Monday, November 30, 2009

But Can We Make it Stick, Professor Hanson?

by Smitty

Victor Davis Hanson has some great ideas about what needs to be changed. I fall short of confidence on his tax notions, however. Granted, this is a ransom note reply to a brief post of his, but the point I want to get at is this: the Iron Law of Bureaucracy calls for one mother of a smelter.

1. Pay as you go, balanced budget—whatever you wish to call a return to fiscal sanity. Conservatives need to stop talking about tolerable deficits in terms of GDP; and liberals should cease the charade that trillion-plus annual borrowing is great stimulus.
2. Freeze federal spending at the present rate, and let increased revenues balance the budget. The idea that we could ever cut outright the budget seems long ago impossible—given the culture of complaint and the melodramatic rants about starvation and murder if another entitlement is not granted. Still, some sort of leadership is required to remind the American people that much of what their government does is not just unnecessary, but counter-productive and they would be better off without it.
3. Some sort of fair or flat tax that ends the trillion-dollar industry of tax preparation, avoidance, and fraud. For about a quarter of the population April 15 is a spooky sort of Halloween. Instead, we need a tax system in which one can complete the necessary preparation in about 2 hours. Whose bright idea was it to excuse nearly half the American households from income tax exposure (Clinton and Bush, and now Obama?)—a fact that explains why in Pavlovian fashion recently Senators have been saying that we can add on a new war tax, a health-care surcharge, and a new high rate on “them”? The justification of a 40% income tax, 10% state income tax, 15.3% payroll tax, and new war and health care surcharge taxes can only be that one’s income was undeserved, ill-gotten, and thus better “rectified” by more enlightened federal redistributors.

These may be good, reasonable and attainable suggestions. But for how long? The attention span isn't going to last past the memory of economic hard times. While the US Constitution is a wonderful document, it offers scant hope for continuity beyond the dedication of the people to limited government. This dedication and ~$4.00 will get you some froo-froo at Starbucks, but not for long.

The discussion we need to have is about how we take away the whiskey and the car keys from the teenage boys, to re-work P. J. O'Rourke. As long as we have a Federal Reserve printing money at will, and a Sixteenth Amendment supporting Federal control over our wallets, the structural problems remain.

My suggestion is to strike the 16th Amendment, eliminate Federal peacetime borrowing, and let the Federal government bill the States. There can be an annual steel cage match where politicians fight for control over the formula for deciding percentages--could be a fundraiser.

If the reality of the Federal costs were presented to the States, the voters would be incentivized to elect responsible adults, an admittedly shocking prospect.

Ideas like those of Professor Hanson seem tactical in nature, and not the strategic re-direction required.


  1. The discussion we need to have is about how we take away the whiskey and the car keys from the teenage boys, to re-work P. J. O'Rourke.

    As much as I love that line and the truth it represents about Congress, the fact is our government representatives represent us. It is populist pandering that caused this mess. The sentiment that the rich are doing fine so they can foot the bill is wide spread (last time someone seriously suggested a flat tax was Steve Forbes--and that went over really well). At the same time everyone wants their own slice of the entitlements (that is one fine pie). Some of the biggest welfare queens wear overalls and drive a John Deere. Corporate welfare (long an endemic problem) is alive and well in the Age of Obama.

    The Obama Administration is all the worse parts of the Bush Administration on spending, times four.

    And if you propose cutting social security, well then they take you out and shoot your poltical career. They don't even bother with a Stalinesque show trial.

  2. Extending Pournelle's law to apply to other aspects of our society and its various institutions will show why the decline and fall of western culture - which the USA represents - is inevitable. "America Alone" (Steyn) outlines our future - step by step. VDH has solutions but they will never get past the self-interested blindness of the pols and bureaucrats.

  3. As long as you're striking the 16th, take the 17th with it. Until you do that, the 9th and 10th are meaningless.

    Ever since Wickard, the only limits on the power of Congress have been its own self-restraint. (I'll pause while you recover your ability to breathe.) A Senate elected by state legislatures (and House members contemplating a move to the upper chamber) would never pass such abominations as 55 mph speed limit or universal 21-yo drinking age as "pass this law AND enforce it to our liking or we won't give you any magical Federal highway funds". Those legislators would be rightly infuriated by such heavy-handedness, and vote the offenders out.

  4. Seriously, does anyone think our problems are solvable any more? Taxes will only go up and our individual wealth will be driven down. Income tax or sales tax or property tax or tax tax they will keep taking from us without any opportunity to change the rules in our favor. Withdrawing consent by state level secession is the only way to reign in the federal government left.

  5. Ever since Wickard, the only limits on the power of Congress have been its own self-restraint.

    For the most part, correct. One of the worse Supreme Court decisions ever.

  6. The Monster:

    Amen! The Senate was intended to represent the States. I believe states like California, Michigan and New York are actually ripe for a Federalist epiphany. They were wrangling in Albsny over a $3bn budget shortfall (only 10 times larger than the bribe to Landreau). If it were pointed out to the legislature that it's THEIR money being hoovered up to Imperial Washington, they might stop and think. Greed can accomplish what high-minded rhetoric cannot.

    Seccession has its own pitfalls: Nullification is the way to go in beginning to restore a federal republic. I can see my state legislature passing a law that all withholding is to be remitted to the state treasurer, who will then forward to the feds that portion appropriate to their enumerated powers. Talk about putting the cat among the pigeons! If we are to restore our Republic, turmoil and confrontation are inevitable.

    Our Republic won't be secure until we craft a mechanism to deal with the Supreme Court. Perhaps 3/5 of the state supreme courts must also ratify their decisions? Do away with the court, like the Confederates?

  7. VDH is generally very wise, erudite and forward thinking, but what he proposes are akin to band-aids on gaping shrapnel wounds.

    The Constitution has to be amended to bring the federal government to its knees. Then and only then will things change.