Scanning the week’s national news, views and clues with you and yours in mind
By Malia Hill
Quote of the Week:
“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”—P.J. O’Rourke
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:
This was a big week for political spin doctors. With Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker defeating the recall effort against him (a union-led and financed campaign that was prompted by Walker’s reform efforts), the self-appointed opinion makers were out in force, explaining why the recall defeat was about anything other than support for Walker’s reforms. There were those that tried to recast the decisive victory margin as a “slim” one, and those who decided it was about abortion, the President, the Congress, the national mood . . . in short, anything other than the actual issues and people involved. There is, however, an important lesson in the failed Walker recall for politicians . . . and for Hawaii (which faces a similar financial and union pressures): Have the courage of your convictions. As this editorial points out, the voters weren’t willing to punish Walker for doing what he said he would do, even in the face of tremendous pressure. And after the dire warnings of the unions failed to come true even while the benefits of Walker’s policies began to appear, people were even less interested in recalling him. It’s a lesson that most of Hawaii’s political class are sorely in need of.
The great debate over governing philosophy in our time tends to boil down to questions about the size of government. One side claims that small government is not only a better guarantor of individual liberty, but that it promotes economic growth. The other side claims that larger government is better able to regulate the market and that small government have worse social outcomes (health care, etc.). Both sides have their political champions and respected (mostly) thinkers. But one side has a bit more empirical support.
The Centre for Policy Studies has released a new report called Small is Best: Lessons from Advanced Economies. After studying a number of economies defined as “advanced” by the IMF, the report’s authors found (unsurprisingly) that a higher tax-to-GDP ratio has a significant negative effect on economic growth as does a high spending-to-GDP ratio. In contrast, small government countries had, on average, significantly higher rates of economic growth. Moreover, putting to bed the tired argument that small government sacrifices education and health, the report also found no evidence of worse social outcomes in small government countries. Health outcomes were mixed, and the small government countries actually showed higher academic outcomes.
Now, think about the direction the US has been headed for the last four years and try not to get too depressed.
I suppose we should thank Elizabeth Warren for highlighting the absurdity of our tendency to grab for minority status. The Harvard Law professor and senatorial candidate made a stir this year in her claims of 1/32 Native American ancestry—claims that have now been shown to be completely false. The strange thing is that I’m not sure that anyone is particularly shocked by that revelation. As Rick Manning points out, false claims like Warren’s actually constitute a major insult to true minorities and their achievements. But have we been culturally complicit in perpetuating frauds like Warren? (Or Ward Churchill, fake Native American professor formerly of University of Colorado at Boulder—apparently, pretending to be Native American in order to further your career in academia is a “thing”.) Do we offer too much temptation to claim “minority” status, however falsely? As Hawaii struggles with its own questions about racial identity, it’s worth asking whether we’ve given up on true unity and equality in favor of cultural division and special status.
With Michelle Obama jumping on the anti-large soda bandwagon, we are finally seeing the depths to which government nannying can sink. And why wouldn’t politicians want to get involved in the anti-obesity game? They get to look “concerned,” which is their favorite look (and so photogenic and “statesmanlike”); they get to raise taxes; they get to nod thoughtfully during endless hearings and committee meetings; the photo-ops all involve things like playing with children and handing someone a carrot; and they get to make government bigger. It’s a win-win-win.
Except for two things: the citizens who now have big brother standing next to them with a calorie counter and a scale don’t necessarily win; and also, it doesn’t work.
As the Mercatus Center explains, big government attempts to curb obesity are wonderfully, spectacularly ineffective at actually achieving that goal. Increasing taxes on soda means that people who are already fit drink less soda. Everyone else buys bulk soda, cheaper soda, or drinks sweetened ice tea. Amazingly, attempts to persuade people to eat low-fat foods actually ended up increasing the number of total calories (including calories from fat) that people consumed. In short, when government tries to save us from ourselves, things just get worse.
Also, when Big Gulps are outlawed, only outlaws will have Big Gulps.
Even in bad news, there is good news. Like a statistical increase in the number of laser tattoo removals for “employment reasons”. As Jonah Goldberg explains, the recent recession is not without its silver lining. Our new age of austerity has taught us something about family, about saving, about indulgence. Even our new dismissal of “first world problems” shows some level of maturity and self-awareness. So while Goldberg hopes that we can go back to having “rich country” problems again soon (as do I), it doesn’t hurt to appreciate the lessons learned from being a bit hungry.
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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