Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dude, What Crisis?

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire, it is a troublesome servant and a fearful master.” – (often attributed to George Washington, but not historically verifiable as such)

Our Founders understood that government is necessary, but also recognized that it has the power to enslave its citizens. Government is absolutely the best tool for a very few tasks, but it is a lousy tool for the vast majority of society’s needs. And the level of government at which control is applied makes a great deal of difference. The higher the level, the more oppressive the outcome.

For these reasons, there was extremely heated debate and sharp differences about the role of the federal government in the early years of our republic, with the majority of power residing in state governments. The Civil War changed all of that. Since then the balance of power has shifted significantly to the federal government.

Some good things have come from this (abolition of slavery, civil rights, uniformity, stronger national defense, etc.), but it is easy to argue that the pendulum has swung too far. A rebalance of power, moving functions to their most appropriate level of government, is in order.

U.S. NewsDavid Gergen decries the “dysfunctional” nature of “the political leadership of the country, especially in Washington” here. (Hat tip: LaVarr Webb) Gergen whines about the slowness of our political process. Actually, the Founders intended it to be slow and deliberate. They felt that quick legislative decisions lead to bad government. I’m less concerned about the pace of our political process than I am about its direction.

The ever astute LaVarr Webb, commenting on Gergen’s article says (here, scroll down to Tuesday Soapbox), “The problem is that the national politicians are trying to do far too much; their job description has become so bloated that there is no way they can do it all. They can’t take care of every problem known to man.”

Webb echoes his previous essay (here, scroll down to Wednesday Buzz) where he compares our current governmental system to the old mainframe computer paradigm, where only a few relatively limited applications could be broadly accessed. Webb calls for a revival of federalism, devolving power to the lowest effective (i.e. most appropriate) level of government. He compares this model to “intelligent networks of PCs with intelligence and capacity dispersed out on the periphery, but networked together for plenty of interaction and collaboration.”

Do you ever wonder why government never seems to have enough money to satisfy all of its “needs?” At least, that’s what I heard over and over again during the last legislative session when anybody talked about Utah’s massive budget surplus: there are always more “needs.” It is because, as Ernest S. Christian & Gary A. Robbins show here, for every $1 of tax collected, it costs the economy—that means you and me—roughly $2.57.

This is why I argue here that the amount of money government spends translates directly into the amount of control government exercises over the lives of its citizens. Whatever government spends, it must collect. Walter Williams contends here that there is no budget deficit “any meaningful economic sense,” because government uses alternative methods to “tax” us, such as debt, increased interest rates, etc. In other words, government effectively collects what it spends. Williams says, “[T]he true measure of the impact of government on our lives is not the taxes we pay but the level of spending.”

Jagadeesh Gokhale says here that our country’s extensive system of entitlements is a major culprit in enslaving the populace. While a handful of conservatives want to dismantle the system (and indeed, without reform, the system will eventually collapse of its own weight), we have to realize that ‘conservative’ politicians over the years “played a significant role” in “expanding and cementing entitlement benefits without regard for future consequences.” Gokhale says that they cannot now demand solely conservative fixes to the system, and that conservatives are only in a position to seek watered-down compromises.

I completely agree with LaVarr Webb on the need for federalism. But achieving limited government is at least as important as devolving power to state and local governments. Indeed, I would argue that the two are intertwined. When functions move to their most appropriate level, they will become more cost effective, and some will disappear altogether as they become unnecessary.

There are several problems with my utopian plan. One is that our society has come to worship uniformity. Differences in state laws (insurance, taxes, licensing, etc.) are inconvenient for a populace that has become as mobile as has ours, so these differences are seen as bad. How odd that we spend copious amounts of money to travel to ‘quaint’ places that offer something different. We need to accept the concept that some variety in laws can be desirable.

Probably the greatest barrier to my plan is the nature of power. Our Founders understood that once power is elevated, it is not easily pulled back to a lower level without extreme measures, which could ultimately lead to violence. This is why rebel patriots were willing to go to war with their government over the seemingly relatively innocuous Stamp Act and subsequent parliamentary acts that effectively asserted Parliament’s right to regulate every aspect of the lives of Americans.

Are we wise enough to reverse the trends of expanding and centralizing government? I would like to think so, but I’m not very confident about it. We seem to address issues of this nature only in crisis mode, and few people seem to think any crisis exists at present.

Monday, June 26, 2006

But It Feels Good

Every few years liberals trot out a proposal to raise the minimum wage. You see arguments in favor of it in the news media, similar to this one in today’s Standard Examiner, which argues that the current $5.15/hour is “measly.” Conservatives respond by pitching a fit, coming across as cold-hearted shills that are in the pockets of big business. Sometimes conservatives win out as they did last week, but eventually the minimum wage gets raised, even if it takes several years to achieve it. Why do we keep doing this same dance?

For liberals, raising the minimum wage is always a good election year tactic. It is easy to explain to voters. The compassionate voter in each of us, ever willing to be free with others’ money, sees it as the least we can do to help the working poor. Not only that, but it plays well to the unions that traditionally support liberals. While few union workers earn anything close to the minimum wage, unions know that every jump in the minimum wage flows into a jump in union wages across the board. This necessarily leads to inflation that eventually erodes the wage increases.

For conservatives, this is a horrible issue. It is difficult to explain both the economics and morality behind their stance against raising the minimum wage. And each time this comes up, some conservatives hurt their cause by suggesting that we are headed for cataclysmic economic problems if we raise the minimum wage. Of course, this has never happened in all of the times the minimum wage has been raised, so it hurts conservatives’ credibility.

But subtle economic changes have occurred every time the minimum wage has been raised. More on that later.

The Standard Examiner Editorial Board contends that raising the minimum wage is “a simple matter of fairness,” since Congress continually raises its own wages. Never mind the fact that the control of Senators’ and Representatives’ compensation is one of the responsibilities enumerated to Congress in Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution, while the document is completely silent on the right to regulate wages outside of government service.

Personally, I have a problem with all of the things we allow the federal government to control as “a simple matter of fairness,” when the Constitution does not specifically enumerate the right to do so. If we really think the federal government should regulate something beyond what is enumerated, we should get the gumption to amend the Constitution to reflect these values, rather than have the intent of the document eroded year after year by well-intentioned laws and regulations.

Sadly, these arguments are quite moot, since we have a long history of allowing the government to meddle where it is not permitted by the Constitution. (In fact, our federal elected officials spend so much time frolicking in these arenas that they have little time left for the hard issues with which the Constitution actually tasks them.) So, let’s look at economic issues.

The WSJ Editorial Board notes here that “Only a tiny fraction of Americans--perhaps 3% to 5%--get paid the current minimum of $5.15 an hour.” That is actually one of the reasons raising the minimum wage appeals to voters, because the price tag seems small.

But the WSJ Ed Board asks a cogent question: what is the motivation for raising the minimum wage? Ostensibly, the answer must be to reduce poverty. But, claims the board, “no one has ever demonstrated that raising the minimum wage reduces poverty.” The reason for this is that about 87% of minimum wage earners are not poor, as well as the resultant wage-eroding inflation mentioned above.

The board notes that most low wage earners live in multiple earner households that have a combined income far above poverty level. Many of these folks are teenagers working in entry-level jobs. “A significant number of them have high-income parents.” Raising the minimum wage actually makes it more difficult for our lowest skilled people (including teenagers) to get jobs, since it makes those jobs more attractive to more experienced workers. Mind you, this doesn’t happen in every market, but it impacts those on the margins.
“The implications are especially profound for poor and inner-city black kids. Starting at a disadvantage, they have the most to gain from an introduction to the world of work skills. They also face the most predictably bleak future if they miss this foothold.”
In other words, the people we aim to help by raising the minimum wage are actually hurt the most by the action. By mandating an increase in the minimum wage, we don’t help the broader poor and we don’t help the middle class, but we do hurt those that are most vulnerable. The WSJ Ed Board quotes University of Georgia and Cornell's Richard Burkhauser as saying, “What we are doing with a minimum-wage increase [is making sure] that for the folks who don't have the skills to be worth $7.25, they are not going to have a job.”

But, hey, it gives us a warm fuzzy. And this is what we call compassion?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

All the News That’s Fit to Make

ABC News is trying to create news out of hot air by inviting readers/viewers to provide anecdotal stories about “the impact of global warming in your life.” From the point of view of a news producer, it might seem like a good idea to enlist a vast army of low-cost amateur reporters that can cover far more ground than the paid staff. But this smacks of something very different than objective reporting of ‘news,’ which the organization claims as its mandate. Instead, this is the kind of tactic used by activists that are willing to sort through a lot of junk to find a handful of ‘evidence’ to support their point of view.

Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has been having a heyday making light of this effort for the past couple of days (see here under the heading Idiot Box Science and here under the heading Story Ideas for ABC). Jeff Beliveau, one of Taranto’s readers, submitted the following tongue-in-cheek ‘story’ to ABC News.

Tharg and me used to hunt mighty mammoth but he scared to cross ice bridge. It now too thin to take weight of even saber cat. Only mouse or rabbit can cross.

Many of my people have left the caves in search of food.

Sister's daughter's husband says it because of He-Who-Tamed-Fire. He say smoke from fire anger gods and they make it hot. Medicine Man say he full of mastodon droppings.

Medicine Man say Sun God told him Sun God get belly ache every 200 lifes of man. Belly ache make Sun God hotter, like when Og ate red berries birds don't touch.

Sun God say it good thing. He say now we can go south past ice to land he call "Iowa."

He mumble "junk science" and "media hype" and "poorly educated reporters." We no understand these powerful magic words. We afraid to say words now that Moon God warn us. She say magic words make research grants dry up. We no understand.

Must go, little Ky-Rock need help flaking obsidian.
This was so funny that I simply could not resist posting it.

The Journal also published an article yesterday by one of its editorial board members, Robert L. Pollock about global warming. Pollock takes exception with critics that took exception with him for comments he made on the Fox News TV program The Journal Editorial Report, where he claimed that “everyone agrees there has been some warming over the past century, but most of it happened before 1940.”

This statement resulted in liberal organs the New Republic and Media Matters taking Pollock to task. Pollock, however, defends his statement. While he admits that it might have been more correct to say, “more than half” rather than “most,” he stands by his statement as being technically and substantively correct. He backs up his position by providing data, including NASA graphs and a study (requires subscription) published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The GRL study interestingly concludes that “although there has been a considerable temperature increase during the last decade (1995-2005) a similar increase occurred during the early part of the 20th century (1920-1930) when carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases could not be a cause.” That earlier temperature increase was followed by a cooling period that resulted in a cacophony of cries about the impending ice age three decades ago. This parallels the information presented in the NASA charts.

Pollock does not deny that global warming is occurring (albeit, not at the drastic rate claimed by Al Gore and his ilk – whose latest work is thoroughly fisked by Iain Murray here), but he does take exception with “Global-warming alarmists tak[ing] it for granted that they have the "scientific consensus" on their side” that global warming is human caused. Pollock claims that this is “an article of faith that avoids or elides basic facts.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Culture of Tribalism

Lee Smith has a fascinating article in the Weekly Standard that explores the deep religious schisms in Islamic societies in the Middle East. Smith discusses the intense animosity between Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam.

Smith says that Islamic society in the Middle East has come to accept focusing their animus on external entities (Israel, U.S., Western societies) as a way of maintaining a kind of operating truce between Shiites and Sunnis, which see each other more or less as infidels. Smith says that part of the reason many in the Middle East were happy about the demise of Zarqawi is that he broke the rules of the truce. Instead of focusing on external enemies, Zarqawi used the bulk of his vicious terrorism against Shiites, whom he deemed unworthy to live.

By highlighting the centuries-old tribalistic divide between Sunni and Shiite, Zarqawi threatened to undermine domestic peace throughout the region. But that is exactly what Zarqawi wanted, since his ilk sees most rulers in the Middle East as corrupt Western sympathizers. Smith says, “Zarqawi believed, for whatever combination of religious, political, criminal, and sociopathic rationales, that to truly set the region in flames and bring down the established order, you get the people to fight each other.”

The article goes on to discuss how some of the ingrained animosity between the two Islamic factions is demonstrated in every day life and thought. It goes to show that U.S. efforts in the region are necessarily affected by an underlying ugly current that cannot be easily overcome or managed.

In the U.S. we are familiar with bigotry, and we struggle with it daily. But mainstream society has come to see it as immoral. We generally recoil, rather than celebrate acts of bigotry. We have come a long way from the days when violence in the name of bigotry was broadly accepted. We’ve still got problems. But, frankly, most Americans today simply can’t comprehend the idea that someone should deserve to be annihilated simply because they differ in their religious beliefs.

However, it seems imperative that our efforts in the Middle East must be informed by a comprehension of the cultural issues that determine the actions of the populace. The Bush team clearly believes that democratizing the Middle East will go a long way toward creating cultural tolerance. It seems to have worked in other societies, but it didn’t happen quickly in any of them.

At any rate, taming the Middle East must be viewed as a long-term effort that will likely span generations. We don’t even know if the next administration will be willing to forge ahead with this effort, let alone knowing whether future generations will stick with it.

Foreign Oil Addiction

Pete du Pont, former Governor of Delaware and former U.S. Representative from Delaware, says in this WSJ article that it is a misnomer to say that America is addicted to oil. Rather, he contends, “America is addicted to opportunity.” He says that “oil and its products help us seize [opportunity].”

Du Pont also explores the reasons for our increasing dependence on foreign oil. He discusses potential viable alternatives to foreign oil dependence. He then discusses how government (including presidents and congresses) over the past 25 years has consistently worked against these alternatives and has worked to increase government control over domestic energy production, increasing costs and stifling innovation.

Du Pont concludes, “[T]he political establishment's thinking … makes government control--not oil--the addiction that is misdirecting our national energy policy.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Stop Us Before We Spend Again

I have done my share of whining about spendthrift Republicans in Congress (see here, has links to other posts). Now some Republicans are waking up to the very real possibility that they could lose one or both Congressional majorities in November due to voter dissatisfaction. A couple of bills are in the offing that aim to force some fiscal responsibility down Congress’ throat (see National Review article).

The cynic in me says this is simply election year grandstanding. Every two years we are regaled with a cacophony of cries about election year politicking and pandering to voters. But I wish to point out that not all pandering is bad. It is part of the vision the Founders had of trying to make representatives at least somewhat beholden to the people they represent.

Sometimes our politicians seem blissfully unaware of who elected them. Part of the reason for this is that even with gerrymandered secure districts, politics is still volatile. It’s not always easy to predict which districts will go which way or to predict which issues will become important enough for the public to use them as significant decision-making factors inside the voting booth. Politicians are continually hoping to pander to that small group that might provide the all important swing vote while simultaneously trying to keep their base voters happy.

In our representative democracy, those that represent us have a very complex job to do when it comes to determining what we (a very diverse group of individuals with competing interests) really want. Then they have to balance that understanding with what they truly believe will be in the best interest of the country, given their grasp of the issues. Sprinkle generously with ego and selfishness, mix well, and bake at 350° for 24 months, and it’s anybody’s guess what the outcome will look like.

Some conservatives are happy to point out (here) that tax cuts—particularly the Bush tax cuts—actually do spur the economy, causing an increase in revenue. They note that the deficit is on the decline and that it looks like it will actually be tamed within the next few years. Great. I’m happy. I have rarely seen a tax cut I didn’t like. I agree that government should let citizens keep more of their own money.

But when it comes to government invasion into our daily lives, revenue gathering is less than half of the story. It is the spending that is the elephant in the living room. Some that style themselves as conservatives seem to think that government can spend whatever it wants as long as it has sufficient revenue to cover the expenses. But it is what government spends that determines the extent of its involvement in citizens’ daily lives through myriad regulations that influence just about everything we do. It is the amount government spends and they way it is spent that determines whether government exists to serve the citizens or whether the citizens exist to support government.

For this reason, the average annual 8% increase in domestic spending under President Bush and the Republican Congress has me up in arms. OK, so they’re bringing the deficit down. Wonderful. They should do that. Gee, maybe they shouldn’t have caused it in the first place. And isn’t it possible that they could bring the deficit down a lot faster if they cut spending back to the 3.3% (annual domestic) increase they held it to during the Clinton years? (OK, let’s stipulate that Clinton compensated by cutting defense spending, a course of action that would have been considered irresponsible in the post-9/11 world.)

Even if we get other domestic spending under control, the cost of our social programs is set to go through the roof over the next several decades. Eventually there won’t be enough income in the entire country to support the current social infrastructure given the numbers slated to become consumers of those programs. Meanwhile many politicians in both parties fiddle while Rome burns. Angry Republicans blame Democrats for killing Social Security reform last year. It’s OK to be upset with Democrats for opposing reform, but come on! Republicans simply weren’t serious about it. Does anyone think they couldn’t have pushed reform through if they were serious about it?

It seems that many current representatives are willing to push these imminent problems onto the next generation. Heck, they’ll all be dead by the time real crisis hits anyway. Many in Congress are content to muddle around in the ubiquitous peripheral governmental issues that are nowhere enumerated in the Constitution, while spending little time or capital on the difficult issues that are actually enumerated. Given the fact that we have chosen to elect these people, what does this say about us?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Net Neutrality: A Pox On Both Their Houses

Imagine being able to sit down and watch any TV program pretty much whenever you want to watch it, taking breaks any time you wish. (Sure you can do that with TiVO today, but how about scrapping the device and the monthly service fee?) Imagine not being beholden to current TV programming models. How about full-screen Internet video with DVD-like resolution and transmission smoothness? Maybe you’d like real time music or audio streaming without the hiccups. Or maybe you’d like a baby or pet monitor you could watch over your cell phone. Perhaps you’d settle for reasonably priced long distance phone calls. How about scrapping phone numbers altogether in favor of a service that simply finds you by name wherever you happen to be?

Some of you may be thinking, sure, that would be wonderful. Maybe someday we’ll have the technology to do those kinds of things. Wrong-o Mary Lou. We have the technology today. We just don’t have it in place. In fact, a number of countries already have the technology in place. It all comes down to bandwidth, and many parts of Europe and the Pacific Rim now far outstrip the US in bandwidth capability.

So why is the US so slow on the uptake? Aren’t people willing to pay for more bandwidth? As it turns out, we are paying more for it. At least, we are paying far more for our megabandwidth than consumers in other countries are paying for their gigabandwidth.

Part of the problem is our aging telecommunications infrastructure. The US built out its telecom infrastructure far earlier than did other countries. That means that we have a lot of infrastructure that is a lot older than that of other countries. And why is it a lot older? Could it be that our telecom companies—the ones accorded special government waivers and leeways as the protectors of an important national asset—have been loathe to spend cash on maintenance and upgrades?

These lethargic telecos control the pipes over which the vast majority of electronic media coming into our homes and businesses travel. As the electronic media market has changed, especially with the advent of the Internet, some content providers feel that the monopolistic telecos have them over a barrel. They argue that all content flowing over the telecom lines should be treated neutrally. They have coined the term Net Neutrality as the moniker for their cause. Of course, the telecos argue that they have a right, like any business, to appropriately price usage of their assets.

Andy Kessler describes the two sides of this issue in this article.
“On one side are the hip, cool, billionaire web service companies like Google, eBay, Yahoo, and even Microsoft. Net neutrality is their rallying cry. Despite the fact that they are basically schlocky ad salesmen on a grand scale, they're pushing this quaint, self-serving '60s notion that the Internet is a town square--all for one and one for them, or something like that. Everyone should be allowed to hang out in the town square and use it as they please, one low price, eat all you want at the buffet.

“On the other side are the monopolist plumbers like Verizon and AT&T and Comcast. These are the folks who laid the pipe that delivers the Internet--the blogs and pirated movies and photos of Shiloh Brangelina--to your house or office. They think the Internet is more like a giant shopping mall, and they're the mall owners. You the customer can walk around as if you were in the town square, but the tenants (see billionaire web service companies above) are going to have to pay for the upkeep of the premises. If they're one of the anchor stores, they might pay a lot.”
Kessler says that the current debate does not serve US consumers or citizens well because “this is one of those bizarre issues where both sides are off their rocker.” The Net Neutralists want legislation and regulations to force the issue their way. But Kessler says that “regulations beget more lobbyists.” Kessler argues that anything government can do to help pales in comparison to what the free market can do.

Kessler contends that both sides of this debate are playing a game that maintains the prehistoric Flintstone business and technology model. He thinks the market should be used to break this apart. Indeed, he seems to think that the market will eventually achieve enough critical mass to cause this to happen. But he also thinks it can be helped to happen sooner and cheaper by threatening to use eminent domain to forcibly take private telecom lines from their arguably less than responsible owners.

Yikes! If Net Neutrality legislation looks like a big ugly club, government takeover of telecom lines looks like a nuclear bomb. If the market will eventually force change anyway, would it really be worth going nuclear to make it happen sooner?

It’s good that we’re debating this issue, but Kessler does have a point. If we blather on too long about it, eventually the market will find a way around the immovable obstacles and render them moot. Kessler seems to be arguing for partial salvage of our current infrastructure so as to make transition quicker and less painful. I too would like gigabandwidth sooner. But I’m not sure that going nuclear is the answer.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bush Don't Get No Respect On the Economy

When it comes to the economy, many conservatives have complained that the Bush Administration suffers from the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome. They argue that despite an incredibly robust economy (indicated by fantastic employment and GDP numbers) for the past several years, Bush “don’t get no respect.” They claim that the MSM is to blame for this.

Not so fast, says John Tamny, who is on the staff of the Cato Institute. Tamny contends here that the real story is that the economy really isn’t performing that wonderfully. Well it is, and it isn’t. That is, the broader numbers look stupendous, but certain other measures should temper the message of the broader numbers.

Tamny places the blame on our weak dollar, which has weakened substantially during Bush’s tenure. This kind of thing gets discussed in economic circles, by businesses impacted by it, and by Americans that travel abroad, but most Americans don’t pay much attention to the strength of our money on the international market. It’s just something that is. If it merits any attention at all, it is only fodder for cheap water cooler criticism of the government, despite the fact that dollar strength significantly impacts our daily lives.

Tamny argues that dollar weakness is a precursor of inflation, and that it indeed masks or at best delays inflation by “stimulat[ing] consumption and property booms.” Tamny notes that inflation is a lagging indicator, but he contends that the markets can see it coming from a long way off and that average Americans experience its effects long before it shows up in the numbers. Markets, economies, and voters “loathe inflation,” he claims.

If I grasp Tamny’s argument correctly, he is suggesting that Americans know how the economy is really performing, and that they will vote with their dollars and at the ballot box accordingly. Americans are hard to fool about the economy because their personal experiences trump egghead numbers.

Part of me is skeptical of some of Tamny’s claims, but they also seem to make sense. Tamny ties dollar weakness to Carter’s re-election failure and dollar strength to Reagan’s re-electability. This is an interesting contention, but monetary strength could certainly only be a portion of the whole story. Tamny cites the recent dollar strengthening trend, and suggests that if it continues Bush will get more respect on the economy.

If you consider Tamny’s argument that Americans grasp the real economic picture, perhaps it should be mentioned that the median real household income in the U.S. has been largely stagnant for three decades, and has been declining for the past five years (see here). In this respect, rosy economic pronouncements pale in comparison to stagnant or declining real household purchasing power for most Americans.

So what is the administration doing to strengthen the dollar? That opens an interesting can of worms. Experts disagree about what policies and elements actually strengthen or weaken the dollar. Cato Institute fellow Steve H. Hanke claims here that the government is largely impotent to affect the value of the dollar on the international market.
“Let's get one thing straight: No dollar policy, strong or weak, exists in the U.S. Nor can it. That's because the U.S. has for years embraced a floating exchange rate. In other words, the dollar is on autopilot and finds its own level among other currencies. When traders, investors and foreign central banks are net purchasers of U.S. currency and assets denominated in it, the dollar strengthens. When they're not, the dollar weakens.”
In other words, the market for money works on the supply-demand curve, just like other markets. Many elements of supply and demand are simply beyond the capability of our country’s government to influence in any substantive way. Dollar strength is largely dictated by demand for foreign investment in U.S. properties and securities.

But the government can impact foreign demand for U.S. securities by changing corporate law. In fact, this is what the government did when it enacted the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the wake of Enron and other high profile corporate scandals.

The Wall Street Journal editors argue here, “Sarbox has added hundreds of billions of dollars in compliance costs, and for no clear public gain.” They argue that outside of the handful of serious corporate problems that were dealt with under previously existing laws, very little corporate malfeasance has been detected despite the SarbOx witch hunt. The WSJ editors note here that the heavy-handed SarbOx regulations have caused a “remarkable slowdown in U.S. initial public offerings,” and have caused a major shift in foreign investors avoiding U.S. securities.

To put this all together:
  • It seems that the government’s ability to influence the value of the dollar on the international market is limited.
  • But within that limited scope, the government helped further weaken the already-weak dollar by passing heavy-handed corporate governance laws and regulations in an overreaction to corruption in a handful of corporations.
  • The nation’s true economic picture is not as rosy as the broad numbers would suggest because a weak dollar means that average Americans are already suffering the effects of impending and/or hidden inflation.
  • One of the symptoms of this may be stagnant and declining real household purchasing power.
  • Consumers will act according to the real economic situation rather than to the picture painted by either the government or the MSM.
  • Despite government’s limited role in affecting dollar strength, voters will take their ire out on those they deem to be responsible for an economy that is less robust than they think it ought to be.
I’m not sure if I buy all of that. Some of the lines connecting some of the dots seem to be dotted or fuzzy rather than solid. But it gives me a few things to think about.

Monday, June 12, 2006


As I anticipate celebrating Independence Day in a few weeks on July 4, I am reminded how incredibly remarkable the birth of our nation was. Eight years ago over the weekend of the Fourth, one of our local PBS stations played a six-part documentary called Liberty! The American Revolution.

I was so impressed by the series that I purchased it. At that time it was only available in VHS format. Of course, it is now available in DVD format. Almost every summer since I bought the set, I pull it out and watch it over the space of a few weeks.

The series was exquisitely produced and directed by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, and was written by Ronald Blumer. The series covers the period just prior to the 1765 Stamp Act through the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Hovde and Meyer do a fine job of piecing together the various events that precipitated the Declaration of Independence in 1776. They spend a great deal of time detailing important events and features of the Revolutionary War. Finally, they wrap up with the post-war period that culminated with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, followed by the Bill of Rights.

Hovde and Meyer achieve a very good mix of diverse views of each matter they cover in the series to help the viewer understand the complexities involved. They also try to explain the culture of the day so as to place events in their proper context, as some attitudes demonstrated by people of that era seem completely foreign to us today. One reviewer at Amazon says that the series “goes to great lengths to put viewers back in colonial America, so they can understand how improbable it was that the people of the time would've imagined themselves divorced from England.”

Forrest Sawyer (who admits that his own ancestors were British loyalists) does a superb job narrating the series. The musical score meshes seamlessly with the story line, so as to lend a measured emphasis and intensity to each scene. The musician in me very much likes the score, which I understand was done by violinist Mark O’Connor. Each one-hour segment starts and ends with a duet by singer-guitarist James Taylor and O’Connor of an old war tune that came to Appalachia from Ireland, called Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier. The song is included on a CD made for the series.

The series includes interviews of various experts. Each expert is well spoken and each interview is excellent in its own right. The interviews are broken up by topic and interspersed throughout the series. I also very much enjoy the magnificent performances by a number of top-notch actors (see full list) that dramatically speak actual lines attributed to the individuals portrayed. The lines have been derived from historical documents, including journals, letters, news accounts, etc.

The series won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. But frankly, I don’t care what the elite have to say about it. I’m glad that some of them liked it, but for me it is a wonderful reminder of what the founding of the United States of America was all about. It helps that its research, writing, directing, production, scoring, interviewing, and acting were all done superbly.

For a more detailed treatment of the 1787 Constitutional Convention that brought us the U.S. Constitution, I enjoy the film, A More Perfect Union. The Emmy Award winning film was produced by BYU Motion Picture Studio for the bicentennial of the Constitution. It features a number of ethic film actors (see list), including several famous non-LDS American and British actors. Kurt Bestor’s score enhances every scene. If you have connections with the BYU studio, please don’t take this wrong, but I was amazed by the excellence of this film the first time I saw it.

A More Perfect Union was filmed on-site in Historic Philadelphia. Much of the dialogue is derived directly from historical records, but it also includes enough ‘historically correct’ fiction to make the film enjoyable. The film begins with Shay’s Rebellion, highlights events leading to the Constitutional Convention, details many of the most significant events of the Convention, details the final voting by the Convention, and culminates with the inauguration of George Washington.

The film is 112 minutes long, but it is well worth watching. It shows how complicated it was to achieve our Constitution given competing interests and diversity of personalities and beliefs of those involved. Given how well the Constitution has endured the subsequent 2+ centuries, it lends to the belief that a divine hand was at least somewhat involved in the process.

If you want to get into the spirit of America for the July 4th celebration, I highly recommend viewing the Liberty! series, as well as A More Perfect Union. I think you will be well rewarded for the effort.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead

While listening to the radio this morning, I heard one of the multiple repeats of the news that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the terrorist leader of al-Qaida in Iraq that personally beheaded American hostages and directed multiple attacks on Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, and U.S. military forces) has finally been successfully terminated. (It took long enough to accomplish this.) I guess he’s off to get his 72-virgin reward.

The news commentator called Zarqawi, “The man that terrorized Iraq for more than three years by carrying out dozens of deadly suicide bombing attacks.” Criminy, that guy was more resilient than we thought. Maybe the commentator didn’t realize her gaffe, but I hope the producer got someone to fix the script before the next newscast.

Nobody thinks this will seriously cripple al-Qaida in Iraq. (The demise of “one of the most accomplished mass murderers in the modern history of terrorism” (here), not the news script gaffe.) The organization’s structure is such that another well-trained terrorist will quickly rise to fill Zarqawi’s place.

But the symbolism is apparently important among terrorists and their supporters. The jihadists have pointed to Zarqawi’s miraculous preservation as evidence of the righteousness of their cause. (I’m not sure how their murdering of citizens, including women, children, and tennis students figures into that picture.) The “glorious” death of the terrorists’ leader might actually give some of the jihadists and their supporters pause.

Al-Qaida put a smiley face on the news, calling it “joyous,” and saying, “The death of our leaders is life for us.” Interesting logic. It gives you some insight into the way these people think. Heck, if they’re that happy about it, I say let’s make them happier. Let’s wipe out all of their leaders so that they can have more “life.” It would appear that this would have the added benefit of improving life for Iraqis in general.

In an interesting side note, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Zarqawi’s death, the Iraqi press corps erupted with joyful cheering. When President Bush made the announcement, the U.S. press corps responded with stony silence.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How Does Same-Sex Marriage Affect Your Marriage?

Proponents of same-sex marriage almost always phrase public arguments in its favor as a matter of civil rights. By definition then, anyone that disagrees with them is a bigot. This tactic is used to halt debate without actually discussing the merits of opposing arguments. Some civil rights leaders take exception to this approach (see Weekly Standard article), claiming, “It is precisely the indiscriminate promotion of various social groups' desires and preferences as "rights" that has drained the moral authority from the civil rights industry.”

I also find it interesting that same-sex marriage advocates frequently trot out gay or lesbian couples with children in an effort to try to make that construct look as similar as possible to the average American family. But no one ever points out that same-sex relationships of that nature are an aberration among the homosexual community. Studies show that there are a relatively small number of homosexuals that demonstrate any desire to live this way.

This morning I heard a radio news broadcast featuring a lesbian woman commenting on the current US Senate debate of the Marriage Protection Amendment. The woman asked why she, her partner, and their son should not be considered a family. She said, “They are voting to harm my family.” Doesn’t fairness dictate that this woman should be able to marry the person she loves so that they can raise a family together with all the legal antecedents accorded heterosexual couples?

One of the favorite debate tactics used by same-sex marriage proponents is to ask, “How does the marriage of two people of the same sex impact your (or my) marriage?” These last two questions appeal to the universal desire for fairness—something regarded in all cultures as natural law. This appeal is often used in the same-sex marriage debate because it is simple to do and is easily understandable, while answering such an appeal is complex and not easily understandable.

J. Max Wilson at Sixteen Small Stones published a link (here in comment #3) to an April 2005 post by libertarian blogger Jane Galt that addresses head-on the issue of how same-sex marriage impacts heterosexual marriage. Galt takes no position either in favor of or against same-sex marriage. Rather, her essay examines the wisdom of casually reforming social constructs to address obvious or perceived unfairness.

Galt specifically discusses three law changes, two of which are directly related to marriage and are also related to fairness. She shows how the sowing of well intentioned laws in each case have ultimately reaped whirlwinds of unanticipated changes that exceeded the direst warnings of opponents.

Galt says that when social conservatives argue that legalization of same-sex marriage would affect the complex interplay of elements at the basis of society to the effect that the institution of marriage would fall apart, proponents mock them by saying something like, “Why on earth would it make any difference to me whether gay people are getting married? Why would that change my behavior as a heterosexual?”

Galt argues that this is a flimsy, arrogant retort that ignores market realities. “The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining.”

Galt also makes an economic case to address the question above:
“Now, economists hear this sort of argument all the time. "That's ridiculous! I would never start working fewer hours because my taxes went up!" This ignores the fact that you may not be the marginal case. The marginal case may be some consultant who just can't justify sacrificing valuable leisure for a new project when he's only making 60 cents on the dollar. The result will nonetheless be the same: less economic activity. Similarly, you--highly educated, firmly socialised, upper middle class you--may not be the marginal marriage candidate; it may be some high school dropout in Tuscaloosa. That doesn't mean that the institution of marriage won't be weakened in America just the same.”
The three cases Galt uses to bolster her contention are the defeat of the proposed 10% cap on income tax, the extension of welfare to single mothers, and the relaxation of divorce laws. Galt painstakingly takes the reader through each case, showing that opponents of each gave warnings that proponents could not imagine could ever become actual. She then shows how in each case, the new law created a sea change that fundamentally altered the previously existing social understanding—not immediately, but over a generation or two.

In the case of income tax, it seemed unimaginable that the public would ever tolerate a tax rate as high as 10%. In the case of welfare for single mothers, no one could imagine that it would literally destroy the institution of marriage in inner cities, raising rates of unwed births to 70%. In the matter of divorce, not even anti-reform people foresaw a day when 50% of all marriages would end in divorce.

Galt argues (and most social scientists agree) that the relaxation of divorce laws 40 years ago resulted in an overall weakening of commitment in the institution of marriage. She finds truth in the assertion of David Brooks that weddings have become extravagant affairs “because the event itself doesn't mean nearly as much as it used to, so we have to turn it into a three-ring circus to feel like we're really doing something.”

Galt has no desire to return to the days of the Scarlet Letter, or hard-core divorce laws; although, she wouldn’t mind returning to the sub-10% income tax days. Nor does she argue that we should never legalize same-sex marriage. Instead, she calls for deep understanding and extremely cogent reasoning before messing around with this important social construct.

She says, “If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed [********]s with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.”

Marriage researcher Stanley Kurtz has gone to great lengths to show that research (even by same-sex marriage advocates) demonstrates that same-sex marriage weakens and destroys the institution of marriage. He shows that many European researchers acknowledge and are enthused about this fact. You can start by looking at this article and this article. These articles link to additional articles that link to additional articles, and so on. If you have the will, you can spend hours reading through Kurtz’s conclusions. He actually has a very cogent body of work, with 11 years of articles here. I would also recommend his articles, the End of Marriage in Scandinavia and Beyond Gay Marriage.

In short, there is a great deal of research to show that same-sex marriage actually does harm the institution of marriage itself. But proponents of same-sex marriage in the U.S. are quick to brush aside and mock the documented problems in order to correct what they see as a social injustice. I’m not worried about gay marriage affecting my marriage; I’m worried about it affecting the marriages of my children and grandchildren.

I agree with Jane Galt that it is wrong to approach the fundamental changing of the institution of marriage so casually. If there is a social injustice, let’s see if there is a way to address it without destroying marriage. If that is not possible, then let’s accept the fact that sometimes life isn’t fair and that everyone is called upon to make some sacrifices for the good of society as a whole.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mitt Romney Calls On Senators to Support Marriage Amendment

Last week I cited (here) Fred Barnes’ assertion that the Marriage Protection Amendment has become a litmus test for Republican aspirants to national office, much as support for nearly unrestricted abortion is a litmus test for Democrat presidential hopefuls. Barnes is basically saying that in the current political climate, Dick Cheney could not be elected to his present office. I’m not certain that Barnes is completely accurate on this point, but he could be right.

Barnes thinks that GOP presidential hopeful Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is going to end up on the wrong side of this sentiment. As I understand Barnes, he sees McCain losing the GOP nomination over the senator’s refusal to vote in favor of the amendment, regardless of his principled reasons (federalism) for his stance.

On cue, another (as-yet-undeclared) Republican presidential hopeful, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has stepped into the fray by sending a letter to all US senators asking them to support the amendment when it comes to a vote tomorrow.

Romney sees himself as uniquely qualified to address this issue because gay marriage was forced on his state two years ago by four members of the state’s supreme court. Romney starts out by saying that “Americans are tolerant, generous, and kind people.” Then he cites some of the drastic changes that have occurred in his state during the past two years, noting that parents have no control over whether young children can be exposed to material promoting homosexual lifestyles in public schools.

Romney directly takes on McCain-like arguments in favor of states rights:
“Some argue that our principles of federalism and local control require us to leave the issue of same sex marriage to the states—which means, as a practical matter, to state courts. Such an argument denies the realities of modern life and would create a chaotic patchwork of inconsistent laws throughout the country. Marriage is not just an activity or practice which is confined to the border of any one state. It is a status that is carried from state to state. Because of this, and because Americans conduct their financial and legal lives in a united country bound by interstate institutions, a national definition of marriage is necessary.”
Of course, some will be quick to note that Romney is Mormon, and that the LDS Church recently joined a group of religions and religious leaders that support the amendment (see here). The church then called on its members to contact their US senators regarding the tomorrow’s (June 6) scheduled Senate vote on the amendment (see here). (Note that Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) who is also Mormon, argues against the amendment largely along the same lines as Senator McCain—see here.)

Romney is taking a calculated risk. On the one hand, by Barnes’ assessment, Romney’s chances for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination would be toast if he didn’t support the amendment. On the other hand, his critics will be quick to suggest that supporting the amendment means that he will be a puppet for LDS Church leaders on issues they deign to speak out about.

Romney had a third option; he could have taken no public stance on the amendment at all. After all, he’s not a senator, and his state’s US senators are not going to support the amendment by any means. Romney has been very clear about his opposition to his state’s supreme court ruling legalizing gay marriage. By accounts of people of various political persuasions, Romney is a fairly principled guy. But it is possible to be principled about something without speaking out about it, especially when you have no direct control over its outcome.

In other words, Romney’s decision to speak out in favor of the amendment in a very public way is significant. I think people will argue about the ways in which it is significant, but it seems obvious that Romney believes this stance will be in his best political interest.

Challenges to the Modern Family

Last June I posted here and here about safety in the Boy Scout program. The latter post was written as vast amounts of resources were committed to finding Brennan Hawkins, the boy that wandered away from an organized Scout camp in the High Uintas and was miraculously found by searchers in good condition a few days later.

I got to thinking about this issue all over again this past weekend as I attended the first of a number of Scouting activities planned for this summer. Having been involved in Scouting for over three and a half decades, I have seen a lot of changes in the program, especially with regard to child safety.

Safety was not a new thing to Scouting when I became a Cub Scout in the late 60s. In early 50s the BSA held its national jamboree on the west coast for the first time. The promotional literature for the jamboree promised that every attendee would be able to swim in the Pacific Ocean. Concerned experts explained to the BSA that statistics showed that at least 3% of the anticipated 50,000 attendees could be expected to drown. The BSA then instituted programs of physical examinations and safe swim plans. Consequently no one drowned at the jamboree, and these programs continue today at all BSA camps.

Eventually the BSA instituted a requirement that units traveling for any purpose file a tour permit showing that basic safety requirements have been met, both to ensure that the essentials for safety are in place and to have a record of where any unit is expected to be at a given time for emergency purposes.

In the early 80s the BSA was hit with a vast number of lawsuits in a single year alleging child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse. The organization’s annual insurance premium increased twelve-fold in one year. Over the next several years the BSA implemented a system of background checks on adult volunteers, began requiring that at least two adult leaders be present at all Scouting meetings and events, and began requiring all volunteers to attend child safety training.

This is where we are today. Today, every adult Scouting volunteer accepts a huge responsibility and liability simply by becoming involved in the program. This narrows the field of potential volunteers. It hopefully screens out creeps, but it also screens out otherwise qualified candidates.

I wonder what the base factors are behind all of these safety requirements. Is it simply the fact that we are more aware today of safety issues that have always existed? If so, why was there apparently less concern about those issues in the past? Is it simply that safety fascists are working hard to eliminate all risk from childhood, thereby, also limiting potential for personal growth? Some argue that our push to reduce childhood risk factors to zero is an element in self-destructive high-risk behaviors by kids, as they strive to satisfy the portion of the human psyche that needs to learn from risk.

President Thomas S. Monson, the #2 man in the LDS Church, recently recounted (here) his experience as a youth where his scoutmaster dropped the troop off for several days of completely unsupervised camping. Perhaps most boys in young Tommy Monson’s troop in the late 1930s had outdoor skills that most of today’s youth lack, but this idea seems completely preposterous to us nowadays.

We have a deep history of responding, or perhaps overreacting, to emotional events. Over 30 years ago a farm truck loaded with Mormon Boy Scouts on their way to camp rolled over, killing 22 boys. Both the BSA and the LDS Church almost immediately issued mandates that no one was permitted to ride in the bed of a truck at any of either organization’s events (a rule that is routinely broken by some.) This rule makes great sense to me and I would never condone anyone riding in the back of a truck in connection with a Scouting event. But a farmer friend of mine who has ridden in the beds of farm trucks throughout his life thinks this rule goes too far.

There is at least a grain truth to the idea that some safety issues have always existed. As a young man I personally knew three men that were Scouting volunteers that I later learned were pedophiles. I became partially aware of the transgressions of each while each was still serving in Scouting positions. Although I was never a victim, I later discovered that boys I knew were among their victims. I understand that all three of these men have since served prison time.

The BSA leadership was completely blindsided 25 years ago when evidence of pedophile volunteers surfaced. They couldn’t imagine that anyone would deliberately get involved in Scouting to engage in sexual acts with boys. Were we as a society simply blind to this kind of thing because it seemed unimaginable? Were parents less able to deal with these kinds of things because family size was bigger, thereby, limiting per-child attention capacities?

A friend in law enforcement would never let his family travel by vehicle without everyone being properly restrained, while my farmer friend thinks nothing of driving around with unrestrained family members. My law enforcement friend has two children, while my farmer friend has nine. Does having fewer kids make the children more precious to the parents, or do parents with more kids simply have less ability to pay attention to details like that?

This line of thought leads me back to birthrates, which I have written about recently (here). I wonder about the transition from an agrarian society to a more modern, more affluent society. In the old agricultural based economy where most work was done by manual labor, large families provided cheap labor and enhanced retirement planning. In other words, children were net assets (economically speaking). In our modern society, we are far more affluent, but children are a net liability. Most children today provide little or no benefit to the family economy, remaining net consumers until they are able to leave the nest (and often long after that). So, children are less valuable from an economic viewpoint.

In the agrarian economy, child rearing occurred in the normal course of the family economy. That is, children were naturally raised as the family worked together in the family business. Family together time and recreation occurred naturally during work and during lulls. Some work activities also had a recreational element. In our modern economy, child rearing (for the most part) has become a separate activity from earning a living. Society has responded by creating avenues for occupying children: day care, full-time school, sports, arts, clubs, etc. These things have increased the cost of child rearing, imposing limitations on family size.

I wonder if our affluence limits family size. Stick with me here. Our affluence means that we have more money, but studies show that affluent people have no more free time than did their poor ancestors. Studies show that today’s busy families have little together time. One recent study where families were (willingly) on camera 24x7 for 90 days found one family that never had all members present in one room during that period. As our society has become more affluent, each succeeding generation has acquired more stuff. Much of this stuff has come with the promise of increased leisure time. While some of the stuff has definitely caused a shift away from manual labor, it has not necessarily increased available time, and much of it has decreased family together time.

Every item we acquire has both a monetary and a time cost associated with it. (True economists will say that these two elements are essentially the same thing.) We often ignore this as we anticipate the acquisition of stuff. Due to the time/money cost of our things, many items we acquire reduce the time adults could spend rearing children while also reducing fiscal resources that could be spent on child rearing.

We can all rightly argue that some of the stuff we own aids child rearing, but if we are honest, most of us can easily find a great many things among our stuff that directly or indirectly detract from our ability to fulfill parenting roles. As homes grow in size, each family member drifts off to his/her personal space and tunes into his/her own media device. As the number of families eating dinner together declines, some families take meals while staring at the TV, robbing them of actual involvement in each other’s lives.

I’m not saying that it’s inherently bad that our modern economy is more robust and much less agrarian. It’s so easy to say that everything was better back in ‘the good old days.’ I’m not arguing for an impossible return to yesteryear. I believe parenting has always been a challenge. We face some unique challenges in our modern society with which parents throughout much of history have never had to deal. I think it’s important to recognize these challenges and deal with them in a positive manner for the good of our children and for the good of society.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Is a New Major Political Party Coming?

A couple of months ago I opined here that there was little chance of the emergence of a new strong political party in our country. I wrote, “[T]here is little chance that any third party will become a long-term major player in national politics unless one of the major parties succeeds in destroying itself.”

But what if both major parties destroy themselves, or at least weaken themselves to the point that some other entity must arise to fill the power vacuum? Peggy Noonan thinks that we’re just about there (see here).

Noonan argues that partisanship in Washington has “become so vicious because the stakes are so low.” She claims that little actually divides the reds and blues in Washington, and that those few issues that do divide them are seen by them as wedge issues rather than important matters.
“The problem is not that the two parties are polarized. In many ways they're closer than ever. The problem is that the parties in Washington, and the people on the ground in America, are polarized. There is an increasing and profound distance between the rulers of both parties and the people--between the elites and the grunts, between those in power and those who put them there.”
Noonan mentions an effort called Unity08.com, which is discussed in greater detail in this Newsweek article by Jonathan Alter. The idea is to build a centrist third party using the Internet. Alter suggests that our political system is ripe for an Internet-based makeover, since “more than 40 percent of voters now self-identify as independents,” and because “"free media" shapes the outcome of presidential races, and the Internet is the freest media of all.”

I have several questions running around in my head about all of this. Is partisanship really worse than ever in Washington, or is it just more apparent to us due to modern media exposure?

As an analogy, I believe that TV coverage of the Vietnam War (where the phrase “Film at 11” was coined — ancient history to Gen-Xers and younger) was at least a partial factor in reducing support for the war. Prior to that time the public was largely shielded from the grizzly realities of combat zones, but in the late 60s and early 70s it was in our living rooms every night. This changed modern warfare and altered the will of the American people regarding what types of military actions we will support. Does anyone really think that we are not truly capable of rapidly wiping out the insurgency in Iraq? We are capable, but we lack the will to do what would be necessary. We cannot support the collateral damage, injury, and death that would occur.

Maybe the available visibility into politics simply allows us to see how bad it has always been. German statesman Otto von Bismarck is famous for likening laws to sausages, saying (here) “you should never watch either one being made.”

I have recently read comments by several long-time Washington insiders and/or observers who seem to agree with Noonan that partisanship is more bitter than ever. Is this view simply due to a short timeline, i.e. three decades instead of a couple of centuries? Would political historians agree that partisan bitterness is at an all-time high?

Are the two major parties together really weak enough that a sufficient vacuum exists for a third party to gain power? Remember, our politicians have succeeded in erecting extremely strong barriers to entry into the party system. Mark Steyn calls it Incumbistan. He seems to echo Noonan’s argument of elitist detachment in this article. Of course, many seemingly secure giants throughout history have fallen by failing to guard against vulnerabilities they couldn’t see or that they thought were unimportant.

Would a third party solve the problem of detached rulers? I assume that an upstart third party would really change the way things work in Washington. But would it be any better at actually solving the nation’s problems? Would a house cleaning along the lines of what appears to be happening to the GOP in Pennsylvania (see here) work just as well?

Is the root of the matter simply that the federal government has grown to such a size that it is essentially ungovernable? Solving this problem would require a lot of discipline by politicians and citizens as well as self-sacrifice by the increasing number of people that have come to rely on this expansive behemoth. Could those of us in the ‘Me’ generation (where everything is always about me and where I deserve everything I want) generate sufficient will to do this?

Is the advent of a third party possible? Of course. Is it probable? At this point I have more questions than answers.