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Posts Tagged ‘Bush’

If you saw the Wall-E movie, you may remember how people morphed into helpless blobs because all their needs were being fulfilled by something called BNL. I realize I’m a quirky libertarian, but the movie made me think about how excessive government is doing something similar to people who get seduced by dependency.

This was one of the topics covered in my recent interview on Fox News with Neil Cavuto. We began by talking about America’s unfortunate drift in the direction of being a nanny state, but also covered other fiscal and economic issues.

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I don’t agree with all the points in this column from Real Clear Markets, but I fully agree with the overall theme that the GOP would be wise to cut Bush out of the Party’s history. Like Nixon, he was a failed, big-government statist.

The sour economy is presenting Republicans with a golden opportunity to retake both houses of Congress. The Democrats will try to defend their seats by attacking Bush’s record on the economy. Republican candidates should counter this move by acknowledging the economic errors made during the Bush years. This will help restore the credibility of the Republican brand with respect to the economy and free up the candidates to move on to what really matters-the future. …Was Bush 43 the worst post-1952 president in terms of the economy? No, he was the second-worst. Jimmy Carter managed to drive the Real Dow down by 78% in just four years, 1976-1980. If considered as one presidency, Nixon/Ford was the third-worst… So, what were the mistakes that made Bush 43 the second-worst president since 1952 with respect to the economy? The biggest single economic error Bush made was his “weak dollar” policy. While the president has no direct control over monetary policy, it is said that a president always gets the monetary policy he wants. Bush (and his Treasury Secretaries) wanted a weak dollar, and they got one. The dollar lost 69% of its value against gold during the Bush years. This accounted for almost 80% of the decline in the Real Dow during his presidency. The unstable dollar during the Bush years was the root cause of the financial crisis of 2008. The dollar fell almost continuously during the first seven years of his term. By February 2008, it had lost 72% of its value. …The third biggest economic error under Bush was the design of the 2001 tax cuts, which phased in the reductions in the top income tax rate over 5 years. As we learned in 1981-1982, phased-in tax cuts guarantee economic sluggishness, because people defer income until the lower rates take effect. The result was a “jobless recovery”, slow growth, and escalating deficits. The 2001 tax cuts also wasted $58 billion on futile Keynesian “stimulus”, an error that Bush was to repeat in 2008. If Bush had gotten his 2001 tax cuts right, and economic growth in fiscal years 2002 and 2003 had averaged 3.5% instead of 1.6%, the “Bush deficits” would have peaked at 2.5% of GDP in FY2004, rather than at 3.5%. A continuation of 3.5% real growth would have put the budget in surplus by FY2007, despite the massive spending. …Because the Democrats have “doubled down” on Bush’s economic errors, Democrat-held House and Senate seats are ripe for the picking. During the first 18 months of the Obama administration (i.e., through June, 2010), the Real Dow fell by another 11% to 7.86, which was the level of June 1952. After 16 months of massive government “stimulus”, total employment in June 2010 was 6.0 million below what the administration predicted it would be if the stimulus bill passed, and 3.2 million lower than they said it would be if the stimulus bill didn’t pass. If the labor force participation rate had not unexpectedly declined, June’s unemployment rate would have been reported at 11%.

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Appearing on Fox Business News, I summarize the many reasons why the Bush-Paulson-Obama-Geithner TARP bailout was – and still is - bad policy.

I’m sure I have plenty of flaws, but at least I am philosophically consistent. Here’s what I said about the issue more than 18 months ago. The core message is the same (though I also notice I have a bad habit of starting too many sentences with “well”).

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A very depressing story in USA Today reveals that federal bureaucrats are making more than twice as much as people in the productive sector of the economy. Even worse, the advantage for bureaucrats has jumped from $30K to $62K during the spendaholic Bush-Obama years.

At a time when workers’ pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees’ average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn, a USA TODAY analysis finds. Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade. Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available. The federal compensation advantage has grown from $30,415 in 2000 to $61,998 last year.

Just to remind everybody why this stinks, here’s the video I narrated on how we have too many bureaucrats and they are paid too much.

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Anybody with an IQ above room temperature understands that companies only hire workers when they expect to generate net revenue (i.e., the total receipts associated with a new worker are expected to be higher than the total costs). That’s why it was so reprehensible for Congress to approve a 40-percent hike in the minimum wage – a step that was guaranteed to kill jobs. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page reports on new research showing 100,000-plus jobs were wiped out. This awful legislation was approved in 2007, and all politicians associated with that choice should be ashamed of themselves.

Economic slowdowns are tough on many job-seekers, but they’re especially hard on the young and inexperienced, whose job prospects have suffered tremendously from Washington’s ill-advised attempts to put a floor under wages. In a new paper published by the Employment Policies Institute, labor economists William Even of Miami University in Ohio and David Macpherson of Trinity University in Texas find a significant drop in teen employment as a direct result of the minimum wage hikes. The wage hikes were implemented in three stages between 2007 and 2009, and not all states were affected because some already mandated a minimum wage above the federal requirement. But for the 19 states affected by all three stages of the federal wage increase, “there was a 6.9% decline in employment for teens aged 16 to 19,” write the authors. And for those who had not completed high school, “we estimated that the hikes reduced employment by 12.4%,” which translates to about 98,000 fewer teens in the work force. After isolating for other economic factors and broadening their analysis to include all 32 states affected by any stage of the federal wage increase, the authors conclude that “the federal minimum-wage hikes reduced teen employment by 2.5% translating to approximately 114,400 fewer employed teens.”

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My former colleague at the Heritage Foundation, Brian Riedl, has a column in the Wall Street Journal today which discusses the degree to which President Bush’s policies can be blamed for current deficits. I think Brian is too easy on Bush’s terrible record as a big spender, but he is 100 percent correct in his big-picture analysis. Over the long run, revenues are stable. We face a future filled with red ink solely because of a rising burden of government spending.
…rapidly increasing spending will cause 100% of rising long-term deficits. Over the past 50 years, tax revenues have deviated little from their 18% of gross domestic product (GDP) average. Despite a temporary recession-induced dip, CBO projects that even if all Bush tax cuts are extended and the AMT is patched, tax revenues will rebound to 18.2% of GDP by 2020—slightly above the historical average. They will continue growing afterwards. Spending—which has averaged 20.3% of GDP over the past 50 years—won’t remain as stable. Using the budget baseline deficit of $13 trillion for the next decade as described above, CBO figures show spending surging to a peacetime record 26.5% of GDP by 2020 and also rising steeply thereafter. Putting this together, the budget deficit, historically 2.3% of GDP, is projected to leap to 8.3% of GDP by 2020 under current policies. This will result from Washington taxing at 0.2% of GDP above the historical average but spending 6.2% above its historical average.

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According to a new poll from a Democratic firm, an astounding 55 percent of people think “socialist” is a term that describes Obama. Here’s a blurb from a National Review post.
Deep in the poll, they ask, “Now, I am going to read you a list of words and phrases which people use to describe political figures. For each word or phrase, please tell me whether it describes Barack Obama very well, well, not too well, or not well at all.” …When asked about “a socialist,” 33 percent of likely voters say it describes Obama “very well,” 22 percent say “well,” 15 percent say “not too well,” and 25 percent say “not well at all.” 
I’ve already commented on this issue twice, remarking that Obama technically is a fascist, but that it is much better to call him a statist or corporatist. But there is the tricky issue of whether a word should be defined by experts (to the extent economists are experts on anything) or whether it is more appropriate to accept the common understanding of what a word means. I don’t have a firm opinion on that issue, but if socialism now means someone who believes in lots of government intervention and redistribution, then Obama is a socialist (heck, Bush also would be a socialist). But if we stick with the official definition, which involves government ownership of the means of production, then Obama has relatively few policies that meet that standard.
 
Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor reported on the issue. The most amusing part of the story is that self-identified socialists are insulted to be linked to Obama.
The assertion is getting louder: President Obama is a socialist, a wealth-redistributing wolf in Democrat’s clothing gnawing at America’s entrepreneurial spirit. …So, is Mr. Obama trying to form The Socialist Republic of America? Or are the accusations mainly a political weapon, meant to stick Obama with a label that is poison to many voters and thus make him a one-term president? …[Some] refute the idea that government involvement in failing industries defines a president as socialist – or that wealth is being redistributed from the Forbes 500 richest Americans to the nation’s “Joe the plumbers.” What Mr. Johns, Mr. Gingrich, and others brandishing the “socialist” s-word are really complaining of is a return to the policies of John Maynard Keynes, the English economist who advocated vigorous government involvement in the economy, from regulation to pump priming, says labor historian Peter Rachleff of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. “Socialism suggests getting rid of capitalism altogether,” says Dr. Rachleff. “Mr. Obama is not within a million miles of an ideology like that.” For what it’s worth, socialists deny that Obama is one of them – and even seem a bit insulted by the suggestion. “I have been making a living telling people Obama is not a socialist,” says Frank Llewellyn, national director of the Democratic Socialists of America. “It’s frustrating to see people using our brand to criticize programs that have nothing to do with our brand and are not even working.”

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Here’s a depressing chart prepared by Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center. But we don’t need a thousand words to say that the long-run prognosis for America will be grim if government continues to expand faster than the productive sector of the economy.

This is mostly a chart of the Bush years, so keep that in mind when assigning blame. That being said, I fully expect grim results when the 2010 numbers are finalized.

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The fault line in American politics is not really between Republicans and Democrats, but rather between taxpayers and the Washington political elite. Here is a perfect example that symbolizes why economic policy is such a mess. President Bush’s former top aide, Karl Rove, makes the case in the Wall Street Journal that the Obama Administration has been fiscally irresponsible. That’s certainly true, but as I’ve pointed out on previous occasions (here and here), Rove has zero credibility on these issues. In the excerpt below, Rove attacks Obama for earmarks, but this corrupt form of pork-barrel spending skyrocketed during the Bush years. He attacks Obama for government-run healthcare, but Rove helped push through Congress a reckless new entitlement for prescription drugs. He attacks Obama for misusing TARP, but the Bush Administration created that no-strings-attached bailout program. These are examples of hypocrisy, but Rove also is willing to prevaricate. He blames Obama for boosting the burden of government spending to 24 percent of GDP, but it was the Bush Administration that boosted the federal government from 18.2 percent of GDP in 2001 to 24.7 percent of GDP in 2009. Obama is guilty of following similar policies and maintaining a bloated budget, but it was Bush (with Rove’s guidance) that drove the economy into a fiscal ditch.
The president’s problem is largely a mess of his own making. Deficit spending did not begin when Mr. Obama took office. But he and his Democratic allies have supported, proposed, passed or signed and then spent every dime that’s gone out the door since Jan. 20, 2009. Voters know it is Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders who approved a $410 billion supplemental (complete with 8,500 earmarks) in the middle of the last fiscal year, and then passed a record-spending budget for this one. Mr. Obama and Democrats approved an $862 billion stimulus and a $1 trillion health-care overhaul, and they now are trying to add $266 billion in “temporary” stimulus spending to permanently raise the budget baseline. It is the president and Congressional allies who refuse to return the $447 billion unspent stimulus dollars and want to use repayments of TARP loans for more spending rather than reducing the deficit. It is the president who gave Fannie and Freddie carte blanche to draw hundreds of billions from the Treasury. It is the Democrats’ profligacy that raised the share of the GDP taken by the federal government to 24% this fiscal year. This is indeed the road to fiscal hell, and it’s been paved by the president and his party. 

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This is another post with a long excerpt, but this editorial from the Wall Street Journal is excellent. I encourage you to click the link and read the whole thing.
…the larger story is the end of the neo-Keynesian economic moment, and perhaps the start of a healthier policy turn. For going on three years, the developed world’s economic policy has been dominated by the revival of the old idea that vast amounts of public spending could prevent deflation, cure a recession, and ignite a new era of government-led prosperity. It hasn’t turned out that way. …The Europeans have had enough and want to swear off the sauce, while the Obama Administration wants to keep running a bar tab. …Like many bad ideas, the current Keynesian revival began under George W. Bush. Larry Summers, then a private economist, told Congress that a “timely, targeted and temporary” spending program of $150 billion was urgently needed to boost consumer “demand.” Democrats who had retaken Congress adopted the idea—they love an excuse to spend—and the politically tapped-out Mr. Bush went along with $168 billion in spending and one-time tax rebates. …enter Stimulus II, with Mr. Summers again leading the intellectual charge, this time as President Obama’s adviser and this time suggesting upwards of $500 billion. When Congress was done two months later, in February 2009, the amount was $862 billion. A pair of White House economists famously promised that this spending would keep the unemployment rate below 8%. Seventeen months later, and despite historically easy monetary policy for that entire period, the jobless rate is still 9.7%. Yesterday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis once again reduced the GDP estimate for first quarter growth, this time to 2.7%, while economic indicators in the second quarter have been mediocre. …this is a far cry from the snappy recovery that typically follows a steep recession, most recently in 1983-84 after the Reagan tax cuts. …The response at the White House and among Congressional leaders has been . . . Stimulus III. While talking about the need for “fiscal discipline” some time in the future, President Obama wants more spending today to again boost “demand.” Thirty months after Mr. Summers won his first victory, we are back at the same policy stand. The difference this time is that the Keynesian political consensus is cracking up. In Europe, the bond vigilantes have pulled the credit cards of Greece, Portugal and Spain, with Britain and Italy in their sights. …The larger lesson here is about policy. The original sin—and it was nearly global—was to revive the Keynesian economic model that had last cracked up in the 1970s, while forgetting the lessons of the long prosperity from 1982 through 2007. The Reagan and Clinton-Gingrich booms were fostered by a policy environment for most of that era of lower taxes, spending restraint and sound money. The spending restraint began to end in the late 1990s, sound money vanished earlier this decade, and now Democrats are promising a series of enormous tax increases. Notice that we aren’t saying that spending restraint alone is a miracle economic cure. The spending cuts now in fashion in Europe are essential, but cuts by themselves won’t balance annual deficits reaching 10% of GDP. That requires new revenues from faster growth, and there’s a danger that the tax increases now sweeping Europe will dampen growth further. …We are told to let Congress continue to spend and borrow until the precise moment when Mr. Summers and Mark Zandi and the other architects of our current policy say it is time to raise taxes to reduce the huge deficits and debt that their spending has produced. Meanwhile, individuals and businesses are supposed to be unaffected by the prospect of future tax increases, higher interest rates, and more government control over nearly every area of the economy. Even the CEOs of the Business Roundtable now see the damage this is doing.

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Speaking at Cato’s Public Policy Day, I explain how Bush and Obama have undermined American prosperity with bigger government and more wasteful spending. I then move from bad news to worse new news by discussing how the politicians will soon try to make America even more like Greece with a value-added tax.

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 Some of my posts spark debate between Bush supporters and Clinton fans, particularly on my Facebook page. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but Clinton wins that contest hands down. I’m only talking about economic issues, to be sure, so I’m not looking to trigger any discussions about foreign policy or abortion.

Regarding economic issues, perhaps the key thing to understand is that there are many factors which determine economic freedom (which, of course, is related to growth and prosperity). Some people look at a high-profile issue such as taxes, and are tempted to rank Bush higher because he cut taxes in 2001 and 2003, whereas Clinton increased taxes in 1993 (he also cut taxes in 1997, but not as much as he raised them four years earlier).

But while Bush had a better record on taxes, he had a much worse record on spending. And as I wrote in the Washington Examiner a couple of years ago, Bush’s record in other areas was more statist than Clinton’s (and I was writing before the bailouts).

Perhaps the best way of showing the difference between Bush and Clinton is to examine the Economic Freedom of the World annual rankings. Not all the years are available, but the image below clearly shows that economic freedom rose during the Clinton years and fell during the Bush years.

I’m no great fan of Bill Clinton, and I’ll be the first to admit that many of the good things that happened under Clinton were the result of a GOP Congress (in the good old days before they were corrupted by compassionate conservatism). But also keep in mind that Clinton signed into law almost all of the good policies that were enacted during his reign. Likewise, Bush signed into law almost all of the bad policies that were enacted during his reign. If I’m choosing between the economic policies that were implemented by the previous two Presidents, the answer is obvious.

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A former White House speechwriter, Mark Thiessen, has jumped to the defense of his former boss, writing for the Washington Post that George W. Bush “established a conservative record without parallel.” Even by the loose standards of Washington, that is a jaw-dropping assertion. I’ve been explaining for years that Bush was a big-government advocate, even writing a column back in 2007 for the Washington Examiner pointing out that Clinton had a much better economic record from a free-market perspective. I also groused to the Wall Street Journal the following year about Bush’s dismal performance.

“Bush doesn’t have a conservative legacy” on the economy, said Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Tax-rate reductions are the only positive achievement, and those are temporary … Everything else that has happened has been permanent, and a step toward more statism.” He cited big increases in the federal budget, along with continuing subsidies in agriculture and transportation, new Medicare drug benefits, and increased federal intervention in education and housing.

Let’s review the economic claims in Mr. Thiessen’s column. He writes:

The thrust of their argument is that Bush expanded the size of government dramatically — and they are absolutely right. Federal spending grew significantly on Bush’s watch, and this is without question a black mark on his record. (Federal spending also grew dramatically under Ronald Reagan, though he was dealt a Democratic Congress, whereas Bush had six years of Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.)

Since federal spending almost doubled in Bush’s eight years, it’s tempting to summarily dismiss this assertion, but let’s cite a few additional facts just in case someone is under the illusion that Bush was on the side of taxpayers. And let’s specifically compare Bush to Reagan since Mr. Thiessen seems to think they belong in the same ball park. This article by Veronique de Rugy is probably a good place to begin since it compares all Presidents and shows that Bush was a big spender compared to Reagan…and to Clinton. But the most damning evidence comes from the OMB’s Historical Tables, which show that Reagan reduced both entitlements and domestic discretionary spending as a share of GDP during his two terms.  Bush (and I hope nobody is suprised) increased the burden of spending in both of these categories.That’s the spending side of the ledger. Let’s now turn to tax policy, where Thiessen writes:

Bush enacted the largest tax cuts in history — and unlike my personal hero, Ronald Reagan, he never signed a major tax increase into law.

Using the most relevant measures, such as changes in marginal tax rates or comparing the impact of each President’s tax changes on revenues as a share of GDP, Bush’s tax cuts are far less significant than the Reagan tax cuts. But there presumably is some measure, perhaps nominal revenues over some period of years, showing the Bush tax cuts are larger, so we’ll let that claim slide. The more relevant issue to address is the legacy of each President. Reagan did sign several tax increases after his 1981 Economic Recovery Tax Act, but the cumulative effect of those unfortunate compromises was relatively modest compared to the positive changes in his first year. When he left office, he bequeathed to the nation a tax code with meaningful and permanent tax rate reductions. The Bush tax cuts, by contrast, expire at the end of this year, and virtually all of the pro-growth provisions will disappear. This doesn’t mean Bush’s record on taxes was bad, but it certainly does not compare to the Gipper’s. But what about other issue, such as trade? Driessen writes:

Bush enacted free-trade agreements with 17 nations, more than any president in history.

Those are some positive steps, to be sure, but they are offset by the protectionist moves on steel and lumber. I’m not a trade expert, so I don’t know if Bush was a net negative or a net positive, but at best it’s a muddled picture and Driessen certainly did not present the full story. And speaking of sins of omission, his section on health care notes:

Bush created Health Savings Accounts – the most important free-market health-care reform in a generation. And he courageously stood up to Congressional Democrats when they sought to use the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to nationalize health care — and defeated their efforts.

Conveniently missing from this analysis, though, is any mention of the utterly irresponsible prescription drug entitlement. There is no doubt that Bush’s net impact on healthcare was to saddle America with more statism. Indeed, I’d be curious to see some long-run numbers on the impact of Bush’s prescription drug entitlement and the terrible plan Obama just imposed on America. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the negative fiscal impact of both plans was comparable. Shifting gears, let’s now turn to education policy, where Driessen writes:

Bush won a Supreme Court ruling declaring school vouchers constitutional and enacted the nation’s first school-choice program in the District of Columbia.

Bush deserves some credit on school choice, but his overall education record is characterized by more spending and centralization. Thanks in part to his no-bureaucrat-left-behind plan, the budget for the Department of Education grew signicantly and federal spending on elementary, secondary, and vocational education more than doubled. Equally worrisome, federal bureaucrats gained more control over education policy. Finally, Thiessen brags about Bush’s record on Social Security reform:

Bush fought valiantly for a conservative priority no American president had ever dared to touch: Social Security reform, with private accounts that would have given millions of our citizens a stake in the free market system. His effort failed, but he deserves credit from conservatives for staking his second term in office on this effort.

This is an area where the former President does deserve some credit. So even though the White House’s failure to ever put forth a specific proposal was rather frustrating, at least Bush did talk about real reform and the country would be better off today if something had been enacted.

This addresses all the economic claims in Driessen’s article, but we can’t give Bush a complete grade until we examine some of the other issues that were missing from the column. On regulatory issues, the biggest change implemented during the Bush year was probably Sarbanes-Oxley – a clear example of regulatory overkill. Another regulatory change, which turned out to be a ticking time bomb, was the expansion of the “affordable-lending” requirements for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

And speaking of Fannie and Freddie, no analysis of Bush’s record would be complete without a discussion of bailouts. Without getting too deep in the issue, the most galling part of what Bush did was not necessarily recapitalizing the banking system (a good chunk of which was required by government deposit insurance anyhow), but rather the way it happened. During the savings & loan bailout 20 years ago, at least incompentent executives and negligent shareholders were wiped out. Government money was used, but only to pay off depositors and/or to pay healthy firms to absorb bankrupt institutions. Bush and Paulson, by contrast, exacerbated all the moral hazard issues by resucing the executives and shareholders who helped create the mess. Last but not least, let’s not forget that Bush got the ball rolling on auto-industry bailouts.

If all of this means Bush is a “conservative record without parallel,” then Barack Obama must be the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

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I’ve been on a lonely crusade to expose big-government Republicans for being just as bad as Democrats (or even worse, since they should know better), so I’m glad to see Don Devine and David Keene in the Washington Post making similar points. Every conservative who despises big-government RINOs such as Arlen Specter (who at least had the decency to become a Democrat) should feel the same about Bush and Rove.

From William F. Buckley Jr. to Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan, the creators of the modern conservative movement always taught that excessive concentration of power in government leads inevitably to corruption and the diminution of personal freedoms. But while Rove credits these leaders for shaping his early political views — “at the age of thirteen, I was wild for Barry Goldwater,” he writes — he did not pursue their values while in the White House. To the contrary, as the chief political architect of the Bush presidency, Rove was instrumental in directing an administration most notable for its enormous expansion of national government. …In total, Bush increased federal spending on domestic programs more than any president since Richard Nixon, easily surpassing Bill Clinton, Carter and his own father, so much so that by 2008, America had two big-government parties. Rove writes that as a teenager he carried around a paperback copy of Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative,” but he should have heeded the book’s first few pages, in which Goldwater warned against hyphenated conservatism. The Bush administration’s move toward big government was not gradual, either; it was signaled during then-Gov. Bush’s campaign. In 1999, the journalist Tucker Carlson interviewed Bush in Austin and asked him if he was a small-government conservative. Mr. Bush replied no; he said he was an “efficient-government conservative.” Bush’s campaign rarely called for spending cuts of any kind and even opposed eliminating the Department of Energy, whose abolition had been in every GOP platform since 1980. …Rove reveals his true heroes in his memoir, when we learn that he decorated his White House office with memorabilia of progressive Teddy Roosevelt and pragmatist William McKinley. …The astonishing concentration of power in Washington today has created a huge opportunity for conservatives and the GOP. With President Obama’s policies of big government, big bailouts, big banks and big bureaucracy, the Democratic Party has jettisoned the working men and women of America, who are increasingly coming to reject being ruled by one corrupt city along the Potomac. They want to be governed by themselves in their communities, their localities and their states, in a 21st-century version of the founders’ federalism. But thanks in part to their recent big-government legacy, Republicans have been slow to seize this opportunity. In his concluding passages, Rove concedes that Bush “went deep into Democratic territory to show how government can use the tools of capitalism to soften its rough justice” — an admission that neglects state, local and individual alternatives to creating a just society, and that confirms our worst fears about hyphenated conservatism. Recently, President Obama visited a bookstore in Iowa and joked that he was there to purchase Rove’s memoir. Conservatives can only hope it was not to get any more ideas on how to expand government.

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Howie Rich has a very good column at Townhall.com. He asks whether Republicans have learned any lessons during their time in the minority, specifically whether they recognize that bloated and wasteful spending under Republicans is just as bad as bloated and wasteful spending under Democrats:

The GOP’s new revisionist message was summed up in a billboard that appeared recently on Interstate 35 in Wyoming. “Miss me yet?” a smiling picture of former President Bush asks passing motorists. In a word? “No.” What this theory of “Republican revisionism” lacks is even a tangential basis in fact. That’s because Republicans – at least prior to the election of a Democratic Congress in 2006 and a Democratic President in 2008 – were engaged in precisely the same policies they now spend all of their time railing against. …Republicans are no strangers to massive government overreaching. For example, President Bush responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks by creating a huge new government bureaucracy… Meanwhile, he supported the unconstitutional suppression of free speech by signing so-called “campaign finance” reform, dramatically stifling the ability of the public to criticize incumbent politicians. …Bush and his cronies loved pork barrel spending, too. In 2005 – over the strenuous objections of taxpayer advocates – he signed a massive $286 billion transportation bill that included 6,371 pet projects inserted by Republican and Democratic lawmakers. …Bush and his GOP allies also fought to create new entitlement spending – including a prescription drug benefit to Medicaid that has cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. They federalized education with No Child Left Behind… Republicans are quick to forget that Bush is on the hook for a considerable portion of the unsustainable spending that is currently driving our debt even further into the stratosphere. Indeed, Bush cemented his anti-free market legacy in late 2008 with the passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and tens of billions of dollars worth of automotive bailouts – additional examples of his kneejerk tendency to resolve every crisis faced by the nation with an unprecedented expansion of government power and taxpayer debt. Was Bush a better steward of your tax dollars than Obama? Yes – but that’s the problem. Getting mugged worse the second time around doesn’t absolve the first thief of his culpability.

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The  Office of Management and Budget has released the President’s FY2011 budget and the Congressional Budget Office has released its semi-annual Budget and Economic Outlook. Much of the coverage of these documents has focused on deficit numbers. This is not a trivial concern, particularly since the Bush-Obama policies of bigger government have dramatically boosted red ink.

But the most important numbers in the budget documents are the estimates of what is happening to government spending. The good news is that burden of government spending is projected to decline over the next few years from about 25 percent of GDP to less than 23 percent of GDP.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that federal government outlays only consumed 18.2 percent of economic output when Bush took office. In other words, notwithstanding the good news cited above, the size and scope of government has increased dramatically since 2001. The worse news is that the long-run spending forecasts show a cataclysmic expansion in the burden of government. The “optimistic” estimate is that the federal government will consume more than 30 percent of GDP by 2050 and 40 percent of GDP by 2080.

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Steve Chapman skewers Republicans for being the party of big government when they were in power, but also notes that they are right to criticize Obama’s reckless fiscal policies. Chapman hopes that the GOP will actually propose to shrink the burden of government. A good start would be an apology for all the wasteful programs of the Bush years:

After the administration floated a plan to cap non-defense, non-security discretionary spending for the next three years, the opposition party erupted in jeers. The complaints were many: It affected only one-eighth of the budget, it came on top of big increases, and the savings would be trivial next to the deficits that are in the pipeline. …All the criticisms, as it happens, are true. Obama’s claim of stern fiscal discipline — “we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years” — collapsed into comical irrelevance as soon as he listed all the programs that won’t be included: national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which happen to be the Four Horsemen of the Fiscal Apocalypse. There’s more: Unspent stimulus funds amounting to $165 billion. Other “mandatory” programs like unemployment and food stamps. Interest on the debt, which will triple in the next three years. Obama is going on a hunger strike, except during mealtimes. …Still, it’s odd to hear complaints about excessive spending from the people who brought us the bloated budgets of the Bush years. During his tenure, federal spending did not retreat under the relentless assault of tight-fisted conservatives. In fact, during the Bush administration, total federal spending, adjusted for inflation, climbed by 72 percent. What was originally a fiscal surplus became a deficit, reaching $1.8 trillion in 2009, Bush’s final budget year (to which Obama contributed only a minor amount). Not until he had been in office for more than six years did he veto a bill because it cost too much. Bill Clinton may feel your pain, but next to his successor, he looked like Ebenezer Scrooge. …If the GOP really wants to highlight the administration’s budgetary excesses, the right response is not to merely ridicule how little he offers in the way of savings, but to offer bigger and better savings of their own. Otherwise, they may find that the public disgust with runaway spending can scorch incumbent Republicans as well as incumbent Democrats.

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As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration will propose a three-year freeze for a portion of the budget known as “non-defense discretionary” spending. Many critics will correctly note that this is like going on a drunken binge in Vegas and then temporarily joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Others will point out that more than 80 percent of the budget has been exempted, which also is an accurate criticism. Nonetheless, even a partial freeze would be a semi-meaningful achievement. But don’t get too excited yet. It is not clear whether the White House is proposing a genuine spending freeze, meaning “budget outlays” for these programs stay at $477 billion for three years, or a make-believe freeze that applies only to “budget authority.” This is an enormously important distinction. Budget outlays matter because they represent the acutal burden of government spending. Budget authority, by contrast, is a bookkeeping measure that – at best – signals future intentions. During the profligate Bush years, for instance, apologists for the Administration tried to appease fiscal conservatives by asserting that budget authority was growing at ever-slower rates. In some cases, they were technically correct, but their arguments were deceptive because real-world spending kept climbing to record levels. And needless to say (but I’ll say it anyhow), future intentions never became reality. Domestic discretionary spending soared from less than $350 billion to more than $600 billion during the Bush years (and rose almost another $100 billion in Obama’s first year!). If the Obama Administration proposes a genuine outlay freeze, he will be taking a genuine (albeit small) step in the right direction. If the “freeze” applies only to budget authority, however, that will be a pretty clear indication we are in George W. Bush’s third term.

To attack the $1.4 trillion deficit, the White House will propose limits on discretionary spending unrelated to the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs, according to senior administration officials. Also untouched are big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The freeze would affect $447 billion in spending, or 17% of the total federal budget, and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. It’s designed to save $250 billion over the coming decade, compared with what would have been spent had this area been allowed to rise along with inflation. …administration officials acknowledged the freeze is directed at only a small part of overall spending, but that fiscal discipline has to start somewhere. President Obama had requested a 7.3% increase last year in the areas he now seeks to freeze.

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George Bush ranks as one of America’s most fiscally irresponsible presidents. He increased overall spending from $1.8 trillion to $3.5 trillion and most of that new spending was used to create or expand domestic programs (no-bureaucrat-left-behind education spending, pork-filled highway bills, sleazy Wall Street bailouts, corrupt farm spending, new Medicare entitlements, etc) that are not legitimate functions of the federal government. So it is galling to see his former senior adviser writing columns complaining about Barack Obama being a big spender. Many of the criticisms about the Obama Administration in his latest WSJ column are correct, to be sure, but Karl Rove has zero moral authority to make those arguments. Moreover, Rove once again engages in sloppy or dishonest (you choose) analysis by blaming Obama for some of Bush’s mistakes. In the excerpt below, he blames Obama for any of the Fiscal Year 2009 debt that was incurred after January 20 of last year. But as I’ve already explained, 96 percent of the spending in FY2009 is the result of Bush’s policies:

Consider that from Jan. 20, 2001, to Jan. 20, 2009, the debt held by the public grew $3 trillion under Mr. Bush—to $6.3 trillion from $3.3 trillion at a time when the national economy grew as well. By comparison, from the day Mr. Obama took office last year to the end of the current fiscal year, according to the Office of Management and Budget, the debt held by the public will grow by $3.3 trillion. In 20 months, Mr. Obama will add as much debt as Mr. Bush ran up in eight years. …Mr. Bush’s deficits ran an average of 3.2% of GDP, slightly above the post World War II average of 2.7%. Mr. Obama’s plan calls for deficits that will average 4.2% over the next decade. Team Obama has been on history’s biggest spending spree, which has included a $787 billion stimulus, a $30 billion expansion of a child health-care program, and a $410 billion federal spending bill that increased nondefense discretionary spending 10% for the last half of fiscal year 2009. Mr. Obama also hiked nondefense discretionary spending another 12% for fiscal year 2010.

Correction: In an earlier post on one of Rove’s columns, I incorrectly claimed that Bush never vetoed a bill because it spent too much.That was wrong. He did veto a handful of bills once Democrats took control of Congress.

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Even though I’ve been in Washington for almost 25 years, I still get shocked by the deceit and double-talk that characterizes this town. A perfect example can be found in today’s Wall Street Journal, which features a column by Karl Rove attacking President Obama for fiscal incontinence. I’m a big fan of condemning Obama’s big-government schemes, but Rove is the last person in the world who should be complaining about too much wasteful spending. After all, he was the top adviser to President Bush and the federal budget exploded during Bush’s eight years, climbing from $1.8 trillion to more than $3.5 trillion. More specifically, Rove was a leading proponent of the proposals that dramatically expanded the size and scope of the federal government, including the no-bureaucrat-left-behind education bill, the two corrupt farm bills, the two pork-filled transportation bills, and the grossly irresponsible new Medicare entitlement program.

Not surprisingly, Rove even tries to blame Obama for some of Bush’s overspending, writing that “…discretionary domestic spending now stands at $536 billion, up nearly 24% from President George W. Bush’s last full year budget in fiscal 2008 of $433.6 billion. That’s a huge spending surge, even for a profligate liberal like Mr. Obama.” This passage leads the reader to assume that Obama should be blamed for what happened in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but as I’ve already explained, the 2009 fiscal year started about four months before Obama took office and 96 percent of the spending can be attributed to Bush’s fiscal profligacy. Yes, Obama is now making a bad situation worse by further increasing spending, but he should be criticized for continuing Bush’s mistakes.

Rove then has the gall to complain that Obama is “…growing the federal government’s share of GDP from its historic post-World War II average of roughly 20% to the target Mr. Obama laid out in his budget blueprint last February of 24%.” Yet a quick look at the budget data shows that the burden of federal spending jumped from 18.4 percent of GDP when Bush took office to more than 25 percent of economic output when he left office. Even if the (hopefully) temporary bailout costs are not counted, Bush and Rove are the ones who deserve most of the blame for today’s much larger burden of government. It should be noted, by the way, that none of the new spending under Bush was imposed over his objection. He did not veto any legislation because of excessive spending.

Finally, Rove concludes by writing that, “After a year of living in his fiscal fantasy world, Americans realize they have a record deficit-setting, budget-busting spender on their hands.” I’m almost at a loss for words after reading this sentence. All during the Bush years, I would complain to people in the Administation about wasteful spending. It didn’t matter whether I was talking to people at the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Treasury Department, or the National Economic Council. They almost always expressed sympathy for what I was saying, and then complained that the decisions were being made by the “White House political people.”

There’s an old joke about chutzpah and it features a guy who murders his parents and then asks the court for mercy because he’s an orphan. Karl Rove has taken the joke to the next level, but there’s nothing funny about the consequences for America.

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The Associated Press nails the GOP for budget hypocrisy, pointing out that a majority of Republicans voted for Bush’s reckless Medicare expansion. This story gives me an excuse to pontificate on why fans of limited government and free markets should not blindly link themselves with the Republican Party. And sometimes they should even hope Republicans lose. There is a very strong case to be made, for instance, that big-government RINOs such as Bush (on economic policy issues) are far more dangerous to economic liberty than Democrats. Not only do they expand government while in power, they create a fertile environment for Democrats, with their out-of-the-closet statism, to gain power and impose even more government.

That certainly has happened this decade. Bush’s profligacy slowed the economy and discouraged the GOP base, which (combined with unhappiness about his nation-building exercise in Iraq) helped deliver the House and Senate to Democrats in 2006 and the White House to Obama in 2008. It is quite likely, by contrast, that the GOP would control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue today if Kerry had won the 2004 election. A Kerry victory almost certainly would have enabled Republicans to hold the House and Senate in 2006. And since Kerry would have followed Bush’s big-government interventionist policies, the bailout would have occurred on his watch, making it quite likely that the GOP would have enjoyed a strong year in 2008. There may have been some damage to liberty caused by a Kerry presidency (above and beyond the damage caused by Bush), but nothing compared to the damage now being imposed by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid. Food for thought. If nothing else, this AP story shows that we’d be better off if politicians of both parties stayed home all year long:

Republican senators attacking the cost of a Democratic health care bill showed far different concerns six years ago, when they approved a major Medicare expansion that has added tens of billions of dollars to federal deficits. The inconsistency — or hypocrisy, as some call it — has irked Democrats, who claim that their plan will pay for itself with higher taxes and spending cuts and cite the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office for support. By contrast, when Republicans controlled the House, Senate and White House in 2003, they overcame Democratic opposition to add a deficit-financed prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The program will cost a half-trillion dollars over 10 years, or more by some estimates. With no new taxes or spending offsets accompanying the Medicare drug program, the cost has been added to the federal debt. …”As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt,” said Bruce Bartlett, an official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He made his comments in a Forbes article titled “Republican Deficit Hypocrisy.” Bartlett said the 2003 Medicare expansion was “a pure giveaway” that cost more than this year’s Senate or House health bills will cost.

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I caught a lot of flack from my Republican friends for my post blaming the FY2009 deficit on Bush instead of Obama. Well, I must be a glutton for punishment because I can’t resist jumping (albeit reluctantly) to Obama’s defense again. Foxnews.com posted a story headlined “Obama Shatters Spending Record for First-Year Presidents” and noted that:

President Obama has shattered the budget record for first-year presidents — spending nearly double what his predecessor did when he came into office and far exceeding the first-year tabs for any other U.S. president in history. In fiscal 2009 the federal government spent $3.52 trillion …That fiscal year covered the last three-and-a-half months of George W. Bush’s term and the first eight-and-a-half months of Obama’s.

This story was featured on the Drudge Report, so it has received a lot of attention. I’m a big fan of criticizing Obama’s profligacy, but I don’t think it is right to blame him for Bush’s mistakes. At the risk of repeating my earlier post, the 2009 fiscal year began on October 1, 2008, and the vast majority of the spending for that year was the result of Bush Administration policies. Yes, Obama did add to the waste with the so-called stimulus, the omnibus appropriation, the CHIP bill, and the cash-for-clunkers nonsense, but as the chart illustrates, these boondoggles only amounted to just a tiny percentage of the FY2009 total – about $140 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget (supplemental defense spending could boost Obama’s share by another $25 billion, but Bush surely would have asked for at least that much extra spending, so individual readers can adjust the number if they wish).

In other words, Obama’s FY2009 performance is like a relief pitcher who enters a game in the fourth inning trailing 19-0 and allows another run to score. The extra run is nothing to cheer about, of course, but fans should be far more angry with the starting pitcher. That having been said, Obama since that point has been serving up meatballs to the special interests in Washington, so his earned run average may actually wind up being worse than his predecessor’s. He promised change, but it appears that Obama wants to be Bush on steroids.

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I’ve always thought the middle of the road was for yellow stripes and dead ‘possums, so I’m instinctively uncomfortable when attacked from the right and the left. But that’s what happened with my commentary (which I also cross-posted at Cato-at-Liberty) about Bush, Obama, and the FY2009 budget deficit. Bruce Bartlett accused me of being a shill for the GOP on his facebook page, while a Redstate poster said I was giving Obama a free pass on all his spending.

I responded on Redstate, and you can click to read the entire post, but here’s the key points in my defense against attacks from the right:

Let’s deal with Mustango’s criticisms. He argues that budgets are passed by Congress, presumably implying that Nancy Pelosi, et al, should be blamed. The Speaker of the House is a complete statist, so I’m a big fan of anybody who points out her flaws, but since President Bush supported all of the wasteful spending adopted in the last year (as well as the first seven years) of his presidency, he also must bear responsibility for the results.

The second criticism is that I was letting Obama off the hook for his pork-filled stimulus. That’s definitely not the case. My blog post specifically noted that Obama bears part of the responsibility for the FY2009 deficit, but since less than $200 billion of so-called stimulus was allocated in FY2009, that is rather trivial compared to a budget deficit of more than $1.4 trillion. And even if the extra spending from the omnibus spending bill is added to Obama’s tab, his total is still less than $250 billion.

I’m sure I have plenty of flaws, but being squishy on the issue of the size of government surely is not on the list.

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Some critics are lambasting President Obama for record deficits. This is not a productive line of attack, largely because it puts the focus on the wrong variable. America’s fiscal problem is excessive government spending, and deficits are merely a symptom of that underlying disease. Moreover, if deficits are perceived as the problem, that means both spending restraint and higher taxes are solutions. The political class, needless to say, will choose the latter approach 99 percent of the time. A higher tax burden, however, simply means that debt-financed spending is replaced by tax-financed spending, which is akin to jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, or vice-versa.

In addition to being theoretically misguided, critics sometimes blame Obama for things that are not his fault. Listening to a talk radio program yesterday, the host asserted that Obama tripled the budget deficit in his first year. This assertion is understandable, since the deficit jumped from about $450 billion in 2008 to $1.4 trillion in 2009. As this chart illustrates, with the Bush years in green, it appears as if Obama’s policies have led to an explosion of debt.

But there is one rather important detail that makes a big difference. The chart is based on the assumption that the current administration should be blamed for the 2009 fiscal year. While this make sense to a casual observer, it is largely untrue. The 2009  fiscal year began October 1, 2008, nearly four months before Obama took office. The budget for the entire fiscal year was largely set in place while Bush was in the White House. So is we update the chart to show the Bush fiscal years in green, we can see that Obama is partly right in claiming that he inherited a mess (though Obama actually deserves a small share of the blame for Bush’s last deficit since earlier this year he pushed through both an “omnibus” spending bill and the so-called stimulus bill that increased FY2009 spending).

It should go without saying that this post is not an argument for Obama’s fiscal policy. The current President promised change, but he is continuing the wasteful and profligate policies of his big-spending predecessor. That is where critics should be focusing their attention.

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This blog has consistently complained about the statist policies of the Obama Administration, leading a number of people to complain that I am pro-Republican. Or they assume that I was a Bush supporter. Nothing could be further from the truth. If people have watched my videos or seen my various TV interviews, you will have seen me excoriate big-government Republicans such as Bush. And this is not something I started to do on January 20, 2009. I was an unrelenting critic of the Wall Street bailout in Bush’s final months. And I was bitterly complaining about Bush’s fiscal profligacy even before then. Here are some of the highlights of a column that I wrote in early 2007, which was titled “Bring Back Clinton”:

To paraphrase Clinton Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, George Bush is no Ronald Reagan. …on Bush’s watch, and with his signature, the burden of federal spending rose to 20.3 percent of GDP in 2006, up from just 18.5 percent when he took office. During the Clinton years, by contrast, federal spending fell as a share of GDP, from 21.4 percent in 1993 to 18.5 percent in 2001. …even when defense spending is excluded, Clinton reduced the burden of government, while Bush has expanded it. …According to the Congressional Budget Office, entitlement spending has increased from 10.9 percent of GDP when Bush took office to 11.9 percent of GDP in 2006. During the Clinton years, spending on so-called mandatory programs fell from 11.2 percent of GDP to 10.9 percent of GDP. The domestic discretionary spending numbers tell a similar story: During the Clinton years, these programs dropped from 3.4 percent of GDP to 3.2 percent. Since Bush took office, they have risen to 3.5 percent. …Take trade, for example. At best, Bush has a mixed record. The Central American Free Trade Agreement is a step in the right direction, but his steel tariffs and agricultural subsidies are examples of anti-trade initiatives. Clinton policy was unambiguously pro-trade, however, largely because of the approval and implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that also launched the World Trade Organization. Clinton gets a better grade on regulatory policy, as well. Bush signed into law the prohibitively expensive Sarbanes-Oxley law, as well as a market-distorting energy bill. The Clinton years, by contrast, saw the burden of regulation reduced on numerous sectors of the economy, including agriculture, financial services and telecommunications. Clinton also beats Bush on federalism. He signed a welfare reform legislation that ended an entitlement program and reduced the central government’s power and authority. On education, Bush went the other direction. His No Child Left Behind Act increased federal control over an area that properly belongs under the purview of state and local governments.

If people want to call me an anti-government ideologue, I don’t think that’s completely accurate, but it’s a fair observation. If people want to call me an unrealistic libertarian dreamer, I plead guilty. But please don’t denigrate me by saying I’m a Republican.

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Bush was a big spender. Obama is a big spender. Bush supported bailouts. Obama supports bailouts. Bush created a new healthcare entitlement. Obama is trying to create a new healthcare entitlement. But President Obama may not be a lost cause. According to the Associated Press, the Administration is reversing the old policy of persecuting people who use or provide medical marijuana in states where it is legal. This is a victory for federalism and common sense. People should be free to make dumb decisions with their own lives, and prohibition is both futile and expensive. And there certainly is no reason for the federal government to be involved:

Federal drug agents won’t pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana, under new legal guidelines to be issued Monday by the Obama administration. Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law. …The new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration, which insisted it would continue to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes. …A three-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration. The memo, the officials said, emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.

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While there is considerable disagreement regarding the value of low-skilled immigrants (especially with regards to whether illegals deserve amnesty), almost everybody agrees that the United States is a big beneficiary when highly skilled workers, investors, and entrepreneurs from around the world come to America. So it is a bit troubling that USA Today is reporting that many Indians and Chinese are deciding that they can achieve more by going back home. It is too soon to make sweeping pronouncements about the public policy implications of this demographic shift, but this preliminary evidence of a reverse “brain drain” certainly suggests that the big-government policies of Bush and Obama have made the American economy less vibrant and less dynamic:

More skilled immigrants are giving up their American dreams to pursue careers back home, raising concerns that the U.S. may lose its competitive edge in science, technology and other fields. “What was a trickle has become a flood,” says Duke University’s Vivek Wadhwa, who studies reverse immigration. …”For the first time in American history, we are experiencing the brain drain that other countries experienced,” he says. Suren Dutia, CEO of TiE Global, a worldwide network of professionals who promote entrepreneurship, says the U.S. economy will suffer without these skilled workers. “If the country is going to maintain the kind of economic well-being that we’ve enjoyed for many years, that requires having these incredibly gifted individuals who have been educated and trained by us,” he says. …Multinational companies that belong to the American Council on International Personnel tell Executive Director Lynn Shotwell that skilled immigrants are discouraged by the immigration process, she says. Some can wait up to a decade for permanent residency, she says. “They’re frustrated with having an uncertain immigration status,” she says. “They’re giving up.”

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The burden of government spending has skyrocketed during the Bush-Obama years. Many politicians claim that all this new spending represents necessary “investments” to boost economic growth. But as this new video explains, both cross-country comparisons and empirical analysis suggest government is far too big – not only in Europe, but also in America.

This is the second of a two-part series. The first installment, which focuses on eight theoretical reasons why excessive government undermines growth, can be viewed here.

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Got this in an email from a Republican pal. No comment is necessary, but I will briefly note that I am not a fan of Bush (I never voted for him, and I’m glad I didn’t). Nonetheless, this is clever.

Bush Pitch
Obama Pitch

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I was not a fan of President Bush. His economic policy was a sordid mix of wasteful spending and corrupt intervention, and I am very glad that I can say that he never received my vote. But even if Bush was Reagan, I would not have lost any sleep if opponents had lampooned him using art. So it is with some detachment that I comment on the current controversy about the “Joker” poster of President Obama that is appearing in Los Angeles.

Obama Joker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to some overly-sensitive souls, this satirical poster is racist. Indeed, a blogger in L.A. said “The only thing missing is a noose.” Yet if the poster is racist, then what is the ruling on this similar image of Bush? Is it also a racist caricature?

Bush Joker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking at an image of the “real” Joker, played by Heath Ledger, it seems overwhelming obvious that both the anti-Obama and anti-Bush satirists want to lampoon their targets by giving them a bad-guy look. To then specifically impute racist motives to the anti-Obama satirist is a huge leap. This does not mean that this mystery person (still unidentified) is not a racist, to be sure, but it is absurd to make that accusation with zero supporting evidence.

Real Joker

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