthinking, incorrigible statists are short — extremely short. Their great self-delusion: If only we can get the right people into power…
If you seek power over others, how much of an advantage does raw intelligence gain you?
If you look at the makeup of the U.S. Congress — which now has a 9% percent approval rating — or if you watch the Republican debates, you are not immediately inclined to label either the smart set. In fact, you have to be a dim bulb to repeatedly say many of the things that seem necessary for electability. On the other hand, a certain amount of cleverness is obviously necessary to outwit the media and your opponents.
Which is it? Two films that explore the relationship between power and brains are “Being There” (1979) and “Limitless” (2011). The films came out thirty years apart but deal with the same issues. “Being There” suggests that being dumb as a chicken is a huge advantage for those who seek political success. “Limitless” suggests that politics is the inevitable trajectory of a person who is far more intelligent than everyone else. Which is more realistic?
I’ll state my own view up front: politics is a gigantic waste of brains. If a person really has a gift for high-level thought, almost any profession would be a greater better to society and probably more self-fulfilling in the long run. Whereas it was probably once true that the political life attracted some of the best and brightest, it no longer seems true at all today.
“Being There” is both hilarious and serious, worth sitting down with at least once every few elections seasons. Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine star in this adaptation of a novel by Jerzy Kosinski about an illiterate and simple-minded man named Chance who happened to be in the right place at the right time. His utterances are few and most concern what he has done his entire life, which has been to tend one garden on one estate and otherwise watch television. [Keep reading…]
[I just posted this on Google+, but I figured it was worth posting here as well.]
The debt ceiling is just for show; it hasn’t stopped the federal debt from increasing and politicians just keep raising the ceiling when it’s reached.
Failing to raise the debt ceiling will not necessarily result in default. The federal government has plenty of revenue to cover interest payments, even if it must shift that money out of other parts of the budget. Any claims of immediate default and imminent financial collapse are disingenuous fearmongering designed to fool a gullible and economically ignorant public and force an increase of the debt ceiling and an increase in taxes.
Tax cuts are not the reason for the debt crisis — spending is. Spending in excess of revenue is the cause of any debt, public or private. The federal government has been increasing spending with and without tax cuts for a very long time, under both parties.
The CBO’s inclusion of tax cuts as a major source of current and future federal debt is disingenuous. Why?
- Tax cuts are not spending anymore than tax breaks are subsidies (sorry Rachel Maddow).
- All of that estimated debt increase can be eliminated by cutting spending without eliminating tax cuts or raising taxes!
The solution is not to eliminate tax cuts and loopholes, let tax cuts expire, or raise taxes. Increasing taxes, however you do it, will inevitably lead to more spending because governments will find something to spend that increased revenue on and then some.
When Michelle Bachmann confessed to taking the writings of Ludwig von Mises with her on vacation, I assumed she used the august Austrian economist as a soporific — not because Mises isn’t worth reading, or not exciting to read (I can’t tell you how my heart pounded when I first unleashed myself onto The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science), but because Bachmann has never said anything to suggest a scholarly or subtle mind, the kind of mind best suited for pleasure in reading Mises.
But a Salon writer, Andrew Leonard, has proven himself less dismissive of Bachmann than I. He, knowing nothing of Mises, set out to read Human Action. His conclusion? Well, he didn’t get very far into the book. But he did get far enough to tell us what he found. After reading a few chapters, he was struck by