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If only I could be the government

It’s tough around here. I’ve picked up some expenses, with a new house two years ago, a child last year, some unexpected maintenance this past year, and now some inflation. Yet, I manage to keep the household above water. I do this in spite of lacking two things that certainly would help:

  • The ability to force involuntary payment to me.
  • The ability to print money
The state of Illinois can do the first, and the federal government can do both. With both governments facing an explosion of entitlement spending soon — and already huge debts — our executive leadership has opted to force me to pay more.
So I go my merry way making changes in the way we spend money. We cut back where we can and we have no choice but for it to be enough. Making more money is attractive, but it’s never guaranteed. The only thing you can really guarantee is how much you spend.
And so it goes with tax receipts. We raise taxes and project what economic activity (which more taxation will necessarily discourage) will generate what income. And then we hope the projections pan out. Meanwhile, we haven’t done anything to confront two of our largest economic problems: productivity and inflation.
This year, Paul Ryan came up with a serious budget plan that contains serious spending cuts. These are hard choices as they will affect more than half the electorate. President Obama responded with an unserious speech that seeks to bring income taxes last seen more than a decade ago.
Whose budget will be more successful?

Going nowhere fast

Mayor Daley has a few weeks left in office, but he won’t let that stop him from wasting tax dollars in the name of emulating the Chinese government, the soup du jour on the “Countries that are going to one day overtake us” menu.

Where the Russians, the Japanese and the Europeans all were poised to crush the U.S. economically, the Chinese are the new power to emulate. Well, except for their human rights abuses, rampant censorship, overzealous government planning and inequality in income and rights that should have both political parties leery of associating with them.

But, anyway, Daley was in China and was dazzled by the superfast bullet trains. So naturally, he envisions them ferrying passengers the 15 miles or so between downtown and the Loop at 200 miles per hour.

To that, I ask why we don’t simply make Columbus Drive a runway and have the city buy a few 747s to zip people to and from ORD? A 747 can go over 500 mph, can handle up to 400 passengers, and would make that trip in approximately two and a half minutes, including takeoff and landings.

It’s an even less absurd idea than Daley’s. Consider this:

  • Daley envisions a self-contained train terminal downtown that would drop passengers off inside of security. That’s great, but the tracks (and Daley wants them elevated as residents in Jefferson Park and Logan Square won’t mind the whirring of a train overhead at 200 mph) will then have to be totally secure.
  • No stops would mean people would still have to get to one specific station. Several stops would thin the benefit of a 200 mph train between O’Hare and downtown.
  • Getting through security, boarding the train on time and getting off the train all take time. Suppose it is 20 minutes total and the train ride is five minutes. Add another 10 minutes as you want to be sure you make your train, as a 200 mph train will not want to bunch trains up too closely. That’s a 35-minute trek. You could do as well most days by cab or car.
  • Unlike the idea of paving a runway, getting a bullet train between O’Hare and downtown requires putting down 15 miles of new, state of the art track. Trains can only go where there’s track.
Politicians are easily seduced by sexy things like bullet trains, and yes I get it. If Daley were to get behind something a little less exorbitant, like the expansion of service downtown on the Metra North Central Line (O’Hare to Union Station in 30 minutes), he’d have nothing exciting to stand in front of). Should he demand that the Blue Line run a couple express runs every hour to cater to airport passengers, he’d run into the teeth of neighborhoods who want continuous service.
High speed rail has yet to demonstrate how it’s an upgrade over flying. I suppose it’s more fun. Great. You do know there are amusement parks, don’t you?


Anyone following the chaos in Wisconsin saw it coming. A conservative sitting judge on the Supreme Court (currently with a 4-3 conservative leaning) is challenged by a liberal assistant attorney general who is all of a sudden the beneficiary of nationwide union money. Of course, it was a referendum on Scott Walker. Of course, it was going to end in a flat-footed tie.

Except it didn’t.

You see in Waukesha, a clerical error caused the conservative judge to almost lose 7,500 votes. The error has been corrected, and even though the recount will continue, it looks like JoAnne’s Kloppenburg’s chances of stealing David Prosser’s seat are now remote.

Whether the margin was 70 or 7,000, maybe it’s time to step back and put things in perspective. When people are this polarized, mud is thrown, voices are raised and in some ways it should be. The stakes are high.

However, grandstanding and rhetoric aside, can we at least accept the underlying principles of each side as legitimate? The unions want to look out for their members. They have a sweet deal, why wouldn’t they want to preserve it? No one disputes that their deal is going to get worse. Would you voluntarily take a worse deal?

No one who does math can dispute that the defined benefits that public workers have are unsustainable and somewhat draconian steps are necessary. Is it worth fighting for? You bet it is, if you care about having a comfortable future.

OK, so we fight. It’s boisterous. It’s contentious. It’s sometimes hateful. But back up. Roughly as many people that agree with you disagree with you. They’re your neighbors, your friends. They’re definitely not the enemy. They’re the opponent.

You’re going to see some of this bickering on a national scale tomorrow night when the government shuts down due to the federal budget impasse. Put me on the side of Paul Ryan and his budget plan. Ryan appears to be serious. He’s actually making some difficult choices. Respect him for that.

Truly, I empathize with President Obama. He understands the seriousness of the situation, but he has too many constituencies he feels he has to please: seniors, unions, cities, states that are toss-ups in 2012, etc. But even he has to make some difficult choices too.

it’ll happen. Trust me.

And I never thought I’d mellow with age.

The Wrong Reaction

The Florida pastor who’s burning Korans in a show of … something is getting the attention he so desires, I suppose. In Afghansitan, men who are exponentially worse than a blowhard minister in Florida are attacking UN aid workers and Americans in a show of protest.

That’s a frightening reaction to trite symbolism.

Want something more frightening? The reaction by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham seems ready to give into the demands of a mob halfway around the world, ignoring Constitutional law, and most important, an even temperament.

Look, Terry Jones isn’t particularly respectful of Muslims. However, free speech needs to be protected when it is at its most vile. That said, his demonstrations do not need to be dignified with a response from government officials.

Second, should Congress act to implement a policy advocated by a bunch of violent thugs that are not citizens, nor residents?

Finally, where does the issue of Koran burning rank with the spectre of another budget standoff and a government shutdown here this week?

Where is wealth created?

Hint: It’s not created in Washington, DC, where federal policy making has become the country’s only real growth industry.

Government work isn’t only in Washington, DC. It’s in every state. According to Stephen Moore’s column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, there are more government workers than there are working in manufacturing, farming, fishing, logging, construction, mining and utilities combined.

The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the homes you live in, the goods your purchase, the energy you need to heat or cool your home, power your vehicles, those are made by someone other than the government (and made pretty damn well).

As Moore notes:

We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers. Nearly half of the $2.2 trillion cost of state and local governments is the $1 trillion-a-year tab for pay and benefits of state and local employees.

Inflation is coming, too, whether or not Ben Bernanke unleashes QE3 on us (God, no). In simple terms, inflation is too much money chasing too few goods. A cure could be found in demand-side economics. Suppress demand! Yes, you! Stop eating! Don’t leave your house! Better yet, get out of your house, sell everything you own, and live off the land!

Another cure could be found in supply-side economics. Stoke supply. Become the land of plenty again. As true wealth isn’t found in a dollar figure, but in the goods and services available to the populace.

It will only happpen if we prune the government payroll and increase the number of productive workers.