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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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I’ve written before about how big government is enriching people in the Washington metropolitan area. This is for two reasons.

First, bureaucrats are paid too much, getting twice as much compensation, on average, as people in the productive sector of the economy.

Second, lobbyists, contractors, and interest groups have figured out how to get lucrative positions at the federal trough.

A new report from MSN Money illustrates how the political elite is getting very rich by plundering honest Americans. America has 3,033 counties, and they identified the 15 richest jurisdictions from that list.

Of those 15 super-elite counties (the top 1/2 of one percent), 10 are in the Washington metropolitan area. I’ve identified them with stars in the map.

You may be wondering, by the way, about the location of the other counties in the top 15. Well, four of them are suburbs of New York City, meaning that they are home to rich Wall Street people who mooched from the taxpayers thanks to TARP bailouts and other subsidies.

So if you really want to be cynical, you could count them as auxiliary counties of Washington, DC. That’s probably an unfair conclusion, but TARP was unfair to honest and hard-working people, so I don’t feel too guilty.

As far as I can tell, the only untarnished jurisdiction in the top 15 is Douglas County, Colorado. And given that these are the folks who are implementing a good school choice plan, it seems that we have a group of productive people who also believe in doing the right thing.

For more information about the overcompensation of bureaucrats, this video is loaded with information.

Most important of all, remember that any proposals to increase government spending will further widen the income gulf between the political elite and regular Americans. And any initiative to boost the tax burden would lead to the same result.

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Welcome Instapundit readers. If you want to know why rich liberals are not just hypocrites, but also wrong, read this post that tries to teach President Obama about the Laffer Curve.

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I’ve written before about how some leftists have a masochistic desire to pay higher taxes.

I’ve also exposed Warren Buffett’s dishonest math, which is part of his campaign for bigger government.

And I’ve even debated rich statists on TV, telling them not to make the rest of us victims of their neurotic guilt feelings.

So it was with considerable amusement that I saw this video clip from the Daily Caller, exposing the utter hypocrisy of rich leftists.

By the way, you may recognize Michelle Fields because she narrated this video on how bad government policies such as the New Deal made the Great Depression worse.

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In the past, I’ve joked about “limousine liberals,” which is a phrase for elitist left wingers who pretend to identify with average people while living the good life. I’ve even mocked these folks on TV.

But I always thought the term was symbolic. Not anymore. Here’s a segment of a news report, based on a General Services Administration survey.

Limousines, the very symbol of wealth and excess, are usually the domain of corporate executives and the rich. But the number of limos owned by Uncle Sam increased by 73 percent during the first two years of the Obama administration, according to an analysis of records by iWatch News. …a watchdog group says the abundance of limos sends the wrong message in the midst of a budget crisis. The increase in limos comes to light on the heels of an executive order from President Obama last week that charges agencies to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleets. According to General Services Administration data , the number of limousines in the federal fleet increased from 238 in fiscal 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, to 412 in 2010.

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I’ve remarked before about how I get especially upset when well-to-do people figure out ways of ripping off taxpayers. Redistribution from rich to poor is not a good idea, but it is far more offensive when the coercive power of government is used to transfer money from ordinary people to the elite.

A good (perhaps “reprehensible” would be a better word to use) example if the scam created by international bureaucracies. The folks who work for entities such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, United Nations, and Organization for Economic Cooperation get wildly excessive compensation packages. To add insult to injury, their income is tax free!

Here are some excerpts from a Richard Pollack column at Pajamas Media.

At the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and at the IMF, you find extravagantly paid men and women who masquerade as anti-poverty fighters for the Third World. As one World Bank vice president said upon his resignation: “Poverty reduction is the last thing on most World Bank bureaucrats’ minds.” These global institutions are supposed to act as non-profits, but big salaries and big perks rule as the norm. And you’re paying for them: as the largest single contributor, American taxpayers pick up the tab. By now everyone knows about DSK’s extravagant $420,000 employment agreement that included an additional $73,000 for living expenses — a provision explained thusly by the IMF: “To enable you to maintain … a scale of living appropriate to your position.” …A PJM survey found that a common annual compensation package for senior management at the anti-poverty banks exceeds $500,000 — tax-free. World Bank President Robert Zoellick currently receives $441,980 in base salary and $284,500 in other benefits. Strauss-Kahn’s deputy, John Lipsky, receives $384,000 in base salary plus “living allowances.” …Ten of Zoellick’s deputies receive tax-free base pay of $321,00 to $347,000, plus enjoy an additional $210,000 in benefits. Even mid-level World Bank employees earn well into six digits: the average salary for a professional manager is $181,000, plus $97,000 in benefits. A senior adviser receives on average $238,000 plus $127,000 in benefits. A vice president receives $286,000 plus $153,000 in benefits. The biggest hidden benefits are the off-the-book perks called “living allowances.” These perks can nearly double a stated salary. Of the 2,600 IMF and 10,000 World Bank full-time employees, all receive some form of supplemental living allowances in addition to their base pay. These include home leave grants, dependent allowances, travel perks, and education “grants” for their children to attend private schools. In addition, they offer generous pensions and health insurance policies. According to a U.S. General Accounting Office study, the average cost for these additional perks added $197,300 per employee cost beyond their base pay in 1994 dollars.

The column doesn’t mention my “favorite” international bureaucracy, which is the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD’s budget is small compared to some of the other parasitic bodies mentioned in the column, but this video explains how big-government policies are being financed with the $100 million-plus of American tax dollars sent to France to subsidize the OECD.

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I certainly take second place to nobody in my utter contempt for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund. Who knew that forcing yourself (allegedly) on women could earn you a reputation as “the Great Seducer”? I guess my failure to understand means I’m just a backwards and provincial American.

I’m also a bit old-fashioned in my approach to economics. I don’t think people should use the coercive power of government take what they haven’t earned. That’s why I hold international bureaucracies in low esteem. Most of my efforts have focused on the OECD, a Paris-based (gee, what a surprise) bureaucracy that squanders American tax dollars on statist schemes such as their ongoing anti-tax competition campaign that persecutes countries with low tax rates.

But I’m also a big believer in kicking an enemy while he’s vulnerable, so let’s shift to the International Monetary Fund. Here are some passages from a new column by my Cato colleague Doug Bandow. He points out that the IMF has a horrible track record of promoting and facilitating big government.

…the rape charges against him symbolize the IMF: an institution of privilege that routinely acts to the disadvantage of the vulnerable. The IMF’s founding purpose vanished when the system of fixed exchange rates collapsed in the early 1970s. But instead of closing up shop (no jobs for international bureaucrats in that!), the IMF switched to promoting development. That is, it became a welfare program for Third World governments (and, more recently, for Eastern Europe and even Greece). The IMF spent decades subsidizing the world’s economic basket cases. Few, if any, advanced because of its programs. …the agency often got “wise” wrong. It often focused on narrow accounting data, with perverse consequences — such as forcing governments to raise taxes rather than cut spending. …Years ago, economist John Williamson pointed to the problem of the IMF feeling pressure “to lend money in order to justify having it.” Indeed, the IMF seems to measure success by making loans. As a result, its cash often acted as a general subsidy for collectivist economic policies. (Williamson once defended the organization against the criticism that it was too market-oriented by pointing to its loans to several unreconstructed communist states.) Indeed, the agency proudly disclaimed any bias against collectivist systems, pointing to “programs in all types of economies” which had “accommodated such nonmarket devices as production controls, administered prices and subsidies.” It sometimes seems to favor the most perverse policies. For instance, in the IMF’s first 40 years, India collected more money from it than any other developing state — at a time when India was pursuing a Soviet-style industrialization program.

Ironically, some people are arguing that it is unfortunate that Strauss-Kahn is in jail at such a critical time, with several European welfare states teetering on the edge of default.

But this is actually very good news. If there is any chance of saving Europe, it will be precisely because bailouts stop and nations are forced to finally fix the awful big-government policies that have crippled growth and bloated budgets, thus leading to fiscal crises. Doug makes this essential point in the conclusion to his column, and also makes the key argument that it’s time to stop the handouts to this corrupt and wasteful bureaucracy.

The IMF’s loans have often likely postponed reform — allowing governments to keep going without making the tough changes that lead to long-term growth. That appears to be happening in Greece now — where the Fund has pushed more lending and a bigger bail-out (to the consternation of Germany, which is picking up much of the bill). Strauss-Kahn may finally have done a true public service by focusing attention on the IMF. With America drowning in red ink, Washington should stop throwing good money at this pernicious institution.

P.S. For those who want to hoist Europeans on their own petard, Tessa Berenson has a great little column at the Frum Forum pointing out how many of the political elite on the other side of the Atlantic thought it was horrible and inexcusable when an American head of the World Bank arranged for a pay raise for his girlfriend. The Europeans were right at the time, but they now turn a blind eye at a far more odious episode today.

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The gilded nobility otherwise known as politicians get lavish compensation packages, particularly when fringe benefits are part of the equation. But that doesn’t include their first class travel to exotic overseas locations. And even that doesn’t count the walking-around money they get – sometimes as much as $300 per day. But they’re supposed to actually spend their “per diem” money, not keep it, and this has gotten some of them in trouble. Here’s an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal report on the issue.
Congressional investigators are questioning a half-dozen lawmakers for possibly misspending government funds meant to pay for overseas travel, according to people familiar with the matter. …Congressional rules say the daily travel funds, called a per diem, must be spent on meals, cabs and other travel expenses. But when lawmakers travel, many of their meals and expenses are picked up by other people, such as foreign government officials or U.S. ambassadors. That can leave lawmakers with leftover money. Lawmakers routinely keep the extra funds or spend it on gifts, shopping or to cover their spouses’ travel expenses, according to dozens of current and former lawmakers. The cash payments vary according to the cost of living and range from about $25 a day in Kabul to more than $250 a day in one part of Japan. Lawmakers also usually request and receive an additional $50 a day. Leftover funds can add up to more than $1,000 a trip for longer visits to expensive regions. …The travel inquiry is the latest in a string of ethics investigations in the House that could hurt Democrats at the polls in November by undermining the party’s message that it has “drained the swamp” of ethics abuses in Washington. The House ethics committee is also pursuing high-profile cases against Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel of New York and Maxine Waters of California. Both lawmakers could face public proceedings in coming weeks that would be the congressional equivalent of a trial.

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The folks at Rasmussen Reports have done a great thing by splitting polling data by a new demographic – the political class compared to everyone else. In other words, instead of just telling us about different polling results based on factors such as race and sex, Rasmussen also tells us how polls differ based on a split that could be characterized as insiders vs outsiders. A stark example is the new poll on whether there should be any limits to federal government power. As this excerpt indicates, regular voters say yes by an astounding 94-3 margin, while 54 percent of the political class thinks there should be no limits to federal government power.

Eighty-six percent (86%) of voters nationwide say there should be “limits on what the federal government can do.” A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only nine percent (9%) believe the federal government should be allowed to do most anything in this country. These views are overwhelming shared across virtually all partisan and demographic lines. The only exception is America’s Political Class. By a 54% to 43% margin, the Political Class believes the federal government should be allowed to do most anything. Mainstream voters reject that view by a 94% to three percent (3%) margin.

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I may have to rethink my pessimistic assessment of David Cameron. As I’ve noted before, he strikes me as a George-Bush-style big-government faux conservative. But according to this Washington Post article, the coalition government in the UK may impose some real budget cuts (as opposed to phony Washington-type cuts that are just reductions in planned increases) on arts funding. The right level of subsidies for art is zero, of course, so I’m sure I’ll still be disappointed, but if Cameron can do the same thing across the budget and actually shrink the burden of government spending to less than 45 percent of GDP, I may be in a position of having to (cheerfully) admit that I was wrong. Here’s an excerpt from the story.
The art scene exploded in Britain over the past decade…. The fuel for that boom: a surge in generosity from Britain’s single biggest patron of the arts — the government. But now cash-strapped and desperate to slash the largest budget deficit in Europe, the new ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is moving to close the curtain on an era of what they describe as excessive government patronage. The coalition is preparing to cut arts funding so dramatically that it could sharply reduce or sever the financial lifelines for hundreds of cultural institutions from the National Theatre to the British Museum. The cuts would be more than a temporary fix. Officials are calling for a permanent shift toward the U.S. model of private philanthropy as the main benefactor of the arts… The move underscores the profound changes in the role of government that are taking place from Greece to Spain to Britain. It happens as European nations scramble to rein in runaway spending, in part by slashing public funds to sectors that came to survive — even thrive — because of them. In Britain, public aid to theaters, museums and other institutions jumped from $654 million in 2000 to $876 million this year… the budget cuts to the arts are a small part of a broader push by the coalition government to slash spending and right Britain’s finances over the next four years. …critics say the cuts to arts funding — cultural leaders say they have been warned that reductions could reach 40 percent over four years — appear set to be among the deepest… Large arts institutions in Britain often garner more than 50 percent of their budgets from public funds, compared with roughly 10 percent for major institutions in the United States. That is precisely what the British government says must change. Although the cuts have not yet been detailed, some organizations, including the UK Film Council, are already in the process of being shut down. The government has also demanded major institutions come up with contingency plans for 25 to 30 percent reductions in public funding. Officials from the ruling coalition are openly calling for a shift to U.S.-style fundraising to fill the gap. But critics insist it could take a generation or more to open the wallets of the British elite. Compared with the United States, there is a relatively small culture of philanthropy in Britain, with little special social status bestowed on corporations or wealthy individuals who support the arts. …cultural leaders are largely resisting the notion of dramatically increased dependence on private funding, pointing to the severe shortfalls U.S. arts institutions faced as donors cut back in the aftermath of the recent financial crisis. They are also opposed on artistic grounds, insisting it would put more pressure on institutions to censor their works. Spalding, for instance, said it was exactly the independence afforded by government funding that has helped London become a beacon for controversial pieces, such as one staged last year at Sadler’s Wells in which the pope sexually abuses an altar boy through interpretive dance. 
I’m particularly amused by the final excerpt about taxpayer subsidies for an interpretive dance about the Pope molesting altar boys. Is Britain so messed up that a moocher like Spalding thinks it is compelling to cite that bit of “art” as an argument for government funding? I imagine that Spalding thinks of himself as bold and brave for being associated with such a production. Does anybody think that this leech would put on a similar production focusing on Mohammed rather than the Pope?

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I don’t know whether he is a poster child for the dangers of inbreeding or a rich dolt who is seeking meaning in his life, but Prince Charles takes left-wing hypocrisy to an entirely new level. His “carbon footprint” almost surely is bigger than 99.9 percent of the world’s population, yet this pampered and clueless aristocrat thinks he was put on the earth to save the rest of us from sins such as “global warming” and “unbridled commerce.” If he gave up the throne and dedicated himself to a life of genuine self-denial, I would call him a clueless moron. Until that happens, he is best categorized as a hypocritical clueless moron.
The Prince of Wales says he believes he has been placed on Earth as future King ‘for a purpose’ – to save the world. Giving a fascinating insight into his view of his inherited wealth and influence, he said: ‘I can only somehow imagine that I find myself being born into this position for a purpose. ‘I don’t want my grandchildren or yours to come along and say to me, “Why the hell didn’t you come and do something about this? You knew what the problem was”. That is what motivates me. ‘I wanted to express something in the outer world that I feel inside… We seem to have lost that understanding of the whole of nature and the universe as a living entity.’ His impassioned comments come during a film about his belief that unbridled commerce has led to the destruction of farmland and countryside. …But the Prince has previously come under fire for hypocrisy over his eco-values. Last year he commandeered a jet belonging to the Queen’s Flight to attend the Copenhagen climate change summit, generating an estimated 6.4 tons of carbon dioxide – 5.2 tons more than if he had used a commercial plane. …Graham Smith, of the anti-monarchy group Republic, said: ‘He is under the impression he has been sent to save the world and deliver us from our sins. It’s quite delusional.

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The “appearance of impropriety” is often considered the Washington standard for corruption and misbehavior. With that in mind, alarm bells began ringing in my head when I read this Washington Times report about Jacob Lew, Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget. Why did Citigroup decide to hire a career DC political operator for $1.1 million? As a former political aide, lobbyist, lawyer, and political appointee, what particular talents did he have to justify that salary to manage an investment division? Did the presence of Lew (as well as other Washington insiders such as Robert Rubin) help Citigroup get a big bucket of money from taxpayers as part of the TARP bailout? Did Lew’s big $900K in 2009 have anything to do with the money the bank got from taxpayers? Is it a bit suspicious that he received his big windfall bonus four days after filing a financial disclosure? Read this blurb from the Washington Times and see if you can draw any conclusion other than this was a typical example of the sleazy relationship of big government and big business.

President Obama’s choice to be the government’s chief budget officer received a bonus of more than $900,000 from Citigroup Inc. last year — after the Wall Street firm for which he worked received a massive taxpayer bailout. The money was paid to Jacob Lew in January 2009, about two weeks before he joined the State Department as deputy secretary of state, according to a newly filed ethics form. The payout came on top of the already hefty $1.1 million Citigroup compensation package for 2008 that he reported last year. Administration officials and members of Congress last year expressed outrage that executives at other bailed-out firms, such as American International Group Inc., awarded bonuses to top executives. State Department officials at the time steadfastly refused to say if Mr. Lew received a post-bailout bonus from Citigroup in response to inquiries from The Washington Times. But Mr. Lew’s latest financial disclosure report, provided by the State Department on Wednesday, makes clear that he did receive a significant windfall. …The records show that Mr. Lew received the $944,578 payment four days after he filed his 2008 ethics disclosure.

Lest anyone think I’m being partisan, let’s now look at another story featuring Senator Richard Shelby. The Alabama Republican and his former aides have a nice incestuous relationship that means more campaign cash for him, lucrative fees for them, and lots of our tax dollars being diverted to moochers such as the state’s university system. Here are some of the sordid details.

Since 2008, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby has steered more than $250 million in earmarks to beneficiaries whose lobbyists used to work in his Senate office — including millions for Alabama universities represented by a former top staffer. In a mix of revolving-door and campaign finance politics, the same organizations that have enjoyed Shelby’s earmarks have seen their lobbyists and employees contribute nearly $1 million to Shelby’s campaign and political action committee since 1999, according to federal records. …Shelby’s earmarking doesn’t appear to run afoul of Senate rules or federal ethics laws. But critics said his tactics are part of a Washington culture in which lawmakers direct money back home to narrow interests, which, in turn, hire well-connected lobbyists — often former congressional aides — who enjoy special access on Capitol Hill.

Some people think the answer to these stories is more ethics laws, corruption laws, and campaign-finance laws, but that’s like putting a band-aid on a compound fracture. Besides, it is quite likely that no laws were broken, either by Lew, Citigroup, Shelby, or his former aides. This is just the way Washington works, and the beneficiaries are the insiders who know how to milk the system. The only way to actually reduce both legal and illegal corruption in Washington is to shrink the size of government. The sleaze will not go away until politicians have less ability to steer our money to special interests – whether they are Wall Street Banks or Alabama universities. This video elaborates.

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Thanks to Instapundit for drawing attention to this Financial Times report showing how ultra-rich elitists and politicians flew to South Africa on private jets, which meant both big carbon footprints and also resulted in ordinary people missing a key soccer match because the airport was too cluttered for many commercial planes to land. The Hypocrite-of-the-Year Award goes to Leonardo DiCaprio, who piously lectures ordinary people about how they should be good environmentalists (translation: pay higher energy taxes and reduce travel), but then engages in Al Gore-style global jet setting.
Hundreds of fans bound for Durban for the Germany-Spain World Cup semi final missed the game because their flights were unable to land, after air traffic authorities closed the city’s airport because of congestion on the runway caused by private aircraft. …Wire services reported that among the VIPs heading for the semi-final by jet were Spain’s King Juan Carlos, South African President Jacob Zuma, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and socialite Paris Hilton. The BA pilot, who held his plane for around 45 minutes above Durban in the vain hope of getting a landing slot, told passengers he had no choice but to take the plane to Johannesburg because the plane’s fuel was starting to run low. He announced that the problem was caused by the airport allowing too many private jets to land at Durban, leaving the runways clogged up and unable to accept scheduled flights. Confusion was heightened at OR Tambo airport by the lack of any senior officials to explain the problem. One junior official said she believed around 15 scheduled flights, mostly from Johannesburg, were unable to land in Durban.

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The G-20 gab-fest is in Canada this weekend, but Canadian taxpayers are definitely not winners. In a display of waste that might even embarrass a French politician, the Canadian government somehow is going to squander $1 billion hosting the event. I can’t even conceive of why such an event should even cost $10 million. Maybe hookers are very expensive up north. One interesting policy issue at the meeting is that the United States is siding with Euro-socialist nations in pushing a bank tax. Fortunately for taxpayers and financial consumers, the former communists in charge of Russia are helping to block this money-grab. This adds to the irony of Russia recently proposing to eliminate capital gains taxation while Obama (and the U.K.’s Cameron) are increasing the tax rate on entrepreneurship and investment. The world is upside down. The EU Observer reports:

With international eyes focusing on the potential ‘stimulus versus austerity’ scrap between different member states, Canadian citizens meanwhile have reacted in uproar at news that the weekend’s bill is set to total over $1 billion. Although 90 percent of that cost comes under the ‘security’ heading, it is a artificial lake intended to impress journalists in the press area that has come in for the heaviest criticism. The controversy may not be helped by the forecast lack of tangible results set to emanate from the two sets of meetings… The need for a global bank levy provides one the more concrete topics for discussion, but there is no guarantee that participants around the table will come to an agreement. “In the G20, the idea of a bank levy is not supported by at least half of the members,” Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told a group of journalists on Friday morning in Brussels. “Neither is it acceptable to Russia,” he continued, arguing that banks would merely pass on the extra costs to their clients.

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It’s been amusing, in an I-told-you-so fashion, to follow the fiscal crises in Greece, Spain, and other European welfare states.And I feel like a voyeuristic ghoul as I observe the incredibly misguided bailout policies being adopted by the political elites (who are trying to bail out the business elites who made silly loans to corrupt nations in Southern Europe). But I’m not sure how to describe my emotions (dumbfounded fascination?) about the latest bad idea emanating from Europe – to have a fiscal federation that would give bureaucrats in Brussels power over national budgets. It’s quite possible that this would result in some externally-imposed discipline for a basket case such as Greece, so it would not always lead to terrible results. But most of the decisions would be bad, particularly since the Euro-crats would use new powers to curtail tax competition in order to enhance the ability of governments to impose bad tax policy in order to seize more money. Moreover, fiscal centralization would exacerbate the main problem in Europe by creating a new avenue – cross-border subsidies - for people who want to mooch by getting access to other people’s money. The Wall Street Journal Europe has a good editorial on the issue:
Of all the possible responses to Europe’s sovereign debt woes, the notion of centralizing fiscal authority in Brussels may well be the most destructive. But that was exactly what European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet proposed in testimony before the European Parliament Monday. Mr. Trichet’s idea is that an independent body within the European Commission should have broad power to sanction national governments for fiscal or macroeconomic policies that threatened the stability of the euro. This would amount, in Mr. Trichet’s words, to the “equivalent of a fiscal federation” for the euro zone. Mr. Trichet has spent nearly 40 years as a civil servant in one form or another, which may explain his belief that Europe’s budgetary problems can be solved by technocrats. …Fiscal centralization would also undermine competition between different fiscal and macroeconomic policies within the euro zone. That would delight some countries, and probably some at the European Commission as well. During this crisis, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has criticized Germany for becoming too competitive for the euro zone’s own good. And a decade ago, France was among the euro-zone countries that attacked Ireland for lowering its corporate income-tax rate to 12.5% to attract investment. …Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate was an experiment that contributed to a lowering of rates around the world in the succeeding years.

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President Andrew Jackson is believed to have said that “One man with courage makes a majority.” Well, let’s hope this statement also applies to women. The incoming Prime Minister of Slovakia, Ms. Iveta Radicova, has the power to stop the corrupt and misguided European bailout scheme. At one point, Irish voters had the power to stop more centralization, bureaucratization, and harmonization in Brussels. Then the President of the Czech Republic had the opportunity to derail the movement to a socialist superstate in Brussels. In both cases, the forces of statism eventually prevailed. The bailout is a different issue, but the underlying issues are the same. Should nations have both the sovereign right to determine their own policies and should they also have the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of those actions? Here’s a blurb from the EU Observer about whether Slovakia will save Europe from the political elites:

The emerging new leadership in Slovakia has said the country will not contribute its share of the €110 billion rescue package for Greece. In addition, Bratislava is likely not to add its signature to the €750 billion eurozone support mechanism – something that could put the entire project on ice. …”It would be a serious blow to the EFSF and the euro area’s ability to stand behind its members [if a member does not sign],” a senior eurozone official told this website. He explained that all 16 signatures on the document – which specifies provisions on how to issue loan guarantees if necessary – are required to bring the emergency mechanism to life. …Conservative politician Iveta Radicova, the likely next prime minister, described the bloc’s €750 billion rescue fund during the pre-election debates as “bad, dangerous and [the] worst possible solution.” On Tuesday (15 June), Ms Radicova also re-iterated that she is against Slovakia providing any financial support to Greece.

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Newt Gingrich writes in the Washington Post today to defend his assertion that Obama is a socialist. He cites several examples of the President’s big-government agenda, which are excerpted below. These are all examples of bad policy, to be sure, but other than the student loan takeover, these are all examples of fascism rather than socialism. Socialism, technically speaking, is government ownership of the means of production. Fascism, by contrast, involves government control and direction of resources, but cloaked by a system of nominal private ownership.

Calling Obama a fascist, however, is counterproductive. Other than a few economists and historians, people don’t understand that fascism developed (with Mussolini perhaps being the best example) as a social/economic system. Instead, most people associate it with Hitler’s lunatic ideas on matters such as race and militarism. That’s why I prefer to call Obama a statist or a corporatist. Those words accurately describe his governing philosophy without creating the distractions caused by calling him a socialist or fascist.

Creating czar positions to micromanage industry reflects the type of hubris of centralized government that Friedrich von Hayek and George Orwell warned against. How can a White House “executive compensation czar” know enough to set salaries in multiple companies for many different people? Having a pay dictatorship for one part of the country sets the pattern for government to claim the right to set pay for everyone. If that isn’t socialism, what word would describe it?

Violating 200 years of bankruptcy precedent to take money from bondholders and investors in the auto industry to pay off union allies is rather an anti-market intervention.

Proposing that the government (through the Environmental Protection Agency or some sort of carbon-trading scheme) micromanage carbon output is proposing that the government be able to control the entire U.S. economy. Look at the proposals for government micromanagement in the 1,428-page Waxman-Markey energy tax bill. (I stopped reading when I got to the section regulating Jacuzzis on Page 442.) If government regulates every aspect of our use of power, it has regulated every aspect of our lives. What is that if not socialism?

Nationalizing student loans so that they are a bureaucratic monopoly. This will surely lead to fraud on the scale we see in Medicare and Medicaid, from which more than $70 billion per year is stolen.

Expanding government mortgage intervention to 90 percent of the housing market.

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I’ve always thought it would be nice to inherit a big pile of money, but whenever I debate some trust-fund collectivist, it makes me wonder whether there’s too much risk that unearned wealth causes…well, let’s just say causes strange opinions. Here’s my recent debate on Kudlow’s show with a rich guy who wants to pay more tax to the crooks in Washington.

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Greece is in trouble for a combination of reasons. Government spending is far too excessive, diverting resources from more efficient uses. The bureaucracy is too large and paid too much, resulting in a misallocation of labor. And tax rates are too high, further hindering the productive sector of the economy. Europe’s political class wants to bail out Greece’s profligate government. The official reason for a bailout, to protect the euro currency, makes no sense. After all, if Illinois or California default, that would not affect the strength (or lack thereof) of the dollar.

To understand what is really happening in Europe, it is always wise to look at what politicians are doing and ignore what they are saying. Political union is the religion of Europe’s political class, and they relentlessly use any excuse to centralize power in Brussels and strip away national sovereignty. Greece’s fiscal crisis is simply the latest excuse to move the goalposts. The Daily Telegraph reports that Germany and France are now conspiring to create an “economic government” for the European Union. Supposedly this entity would only have supervisory powers, but it is a virtual certainty that a European-wide tax will be the next step for the euro-centralizers.

Germany and France have [proposed] controversial plans to create an “economic government of the European Union” to police financial policy across the continent. They have put Herman Van Rompuy, the EU President, in charge of a special task force to examine “all options possible” to prevent another crisis like the one caused by the Greek meltdown. …The options he will consider include the creation of an “economic government” by the by the end of the year. “We commit to promote a strong co-ordination of economic policies in Europe,” said a draft text expected to be agreed by EU leaders last night. “We consider that the European Council should become the economic government of the EU and we propose to increase its role in economic surveillance and the definition of the EU’s growth strategy.” …Mr Van Rompuy, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, is an enthusiastic supporter of “la gouvernement économique” and last month upset many national capitals by trying impose “top down” economic targets. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has called for the Lisbon Treaty to be amended in order to prevent any repetition of the current Greek crisis, which has threatened to tear apart the euro.

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I have no objection to extravagent consumption so long as people are spending their own money. But when elitists in Washington want to enjoy “lifestyles of the rich and famous” by using our money, that is an outrage. Politicians already get to vote themselves hefty salaries and gold-plated benefit packages. They already pass laws and exempt themselves. Is it too much to ask that they fly commercial aircraft when going on their junkets? Heck, maybe if they had to deal with the mindless bureaucrats at the TSA, we might get some common-sense reforms so that going to the airport was not like a visit to the motor vehicles department. Rollcall.com has the story:

Last year, lawmakers excoriated the CEOs of the Big Three automakers for traveling to Washington, D.C., by private jet to attend a hearing about a possible bailout of their companies. But apparently Congress is not philosophically averse to private air travel: At the end of July, the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress. …The Gulfstream G550 is a luxury business jet, which the company advertises as featuring long-range flight capacity that “easily links Washington, D.C., with Dubai, London with Singapore and Tokyo with Paris.” The company’s promotional materials say, “The cabin aboard the G550 combines productivity with exceptional comfort. It features up to four distinct living areas, three temperature zones, a choice of 12 floor plan configurations with seating for up to 18 passengers.”

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