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Every American Should Celebrate These Federal Election Results November 9, 2016

Posted by federalist in Federalism, Government, Government Regulation, Judiciary.
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I haven’t made as much time for current events in recent years as I used to. My news on the campaign concluded with yesterday’s election was mostly limited to whatever people would mention during conversation.

I learned this morning that the used car salesman was elected President, and that vociferous supporters of his leading opponent, a politician who should have gone to jail long ago, are in mourning.

When our federal government was smaller, and when it hewed more closely to its Constitutionally proscribed role, the person who held the office of President didn’t matter as much. Good leadership and good ideas can bubble up from anywhere, and the guy behind the desk in the oval office doesn’t want to go down in history as a monster. Recent years have shown us that as government has grown the President has acquired the power to inflict extensive damage through often subtle administrative actions that are quite difficult to check. On that score, the losing candidate, with her long history and proven expertise in abusing such power, seemed to me far more dangerous than the blustery winner. Trump seems more inclined to work in broad strokes in the light of day than in dark rooms through a thousand cuts.

This election was, however, absolutely critical in one regard: The future composition of the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). SCOTUS is presently evenly split between (liberal) activists and (conservative) constructionists. If a liberal had won control of the presidency the current SCOTUS vacancy would have been filled by a liberal, and that least-accountable branch of the federal government would have resumed its activist practice of “legislating from the bench:” establishing laws by judicial fiat that are nearly impossible to reverse.

Instead, we have a conservative majority in the executive and legislative branches that will allow SCOTUS to be repopulated with judges who respect the role proscribed by the Constitution.1 America may not appreciate how close it came to a long reign of judicial tyranny. But for that everyone should today breathe a sigh of relief.


1Trump has said his nominee will come from the list compiled with the help of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the legal group, the Federalist Society.

Why #BlackLivesMatter July 15, 2016

Posted by federalist in Government, Social Politics.
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First they came for the blacks, and I did not speak out – because I was not black.

The “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement is about two problems: racism and policing.  Critics of BLM confuse themselves by addressing questions of racism when they should really be focusing on what race is revealing about the police.

Nobody denies that as a subpopulation black Americans are disproportionately violent and criminal.  Based on that observation, it is not unreasonable to expect that proper law enforcement will have a disproportionate effect on black Americans.

But BLM isn’t about statistics.  It’s about individuals, and the dignity that every American deserves at the hands of public servants.  And it’s a warning about the kinds of people who are allowed to work as police officers, and the kind of behavior that is tolerated within their ranks.

We know that there are people who, when given the opportunity, will exploit authority for sadistic pleasure.  These sadists will for their own amusement harass, humiliate, torture, and even kill others.  Law enforcement fosters precisely the circumstances that attract and facilitate such sadistic behavior.  BLM is trying to alert us to the widespread institutional failures to address and control such police behavior.

BLM is the canary in the coal mine.  The black subpopulation will be the first to detect a culture of police brutality and corruption, and will suffer its effects most severely.  But every American is at risk when police are given institutional protection to abuse their authority.  BLM critics shouldn’t assume that the “bad apples” in law enforcement only harass black criminals, or that collateral damage is limited to upstanding black citizens who should understand that racial profiling is an unfortunate but necessary evil in our effort to maintain law and order.

Sadistic police can and do target all citizens.  One can readily find daily accounts of abuses perpetrated by virtually unaccountable police cowards hiding behind their fellow officers, their union, and the qualified immunity enjoyed by government agents.

All those who offer unqualified support for this police institution must understand that they share culpability for every incident in which an officer harasses, tortures, or unjustly kills a citizen.  They should also realize that, no matter their race or social status, they could be the next victim of police brutality.

Whom Do Police Protect and Serve? July 9, 2016

Posted by federalist in Government, Social Politics, Unions.
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Police should be held to a higher standard. And they should hold themselves to a higher standard.

Every day there are beautiful stories of police who exercise admirable restraint or go the extra mile to help people in their communities. But those are overshadowed by daily stories of police who abuse their authority and their fellow citizens, and who only rarely face consequences befitting their crimes.

Pro-police rhetoric in the United States has become detached from reality. When five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas, a national police union renewed its insistence that there is a “war on police.” Politicians lauded the “difficult and dangerous work” of community policing. Never mind that by any objective measure police do not face exceptional risks. (In fact, citizens are far more likely to be murdered just by residing in dangerous cities than by working as police.)

The reality is that it is police who seem to have been escalating a war on Americans. The government has declined legislative mandates to track police assaults, but independent projects have found increasing numbers of police homicides: In recent years police have killed more than a hundred citizens every month.

When cops hurt or kill citizens, they hide behind the blue line of their fellow law enforcement officers, their union, and the shield of the government. Personal accountability for egregious misconduct is astonishingly rare.

Many demagogues reflexively refer to police as “heroes.” Police should not be lauded as heroic merely for taking the job. Heroes are people who display courage, bravery, or nobility. An officer who uses deadly force against a person who is not immediately threatening the lives of others is not a hero. Police who resort to excessive violence because they know that, thanks to their office and colleagues, they can get away with it are cowards.

Police who can’t put on a badge and gun every day without also donning an “us versus them” mindset against the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve should simply quit their job. We don’t need police who cravenly exploit their office to harass or kill.  We need police who will risk their own lives to save the lives of the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve.

This is what government agent accountability looks like April 16, 2015

Posted by federalist in Government, Government Regulation, Natural Rights.
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Today’s example care of the TSA (though examples from other law enforcement agencies abound at the Free Thought Project):

Three months after an employee alerts the TSA to sexual abuse of citizens by two “security” screeners they get around to checking into it and, sure enough, it’s going on as described. And the penalty for the perverts hiding behind government agency and paychecks? They (we are told to believe) lose their jobs. Nothing more. Not even their names have been released.

Pathological Altruism November 5, 2014

Posted by federalist in Government, Uncategorized.
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William Voegeli, summarizing his recent book:

The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. Or it may be, at least in some cases, that it just isn’t possible for the government to bring about what liberals want it to accomplish. [T]he intended, beneficial consequences of social policies are routinely overwhelmed by the unintended, harmful consequences they trigger. It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Government Competition Update May 18, 2014

Posted by federalist in Government, Government Regulation, Markets.
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What remains of state sovereignty in this country is both entertaining and heartening.

Of course state competition for business has a long history. Before government became a distinguishing factor businesses would often establish themselves based on access to needed natural resources, labor, and markets. Gradually each state’s tax and regulatory burden became a significant part of that equation. Now the political environment itself is becoming an explicit factor.

For example, the last round of gun control hysteria had quite disparate results. States that enacted draconian new gun laws have found themselves losing firearm businesses to more friendly states.

More recently the CEO of a California company complained publicly that its government is becoming reminiscent of the communist Vietnam he fled 35 years ago. Texas is one of the states that has been reaching out to companies with this compelling invitation from its governor:

Texas’ low taxes, predictable regulations, fair courts and world-class workforce make our state the ideal place for any business looking to relocate or expand….

Net Human Product and Our Purpose April 25, 2013

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Education, Government, Open Questions.
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There is a great Twilight Zone episode, “A Small Talent for War:” An alien emissary appears in the United Nations to announce that humans on Earth have not progressed as fast as they had hoped. We have a small talent for war and have wasted our time bickering over borders with crude weapons, far short of the “better things” for which they bred us. Therefore, they have resolved to terminate the experiment on this planet. The American ambassador pleads the case for humanity. The emissary agrees to give the world 24 hours, though he doubts anything can be done in so short a time. When he returns, the General Assembly proudly presents the emissary with a world peace treaty. He leafs through it and then laughs, explaining that their objective was for us to develop weapons and warriors to fight across the galaxy, not to merely to achieve peace amongst ourselves. The episode ends with alien destroyers descending on Earth.

This essay is a discussion of existential matters: Something that, after adolescence, few people stop to consider in any broad context. Discussion following my post on falling fertility raised the Grand Question: What is our Purpose? In the context of that post a successful human life was one that created positive net production in our global marketplace. That’s a fine measure if our Purpose can be expressed as economic activity. But can it? Is our goal as a species to build the maximum economic power? I.e., to produce the greatest possible value of goods and services, where value is defined by the market of individual human wants and needs? By default, and in actuality, the answer is yes.

But we fancy ourselves an “intelligent” species, and so we should not simply accept the evolved answer to the Grand Question: I.e., to what end should our species devote its resources? If the answer is “to satisfy our instincts” then as a species we seem no more intelligent than any other life form.

Are we intelligent life?

We know the key characteristics of all successful life: survival and reproduction. We are currently an apex predator on our planet. As a species we are the apex predator, so we’ve got that to our credit. But we are surrounded by other species that are more survivable than our own: We know there are planetary catastrophes that would extinguish our species but spare “lower” life-forms that can survive more extreme conditions and extended deprivations. So in terms of survival our species is relatively unremarkable.

We console ourselves with the fact that we are “intelligent.” This does indeed seem to be a rare thing: In our own fertile sphere we are unique in our capacity to invent tools, and to create, store, and transmit information. Furthermore, we have achieved reasonable mastery of electromagnetics, to the point where we can send bursts of information into deep space and scan for other life doing the same. Yet our ability to create and harness energy and matter on a meaningful scale is abysmal. We can only transmute elements in the tiniest quantities, and the total energy our species can unleash, even in an uncontrolled fashion, would barely make the faintest ripple in our local space-time fabric. So by some measures we might be extraordinarily intelligent, while by others we may be pathetic.

The rest of our specie’s activities are no more notable than that of any other locally successful life form. In fact, we know that we are only one unlucky gamma-ray burst or other stellar event away from being wiped from the face of existence. Truly successful life would not be so vulnerable.

Intelligent or not, a successful life form would be one that could project itself across interstellar spaces, in some manner able to reproduce and survive on a vastly larger, less precarious scale. Could we achieve such a thing? Almost certainly not in our corporal forms, which have evolved only to survive and reproduce in the fragile fringe of our home planet. But in theory we could build interstellar seeders: self-replicating, self-healing machines that trawl outer space and seed our form of life anywhere it can take root. Our seed sphere would grow slowly, limited by the speed with which our machines can travel, but still exponentially as frontier seeders transform ambient matter and energy encountered en route to spawn more seeders. Perhaps it is possible to design seed rays: packets of energy that, when they encounter matter of suitable composition, transform it into seeders. Though that sounds vastly more difficult, it would allow our seed sphere to grow at light speed.

As intelligent life shouldn’t such large-scale survivability be one of our goals? One might argue that the absence of such a capability is evidence that we are not “intelligent life.” Intelligence may include the ability to create tools and transmit information, but life that cannot alter its evolved behavior and nature to better pursue its objectives does not sound intelligent. And since survival is the most elementary characteristic of life we, as a species, are clearly coming up short.

This brings us back to the Grand Question: What is our Purpose? Nature has given us an evolved, or “default” answer, and that’s mostly what we’ve accepted: Our default Purpose is to maximize Gross Production and Production Capacity – economic measures that we can sample with reasonable accuracy. These measures have steadily increased throughout history. But they reflect predominantly individual interests, not the reasoned, collective interest of our species. For example, included in Gross Human Production today are such things as:
• The construction and maintenance of coastal cities below sea level
• Gold-plated palaces and jumbo jets for sheikhs to fly their extended family around to the world’s finest resorts
• Manicured golf courses where the wealthy and non-producing (“retired”) try to hit balls with high precision

We have enormous production potential, but what are we producing? If one assembled any group of humans and asked them to vote on worthwhile projects for their – or any other human’s – spare time would any of the above examples be on their list? The sad fact is that we, as a species, have no intelligent Purpose.

Does it take a visit from a xenocidal alien emissary? When faced with a clear and present threat we unite in large groups and concentrate our excess capacity on survival and achievement. Think of the unified action witnessed during the World War II and the Cold War. But no leadership seems capable of marshaling such a response to anything less clear and present. For example, know the consequences and probabilities of a large asteroid impact, but haven’t waged any significant effort to protect ourselves from possible extinction from one. And the threat of a nearby gamma-ray burst is so abstract and challenging that almost nobody addresses it.

I wish we could unite behind one or more “Net Human Products:” Something that humans collectively produce that increases over years and generations, and that our species could hold up and say, “Here is something we did besides just surviving and pursuing our instincts.”

There are, of course, philosophic and religious answers to the Grand Question, but I don’t think they make good measures of Net Human Product. In the most general terms, most measure human success as something like maximizing the number of people who achieve peace with their creator, themselves, and/or their surroundings. But these are human-centric measures: In the end, some number of human beings have lived and died, and some proportion did so in accord with any particular philosophy. That tally may make adherents feel good, and some philosophies may be conducive to higher Net Human Products, but either way they are at best a means, not an end in this discussion.

What do humans produce that endures? Civilization has produced remarkable terrestrial monuments, although over eons our watery planet will eventually erode these all into oblivion. We have managed to sling a few small artifacts out of our heliosphere. Aside from those the substantive human products that have the potential to survive every natural catastrophe and all the assaults of time are our culture and our technology: Everything that can be transformed into data, which can be replicated and beamed to arbitrary recipients at nearly zero cost. We might measure our Net Human Product in terms of the quantity and quality of that data, and the means we have to protect its integrity and longevity.

Maybe if we reconsider our collective objectives we will refocus our resources. For example, instead of spending tens of billions of dollars each year on professional sports, the demand for entertainment and product placement will shift attention towards teams of developers and their efforts to raise our Net Human Product.

Can we spark a “Moon-Shot” program on a global scale to make our species truly “intelligent” by addressing the shortcomings I mentioned earlier? Can we motivate individual human beings to join an urgent struggle to develop fusion energy and interstellar seeders? Can children go to school aspiring to study the STEM subjects that will enable those technologies? Can we go to sleep each night as worried that a gamma ray burst will obliterate us before we succeed, as we did during the Cold War that a nuclear holocaust would destroy everything we know and love?

Sometimes ‘Nothing’ Is Better Than ‘Something’ – Part III November 17, 2012

Posted by federalist in Government.
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Nassim Taleb makes a structural argument for decentralized, bottom-up government.

[I]n complex systems, we should limit government (and other) interventions to important matters: The state should be there for emergency-room surgery, not nanny-style maintenance and overmedication of the patient — and it should get better at the former.

His essay (and the associated book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder) is essentially a rehearsal of the virtues of free markets in terms of minimizing catastrophes by ensuring that risks — including policy risk — are born as much as possible by those who understand them and who can react constructively and quickly to failures.

Democracy is not the ideal November 12, 2012

Posted by federalist in Federalism, Government.
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I’ve addressed this before, but Randall Holcombe does it best today:

“Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” That quotation … sums up the ethics of democracy. Democratic outcomes are used to justify a majority claiming the right to impose their will on the minority.

To prevent the unethical exploitation of the few by the many, the American Founders designed a government with strictly limited powers. Government was not designed to further the will of the majority, but to protect the rights of individuals. Democracy’s role was limited to choosing who held political power, and providing a non-violent method for replacing them.

Over the centuries since the nation’s founding, the fundamental principle underlying American government has evolved from “liberty” to “democracy.” At one time Americans thought the purpose of their government was to protect their rights. Now the common opinion is that government should carry out the will of the majority. If the many want to take from the few, the ethics of this view of government justifies it.

Let us remember that America is supposed to be the land of the free. Our government was constituted to secure our liberty, not to practice democracy.

Benghazi goes from Unfortunate to Unconscionable October 28, 2012

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Until now I had thought the September 11 Benghazi (Libya) incident in which 4 Americans were killed was essentially unfortunate.

Granted, the American Executive’s response in subsequent days gave plenty of fodder to anyone doubting the Obama administration’s political principles.

But the fact that a Libyan militia was able to overwhelm an American consulate and kill an ambassador and three other American operatives represents, at face value, an honest failure assess and address the security situation.

The reality we are learning is far more damning.  CIA contractors, including at least two former Navy SEALs, were manning a fortified CIA installation a mile from the consulate.  At least one report now indicates they asked for military backup and for permission to launch a rescue of the consulate.  Those requests were denied by the CIA.  Ignoring orders to “stand down” a team of those operators left the CIA “Annex,” rescued those remaining at the consulate, and recovered the body of one of the two Americans killed there.

Before the night was over, the CIA installation itself came under attack.  Among its defenses were veteran warriors, heavy machine guns, and a laser designator trained on an enemy mortar squad.  They were in constant contact with the chain of command, including calling in the coordinates of enemy forces to allow drone or off-shore fire missions.  It was a mortar that killed two more Americans that night — 7 hours after the attack on the consulate began.  During this time, continued requests for military support were denied.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta complains about “Monday-morning quarterbacking” as we learn that refusals for support came from his level, if not the White House itself.

Given the military resources in the region, the duration of the attack, and the communication channels that remained open throughout the incident, the failure of the military leaders to unleash prompt and decisive support is unconscionable.  Failing to prepare is unfortunate and perhaps even incompetent.  This failure to respond is reprehensible.

(One saving grace is that the military leader responsible for sending reinforcements, General Ham of AfriCON, may have actually ignored orders to wait.  If true, the rumor follows that he was immediately relieved of command, which would elevate the actions of the top civilian leadership to what I consider to be criminal negligence: When a General orders a rescue mission there is no second-guessing that.  Higher-ups can “Monday-morning quarterback” that and end his career after the fact, but AFAIK relieving a General on the spot for green-lighting an isolated rescue effort in an overt conflict is unprecedented.)

Sometimes ‘Nothing’ Is Better Than ‘Something’ – Part II October 26, 2012

Posted by federalist in Government, Uncategorized.
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One might use the title of this post as “the moral of government.”

Inspired by Michael Boskin’s essay today, which expounds on the argument:

Government failures are as pervasive as market failures…. The potential for such failures grows as government grows.

Here’s why we need teachers, firefighters, and police officers June 13, 2012

Posted by federalist in Government, Unions.
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The Obama campaign extends the following invitation:

Mitt Romney thinks we can afford to cut jobs for teachers, firefighters, and police officers—so let’s help him see why our communities and our economy can’t afford that.

Share a story about how a teacher, firefighter, or police officer has made a difference in your life.

Here goes:

My wife and I have college degrees. Our fathers, now in their sixties, have advanced degrees. We’re all working year-round in for-profit endeavors to maintain a secure middle-class lifestyle, and to build savings to support us in a future in which we may not be able to work to provide for our needs.

Teachers in our public school district get annual salary and benefits totaling well into six figures for working 35-hour weeks 8 months a year. They “retire” as early as age 55 and collect government-guaranteed pension and health benefits for the rest of their life. Our local police officers can retire in their forties with full pensions and benefits.

Watching these “public servants” gorging at the public trough has made me hate government and the union cartels that exploit it. As you might say: Our communities and our economy can’t afford teachers and police on these terms.

On the plus side: My community is served by volunteer fire companies. Just goes to show that you don’t need government to do everything — even to provide public services.

QOTD: “Corporations” Too Powerful? March 23, 2011

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Max Hensley to the WSJ:

I’m not afraid of corporations. They don’t have men with guns enforcing the collective will of the rent seekers, parasites and zealots who animate the government.

The Reality of Public Sector Unions March 1, 2011

Posted by federalist in Government, Unions.
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Collective bargaining in the public sector is less a negotiation than a conspiracy to steal money from taxpayers.

That’s from James Taranto’s excellent review of the arguments against public sector unions.

Clay Johnson ofers an excellent summary in a WSJ letter yesterday:

The public sector is not a free market, it is a government-imposed monopoly. The final “customer” has no choice or alternative. There is no outside competition, and we all must buy the product.

There cannot be a legitimate collective bargaining negotiation without the discipline of a free customer able to say no. If we must have public-sector monopolies, we should require that they provide maximum value to the taxpayer at minimum cost. They may always join us in the private sector if they wish to freely negotiate a better alternative.

Indeed, private unions can drive their business into bankruptcy. (Or at least they could before the federal government got into the business of bailing out private companies.) Public unions, no matter how greedy, only drive their employers to raise taxes.

Charter Cities — Better Than the Free State Project February 3, 2011

Posted by federalist in Federalism, Government, Markets.
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The United States of America was supposed to be a federation of independent states. If the Federal government hadn’t so overstepped its constitutional bounds we would presently have a great experiment in which fifty States were free to test different polities, and some measure of competition between them would over time lead to and preserve good government. Sadly, owing to Federal overreach the States have been left with less power and freedom to shape their polities, so the Great Experiment has become a Modest Experiment: States still compete for citizens and businesses through tax and regulatory policies1. But no matter where you go you’re subject to the same Federal government that controls nearly 20% of GDP and whose regulatory power dwarfs that left to the States.

The Free State Project was an effort begun a decade ago to focus the political power of a large number of libertarians on a single State (ultimately choosing New Hampshire) where they would, as citizens, work to incrementally free the State from unconstitutional Federal rule.

Recently, “Tenthers” (so named for the Tenth Amendment) have been working more broadly to restore State rights under the Constitution.

But to me nothing beats the idea of a “Charter City” as promoted by Paul Romer: This would be a territory cut free from its donor government, governed only by its own charter. The Charter City would have its authority guaranteed by a strong and stable third party — Hong Kong under British administration was an example of this. Like free trade zones and for-profit states a charter city in a relatively unfree or poorly governed region of the world would expect to attract extraordinary investment, leading to exceptional growth and prosperity, which would hopefully be contagious to its neighbors.


1 The Mercatus Center has an excellent analysis of the current differences between states in its 2009 publication Freedom in the 50 States.

Sometimes ‘Nothing’ Is Better Than ‘Something’ January 11, 2011

Posted by federalist in Government.
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I opted out of commercial air travel long before the We Won’t Fly campaign. After all, the Precautionary Principle went to work right after 9/11 with the establishment of the Transportation Stupidity Administration (TSA).

Wes Benedict, paraphrasing Congressman Rush Holt, summarizes the problem:

Something bad happens. People demand Congress do “something” about it. Congress comes up with “something.” And so “something” gets implemented, even if it doesn’t do any good, because in the minds of Congress and the voters, “something” is better than nothing.

People, when it comes to government, “nothing” is usually better than “something.”

QOTD: Public Unions December 13, 2010

Posted by federalist in Government, Pensions, Unions.
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Governor Tim Pawlenty in today’s WSJ:

The moral case for unions—protecting working families from exploitation—does not apply to public employment. Government employees today are among the most protected, well-paid employees in the country. Ironically, public-sector unions have become the exploiters, and working families once again need someone to stand up for them.

An editorial provides supporting information:

Twelve states including North Carolina and Virginia don’t allow government workers collective bargaining rights, and another 12 allow it only for some unions. These states by and large have managed to hold down their pension liabilities better than have those where public employee unions essentially run the government—see Illinois, New Jersey and California.

Government Workers Increasingly Overpaid March 10, 2010

Posted by federalist in Government, Unions.
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It used to be that government workers earned lower salaries that were offset by more generous non-salary compensation, job security, working conditions, and other benefits. Now they have actually pulled ahead in nominal salary terms, while still enjoying non-salary compensation (like healthcare and pensions) that is on average quadruple that of comparable private sector workers!

Not that this should surprise us, given the extraordinary power public employee unions and bureaucrats have accrued….

QOTD: Root Causes of Education and Healthcare Inequality February 5, 2010

Posted by federalist in Education, Government, Healthcare, Markets.
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From Will Wilkinson’s paper last year on Income Inequality:

If we are worried about inequalities in education and health care, as we should be, we might stop to consider that these are precisely the areas we have chosen to shield most jealously from entrepreneurship and market
competition.

The best government is that which governs least January 28, 2010

Posted by federalist in Government.
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Apparently President Obama disagrees. In his State of the Union Address he attacked Republican Senators for not “governing” hard enough:

Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.

Which I suppose is a fair criticism. Leadership would involve persuading the polity that the best thing our government can do is stop trying to intervene in so many problems.