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Archive for the ‘Elitism’ Category

Last year, while writing about the sleazy and self-serving behavior at the IRS, I came up with a Theorem that explains day-to-day behavior in Washington.

It might not be as pithy as Mitchell’s Law, and it doesn’t contain an important policy prescription like Mitchell’s Golden Rule, but it could be the motto of the federal government.

Simply stated, government is a racket that benefits the DC political elite by taking money from average people in America

I realize this is an unhappy topic to be discussing during the Christmas season, but the American people need to realize that they are being raped and pillaged by the corrupt insiders that control Washington and live fat and easy lives at our expense.

If you don’t believe me, check out this map showing that 10 of the 15 richest counties in America are the ones surrounding our nation’s imperial capital.

Who would have guessed that the wages of sin are so high?

But even though the District of Columbia isn’t on the list, that doesn’t mean the people actually living in the capital are suffering.

Here are some interesting nuggets from a report in the Washington Business Journal.

D.C. residents are enjoying a personal income boom. The District’s total personal income in 2012 was $47.28 billion, or $74,733 for each of its 632,323 residents, according to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer’s Economic and Revenue Trends report for November. The U.S. average per capita personal income was $43,725.

Why is income so much higher? Well, the lobbyists, politicians, bureaucrats, interest groups, contractors, and other insiders who dominate DC get much higher wages than people elsewhere in the country.

And they get far higher fringe benefits.

In terms of pure wages, D.C., on a per capita basis, was 79 percent higher than the national average in 2012 — $36,974 to $20,656. …Employee benefits were 102 percent higher in D.C. than the U.S. average in 2012, $7,514 to $3,710. Proprietor’s income, 137 percent higher — $9,275 to $3,906. …The numbers suggest D.C. residents are living the high life.

Now let’s share a chart from Zero Hedge. It uses median household income rather than total personal income, so the numbers don’t match up, but what’s noteworthy is how DC income grew faster than the rest of the nation during the Bush years and then even more dramatically diverged from the rest of the country during the Obama years.

In other words, policies like TARP, the fake stimulus, and Obamacare have been very good for Washington’s ruling class.

Want some other concrete examples of profitable Washington sleaze? Well, here are some excerpts from Rich Tucker’s column for Real Clear Policy.

The real place to park your money is in Washington, D.C. That’s because the way to get ahead isn’t to work hard or make things; it’s to lobby Washington for special privileges. Look no further than the sweet deal the sugar industry gets. It’s spent about $50 million on federal campaign donations over the last five years. So that would average out to $10 million per year. Last year alone, the federal government spent $278 million on direct expenditures to sugar companies. That’s a great return on investment.

Big Corn may get an even better deal than Big Sugar.

Then there’s ethanol policy. Until 2012, the federal government provided generous tax credits to refiners that blended ethanol into gasoline. In 2011 alone, Washington spent $6 billion on this credit. The federal government also maintains tariffs (54 cents per gallon) to keep out foreign ethanol,and it mandates that tens of billions of gallons of ethanol be blended into the American gasoline supply. Nothing like a federal mandate to create demand for your product. How much would you pay for billions of dollars worth of largesse? Well, the ethanol industry got a steep discount. In 2012, opensecrets.org says, the American Coalition for Ethanol spent $212,216 on lobbying.

Rich warns that the United States is sliding in the wrong direction.

What makes Washington especially profitable is that its only products are the laws, rules, and regulations that it has the power to force everyone else to follow. …we seem to be sliding toward what the authors term “extractive” institutions. That means government using its power to benefit a handful of influential individuals at the expense of everyone else.

And let’s not forget that some people are getting very rich from Obamacare while the rest of us lose our insurance or pay higher prices.

This Reason TV interview with Andrew Ferguson explains that there is a huge shadow workforce of contractors, consultants, and lobbyists who have their snouts buried deeply in the public trough.

I particularly like his common sense explanation that Washington’s wealth comes at the expense of everyone else. The politicians seize our money at the point of a gun (or simply print more of it) to finance an opulent imperial city.

So if you’re having a hard time making ends meet, remember that you should blame the parasite class in Washington.

P.S. The insider corruption of Washington is a bipartisan problem. Indeed, some of the sleaziest people in DC are Republicans.

P.P.S. Though scandals such as Solyndra show that Obama certainly knows how to play the game.

P.P.P.S. Making government smaller is the only way to reduce the Washington problem of corrupt fat cats.

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Whether they’re banning bake sales, federalizing school lunch menus, or criminalizing Big Gulps, the nanny-staters feel they have some special wisdom that gives them the right to tell other people how to live their lives.

This irks libertarians since we value human liberty, even if it means people sometimes make foolish choices. But so long as you’re not interfering with someone else’s rights, we don’t think government should dictate your private behavior.

Parternalists obviously disagree. For a very reasonable explanation of this mindset, here’s some of Cass Sunstein’s work, as excerpted by The New Republic.

What seems to unify paternalistic approaches, however diverse, is that government does not believe that people’s choices will promote their welfare, and it is taking steps to influence or alter people’s choices for their own good.

In other words, people are sometimes dumb and the government at the very least needs to nudge them in the right direction.

Sunstein outlines the objections to this approach, largely focusing on the fact that the market process will discourage bad behaviors.

To the committed antipaternalist, government should not short-circuit the valuable process of learning by doing. If people make mistakes about diets, drinks, love, or investments, they can obtain valuable lessons, and those lessons can make their lives a lot better. …In a market economy, companies compete with one another, and people are free to choose among a wide range of options. If a car has terrible fuel economy, and if it costs a lot of money to operate, fewer people will buy it. As a result, companies will produce more fuel-efficient cars. Some consumers may be fooled or tricked, but in the long run, free competition and open markets will help. On this view, paternalism presents a major risk, because it may freeze the process of competition.

Not surprisingly, Sunstein argues that the market process is sometimes inadequate.

…even if we are inclined to think that individuals are generally the best judges of how to make their own lives go well, the word generally is important. With that qualification, we can see that the objections to paternalism depend on some empirical judgments. …The relationship between freedom of choice and welfare is being tested, with complex results. Sometimes people’s means do not promote their own ends. Behavioral economists have identified a number of reasons that people’s choices do not always promote their welfare. …sometimes we fail to take steps that really are in our interest. Human beings often procrastinate, and the long-term may not be so salient to us. We can be tempted by emotional appeals. Sometimes we do not take steps that would make our lives go a lot better. If welfare is our guide, means paternalism might be required, not forbidden.

To be fair, Sunstein recognizes that many antipaternalists are motivated by freedom, not some abstract measure of human welfare.

Suppose that we are not so focused on welfare and that we believe that freedom of choice has a special and independent status. We might think that people have a right to choose, even if their choices cause harm, and that government cannot legitimately intrude on that right, even if it does in fact know best. …Many of the most deeply felt objections to paternalism are based on an intuition or judgment of this kind. They often take the form of a question: By what right can government legitimately interfere with the choices of free adults?

This passage captures my view.

I actually agree with paternalists in that there are lots of people who make bad choices. I think a major problem is that these people over-value the positive feelings they get from “bad” behaviors today and under-value the harm  that those behaviors will cause in the future.

At the risk of making a sweeping judgement, I even think the biggest barrier to upward mobility is that some people don’t have a properly developed sense of deferred gratification.

So I think paternalists often are right, but I disagree with the notion that government should coerce people and impose “good” choices. Simply stated, freedom and liberty matter to me.

To butcher a very important quote, “I may disagree with your decision to smoke cigarettes and guzzle 32 oz. sodas, but I will defend to the death your right to do so.”

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I won’t defend to the death your right to be foolish. But I’ll surely write a snarky blog post.

Let’s close by acknowledging there are some gray areas. What about the idea that government can “nudge” us to make better choices? A classic example is a government rule to automatically sign new workers up for things such as 401(k) plans, but then give them the ability to opt out.

I don’t want government to interfere with private employment contracts, but that type of policy is obviously not nearly as objectionable as banning Big Gulps.

And you can come up with other proposals that might even pass muster with rabid libertarians. If a high school has a consumer finance class that teaches people about compounding and present value, that presumably will nudge them to be more pro-saving.

Is there anything wrong with that? Probably not, though we hard-core libertarians would argue that such lessons presumably would be part of the market-based education system.

In other words, there’s a reason why our answer to just about every question is “less government.” Not only is that a good philosophy, it’s also the way of getting the best results.

P.S. If Sunstein’s name sounds familiar, it may be because I have criticized him for endorsing more redistribution based on FDR’s awful Economic Bill of Rights.

On the other hand, I have favorably cited his research to show that too much regulation can cause needless deaths.

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Way back in 2010, I savaged Prince Charles for being the ultimate Limousine Liberal. He lives off the taxpayers while traveling on private jets so he can pontificate about the need for ordinary people to live bleaker lives in order to appease the environmental gods.

And if someone asked me about the taxpayer cost of maintaining England’s royal family compared to the equivalent numbers for President Obama and his family, I would have guessed the royal family was more expensive.

I would have been wrong. Here’s an excerpt from a story in the Daily Caller.

Taxpayers spent $1.4 billion dollars on everything from staffing, housing, flying and entertaining President Obama and his family last year, according to the author of a new book on taxpayer-funded presidential perks. In comparison, British taxpayers spent just $57.8 million on the royal family. Author Robert Keith Gray writes in “Presidential Perks Gone Royal” that Obama isn’t the only president to have taken advantage of the expensive trappings of his office. But the amount of money spent on the first family, he argues, has risen tremendously under the Obama administration and needs to be reined in. Gray told The Daily Caller that the $1.4 billion spent on the Obama family last year is the “total cost of the presidency,” factoring the cost of the “biggest staff in history at the highest wages ever,” a 50 percent increase in the numbers of appointed czars and an Air Force One “running with the frequency of a scheduled air line.”

I hope that these numbers are wrong. Indeed, it wouldn’t be fair to add the policy staff of the White House (even though I’m sure it could be cut in half) when making comparisons of the care and upkeep of the Obamas and the royal family.

“Send out the Sheriff of Nottingham to collect more tribute”

But there’s definitely a big kernel of truth to the charge that politicians are leading lives of privilege and elitism compared to the peasants that finance their pampered existence.

To add insult to injury, they exempt themselves from the laws they impose on the rest of us, such as the decision that some White House vehicles will be exempt from Obama’s directive that the federal government purchase only green cars.

Keep in mind, though, that it’s not just Obama. The Bush White House also was guilty of extravagance, albeit perhaps at a lower level.

But the big numbers, in terms of the burden on taxpayers, come from the giant army of overcompensated federal bureaucrats. And you need to consider the mass of lobbyists and consultants that also are part of the corrupt Washington machine.

No wonder, as shown in this map, most of the richest counties in America are those surrounding Washington.

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I don’t like discrimination by the government.

I’m even against government-sponsored discrimination when I’m the beneficiary.

It bothers me, for instance, that the Transportation Security Administration has special lines for people – like me – who have some sort of elite frequent-flyer status with one or more airlines.

I have no problem with United Airlines treating me well. I give them lots of money because they’re my main airline, so it’s good business practice for them to reward me with special treatment regarding boarding, seat assignments, and upgrades.

But the Transportation Security Administration has only one responsibility (don’t laugh), and that’s to make sure people don’t bring dangerous items on airplanes.

So why should I get VIP treatment from a government agency just because I fly a lot?

That might be justifiable if I paid extra, sort of like drivers who pay more to ride in H-O-T lanes.

It might be justifiable if I participated in some sort of pre-screening process that enabled me to bypass some or all of TSA’s pointless security apparatus – assuming, though, that the pre-screening process was open to everybody.

And maybe there are other examples where special treatment might be warranted, such as payments from the airlines to cover the costs of the VIP lanes.

But buying a first class ticket or being a frequent flyer should not be sufficient to get someone favoritism from the government.

P.S. This post does not imply I approve of the TSA’s performance. Indeed, I’ve commented on the TSA’s incompetence in previous posts. I’ve also shared some horror stories about TSA abuse. And I’ve posted many jokes about the Keystone Cops of airport security (for more laughs, see thisthisthis, and this).

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I endorsed Francois Hollande, the Socialist, in his race to become President of France. I wasn’t under any illusion that he would do the right thing, but I figured anything was better than another term for Sarkozy, who was a de facto rather than de jure socialist.

“Mon Dieu, it is time to raise zee taxes!”

Hollande largely has pursued a statist agenda of higher taxes and more wasteful spending since taking office, which is par for the course, but I will give him credit for cutting back on some of the personal excesses of  France’s ruling class.

Here are excerpts from a CNBC report.

Mr. Hollande, a Socialist, and his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, have ordered downgrades in official luxury… Mr. Hollande has actually taken the train to Brussels, without a state jet following him, and his ministers have been ordered to hit the rails when possible (with a free pass on the national railway system). When they fly, they are encouraged to travel in coach class on commercial airlines. …Official cars have been diminished in size and in luxury. Mr. Hollande has given up the presidential Citroën C6 for a smaller but hardly shabby Citroën DS5 diesel hybrid. He has reduced the ranks of his official drivers to two from three, and they are now supposed to stop at red lights.

I’m not naive. It’s quite likely that Hollande is taking these steps solely to score political points. But that’s still more than can be said of Obama and the rest of the political elite in America.

I’m particularly impressed that Hollande is going to obey traffic laws and not inconvenience other people. It is nauseating how Obama’s security people will block traffic for 20-30 minutes ahead of of time because of a jaunt around town. And the same happened during the Bush years, so my grousing has nothing to do with party labels.

Other French politicians also are downgrading their means of transportation.

Mr. Ayrault gave up his C6 for a cheaper Peugeot 508. Cabinet ministers have also traded down, and the housing minister, Cécile Duflot, an ecologist who was criticized for wearing jeans to an Élysée Palace meeting, has ordered four official bicycles.

Yes, the bicycles are another empty bit of political posturing, but wouldn’t it be a splendid idea to see some department heads in the United States wobbling along on busy streets, particularly in the heat of summer or cold of winter? Though maybe we’ll give Treasury Secretary Geithner a riding lawnmower since he’s the Forrest Gump of this Administration.

Even security has been put to the knife, at least a little. Junior ministers no longer get bodyguards, and the number of security workers attached to the presidency has been reduced by a third. …Mr. Ayrault has ordered his ministers to reduce their official budgets sharply, by 7 percent in 2013 and by an additional 4 percent in each of the next two years.

Bravo, as the French might say (or is that Spanish?). I understand that the President of the United States is an attractive target for dirtbags, so I don’t object to a strong security presence for Obama, but do we really need a Praetorian Guard for a bevy of other government officials? At best, it’s a bit unseemly, sort of reminiscent of some third-world military junta.

I’m also impressed that French ministers will be cutting their budgets, though I recognize that they may be using the same kind of dishonest budgeting we use in America (“Sacre bleu, we raised spending by 5 percent instead of 12 percent, so that’s a 7 percent cut!”).

The only American official (that I know of) who has done something similar to Hollande is Speaker John Boehner, who chose to do without the taxpayer-funded personal jet that Queen Pelosi used for trips back to California.

That being said, I wouldn’t mind giving politicians all sorts of expensive perks if they did things that advanced freedom. So Hollande could upgrade his car if he gave the French people a flat tax. And Boehner could take the private jet out of mothballs if he allowed Americans to shift their payroll taxes to personal retirement accounts.

But so long as they keep screwing us with bad policy, then politicians don’t deserve anything. Other than perhaps rusty old bicycles.

P.S. Cutting back on personal luxuries for the political elite is not the only area where the French are ahead of the United States. They also have a more dignified way of treating folks who choose to expatriate. And a lower corporate income tax rate.

But I’m not quite ready to trade places, no matter how hard Obama tries to make us more statist, I suspect the French will always be worse.

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Back in February, I posted this startling map showing that 10 of America’s 15-richest counties are the bedroom communities surrounding Washington, DC.

There’s a lot of money in Washington because federal bureaucrats are wildly overpaid, as I document in this video, and also because there is a huge shadow workforce of contractors, consultants, and lobbyists who have their snouts buried deeply in the public trough.

In an interview for Reason TV, Andy Ferguson talks about how these well-paid parasites have created a bubble economy in Washington.

And you know it must be true because even the leftists at Politico wrote a story acknowledging how the DC area was thriving at a time when the rest of America was struggling.

In other words, the poor and middle-class people in the real world are paying high taxes to subsidize the indolent moochers of Washington.

You would think that’s one kind of redistribution that the left would oppose. Heck, it’s almost enough to make you think that it would be a good idea to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

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Welcome, Insta-readers. If you like political humor, you can peruse dozens of options by clicking here.

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I’ve made reference to the public teat or government teat a handful of times, including posts about moochers in France and Ireland, as well as posts about Senator Conrad and the Small Business Administration.

But now we’re going to move from metaphors to…well, you’ll see.

It’s probably been at least 20 years since I read Time, but I couldn’t help but notice the controversy over the recent cover story about breastfeeding. I don’t have a strong opinion about the right age to wean a kid, though there’s something about this photo that triggered my “ick” reaction.

But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to share this Obama-Clooney parody sent to me by a softball buddy.

This also earned an “ick” when I saw it, but I also found it quite amusing. Like most normal people, I like when pretentious elitists are the targets of scorn and derision. And can you think of two people more out of touch with the real world than Barack Obama and George Clooney?

They truly are limousine socialists, as the parody states.

That being said, I wonder whether the positions should have been reversed. Whoever created this presumably is mocking Obama for sucking up (no pun intended) Hollywood money.

But perhaps Clooney should have been the child in this image. He and his Tinsel-Town colleagues are definitely part of the “1 percent,” but they figure they can stay in the good graces of the left by providing protection money and a bit of glamor-by-association for the political elite (rather appropriate since Washington is sometimes called Hollywood for ugly people).

One hopes that Hollywood leftists eventually will wake up and realize that they’ll be victimized by class-warfare tax rates. Indeed, that’s already happened with Jon Lovitz. And let’s remember that Ronald Reagan supposedly became a supply-sider because he learned there was no point in  making more than a couple of movies each year when  top tax rates were confiscatory.

But I’m not holding my breath in expectation of a big shift.

P.S. Don’t forget that Obama may become a film star after he leaves the White House, at least according to the person who put together these amusing movie images.

P.P.S. There doesn’t seem to be any risk of me becoming a limousine liberal. My one movie role was apparently so forgettable that I won’t be leaving Washington for Hollywood any time soon.

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