Thomas "What's The Matter With Kansas?" Frank nails it:
You've got people [in the Republican party] whose philosophy is one of cynicism towards government and one
of complete disrespect towards particular branches of government. ...
They've run these branches of government completely in reverse, put
people in charge of them who don't believe in the mission, and done
everything else to make government accountable not to the voters, but
to the business community.
This has resulted in disaster in
numerous cases. Now, when you look upon the disaster, do you say this
is because government doesn't work? Or do you say, this is because a philosophy
of government doesn't work? The obvious conclusion to anybody watching
this stuff unfold is to say government just can't do anything right --
look how badly it's botched this job.
But the correct answer is
that government obviously does work in certain circumstances, in other
countries, and it's even worked here when it wants to. What they're
doing right now at the Fed and the Department of Treasury is they're
playing the game exactly right -- they're intervening decisively,
quickly -- they're doing it exactly right. When the chips are down and
when it's something conservatives care about, they can make government
But the natural conclusion is just to blow it all off with
cynicism. It's so easy to be cynical. We confuse cynicism with
sophistication. The correct answer is that it's a philosophy of
government that's failed, but you can't say that in the media.
This is what I've been saying in my argument that Republican rule actually imposes more taxes on society than Democratic rule does. It's disastrous to put people antithetical to the whole idea of economic, industrial and environmental regulation in charge of the agencies charged with enforcing those regulations. It's a disaster that hits squarely in the wallet. It's a tax on bad economic and social philosophy.
I gnash my environmentally-correct teeth when I see how what used to be called "coal" has now rebranded itself as "clean coal." As this article in Slate points out, there ain't no such thing.
The rebranding of coal, however, has got me thinking about why different political parties favor certain types of energy.
There are some ways of getting the energy we need that involve converting stuff to energy--stuff like coal, oil, natural gas, grain, and (to a lesser extent) uranium. Extracting, processing and selling that stuff is a very profitable and big business. Naturally, this energy options are favored by the party of big business.
There are also ways of getting energy that don't require the selling of stuff. These non-stuff sources include solar, geothermal, tidal, wind, and hydroelectric. Sure, there are big initial investments, as there are with any energy infrastructure. But once you've got your solar panels up and your windmill turning, you don't have to keep buying stuff to get energy out. Then there is no business for ExxonMobil, BP, etc.
This is not an especially deep or original insight, but it's still good to keep in mind as we make energy policy. Our energy mix twenty years from now is going to be quite different from what it is today--at least, I hope so (because if it's not, we're doomed). Both major party Presidential candidates are talking up this issue. But when it's time to cut deals, write funding lines, create programs, give tax breaks and otherwise use the power of the government to influence our energy future, it's a good idea to remember that we can have an energy future that doesn't involve the consumption of so much stuff. That kind of future, however, is not at all what Big Energy wants, and they will fight to block it.
What's more, because there isn't a massive and continuous revenue stream to be gained from non-stuff energy sources, it's less likely that our richest and strongest corporations will push for them. If you were the CEO of ExxonMobil, for example, would you invest in plants that make the equipment needed to harness the wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal energy, knowing that once your customers bought it, they wouldn't need you anymore? Or would you invest in "clean coal" and biofuels, both of which you can keep selling to consumers for years and years?
Capitalist self-interest, in other words, is not going to take us into the kind of non-stuff energy future we could--and should--have. It's going to be up to the government to change the economics of energy production, maybe by taxing stuff-energy and giving tax breaks for non-stuff energy. I can hear the oil companies screaming now.
For the last ten years, I've enjoyed picking my sons up from school at lunchtime and taking them to the nearby Pizza Hut for the lunch buffet there. My schedule this semester doesn't permit me to do that as often as I'd like now, but I was able to fit it in yesterday. It was only my second time there this school year, and the first in over a month.
I was surprised to see only two cars in the parking lot when I pulled into the restaurant at about 11:25. In the recent past, the joint would be jumping at that hour, full of high school students, healthcare workers, tradesmen, and the obese. I had the fleeting thought: are they closed? Was there a botulism outbreak I didn't hear about?
But no: the Pizza Hut was open, though no food was on the buffet yet, which was also unusual. Apart from my son and me, there were only two customers in the place.
I talked with Cindy, the waitress who has served us for a decade or more. "It's been like this," she shrugged. "People are just staying home more, not spending money if they don't have to." Another fleeting thought crossed my mind: how long will they survive with so few lunchtime customers?
By the time we left the restaurant at 11:45, there were more people there. I felt somewhat relieved--until I recalled that we used to pass by people lined up to come in at that hour as we exited. They just weren't there.
OK, it was Monday--but I couldn't help but read the relative quiet of the Pizza Hut as evidence that our economy is in serious trouble.
Winger wackiness notwithstanding, the law does not prohibit any church from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates or parties. The First Amendment applies just as strongly in churches as it does anywhere else.
So the issue being raised by those ministers who are overtly urging the election of John McCain is not really the entalgment of religion and politics. The real issue is the entanglement of the federal treasury and political campaigns.
The government has chosen to exempt non-profit organizations such as churches from taxation. In effect, the exemption amounts to a subsidy of those organizations by everyone else. So the question is not whether a minister has the right to endorse a candidate from the pulpit. He certainly does. Rather, the question is, does the government have the right to compel me (and all other taxpayers) to subsidize that endorsement? If a church--or any other nonprofit entity--wants to endorse a candidate, it can. Just don't ask the government to subsidize that endorsement.
To my neighbor, who fears that Obama win will raise his taxes if he wins:
Look, I don't like taxes. Nobody does. And I know that we live in the high rent district here, and that you might very well fall to the north of the $250.000 income line above which Obama's tax plan will indeed raise taxes. Even those raises, however, will only take your taxes as high as they were in the Reagan administration, but again, I understand that for you and lot of people, any tax is vexatious.
The thing of it is, though, that under Bush, your taxes have already gone up considerably. Oh, I know you think Bush gave you a tax cut, but think of all the things you pay more for after eight years of Republican misrule than you did in the Clinton administration. We may not call those increases "taxes" in the usual sense of the word, but in a way they are.
Gasoline cost $1.46 a gallon when Bush took office, and it's about $2.00 a gallon more than that now. That's a tax on the Bush administration's failure to have an intelligent energy policy designed to move the country away from its over-reliance on oil.
Your stock portfolio has probably taken a big hit in the last couple of months, due in part to the near-collapse of the investment finance sector. Your market losses are a tax on lax regulation of the securities and banking industries and on the Republican practice of putting people who are firmly philosophically opposed to the whole notion of market regulation. And so is the $700 billion bailout: a $3,000 tax on look-the-other-way regulation to be paid by every man, woman and child in the country.
Food costs more now, sometimes significantly. That's a tax on the administration's push for biofuels, which are consuming a significant portion of our feedstocks now, thereby increasing demand and price.
Every time you fly somewhere now, you pay a homeland security tax that's added to your ticket. More significantly, though, your travel time has been increased as you are forced to move slowly through security queues--and time is money. This is a tax on the Bush administration's failure to prevent 9/11 (despite explicit warnings from the outgoing Clinton administration) and on their cumbersome and questionably effective administration of airport security.
When you go to sell your house, chances are that you won't get what you paid for it a few years ago, and that it will remain on the market for a long time before it sells. This is a tax on government policies that encouraged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to underwrite riskier and riskier mortgages, which fueled a building boom, resulting in a glut of unsold homes.
Health care costs have increased for most people over the last eight years. Deductables and co-pays are higher, and restrictions on what doctors you can see and what medications your insurer will pay for are more onerous. This is a tax on the failure of the Bush administration to enact a comprehensive national health care plan. Maybe you fear having your "official" taxes raised if such a plan were to become law--but the fact is that your "unofficial" health care taxes are increasing anyway.
If you travel abroad or if, like most Americans, you buy a lot of imported goods, you have been affected by the decline of the value of the American dollar. Imports are more expensive now, and unfortunately in many product categories imports are the only good available. This is a tax on the record budget deficit policies of the Bush administration. Of course, a more substantial tax on the deficit will be born by all taxpayers in the coming years as the interest on the national debt eats up a larger and larger portion of the budget.
There are a lot of things that happen in the economy that are beyond the government's control. No President can fairly take all of the credit or the blame for the economy's performance. But policy does have consequences. Personnel has consequences. Philosophy has consequences. Right now, we have a governmental philosophy that holds that regulation of financial institutions is somehow illegitimate. We've seen the appointment of financial foxes to administer the regulatory chicken coop. We've been subjected to a policy of forwarding the bills for our current public expenditures on to the taxpayers of the future. The consequences of those choices have been taxing indeed.