Monthly Archives: March 2009

Some Simple Numbers

I’m a mathematical simpleton: I like numbers, but not too many and only when I can understand them and how they all fit together.

For instance, let’s consider the federal budget since 1996:

2010 United States federal budget – $3.6 trillion (submitted 2009 by President Obama)
2009 United States federal budget – $3.10 trillion (submitted 2008 by President Bush)
2008 United States federal budget – $2.90 trillion (submitted 2007 by President Bush)
2007 United States federal budget – $2.77 trillion (submitted 2006 by President Bush)
2006 United States federal budget – $2.7 trillion (submitted 2005 by President Bush)
2005 United States federal budget – $2.4 trillion (submitted 2004 by President Bush)
2004 United States federal budget – $2.3 trillion (submitted 2003 by President Bush)
2003 United States federal budget – $2.2 trillion (submitted 2002 by President Bush)
2002 United States federal budget – $2.0 trillion (submitted 2001 by President Bush)
2001 United States federal budget – $1.9 trillion (submitted 2000 by President Clinton)
2000 United States federal budget – $1.8 trillion (submitted 1999 by President Clinton)
1999 United States federal budget – $1.7 trillion (submitted 1998 by President Clinton)
1998 United States federal budget – $1.7 trillion (submitted 1997 by President Clinton)
1997 United States federal budget – $1.6 trillion (submitted 1996 by President Clinton)
1996 United States federal budget – $1.6 trillion (submitted 1995 by President Clinton)

So here we have over a doubling of government spending in 14 years.  Is this in anyway sustainable?  Do we need twice the government now we needed 14 years ago?  Some of these increases year-to-year may seem slight, but for me, $200 billion is no chump change!

And consider this: if President Obama thinks a $780 billion stimulus package would help the economy, I suggest he slash the federal budget by $2 trillion dollars and see what kind of stimulus is really possible!  In fact, let’s do an exercise to see what would happen if he did.

President Obama says that the $780 billion is justified to save or invest in 2.5 to 3 million jobs.  Let’s suppose that it results in 2.5 million new jobs (highly unlikely, in my opinion).  Let’s calculate the price per job: $312,000 of taxpayer money.

Now, let’s consider how much those jobs cost when done voluntarily.  US GDP (a measure of total economic power) is roughly $13.7 trillion.  There’s about 130 million employees, if there’s full employment.  With unemployment running at about 8 percent, let’s call it 119,000 employees in the U.S.  Total cost per employee: $115,126.  That’s about a third of the price per job.

Now let’s say he puts $2 trillion back in the economy (for me, government spending is money taken out of the economy) by slashing government.  Based on the price per employee of $115,126, how many jobs would be created from this type of stimulus?  17,372,270.  That would solve our unemployment problem and then some.

What does this tell us?  At the very least, it illustrates the idea that the market is much more efficient at allocating resources than the government (roughly three times as much). 

Also consider that if the $2 trillion of government spending was pulled from areas which hamper job growth and restrain businesses from starting and growing, how much easier it would be for a small business owner to get going and hire people.

Now that’s a stimulus package.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, politics, recession, role of government

In the News

This shows a little of what the media is talking about: these are the hits from a simple search on Google News.

Inflation  59,315
Drug War  13,620
Mexican Cartel   5,039
Drug Cartel  15,222
President Obama 358,539
Ron Paul   7,869
Ben Bernanke  48.539
Timothy Geitner  90,383
Recession 248,246
Depression  51,058
Stimulus 181,847
Fiat Currency   1,519
Dollar  239,267
Euro  472,390
Yen   43,565
Yuan   21,119
Pound   64,662
Money     113,171,655
Gold  190,262
Silver   69,013 
Democracy  47,078
War  591,255
Iraq   69,109
Afghanistan 129,434
Iran   85,760
Israel  120,954
Russia   97,320
China  524,282
India  266,180
Brazil   49,832

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Filed under politics, recession, War

Mt. Redoubt and Government Eruptions

Mt. Redoubt, a volcano near Anchorage, Alaska, has erupted.

Conservatives like Bobby Jindal criticized spending in President Obama’s stimulus package for “volcano monitoring” as wasteful.  Now, of course, with a relatively large eruption relatively close to a good-sized metropolitan area, such reasoning sounds suspect, especially to those in the mainstream.

Of course, the state sees this as justification for expansion.  Consider Interior Secretary Ken Salazar:

This is an indicator and proof of the importance of earth science to the United States of America and to the Department of the Interior…  Through the work of the USGS and being able to monitor what was happening with Volcano Redoubt, we were able to actually forecast this event . . . to prevent the endangerment of people and places that would otherwise have occurred.

It’s true that the USGS performed some beneficial public function.  But the larger question of private property rights remains unaddressed: would a private individual (a mountain or volcano owner) necessarily do worse?

I don’t see the presence of a volcanic eruption and related government monitorings and warnings as categorical evidence that private individuals are inferior to central economic planning when it comes to resource management, including land.  In fact, the government’s actions were completely involuntary, both in payment (paid through compulsory taxation) and in administration (consider the completely monopolistic administration: no one could buy a volcano, as it is not for sale; the government is the sole owner).

As Henry Hazlitt would say, a bad economist sees what it seen only.  A good economist sees what is unseen.  And what is unseen?  We do not see the additional wealth and jobs that we be voluntarily created if USGS funding were reduced or eliminated altogether.  We don’t see the positive effects of private land ownership.  We don’t see a market approach (individuals freely economizing and exchanging) to resource management, including land, water, and air.

There is great irony in the head of the Department of the Interior (responsible for much of the analytical, scientific work being accomplished domestically) to refuse to use reasoned, critical, analytical analysis to consider the effects and morality of his policies.

Considering what we don’t see (namely, the effects of free markets), how can we categorically say anything of substance about what we do see (government land management) when it is of necessity incomparable to its alternatives?

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Filed under Austrian Economics, climate, environment, fiscal policy, Libertarian, politics, role of government

Movie Recommendations

Let me recommend two movies about life and relationships.  (These are private human relationships and have no relevance to the relationship between man and state.)

First, I recommend Bella.  It’s a film that tackles important themes related to tragedy, relationships, the grind of day-to-day living, joy, and family.  Some would and have seen this as overly sentimental.  I find it interesting and emotionally powerful.  In terms of objectionable content, there is very little in the way of violence, profanity, or immorality.  See www.kids-in-mind.com for details.

Because of Winn-Dixie is another film considered simplistic or overly simplistic.  I find it another interesting exploration of human relationships.  The dog is really a projection or catalyst for each of these.  This film explores relationships pertaining to a broader human community as opposed to focusing solely on the nuclear family.

I find both films containing principles consistent with what we Mormons consider “Zion:” the ideal society where imperfect, fallen individuals through their own goodness and God’s grace lift and bless each other.

Be warned that my wife has lukewarm appreciation for both of these movies.  But I find they explore important themes in a thought-provoking way and with a convincing emotional power.  They speak to me.  I challenge you to find books or films that touch and move you and cause you to think.

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Filed under Mormonism, Paleoconservatism, Personal, Social Commentary

Ron Paul on Foreign Policy

I admit I may not agree 100% with Ron Paul on everything.  I may find him to be too harsh at times.  For instance, I have a hard time equating taxation with theft.  To do so is to negate the efficacy of any taxation, or any state, for that matter, funded by coercion of any sort.  I’m not sure what this would do to the Constitution.

With that in mind, I find his recent remarks (see here) on foreign policy enlightening and refreshing.  I cannot for the life of me understand why so few refuse to take this common-sense, historical, and Constitutional approach to foreign policy.  Why is it so hard to comprehend antipathy to a foreign policy hostile to so many?

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, foreign policy, Libertarian, politics, role of government, Ron Paul, War

Tolerating the Intolerant: Yes on 8 = Yes on Hate?

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!     -Isaiah 5:20

While listening to the situation regarding Proposition 8 and its on-going backlash this morning on the radio, I couldn’t help but think about the above scripture.  There has been (and will continue to be) some measure of mocking, violent disagreement, and even persecution to those who supported Proposition 8 in California last November.  My hats are off to all who patiently reason sensibly through the nonsense and childish behavior.

This link is a list of all donors for and against Proposition 8.  Some of those who supported it have been picketed against.  Many angry emails have been sent.  Boycotts have been attempted.  One of the common refrains is that a vote for Yes on 8 is a vote for Yes on hate.

There’s great irony and misunderstanding with those that see a vote for “Yes on 8” or opposition to a homosexual lifestyle in general as equated with a vote for hatred of homosexuals.  One can hate the sin and love the sinner.  This is a possibility, though many seem to think it impossible or incomprehensible to do such a thing.  How sad to be so limiting in one’s comprehension of the possible!

A great irony is that many (admittedly not all) of those who preach tolerance with regards to homosexual marriage or homosexual rights themselves are intolerant with those who oppose a homosexual lifestyle.  “Please be tolerant to me,” they may say, “But give me maximum latitude in rejecting and being intolerant of you and your beliefs.”  I find this inconsistent: either be tolerant of all, or intolerant of all, and expect the same from others.

(Lest you misunderstand, I realize there are many homosexuals who do not have this perspective, but understand somewhat the complexity of a Christian stand against homosexuality.)

This problem extends to many other areas.  For instance, those who believe that public education should be very tolerant and accepting of secular humanism while intolerant of divergent views and beliefs.

Or consider the government’s intrusive (and increasingly intimate) and unconstitutional airport searches and seizures (I’m tempted to ask the TSA officer for a signed warrant, or some sort of legal explanation of how this squares with the Fourth Amendment, but have a feeling that won’t go over well): we are to be obedient and 100% submissive and supportive, while at the same time, no amount of toleration will be given for someone unwilling to go through such an invasive search: they are denied flight entry.  Further, government socioeconomic racial profiling (as part of the so-called “War on Terror”) exists and has taken place: an intolerance of identity itself.

Such is the case with taxation, or nearly any government action: our submission is required, regardless of our personal feelings, of which the government is largely intolerant of.  Consider the difference in a minimalist state, where individuals are more free to exercise their agency with much fewer constraints: as the smallest of examples, airports or airlines could themselves determine what level of safety was appropriate for them, rather than Washington bureaucrats, lobbyists, or elected officials.  If an individual didn’t like it, he could try another airport.  Individuals could decide which companies are worthy of being “bailed out,” as it were, voluntarily, rather than having such an idea thrust upon them without their consent.

This all relates to whether we can trust individuals more than the state: can people work out their differences, or is the presence and perpetual intervention of some vast welfare/warfare state required to mediate and regulate vast portions of individual life?

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Filed under Austrian Economics, foreign policy, Libertarian, Mormonism, politics, role of government, Social Commentary, War

Blatantly Absent

I noted that from President Obama’s big speech to Congress last week, and in public statements before and since, there has been great empathy with the financial crisis and the effect it is having on the American people.  He is a skilled orator.  I believe he is sincere.

He has addressed what he would like to do regarding government, large businesses, small businesses, and individuals.  Many approve of his efforts (I’m not one of them as you might guess).

Blatantly absent from these discussions is any honest mention of the role of the Federal Reserve in causing this financial crisis, nor any honest attempt to investigate and/or more closely regulate this body.

I find myself hoping his emphasis on government transparency is sincere.  I find myself wishing such would extend to the Federal Reserve.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, politics, role of government