The Education Blob – John Stossel – Townhall.com

The Education Blob – John Stossel – Townhall.com.

Since progressives want government to run health care, let’s look at what government management did to K-12 education. While most every other service in life has gotten better and cheaper, American education remains stagnant.

Spending has tripled! Why no improvement? Because K-12 education is a virtual government monopoly — and monopolies don’t improve.

In every other sector of the economy, market competition forces providers to improve constantly. It’s why most things get better — often cheaper, too (except when government interferes, as in health care).

Politicians claim that education and health care are different — too important to leave to market competition. Patients and parents aren’t real consumers because they don’t have the expertise to know which hospital or school is best. That’s why they must be centrally planned by government “experts.”

Those experts have been in charge for years. School reformers call them the “Blob.” Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform says that attempts to improve the government monopoly have run “smack into federations, alliances, departments, councils, boards, commissions, panels, herds, flocks and convoys that make up the education industrial complex, or the Blob. Taken individually, they were frustrating enough, each with its own bureaucracy, but taken as a whole they were (and are) maddening in their resistance to change. Not really a wall — they always talk about change — but more like quicksand, or a tar pit where ideas slowly sink.”

The Blob claims teachers are underpaid. But today American teachers average more than $50,000 a year. Teachers’ hourly wages exceed what most architects, accountants and nurses make.

The Blob constantly demands more money, but tripling spending and vastly increasing the ratio of staff to student have brought no improvement. When the Blob is in control, waste and indifference live on and on.

The Blob claims that public education is “the great equalizer.” Rich and poor and different races mix and learn together. It’s a beautiful concept. But it is a lie. Rich parents buy homes in neighborhoods with better schools.

As a result, public — I mean, government — schools are now more racially segregated than private schools. One survey found that public schools were significantly more likely to be almost entirely white or entirely minority. Another found that at private schools, students of different races were more likely to sit together.

The Blob’s most powerful argument is that poor people need government-run schools. How could poor people possibly afford tuition?

Well, consider some truly destitute places. James Tooley spends most of his time in the poorest parts of Africa, India and China. Those countries copied America’s “free public education,” and Tooley wanted to see how that’s worked out. What he learned is that in India and China, where kids outperform American kids on tests, it’s not because they attend the government’s free schools. Government schools are horrible. So even in the worst slums, parents try to send their kids to private, for-profit schools.

How can the world’s poorest people afford tuition? And why would they pay for what their governments offer for free?

Tooley says parents with meager resources still sacrifice to send their kids to private schools because the private owner does something that’s virtually impossible in government schools: replace teachers who do not teach. Government teachers in India and Africa have jobs for life, just like American teachers. Many sleep on the job. Some don’t even show up for work.

As a result, says Tooley, “the majority of (poor) schoolchildren are in private school.” Even small villages have as many as six private schools, “and these schools outperform government schools at a fraction of the teacher cost.”

As in America, government officials in those countries scoff at private schools and parents who choose them. A woman who runs government schools in Nigeria calls such parents “ignoramuses.” They aren’t — and thanks to competition, their children won’t be, either.

Low-income Americans are far richer than the poor people of China, India and Africa. So if competitive private education can work in Beijing, Calcutta and Nairobi, it can work in the United States.

We just need to get around the Blob.

NUGENT: Trampled by the Regulatory Beast – Washington Times

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NUGENT: Trampled by the Regulatory Beast – Washington Times.

Rule-minding zombies are overwhelming rugged individuals

By Ted Nugent – The Washington Times

Common-sense crusader John Stossel wrote in an Op-Ed on March 21, “Every year, federal government bureaucrats work hard to come up with some 80,000 pages of new and proposed regulations. That’s a lot of pages – 23 feet high if you stack them in one pile.”

Just a few months ago, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report detailing the number of new regulations along with the cost of these regulations to American businesses. The results of the report should be the second “shot heard ‘round the world.”

The report said the Obama administration has “imposed 75 new major regulations costing more than $380 billion over 10 years.” The report also identified more than 200 more “economically significant regulations” on the drawing board that will cost businesses more than $20 billion over 10 years.

The Heritage Foundation released a report titled “Red Tape Rising: Obama-Era Regulation at the Three-Year Mark.” In an interview with Diane Katz, co-author of the Heritage Foundation report, said, “In calendar year 2011 alone, the Obama administration issued 32 new major regulations. Those are regulations with anticipated costs exceeding $100 million a year. Those 32 regulations will impose a minimum of $10 billion in new regulatory costs along with almost $7 billion more in what are one-time implementation costs.”

And “we the people” will pay more wasted tax dollars to accomplish nothing but more bureaucratic waste and abuse of power. Know that.

I want to know just what in the heck happened to my country.

Ted Nugent is an American rock ‘n’ roll, sporting and political activist icon. He is the author of “Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto” and “God, Guns & Rock ‘N’ Roll” (Regnery Publishing).

Job Killers – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative Columnists

Job Killers – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative Columnists.

Job Killers - John Stossel - Townhall Conservative Columnists

Politicians say they “create jobs.” In fact, only the private sector generates the information needed to create real, productive jobs.

Since this current post-recession job recovery is the slowest in 80 years, you’d think that even know-it-all politicians would want to sweep away the labyrinth of government regulations that hinders job creation. Successful job creators like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Staples founder Tom Stemberg tell me there are so many new rules and taxes today that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to create the thousands of jobs they once made.

The feds now have 160,000 pages of rules. Does anyone read all that? I doubt it. (Members of Congress don’t read the bills they vote on.) Do the rules make life safer? No. A few new rules are useful, but most are not. Their sheer volume makes us less safe and less free.

In fact, the thick rulebooks help cheaters by giving them an indecipherable screen to hide behind. They also mislead consumers by giving them the illusion of protection. “I don’t need to worry because regulation protects me.” It’s why some sophisticated people gave all their savings to Bernie Madoff.

A false sense of security is worse than none at all.

And the waste! Americans will spend $46 billion a year to obey just the new regulations the Obama administration imposed. Think of the money diverted to lawyers, accountants and “compliance officers” — money that might have created jobs and financed products that could make our lives better.

Alison Fraser, who keeps track of these things for the Heritage Foundation, points out that George W. Bush’s administration was a big regulator, too. “President Bush … had 28 major new rules passed in the first three years alone,” said Fraser. “We’ve had a virtual explosion — almost a regulatory assault on our system of free enterprise and on our job creators.”

The mainstream media portray Bush as a deregulator and blame his nonexistent deregulation for the housing and financial debacle. But the opposite is true. Bush hired thousands of new regulators. He only looks good in comparison to Obama — which is not saying much.

Advocates of regulations don’t acknowledge the law of unintended consequences. The Department of Energy demands energy-efficient appliances. But the extra cost deters some consumers from buying new appliances, so they stick with the old, wasteful ones.

On top of doing little good, endless rules kill the freedom that made America the land of opportunity. We preach entrepreneurship, and try to teach children the value, satisfaction and excitement of starting their own businesses. Then we let entrepreneurial opportunity be crushed under the weight of the regulatory state. The byzantine rules send this message to Americans: Don’t try. Don’t build anything. Don’t innovate. Don’t create anything new.

Let’s not overlook the fact that big businesses often have no problem with this. They frequently benefit from complex regulation because it increases the chance that potential competition won’t even get off the ground. Big business’s hand has been behind the regulatory state at least back to the Progressive Era.

I could give you endless examples of small businesses crushed by big government. Here are two:

Shelly Goodman paid millions to buy a 13,000-square-foot mansion on 10 acres in Arizona in order to create a wedding reception center and bed-and-breakfast. Local bureaucrats forced her to spend thousands of dollars on studies to show that her business would not create burdensome traffic or noise. She did. The studies said it wouldn’t. Yet the big house sits empty because her local government refuses to let her operate a business, even on her own property.

In Virginia, Greg Garrett started farming oysters. His neighborhood is zoned for livestock. He could raise buffalo, but local bureaucrats decreed that he could not sell oysters. Why not? My staff talked to the zoning official, and we still have no clue. That’s the case with a lot of American law. It’s arbitrary power. Regulations are so numerous and complex that no one really understands them. This diminishes our ability to flourish.

Big government makes us all small.

Never Trust Government Numbers

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Never Trust Government Numbers.

John Stossel – Townhall.com

President Obama said in his State of the Union speech, “We’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings.”

That was reassuring.

The new budget he released this week promises $4 trillion in “deficit reduction” — about half in tax increases and half in spending cuts. But like most politicians, Obama misleads.

Cato Institute economist Dan Mitchell cut through the fog to get at the truth of the $2 trillion “cut.”

“We have a budget of, what, almost $4 trillion? So if we’re doing $2 trillion of cuts,” Mitchell said, “we’re cutting government in half. That sounds wonderful.”

But what the president was talking about is not even a cut. The politicians just agreed that over the next 10 years, instead of increasing spending by $9.48 trillion, they’d increase it by “just” $7.3 trillion. Calling that a “cut” is nonsense.

Mitchell gave an analogy: “What if I came to you and said, ‘I’ve been on a diet for the last month, and I’ve gained 10 pounds. Isn’t that great?’ You would say: ‘Wait, what are you talking about? That’s insane.’ And I said: ‘I was going to gain 15 pounds. I’ve only gained 10 pounds, therefore my diet is successful.'”

Democrats use this deceit when they want more social spending. Republicans use it for military spending.

And the press buys it. The Washington Post has been writing about “draconian cuts.”

“The politicians know this game,” Mitchell said. “The special interests know this game. Everyone gets a bigger budget every year. … And we wind up, sooner or later, being Greece.”

We are definitely on the road to bankruptcy.

“We have maybe 10, 15 years’ advanced notice. And what’s frustrating is that we’re not taking advantage of that, even as we see these other countries collapsing into social chaos and disarray.”

Mitchell points out that the politicians don’t even have to make actual cuts to save the future. If they just slowed the growth of government to about 2 percent per year, the U.S. economy could grow out of this mess. But the politicians won’t do even that.

“Being from the Cato Institute, I actually do want to cut spending. But if all we’re trying to do is balance the budget over 10 years, which is sort of the minimal thing that politicians keep saying we should do, if we simply limit the growth of spending to 2 percent a year, which is about the projected rate of inflation, we’ll have a balanced budget in 2022. … But instead, the politicians say, ‘Oh, we’ll have draconian and savage budget cuts.’ … They don’t want to put government on a diet, even if that diet allows spending to grow 2 percent a year.”

They also continually mislead us about what their schemes will cost.

President Bush said the war in Iraq would cost $50 billion to $60 billion. It cost $800 billion. When Medicare Part A was created, the government said it would cost $9 billion in 1990. It cost $67 billion. They said the hiring of TSA airport security screeners would cost $100 million. Then they spent $700 million. Yet the media report the estimates as if they are realistic. Again and again, politicians get away with underestimating the cost of their programs.

Often the cost goes up because people change their behavior to get free stuff. A program meant to help the needy costs a certain amount. The next year, it costs more, because now more of the needy know about the program and more social workers know how to tap it. The next year, the non-needy feel like suckers if they don’t get the handout, and they figure out a way to game the system.

Then, Mitchell point out, “what do politicians do the next year? They expand the program to buy more votes. And the year after that, they add a new benefit. That’s what’s happened with Medicare. It’s not just that they got the fundamental estimates wrong. They did. But every new generation of politicians figures out some new expansion, some new benefit.”

And so we’re on the road to Greece.

Bottom line: Don’t trust the politicians’ numbers.

The Real State of the Union – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative

The Real State of the Union – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative.

Has Barack Obama learned nothing in three years? Last night, during his State of the Union address, he promised “a blueprint for an economy.” But economies are crushed by blueprints. An economy is really nothing more than people participating in an unfathomably complex spontaneous network of exchanges aimed at improving their material circumstances. It can’t even be diagrammed, much less planned. And any attempt at it will come to grief.

Politicians like Obama believe they are the best judges of how we should conduct our lives. Of course a word like “blueprint” would occur to the president. He, like most who want his job, aspires to be the architect of a new society.

But we who love our lives and our freedom say: No, thanks. We need no social architect. We need liberty under law. That’s it.

Obama — and most Republicans are no different — doesn’t understand the real liberal revolution that transformed civilization. The crux of that revolution is that law should define general visible rules of just conduct, applicable to all, with no eye to particular outcomes. In other words, as Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek taught, the only “purpose” of law is to enable us all to pursue our individual purposes in peace.

If Obama really wanted, as he says, a society in which “everybody gets a fair shot,” he would work to shrink government so that the sphere of freedom could expand. Instead, he expands government and raises taxes on wealthier people, as though giving politicians more money were a way to make society better. Instead, the interventionist state rigs the game on behalf of special interests.

What should Obama have said in his speech? Here’s what I wish he’d said:

Our debt has passed $15 trillion. It will reach Greek levels in just 10 years.

But if we make reasonable cuts to what government spends, our economy can grow us out of our debt. Cutting doesn’t just make economic sense, it is also the moral thing to do. Government is best which governs least.

We’ll start by closing the Department of Education, which saves $100 billion a year. It’s insane to take money from states only to launder it through Washington and then return it to states.

Next, we’ll close the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That saves $41 billion. We had plenty of housing in America before a department was created.

Then we eliminate the Commerce Department: $9 billion. A government that can’t count votes accurately should not try to negotiate trade. We will eliminate all corporate welfare and all subsidies. That means agriculture subsidies, green energy subsidies, ethanol subsidies and so on. None of it is needed.

I propose selling Amtrak. Why is government in the transportation business? Let private companies compete to run the trains.

And we must finally stop one of the biggest assaults on freedom and our pocketbook: the war on drugs. I used drugs. It’s immoral to imprison people who do what I did and now laugh about.

Still, all these cuts combined will only dent our deficit. We must cut Medicare, Social Security and the military.

I know. Medicare and Social Security are popular. But they are unsustainable. The only way to cut costs and still have medical innovation is to free the market. So I propose that we repeal Obamacare immediately. My proposal was a mistake. We should repeal all government interference in the medical and insurance industries, including licensing. It all impedes competition.

We must shrink the military’s mission to true national defense. That means pulling our troops out of Germany, Japan, Italy and dozens of other countries. America cannot and should not try to police the world.

Those cuts will put America on the road to solvency. But that’s not enough. We also need economic growth.

Our growth has stalled because millions of pages of regulations make businesses too fearful to invest. Entrepreneurs don’t know what the rules — or taxes — will be tomorrow.

All destructive laws must go. I endorse the Stossel Rule: For every new law passed, we must repeal two old ones.

OK, Obama will never say that.

But I can dream, can’t I?

Obamacare Abominations – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative

Obamacare Abominations – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative.

President Obama says his health care “reform” will be good for business.

Business has learned the truth.

Three successful businessmen explained to me how Obamacare is a reason that unemployment stays high. Its length and complexity make businessmen wary of expanding.

Mike Whalen, CEO of Heart of America Group, which runs hotels and restaurants, said that when he asked his company’s health insurance experts to summarize the impact of Obamacare, “the three of them kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve gone to seminar after seminar, and, Mike, we can’t tell you.’ I think that just kind of sums up the uncertainty.”

Brad Anderson, CEO of Best Buy, added that Obamacare makes it impossible to achieve even basic certainty about future personnel costs:

“If I was trying to get you to fund a new business I had started and you asked me what my payroll was going to be three years from now per employee, if I went to the deepest specialist in the industry, he can’t tell me what it’s actually going to cost, let alone what I’m going to be responsible for.”

You would think a piece of legislation more than a thousand pages long would at least be clear about the specifics. But a lot of those pages say: “The secretary will determine …” That means the secretary of health and human services will announce the rules sometime in the future. How can a business make plans in such a fog?

John Allison, former CEO of BB&T, the 12th biggest bank in America, pointed out how Obamacare encourages employers not to insure their employees. Under the law, an employer would be fined for that. But the penalty at present — about $2,000 — is lower than the cost of a policy.

“What that means is in theory every company ought to dump their plan on the government plan and pay the penalty,” he said. “So you don’t really know what the cost is because it’s designed to fail.”

Of course, then every employee would turn to the government-subsidized health insurance. Maybe that was the central planners’ intention all along.

An owner of 12 IHOPS told me that he can’t expand his business because he can’t afford the burden of Obamacare. Many of his waitresses work part time or change jobs every few months. He hadn’t been insuring them, but Obamacare requires him to. He says he can’t make money paying a $2,000 penalty for every waitress, so he’s cancelled his plans to expand. It’s one more reason why job growth hasn’t picked up post-recession.

Of course, we were told that government health care would increase hiring. After all, European companies don’t have to pay for their employees’ health insurance. If every American employer paid the $2,000 penalty and their workers turned to government for insurance, American companies would be better able to compete with European ones. They might save $10,000 per employee.

That sounded good, but like so many politicians’ promises, it leaves out the hidden costs. When countries move to a government-funded system, taxes rise to crushing levels, as they have in Europe.

Whalen sees Obamacare as a crossing of the Rubicon.

“We’ve had an agreement in this country, kind of unwritten, for the last 50 years, that we would spend about 18 to 19 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) on the federal government. This is a tipping point. This takes us to 25 to 30 percent. And that money comes out of the private sector. That means fewer jobs. This is a game-changer.”

He means it’s a game-changer because of the cost. But the law’s impenetrable complication does almost as much damage. Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute is right: If you wonder why businesspeople are not investing and reviving the economy, the answer lies in all the question marks that Obamacare and other new regulations confront them with. Higgs calls this “regime uncertainty.” It’s also what prolonged the Great Depression.

No one who understands the nature of government as the wielder of force — as opposed to the peaceful persuasion of the free market — is surprised by this.

The FDA Kills – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative

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The FDA Kills – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative.

It would be nice if politicians and regulators left us alone. But they don’t. They always want to do more. Recently, there have been shortages of some medicines. Cancer patients can’t get drugs they need. Why not?

One reason is that a big drugmaker shut down for a year in part to meet Food and Drug Administration rules. The FDA makes it so expensive and difficult to sell drugs that there isn’t an eager pack of companies rushing to the fill the gap. The free market would provide that, but government intervention, such as low Medicare reimbursement, strangles it. So people suffer.

Does the FDA say it’s sorry for its part and back off? Of course not. Regulators almost never do that. In fact, the FDA wants more power.

It wants to regulate how your doctor uses his smartphone. I’m not kidding! The FDA wants the power to approve mobile medical apps that let doctors monitor patients’ vital signs over their phones. As one doctor put it, “Even though I’m away from the hospital, I can still look at … real-time wave form data just as if I were at the patient’s bedside.”

Sounds great. It makes doctors more efficient. But the FDA basically says, “No, you just can’t put something on your phone if it’s a medical device. What if it doesn’t work right? We have to approve it first.”

That caution makes sense to people. Our first instinct is to say, “I don’t want someone getting rich off a device that might not work right. It might kill me. I want the FDA to make sure everything is safe and effective.”

But lawyer Jonathan Emord says our instinct is wrong.

“It is wrong because these regulations are costly, burdensome, and they prevent essential medical apps from getting into the marketplace,” Emord said.

But an app might kill me.

Emord said that although many medical apps are available, there is “not a single complaint that someone has died or been seriously injured by a single one.”

But what’s the harm in running apps past the regulators?

“There is so much corruption at the Food and Drug Administration … so much anticompetitive bias.”

The FDA takes bribes?

“Almost,” Emord explained. “If you feather the right nest, you will do well for yourself after you leave. This is well known.”

This is known as “regulatory capture.” A regulator makes it tough for some company’s competitor and then gets a job with the first company when he leaves his government job.

There’s a big cost to the public when companies submit applications and then wait years for FDA approval.

“We’re losing time, precious time that lives are dependent upon,” Emord said. “MIM Software developed a simple mobile device that would combine MRI images, PET scans, CAT scans all together and produce a super image that was better for diagnosis … right on your phone. To get that through the agency, it took two and a half years and cost some hundreds of thousands of dollars. All the while it could have been in use, and ultimately it was approved.”

Lawyers and reporters encourage bureaucrats to move slowly. If something goes wrong, the media make a huge fuss about it, and the class-action parasites pounce. But when the FDA delays a device for years and people die, we don’t report that. We don’t even know who the victims are.

Useful HIV drugs were available in Europe for years before the FDA approved them for use here.

A doctor at the Cleveland Clinic invented a medical app that helped physicians calibrate the amount of radiation to give to women with breast cancer. The FDA demanded so much extra and expensive proof of its safety that he abandoned it.

The FDA’s caution leads many companies to just give up on potentially lifesaving ideas.

Yet I don’t hear companies complaining.

“If you raise your head above the parapet and you become vocal in your criticism, the FDA remembers like an elephant and will stamp you out of existence. They’ll punish you. It’s so much discretion in their hands. They sit like emperors reigning over this stuff.”

Government Makes Us Poor – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative

Government Makes Us Poor – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative.

Here’s my fantasy: Libertarians are elected to the presidency and to majorities in Congress. What would happen next? Well, if libertarians were “in charge,” you’d have more freedom and prosperity.

Freedom frightens some people. They say if no one is in charge there would be chaos. That is intuitive, but think about a skating rink. Before rinks were invented, if you proposed an amusement in which people strap blades to their feet and skate around on ice at whatever speeds they wish, you’d have been called crazy. There’s got to be speed limits, stoplights, turn signals. But we know that people navigate rinks safely on their own. They create their own order, with only minimal rules.

Society would work the same way — and does to a large extent even today. “Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government,” Thomas Paine, the soul of the American Revolution, wrote. “It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. … Common interest (has) a greater influence than the laws of government.”

If libertarians were “in charge,” there would be laws to protect us from foreign enemies and those who would steal from us or injure us. Today, by contrast, under the rule of Democans and Republicrats, we’re drowning in rules — 160,000 pages’ worth. Micromanagement kills opportunity and freedom.

Maybe if there were a way to have more competition among governments, things would be better. Competition forces people to become more efficient and to get rid of stupid rules. What if we let people take over some unused land in America to create areas with fewer rules, simpler legal systems, smaller government?

I explored that subject last week with Michael Strong and Magatte Wade, founders of the Free Cities Project.

Strong said, “We want to encourage thousands of people to create new governments that have different rules, each competing for customers with the best education and best health care, the most peace and prosperity you could imagine.”

Of course, state governments would have to approve this.

“There are already Native American reservations in the U.S. … They can become more free. Honduras already has something like this. In Senegal, we’re encouraging a move toward an autonomous city-state that would allow for peace and prosperity.”

Wade is Strong’s wife and an entrepreneur from Senegal, where she saw firsthand how bad rules prevent people from creating prosperity.

“We need jobs. Who creates jobs? Entrepreneurs,” she said.

But Senegal is awash in rules. There was a government monopoly on cement. When the government allowed competition, prices fell by a third.

She started a beverage company.

“It was an ordeal. I did it because I am from Senegal. I have an interest in trying to improve things. But for an American company … why would they put themselves through such a thing?”

“What people don’t realize is the developing world is massively overregulated,” Strong said. “Africa is the most regulated continent on earth.”

In the Congo, it requires 18 documents to import anything.

Wade added: “The fact we have so many rules — who benefits most? Multinationals.”

“And crony capitalists,” Strong added. “Corruption in Africa is a symptom of massive overregulation.”

Are there any free cities along the lines Strong and Wade envision?

Hong Kong and Singapore are the best examples,” Strong said. “Now they are among the wealthiest places on earth.”

And there is a free city in Dubai because the emirate wanted to create a financial sector, but sharia law prevented it.

“Dubai was brilliant,” Strong said. “They looked around the world. They saw that Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, Chicago, Sydney, London all ran British common law. British common law is much better for commerce than is French common law or sharia law. So they took 110 acres of Dubai soil, put British common law with a British judge in charge, and they went from an empty piece of soil to the 16th most powerful financial center in world in eight years.”

It’s what libertarians have said: Freedom works, and government, when it grows beyond the barest minimum, keeps people poor.

Balancing the Budget – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative

Balancing the Budget – John Stossel – Townhall Conservative.

The political class predicted “disaster” if Congress didn’t raise its debt limit.

I think that was a scam to get more money. See, the poor politicians don’t have enough, and they need to borrow more. We taxpayers are cheap. This year we’ll give them only $2.2 trillion. They want to spend $3.8 trillion.

The president said if he didn’t get more money, Social Security checks wouldn’t go out. Why not?

With $2 trillion, they can pay Social Security, Medicare, the interest on the debt and still have billions left. It’s billions more than the government spent when President George W. Bush took office. What’s the problem?

The problem is that Republicans and Democrats under Bush and President Obama doubled spending. Now, Obama wants more taxes.

Taxes shouldn’t be the answer when spending is the problem.

Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), leads the charge to keep the focus on spending. Norquist and ATR are famous for asking officeholders and candidates to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. Some say he is the reason the debt-ceiling debate was so drawn out.

“I think the reason there isn’t a tax increase on the table,” he told me, “is that 235 members of the House of Representatives signed a pledge never to raise taxes, a pledge to their voters, and 41 senators did. …

“Only if you take tax increases off the table do you even begin to … focus on spending, and that’s what Obama wants to keep our focus off of. He wants us to talk about the deficit, not spending.”

I pointed out that Obama might have scored points with the public because new revenues he sought — even though they wouldn’t do much to shrink the deficit — would come from closing unpopular tax “loopholes.”

Norquist said he favors that — if tax rates are lowered at the same time.

“(We) want to simplify the code,” he said. “(We) want to take a lot of the goodies that politicians have laced into that code … as long as you reduce tax rates and it’s not a hidden tax increase.”

Milton Friedman always said taxes don’t tell the whole story. What counts is how much of our resources government spends, however it acquires them. The doubling of spending under Bush and Obama hasn’t gotten enough attention.

“We need to ask what it is government should do,” Norquist said. “But it’s going to be knockdown, drag-out. All government overspending creates the constituency for its own perpetuation. … Weaning people off, that is very difficult.”

He’s right. When politicians make little cuts in the rate of spending growth, every interest group mobilizes to protect its little piece of the pie. That’s why you must cut government like you take off a Band-Aid: quickly and all at once.

It’s not hard to balance the budget. On my show, we made enough cuts to create a $237 billion surplus. I cut whole departments, like Education and Commerce. I cut two-thirds of the Defense Department (which still leaves it much bigger than China’s). I indexed Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to inflation, raised the retirement age, and took away benefits for rich people. But I don’t have to run for office. Congressmen do, and they can’t even manage to cut ridiculous tax breaks like those for ethanol.

Obama predicted disaster if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised. Some predict disaster if the ratings agencies downgrade Treasury bonds. I’m dubious. In 1995, President Clinton and Republican Congress couldn’t agree on a budget, so the government shut down twice, the second time for three weeks.

Did the economy grind to a halt? No. During the first shutdown, the stock market went up. During the second, it dropped then recovered.

The alarmists screamed that the fight over the debt ceiling would discourage lenders. Wrong. Ten-year Treasury bonds sold for a measly 3 percent interest (versus 15 percent in 1981).

I wasn’t worried that Congress would fail to raise the debt ceiling. But I am worried that Congress will keep spending.