Scanning the week’s national news, views and clues with you and yours in mind

By Malia Hill

Quote of the Week:
“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.”—Bob Dylan

Each week, we’ll be monitoring the web to find the most interesting, challenging, or important items for those who are concerned about liberty, accountability, and big government.  Here are some of the highlights from the past week:

Bad, But Not Quite the Worst (Now with Colorful Graphs!)

As usual, Hawaii’s budget shortfall when it comes to funding state employee pensions and retiree health care remains among the worst in the nation.  As the Pew Center’s recent update on The Widening Gap (between the promises that states have made on retiree benefits versus the actual money set aside to meet that obligation) illustrates, Hawaii is not alone in its funding problems.  We do, however, get the dubious distinction of having our management of the problem (or, more accurately, our lack thereof) branded at the “serious concern” level.  Continued half-measures in addressing the situation will only mean that the liability will grow . . . unless the Governor and Legislature can stand up to the union and enact real reforms.  Hawaii’s citizens can make it clear that state retiree benefits should be reduced in-line with those of the private sector.  After all, it will be the taxpayers who end up stuck with the bill.  (For more on the pension crisis, you might also want to check out TruthinPensions.com.)

The Triple Scoop of Taxes around the Corner

I’m always a little perplexed by the persistent belief (in some quarters) that tax increases should exist as some sort of punishment for being “rich.”  Part of the problem is with how we define the word.  I think we can all agree that Bill Gates is rich.  But as everyone who has ever turned down a loan request from a particularly irritating relative knows, some people have a very broad definition of what qualifies as “rich”.  And regardless of where you fall on the economic ladder, those tax increases (assuming you fall into the category of persons who do have to pay them) is no fun.  Whether you’re making $10,000 a year or $10 million, tripling your tax liability qualifies as bad news.

This is why Merrill Matthews’ analysis of the big, fat tax increase in our near future is a sobering reminder of how important the election year can be to our bank balance.  It’s a bummer to see how much more the government is planning to bill you next year, but the good news is that it hasn’t happened . . . yet.  Now we just have to see about electing people who think that we should be able to keep the money we earn.


The Idiocy of the Intelligence-Obssessed

The fetishization of intellect is the opiate of (aspiring) intellectuals.

As Lee Harris explains, there is a trend that claims Americans are too “stupid” to uphold democracy. Apparently, the subtle and complex ideas that uphold our country are too much for the Average Joe to comprehend and protect.  That’s why we need experts to guide us and make sure that we don’t blunder our way into anarchy or totalitarian oppression.  (If you suspect a pervasive political bias in these kinds of studies and essays, you’re onto something.  Though, to be fair, not everyone who makes this claim is attempting to “scientifically prove” that their political opponents are morons.)

Harris does an outstanding job of taking apart this argument and exposing it for the silly elitism it represents, but I just want to add one small anecdote about the innate group intelligence of the average American.  Back when I was in law school, I took a mock trial course that was taught by a practicing judge.  Being law students, and therefore utterly convinced of our own powerful intellectual prowess, we expressed our frustration with the fact that so much of his tutelage was focused on how to present to the jury.  Juries are just regular folk who don’t have the legal knowledge of the judge and the lawyers.  How could they be trusted to deal with thorny points of law?  But our teacher gave us a well-deserved scolding for our dismissal of the jury system.  We might not always like the result (and there certainly are examples of bad decisions from juries), but the collaborative intelligence of juries get things right more often than not.  There is a reason that our system of justice puts so much faith in the group intelligence of twelve of our peers.  Let’s leave the Philosopher Kings in the Republic.

Another Billionaire Seeks Government Constraints on his Competition

It’s not fair.  Apparently, Google likes to promote its own products in its search results.  This completely unsurprising fact is apparently grounds for another billion-dollar internet company (Nextag CEO Jeffrey Katz) to cry for government intervention.  Evidently, the fact that Nextag doesn’t get more Google links is a “constraint” on “internet freedom.”  The pure gall in the suggestion that the government needs to get involved in the results of our Google searches so that other companies get more links is amazing.  What’s next?  Demanding that NBC run ads for CBS shows?  Requiring McDonald’s employees to tell you about the Burger King around the block?

WalMart for the Win

Confession time: WalMart hatred makes me crabby.  It’s the worst kind of deluded elitism, and it tends to result in gross snobbery and insensitivity.  So one of the things I delight in is evidence that WalMart is good for the poor.  And as Paul Jacobs points out here, the WalMart model may be just what the Third World ordered.  Because when you’re starving, access to affordable food and necessities tends to outweigh First World concerns about big box stores.

Views expressed in this column are intended to promote creative thought, educate, and, we hope, prompt comment. Accordingly, thoughts expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii or the author.

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