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The Doomsayers Have Their Day

The doomsayers have a lot to say these days, and most of it is all too plausible. There’s also been a lot of happy talk from the White House lately, especially about the economy and that 5.1 unemployment rate, but it’s not nearly as convincing.
Even the suddenly front-running Democratic candidate and self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is getting big cheers from his far-left fans by scoffing at that 5.1 percent figure, which conservatives already know is severely understated by excluding the record numbers of those who aren’t even bothering to find work or those working part-time jobs or taking jobs for which they are obviously over-qualified. Even the usually uninformed folks of no political persuasion who occupy the middle have noticed their stagnant wages, and that most of those news jobs are going to legal and illegal immigrants, so they might have also noticed the latest trends are not positive.
Sanders probably won’t mention it in his otherwise frankly gloomy and doomy stump speeches, but what anemic economic growth  has occurred over the past six years of “recovery” was largely financed by extraordinary amounts of debt, not just here but in Europe and China and almost everywhere in the less consequential parts of the world economy, and not just among the countries’ governments but also their private sectors. The Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements, considered “the world’s top financial watchdog,” now notes that since 2006 the combined public and private debt of the world’s developed economies has jumped 36 points to a daunting 265 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Meanwhile the Federal Reserve Board of the United States, which is either the first or second biggest economy in the world depending on what accounting systems you prefer, is contemplating at long last allowing interest rates to soar beyond zero, which those Swiss bankers reasonably worry would might reconfigure the global ledgers in all sorts of troublesome ways. Much of the United States’ debt is owed to China, which is either the first or second biggest economy in the world, depending on what accounting system you prefer, but they’ve also managed to rack up a mountain of debt on building uninhabited cities and other make-work extravagances, and there’s no telling what measures that country’s communist leadership might resort to. The European Union, which includes most of those “developed economies,” is currently preoccupied with one of those occasional invasions by the Muslim world that they’ve had to put up with for the past several centuries. Perhaps debt can be perpetually incurred, but otherwise nowhere in the world does there seem to be any happy endings on offer.
All that debt did by one hell of a stock market run, here and elsewhere, with all the freshly-printed money having nowhere to go in a zero-interest world, but here and elsewhere that seems to be at long last coming to the same sorry end as all Ponzi schemes. The Chinese are resorting to the old Maoist adage about all power growing out of the barrel of a gun to deal with the situation, with stockholders being threatened with severe retaliation if they sell any shares in tanking companies, and the unlikelihood that even President Barack Obama and newly-anointed Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn or any other EU official would dare to employ such methods makes the situation all the more uncertain.
Robert Schiller is a professor of economics at Yale University and a Nobel laureate in his science, and we are neither, but our gloomy and doomy temperament inclines us to agree with his worried assessment that “It looks to me a bit like a bubble again with essentially a tripling of stock prices since 2009 in just six years, and at the same time people losing confidence in the valuation of the market.” One needn’t be a Yale professor or Nobel laureate to have noticed that the American economy has not tripled in strength and size over the past six years, or kept apace of the growing debt and surge of legal and illegal immigration, and that the rest of the world hasn’t been managing its affairs any better, nor to draw the obvious conclusions. Every roller coaster ride we’ve ever taken has eventually ended at ground level, and we can’t shake a bad feeling that the world’s stock markets will prove true to this rule.
We read that the stock markets are further spooked by the sudden realization that Donald Trump might actually be the Republican nominee for President of the United States, and that the equally embarrassing fact of self-described socialist Sanders as the front runner makes it possible that he might actually win the office, and this causes us even further gloominess and doominess. There’s little hope to be found in Europe, where the self-described Hollande is still running and some English guy with no discernible identity is Prime Minister of Great Britain and Germany’s Angela Merkel is talking crazy-talk about immigration one day and her usual common sense the next, with no time to talk about debt or stock markets or other economic issues. The Chinese communists are both Chinese and communists, and at the risk of sounding stereotypical we found them quite inscrutable. In any case, we find little reason for optimism.
On the other hand, the local QuikTrip convenience stores are now selling their lowest-octane gasoline for $1.99 a gallon, an economic stimulus the administration hasn’t been able to thwart despite its best efforts, the earthquakes that have occasionally troubled our fracked region might not have anything to do with that, and Americans have proved a shrewd people in other uncertain times, and one can still hold out hope that neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders will ever be this country’s president. This doesn’t guarantee a hopeful outcome, especially with Hillary Clinton as a the next-most plausible alternative, but at least it allows for the possibility or the best and precludes the worst.

— Bud Norman

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What’s the Matter With Kansas Democrats?

One of those internecine Republican primary challenges is happening right here in Kansas’ fourth congressional district, but what little national attention it has received is because it is so atypical. Instead of a tri-corner hat-wearing tea party amateur challenging a squishy moderate incumbent, which is the modern media’s preferred matchup, this race has a second-term incumbent with impeccable conservative credentials being challenged by a former longtime congressman promising a return to the good old George W. Bush-era days of earmarking porkbarrel spending for the district.
There’s plenty to say about this peculiar political tactic, and at some point before the August primary we’ll get around to saying it, but at this point we’re most intrigued by the widely varied perceptions of the race we’ve been hearing. Almost all of our Republican friends expect an easy win by Mike Pompeo, the incumbent with the impeccable conservative credentials, while almost all of our Democrat friends are confidently predicting a victory by Todd Tiahrt, the former congressman promising to once again bring home the federal bacon.
The Democratic prognosticators don’t expect that any Republicans in these parts share their enthusiasm for porkbarrel spending, but instead expect Tiahrt to win because they well remember how very popular he was the anti-abortion forces in the district. Way back in ’94 Tiahrt knocked off a more-or-less moderate Democrat who had held the seat for 18 years by appealing to the union dues-paying machinists in the local airplane plants and the would-be sophisticates in the white collar jobs as well as wooing enough of the farm vote to complete a coalition, and Tiahrt did it with a lot of help from the religious right activists who were singing “Oh, What a Mighty God” at the election night victory party. The scene scared the bejeezus out of the local Democrats, who continued to attribute Tiahrt’s electoral success solely to the religious right even as his margins of victory swelled with voters who found that he was a more-or-less moderate sort of Republican who brought home the bacon and was predictably unable to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
We try to explain to our Democrat friends that the anti-abortion movement is not a cult of personality that blindly follows any politician, and note that Pompeo’s voting record on abortion issues has been just as consistent and ineffectual, but they won’t believe it. We also try to tell them that while social issues such as abortion are still of importance to Republicans they are lately less important to the average primary voter than economic matters such as the outrageous national debt that Tiahrt wants to increase, but this is usually dismissed as crazy talk.
Kansas Democrats remain enamored of the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” thesis that Thomas Frank cooked up, which holds that no one really believes that capitalism and freedom nonsense except for the Koch brothers and a few other well-heeled plutocrats who have been hoodwinked the proletarian rubes into voting against their economic self-interests with a bunch of religious hooey. We note that conservative media ranging from National Review to the Rush Limbaugh show rarely mention the social issues these days, and then only because their liberal counterparts have forced the discussion with efforts to subsidize contraception and abortion or are employing McCarthyite tactics against religious dissenters, but of course they never pay heed to these voices and prefer to assume that it’s a non-stop Billy Sunday sermon. They can’t imagine any other reason that the district’s voters have consistently rejected the Democrats’ kindly offer to redistribute some wealth this way.
The past six years of stubborn unemployment and underemployment and falling wages and skyrocketing debt and even increased income inequality have done nothing to shake this faith, which could be described as religious if you really wanted to irk a local Democrat. Even those union dues-paying machinists at the airplane plants are finding it hard to see how it’s in their economic interests to support a president who routinely rails against “corporate jets,” and the thousands of locals employed by the much-hated Koch brothers have the same qualms, but the Democratic party that seeks their votes continue to regard their views as a result of some sort of snake-handling ritual. They might be right about the Republican primary, although we’re more inclined to the views of our Republican friends, but the Democrats are likely to find themselves out of power around here for at least another decade if they continue to believe in appealing myths.

— Bud Norman

The Rising Cost of Wising Up

Every day seems to bring another executive order, and the latest presidential edict concerns student loans. With a stroke of President Barack Obama’s magic pen the indented need pay no more than 10 percent of whatever monthly income they might be lucky to have, and all those recent graduates who voted for him as part of their embarrassingly idealistic college phase will no doubt be glad for the help. They’re still liable for the entire outrageous cost of their unmarketable degrees, however, and the president’s fix only perpetuates the unsustainable system that got them into that fix.
The cost of a college education has quintupled over the past 30 years, and a brief conversation with a randomly selected recent graduate will demonstrate that the quality of that education has declined just as markedly, but the only solution being offered is to help students stretch out those costs over a lifetime. If Wal-Mart or the Koch brothers or any of the other corporate villains being pillared at almost every college were subjecting their customers to crushing indebtedness with such shoddy practices they’d go out of business or into jail or both, but academia enjoys such status with our college-educated elites that the government intervenes only to help their alma maters continue their price-hiking ways. The administration is seeking to regulate away pesky price competition from the private sector, has nationalized the student loan program to make sure that they’ll keep enough money flowing to accommodate the tuition hikes that inevitably follow the expanding credit, and argued that denying even the most academically ill-prepared youngster an opportunity to go deeply into debt for four years of left-wing indoctrination and a piece of paper that might win a job pouring coffee at some some hipster bistro is somehow anti-intellectual.
Which is not to say that the administration isn’t willing to impose some burdens on academia, such as a new rating system and rules about how colleges are to handle allegations of sexual assault. The same academics who voted overwhelmingly for the president are bristling at the government’s intrusiveness, which they feel is more appropriate to everyone else’s business, but it’s hard to muster any sympathy or even fend off the schadenfreude. The sexual assault rules are a result of academia’s faddish obsession with the “culture of rape” that the feminists insists pervade those green lawns and ivy-covered halls of the average campus, by which they mean the promiscuous “hook-up” culture that has followed academia’s half-century-long assault on traditional Judeo-Christian morality, and it was bound to happen that some governmental do-gooders would sooner or later take their cause seriously. One can only hope the new rules will prevent a rape or two, even if there are already laws against it, which somehow pre-date feminism, but given the rapidly expanding definition of the crime on the modern campus and the lax standard of prove being mandated by the government it might also create a culture of false rape accusations based on hurt feelings rather than actual offenses. Concerns for the rights of the accused are somehow sexist, though, which can only be explained in a high-priced college education.
The new rules might accelerate the trend of fewer men attending college, which could in turn make the high-priced experience somewhat less appealing to many of today’s libidinous women, and thereby hasten the inevitable popping of the higher education bubble. At some point on the cost curve even college students will wise up, and if not their parents surely will. Giving the professors a taste of the governmental regulations they have long championed might improve their thinking, too.

— Bud Norman

Politics on the Playground

A prominent member of the House of Representatives has offered a budget proposal, and the President of the United States has publicly called it a “stink burger.”
There’s much to be said about the budget proposed by Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan, as well as the alternative put forth a few weeks back by President Barack Obama, but we’ll happily leave it all unsaid. Neither proposal has any chance of becoming law, so we find it far more interesting and worrisome that our political discourse has devolved to the point of “stink burger.”
Obama was once widely lauded as the greatest orator since Demosthenes, but surely even his most awe-struck admirers will admit that “stink burger” is not quite eloquent enough to justify that reputation. There were kids on the playground at Kistler Elementary School who could come up with more creative insults, and by the time they had graduated to Brooks Junior High and foul language they didn’t sound nearly so juvenile. We have no idea how taunting is done on the playgrounds of Honolulu’s ritzier private schools or at Columbia University and Harvard Law School, but we had hoped for something a little more high-brow. We certainly expect more of a President of the United States, as we can fondly recall a time when even a relatively low-brow Vice President could come up with something as alliterative and snappy as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
The “stink burger” slur reportedly went over well with Obama’s audience at the University of Michigan. This does not speak well for the state of higher education, where a higher-toned sort of malicious slander once prevailed, but perhaps they were just grateful to be spared all the boring details of the budget debate. Obama also called Ryan’s budget proposal a “meanwich,” which seems to imply that he finds it parsimonious, which is almost an actual argument, and even a modern-day college student can understand why the president preferred to avoid any specifics.
Ryan’s allegedly radical right-wing proposal is rather tepid stuff, after all, at least by the standards of we actual right-wing radicals. The plan would take ten years to reach a balanced budget, must less begin to eat into $17 trillion of debt, and is mean only the sense that your parents were mean when they wouldn’t give you a pony. You’d probably get that long-awaited pony if the Obama budget proposal were passed, but it is based on the equally fanciful notion that a nation can live happily ever after on trillions of dollars of indefinitely continued debt. That’s a hard argument to make, even to a student full of empty-headed college students, and is best expressed in terms of “stink burger.”

— Bud Norman

Pursuing a Dream

Those prolific folks at the Congressional Budget Office have written up yet another installment in their annual “Budget and Economic Outlook” series, and it might be their best work yet. That’s high praise, given how the president used to gush about the non-partisan brilliance of these eyeshade-wearing savants of the bureaucracy, but their latest look at Obamacare really is quite a read.
In a taut 175 pages of impeccable public policy prose, including the numerous charts and tables and citations of sources and such, the report lays out all the sorry facts about the nation’s fiscal health. This has been a recurring theme of the series for so long now that it’s become too boring to prompt comment, but the parts about Obamacare offer an intriguing if somewhat predictable plot twist. To hear the CBO boys tell it, the law isn’t working out well.
The report projects that the law will result in the loss of 2.5 million full-time equivalent jobs in the next decade, leave 31 million people still without health insurance but paying for the privilege, add $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit, cause millions of Americans to lose the health insurance plans that they liked, and wind up costing the average American money out of his paycheck. Given that the law’s eponymous president repeatedly promised that it would spur economic activity, insure everyone, wouldn’t add a single dime to the deficit, anyone who liked his health insurance plan could keep it, and the average American would wind up with an extra $2,500 in his paycheck, it seems fair to say that things aren’t going as intended.
Back when the president was making such preposterous promises on behalf of Obamacare he had CBO reports to back them up, all based on the equally preposterous presumptions the agency was forced to proceed from, which is probably why he used to gush about its non-partisan brilliance. The latest report is based on assumptions more closely resembling reality, and is therefore less to the president’s liking, but all that past praise forced the White House to carefully interpret rather haughtily dismiss the CBO’s conclusion.
By far the most entertaining portion of White House spokesman Jay Carney’s juggling act was his insistence that the 2.5 million lost jobs is proof the law’s unexpected success. After correctly noting that the report does not blame the job losses on disincentives for employers to provide jobs, and without noting that it also said such an effect might well occur when the delayed employer-mandate at last kicks in after the mid-term elections, Carney seemed proud that CBO found the initial job losses would result from Obamacare’s disincentives for employees to accept low-wage jobs rather than relinquish their health care subsidies and other benefits. As Carney thus explains it, those 2.5 million lost jobs mean “Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families, and would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”
Any Americans who don’t dream of a life of care-free welfare dependency probably wouldn’t put it in such poetic terms, but at this point they likely comprise only a small share of the Democratic votership. It remains to be seen how the economy will fare under the guidance of an administration that takes such pride in lost jobs, and we’ll be looking forward to next year’s installment in the “Budget and Economic Outlook” to find out.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Silver Linings

How bad was the jobs report released on Tuesday? So bad that the unemployment rate went down by a fraction, the stock markets went up by a percent, and Democrats openly admitted their disappointment.
None of these seemingly positive developments should be mistaken for good news, however, given the currently convoluted nature of the American economy. The unemployment rate dropped only because many thousands more Americans gave up any hope of ever finding a job and joined the record number of economic drop-outs. The stock markets surged only because the jobs report was so dismal that it will almost certainly force the Federal Reserve to continue the incessant money-printing that has fueled the deceptive rally. Even the grudging acknowledgements of failure from the Democrats offers little solace, as it’s all a set-up to blaming the “sequester” budget cuts and the temporary partial government shutdown and other Republican perfidy.
An increasingly anxious American public isn’t likely to be misled about the state of the economy by obviously obfuscated unemployment numbers or obviously overpriced stock markets, but there’s always a good chance that that it will buy the part about Republican perfidy. Both the “sequester” and the partial government shutdown had little effect on most Americans, and went entirely unnoticed by almost all of the significant number of blissfully ignorant folks who avoid reading or hearing the news, but there’s a nasty ring to both of them that can be easily exploited. Any fair-minded observer would concede that the Democrats share at least some of the blame for both the “sequester” and shutdown, and that the currently dismal numbers come long after the former and before the latter, but the fair-minded are an insignificant voting bloc these days. One could make a strong argument that Obamacare, other excessive regulations, higher tax rates, growing governmental debt, and the ever more apparent incompetence of a government that daily acquires ever more control of the country have more to do with the sluggish economy than a slight cut in misspending or paid vacations for nonessential government workers, but strong arguments are easily countered by caricatured villains.
Should the Democrats succeed in their blame game, there’s really no good news in the jobs report at all. There are 148,000 new jobs, and we’re glad for that tiny minority of newly-hired workers, but that number is lower than the already-puny annual average and doesn’t offset the exodus of former job-seekers from the work force. At a time when good news is actually bad news we try to remain hopeful that the bad news presages the good news that the people will at last become fed up and try to reverse course, but the people might just agree that what’s required is more of the same.

— Bud Norman

Budget Fuss

President Barack Obama at last presented his budget proposal on Wednesday, two months after the legally mandated deadline and late enough for the press to declare it “long-awaited,” and it proves an interesting document. It’s probably irrelevant, as none of Obama’s previous budget proposals have ever gained so much as single vote in Congress and this one looks likely to fare even worse, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
In its totality the budget proposal is typical of all of Obama’s past political efforts, with big tax hikes imposed mainly on the wealthy and some cuts taken from defense while increasing spending elsewhere, with no end to the massive amounts of the red ink in sight, but buried deep within are a few ideas that are pleasantly surprising, such as asking federal employees to contribute more to their pensions and health care as well as a sort of jargon-laden acknowledgement that some sort of entitlement reform is ultimately necessary. None of it comes close enough to fixing the nation’s soon-to-be-calamitous fiscal condition to win any the vote of any real Republican, but it’s more than enough than to infuriate the more noisome elements of Obama’s Democratic base, and sufficient for the president’s more ardent admirers in the press to deem it part of his “charm offense” and a move toward an admirably more pragmatic and less political approach.
Those pressmen are probably over-doing it a bit, as Obama is still insistent on tax hikes and deficit spending that are calculatedly unacceptable to the Republicans, and his tone when announcing the plan was still full of partisan punchiness. After hilariously arguing that his massive tax hikes are “a fiscally responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth,” Obama went on to blame his opposition for the supposed catastrophes of the “sequester” budgets cuts that were originally suggested by his staff. He even kept a straight face as he claimed that the currently robust recovery will continue “as long as Washington doesn’t get in the way.” Any real Republican believes that Obama’s tax hikes and deficit spending on ever-expanding regulations are precisely what’s getting in the way of a recovery more robust than the current 0.4 percent growth rate, of course, but Obama clearly remains uninterested in such crazy talk.
Such rhetorical red meat won’t satisfy the true believers in Obama’s party, however, given the heresies he has laid out in the budget proposal. Asking government workers to pay toward their pensions and health care at something approaching the rate of a private sector employee made Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the left’s most vilified figures in public life, and any attempt to prevent the imminent demise of any entitlement program is somehow regarded as a blasphemy against Franklin Roosevelt. Even such “baby steps,” as the venerable right-wing National Review approvingly dubs it, are enough to create a rift within his party and opening for the Republicans.
Obama has merely proposed an accounting change in the way Social Security benefits are dispersed, dryly dubbed “chained CPI,” but as the ads are already saying on local talk radio that translates to Social Security which will inevitably prove unpopular not only with staunch leftists but also with many older and more-prone-to-vote Americans. Opportunistic Republicans can run on their outraged opposition to throwing the old folks out on the street in the next election cycle, neatly flipping a traditional Democratic theme, while more principled Republicans can run on Rep. Paul Ryan’s House-approved plan that maintains the status quo for the over-55 crowd while offering the next generations more free-market options as an appealing replacement to the entitlement systems, and in either case they could do well.
If Obama is being the shrewd politician that the press portrays, it is hard to see how his plan will benefit his party. Perhaps he’s reacting responsibly to the economic and fiscal realities that he confronts, in his own half-hearted and characteristically partisan and ideological way, but c’mon.

— Bud Norman

Getting Richer By Comparison

There is a certain perverse satisfaction, it must be confessed, in reading about the financial difficulties of the formerly rich and still famous. On a surprisingly regular basis we come across reports of some absurdly well-remunerated athlete or entertainer heading to bankruptcy court with liabilities exceeding assets by so many millions of dollars, and it always makes our penurious state seem more tolerable to know that at least we’re better off than that poor schmuck by so many millions of dollars. Over on the business pages we will often find consolation that our financial position is healthier by billions of dollars than that of iconic corporations, or some large cities, and we sometimes get the impression that we’re wealthier than the entire airline industry.
Not one of these stories has ever produced such an overpowering sense of schadenfreude, however, as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee recently admitting that “We’re in the red.”
The always-entertaining Debbie Wasserman Schultz made the admission in a recent fund-raising e-mail, telling her party’s ever-loyal donors that “The cardinal sin in campaigns is to sit on money — which is why we spent every last penny we had in 2012 (and then some) to make sure the election went our way.” Without specifying how much “then some” is, Wasserman Schultz explains that a failure to go into debt might have resulted in a President Mitt Ryan, Vice President Paul Ryan, and Rep. Allen West, as if these nightmarish outcomes would justify any profligacy. Democrats are notoriously susceptible to the argument that only massive debt can ward off all sorts of catastrophes, so Wasserman Schultz’s frank confession of party’s fiscal irresponsibility probably makes for an effective fund-raising appeal, but she might not realize how much it warms a Republican heart. After all the whining about the insidious influence of corporate money on the elections, and all the pining for the federally-funded election schemes that Barack Obama threw away to win his races, it’s refreshing to hear the Democrats boast about how they won by out-spending the opposition on borrowed money.
In a related development, Wasserman Schultz was also reassuring her party’s faithful that future fund-raising and fund-borrowing efforts won’t be hampered by the formidable competition of Obama’s very own Organizing for Action organization, which is basically his re-election campaign going on forever. Other Democratic poobahs are less sanguine about it, with one DNC member telling the McClatchy syndicate that “There’s only so much money to go around in Democratic circles,” but one wonders about the party bona-fides of anyone who doubts the infinite nature of money.
In what has to be considered a completely unrelated development, the president has reportedly proclaimed April as the month to “teach young people” how to “budget responsibly.” The story went on April Fool’s Day, so at first we were skeptical its veracity, but the White House web site with the proclamation of “National Financial Capability Month” sure looks official. At the very least it looks expensive.

— Bud Norman

Fiscal Health, Mental Health

At least one side of the great federal budget debate has clearly gone stark raving mad. It might be us, a possibility one should always acknowledge, but we’re pretty sure it’s the Democrats.
Back in the dark days of the Bush administration the Democrats would become downright apoplectic about the half-trillion dollar deficits that the Republicans were racking up, with Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama going so far as to call it “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic,” but ever since they’ve been noticeably more insouciant about the trillion-dollar-plus deficits that have annually accrued. Lip service would still paid to notions of fiscal responsibility, always accompanied by a principled insistence on a “balanced” approach of mythical spending cuts and actual tax hikes, but without the same sense of urgency. There was reason to suspect that the Democrats believed the national debt wasn’t much of a problem at all, and wouldn’t be at almost any amount, but because they had simply dispensed with the budget process altogether it was never necessary for them to come right out and say so.
Democrats in the Senate have lately felt compelled to offer a detailed budget proposal for the first time in four years, however, and the document is jarringly candid even if the claims being made for it by the authors are not. The Democrats’ plan would never a balance any budget for the next 10 years, increase spending by 62 percent over that time, and add another $7 trillion to the national debt even as it raises taxes by $1.5 trillion. Those eye-popping numbers are almost certainly over-optimistic, too, as they are based on an assumption the nation’s gross domestic product will expand from 3.8 percent to 6.6 percent every year for a decade. Such robust growth exceeds the average performance of the American economy, and seems especially unlikely when another 62 percent of regulatory bureaucracy is added to the private sector and another $1.5 trillion is sucked out. Some Democratic Senators have been touting the budget’s spending cuts, which are mostly of the phony-baloney Washington accounting variety, but their own documents show they are fare outpaced by the added spending.
The president hasn’t yet submitted his budget proposal, being far too busy with international crises and golf to have met the legally-mandated February deadline, but that is of little matter considering that none of his previous budget proposals have yet to win a single vote in either chamber of Congress. Those past Obama budgets all included seas of red ink, and an interview with the ABC newsman George Stephanopolous the president signaled that the next one would do the same. Obama that “My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we are going to be bringing in more revenue,” and the reliably friendly former Clinton staffer did not challenge the point. He might have noted that financial solvency is not something that is desired merely for its own sake, or asked how higher taxes and further government intrusion into the private sector is going to grow the economy and put people back to work, or why anyone should believe that the government wouldn’t spend beyond any additional revenue even if it did occur, but such questions never seem to occur to Democrats.
Obama warned that “We’re not gonna balance the budget in ten years” because the Republican plan to do so proposed Rep. Paul Ryan includes such horrors as medical vouchers for seniors and a tax hike on the middle class. The vouchers are only horrible because they offer citizens a choice, and the middle class tax hikes aren’t in the Ryan plan at all, but Obama nonetheless echoes the constant Democratic chorus that the Republican’s budget is a demented documented favored only by the most extreme right-wing radicals. To hear the Democrats and their media allies tell it, the Ryan would unleash such horrors on the poor and downtrodden that not even Charles Dickens could do them justice. Others are aghast that Ryan would even be so rude as to propose anything, given that he was on a losing presidential ticket and that the country clearly chose another decade or so massive borrowing.
Extreme right-wing radicals such as ourselves find Ryan’s budget a rather modest proposal, however, and are grousing for far sterner stuff. The plan includes such attractive features as a repeal of the budget-busting, job-killing bureaucratic nightmare that is Obamacare, but it also continues the recent Obama tax hike on the rich, takes ten years to reach a balance budget without making a debt in the existing debt, and despite its supposedly draconian cuts allows for 3 percent annual growth in federal spending. A more thorough downsizing of the federal behemoth would be much preferred, but at least the Ryan plan acknowledges the reality that the government needs remain financially solvent for than “it’s own sake.”
On the other hand, maybe a government can just borrow another trillion dollars every nine months for ever and ever. Perhaps governmental micro-management will produce an economic boom for the first time in history, and the Democratic politicians elected by a grateful public won’t spend all the money that comes in and then borrow even more. Maybe we should rack up some debt of our own, and not worry about avoiding bankruptcy merely for its own sake. It’s possible that we’re being crazy to try and stay in the black, but we doubt it.

— Bud Norman

Crying for Argentina

The Catholic church on Wednesday chose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as its new leader, henceforth to be known as Pope Francis, and one immediate consequence is that San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili is no longer the world’s most famous Argentine. The 76-year-old pope probably can’t drive the lane with the same acrobatic derring-do as his celebrated countryman, especially in those long robes favored by the Catholic clergy, but we’re sure he’ll bring other valuable skills to the job and we wish him well.
With Argentina enjoying a rare moment in the international news, it seems a good time to take note of a few other stories emanating from that troubled and often overlooked land.
One is the nation’s recent decision to stiff American bond holders out of about $1.3 billion of sovereign debt. A United States court has ordered the Argentine government to pony up the money, but its lawyer told the panel of judges last month that it doesn’t much care what a United States courts says. The move has left international financial markets worried about the possibility of a massive government default, which would be the heavily-indebted country’s second in the past 11 years, but the Argentine government is also unconcerned with the financial markets have to say.
Nor is the government concerned with the opinions of the Spaniards, who are vigorously protesting the Argentine government’s recent nationalization of the Spanish oil company YPF. Argentina paid a bargain basement price of no money at all for the company, which is the largest business in the country, and plans to run it as a state-owned corporation. Given the government’s notorious record of inefficiently running its many state-owned corporations, one can expect that the oil company will soon be worth what the country paid for it.
In a related development, the Argentine economy is in a shambles. The country has boasted of some impressive increases in its gross domestic product the past several years, mostly on the strength of rising commodity prices, but no one really believes the government’s boasts. Particularly dubious is the government’s claim of a 10 percent annual inflation rate, which sounds awful enough but is well below the 26 percent that more objective observers are reporting. The International Monetary Fund has grown impatient with the government’s statistical legerdemain and threatened to expel Argentina, but once again the Argentines don’t seem to care.
Firmly in charge of all this mess is President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a more comely version of the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. The widow of a past president and the current heir to the party of Juan and Eva Peron, which is somehow the only explicitly fascist party in the world that still enjoys the approval of the international left, Kirchner has cracked down on political dissent and anyone who questions the government’s economic statistics. Like all Latin American leftists she has also clashed with the Catholic church, which has an annoying habit of insisting that government is not the highest power over individuals, as she has sought to make contraception a universal entitlement and legalized same-sex marriages.
All of which might explain why the Obama administration has been taking such a painstakingly neutral stance on Kirchner’s saber-rattling threats to take the Falkland Islands away from the British. The tiny specks of land off the Argentine coast have been under British rule for 180 years, are almost entirely populated by English-speaking people of British descent, and by a landslide margin of 1,518 to three the country recently voted to remain a part of the British empire. These facts and a “special relationship” with Britain were sufficient for the Reagan administration to offer all its help to Margaret Thatcher when she had to tack the islands back from the Argentines in 1982, but the Obama administration has been so careful not to back Britain that in its statements of neutrality refers to the territory by its Argentine name. This has not played well in Britain, but neither Obama nor Kirchner cares about that, and any debt-ridden, numbers-fudging, dissent-quashing government that wants the Catholic church to help dispense birth control is unlikely to take a strong stand against another.
The new pope was reportedly a staunch critic of Kirchner during his years as Argentina’s bishop, which bodes well for his papacy. If he can drain the occasional three-pointer, he might go down in history as one of Argentina’s greatest men.

— Bud Norman