April 10, 2012

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Matthew Continetti has an interesting take on the president’s Court attack.

… The strangest moment of the speech was when Obama mocked Romney’s vocabulary. The former Massachusetts governor had correctly called Ryan’s budget “marvelous.” Obama’s brilliant rebuttal: That’s “a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget. (Laughter.) It’s a word you don’t often hear generally. (Laughter.)”

The president’s transparent motive was to suggest that Romney is somehow weird or out of touch for using the m-word. This is an argument likely to thrill the legs of Washington correspondents, who heartily laughed along with the president, but unlikely to provide independent voters with any reason whatsoever to support a second Obama administration.

Are we really to believe that Romney is disqualified from the presidency because of his word choices and support for the only serious plan to restore sustainability to the welfare state while promoting economic growth? What is Obama’s alternative? Never to say “marvelous” in public while raising taxes, foisting an unpopular health plan on a recalcitrant public, empowering an unelected board to set prices for Medicare and Medicaid, and delivering the worst economic recovery in history?

One hopes that when the media inevitably scold Americans for conducting the “most negative campaign ever,” they will acknowledge who, exactly, got the ball rolling. From targeting successful private citizens to claiming falsely that the Ryan plan “ends Medicare” to belittling Romney’s wealth and demeanor, the Obama campaign has signaled that it recognizes the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009 is not a legislative achievement on which one might base a campaign. Obama’s problem is that with the stimulus a failure, Obamacare on the ropes, Solyndra a national punch line, the national debt exploding, and his only significant proposal an increase in taxes, Lily is all he has.

All these facts will be on display in the fall when Romney debates Obama and (hope springs eternal) Ryan debates Biden. The two sides will spar. One will emerge as serious about the challenges facing the country and the policies necessary to promote freedom and prosperity; the other will be exposed as embittered and clinging to a dilapidated welfare state. The truth will be there for all to see. And it will be marvelous.


Robert Samuelson with a history of social security mission creep.

Would Franklin Roosevelt approve of Social Security? The question seems absurd. After all, Social Security is considered the New Deal’s signature achievement. It distributes nearly $800 billion a year to 56 million retirees, survivors and disabled beneficiaries. On average, retired workers and spouses receive $1,839 a month — money vital to the well-being of millions. Roosevelt would surely be proud of this, and yet he might also have reservations. Social Security has evolved into something he never intended and actively opposed.

It has become what was then called “the dole” and is now known as “welfare.” This forgotten history clarifies why America’s budget problems are so intractable.

When Roosevelt proposed Social Security in 1935, he envisioned a contributory pension plan. Workers’ payroll taxes (“contributions”) would be saved and used to pay their retirement benefits. Initially, before workers had time to pay into the system, there would be temporary subsidies. But Roosevelt rejected Social Security as a “pay-as-you-go” system that channeled the taxes of today’s workers to pay today’s retirees. That, he believed, would saddle future generations with huge debts — or higher taxes — as the number of retirees expanded.

Discovering that the original draft wasn’t a contributory pension, Roosevelt ordered it rewritten and complained to Frances Perkins, his labor secretary: “This is the same old dole under another name. It is almost dishonest to build up an accumulated deficit for the Congress .?.?. to meet.”

But Roosevelt’s vision didn’t prevail. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Congress gradually switched Social Security to a pay-as-you-go system. Interestingly, a coalition of liberals and conservatives pushed the change. Liberals wanted higher benefits, which — with few retirees then — existing taxes could support. Conservatives disliked the huge surpluses the government would accumulate under a contributory plan.

All this is well-told in Sylvester Schieber’s “The Predictable Surprise: The Unraveling of the U.S. Retirement System.”  …


Short item from David Harsanyi on the real victims of deficits and inflation. Of course, it is the very people the bien pensants claim to help.

Why does Paul Krugman, a guy who fashions himself guardian of the working class and poor, feel so comfortable advocating for the devaluing of all our savings and retirement accounts? Why does he want to see a spike in food, clothing and fuel costs? (Now, if we employed his writing style, we could simply accuse him of hating the poor.)  

In the New York Times today, he tells us he fears that Republican might be bullying Ben Bernanke into bad policy. What we need, the Nobel winner explains, is for the Fed to induce more inflation.

The attackers want the Fed to slam on the brakes when it should be stepping on the gas; they want the Fed to choke off recovery when it should be doing much more to accelerate recovery. Fundamentally, the right wants the Fed to obsess over inflation, when the truth is that we’d be better off if the Fed paid less attention to inflation and more attention to unemployment. Indeed, a bit more inflation would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

Hey, central banks have injected almost $7 trillion into the economy. So stingy. But you know the drill: a “modest” increase in inflation would help the nation ease its debt obligations by devaluing tomorrow’s dollar against the one (or 15 trillion) that was borrowed yesterday. There is no other way out of this mess, they say. And if you trust that the Fed can control inflation this all might sound like a brilliant plan to you.

Krugman argues that the Fed will “choke off recovery when it should be doing much more to accelerate recovery.” I’ll let economists argue over the upside and downside of inflation. But you’ll note that in today’s world, “We need more inflation” or “Don’t Worry About Deficit That Will Heal Itself” are the positions of serious people, while advocating for spending cuts or a sound dollar is considered deeply radical and/or immoral. For Krugman, Paul Ryan’s budget was a set of “inconceivably cruel priorities” (inconceivably!) and even fans of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan (as the president pretends to be) are members of a “cult“.

For any economist — considering how often they are spectacularly wrong — to be so dogmatic on something so enigmatic is pretty amazing. Especially when you consider inflation’s potential consequences. Another problem for Krugman is that mere non-wonks (and investors) are increasingly concerned about inflation and debt. Perhaps if there was any evidence that previous rounds of quantitative easing had helped spur any growth the Plebs would be more impressed. Instead, they are all in for decades of exploding debt, and, if the New York Times columnist had his way, higher prices on nearly everything.


Victor Davis Hanson reviews Jay Nordlinger’s book on the Nobel Peace Prize.

What went wrong with the Nobel Peace Prize?

The same is often asked of the United Nations, another godly enterprise that sometimes proves less than human. Certainly, the luster of the “most famous and controversial prize in the world” seems to have been tarnished in recent years. The 2002 winner, Jimmy Carter, opportunistically campaigned for the award. He did that mostly by trying to embarrass sitting U.S. presidents, whether Bill Clinton, by undercutting his efforts to isolate North Korea, or George W. Bush, by venomously attacking him over Iraq. The latter machinations were cited approvingly by the prize’s chief judge, Gunnar Berge, who praised Carter’s back-dealing as a much-needed “kick in the leg” to Bush.

So much for any disinterested evaluation of quantifiable criteria. Indeed, European anger at Bush may also have helped Mohamed ElBaradei, the international nuclear-arms watchdog, to win in 2005, after his fierce criticism of the American effort in Iraq, and his serial assurances that Iran, contrary to the Bush administration’s protestations, was not pursuing a nuclear weapon. Loud animosity toward Bush proved a sort of Nobel talisman in 2007, as well: In the old pre-recessionary and pre-Climategate days, the Nobel judges awarded Al Gore (“Bush lied!”) the prize for his global-warming activism — and perhaps also in recognition that he had unfairly lost the presidency in 2000 to Bush only through the peculiarities of the American Electoral College. Many Americans see these politically driven awards, granted to those who either have done little to further world peace, or a lot to disrupt it, as a sort of betrayal of a noble institution, in contrast to the less controversial and more deserving early-20th-century prize winners.

In this evenhanded, original, and engaging history of the 110 years of Alfred Nobel’s peace prize — the first co-winners were the pacifist Frederic Passy and the humanitarian Henry Dunant in 1901 — Jay Nordlinger demonstrates that such current popular impressions are only in part true. …


Late Night Humor from Andrew Malcolm.

Conan: Tonight is the Jewish holiday of Passover. Or as we call it here in LA, Cinco de Matzo.

Fallon: Connecticut police were called to a sex shop when a customer locked himself in handcuffs. He’d have called his girlfriend, but she wasn’t inflated yet.

Conan: Dartmouth College has named its medical school after Dr. Seuss. Because nothing is better than hearing your doctor say, “You don’t have cancer on your nose, you don’t have cancer on your toes. There’s no cancer in your underwear, There is no cancer anywhere.”

Leno: A lot of people are disappointed with that huge lottery. Your chances of winning were 176 million to one. Same odds as the Supreme Court will uphold ObamaCare.

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