Monday, November 21, 2011

Wheels Keep Fallin’ Off

The evidence both locally and globally just keeps mounting that, having fallen off the wall three years ago, the Humpty Dumpty of our previous political economic era will never be put back together again.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office announced late last week that it expects the state to fall short of balancing its budget by $3 billion dollars in the current fiscal year. The analysis goes on to predict that, even with the automatic cuts that will be triggered by this shortfall, the state will begin the next fiscal year with a $10 billion deficit.

Today the congressional “supercommittee” declared that it could not come up with an alternative plan to closing the federal deficit, thus cementing in place (unless they don’t) the cuts approved earlier this year—and predictably setting off another round of partisan shrieking and scapegoating. (This, of course, will please many less responsible citizens.)

Last week’s unemployment numbers showed continued minor growth in new jobs—now five months in a row—but the rate of expansion remains anemic. The federal deficit topped $15 trillion, and oil prices surged back to the $100/bbl level, thus threatening this lackluster “recovery.”

The political fallout of the Euro crisis continues apace. Last Monday we witnessed the political defenestration of Silvio Berlusconi and the appointment of Goldman Sachs advisor Mario Monti as his “temporary” successor in Italy. Then yesterday voters in Spain became the first electorate to unceremoniously dump the incumbent party since the Greeks kicked off the crisis in a desperate attempt to stave off painful choices.

In the meantime, back here in California, the Think Long Committee created by billionaire Nicholas Berggruen will propose yet another reshuffle of the state’s tax system, with an eye to bringing $10 billion more tax revenue to our creaky and antiquated state government. The Recovering Bureaucrat has not yet read the full proposal, but news reports indicate that it will be another product of the wishful thinking that we can go back to the “good ol’ days” if only we take enough cash from the taxpayers—especially the filthy rich ones.

After today’s 250-point sell-off in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Los Angeles Times, in an article entitled, “Dow falls to five-week low as global gloom deepens,” reports, “‘There is just no good news,’ said Dave Rovelli, head of equity trading at brokerage Canaccord Adams in New York.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Flabby State of Liberal “Thought”

Matt Miller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, does us the favor of exposing the flabby and disingenuous assertions that pass for serious thought among the acolytes of the Church of the All Powerful State in a column in yesterday’s Washington Post about the constitutionality of Obamacare.

It is a central article of faith among Miller and his fellow communicants that the only way society can address the myriad of problems inherent in our humanity is by government action.  And since our humanity is the source of endless and often vexing problems, government must be given endless authority to meddle in the lives of the citizenry, because we can’t solve our problems on our own.

While the Recovering Bureaucrat finds this way of thinking to be revolting and inimical to human progress, he is also convinced that giving Mr. Miller and company full rein to do things their way would be self-defeating because they are based upon false and unsustainable premises.

Mr. Miller graciously offers them for us to examine and refute.

His very first assertion is that the constitutionality of Obamacare is inconsequential compared to the magnitude of the lack of health insurance among Americans.  He writes that “the number of uninsured are now equal to the combined populations” of 25 states, and then asserts that “[w]e’re the only rich nation on the planet where getting sick can mean going bankrupt.”

Here for all to see is the central flabbiness of liberal “thought.” 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Comedy Descends into Tragedy—Again

The curtain has just risen on the latest act of the opera buffa that is the political economic mess of the poor European Union.  The newest fin de la crise has just been proclaimed in Athens as the two major political parties have reached an agreement for a unity government to implement the most recent austerity demands from Brussels.

In the plot line of the European drama, the predicament of the Greeks is actually a sideshow, and so the deal will do nothing to alter its fundamental contradictions.  These stem from the EU’s inability to impose a Teutonic political discipline on the other debt-wracked nations of Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Ireland.  This is why the European experiment is doomed to fail—unless the nations of the Union quickly find the willingness to surrender their individual sovereignty to Brussels and cede control of their economies to the Eurocrats.

As for the Greek deal, the unity government will face this precise dilemma in short order.  The Papandreou government has fallen because it could not muster the political strength to convince the Greeks to swallow the EU bailout castor oil.  The saber-rattling by Sarkozy and Merkel last week in reaction to Papandreou’s threat to submit the deal to a direct vote of the Greek electorate revealed the desperation of the French and the Germans to preserve the Euro experiment at all costs—even at the cost of undermining the democracy of one of its members.

The mind-numbing fact is that no one is under any illusions that the Greek bailout deal will actually help turn its economy around and place its finances on a sound enough footing to actually be able to pay off the newest restructuring of its national debt.  The stock markets may fool themselves from day to day, but the bond markets are resolutely bearish.

So the next prime minister will find, as Papandreou did before him, that he will be ground down between the millstones of the EU’s demands on the one hand and the Greeks’ economic weaknesses on the other.  He will have to decide whether to cooperate with the slow draining away of Greek national sovereignty in the name of debt restructuring or face up to a default that preserves his country’s independence.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Occupy Oakland

The aimless temper tantrum that is the “Occupy” activism is now hoping to generate a mass strike in Oakland, California, today.

The complete absence of seriousness among the brewers of this brouhaha continues to stem from their preference for anarchistic scapegoating over reformist (or dare the Recovering Bureaucrat say it—“revolutionary”) demands.  How far serious leftist revolution has devolved from the muscularity of The Communist Manifesto to the wimpy self-esteem feel-good vacuity of the Occupiers!

So let’s say that they succeed in shutting down the entire city and realize Marx’s dream of making “the ruling classes tremble at the communist revolution.” 

Then what?

The sound of the wind whistling through the tools-downed Port of Oakland will be your answer.

We can only hope that this is the last gasp of the degeneracy of the Left implicit in its political aims and methods ever since the New Left took over the Democratic Party in the 1972 McGovern candidacy.

At least the trade union-based Old Left took capitalism, the economy, and wealth creation seriously; the New Left with its vicious postmodern rejection of Reason has no choice but to adopt the therapeutic approach to politics based on feelings and grievances.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Fatigue?

Since the Recovering Bureaucrat's observations last week about the Mainstream Media obsessions with the "Occupy Wall Street" gang and all the little local "occupy" spin-offs, the story has gone strangely quiet.  Where have all the flowers gone?  Have the Occupiers disappeared?  Have they taken over the government?   Are they now the DNC? 

Even CNN has turned the political story into a wistful retro-Woodstock Boomer nostalgia fest: "Occupy Wall Street Beta Tests a New Way of Living."

There is, thankfully, a bit of Paul Krugman bombast about the Occupiers bringing about the leftwing Rapture or something. Krugman told MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow about his visit last Thursday to Zucotti Park.  He claimed that Occupy Wall Street had successfully changed public discourse to the topics of job creation and economic growth. "The conversation has changed a lot just in the last month or so...just six weeks ago it was all deficits, deficits, deficits, which is the wrong subject." He said this shift in discourse could be attributed to President Obama's jobs bill but also to Occupy Wall Street. ". . . it's really amazing," Krugman said.

Sure is--so amazing that coverage of this visit and commentary is nowhere to be found in the New York Times, where the good professor (and "former Enron advisor," as the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto regularly reminds us) is a prominent columnist

It must not be news fit to print.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy America

While the Recovering Bureaucrat was vacationing in another hemisphere, the “Occupy Wall Street” activity started.  In the days since mid-September, similar gatherings have occurred in cities across the country; in fact just yesterday in Sacramento anti-establishment activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested along with 18 others “for unlawful assembly in [César Chávez] park and failing to follow police orders to disburse,” according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

To this day, it is difficult to discern the aims of the Occupiers.  They seem to be protesting big, bad corporations or something—blaming “Wall Street” for our current economic crisis.  Finger-pointing is an age-old, honorable element of American politics, so there is nothing new here.  And in every decade of the RB’s life, some major issue has called masses of people into the streets, from the nuclear disarmament movement of the 1950s to the anti-Iraq War protests during George W. Bush’s administration last decade.  So nothing new here either.

Their slogan, “We are the 99%,” is a typical content-free exhortation to an emotional response, which in this case is amplified by the decades of the cultural prominence of first television and now the Internet, media that primarily stimulate an emotional rather than an intellectual reaction.  Again, nothing new here.

Equally as normative has been the Mainstream Media response.  Leading the charge is the ever-predictable Paul Krugman, who writes,
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people . . . With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point.
CNN has similarly sought to promote the protests into some kind of left-wing Tea Party (“‘Occupy’ movement goes global as a symbol of shared economic frustration” is today’s breathless headline).  Every major newspaper has editorialized on the events; unfortunately, given the absence of major demands from the Occupiers, they have had to comment on their own projections.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Guest Post: Rorschach Politics

by Josh Rosa


“Over the last two and a half years, change turned out to be tougher than we expected.” – President Barack Obama

In 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign used the slogan, “Change we can believe in.” It was often invoked in short-form: “Change,” alongside a second monosyllabic platform: “Hope.”

Without analyzing the success of Obama’s campaign, using the theme of change was a brilliant cornering of the market on what the American people wanted. People were fed up with the direction of the country. For six years, President Bush had averaged a 29 percent approval rating. Congress was similarly in the dumps. The country was engaged in two unpopular wars and teetering on the cusp of a third. Of course people wanted change.

But by claiming the theme of change as though it was Obama’s unique position, the campaign shrewdly cut his opponent, John McCain, out of the conversation about the country’s future. Why, if Obama is pro change, then his opponent is . . . anti-change? so went the subconscious organization of a binary choice.

The theme was also a spoonful of yogurt for an intellectually exhausted American public. It didn’t ask you to chew your facts or feelings on taxes, or immigration, or even the wars. It only asked you to decide whether you liked the status quo or wanted a change, without encumbering the choice with a definition of either option. Obama’s campaign became the ultimate Rorschach test. And an us-against-them electorate didn’t object to it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

It's Now Up to Us

The message—and it is not only for the lords of the feast—is that we aren’t great enough for our times.  The challenges are immense and exhilarating; too many of us are shabby and small.  We tread the endless circles of our own habits and ideas while around us the world is changed beyond recognition.  We accept shabby lies and conventional fictions for solid truths; we build our homes upon the sand, and demand government subsidized insurance in case the floods come.  . . .

I have written before of the challenges that face us in the United States and will not say more here except that stale quibbling over expense cutbacks that will not significantly reduce the deficits, and reforms that will change very little, is not what we need.  Americans have the opportunity and the duty and the urgent pressing need to move into the future, to do and be more than ever.  The thin rhetoric of a backward looking president, the obstreperous negativism of an opposition better at rejecting what it hates than building or even conceiving what it needs, the lotus-eating educational formation that cuts us off from our past, and the incessant noise of a superficial pop culture: none of this is worthy of America at its best and none of it will help us now.

—Walter Russell Mead

It will be painful for all of us to read Professor Meade’s sobering but soaring post, “The Invisible Hand Is Writing On Our Wall,” but it must be read and passed around, analyzed and meditated upon, by everyone who loves his country and is prepared to take the responsibility that that love engenders.

“Americans have the opportunity and the duty and the urgent pressing need to move into the future, to do and be more than ever.”  My friends, to achieve this is precisely why the Recovering Bureaucrat speaks out.

We do not live in “normal” tough times.  This is not a replay of any of the business recessions that our industrial economy experienced regularly over the past century and a half.  Nor, the RB thinks we can agree, is this a new rendering of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This is something truly unique and unprecedented: the great and inevitable upheaval of a new world unceremoniously dumping an old and depleted one.  Formally, we are experiencing the Information Age impatiently thrusting aside the Industrial Age, but because we still have huge numbers of people still living in pre-industrial conditions across the planet, it’s a very complex and ultra-chaotic dynamic.

Regardless of the geometry of what’s going on—historians will straighten it all out later—what’s essential to grasp is that the old world is dead and never coming back.  Never.  All of the social, economic, and political institutions we grew up and depended on are collapsing.  Some may be disappearing more slowly than others, but there isn’t a one that will survive the next decade intact.  Not one.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Acolyte, Heal Thyself

The endangered dinosaurs in charge of the Church of the All Powerful State are in full panic mode over the debate regarding the national debt ceiling.  For the past few weeks they have been bellowing their latest meme in hysterical (in both senses of the word) attacks on House Republicans who have rebelled against the faith.

Although we no longer physically burn our heretics at the stake, we still do our best to destroy them, and the Church’s acolytes are brandishing their rhetorical pitch and torches with the same wild-eyed lust of Inquisitorial prosecutors of yore.

Just today, we read former Democratic congressman Martin Frost calling the loyal opposition “Tea Party Taliban”; leftwing attorney William Yeomans throws around the same image in a Politico opinion piece; former Republican congressional aide Doug Thompson attacks “Eric Cantor’s Tea Party Terrorism” in an Internet screed; Ted Kennedy biographer Susan Milligan fulminates about the “Tea Party’s Budget Terrorism”; leftwing journalist Trudy Rudin heaps scorn on “GOP Debt Zealots”—and on it goes from the intellectually and morally tattered Left Coast establishment.  (You can join the fun yourself: a search of the term “tea party terrorism” will yield you over 18 million hits on Google.)

The Recovering Bureaucrat makes a simple observation: these “Tea Party terrorists” are actually millions of regular Americans who simply are tired of endless deficits and the sophistry that is regularly employed to seduce us into tacking more unretireable debt onto our government balance sheets.  So Frost, Yeomans, Thompson, Milligan, Rudin, and the people they are fronting for are attempting to place a significant plurality of their fellow Americans outside the moral pale of civic discourse.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Return to Founding Principles, 21st Century Style

Some have challenged the Recovering Bureaucrat to get off his anti-elitist rant and start talking about how we can reform government in ways that reintroduce our founding principles.

Fair enough, especially because the RB didn’t want to slap around David Brooks after just praising him for his insights on the culpability of the Washington establishment for the recent global financial meltdown.  Now Brooks has written a silly and shallow column entitled “The Mother of All No-Brainers” in which he, channeling Barack Obama and E. J. Dionne, charges that the Republican members of Congress have “been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative,” thus forfeiting their right to be considered by decent people to be members of an honest and viable political party. 

Feh.  Ann Althouse has an effective take-down of this Left Coast outburst, so the RB doesn’t need to respond.

And the truth is that taking potshots at our intellectually and morally bankrupt elites is an endless and fruitless task (although the RB doesn’t promise he will never do it again).  It is indeed much more difficult to offer ideas on better and more morally viable ways for our self-government experiment to be improved.

In this and the next post, the Recovery Bureaucrat takes on the challenge of how to apply our founding principles to the challenges presented by the Information Age into which we have been evolving for the past forty years or so.

So let us first review our founding principles and then let’s look at potential reforms and applications.


Citizen Sovereignty

First, all power proceeds from the people.  When Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he clearly enunciated the basic philosophy of this new country.  Our inherent rights to our lives, our liberty, and to pursue happiness as we each see fit come directly from God and are therefore primary to all other human activity.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Elite Implosion, Independence Day Version

The venerable leftwing commentator, E. J. Dionne, offers a screamer in today’s Washington Post purporting to lecture members of the Tea Party about the true meaning of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Dionne is a reliable mouthpiece for the Church of the All-Powerful State, which arrogates to itself as a self-evident truth the role of taking care of the poor, intellectually impoverished citizens of the United States, who could not put our pants on straight without the help of a government program.

Today’s column is logic-challenged to a degree even unusual for Dionne.  Because he has apparently not investigated anything substantive about the constitutional and governance visions that the various state Tea Party organizations espouse, he bases his entire argument on a false premise.

And that premise is embarrassingly laughable.  “[O]ur friends in the Tea Party,” he offers, “have offered a helpful clue by naming their movement in honor of the 1773 revolt against tea taxes on that momentous night in Boston Harbor.”
Whether they intend it or not, their name suggests they believe that the current elected government in Washington is as illegitimate as was a distant, unelected monarchy. It implies something fundamentally wrong with taxes themselves or, at the least, that current levels of taxation (the lowest in decades) are dangerously oppressive. And it hints that methods outside the normal political channels are justified in confronting such oppression.
The alert reader (which of course includes everyone reading the Recovering Bureaucrat) notes that Mr. Dionne gives the game away up front.  “Whether they intend it or not” means that Mr. Dionne believes he knows better what Tea Party activists mean than they themselves do.  This is the kind of silly drivel that our Left Coast elites have been reduced to peddling.  Because some of us refuse to accept the faith-based progressive project to reinvent America’s founding principles to excuse leftwing ideology, Mr. Dionne and his fellow clerics must denounce us and explain in tones best used for two-year olds our “misunderstanding of our founding document.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reckless Endangerment

More piling onto our unfortunate “elites”:

Now comes MSM “conservative” columnist for the New York Times David Brooks to preview and comment on the new book Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson, also of the Times, and the financial analyst Joshua Rosner.  Endangerment tells the story of the role played by the Federal National Mortgage Association, aka Fannie Mae, in the recent mortgage bubble collapse.  The story has been told elsewhere and in great detail, but strangely it has been ignored by the MSM until the publication of this book (although it remains to be seen how thoroughly the MSM will pick up on it—coverage equal to that of Anthony Weiner’s carelessness should be the minimum).

The angle that Brooks plays is telling.  “[T]he most devastating scandal in recent history,” he writes, “involved dozens of the most respected members of the Washington establishment. Their behavior was not out of the ordinary by any means.”  Morgenson and Rosner’s narrative of the “cancer that helped spread risky behavior and low standards across the housing industry” is a surprise only to those who have no capacity for self-reflection.

It is, as Walter Russell Mead also noted just last week, a prime example of how the “fierce commitment of progressive lobbies today to dysfunctional institutions and programs has brought matters to a crisis stage; the progressive legacy is morphing from white elephant to shark.” 

Mead takes a broader—and much more sobering—view of these matters than does Brooks.  He recognizes that human endeavors, like humans ourselves, have lifecycles.  His writings over the past six months have been an extensive and in-depth analysis of the lifecycle of what he calls “Liberalism 4.0”—the mindset and resultant governing structures and programs that began over a hundred years ago with the Progressive Movement and culminated in the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson in the 1960s. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Intellectual Rot from Our "Elites"

There has been a lot of comment in the blogosphere lately about the decline of the intellectual and moral vitality of America’s “elites.”  From the continuing mass hysteria about a One World Government fiat to end global warming to the blind faith in endless government programs to ameliorate the misery of the human condition, our elites have run out of both ideas and energy.

And despair about the decadence of our elites is not limited to one wing of our political spectrum.  On the Left, commentators like Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein cluck about the disappearance of adult leadership among conservatives, while on the Right analysts like Walter Russell Meade and Craig Comstock write about the collapse of the New York-based liberal elites.

Ironically, it is the liberal Left political/cultural elites that are behaving like the conservatives they disdain.  The New York-Hollywood axis is frantically trying to stave off the inevitable new world order that, by rejecting the Church of the State, supports and encourages the individual choice and initiative that are the basis of America's founding principles.  It is instructive to watch President Obama, as the lead spokesman for this latter-day “l’etat c’est nous” faction, govern as if the verities of the Old Liberal Order haven’t thoroughly and soundly gone bankrupt.

And yet facts have a certain inexorability—not to mention disinterestedness—about themselves, and do not yield to whim or fantasy.  Although King Canute taught us this immutable truth eleven hundred years ago when his command to the tides to “halt and not wet his feet and robes” went unheeded, we still seem to need to learn this lesson over and over again.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Professor Obama Channels Professor Krugman

President Obama today slammed global oil companies, once again, for padding their profit margins with “unwarranted taxpayer subsidies . . . to the tune of $4 billion a year.”

While the President is, he assures us, “scouring the federal budget for spending we can afford to do without,” he wants us to know that “these tax giveaways aren’t right.  They aren’t smart.  And we need to end them.”

While the Recovering Bureaucrat is delighted to hear that all this budget scouring is underway—although he hasn’t heard any results yet—he also wonders who will pay for the costs of the revoked tax subsidies.  The President apparently believes that the oil companies will simply endure reduced profits, but the RB is not so sure.  Isn’t it equally possible they will simply pass the added cost on to the consumer?

While the RB is not an economist of the caliber of Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, he hasn’t heard that the elementary laws of supply and demand have been repealed.  Prices are rising because of the greater demand for a relatively inelastic supply of crude oil.  At a certain point, this price increase will weaken demand, and the price will head back down.  Won’t the relative profit margins of the oil companies fall when prices fall?  Would the “$4 billion” in now lost tax subsidies therefore not have a relatively larger impact on their bottom line?  And if so, would that not act as an incentive to push prices higher to keep the profit margins healthy?

So how does ending the tax subsidy help drive oil prices down?  Don’t increasing energy costs threaten our weak economic recovery?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who Are the Children?

The fight we are in is the oldest one in the books: are we humans capable of enlightened self-governance, or are we so weak/stupid/venal that we need the guiding hand of an elite to get us through our day?

The Recovering Bureaucrat asserts that the American Revolution was solidly and affirmatively a blow for the former, but our own history shows us that too many of our fellow citizens act as if we are, in fact, the latter.  The formal counterrevolution against our founding principles that began with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson a century ago is still going strong today.  But the time has come for those of us committed to our founding principles to put this self-defeating creed in its proper place.

Among the many ironies involved in this crucial struggle is the fact that, for the entire duration of the Cold War, the United States forthrightly and unabashedly championed its commitment to individual liberty and limited government against the naked tyranny of the communist states.  At the turn of the current century, National Review suggested that the “Person of the Twentieth Century” should be the American taxpayer, for our willingness to put our money where our mouths were in that long and arduous struggle.

It is difficult to believe that the entitlement-besotted, victimized, free-lunch addicts typified by most of today’s Democratic Party and the roughly 40% of us who support it nationwide would have had the internal fortitude to take on and prevail in the lengthy and difficult task of defeating the Soviet Union and its Marxist allies.  It’s especially difficult to picture President Barack Obama staring down Stalin, Khrushchev, Mao, or even Qaddafi without blinking.  When too many of us so easily take offense at the slightest disagreement and are willing to use state power to coerce those that give offense, we should thank our lucky stars that there is no longer a Soviet Red Army to exploit our adolescent maunderings.

(Although we can’t forget there is still a Chinese Red Army!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy: Deck Chairs Rearranged!

Americans have been treated—those of us who pay attention, anyway—to the spectacle of our national political leadership congratulating each other because they managed to prevent a stoppage of taxpayer dollars flowing to government operations on Friday night.  (The Recovering Bureaucrat refuses to accede to the Mainstream Media calling what didn’t happen a “shut down,” since so much of what the government does would have continued in spite of the political impasse.)  This mutual self back-slapping even included a visit by President Obama to the Lincoln Memorial to brag to tourists that “because Congress was able to settle its differences, that’s why this place is open today.”

But in a blog posting with the appropriate headline “Pathetic,” Roger Kimball says it all:
The president, right on cue, was out there beaming, praising himself: “Americans of different beliefs came together. . . .”  Thanks to me, B. Obama, we just worked out the “biggest annual spending cut in history.”

How big? $38.5 billion trimmed out of government operations through September. $38.5 billion out of—remind me, what’s the total budget? In 2010, U.S. federal spending was about $3.5 trillion.
So, as a percentage, the Congress trimmed 1.1% off that total spending number—a budget for the current fiscal year, by the way, that Congress has actually not passed yet.  The majority party, on its way to minority status in the House last fall, consciously decided for the first time in American history to renege on its responsibility to pass a budget.

To put the “drama” into another perspective: in the week leading up to the budget compromise, the federal debt increased by another $54.1 billion, according to a post on the web site of the Annenberg School at USC.  So what we have is a “deal” that nicked a decent fraction off our weekly debt bill.  One week out of fifty-two.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Return to the Beginning

The Recovering Bureaucrat concluded the last post with the final lines of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, a powerful poem about expansion of consciousness. Eliot explores the experience of many humans that spiritual growth often requires exile from one’s initial beliefs only to return, after much struggle, to the fundamental truths that were always there, usually in the form of religious principles, from the beginning.

And so it must be for America to find its way back from its flirtation with too much government to what makes it, in Lincoln’s immortal words, “the last, best hope of earth.”

The RB operates from two interconnected principles. The first is that the American experiment in self-governance requires an ever-renewing civic consciousness of and recommitment to our founding principles. The second is the understanding that those founding principles stem from the conviction that all human progress depends on mature, self-actualizing individuals, able to pursue happiness unfettered by any form of tyranny not agreed to by the lawful consent of the governed.

The American Civil War, whose sesquicentennial we are about to observe with the 150th anniversary of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, marked the high point of our civic commitment to these founding principles. Over 600,000 of our countrymen died to cement the “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln so rightly proclaimed at Gettysburg.

Inevitably, in the decades that followed Appomattox, the dramatic rise of the industrial economy here and in Europe sparked a push-back against the limited government philosophy of the free individual. The Progressive movement was based upon an explicit rejection of the supremacy of individual liberty as the basis for the American experiment. It sought instead to impose a new communitarian theory upon the polity.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Embarrassment of Banality

So, for Californians, apparently the only game in town that the powers-that-be can come up with to deal with our $25 billion budget hole is the Solomonic exhortation to split the baby in half: let’s fix it by $12.5 billion in cuts, and $12.5 billion by “extending” the 2009 tax increases.

(The Recovering Bureaucrat puts the word “extending” in quotation marks because of the old saw that taxes, once raised, are rarely trimmed back.  And in this case, that appears to be a very real concern, because there is no evidence that any serious thought has been given, by either the Governor or the legislature, as to just what will happen in five years, when the Schwarzenegger tax increase “extension” expires.  Unless the economy recovers to a remarkable degree so that tax revenues grow to cover the demand side of the ledger, we will just be back at square one in 2016—two years, the RB notes, after the next gubernatorial election.)

As painful as the result would probably be, the RB is inclined to vote No on the tax proposal, if and when it ever gets to the ballot.  Why?  Because there has been no commitment on the part of the state’s political leadership, including the business and labor establishments, to the serious and radical reforms necessary to bring the cost of government down to a manageable magnitude.

Look: every economic forecast projects a lengthy and slow recovery for California.  Most economists who have given the matter serious consideration assert that significant recovery in our housing market and in job growth will not show up much before 2015 at the earliest. 

In the meantime, upward pressures on the state’s budget will continue because of three factors: automatic increases in benefit programs (including the impact of Prop 98), greater demand on the public pension system, and continued demand for wealth transfers to ameliorate the effects of a slow turnaround.

Friday, March 11, 2011

End Times

Wisconsin Assembly passes bill to curb collective bargaining—CNN, March 10, 2010

We are indeed at end times.

Again.

It is really difficult for most of us to believe it, but almost all the turbulence we are experiencing—economically, politically, and societally—is an element of the massive and almost overwhelming shift the global economy has been undergoing for several decades now. Really, although it is probably sloppy to do this, the Recovering Bureaucrat suggests we can mark the date of this shift from November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall was breached.

It was as if the American-Soviet stand-off that gave structure to the five decades of the Cold War evaporated overnight, making room for a number of pent-up energies to be let loose upon the globe. You may recall people making fun of President George H. W. Bush for proclaiming “the New World Order” in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but in a major sense he was right—although it would probably have been more accurate to label it the “New World Disorder.”

The shift from the Industrial to Information Ages, gathering force since at least the invention of the transistor in 1947, seemed to explode onto the world scene in the 1990s. Peoples across the globe, beginning with eastern Europeans, clamored for release from longstanding tyrannies. And standards of living, literacy rates, and life expectancies accelerated their upward momentum.

Serious political discourse requires some familiarity with the big picture of the epoch-changing events underway. At the very least this will help us distinguish the serious from the frivolous over the course of the next months heading into 2012’s presidential election.

Why? Well, one of the key dynamics to observe and make peace with is the very human unwillingness to change with the times. This design feature of humanity tends to be a major source of discord, unhappiness, and even bloodshed in times of transition, for the devil we know (the old way of doing things) is almost always preferable to the one we don’t (the undiscovered country of the future). Further, you will no doubt note that the more profound the change, the more stubborn the resistance.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Citzens Anonymous

Welcome to the blog of the Recovering Bureaucrat, a soi-disant haven of adult conversation about the troubles we the citizens of California and the United States have created with our governments. The Recovering Bureaucrat’s intention is to inspire an honest dialogue about the actual challenges we face in designing and paying for government. He, like so many of us, is tired of the bloviating and posturing that too often substitutes for plain talk and sober fact-facing.

He’s been noticing for some time now that the tattered remains of the Mainstream Media in California, reduced essentially to the single big daily newspapers of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Orange County, and San Diego, endlessly recycle the same old “solutions” to the state’s endemic budget drama. He also notices the sharks that circle the conversation from the Left and the Right in the blogosphere, offering that enticing (and historically successful) political philosophy, “I’m right; you’re Hitler; bring it on.”

Ho hum.

The Recovering Bureaucrat notes that, in a democratic republic like ours, where the inmates are constitutionally indeed in charge of the asylum, he must accept that the right to be an idiot is a protected class in our constitutional order. Indeed, the Supreme Court again underscored this difficult truth in its 8-1 decision this week in the case of Snyder v. Phelps, upholding the right of members of the Westboro Baptist “Church” to publicly proclaim their ultra-tenuous hold on sanity in public.