Quotulatiousness

August 27, 2014

Disappointingly, SpaceX plays the crony capitalist game with Texas politicians

Filed under: Business, Government, Space — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:28

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll have picked up that I’m a fan of SpaceX and other non-governmental organizations in the space race. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Elon Musk is a hero, but I’ve generally been happy about his company’s successes in bringing more private enterprise into the launch business. However, as Lachlan Markay explains in some detail, Elon Musk is not above taking government funds to do things he’d be doing anyway, just like crony capitalists in the rest of the government-industrial complex:

Shortly before a private spaceflight company’s test rocket exploded over southern Texas last weekend, state lawmakers announced millions in subsidies to get the company to continue launching rockets in the Lone Star State.

Space Exploration Technologies, commonly known as SpaceX, will receive more than $15 million in public financing to build a launch pad in Cameron County, near the Mexican border.

The subsidies came after SpaceX’s founder, billionaire tech mogul and pop technologist Elon Musk, made campaign contributions to key state lawmakers and hired lobbyists with ties to Austin.

SpaceX is one of a number of innovative and disruptive startups that, though lauded by some free marketeers for making government-run markets more competitive, are finding themselves drawn to political advocacy, whether out of shrewdness or necessity.

Of the more than $15 million in incentives for a SpaceX launch facility in Brownsville, Texas, announced this month, $13 million will come from the state’s Spaceport Trust Fund.

Initially created in 2002, the fund began to wind down together with the idea of commercial spaceflight. But with the ascendancy of SpaceX and similar companies, Texas looked to secure its place as a destination for commercial spaceflight operations.

Musk took notice. A prolific political donor, he began pouring money into the campaigns of key state lawmakers. On November 7, 2012, he donated $1,000 to state representative Rene Oliveira (D). Two weeks later, he gave state senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D) $2,000.

The next month, the Associated Press reported that Lucio and Oliveira were working to secure state backing for a potential SpaceX launch pad in Brownsville.

As Drew M. says at Ace of Spades H.Q., it’s not like this is a new thing for businesses or for politicians, it’s just disappointing:

I’m not naive to think this sort of stuff hasn’t gone on forever and will go on forever, it’s simply human nature. That’s why making government at levels as small as possible is so important.

What does continue to surprise me when it shouldn’t is how cheap it is to buy politicians. Remember Team GOP’s hero, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran’s longtime aide who accepted $20-30K in gifts from Jack Abrahmof in return to ensuring the felon’s clients received millions in government money?

When you think about it it’s really no surprise that politicians sell themselves so cheaply. Unlike honorable whores who sell their own bodies, politicians sell other people’s money. Plus, they make it up in volume.

This bi-partisan rush to hand out everyone’s money for their own gain is part of why I’m drifting away from conservatism and towards libertarianism. Screw them all.

August 22, 2014

The consent of the governed (or policed)

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

Kevin Williamson on the declining trust in government, not just in Ferguson, but across the United States:

The mathematics of civil disobedience has always been pretty straightforward: As Mohandas Gandhi pointed out to the raj, 100,000 government officials cannot control 350 million citizens if the citizens do not cooperate. There are not enough police in St. Louis County to control the people who do not wish to be controlled by the police in St. Louis County, as least as currently constituted. There are two ways to govern: By consent or by terror. In the United States, we govern by consent.

(Mostly.)

We spend altogether too much time talking about sentiment, e.g., polling Americans about whether they feel that the laws of economics apply in any given situation, as though their feelings were relevant to it. But there are occasions upon which sentiment must be considered, and considered seriously. One is the matter of public confidence in institutions, and the other is in the very serious business of consent.

On the matter of confidence, it is difficult to fault the critics of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police authorities. They do not give a very strong impression of competence, and the relationship between police and community appears to be adversarial on both sides. The police have been less than forthcoming, and their release of information has been self-serving. Ferguson already was a relatively high-crime area and economically depressed, meaning, almost by definition, that local institutions were failing to do their jobs. There are looters, adventurers, and opportunists, of course, but the fact is that people in the town of Ferguson, Mo., could be at home watching television or updating their Facebook pages but instead are protesting the performance of their local government. That is not an insignificant fact.

[...]

We have seen withdrawals of consent before, and we will see more in the future. From cracked Texas secessionists and Cliven Bundy to the people throwing rocks at police in Ferguson, such gestures are rarely altogether admirable, but that does not make them necessarily illegitimate. (I must confess that I’d have more sympathy with the protesters in Ferguson if they were setting fire to tax offices rather than convenience stores.) (Not that I’m endorsing setting fire to tax offices.) (At this time.) And there are real reasons to consider the question of consent: From local politicians legally looting their communities to federal government that uses the IRS as a weapon of politics, there are real objections to be made. In practical terms, we have a government that interferes with our lives and livelihoods far more than did the one our Founders threw off.

Which is not a call for revolution — it’s a call for rebalancing, for reestablishing exactly who works for whom.

August 9, 2014

QotD: What is it that keeps democracies democratic?

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

This is the only thing that keeps either party within a mile of good behavior — the understanding that if you deceive the public, or act with gross incompetence, that behavior is going to be politicized and used against you.

Consider the example of the various one-party cities in this nation.

Can there be any doubt that “politicization” of one’s errors or actual violations is, while annoying for the party who has erred, the only thing that restrains a party from wholesale violations of the public trust?

Besides the obvious salutary public policy effects, there is of course a more tangible reason why records should be retained and, when subpoenaed by Congress, disclosed to that body:

Because it’s the law.

And adherence to the Law is the only thing that keeps a society of feuding political parties from degenerating into a third-world system of coups and counter-coups.

If the party I oppose shows perfect contempt for following the law when it sees a political advantage in doing so, why should I not support the selfsame law-breaking when the party I support decides it might find some advantage in doing so?

The government’s basis for rule over the citizens is based on two things:

1. Sheer naked coercive power.

And:

2. Moral authority, and the notion that, while a citizen might not like the particular government serving at any particular time, that citizen values something more eternal than the temporary political circumstances of a four year period of time.

Namely, the idea that it is best for everyone to follow the law, because it’s more important to support a stable government without turmoil and violence than to violate the law to win on any immediate, ephemeral political point.

Note that it is far better for any society that the government’s power rests more on the second pillar than on the first. Because so long as that pillar, of moral authority, of general fairness, of a general sense that the longterm interests of America are better served by adherence to government than to rebellion against it, the government will rarely, if ever, have to resort to the ultimate pillar of authority, which is physical, violent coercion.

Ace, “Sure Why Not: HHS Emails Sought by Congress To Determine Why Healthcare.gov Was Such a Catastrophe Are, Get This, Missing”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-08-08.

August 8, 2014

Revisiting the economic brain-fart that was “Cash for Clunkers”

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:44

If you listen to big government fans, you’ll often hear how much better it is for the economy for the government to spend money — much better than letting the taxpayers spend that money themselves — because the government is able to get a much higher “multiple” for every dollar that it spends. The “Cash for Clunkers” story may support that theory, but only if you reverse the sign: the program may have been more economically helpful to the auto makers and the taxpayers if they’d just piled up a few billion bank notes and set them on fire. The program ran for two months, and the government doled out $3 billion in subsidies to new car buyers (their old cars were destroyed). The new car owners benefitted, although it seems to merely have brought forward intended new car purchases in most cases, and the auto makers seemed to benefit by moving out a lot of unsold inventory.

However, a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper shows that the program actually ended up costing the auto makers between $2.6 and $4 billion. Coyote Blog quotes the WSJ‘s summary:

The irony is that the goals were to help Detroit through the recession by subsidizing sales and to please the green lobby by putting more fuel-efficient cars on the road. By pulling forward purchases that consumers would make later anyway, the Obama Administration also hoped to add to GDP. Christina Romer, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, called Cash for Clunkers “very nearly the best possible countercyclical fiscal policy in an economy suffering from temporarily low aggregate demand.”

The A&M economists had the elegant idea of comparing the buying behavior of Texas drivers who owned cars that barely qualified for cash (those that got 18 miles per gallon of gas or less) and those that barely did not (19 mph). Using state DMV sales records, this counterfactual allowed them to isolate the effects of the Cash for Clunkers incentives and show what would have happened without the program.

The two groups were equally likely to purchase a new vehicle over the nine month period that started with Cash for Clunkers, so the subsidy did not create any extra auto business. But in order to meet the fuel efficiency mandate, consumers who got the subsidy were induced to purchase smaller vehicle models with less horsepower that cost on average $2,500 to $3,000 less than those bought by their ineligible peers. The clunkers bought more Corollas, and everybody else more Chevys.

Extrapolated nationally, auto revenues may have plunged by more than what the government spent. And any environmental benefits cannot be justified under the federal social cost of carbon estimate of $33 a ton. Prior research from 2009 and 2013 has shown that the program cost between $237 and $288 a carbon ton.

By taking all those used cars off the road and destroying them, the program also created a nasty price spike in the used car market (which hurt the poor almost exclusively). As P.J. O’Rourke said:

… cash for clunkers was just sinful. You’re taking a bunch of perfectly good vehicles, inexpensive vehicles that could be used by people without much in the way of material means, and crushing them. If someone took a valuable resource — something that could really be useful to people — and destroyed it, they’d be in jail if they were private citizens.

Steve Chapman probably put it best back in 2009, “Cash for Clunkers has been a thrilling moment for advocates of expanded government, who say it proves what we can accomplish when our leaders put their minds to it. They are absolutely right. The program proves the federal government is unsurpassed at two things: dispersing money and destroying things.”

August 6, 2014

Atlas Shrugged was not an instruction manual”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

Oh, my. A few corporations are using the “corporate inversion” tactic to get out from underneath punitive taxes and the reaction is to talk about making it harder to escape? Tamara K. explains why this is breathtakingly dumb:

Dude, one of the complaints that nuanced cosmopolitan liberals have with Ayn Rand is that her villains are cartoonish caricatures, and here you go popping out an editorial that could have been written by Wesley Mouch. Tone-deafness on this scale is positively breathtaking. Atlas Shrugged was not an instruction manual, you knob.

I suspect more corporations have been considering the pro and con to corporate inversion recently … and the hysterical reaction to the few that have already taken place may trigger a rush to the exits. Nice work, guys!

August 3, 2014

QotD: Committees

Filed under: Government, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The life cycle of the committee is so basic to our knowledge of current affairs that it is surprising more attention has not been paid to the science of comitology. The first and most elementary principle of this science is that a committee is organic rather than mechanical in its nature: it is not a structure but a plant. It takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts, and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom in their turn. Only those who bear this principle in mind can make real headway in understanding the structure and history of modern government. Committees, it is nowadays accepted, fall broadly into two categories, those (a) from which the individual member has something to gain; and those (b) to which the individual member merely has something to contribute. Examples of the B group, however, are relatively unimportant for our purpose; indeed some people doubt whether they are committees at all. It is from the more robust A group that we can learn most readily the principles which are common (with modifications) to all. Of the A group the most deeply rooted and luxuriant committees are those which confer the most power and prestige upon their members. In most parts of the world these committees are called “cabinets.” This chapter is based on an extensive study of national cabinets, over space and time.

When first examined under the microscope, the cabinet council usually appears — to comitologists, historians, and even to the people who appoint cabinets — to consist ideally of five. With that number the plant is viable, allowing for two members to be absent or sick at any one time. Five members are easy to collect and, when collected, can act with competence, secrecy, and speed. Of these original members four may well be versed, respectively, in finance, foreign policy, defense, and law. The fifth, who has failed to master any of these subjects, usually becomes the chairman or prime minister.

Whatever the apparent convenience might be of restricting the membership to five, however, we discover by observation that the total number soon rises to seven or nine. The usual excuse given for this increase, which is almost invariable (exceptions being found, however, in Luxembourg and Honduras), is the need for special knowledge on more than four topics. In fact, however, there is another and more potent reason for adding to the team. For in a cabinet of nine it will be found that policy is made by three, information supplied by two, and financial warning uttered by one. With the neutral chairman, that accounts for seven, the other two appearing at first glance to be merely ornamental. This allocation of duties was first noted in Britain in about 1639, but there can be no doubt that the folly of including more than three able and talkative men in one committee had been discovered long before then. We know little as yet about the function of the two silent members but we have good reason to believe that a cabinet, in this second stage of development, might be unworkable without them.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “Directors And Councils, Or Coefficient Of Inefficiency”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.

August 2, 2014

“So that’s what the economists at Treasury mean by ‘priming the pump’”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Humour, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Kevin Williamson explains that the government is staffed by deviants under-employed workers who have to find ways to spend their time in the office creatively:

Behind closed doors, in private offices off Washington’s corridors of power, there are a lot of mouses getting double-clicked, if you know what I mean. At the Environmental Protection Agency, a senior official spent so much time watching pornography while on the federal clock that the Office of the Inspector General dispatched a special agent to look into it — and the official continued watching porn while the OIG agent was in his office. At the Federal Communications Commission — which, among other things, polices pornography — employees routinely spend the equivalent of a full workday each week watching porn. At the General Services Administration — which, like the FCC, has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, being charged with minimizing federal operating costs — employees spend up to six hours a day watching porn on the taxpayers’ dime. At Commerce, paralegals were paid upward of $4 million to do no work — any guesses how they filled their days?

It’s a lucky thing that federal employees have such good insurance plans when it comes to workplace-related troubles such as repetitive-stress injuries: One especially heroic employee at Treasury viewed more than 13,000 pieces of pornography in the space of a few weeks, surely setting some kind of gherkin-goosing record in the process. I assume he told his superiors he was busy debugging his hard drive.

If war is politics by other means, as Clausewitz insisted, then administration is a tug of war.

A very lonely tug of war.

It is not just pornography. Federal employees fill their days with online shopping, watching television, trolling dating sites in the hopes of having a relationship with someone other than themselves and the nice webcam ladies at Smut.com

But look on the bright side:

The fact that our bureaucrats spend their days working as amateur snake charmers is, counterintuitive though it may sound, the good news. Rather than fire these tireless onanists, the federal government should upgrade their broadband and invest in … whatever matériel these ladies and gentlemen need to keep up their fearless campaign of hand-to-gland combat. If their brains ever get full use of the blood supply while they’re in the office, mischief surely will ensue.

Better their hands are in their pants than on the levers of power.

July 30, 2014

QotD: Balancing the budget

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

… it sounds like a sober and centrist position. I mean who believes in deficit financing? Well everybody but you’re not suppose to admit it out loud. Like dwarf porn. Many watch but few will say so. What it means in practice is one of two things. If an actual conservative uses the term it means that the public service is getting taken to the tool shed. There being few actual conservatives in politics what it usually means is that we’ll keep spending until someone makes us stop.

That’s when the bond market vigilantes step in. Then everyone blames the bond market for ending the party. The kind politician would love, absolutely love, to spend more money on “X” but those evil Gordon Gekko types won’t let him. In truth the bond market traders are no more responsible for a government going broke than a doctor is responsible for giving an alcoholic DT.

The state, observed Bastiat so many years ago, is the great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. Politics is the lie that this can go on indefinitely. Voters complain about the low levels of honesty in politics. But a dishonest political class is the product of a dishonest electorate. If people want something for nothing, they’ll get the lying louses they deserve. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a hundred years in a row and the shame is very much on the ordinary bitchin’ voter.

Richard Anderson, “Transparent Lies”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-07-28.

July 29, 2014

Australia’s bitter experience with carbon mitigation

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:47

Shikha Dalmia looks at Australia’s recently abandoned carbon tax scheme:

Environmentalists had a global meltdown last week after Australia scrapped its carbon tax. They denounced the move as “retrograde” and “environmental vandalism.”

They can fume all they want, but Australia’s action, combined with Europe’s floundering cap-and-trade program, signals that “mitigation” strategies — curbing greenhouse gases by putting economies on an energy diet — are not winning or workable.

Australia leapfrogged from being an environmental laggard (initially refusing to even sign the Kyoto Protocol) to a leader when its Green Party-backed Labor prime minister imposed a tax two years ago. It required Australia’s utilities and industries to pay $23 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions.

But the tax was an instant debacle.

Australia has the highest per capita carbon dioxide emission in the world and the main reason is that it’s even more coal-dependent than America. Coal supplies 75 percent of its energy needs (compared to 42 percent in America). But contrary to green expectations, the tax didn’t prompt companies to rush toward renewable sources, because they are far costlier.

Rather, utilities passed their costs to households — whose energy bills soared by 20 percent in the first year. Other industries that face hyper-competitive environment such as airlines suffered massive losses. (Virgin Australia alone reported $27 million in losses in just six months.) The tax also made Australian exports globally uncompetitive, deepening the country’s recession.

This spawned a backlash that brought down the Labor government and catapulted into office the Liberal Party’s Tony Abbott, who made a “blood promise” to ditch the tax, which he did promptly once elected, despite warnings that Aussie lowlands are more vulnerable to rising sea levels and other dire consequences of global warming than other countries.

July 28, 2014

US government department to be replaced by Google

Filed under: Business, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:18

The National Journal‘s Alex Brown talks about a federal government department facing the end of the line thanks to search engines like Google:

A little-known branch of the Commerce Department faces elimination, thanks to advances in technology and a snarkily named bill from Sens. Tom Coburn and Claire McCaskill.

The National Technical Information Service compiles federal reports, serving as a clearinghouse for the government’s scientific, technical, and business documents. The NTIS then sells copies of the documents to other agencies and the public upon request. It’s done so since 1950.

But Coburn and McCaskill say it’s hard to justify 150 employees and $66 million in taxpayer dollars when almost all of those documents are now available online for free.

Enter the Let Me Google That for You Act.

“Our goal is to eliminate you as an agency,” the famously grumpy Coburn told NTIS Director Bruce Borzino at a Wednesday hearing. Pulling no punches, Coburn suggested that any NTIS documents not already available to the public be put “in a small closet in the Department of Commerce.”

H/T to Jim Geraghty for the link. He assures us that despite any similarities to situations portrayed in his recent political novel The Weed Agency, he didn’t make this one up.

July 26, 2014

QotD: French “ultra-liberalism”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The French press, media and intellectuals castigate ad nauseam what they call the ‘ultra-liberalism’ of the present-day western world: and their characterization, as intellectually lazy as it is inaccurate, now goes virtually by default. Very few are the commentators who see through its inaccuracy. That a country whose public sector accounts for more than half of economic activity, and which is as highly-administered as France (and, it must be said, often well-administered, for who would not rather go on the Paris Metro than the New York Subway?), cannot plausibly be described as ‘ultra-liberal,’ ought to be perfectly obvious even on the most casual reflection, but alas it is not. If France is ultra-anything it is ultra-corporatist, but even that would be an exaggeration. And so present discontents are laid at the door of ultra-liberalism, though in fact a considerable proportion of the resentments and discontents of the young who approve of M’Bala M’Bala are attributable to the rigidity of the French labor market, which is caused precisely by an illiberal nexus of protections and restrictions.

The problem, then, is not ultra-liberalism but insufficient liberalism. The difference between France and other western countries, incidentally, is one of degree and not of type, though even degree can be important: illiberalism in the French labor market has in a matter of a few years turned London into one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Illusions of Control in the Omnicompetent French State”, Library of Law and Liberty, 2014-01-07

July 24, 2014

QotD: The Law of Triviality

Filed under: Economics, Government, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

People who understand high finance are of two kinds: those who have vast fortunes of their own and those who have nothing at all. To the actual millionaire a million dollars is something real and comprehensible. To the applied mathematician and the lecturer in economics (assuming both to be practically starving) a million dollars is at least as real as a thousand, they having never possessed either sum. But the world is full of people who fall between these two categories, knowing nothing of millions but well accustomed to think in thousands, and it is of these that finance committees are mostly comprised. The result is a phenomenon that has often been observed but never yet investigated. It might be termed the Law of Triviality. Briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “High Finance, Or The Point Of Vanishing Interest”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.

July 23, 2014

The partisan reasons for institutionalized crony capitalism

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:38

There’s capitalism and there’s crony capitalism: they share a name, but they’re very different creatures. Crony capitalism thrives when government controls a large share of the economy, because then the politicians and bureaucrats have more goodies to share with their “capitalist” cronies. The bigger the slice of the pie controlled by political leaders and unelected regulators, the better the situation for the favoured companies — and that usually means the biggest of the big corporations. In the US government, one of the best examples of institutionalized crony capitalism is the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im): it exists to allow big corporations like Boeing to sell their products to foreign buyers at highly favourable interest rates, with the taxpayer picking up the risks and the American corporation creaming off the excess profits.

This system works so well — for the businesses being subsidized and the politicians who control the process — that it’s difficult to see it being stopped any time soon. Ex-Im’s enabling legislation is due to be re-authorized later this summer, so this is one of those brief chances to stop it. The problem is that it isn’t just Republicans who support it (because “what’s good for General Motors Boeing is good for America”), but also Democrats … sometimes the very same Democrats who make a lot of speeches about the evils of Wall Street. Jonah Goldberg explains why:

The Left’s anti-big-business populism is very different. It doesn’t want to cut the government’s incestuous relationship with big business; it simply wants to bring business to heel. Big business should do what Washington tells it to do, and when it does, it will get treats. When it doesn’t, it will get the newspaper to the nose. But big business will never be let off its leash, if the Left has its way.

“[Senator Elizabeth] Warren doesn’t have a problem with big banks or corporations,” the Federalist’s David Harsanyi writes. “She has a problem with banks and corporations that make profits in ways that she finds morally intolerable. She is an opponent of dynamism, not cronyism.”

This has always been the central idea behind progressive economics. Bureaucrats and other planners need — or at least want — ever more power to decide how economic resources are arranged and allocated. That doesn’t mean they’re socialists, it just means that corporations need to follow their lead. Indeed, good “corporate citizenship” means acquiescing to the priorities of progressive state planners and whatever their latest idea of “public–private partnerships” might be. The one constant in such partnerships is that business is always the junior partner.

This was the vision behind Woodrow Wilson’s “war socialism,” FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, Bill Clinton’s “Third Way,” and virtually all of Barack Obama’s economic policies. What is Obamacare but an attempt to turn the entire health-care industry into Washington’s well-fed lapdog?

What’s amazing is that people are still capable of shock when it turns out that a policy of treating businesses like dependent lapdogs yields businesses that try to have the government’s lap all to themselves.

July 22, 2014

23% of US children live in poverty … except that’s not actually true

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

In Forbes, Tim Worstall explains why the shocking headline rate of child poverty in the US is not correct (and that’s a good thing):

The annual Kids Count, from the Annie F. Casey Foundation, is out and many are reporting that it shows that 23% of American children are living in poverty. I’m afraid that this isn’t quite true and the mistaken assumption depends on one little intricate detail of how US poverty statistics are constructed. This isn’t a snarl at Kids Count, they report the numbers impartially, it’s the interpretation that some are putting on those numbers that is in error. For the reality is that, by the way that the US measures poverty, it does a pretty good job in alleviating child poverty. The real rate of children actually living in poverty, after all the aid they get to not live in poverty, is more like 2 or 3% of US children. Which is pretty good for government work.

[...]

However, this is not the same thing as stating that 23% of US children are living in poverty. For there’s a twist in the way that US poverty statistics are compiled.

Everyone else measures poverty as being below 60% of median equivalised household disposable income. This is a measure of relative poverty, how much less do you have than the average? The US uses a different measure, based upon historical accident really, which is a measure of absolute poverty. How may people have less than $x to live upon? There’s also a second difference. Everyone else measures poverty after the influence of the tax and the benefits system upon those incomes. The US measures only cash income (both market income and also cash from the government). It does not measure the influence of benefits that people receive in kind (ie, in goods or services) nor through the tax system. And the problem with this is that the major poverty alleviation schemes in the US are, in rough order, Medicaid, the EITC, SNAP (or food stamps) and then Section 8 housing vouchers. Three of which are goods or services in kind and the fourth comes through the tax system.

July 21, 2014

A few mitigating words for the late Senator Proxmire

Filed under: Government, History, Politics, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:35

Many of you won’t even remember the heyday of Senator William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece awards: his personal choices for the worst public spending boondoggles each year. Most space enthusiasts remember him for his adamant opposition to NASA (for which he could never possibly be forgiven). As an early supporter of the space program, I thought Proxmire was a terrible man and that we’ve have had a much bigger, better space program without him. He left the senate in 1989 and died in 2005, so I’d almost completely forgotten about him until I saw this article in the latest Libertarian Enterprise by Jeff Fullerton:

The things I discover while googling for things. Such as in my efforts to substantiate that Senator Proxmire quote: Not a penny for this nutty fantasy for my previous article. Found an online version of the newsletter of the old L5 Society [PDF]; a space colony advocate group that was around back in the late 70s. Which was sort of a trip down Memory Lane. Remember seeing them on Phil Donahue’s show circa 1980. It’s kind of sad when you look at something like this on the boulevard of broken dreams. But also at times amusing.

Darth Proxmire?

The man space enthusiasts loved to hate like J.R. from Dallas! He was definitely the sort of villain that could grow on you!

The name Proxmire sounds Germanic — but he was no Werner Von Braun — his mindset was typical for the down to Earth culture of the Midlands and being a Wisconsin democrat, he surely had solid connections in Madison — the regional snake pit of Progressivism. Yet he was a conservative democrat — as in fiscal conservative being he gave his “Golden Fleece Awards” to many federal projects that really were an atrocious waste of tax dollars. His disdain for the space program may have stemmed in part from populist disdain for technology — I remember SF writers like Ben Bova and others calling him a Luddite — and that sort of thing was politically fashionable in those days (often referred to as a knee-jerk reaction) so part of his reason for jumping onto the anti-space bandwagon may have been a political calculation. Some of it was probably born of a zero sum mentality that was also vogue at the time. A few space advocates wrote funny editorials about converting Proxmire to supporting space exploration and colonization by finding a way to turn butter into rocket fuel — being that the Senator’s primary constituency were Wisconsin dairy farmers!

[...]

As for William Proxmire — I can’t be too hard on him anymore. Especially when you consider all that NASA has done to thwart any hope of establishing human settlements beyond Earth. At best a lack of vision being the space agency had long ago lost its mojo and is nothing like it was in its early days when could actually meet the challenge of JFK’s vision of putting boots on the moon in a decade — as opposed to shrugging and saying “maybe in three decades”? At best they are slow walking because NASA is much like the establishment of the Republican Party that sometimes talks “small government” but is in no hurry to deliver on it. And worst of all — NASA seems to have an ideological agenda aimed at preventing the colonization of space deeply entrenched within the bureaucracy and the story is the same within most other federal agencies and institutions.

Wikipedia (not traditionally staffed by fans of small government) has this to say about Proxmire’s legislative career:

He was an early, outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He frequently criticized Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon for their conduct of the war and foreign policy decisions. He used his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to spotlight wasteful military spending and was instrumental in stopping frequent military pork barrel projects. His Golden Fleece Award was created to focus media attention on projects he felt were self-serving and wasted taxpayer dollars. He was also head of the campaign to cancel the American supersonic transport. Despite his support of budgetary restraint in other areas, he normally sided with dairy interests and was a proponent of dairy price supports.

[...]

Proxmire was famous for issuing his Golden Fleece Award, which identified what he considered wasteful government spending, between 1975 and 1988. The first was awarded in 1975 to the National Science Foundation, for funding an $84,000 study on why people fall in love. Other Golden Fleece awards over the years were “awarded” to the Justice Department for conducting a study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, the National Institute of Mental Health to study a Peruvian brothel (“The researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy,” reported the New York Times), and the Federal Aviation Administration, for studying “the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the ‘length of the buttocks.’” Proxmire stopped numerous science and academic projects which were, in his opinion, of dubious value.

Proxmire’s critics claimed that some of his awards went to basic science projects that led to important breakthroughs, such as the Aspen Movie Map (though the Aspen Movie Map project did not receive the award). For example, Proxmire was criticized in 1987 for the Aspen Movie Map incident by author Stewart Brand, who accused Proxmire of recklessly attacking legitimate research for the crass purpose of furthering his own political career, with gross indifference as to whether his assertions were true or false as well as the long-term effects on American science and technology policy. Proxmire later apologized for several of those, including SETI.

[...]

Proxmire earned the unending enmity of space advocates and science fiction fandom for his opposition to space colonization, ultimately eliminating spending on said research from NASA’s budget. In response to a segment about space colonies run by the CBS program 60 Minutes, Proxmire stated that; “it’s the best argument yet for chopping NASA’s funding to the bone …. I say not a penny for this nutty fantasy”. Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven retaliated by writing the award-winning stories Death and the Senator, Fallen Angels, and The Return of William Proxmire. In a number of circles his name has become a verb, meaning to unfairly obstruct scientific research for political gain, as in “the project has been proxmired”.

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