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Archive for July 29th, 2011

In a perverse way, I’m glad that there are places such as Greece and Illinois. These profligate jurisdictions are useful examples of the dangers of bloated government and reckless statism.

There also are some cities that serve as reverse role models. Detroit is a miserable case study of big government run amok, so I enjoyed a moment or two of guilty pleasure as I read this CNBC story about the ongoing decay of the Motor City. Here are some excerpts.

Detroit neighborhoods with more people and a better chance of survival will receive different levels of city services than more blighted areas under a plan unveiled Wednesday that some residents fear may pit them against each other for scarce resources. …the boundaries of the 139-square-mile city aren’t receding. The plan also backs away from forcing the redistribution of what’s left of the population into areas where people still live and where the houses aren’t on the verge of caving in. …Detroit’s population of about 713,000 is down about 200,000 from 10 years ago, according to U.S. Census figures, and has fallen more than 1 million since 1950. Some areas have fewer occupied homes than vacant ones. …A 2010 survey found Detroit had 33,000 vacant houses and scores of empty, weed-filled and trash-cluttered lots.

How predictable, I thought. This is what happens when vote-hungry politicians adopt policies that reward people for riding in the wagon and punish the folks who are pulling the wagon.

But there was also something about this story that rang a bell. It took a few minutes, since I’m getting old and decrepit, but then I realized that “blighted areas” was an eerily familiar term. Didn’t Ayn Rand use that term in one of her books?

Indeed, she did. Thanks to the miracle of Google Books, here is one of several passages in Atlas Shrugged that mentions Detroit…oops, I mean “blighted areas.”

No railroad was mentioned by name in the speeches that preceded the voting. The speeches dealt only with the public welfare. It was said that while the public welfare was threatened by shortages of transportation, railroads were destroying each other through vicious competition, on “the brutal policy of dog-eat-dog.” While there existed blighted areas where rail service had been discontinued, there existed at the same time large regions where two or more railroads were competing for a traffic barely sufficient for one. It was said that there were great opportunities for younger railroads in the blighted areas. While it was true that such areas offered little economic incentive at present, a public-spirited railroad, it was said, would undertake to provide transportation for the struggling inhabitants, since the prime purpose of a railroad was public service, not profit.

Heck, this isn’t the first time real-world events seem to have come straight from the pages of Rand’s book. I wrote last month about the creepy similarity of the waiver process for Obamacare and the bond de-freezers in Atlas Shrugged.

Many people say that Rand’s books are not very good literature, despite the amazing sales figures. Others say her philosophy is flawed, despite the profound influence of her writings.

I’m not competent to comment on those debates, but I can say that Atlas Shrugged does an amazing job of capturing the statist mindset and it tells a compelling story of how excessive government is self-destructive.

Fifty years ago, the book was viewed as a dystopian fantasy. Today, Greece, Illinois, and Detroit are making Ayn Rand seem like a prophet.

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In the spirit of the budget battle, readers have to eat their peas (i.e., endure my analysis) before getting to the dessert menu of jokes from the late-night comics.

The big news today is that Speaker Boehner had to cancel a vote on his “Budget Control Act” last night. But other than the political-drama angle, I’m not sure why this is newsworthy.  Senate Democrats were united against the plan, with all 53 members signing a letter of opposition.

In other words, this was just a symbolic vote.

But I must admit that I’m puzzled why the GOP leadership decided to even bother going down this path. Republicans were beginning to make progress with the theme of “We’ve passed two proposals, where’s Reid’s plan or Obama’s plan?”

So why did they let the Democrats off the hook by launching an intra-party fight over a proposal that Senate Dems already have rejected? Beats the heck out of me.

In my conversations with folks on the Hill, I’ve suggested that GOPers should do three things.

1. Explain that they’ve passed a debt limit increase as part of cut, cap, and balance.

2. Explain that they look forward to hammering out a compromise deal in a conference committee as soon as the Senate approves its version of a debt limit increase.

3. Express disappointment that the Senate has failed to act, especially with time running out, and also reiterate that the White House has never put forward a plan.

These three steps won’t lead to anything wonderful. I’ve always been realistic about the GOP not having the power at this point to win a policy victory. But this approach sounds – and is – very reasonable and might help pressure the left into a reasonable deal.

Last but not least, I’m also curious about how the anemic growth numbers released today – flat in the first quarter and only 1.3 percent growth in the second quarter – will impact the debate. Given the low quality of debate in DC, I won’t be surprised if some hacks argue that the GOP’s failure to fully surrender on the debt limit issue somehow is responsible for how the economy performed in the first half of the year. Maybe time machines.

The only thing I can say for sure is that there is no risk of default, which is what I told the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Now, for a bit of levity, here are a few jokes from the talk shows. I’ll give Conan the edge for this batch.

Leno

  • They say “Captain America” is successful because it takes place in a time when America could fight a war and get out of a depression at the same time. A whole different thing from today.
  • The Kardashian sisters made $65 million. Maybe they should be running the country.
  • Iowa Congressman Steve King says that if the country falls into default, President Obama could be impeached. Obama could stop that with three words: “President Joe Biden.”

Conan:

  • The government is less than a week away from not being able to pay its bills. We may have to move in with Canada for a while.
  • The debt ceiling debate is such a mess right now, al-Qaida is desperately trying to find a way to take credit for it.
  • If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Aug. 2, the whole country can go into default and we won’t be able to pay our bills. Then we’ll have to ask our parents for money, which will be very embarrassing.
  • President Obama urged the American people to call Congress and demand that both parties work together on a compromise. The calls are 99 cents for the first minute, and a trillion dollars for each additional minute.

Kimmel:

  • John Boehner told Republicans to “get in line.” He was very angry. His face turned from orange to mandarin orange.
  • They say that the United States might default on its loans and China might foreclose. We’ll have to move into a cheap rental country or something.

Letterman:

  • The NFL lockout is over. All the parties agreed and we have a compromise. It’s too bad the national debt isn’t as important as football.

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