Archives for September 2011

No, Herbert Hoover didn’t push laissez faire policies

One of the myths of the Great Depression was that President Herbert Hoover did nothing to deal with the nation’s most severe economic downturn because his belief in “laissez faire” economics. In truth, Hoover was very much an interventionist. You need only crack open a history book to read about the Smoot-Hawley Act, a protectionist law signed by Hoover that jacked up tariffs on American exports.

To further dispell this myth, Steven Horwitz, an economist at George Mason University, has written an excellent paper explaining how Hoover wasn’t just an interventionist, but also the father of the New Deal.

Herbert Hoover: Father of the New Deal, Cato Briefing Paper No. 122

Call your office, Barack Obama

Barack Obama has a serious problem, according to a new poll from Gallup, as Democrats are not all that enthusiastic about the the 2012 election:

Republican are most enthusiastic about voting in the 2012 elections than Democrats, according to a new poll released Thursday.

According to the Gallup Poll, 45 percent of Democrats say they are more excited about voting in the 2012 elections while 44 percent say they are less enthusiastic.

Those numbers are in stark contrast to the last few presidential election cycles when most Democrats said they were excited about voting. In the 2008 presidential election, for example, 79 percent of Democrats said they were more excited about voting while only 15 percent said they were less excited. In 2004 a smaller majority, 59 percent, said they were more excited while 34 percent said they were less excited.

The same poll found that 58 percent of Republican voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting this time around while 30 percent said they are less enthusiastic. The record high Republican enthusiasm to vote in the last decade was in 2004 when 69 percent of Republicans said they were more enthusiastic about voting and 18 percent registered less enthusiasm.

It’s not too shocking in some respect given the low approval numbers for Obama, not to mention that he has done a few things that haven’t sat well with his base. But you can see here the difference that four years have made:

SCOTUS and ObamaCare

As you know, the Supreme Court will hear the challenge to President Obama’s health care reform package.  In particular, the individual mandate that requires everyone to have health insurance meeting certain government standards.  Those who fail to do so will face a tax penalty, because the one thing we don’t have enough of in this country are tax regulations.

I’ve never been particularly shy about my desire to see the individual mandate overturned.  The idea that the government can require us to purchase a product has ramifications that go far beyond the health care debate.  The concept could easily be imported to other products and seen as a way to boost the economy, just as an example.

Imagine struggling American car companies.  Now imagine Congress requiring that every American household must buy one new American made car or face a stiff tax penalty.  Or buy solar panels to put on top of their homes.  The list is nearly endless, and all can be backed by good intentions whether it be American jobs or the environment.  However, all would have precedent in the individual mandate.

Of course, there’s a flip side to the individual mandate.  You see, that mandate is essential because it requires young, healthy people who normally wouldn’t worry about insurance to have it.  This spreads the risk across more people, which is good because the healthcare reform law requires insurance companies to take everyone and not price them according to their risk factors.  So an overweight, middle aged man with severe hypertension can’t be charged a premium based on his risk of stroke.  For the insurance companies to still make a profit, they need the individual mandate.

Part of the PATRIOT Act ruled to be unconstitutional

Yesterday, a federal judge found two parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, a law that was passed in the wake of 9/11, to be an unconstitutional infringement on the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment:

Two provisions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they allow search warrants to be issued without a showing of probable cause, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, “now permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield sought the ruling in a lawsuit against the federal government after he was mistakenly linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004.

The federal government apologized and settled part of the lawsuit for $2 million after admitting a fingerprint was misread. But as part of the settlement, Mayfield retained the right to challenge parts of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the authority of law enforcers to investigate suspected acts of terrorism.

Mayfield claimed that secret searches of his house and office under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act violated the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. Aiken agreed with Mayfield, repeatedly criticizing the government.

“For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised,” she wrote.

We Need A Campaigning Intervention

Things are really starting to get out of hand with the primary process in America. Now, Florida is apparently going to move it’s GOP primary to Jan. 31st, 2012, as reported by The Washington Examiner:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, or New Year’s at least, for the start of the presidential primary season.

The primary election calendar, scheduled to start in February, may move up to early January, with candidates campaigning through the holidays if Florida officials on Friday approve moving the Sunshine State’s Republican presidential primary to Jan. 31.

Florida’s anticipated move would mean that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada would likely move their presidential primaries and caucuses from February to early January because Republican Party rules require those four states to go first.

“We may be watching lots of campaign ads along with ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ during the holiday season,” said University of Florida political science professor Stephen Craig. “Not the sort of thing that’s likely to make already frustrated voters feel more positively about the political process.”

No, it isn’t.

I’m not going to be one to belittle the political process, or say that we put too much emphasis on it. Right now, we have major problems facing our country, and we need to actually wake up, as a people, focus on this, and deal with it. That means we have to elect sensible grown-ups to office, which means we have to emphasize the political process. But there is something known as overkill.

Russ Roberts responds to Elizabeth Warren

If you have any liberal friends on Facebook or Twitter, then you have no doubt seen them post or make reference to Elizabeth Warren’s rant about the rich and how they were fortunate enough to make their wealth because of government:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

This is textbook demagoguery. I don’t know many people that argue against basic functions of government, such as roads, schools, police, etc; which by the way are usually, or nearly exclusively, paid for through local taxes. Russ Roberts, an economist at George Mason University and one of the brains behind the Hayek/Keynes music videos, explains the problem with government isn’t the basic services it provides, it’s that the government has grown too large and is doing harm to the economy:

Getting hit with new bank fees? Blame Dodd-Frank

Over the last few months, many financial institutions have been adding new fees to checking accounts, a direct result of the Dodd-Frank financial bill passed last year. The latest financial institution to try to make up for the new regulatory costs is Bank of America, which yesterday announced a new $5 monthly fee to be assessed to debit card users:

Bank of America customers with basic checking accounts will be hit with a $5 monthly fee in order to use a debit card for purchases, the bank announced Thursday.

Banks and card companies have been aggressively establishing and raising fees in recent weeks as banks plan for new rules taking effect Saturday that limit the amount they can charge retailers for each debit card purchase.

JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are testing $3 fees for debit cards in select areas, and Citibank recently announced it is raising its fees for checking accounts. Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Thomas McCrohan said last week that Visa and MasterCard, the top two debit card companies, may increase drastically increase fees on small purchases to offset the losses.

SunTrust, a regional bank based in Atlanta, began charging a $5 debit card fee on its basic checking accounts this summer. Regions Financial, which is based in Birmingham, Ala., notified customers this summer that it will charge a $4 monthly fee starting next month.

Some of the spin I saw yesterday from liberals pointed to a post from Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider, who said that he is “very happy” about the new bank fees because it forces banks to be transparent with what they are charging to the account holder.

Obama’s green initiatives cost $23 million per job

With all the news surrounding the Obama Administration loan to Solyndra, the claims of job creation due to taxpayer funded handouts to companies pushing renewable and alternative energy rings hollow these days. It becomes even more of a joke when you look at what the government is paying out compared to the number of permanent jobs created:

The Department of Energy is set this week to announce whether nine federal loan guarantees amounting to $6.5 billion for green energy projects will get final approval.

The number of full-time, permanent jobs they would create? According to the DOE’s own figures, a grand total of 283. That is nearly $23 million per job.

It’s also a drop in the bucket toward the five million green jobs President Obama promised as a candidate in 2008.

It’s not clear how many of the loans will get approved. The DOE refused comment prior to the announcements.

Corporatism never comes out good for taxpayers. It does, however, help donors and others connected to administrations, as we’ve seen with Solyndra and others that have received taxpayer funds. And it’s not like the companies that the administration has invested in can’t afford to take these initiatives on their own. For example, a successful energy company based in Spain — a country that should have tough us lessons about these investments (as you’ll see in the video) — received subsidies

A guilty society

I’ve written before about how our society seems more and more like it’s trying to turn us into a nation of criminals.  It feels paranoid to even think it, especially when so few people actually agree with the notion.  Of course, you know what they say, “It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.”

This one comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a “guilty mind.”

This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them.

As a result, what once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time. When the police came to Wade Martin’s home in Sitka, Alaska, in 2003, he says he had no idea why. Under an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, coastal Native Alaskans such as Mr. Martin are allowed to trap and hunt species that others can’t. That included the 10 sea otters he had recently sold for $50 apiece.

Mr. Martin, 50 years old, readily admitted making the sale. “Then, they told me the buyer wasn’t a native,” he recalls.

Martin was convicted, despite the fact that he had no idea he had committed a crime.  They say that ignorance of the law is no defense, but how is one supposed to know that their actions are illegal?  Are we all supposed to stay at home, wrapped in bubble wrap, lest we inadvertently run afoul of some regulation?

Reid stalls on Obama’s so-called “jobs bill”

You know that so-called “jobs bill” that President Barack Obama is parading around the country, including in swing states, demanding that Congress pass? Yeah, it’s being held up in the Senate thanks to Obama’s buddy, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):

President Obama is still pressing Congress to pass his jobs-stimulus bill immediately, but Democratic Party leaders in the Senate once again have delayed taking a vote on the legislation and instead will take up a bill to punish China over its currency valuation.

Senators late Monday passed a bill to keep the government open into the next fiscal year and then adjourned for the rest of the week, but Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said when they return they’ll take up the China measure rather than Mr. Obama’s jobs plan.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important for a jobs measure than China trade,” said Mr. Reid, who is the chief Senate sponsor of Mr. Obama’s plan, but who said taking on China is a bigger priority right now.

During a three-day swing through the West this week, he has demanded Congress act, and even had wealthy donors at one event in West Hollywood, Calif., chanting “Pass the bill! Pass the bill!”

“Pass the jobs bill. I need your help to tell Congress to pass this jobs bill right now,” Mr. Obama said.

Interestingly, Democrats are pushing something that Mitt Romney has made a part of his economic plan. The issue may win some support from populists, but they’re playing a dangerous game, but that’s a post for another day.

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