Saturday, October 26, 2013

Austerity is Crap

Large numbers of people are unemployed or underemployed.  Does that mean we should all tighten up our budgets, spend less, borrow less and save more, including the Government?

Of course not, that will only make more people unemployed.  To reduce unemployment, we all either individually or collectively need to spend more!

One person's income is another person's spending.  If you want incomes to go up, there has to be more spending!  So if people are unemployed, there needs to be more spending to get them employed.  This is basic Keynesian economics.

Now, I would hasten to add, of course we should be spending on the right kinds of things.  One of those right kinds of things is research.  But thanks to the Sequester, research spending by the US government has been going down.  The government shutdown didn't help.  And more cuts to things like research appear to be coming right up.  This is so counterproductive!!!

And we should be spending less on things which increase pollution, global warming, etc., or abuse natural resources.  But that is exactly where spending has been increasing, doing things like developing the tar sands in Canada, and it will be worse if the Keystone Pipeline is built.

Now, thanks to the tax cuts which have been driving by Reaganomics, rich people have been taxed less, so they have accumulated more of the total wealth.  Since rich people spend proportionally less of their incomes, this has depressed spending relative to what might have been otherwise--with more taxes collected and more government spending.  Reaganomics has created what looks like a permanent depression, in which the saving glut fueled by the ever increasing wealth of rich people sloshes around the world unproductively and even destructively in search of additional profits.  Of course those additional profits are not to be had overall, since income-from-investments also comes from spending.*

Tax and spend is the only answer, outside of a perfect communist revolution.

*The only kind of additional profits possible are those which are carved out of someone else's income, a zero sum or negative sum game.  This is Adam Smith turned upside down, the invisible hand becomes the not-so-invisible knife.  In such a world, markets don't increase the general welfare, they decrease it as they enable such destruction.  Actually, this is the general rule, the invisible hand only works as Adam Smith said when something else such as a comprehensive ethical system eliminates zero sum and negative sum activities (including all externalities).  No such ethical system has persisted except among a small part of the population, and when it does, it simply provides more incentive for others to steal their bacon (in a world with private wealth), along with stealing an unspoiled world from the future.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

No Negotiations With Terrorists

I was apalled to hear the upbeat tone on Al Jazeera about the negotiations over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling.  Obama's stand has been very simple, and correct.  He should not have to make any concessions to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.  Because making concessions is rewarding hostage taking.

AG: But you say there should always be negotiation when you are talking about the middle east.

Me: First, there's no moral equivalency here, US Republicans are far worse than Al Qaeda.  At least you could say with regards to the latter, that they have claims to represent the true grievances of many moslems, arabs, persians, and others in the middle east.  Those true grievances do exist: those peoples in general have been the victims of western neo-imperial dominance and direct and client state aggression.  For the Republicans, whose interests do they represent?  Well, with respect to those I just mentioned, they are far more consistently the aggressors, not the aggrieved.  And more generally, the interests of never allowing taxes on the wealthy to increase, or benefits to the poor be anything but slashed, it's clear the Republicans represent the most direct interests of the plutocracy as well as the neo-empire and are willing to do anything (because they know their backers will reward them well) to serve those interests--at the expense of everyone else.

OK, so no concessions, but talks are OK.  And maybe Obama could negotiate over this: the abolition of the mandatory budget (budget act) for continuing operations, and the abolition of the debt ceiling, both of which should be (as I have argued) unconstitutional.

Anything less that that would be leaving a destroyed democratic system of government, because future terrorists could apply the same tactics, and the precedent will have been established for it to be an effective approach.

But we hear negotiations are over a mere 4 month suspension...then more hostages.  That's not worth a damn thing.  When will it end?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Congressional Doomsday Machine

Laws like the Budget Act which require Congress to annually pass a budget have worked in the past because anti-government extremists had never gained plurality control of one branch of government before.  But such laws inherently created a doomsday machine, in which inability to agree on new items could close down previously authorized government programs...for an indefinite period.

The Constitution say nothing about a "budget."  It does say Congress should make accounts...but those accounts are for declarative reasons, to show where the people's money is being spent.  It says nothing about re-authorizing the spending for individual or groups of government programs on an annual basis.  That reauthorization is a creature of the Budget Act.  It used to be mildly abused on a frequent basis...a few days of shudown here, a few days there.  The first major abuse was under the Gingrich speakership, which featured a 28 day government shutdown.  And here we are again, with no definite ending in sight.

But as everyone points out, the bigger doomsday machine is the debt ceiling, another creature of congressional law.  It had been used as a negotiating ticking clock, or bomb, but never to the point where there was any inkling it might hit ground.  Until the first debt ceiling crisis in 2011, when it nearly did so.

I continue to say both these laws are unconstitutional.  Their mere existence led to hardball anti-democratic negotiation styles, which was always part of the game.  And they always inherently created an anti-government doomsday machine, which is now appearing right in front of us.

Democracy ought to be as transparent as possible.  And one form of transparency is to not build democracy on riders to laws, stuck in after midnight before the vote.  Laws or packages of laws (such as the Affordable Care Act, which needs to include both new taxes, new regulations, and new spending) ought to be freely debated as to what singular combined effect they are intended to have.  Essentially one new set of laws for each new act of Congress--that is the most transparent way of doing things.  (And so, rarely done...)

Even at best, Budgets and Debt ceilings create a way to reduce the transparency even more, more opportunities to hide or force things without a clear majoritarian vote.  And also permit anti-majoritianism and anti-democracy in various ways, some of which we are seeing right now.

Obama has been at his best in the current crisis, and the Republicans are being exposed as the traitors they are.  But how will this seeps into the right-wingophere remains uncertain.  And that exposes other anti-democratic biases, some even inherent in the Constitution--but mostly not mandated by it, how a comparatively small slice of American opinion can come to dominate, through concentration and monopolization of media, the corruption of campaign financing, unlimited corporate speech, district jerrymandering, and so on.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tea Party Treason and Unconstitutional Processes

In the end, it is worse than extortion.  It it treason to create a logjam by insisting on changing laws through the budget and debt ceiling processes.  Which is exactly what Republicans including Boehner, Cantor, and Cruz are doing.

We have a democratic process for changing the laws.  It does not involve holding the entire government, or the full faith and credit of that government hostage, so that a minority with no concern for the general welfare can change laws.  Their lack of concern for the general welfare shows they should not be changing laws.

I'd go so far as to say both the current budget processes (not part of the Constitution) and debt ceiling process (which has always been used as political football...but never the end, the uncolored debt ceiling has always gotten passed) enable this treason in a most unrepublican way.  I'd hold them unconstitutional.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Who is shutting down the government?

First, does the US House of Representatives have the power of the purse?  No, it has the obligation to originate "revenue" bills.  And here a big rule of thumb in negotiation should be noted.  He who goes first, loses.  At best, being first guarantees nothing.  He who goes first, and who also also wants things to continue, aims to please who comes next by exercising self-selection of his own extreme impulses.  That's a big part of the losing aspect of going first. The one who goes first must aim to please.  Those who come later can simply say no if they feel too disadvantaged to even make a counter-offer.  If no counter is made, the originator can only guess where the boundaries are, i.e., the bottom line, and then has to exercise even more self-selction next time bit with no new information for guidance.  By going first in a negotiation, one is giving information about one's own boundaries, but not necessarily getting any information in return.  That is why a common negotiation strategy is simply to refuse to negotiate.  To negotiate means to be willing to give up something, which is what a first offer must always do.  So negotiation stalls when no one is willing to make this first offer.  But the US Constitution is clear about who must make the first offer with regards to revenue bills.

And the plain text of the constitution says nothing about the House originating "spending" bills, that's simply been a precedent maintained by the House by never passing spending bills which originated in the Senate, and claiming justification by the Federalist Papers--which are not part of US law and have no legal standing.

OK, so what is a federal budget supposed to do?  Well, cover the bills!  Avoid waste.  Avoid undue exploitation.  But it not the normal way to change law. There is a separate procedure for changing laws--the same as passing new ones.  It requires approval of both chambers and the President, unless the presidential veto is overridden, which requires a 2/3 majority of both chambers.  This is by design a somewhat cumbersome procedure, which follows a conservative--as in actually conserving what has come before, not overstepping, etc.--philosophy.

So if changing law through the budget is permitted at all--it's an extreme tactic, especially when one chamber of Congress is also trying to do this alone.  It takes extremists to do it.  The normal thing for a budget it do the bills, not change law.

And if changing law through the budget is extreme, how about shutting down the government also, or knowing well that would happen, and keeping it going after the first failure.

I'd say the onus is upon the extremists.  They are the ones shutting down the government.  Those who are trying to use the budget to change the law, knowing they only have leadership control (and even not necessarily majoritarian support within)  of one of three governmental entities that needs to (and actually does) approve of this change without an almost impossibly high bar for at least two entities.

With the lack of support by the Senate and President, shutting down the government, or even threatening to do so, is not simply being extreme.  It is uncivil, arsonistic, threatening to burn down the house if one doesn't get one's way.  The civil way to reach agreement with others is by give-and-take, through which everyone wins.  If arson is conceded to, only one party wins, others must simply capitulate or get burned along with everyone else.  It is dictatorship by terror.

This is only one of many reasons to conclude it is the Republicans in the US House who are shutting down the government, and that it would be anti-republican for them to succeed in getting their way through this tactic.