Archive for July 16th, 2011

These two stories are completely unrelated, but they both struck me as examples of why governments have a well-deserved reputation for squandering money and making life more difficult for ordinary people.

And even though the stories are radically different, they give us a good opportunity to ask whether government is more stupid and incompetent in Europe or the United States.

Our European entry in the contest is from Germany, where the government apparently has lost blueprints for its new spy headquarters. Here are some excerpts from a BBC report, though I can’t help thinking it should be in the Onion.

Germany is investigating reports that the blueprints for the future headquarters of its BND intelligence agency have gone missing. If the report in Focus magazine is confirmed, it could pose a serious security risk – and would be a huge embarrassment for the spy agency. The new 1.6bn euro (£1.4bn; $2.3bn) agency headquarters are currently under construction in Berlin. …They purportedly show extremely sensitive aspects of the building’s construction, such as the alarm system, anti-terror installations, emergency exits, cable routes and sewers.

By the way, I’m also shocked by the $2.3 billion price tag for the building. But cost overruns and waste are so routine that only fiscal policy wonks like me seem to get upset about such things.

The American entry is from (I’m embarrassed to admit) Georgia, where the Keystone Cops in Midway have stopped a major crime wave of…(get ready to be shocked)…unregulated lemonade! Here’s part of the AP report.

Police in Georgia have shut down a lemonade stand run by three girls trying to save up for a trip to a water park, saying they didn’t have a business license or the required permits. Midway Police Chief Kelly Morningstar says police also didn’t know how the lemonade was made, who made it or what was in it. The girls had been operating for one day when Morningstar and another officer cruised by. The girls needed a business license, peddler’s permit and food permit to operate, even on residential property. The permits cost $50 a day or $180 per year.

Other local governments have been guilty of this type of petty harassment, but what’s remarkable about the Midway story is that the Barney-Fife-wannabee police chief shut down the lemonade stand, in part, because the girls “didn’t know how the lemonade was made.”

So I guess this means that the kids not only should have coughed up big bucks for a permit, but they also should have posted the recipe for some regulator to approve?

I weep for my country.

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Republicans say (and do) lots of stupid things, but the current fiscal debate has me focused on two specific statements. Both get me very agitated. Indeed, I’m so irritated that all Republican politicians should be fitted with shock collars and then zapped when they utter either one of these statements.

GOP Training Device

Dumb Remark #1: “We shouldn’t raise taxes in a recession.”

This statement, or variations of that statement, gets me agitated because it implies that it’s okay to raise taxes when the economy is doing better. If we want to restrain the size of government, we should never increase the flow of revenue to Washington. Not now, not ever.

I can understand that GOPers want to make the strongest possible argument against tax hikes, so it does make sense to exploit unease about a weak economy. But there’s a better way to do it.

Smart Remark #1: “It’s always a bad idea to raise taxes, but raising taxes in a recession is especially foolish.”

Sure, it adds an extra clause to the sentence, and politicians sometimes have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, but I don’t think this is asking too much.

Dumb Remark #2: “We need to solve America’s debt crisis.”

This sentence (or its inbred cousin: “we need to solve America’s deficit crisis”) is like a cheese grater against my skin. It implies that big government is okay so long as we have an onerous tax system that collects lots of money.

Once again, I understand the desire of GOPers to make some reference to government borrowing. The establishment press endlessly refers to debt and deficits, and many Americans views red ink as symptoms of something amiss in Washington, but why not seize the opportunity to highlight the real problem?

Smart Remark #2: “We need to address Washington’s spending problem to avoid a Greek-style debt crisis.”

Yes, I’m asking politicians to put together a sentence that contains more words, but maybe this video will help them understand that spending is the disease and deficits are a symptom.

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