Pithy Polemics

The essays collected are short (Pithy), very readable and polemical.  

Vetoes (MR)

California state law requires the governor to provide an explanation of vetoes of bills that passed the legislature and come to her/his desk, an explanation that justifies the rejection of the bill.

We should notice that that is a liberal/progressive practice:  making the chief executive defend the rejection of a bill passed by the legislature.  The presumptions of such a requirement is that in our lives together all sorts of problems arise many of which can only be solved by political action and that the best initiator of political problem-solving actions is the elected legislature.

Imagine what a libertarian version of that practice would be:  the governor would have to defend the signing, not the veto, of bills. The background idea for that sort of practice would be that bills should not be signed, problems should not be solved by governmental action. What needs defense in that scheme is government’s doing something. 

Of course, many of the bills that receive legislative approval are solutions to minor problems while the important stuff gets ignored.  But that is not a good reason for holding that the smaller the government – something Grover Norquist could drown in the bathtub – the better  It is, rather, a reason for seriously reforming many things that produce our current way of governing.

Having the Fed Do Our Budgeting (BG)

A balanced budget requirement would turn every recession into a depression, because the government would cut spending at the same time as everyone else.  Keynes' prescription of deficits during hard times and surpluses during booms is sound, but politicians can't be trusted to do the right thing.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve should be given authority to work out our budget needs.  The Fed is often behind the curve, but it's much more responsive than the Congress, and it isn't shackled by ideology or expediency which leans toward either loosening or tightening regardless of the economic circumstances.  Perhaps the Fed can be authorized to adjust income and excise tax rates up or down, and/or to make loans to borrowers other than banks.

More generous unemployment benefits would also be a good thing; in Europe they automatically increase government stimulus in real time when needed.

Legislation to institutionalize both of these approaches will be a hard sell, but repeated advocacy usually wins the day eventually.  There's an old series of sayings that go something like this:  The first time a radically new idea is proposed in a legislative body, it's ignored.  The second time, it's considered crazy.  The third time, it's impractical.  The fourth time, it's possible some day, just not yet.  The fifth time, it's long overdue.

The Lion and the Lamb (MR)

A recent piece of political writing from the right argued that, in this country of different levels of government, the laws of the higher level take precedence over the laws of governments at the lower level.  That is no doubt true.  But the writer confused that truth with the idea that those governments at a lower level must accept the laws passed by the higher level in the hierarchy.  That interpretation of what must be done is the Fuhrer principle, that when the leader at the top of the heap says that this is the way things are, everyone else must bow down.

The writer then went on to decry the present state of affairs in which those at lower levels are not bowing down.  States and communities are giving ‘sanctuary’ to those immigrants who for whatever reason do not have papers – that is contrary to the policies from the Federal government.  States are allowing recreational marijuana in the face of Federal law against it.

This country, thankfully, is not based on the Fuhrer principle.  Just because the top (perhaps the Dear Leader) says ‘Do this’ we do not require the recipients of the order to conform.  We allow fighting back.  Disputes occur and are acceptable.  Sometimes the disputes must be settled at by the Supreme Court – at other times they are settled by political action and elections – once it took a civil war to resolve a particularly nasty disagreement. 

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus held that it is a human misconception to think that harmony is the best state of affairs, that we are wrong in thinking that it would be best if the lion laid down with the lamb.  Conflict is built into the nature of reality – only if the bowstring is pulled taut in maintaining pressure against the bow is the bow useful: if the string breaks and the bow straightens it is useless. 

The Fuhrer principle is a way of achieving harmony – it makes the lambs lie down with the lion. We reject it – and do not fall into the trap of thinking that it would be best if everyone agrees. 

The struggle continues.