Month: March 2004

I’ll Never Understand the Insanity Defense

Headline at FoxNews.com:


Mom Describes Stoning Sons on Tape

Psychiatrist says woman delusional when she killed sons with rocks

It’s impossible to know a person’s “state of mind” at the time he or she committed a crime. It follows that “innocent by reason of insanity” is — pun intended — an insane verdict.

And so what if a person was “insane” at the time he or she committed a crime? A crime was committed and, therefore, someone must be “guilty” of it. If not the “insane” person, then who, Harvey the Rabbit?

Why Outsourcing Is Good: A Simple Lesson for Liberal Yuppies

You work in Manhattan, at the headquarters of a company whose product is sold throughout the U.S. and overseas. You live in Connecticut and commute to Manhattan by train. You drive to and from the train station in an SUV that was assembled in Tennessee.

Shazam! Outsourcing is outlawed. You can’t buy a new SUV unless it’s assembled in Connecticut and all its parts are made in Connecticut of raw materials that are native to Connecticut.

Wait, it gets worse. You can’t work for a Manhattan-based firm if you live in Connecticut. Only Manhattanites need apply. The good news is that you won’t need an SUV if you live in Manhattan. The bad news is that you can’t afford to live in Manhattan. The good news is that you wouldn’t want to live there anyway, because the only raw materials native to Manhattan are smog and smut.

A Few (Strange) Ideas About the Election

Suppose the presidential election were to end in a tie (269 electoral votes for Bush, the same for Kerry). The election would then go to the House of Representatives, where Bush would win the required majority of States. Would Kerry take the election to the Supreme Court, claiming that the House had “thwarted the will of the people”? Perhaps he could claim that the votes of the Southern States didn’t count because they had seceded from the Union.

An idea that seemed good two weeks ago is good no longer. Some thought that Bush should or would drop Cheney and put Condi Rice on the ticket. Now Condi is somewhat tarnished by her run-in with Dick (tells-two-tales) Clarke. So where should Bush turn for a “sexy” VP candidate? How about Jodie Foster, who’s rumored to be a Republican.

Will the election again come down to a “long count” in Florida? Why not? I’m confident that the voters of Florida can screw up any kind of ballot: paper, punch card, touch-screen, or whatever. Then the mind readers will again try to interpret “the will of the people.” Perhaps this time the Supreme Court will call a halt to the mind-reading for the right reason: Every voter has one opportunity to cast a ballot that reflects his will. That’s it. Try again next election.

By election day Bush will have slid so far to the left and Kerry so far to the right that they will differ only with respect to the war in Iraq. Bush will say it was necessary. Kerry will say that it was necessary but inadvisable without the support of the UN. Thus the election will be a referendum on the UN. That bodes well for Bush.

Presidential Election Patterns: Implications for 2004

Presidential elections seem to follow patterns. Let’s begin with one-term presidencies:

J Adams 1797-1801 (following Washington’s two terms)

JQ Adams 1825-29 (following Monroe’s two)

Van Buren 1837-41 (following Jackson’s two)

WH Harrison-Tyler 1841-45 (following Van Buren’s one)

Polk 1845-49 (following Harrison-Tyler’s one)

Taylor-Fillmore 1849-53 (following Polk’s one)

Pierce 1853-57 (following Taylor-Fillmore’s one)

Buchanan 1857-61 (following Pierce’s one)

Hayes 1877-81 (following Grant’s two)

B Harrison 1889-1893 (sandwiched between Cleveland’s two)

Taft 1909-13 (following TR’s almost-two)

Hoover 1929-33 (following Coolidge’s almost-two)

Carter 1977-81 (following Nixon-Ford’s two)

Bush I 1989-93 (following Reagan’s two)

Except for the string of one-term presidencies from 1837 to 1861 — when the country was truly deeply divided and about to go to war with itself — the other one-termers (but for B Harrison) followed two-termers. A two-term president, having been popular enough to win the second term, is a tough act to follow. (The exception here is Ford, who was only a fill-in for the reviled, second-term Nixon.)

There have been successive two-term presidencies, but they have come in two well-defined clusters. From 1801 to 1825, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe each held office for two terms. Then there was a gap of almost 100 years before another — almost unbroken — string of two-term presidencies, which ran from 1913 to 1977: Wilson (1913-21) followed by Harding-Coolidge (1921-29), then Roosevelt-Truman (1933-53) followed by Eisenhower (1953-61), followed by Kennedy-Johnson (1961-69), followed by Nixon-Ford (1969-77).

If, since 1977, we have reverted to something like a “normal” succession cycle — a two-term presidency, followed by a one-term presidency, followed by a two-term presidency, etc. — GW Bush supporters will not be happy come November 3.

Alternatively, because the country is again deeply divided — if not on the verge of civil war — we may be facing a new succession of one-term presidencies. That, too, would be bad news for Bush-ites.

I Hate to Say It…

…but some families of 9/11 victims are sounding like typical liberal whiners. Why didn’t the government prevent the attack? Who’s to blame?

Well, the government that can’t prevent you from dying of old age is the same government that can’t protect you from every possible peril in the universe. When did government become our omniscient, omnipresent guardian angel?

But the whiners don’t get it. They can’t accept the hard fact that stuff happens. In this case, a brutally horrific act that was years in the planning by evil men who took advantage of the broad freedom of movement and action the U.S. grants to those within its borders, even non-citizens.

Who to blame? The answer is obvious, but the whiners can’t — or won’t — grasp it. The blame lies with al Qaeda, its allies, and its supporters.

Ten-Plus Commandments of Liberalism, er, Progressivism

I. Free speech is for everyone but those whose views I don’t like.

II. There should be no restraints on personal behavior, except for smoking. (Corollary: People should be forced to save energy, but you can’t take away my SUV.)

III. Death to tyrants, unless they tyrannize in the Middle East or Cuba.

IV. Terrorism is bad, defending against terrorism is worse. Someone might get hurt.

V. Corporations and profits are bad, but I love the things I can buy because corporations are motivated to make profits. (Corollary: Let’s stop “exporting” jobs, but let’s keep importing Guccis and Manolo Blahnicks.)

VI. Health care in the U.S. is terrible, but I can’t name another country where it’s better.

VII. People shouldn’t be forced to act against their own interests, but they should be forced to make bad investments, like participating in Social Security and Medicare.

VIII. The U.S. stinks, that’s why so many people freely choose to move here. (Corollary: And that’s why I live here even though I said I’d leave the country if Bush were elected.)

IX. Sexual harassment and lying under oath are bad, except when the lying harasser is a Democrat president. (Corollary: Jefferson was bad because he owned slaves and was therefore a hypocrite about freedom; Clinton wasn’t bad even though he was a hypocrite about seeing to the faithful execution of the laws.)

X. War is bad, although I have nothing against the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War II. (Corollary: Iraq is just like Vietnam, except that we won the war, deposed the tyrant, and are rebuilding the vanquished nation — having lost 99% fewer American lives in the process.)

XI. Libertarians and conservatives are mean-spirited because, unlike me, they don’t want to use the coercive power of the state to subsidize my favorite social programs. (General rule: Recourse to the coercive power of the state is good when it’s for “progressive” values, bad when it’s for conservative values.)

XII. It’s wrong to tell people how to live their lives, but urban sprawl is so ugly that we really ought to make people live closer to urban centers (where they can afford one one-fourth as much housing). (Corollary: See Commandment II.)

XIII. Christian conservatives want to impose their values on the rest of us. (Ha. Unlike fascists, communists, socialists, and “progressives.”)

XIV. Capital punishment is bad; abortion is good. (Conservative version: Capital punishment is good; abortion is bad.)

XV. Taxes are the price we pay for (my “progressive” version of) civilization.

Some Management Tips

Are you a CEO or senior manager in a corporate bureaucracy? Want to know how you stack up against your peers? Select your personal management traits from the following list, then tally your score and check it against the scale at the end of the list.

1. Flaunt the privileges of rank: Spend on frills and perks even as you’re down-sizing.

2. Flout the rules you expect others to obey.

3. Put off hard decisions as long as possible so that rumors can grow wildly on the grapevine.

4. Pepper your staff with meaningless projects and pointless questions — hire consultants to give you the “straight scoop.”

5. Hire outsiders for senior management positions and create make-work jobs for your cronies.

6. Keep your door open to whiners and let them second-guess your managers’ decisions.

7. Promise vision but deliver pap.

8. Talk teamwork but don’t let anyone in on your game plan — keep ’em all guessing.

9. Talk empowerment but micro-manage.

10. Keep your board in the dark, except when you turn on the rosy spotlights.

Score of 0: You lie to yourself all the time; see a psychiatrist.

Score of 1-3: You sleep a lot during the day; see a physician.

Score of 4-6: You’re a normal boss, which isn’t necessarily good news.

Score of 7-9: You could give Donald Trump a run for his money.

Score of 10: So you’re the model for Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss!

What Would We Do Without Experts?

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of references to “some experts” in my local (left-leaning) daily newspaper. Today I saw a similar reference in the lede of an online New York Times article (“Where Does the Buck Stop? Not Here”):


Accepting responsibility is an essential part of everyday life, something every parent and child, every boss and worker, every friend and colleague wrestle with, or know they should. But for a president it is quite rare, and at least in the view of some historians and government experts, getting rarer, as a national culture of shifting blame permeates American politics.

The article, of course, goes on to berate President Bush for failing to accept responsibility for 9/11 in the same theatrically obsequious manner as did former “anti-terrorism czar” Dick Clarke. (Clinton is ripped, as well, but he’s not running for re-election, is he?) Two “experts” are cited by name: David (a man for all administrations) Gergen and Michael Beschloss (the groupies’ historian). I guess two experts equals “some experts.”

So it seems that the NYT and its ilk on the left have found a new, cheap, journalistic trick. Quote a few pseudo-experts who have an opinion on a subject — an opinion that conforms to the paper’s opinion, of course — and refer to them as “some experts” in the headline or lede of a slanted story. And don’t bother to cite anyone with an opposing opinion. They don’t report, they decide.

Ranking the Presidents

They’re at it again, this time at Opinion Journal. Here are the rankings, with my commentary:

GREAT

1 George Washington. First in war, first in peace, always first in the rankings.

2 Abraham Lincoln. Still the tallest of the lot. Someday a president may stand taller physically (pray it’s not Kerry), but none will ever stand taller morally.

3 Franklin D. Roosevelt. He had the good “luck” to inherit a depression and stumble into a popular war. If he had been president in a different era he would have been considered a philandering failure.

NEAR GREAT

4 Thomas Jefferson. His greatness cannot be negated by historical revisionism.

5 Theodore Roosevelt. A hyperactive nut-case with good press.

6 Andrew Jackson. Another nut-case, with bad hair.

7 Harry S Truman. The right man in the right place at the right time.

8 Ronald W. Reagan. He ended the cold war, licked inflation, set the stage for the boom of the 1990s, and made anti-government rhetoric respectable. But that’s not enough for some people.

9 Dwight D. Eisenhower. The most cunning of the lot. His decade looks better all the time.

10 James K. Polk. Who? What?

11 Woodrow Wilson. The first of the pointy-headed ineffectuals to hold the job. Maybe he’d have done better if he’d kept his first name (Thomas).

ABOVE AVERAGE

12 Grover Cleveland. Great name and one of the last small-government Democrats. Would we remember him at all if he went by his first name (Stephen)?

13 John Adams. Belongs with Truman in the greatest crotchety president category.

14 William McKinley. Too bad he was shot while TR was his vice president.

15 James Madison. Sold “short”?

16 James Monroe. Excellent doctrine. Too bad JFK didn’t adhere to it.

17 Lyndon B. Johnson. Terrible foreign policy, terrible domestic policy, other than that, who’s complaining?

18 John F. Kennedy. Spent most of his time in bed (sick or with mistresses), so how can he be ranked?

AVERAGE

19 William Howard Taft. Best of the super heavyweights.

20 John Quincy Adams. Better in Congress than in the presidency.

21 George H. W. Bush. Stopped short of deposing Saddam, raised taxes, lost to Clinton. A three-time loser. But he leads the pack in names.

22 Rutherford B. Hayes. Replaced Grant’s bourbon with lemonade. Boo.

23 Martin Van Buren. The original Who? What?

24 William J(efferson) Clinton. Belongs with Nixon. Doesn’t deserve his middle name.

25 Calvin Coolidge. Most under-rated by far. He knew exactly how to be president: Keep your hands off the economy and out of taxpayers’ pockets. Another one who dropped his first name (John).

26 Chester A. Arthur. Another Who? What?

BELOW AVERAGE

27 Benjamin Harrison. Ditto to Arthur.

28 Gerald R. Ford. And double ditto. Could have been worse, though, he was born Leslie King Jr.

29 Herbert C. Hoover. FDR without the oratory.

30 James Earl (just call me Jimmy) Carter. Ford would have been better, which isn’t saying much.

31 Zachary Taylor. Yet another Who? What? The 19th century was replete with them.

32 Ulysses S. Grant. Bourbon drinkers can’t be all bad.

33 Richard M. Nixon. He and Clinton belong in a separate sleaze category.

34 John Tyler. Fathered the most children, and not even Catholic.

35 Millard Fillmore. I don’t “Know-Nothing” about him.

FAILURE

36 Andrew Johnson. Had the bad luck to succeed Lincoln and be a drunk, to boot.

37 Franklin Pierce. Another drinking president — seems like a trend.

38 Warren Gamaliel Harding. Who really killed WGH? Maybe he should have gone by his middle name, like Cleveland, Wilson, and Coolidge.

39 James Buchanan. Lincoln’s stepping-stone to immortality. Ranked last because he failed to prevent an unpreventable war. LBJ, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton were worse.

Left-Wingers Dominate the Blogosphere

A significant sample of bloggers (411 to date) has taken the “Political Compass Test” and posted the results here. Despite complaints voiced there about the ambiguity of the test questions, the results are probably a good approximation of the political views of the test-takers (my result seemed right to me).

The chart near the top of the page tells the tale. Most bloggers who posted their results are in the lower left quadrant: strong on personal liberty and strong on government intervention in the economy. The authors of the test characterize that quadrant as “libertarian left” — the ultimate oxymoron. But down the page they more accurately label adherence to the economic left as “Communism (Collectivism)”.

Thus, it seems that the blogosphere is dominated by the self-indulgent and irresponsible (social “libertarian” collectivists). Just like the real world.

"Your government failed you"

So says Richard Clarke, former “anti-terrorism czar” at the White House. Truer words were never spoken. Government fails all the time. What’s amazing is that most people continue to look to government for “solutions” to “problems” that are really their own to solve (e.g., saving enough for retirement).

Government officials and employees aren’t — “West Wing” to the contrary — smarter, more competent, or more honest than other people. In my considerable experience they’re about as dumb, incompetent, and dishonest as the populace at large. Their dumbness and incompetence are leveraged into greater dumbness and incompetence by the gross size and rigidity of government bureaucracy, which has the reflexes of a day-old infant. Their dishonesty (at all levels, not just at the top) makes them even more dangerous to our well-being because government officials are rarely held accountable for their misdeeds.

Government-lovers will say: “Well, government does this or that, so how can you say government is incompentent.” I don’t say that government is always incompetent — though it often is — only that it is generally less competent than the private sector.

There are a few tasks that only government should undertake, national defense being one. But don’t expect even those few tasks to be done with consistent competence. The Union won the Civil War — despite poor generalship and many lost battles — because it had superior technology. That — not great competence — is why we will eventually win the war on terror.

Fact-Finding Commissions

When’s the last time a fact-finding commission actually found a useful fact? There’s always plenty of fault-finding, and sometimes facts emerge from all the “he said-she said-they said-we said” testimony. But what about facts that might actually help to prevent a future disaster?

I can recall only Richard Feynman’s discovery of O-ring failure as the cause of the Challenger disaster in 1986. But finding that fact didn’t prevent the loss of Columbia 17 years later.

Finding useful facts becomes even more problematic in the exponentially more complex world of human behavior. Our understanding, such as it was, of the causes of Pearl Harbor didn’t prevent 9/11. Our understanding of 9/11 will not prevent future terrorist attacks within the U.S.

But the headline writers and pundits are having a field day, so the game must go on.

Diversity

Segregation thrives, but it is voluntary segregation based on income and culture. Nothing wrong with that.

Diversity — a code word for forced integration — is a liberal pipe dream. How many well-off, well-educated liberals (including members of Congress and academe) choose to live in “diverse” neighborhoods?

Favorite Posts: Affirmative Action and Race

Rich Liberal Hypocrites

What do Senators Clinton, Corzine, Edwards, Kennedy, Kerry, Lautenberg, and Rockefeller have in common, other than their membership in the Democrat Party? They, like most of their fellow Democrats in Congress, want the rest of us to pay higher taxes to fund their favorite giveaway programs. They also possess great wealth. A little tax hike wouldn’t bother them, so why should it bother the rest of us?

The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract

Contracts come in many forms and serve many purposes. They may be as informal and ephemeral as the understanding between barber and customer that the barber will cut the customer’s hair and the customer will pay the barber a certain amount of money for the haircut. They may be as solemn and hopefully eternal as marriage vows.

In the public realm there is no more solemn contract than the Constitution of the United States. But the great national crises of the Twentieth Century — especially the Depression and World War II — fostered the habit of giving illegitimate power to the federal government. Thus the constitutional contract and the pillars of the Constitution — the States and citizenry — have been undermined.

The immense, illegitimate power that has accrued to the federal government cannot be found in the Constitution. It arises from the cumulative effect of generations of laws, regulations, and court rulings — each ostensibly well-meant by its perpetrators.

The habit of recourse to the federal government has become a destructive cycle of dependency. Elected representatives and non-elected elites have vested unwarranted power in the federal government to deal with problems “we” face — problems the federal government cannot, for the most part, begin to solve and which it demonstrably fails to solve many more times than not. The conditioned response to failure has been to cede more power (and money) to the federal government in the false hope that the next increment will get the job done.

There has been much bold talk in recent times about making the federal government smaller and devolving federal power to the States. The bottom line is that the executive branch still regulates beyond its constitutional license, Congress still passes laws that give unwarranted power to the federal government, and federal spending still consumes about the same fraction of economic output that it did two decades ago.

To break out of this cycle of addiction, we must restore the constitutional contract and thus enable the States and citizens — especially citizens — to realize their economic, social, and spiritual potential.

The Constitutional Contract, Its Reach, and Its Principles

The Constitution is a contract between the States. In it, the States cede certain powers to a government of the united States, created by the States on behalf of the States and their citizens. Thus, for example, in Section 10 of Article I, the States voluntarily deny themselves certain powers that in Section 9 they vest in Congress — creation of money, regulation of trade among the States and between the States and other nations, conduct of foreign relations, and conduct of war.

The Preamble lists the States’ reasons for entering into the constitutional contract, which are “…to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity….” These are ends desired, not outcomes promised.

To further these ends, the Constitution establishes a government of the united States, and authorizes it to enact, execute, and adjudicate laws within a delimited sphere of authority. The Constitution not only delimits the federal government’s authority but also diffuses it by dividing it among the federal government’s legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

The Framers knew what we are now only re-learning: A government is a power-hungry beast — even a representative government. More power in the hands of government means less power for individuals. Individuals are better off when they control their own lives than when government, directly or indirectly, controls their lives for them.

Thus the limited scope of the constitutional contract provides for:

• primacy of the federal Constitution and of constitutional laws over those of the States (This primacy applies only within the limited sphere of authority that the Constitution grants to the federal government. The federal government is not, and was not intended to be, a national government that supersedes the States.)

• collective obligations of the States, as the united States, and individual obligations of the States to each other

• structure of the federal government — the three branches, elections and appointments to their offices, and basic legislative procedures

• powers of the three branches

• division of powers between the States and federal government

• rights and privileges of citizens

• a process for amending the Constitution.

The principles embodied in the details of the contract are few and simple:

• The Constitution and constitutional laws are the supreme law of the land, within the clearly delimited scope of the Constitution.

• The federal government has no powers other than those provided by the Constitution.

• The rights of citizens include not only those rights specified in the Constitution but also any unspecified rights that do not conflict with powers expressly granted the federal government or reserved by the States in the creation of the federal government.

The Limits of Federal Power

The Constitution may be the “supreme law of the land” (Article VI), but as the ardent federalist Alexander Hamilton explained, the Constitution “expressly confines this supremacy to laws made pursuant to the Constitution…[Federalist number 33].”

Thus the authority of the federal government — the government formed by the united States — enables the States to pursue common objectives. But that authority is limited so that it does not usurp the authority of States or the rights of citizens.

Moreover, the “checks and balances” in the Constitution limit the federal government’s ability to act, even within its sphere of authority. In the legislative branch neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate can pass a law unilaterally. In his sole constitutional role — as head of the executive branch — the President of the United States must, with specified exceptions, sign acts of Congress before they become law, and may veto acts of Congress — which may, in turn, override his vetoes. From its position atop the judicial branch, the Supreme Court is supposed to decide cases “arising under” (within the scope of) the Constitution, not to change the Constitution without benefit of convention or amendment.

The Constitution itself defines the sphere of authority of the federal government and balances that authority against the authority of the States and the rights of citizens. Although the Constitution specifies certain powers of the federal executive and judiciary (e.g., commanding the armed forces and judging cases arising under the Constitution), federal power rests squarely and solely upon the legislative authority of Congress, as defined in Article I, Sections 8, 9, and 10. The intentionally limited scope of federal authority is underscored by Amendments IX and X; to repeat:


The rights of citizens include not only those rights specified in the Constitution but also any unspecified rights that do not conflict with powers expressly granted the federal government or reserved by the States in the creation of the federal government.

The Rise of Unconstitutional Laws and Regulations

The generations of laws and regulations that have seized the powers and rights of States and citizens are, to put it plainly, unconstitutional. Most such laws and regulations seem to rest on these foundations:

• the phrase “promote the general welfare” in the Preamble. This was a desired result of the adoption of the Constitution, not an edict to redistribute income and wealth.

• the power of Congress “to regulate commerce…among the several states [Article I, Section 8].” This power was meant to prevent the States from restricting or distorting the terms of trade across their borders, not to enable the federal government to dictate what is traded, how it is made, or how businesses operate.

• the authority of Congress “[t]o make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof [Article I, Section 8].” The words “necessary and proper” have been wrenched out of their context and used to turn the meaning of this clause upside down. It was meant to limit Congress to the enactment of constitutional legislation, not to give it unlimited legislative authority.

• the “equal protection” clause of Amendment XIV: “…nor shall any State…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Amendment XIV was meant to secure the legal equality of those former slaves whose freedom had been secured by Amendment XIII. Amendment XIV became, instead, the basis for Supreme Court decisions and federal laws and regulations that have given special “rights” to specific, “protected” groups by curtailing the constitutional rights of the many who cannot claim affiliation with one or another of the “protected” groups. As the proponents of such groups might ask, is it fair?

Restoring the Constitutional Contract

The constitutional contract charges the federal government with keeping peace among the States, ensuring uniformity in the rules of inter-State and international commerce, facing the world with a single foreign policy and a national armed force, and assuring the even-handed application of the Constitution and of constitutional laws. That is all.

It is clear that the contract has been breached. Only by restoring it and reversing generations of federal encroachment on the rights and powers of the States and people can we “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

In a future post I will link to a restored constitutional contract, one that would undo the damage that has been done to the Framers’ great work.

Privacy vs. Security

Having just flown for only the second time since 9/11, I was reminded that less privacy means more security. Thus, I will remain untroubled by potential abuses of the Patriot Act until actual abuses arise. Vigilance is the price of liberty, and vigilance takes many forms.

Labor Unions

Labor unions are “legal monopolies in restraint of trade.” (Students of anti-trust law will recognize the allusion to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.) The acts of Congress that enabled labor unions were intended to improve the lot of laboring people. The result — owing to the inviolable law of unintended consequences — has been the opposite: Laboring people who belong to unions have steadily lost employment over the decades. Their jobs have been “taken” by other laboring people who are willing to work at the prevailing wage. Only one group has benefited from the legalization of labor unions: union bosses who thrive on the mandatory dues paid by union members.

Of Course It’s About Oil

And a lot of other things, like defeating Islamo-fascists and making the world a safer place for men of goodwill. But if the Islamo-fascists had their way we’d certainly lose our access to Middle Eastern oil.

Would the limousine liberals and anti-war yuppies give a damn about the resulting shock to our economy? Would they care about the working poor, who are usually hit first and hardest by recessions? Probably not, but they might nevertheless take to the streets and demand drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and more nuclear power plants.

After all, they’ve got to have power for their computers, cell phones, and SUVs — don’t they?

Tax-Exempts: A Ripoff of Taxpayers

Today, on a different topic, ProfessorBainbridge.com quoted Berle and Means (The Modern Corporation and Private Property, 1933): “The separation of ownership from control produces a condition where the interests of owner and of ultimate manager may, and often do, diverge….” Well, that reminded me of tax-exempt organizations.

Taxpayers effectively “own” tax-exempt organizations. Every dollar a tax-exempt organization avoids paying in taxes adds a dollar to the collective tax bill of all taxpayers. So where do our tax dollars go, aside from subsidizing tax-exempts’ often useless and self-aggrandizing activities?

Well, the truth about tax-exempt organizations is that they earn a profit, but it’s not called profit. The managers of tax-exempt organizations — in particular, major foundations, associations (lobbying groups), “public” radio and TV stations, large charities, and government-sponsored think-tanks — take their profit in the form of six- and seven-figure compensation packages. That’s quite a haul for fairly risk-free work in typically sumptuous surroundings. You have to screw up badly to lose a major contributor or long-standing government sponsor.

You’d think that tax-exempts’ audit committees and boards would keep the lid on compensation. Ha! If it doesn’t work in the private sector, where there’s a profit motive, why would you expect it to work in the “quasi-public” sector where there isn’t a profit motive? Tax-exempts typically justify their large compensation packages by reference to the large compensation packages of other tax-exempts. Well, you can see how that works; it doesn’t even require overt collusion.

The solution isn’t wholesale revocation of tax-exempt status or even repeal of the portions of the tax code dealing with tax-exempt status. It’s simpler and more effective: Require tax-exempts to pay income tax at the prevailing corporate rate on all compensation (including typically tax-exempt benefits). Let the tax-exempts choose between funding compensation and funding those activities for which they purportedly exist. Let the tax-exempts incur the wrath of their contributors and government sponsors if they make the wrong choice.