Sunday, September 29, 2013

Liberty Amendments vs. Localist Solutions on Spending

A friend of mine asked me to read "The Liberty Amendments" by radio talk show host Mark Levin.   I was dreading it, but I complied.   I still cringe as I read it, because it seems like such snake-oil, but there is an upside too.   The answers presented in "Localism, A Philosophy of Government" are so much more elegant and make so much more sense that it should serve as encouragement to localists everywhere.  I mean, if that is an example of what the "best" competing ideas there are out there look like, then it just confirms that we are on the right track with localism.

That's just my opinion though.  What matters to you is your opinion, not mine.   So I'd like to compare examples of the two approaches so you can decide for yourself.    I already did that with an article comparing Levin's answers vs. the Localist answers on the subject of how to curb an over-reaching federal judiciary.  

Regarding spending, Levin suggests an amendment limiting federal expenditures to 17.5% of GDP, with an across-the-board cut of 5% every year Congress fails to authorize a budget.  Congress has not authorized a budget in years, they have been operating off of "continuing resolutions".   In addition, it attempts to impose a balanced budget.    It would require a three-fifths majority vote in Congress to suspend any of these restrictions.

Two things come to mind right away.  One is that restricting Congress to spending 17.5% of a number that they get to make up is no restriction at all.   Few believe their unemployment numbers, less believe their inflation numbers, why in the world would one expect them to reliably report a number which limits their spending?   They get to decide how long their own leash is.

But this blunt-instrument approach to the problem does nothing at all to fix a system which rewards politicians who "bring home the bacon".   It does nothing to open up our election system and get better people into office.    A requirement that three-fifths go along with increases in debt or spending will not be that much harder to attain than the present 2.5 fifths plus one vote, because that is the kind of people we have in our system.

Giving shysters, sociopaths, and assorted other low-lifes better instructions does not cause them to behave better. The real problem we have to address is how to get better people in office, not creating laws so perfect that even scoundrels will be made to behave. Scoundrels don't care what's written down on paper. When the problem is that they ignore the limits placed on them in the current constitution, placing more limits on them in that constitution cannot be the solution.  We need to focus on changing the rules so as to make these people easier to replace, not give them better rules to follow.

Localism proposes eliminating the "First past the post" method of electing winners so that people will be free to vote their conscience without fear of "splitting the vote."   Parties would be institutionally separate in each state, and most corporate and out of state campaign contributions would be banned.  These changes would permit the swift rise of other groups if the two traditional parties did not better respond to the desires of the grass roots.    The intent of these rules is to have political parties answer to the people of their own state, not be cogs in a vast machine ultimately funded by global corporations.   

I have seen people struggle all of their adult lives trying to "take back" a national political party.  Now they are old and gray and they are further from their goal than ever before.  The parties at the national level don't serve the people as individuals, but rather are a form of collectivism.   Parties are not mentioned in our constitution, but they have become the means by which men are elected who have eviscerated it.  

Levin does not even address the issue of how to make political parties more answerable to the citizens, rather than taking on a life of their own whereby they even agree on many issues, leaving citizens no effective choice on those issues.   He does not address how to get better people in office (other than a term limits amendment that is indiscriminate in operation and which has proved of limited usefulness in states where it has been implemented). He is only thinking of how to lay down enough rules to turn scoundrels into decent men.

The fundamental problem is that each Congressman has every incentive to rob a Peter who can't stop him in order to pay a Paul who can help them.   They go other places to find money to pay their places.  The primary "other place" they go to these days is the future.   These swindlers use debt to buy your vote with your children's money.   The solution here is not to marginally raise the number of congressmen needed to pull off such a crime, but rather to deny the federal government any power to contract debt whatsoever.     

In a localist society, the national government cannot borrow money.  They would have to go hat-in-hand to the states to ask them to issue debt or provide aid on their behalf.    If they wanted to borrow one trillion dollars, they would have to ask each state to borrow or provide their share of the money and give it to the federal government.  Each state would be able to issue bonds, but the feds would not.  

Are you thinking that this would make it almost impossible for the national government to borrow money unless there was a major war or other legitimate national emergency?  I think that's kind of the idea.  It completely reverses the current dynamic, where the feds borrow money against future taxpayers and give some of it to the states.   As it stands now, state governments are all for such a scam, because they use the money to buy love, and the next generation is not around to defend itself from such looting.   State governments are all too happy with the feds borrowing money in order to give some of it to the states.   They will be far less enthusiastic to borrow on their own account in order to give it to the feds.

The same thing goes with taxed money.  Each congressman wants taxes raised in other states to be spent in their states.  Its the old "if you are paying, I will have the filet mignon" idea.    The only solution is to have everyone pay their own tab as much as possible.  Suddenly, everyone can make do with the chicken salad!   In localism, the feds are only allowed to spend money on a few listed items (like our constitution does now, but its ignored because they have so much power in other areas they can get away with ignoring it).   Even military spending is split up as each state maintains its own ground forces.   Not only will this tamp down on excess military spending, but it will make it a lot harder to sustain unpopular foreign interventions.   The judicial reforms in localism will help ensure that federal employees (the Supreme Court) don't slowly expand the power of their employers over time.  Perhaps most importantly, the power to create money is denied them as well, since history shows that governments consistently abuse this power over time in order to keep spending.

Leven is trying to find a way to keep the Leviathan state, the global empire, while somehow protecting the citizens from the financial consequences of such.   It can't be done.   You have to set things up so that there can be no leviathan, not find chains enough to shackle the monster.

I was also amazed that Levin did not address the Federal Reserve in his amendments.  Oh, he made a brief mention about how they enabled big government, but they get a complete pass in his amendments.   Without addressing the issue of money, the amendments he suggests are all but meaningless.   Bad men find ways to get around good words anyway, but without restrictions on the creation of fiat money, the way is obvious.    The federal government can simply print all the money they want, paid for by the hidden tax of inflation, to grow their operations.   

Localism is a more serious answer because it addresses the issue of government abuse of money.   History has shown that governments consistently abuse their power to create money over time.   I don't want to open a whole new subject, but until you can stop government from debauching the currency you cannot stop government over-spending.  Localism deals with this important matter extensively, Levin just skits it.  

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