Spendthrift in Chief

From the WSJ:

Then came Mr. Obama, arguably the most spendthrift president in history. He inherited a recession and responded by blowing up the U.S. balance sheet. Spending as a share of GDP in the last three years is higher than at any time since 1946. In three years the debt has increased by more than $4 trillion thanks to stimulus, cash for clunkers, mortgage modification programs, 99 weeks of jobless benefits, record expansions in Medicaid, and more.

The forecast is for $8 trillion to $10 trillion more in red ink through 2021. Mr. Obama hinted in a press conference earlier this month that if it weren’t for Republicans, he’d want another stimulus. Scary thought: None of this includes the ObamaCare entitlement that will place 30 million more Americans on government health rolls.

This is the road to fiscal perdition. The looming debt downgrade only confirms what everyone knows: Congress has made so many promises to so many Americans that there is no conceivable way those promises can be kept. Tax rates might have to rise to 60%, 70%, even 80% to raise the revenues to finance these promises, but that would be economically ruinous.

Yet Mr. Obama and most Democrats still oppose any serious reform of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. This insistence on no reform reinforces the notion that our entitlement state is too big to afford but also too big to change politically. This is how a AAA country becomes AA, the first step on the march to Greece.

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The Debt Ceiling Farce

Dr. Sowell serves up another healthy helping of clarity:

Some people may have been shocked when the credit-rating firm Moody’s recently suggested that the debt-ceiling law be repealed, in order to avoid fiscal crises which can throw world financial markets into turmoil that can injure countries around the world.

Anyone who wants to show that Moody’s is wrong should be prepared to show the actual benefits of the debt-ceiling, not its goals or hopes. That will not be easy, if possible at all.

Too many policies, programs and institutions are judged by what they are supposed to do, rather than by what they actually do and the consequences of their actions. The United Nations, for example, survives as a glorious idea, despite how corrupt, counterproductive and even dangerous its actions are.

The national debt-ceiling law should be judged by what it actually does, not by how good an idea it seems to be. The one thing that the national debt-ceiling has never done is to put a ceiling on the rising national debt. Time and time again, for years on end, the national debt-ceiling has been raised whenever the national debt gets near whatever the current ceiling might be.

Regardless of what it is supposed to do, what the national debt-ceiling actually does is enable any administration to get all the political benefits of runaway spending for the benefit of their favorite constituencies — and then invite the opposition party to share the blame, by either raising the national debt ceiling, or by voting for unpopular cutbacks in spending or increases in taxes.

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A Modern Liberal on Great, Classical-Liberal Literature

I give this professor a great deal of credit for his genuine attempt to understand the Right instead of demonize it.

Q. What is different between conservative and liberal literature?

A. One striking difference is that the iconic conservative works are about ideology. By contrast, the most influential liberal books of the era are about policy issues. Those works are Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962), The Other America by Michael Harrington (1962), The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963), and Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (1965), which helped launch the environmental, anti-poverty, feminist, and consumer movements, respectively. Some prominent liberal books of the time were about ideology — such as The Vital Center by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1949) and The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (1958) — but these are exceptions to the rule.

Q. Why the lack of symmetry?

A. Conservatives have big appetites for ideology; liberals don’t. There are, of course, taxonomies of conservative schools of thought. People on the right classify themselves as libertarians, neoconservatives, social conservatives, traditional conservatives, and the like, and spill oceans of ink defining, debating, and further subdividing these schools of thought. There is no parallel taxonomy on the left. Maybe, in part, it is because a central tenet of liberalism is that ideology should be eschewed in favor of the supposedly enlightened, pragmatic approach of making ad hoc judgments about issues. But on this conservatives are more realistic. Ideology is inevitable; we all have an ideology, whether we are aware of it or not. First of all, ideology is about values, and we can’t decide how we wish to solve policy issues without having a firm grasp on the values we are seeking to advance. Second, the world is too complex for us to make informed judgments about all of the issues that confront us. We need a philosophy to serve as a north star. One way I’ve been enriched by reading the great works of conservatism is that I’ve come better to appreciate how central ideology is to thinking about matters of governance and public policy.

Q. After having completed an extensive program of reading great conservative works, how can you still be a liberal?

A. As Isaiah Berlin pointed out, what separates us at the most fundamental level may be our different conceptions of liberty. Conservatives value above all else what Berlin called the negative vision of liberty, namely, freedom from coercion. Liberals are more willing to balance that against the positive vision of liberty — that is, having a reasonable opportunity to realize one’s potential. The negative vision focuses conservatives on restricting the government’s ability to interfere in people’s lives. The positive vision leads liberals to believe that government has a role in guaranteeing baseline minimums in education, medical care, and healthy communities. Most of us probably accept both visions to some extent, but how we balance the two may be built into our DNA. It is not to be expected, therefore, that a liberal will be converted by reading the great works of conservatism, or vice versa. But there are rewards to be gained from doing so nonetheless. Often, we get a better understanding of what we believe by reading about a philosophy with which we have disagreements than by reading congenial literature. More important, reading its great works helps us better understand — and respect — the other side. That, at least, has been my experience.

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Diversity

From Heather Mac Donald:

California’s budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. “Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone,” the university system’s vice president for budget and capital resources warned earlier this month, in advance of this week’s meeting of the university’s regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.

Not only have diversity sinecures been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing. The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

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