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Archive for March, 2010

No, that’s not the name of a new TV series. We should be so lucky. Instead, it’s a good description of the government’s approach to tobacco. Instead of letting adults make up their own minds about costs and benefits of risky choices (which includes most things in life, such as crossing a street and eating a cheeseburger), nanny-state officials have decided to investigate menthol-flavored cigarettes. And since the Food and Drug Administration has been given authority over the tobacco industry and since the FDA’s supposed purpose is to ensure drugs are “safe and effective,” that almost certainly means this latest campaign will lead to either further restrictions on free speech or outright bans. Here’s a blurb from the Wall Street Journal:

Congress last year added the tobacco industry to the FDA’s regulatory mix and today a panel of health experts making up the agency’s new Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee is kicking off a two-day meeting. First on the agenda: how menthol flavoring in cigarettes affects smokers’ habits. Small wonder that menthol is getting early attention, says the New York Times, which notes menthol butts account for almost a third of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market. After more meetings, the advisory panel will send recommendations to the FDA, which could eventually decide to ban menthol products or take steps to curtail their marketing.

One can only wonder how far down the slope we will slide. There already are attacks against fatty foods and sugary soft drinks. Both provide pleasure to many people, but that no longer means much in Washington. Will regulators, either at the FDA or elsewhere, eventually decide that anything linked to obesity must be regulated and/or taxed? And now that government is going to pick up the tab for an even larger share of health costs, how long before the politicians use obesity-related costs as a major justification for further efforts to control our private lives? Maybe some day we will have a Federal Health Police to enforce daily exercise mandates? I better stop now before I give them any ideas.

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It’s only a two-minute clip, but Larry and I cover the key reasons why excessive government pay in bad for taxpayers and bad for the economy.

By contrast, Ben Stein has a video defending bureaucrats, but he never addresses whether they are overpaid or whether there are too many of them. His argument isn’t very focused, but he cleverly selects the handful of categories (cops, firefighters, etc) where government workers perform useful services, and wants us to have positive feelings for all bureaucrats. He also implies that the term “bureaucrat” is some sort of slur, which is a surprise to me. Anyhow, if this is the best the other side can do, I feel confident that they have no legitimate defense.

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Tom Palmer of the Atlas Network has a very concise – yet quite devastating – video exposing the Keynesian fallacy that the destruction of wealth by calamities such as earthquakes or terrorism is good for economic growth. Tom cites the work of Bastiat, who sagely observed that, “There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.” As you can see from the video, many who pontificate about economic matters today miss this essential insight:

I can’t resist the opportunity to also plug a couple of my own videos that touch on the same issues. Here’s one of Keynesian economics, one on the failure of Obama’s faux stimulus, and another on the policies that actually promote prosperity.

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There’s been a bit of buzz about a recent story in Politico revealing a huge increase in the number of congressional staff receiving six-figure salaries.  Some of the details are eye-openers, including a 39 percent increase in the past four years in the number of staffers earning at least $163,358:

Nearly 2,000 House of Representatives staffers pulled down six-figure salaries in 2009, including 43 staffers who earned the maximum $172,500 — or more than three times the median U.S. household income. …But while these top earners are a small percentage of the overall congressional work force, their numbers are growing at a rapid rate under the Democratic Congress. The number of staffers earning within the upper 3 percent of House salaries — currently $163,358 or more — has increased by nearly 39 percent in the past four years, according to LegiStorm data. …“These are people who could be making a lot more money in the private sector, but they choose to work here,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly, who also makes $172,500. …There are approximately 10,000 House staffers, including district office workers, according to the chief administrative officer.

Even though I’m a former Hill staffer, I’m certainly not going to defend these salaries (especially since I was nowhere near the top of the pay structure!). But excessive pay is actually a secondary problem. The real issue is the explosion in the number of staff. The image below, taken from a 1993 congressional report, shows the increase in the number of staff for each member of the House of Representatives. This doesn’t include, incidentally, the increase in committee staff and the growth in auxiliary institutions such as the Congressional Budget Office (the folks who just told us that a giant new entitlement program would reduce red ink).

It’s a chicken-and-egg issue whether this bloated congressional staff structure is a result of bigger government, or whether it contributes to bigger government. In either case, it would be a good idea to go back to the number of staff — and size of government — we had in the past.

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This Associated Press story really bolsters my confidence in the public sector. I can’t wait for geniuses like this to be in charge of determining what health care procedures are acceptable:

Fifteen phony products – including a gasoline-powered alarm clock – won a label from the government certifying them as energy efficient in a test of the federal “Energy Star” program. Investigators concluded the program is “vulnerable to fraud and abuse.” A report released Friday said government investigators tried to pass off 20 fake products as energy efficient, and only two were rejected. Three others didn’t get a response. The program run by the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to identify energy-efficient products to help consumers. Tax credits and rebates serve as incentives to buy Energy Star products. But the General Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, said Energy Star doesn’t verify claims made by manufacturers – which might explain the gasoline-powered alarm clock, not to mention a product billed as an air room cleaner that was actually a space heater with a feather duster and fly strips attached, and a computer monitor that won approval within 30 minutes of submission.

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Saw this on Redstate yesterday. Funny, but it will be sad when it becomes reality.

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This story from the Daily Caller about colleges helping kids sign up for food stamps, got me completely depressed. It’s not so much that this is indicative of a bloated, out-of-control government, though it is. It’s more that this symbolizes how the social capital of the nation is being eroded by the moocher mentality. Welfare should have social stigma, it should not be overly generous, and it should not be part of the federal government. As you can see from this excerpt, I’m batting 0-3:

About 20,000 people sign up for food stamps every day, and college students across the country are the newest demographic being encouraged to enlist. Portland State University devotes a page on its Web site to explaining the ease with which students can receive benefits, along with instructions on how to apply. The school says food stamps are not charity but rather a benefit all honest taxpaying citizens can afford. …Traditionally food stamps are for the working poor and single parents, but colleges are trying to make it as easy as possible for students to obtain federal assistance, no matter their socio-economic background. Oregon has a state-wide non-profit which includes a special focus on food stamps for students… The Grand Views, a college newspaper from Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, featured a story on students who apply for food stamps because they claim they don’t have time to hold down a job between classes and basketball practices. …Adam Sylvain, a sophomore at Virginia’s George Mason University, recounted a recent conversation with friends in his dorm room. “My roommate told me he applied for food stamps, and they told him he qualified for $200 a month in benefits,” Sylvain said. “He’s here on scholarship and he saves over $5,000 each summer in cash.” “A few of our other friends who were in the room also said if there were able to, they would get food stamps … They think that if they’re eligible it’s the government’s fault, so they might as well,” Sylvain said. …President Obama’s latest budget included $72.5 billion for food stamps — nearly double the amount from 2008. Approximately 38 million people, or 13 percent of the U.S. population is on food stamps. It’s a trend that seems on the rise — Salon recently reported on young, broke hipsters using federal assistance to buy high-end organic food. “I’m sort of a foodie, and I’m not going to do the ‘living off ramen’ thing,” one young man said, fondly remembering a recent meal he’d prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes. “I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps, but it’s great that you can get anything.”

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