WASHINGTON (Jan. 14, 2014) – The R Street Institute expressed disappointment today at language included in the omnibus appropriations bill that would delay implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
Under an amended version of H.R. 3547, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, there would be a one-year delay in implementation of Section 207 of Biggert-Waters, which phases in over a five-period new rates for properties that have been remapped by the National Flood Insurance Program.
The NFIP’s remapping project looks to apply changes in the relative flood risk faced by the NFIP’s 5.5 million policyholders to the rate structure the program charges. The process is budget-neutral, so that while some properties would be asked to pay higher rates, reflecting elevated flood risk, those changes would be offset by rate reductions on the remaining properties.
Though not as damaging as Senate legislation that would delay not just rate adjustments for remapped properties, but also the phase-out of premium subsidies, for a full four years, R Street Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann said the omnibus language would set back the cause of reforming the NFIP, which remains nearly $25 billion in debt to U.S. taxpayers.
“We remain hopeful that efforts to find compromise legislation that, for instance, slows the phase-in and or means-tests support for lower-income policyholders, might be acceptable to everyone,” Lehmann said. “A blanket delay of rate changes is not appropriate and would threaten to undo the significant progress Congress has made to place the NFIP back on a path to fiscal solvency.”
The Media rarely if ever identify Leftist entities as Leftist – instead assigning them non-ideological descriptives. Often, it is the ridiculous “consumer interest group” – as if the anti-free market side of the equation is pro-consumer, and the defenders of freedom are against the purchasing public.
Never mind that no one is more pro-consumer than a private company – after all, they are the ones trying to please as many consumers as possible. It would then stand to reason that the organizations defending private companies from government overreach are also pro-consumer.
Because these “consumer interest groups” are in fact “government interest groups” - every “solution” they push results in larger, more interfering government. Which is about as anti-consumer as you can get.
How’s ObamaCare treating consumers? The Veterans Administration? The Department of Motor Vehicles? Would you rather head there – or to Amazon.com or your neighborhood deli?
Meanwhile, the Media almost always identify Conservative groups as conservative – that is, when they mention them at all. Often, marketplace political stories only quote Leftist groups and company representatives.
Which is itself biased. It depicts the debate as a struggle between the plucky little “consumer interest” groups (who actually often have very large [George Soros] money behind them) – and the evil Industry Titans.
There are perhaps dozens of conservative/free market groups out there – yet the Media often can’t seem to find room for any of them in their stories.
The latest bit of wireless phone news is a fabulous case study.
The company on Monday introduced “Sponsored Data,” or data that is paid is for by a business that wouldn’t count against a subscriber’s capped plan. Think a toll free 1-800 number or free shipping for the delivery of data.
Here in Reality, this should be a non-news story – other than the good news for consumers. They will be getting more data for the same money – which will in a great many instances allow them to actually purchase less data, saving them coin.
This model exists…well, everywhere. As stated above, companies via 800 numbers pick up the tab for your call. Many then after you call to place an order pick up the tab to ship it to you. The examples of this free market paradigm are nearly endless.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless in particular have been aggressive in getting their customers to switch to tiered plans that require people to pay more to get more data.
Again, here in Reality when we use more – we pay more. You pay more for ten steaks than you do for two. It costs more to gas up an Escalade than it does an Escort.
So if the companies providing the biggest data-chewing content were to pay for it – it would in fact be a tremendous consumer boon. Imagine car makers paying for your gasoline – oh wait, some do. Isn’t Reality great?
But this is the Media and the Left – they don’t reside in Reality.
Consumer advocate group Free Press has already criticized the plan.
There are those magic Media words – “consumer advocate group.” Never mind that Free Press was co-founded by a self-avowed Marxist - they are “consumer advocates.” This story quotes Free Press and AT&T only – not a conservative group to be found.
Then there’s this:
In which Free Press and their fellow Media Marxist joint Public Knowledge are quoted. As is AT&T. And that’s it.
Like a toddler with a pet dog, AT&T (NYSE:T) has a history of poking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) until it turns around and barks. And that’s just what it’s done now.
That’s an objective opening paragraph. Keep in mind that the last time AT&T “poked” the FCC, it was when they wanted to buy T-Mobile. The Media Marxist chorus screeched their opposition, and the FCC blocked the deal - issuing an error-riddled report in defense of its decision.
But this “news” story ignores all of this. Instead it portrays AT&T as a serial government instigator. And pretends the government’s bark is worse than its bite – when it’s chomping huge chunks out of the private sector.
A few months ago, ESPN was also discussing possibly paying for delivery of its digital content.
Consumers having their cell phone plans “subsidized” – incentivized – by private companies? Awful.
This “news” story appeared (with apparently unintentional irony) at Consumerist.com.
The Media aren’t reporting on these choice-and-wallet-expanding possibilities – they are choosing the anti-free market side against them. And providing cover for the government interest “consumer interest” groups lining up likewise.
The Media and the Left together pretend to look out for the Little Guy – all the while making it ever more excruciating for him.
I watched the 107 minute press conference by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Thursday, but I must admit that I almost fell asleep towards the end. What struck me at the time was that I had not seen anything comparable from President Obama regarding the many scandals such as Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting of Tea Party and comparable groups, Benghazi, and the Obamacare debacle.
Gov. Christie didn’t just offer a prepared statement, take a few questions, and leave. He stayed on. He took full responsibility for the closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge by over-zealous staff, announced the firing of two top aides, and promised a further investigation of what occurred and why. Then he answered a barrage of questions.
The focus on the event is the result of countless predictions that he would face Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The Governor has become a celebrity politician as the result of his personality and dramatic reelection in a state that is heavily Democratic. He gained a lot of attention for facing down the powerful teacher’s union and addressing the state’s fiscal problems.
He also gained attention for his “style” of governance. A former U.S. District Attorney for New Jersey, he had put a lot of politicians in jail and, as Governor, often challenged those who questioned those who challenged him and showed his toughness on the issues. “I am not a bully,” he said in the press conference, but his assertive nature was, for many New Jerseyans, part of their support.
Did his staff and appointees absorb some of that “attitude”? Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University (NJ), said, “It is not too much of a logical leap to connect the rhetoric that the governor has used with the tone of public servants in his administration, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the disdain that is evident in these documents comes from the top down.”
Those thousands of documents, however, reveal no connection to the Governor.
Born in New Jersey, grown to maturity, and a resident here, my interest in the Governor stems in part from watching him over the many years he has been a public servant. This is the first time he has faced such a crisis and he took full responsibility. That is quite a contrast with Obama who has never taken responsibility for anything and often stated he was unaware of them until he read about it in the newspaper, something that occurred to Christie when a New Jersey daily revealed the content of emails regarding the lane closures subpoenaed by the state legislature.
I voted for Christie twice, am a registered Republican, and am politically conservative. I never voted for Obama. That doesn’t mean I have been happy with his politics that includes an antipathy toward gun ownership, an inclination to believe the environmental nonsense about global warming or some energy-related issues.
What is occurring, however, is a huge effort by the liberal mainstream press to discredit and eliminate him from being a potential Republican presidential candidate to oppose Hillary Clinton. It is the same press that has done its best to ignore the many Obama scandals and those that compose the history of Hillary, the most recent of which was her failure to respond to the Benghazi scandal when she was Obama’s Secretary of State. She signed onto the huge lie that the attack was the result of a video nobody ever saw.
The same press thought his close relationship with Obama following the devastation of superstorm Sandy on the New Jersey shore was wonderful. He was trying to get the federal government to respond swiftly to the needs of citizens who had lost their homes or had their businesses ruined. That’s what a Governor is supposed to do. Christie also campaigned for Mitt Romney when he was running for President.
Christie’s politics make a lot of conservatives wary. He appointed a Muslim to the judiciary in New Jersey and he did a John Kerry on same-sex marriage, having been against it until he was for it. During his second campaign his campaign coffers were enriched by more donations from Democrats than Republicans! He failed to assist Ken Cuccinelli when he ran for Governor of Virginia. Et cetera.
Until the lane closing scandal, the mainstream press was touting him heavily. Now they see an opportunity to remove him from those who might challenge Hillary in 2016, assuming she will run. Hillary has so many scandals that political pundits might pause in their predictions. What she represents is four more years of the Obama agenda.
At this writing, there is no way of knowing if Gov. Christie will come out of the bridge lanes closing relatively unscathed or whether it will end his position as a Republican front-runner. The fact is that the GOP has a number of politicians who can replace him in 2016 if that occurs. The Democrats never mention anyone other than Hillary, nor is the impact of Obamacare on the November midterms and the outcome in 2016 ever mentioned. Right now the President is desperately trying to focus attention on the utterly bogus “income inequality” nonsense.
For now, Gov. Christie, a gifted politician, has three more years of overseeing 65,000 state employees and his legislative agenda in New Jersey. For now, the mainstream press will have a field day covering him.
In thinking about the brouhaha over AT&T’s proposed “sponsored data” plan for its wireless service, I was reminded of a blog I wrote shortly after the oral argument in Verizon’s appeal of the FCC’s net neutrality regulations. With a nod to James Carville, it was titled, “It’s the Consumer, Stupid!”
I explained there that, amidst all the back-and-forth about net neutrality, it is easy to be seduced into focusing on the wrong questions – for example, whether “edge providers” or broadband providers are more adversely impacted by a particular business practice. The most important questions should involve the impact of the business practice on consumers, not the providers.
Well, welcome to “It’s the Consumer, Stupid – Part II” – courtesy of some of the reactions to AT&T’s sponsored data proposal. As you know by now, under AT&T’s proposal, data charges on AT&T wireless service resulting from eligible uses will be billed directly to the sponsoring company, rather than to the AT&T subscriber. Thus, as AT&T claims, the sponsored data plan operates in a fashion similar to the long-familiar 1-800 numbers that allow telephone customers to call toll-free, with the sponsor of the 800 number paying for the call.
First, let me make clear that I understand, and almost no one seriously contends otherwise, that the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, by their terms, do not apply to AT&T’s plan because the prohibitions don’t apply to wireless services. Nevertheless, this fact doesn’t stop some, who almost always reflexively oppose any business practice that can be made to “sound” in net neutrality from suggesting that, in any event, the practice ought not be allowed.
Second, I understand that sometimes it doesn’t matter one whit whether the FCC ‘s existing regulations actually do or do not prohibit a proposed business practice, or whether the FCC actually does or does not possess authority to prohibit the practice. By this I mean that often the objectors’ goal is simply to create enough of a stir – a brouhaha, as we say – so that the company proposing the new service will withdraw the proposal to “reconsider,” “reevaluate,” “recalibrate,” or whatever. It may take only a raised eyebrow or two from FCC officials or members of Congress to lead to such a strategic back-off.
I have seen such back-offs under fire many times in the past, and I’m sure I’ll see more. I often wince when they occur, but I understand the pressures that may be brought to bear.
In this instance, I hope AT&T holds fast for one main reason: Consumers, on the whole, are likely to benefit if AT&T’s plan goes forward. Whether or not the plan benefits AT&T is not my concern, although I assume AT&T anticipates its business will benefit or it wouldn’t propose the new offering. Too often “consumer advocates” adopt the posture that anything that benefits the service provider’s business must be detrimental to the provider’s consumers. In other words, they view the provider-customer relationship through a “zero-sum game” lens. This, of course, is completely wrong.
Let me now address the two principal objections raised in one form or another to AT&T’s proposal.
AT&T’s plan puts it in the business of picking winners and losers on the Internet.
AT&T says its plan is voluntary and non-exclusive, so it is difficult to understand how AT&T is picking any winners and losers. What some of the objectors seem to mean, instead, is that the very existence of the plan means, ipso facto, there will be winners and losers in the sense that some companies may not be able to afford to establish a sponsored data plan. Perhaps they are even the proverbial start-up still in the garage.
Depending on the business model employed by the content or apps provider, the sponsored data plan will be more or less attractive. Some companies certainly may benefit from such a business model more than others. This is the way markets operate. Most importantly, though, consumers benefit from the marketplace competition as companies innovate and invest in new content and applications while seeking a competitive edge.
Even assuming for the sake of argument that AT&T’s plan were exclusive rather than non-exclusive, it still would be wrong to assume AT&T would be in the position of picking winners and losers. This is because the wireless marketplace is competitive, and, therefore, it is in the interest of AT&T and its competitors to carry all the content and applications that consumers find attractive. In other words, AT&T and its competitors all want more usage of their network facilities. If a new start-up content or application provider has a good business plan that includes sponsored data – a proposal for a service likely to attract consumers – it will be able to attract capital to fund participation in AT&T’s plan.
AT&T’s plan could ultimately harm consumers.
This claim has been made by several of the objectors, but, for illustrative purposes, I’ll take the statement issued by Rep. Anna Eshoo, the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, whom I respect. According to a report in the Hillicon Valley blog, Rep. Eshoo said:
On its face, the ability for consumers to access ‘toll-free’ content seems like long-awaited relief from frustrating data caps. But embedded in programs of this type are serious implications for fairness and competition in the mobile marketplace. …And we must ask just how beneficial a program like this is to consumers who could ultimately foot the bill for the added cost of doing business.
I wouldn’t characterize data usage plans (most providers no longer have actual caps on usage, but rather tiered usage pricing plans) as frustrating as opposed to economically sound. But, in any event, a plan that allows consumers to enjoy certain content and applications free from usage caps appears consumer-friendly, and not just “on its face.” Just ask real-world consumers whether or not they prefer having this usage-free option available for some of their favorite heavy-trafficked sites, say, Netflix or ESPN. We know the answer.
But Rep. Eshoo’s suggestion is that, whatever the data-free plan’s acknowledged short-term benefit to consumers, they “could ultimately foot the bill for the added cost of doing business.” Presumably she means to suggest that the content and apps providers, ultimately, might pass on to consumers the fees they pay AT&T to participate in the sponsored data program. Depending on the business model devised by the content and apps providers, they may or may not charge consumers to access their products and services.
But here’s the most fundamental point: There simply is no free lunch. Assuming that the government is not going to take over the private wireless networks, and pay the costs of maintaining and operating them – and I don’t take Rep. Eshoo to be proposing this – it is just an economic fact that, ultimately, private networks, such as AT&T’s, must be paid for one way or another by those who use them, whether by AT&T’s subscribers, or by the content and apps providers who rely on AT&T’s network for reaching their own users, or some combination of these segments.
Under AT&T’s proposal, participating content and apps providers will share some of the costs of operating and expanding AT&T’s wireless network. There is no reason for the government to dictate that the costs for network operation and facilities upgrades shouldn’t be paid for, at least in part, by the content and applications providers that are reliant on the network to reach their customers. It is at least possible, if not likely, that this cost-sharing mechanism will turn out to be, at least for some business models, a more economically efficient way to recover the costs of operating and expanding the service provider’s networks, while expanding customer usage. And, in this context, economically efficient means less costly, on an overall basis, ultimately to the benefit of all consumers that use the network.
Put slightly differently, given the competition in the wireless broadband market – indeed, in the broadband marketplace at large – the costs of the FCC interfering with proposals like AT&T’s are likely to outweigh the benefits. This is because the costs entail curtailing market experimentation that drives innovation in new products and investment in new facilities. And when that happens, especially in a dynamic marketplace, we’re talking real consumer harm.
So, remember, in thinking about these issues: “It’s the Consumer, Stupid!”
[First published at the Free State Foundation blog.]
Before jumping into think tank life in late 2011 (technically speaking, jumping back into think tank life, as I did have a brief spell with the Independent Institute back in the late 1990s), I spent nine years covering the insurance industry as a beat reporter. The first six of those were with A.M. Best, where I was their D.C. bureau chief, and the last three were with SNL Financial, where I was a senior editor with a somewhat more diverse financial services beat.
Through that entire period, I learned to respect the entrepreneurial journalism done by my competitors at National Underwriter, one of the nation’s oldest trade publications devoted to insurance. With a deep and experienced staff and a bevy of awards to its name, NU always was certain to be on top of the action in all quarters of the life, health and property/casualty industries. I always knew that I had to be on the top of my game if I wanted to keep up with whatever developments our mutual audiences cared about.
Alas, the same shifts that have decimated the traditional publishing industry have hit NU particularly hard in recent years, even as it appeared to be mostly successful in transitioning its editorial products to the Web properties LifeHealthPro.com and PropertyCasualty360.com. The first of what have proven to be several successive rounds of restructuring was launched by NU in 2008, when the company laid off 25 percent of its staff and rolled back salaries 10 percent for those who remained. The company’s financial health continued to spiral downward until, three years ago, parent company Summit Business Media (also owners of Credit Union Times, another media outlet we at R Street deal with frequently) filed for bankruptcy protection, looking to restructure more than $250 million of debt and unsecured claims.
Though $140 million of that debt was ultimately wiped clean by creditors, the tough times continued. Ultimately, my old employers at SNL Financial ended up buying Summit’s crown jewels, its Highline insurance data business. And the bad news just kept coming. In December 2011, Summit shut down its Florida Underwriter magazine, which focused on insurance news in the Sunshine State. Having sacked CEO Andy Goodenough around the same time, they brought in former Ziff-Davis chief Steve Weitzner in early 2012. That didn’t stop the bleeding either. A year ago, they shut down print publication of Treasury & Risk magazine and sold off Futures magazine. Weitzner then announced another corporate-wide reorganization last August.
Through all that chaos, even as they saw their pay cut and their workloads double and triple, the staff at National Underwriter continued to produce quality work. We’ve worked with many of their reporters closely to weigh in on issues of concern to us — reforms of the Florida property and auto insurance markets, federal changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, reforms to federal crop insurance, and the list goes on.
Alas, the situation at Summit appears to have grown even more dire. Having parted ways in recent weeks with veteran reporters Mark E. Ruquet and Chad Hemenway (a former colleague of mine at A.M. Best), who departed for reinsurance broker Guy Carpenter and insurance consultancy Advisen Ltd., respectively, the news came down early today that NU had axed five more key editorial staffers: another former A.M. Best colleague of mine, Bonnie Brewer-Cavanaugh, along with Anya Khalamayzer, Maria Wood, and the D.C. bureau of Elizabeth Festa and Arthur D. Postal.
There is no other way to interpret this news than that NU has thrown in the towel on being a source of original journalism. That’s more bad news for the world of journalism, but it’s particularly bad for the business of insurance. For more than 100 years, National Underwriter has been one of the most important sources of news and analysis for the insurance industry, and losing the kind of thoughtful, informed journalism that it has always produced will leave a huge gap. It’s one I’ll feel as a consumer of insurance news, but I’m afraid it will also be felt in statehouses and in the halls of Congress, as lawmakers, regulators and their staff will be deprived of the inside perspective the publication has always provided.
On a personal level, I will always appreciate the counsel and advice that Dave Postal extended to me when I was new to Washington. He taught me a lot about how this town works, both on the Hill and for the ink-stained wretches who cover it. If we D.C. insurance reporters were a fraternity, then Dave was our elder statesman, a description he’d probably despise. But it was perhaps never more clear than when our fellow competitor — Mark Hofmann of Business Insurance — was diagnosed with cancer. Dave rallied the troops to show support for Mark, having only to say “he’s one of us.” I wish him the best in whatever he does next.
Indeed, I’d like to put the call out to all of our readers, particularly in the insurance industry — if you know of any job leads for thoughtful writers who really know this business inside and out, you’d do far worse than to start with this bunch.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Morgan City, La. — Last Friday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reined in BP’s efforts to curb payouts for what the oil company called “absurd” and “fictitious” claims related to the 2010 Gulf Coast Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Two out of three judges on the panel affirmed a federal judge’s approval of the massive 2012 settlement. So, if this decision stands, BP will continue to dispense cash to Gulf Coast residents and businesses that can show they were harmed by the spill.
Separately, the Gulf Coast state and local governments are gearing up for an influx of Clean Water Act fines stemming from the spill, which Congress has steered out of Washington and toward the states. And one public official in Louisiana, Garret Graves, knows exactly how his state could spend this money.
This despite the fact that Graves doesn’t seem completely comfortable with spending other people’s money. Tall and thin, with a mop of dark hair, Graves is authoritative but not imposing, coming across as the kind of astute politico and savvy wonk who would succeed as a Governor’s Executive Assistant for Coastal Activities.
But neither that nor his other title, chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, really does him justice. The truth is, Graves is perhaps the most powerful unelected public official in Louisiana, whose leadership will shape the southern half of the state for generations to come.
For the last six years, Graves has been Gov. Bobby Jindal’s point man on rebuilding the rapidly decaying coastal areas of the state, which lose about a football field’s worth of wetlands every hour. Coastal erosion, ground subsidence or sinking, and rising sea levels have made Louisianans as far inland as New Orleans increasingly vulnerable to hurricanes, floods, and storms.
Graves is determined to address the situation — and in the process, recast Louisiana as a state that can solve big problems. By his reckoning, the planning, coastal restoration and infrastructure building that Louisiana is undertaking now can teach lessons to the other 34 coastal states and territories, and indeed to countries around the world.
That would be no mean feat for a state still reeling from generations of corruption and malfeasance, as well as the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina.
In August 2005, Graves was working as a professional Republican staffer for the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; previously, he had worked for Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin, for Sen. John Breaux and for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But when Katrina hit, Graves got sucked into home-state issues dealing with the storm — which were inseparable from the problem of the state’s deteriorating coastline.
Graves studied engineering in college, but he had no specific expertise on coastal issues. “Being from Baton Rouge, I knew we had a coast,” Graves admits. “But I didn’t have an intimate understanding” of its ecology. What Graves did understand and felt passionately about, though, was the outdoors. During college, Graves taught outdoor education during summers, and while in D.C., he spent weekends out in West Virginia working as a river guide.
Shortly after Katrina, Gov. Kathleen Blanco created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), which was tasked with weaving together the various flood-control and wetlands-restoration efforts along Louisiana’s coastline into something resembling a cohesive vision. In 2007, the agency produced the state’s first coastal master plan, an effort Graves calls “under the conditions, really impressive.”
In 2008, newly elected Gov. Bobby Jindal tapped Graves to head up the CPRA. Graves returned to Baton Rouge and started to dig into the mishmash of agencies, programs and boards charged with restoring the coast. His team found over two dozen different levee districts and five state agencies with a stake in the coast. Including federal, state, local, and private sources for coastal rebuilding, there were almost 40 funding streams to turn into a rational overall approach.
“If we were going to be prepared for another Katrina-like situation,” Graves decided, “we were going to have to have a more streamlined approach to how this mission is carried out.”
That meant moving beyond logrolling and sheer political muscle in determining which coastal infrastructure projects the state should fund and instead using cost-benefit analysis, a systems approach, and a transparent and open process for thinking about projects to undertake.
But 2010 crystalized the sense of urgency — and catapulted the CPRA and Graves into higher political prominence. On April 20, a BP-operated oil rig exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 men and spewing million of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the coming months.
Louisiana’s coastline was by far the hardest hit in the five Gulf states, accounting for about half of the total oiled coastline. Gov. Jindal’s office claims that when discounting “trace oiling” (places where only trivial amounts of oil were found), Louisiana’s shoreline suffered 99 percent of the burden. (Needless to say, other states disagree with Louisiana’s assessment.)
So Graves’ team stepped up their work of translating the previous master plan into realistic projects and policies. The first issue confronting them was that the previous outline wasn’t a plan so much as a wish list: By their estimation, it contained about $300 billion in potential projects. So they had to narrow it down to a more manageable $50 billion over 50 years.
For months, Graves’ team drove and flew around southern Louisiana, holding listening sessions and private meetings and encouraging Louisianans to think about the plan not only in terms of outcomes but also in terms of process. Citizens were encouraged to think beyond what they and their communities wanted immediately and instead understand the benefits of developing a comprehensive coastal plan that would that would have effects both today as well as far into the future. Graves and his colleagues tried to remain open to ideas, even those that were unlikely to pass the muster of cost-benefit analysis. It is important to realize, Graves says, that when people ask for pet projects, they’re not wrong. “But at the same time, you have to be rational,” he adds, “You can’t be emotional.”
The plan that Graves’ team developed contains 397 discrete projects, including 33 structural projects such as building and strengthening levees. The bulk of the plan is its 248 restoration projects, such as oyster-barrier-reef and wetland restoration, many of which will alleviate the impact of hurricanes and reduce flooding. In terms of cost, the master plan runs the gamut from a $1 million salinity-control weir in Vermilion Parish to almost $4 billion for 60 miles of levees, ten barge gates and a lock complex as part of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane-protection system in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes.
Three vital characteristics make this qualify as a realistic plan, as opposed to a bureaucratic flight of fancy. First, the plan is comprehensive and systemic, and it considers the interactions between different projects. The CPRA developed a “Planning Tool” that generated terabytes of data to help model how different projects affect one another and how benefits to one area might harm others — and how those harms might be mitigated.
Second, the plan is constrained by budget considerations. It takes account not just of upfront costs but of maintenance and operations costs as well.
Third, and perhaps most important, despite making hard choices, the plan has democratic legitimacy. In May 2012, the Louisiana Legislature unanimously approved the master plan, ratifying the Graves team’s vision for the coast.
The plan got a big boost two months later, when Congress passed the RESTORE Act. Sponsored by Rep. Steve Scalise in the House and Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Senate, the Act sets aside 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines paid by BP and rig owner Transocean for environmental and economic projects in the Gulf Coast states.
Currently, a federal judge in New Orleans is sorting through conflicting claims of fact and law to determine what fines BP must pay under the Clear Water Act. (Transocean already paid a $1 billion fine.) Total Clean Water Act fines could total as much as $18 billion, of which perhaps $6 billion could make its way to the Louisiana coastline.
Whatever the outcome of the case, Louisiana stands head and shoulders above the other coastal states in having a plan to spend the windfall. There’s widespread (though not unanimous) consensus in Louisiana that RESTORE Act funds should go to jump-starting the master plan.
Other Gulf Coast states are trying to make plans, but none have anything as concrete as Louisiana’s, and none have as much democratic and popular legitimacy. In many ways, the other states are today where Louisiana was in 2007: in a brainstorming phase. Louisiana’s budget-constrained, systematic approach to the coast took time to develop — and other states might do well to emulate it.
For Graves, the RESTORE Act isn’t just an opportunity to fund coastal-master-plan projects, it’s a chance to show how “principled infrastructure investments can yield exponential benefits.” While so much of the country — think of Virginia’s recent legislative brawl over a tax hike to pay for new roads — is embroiled in debating how much public money to spend, the debate on coastal restoration in Louisiana is more focused on how well the money can be spent.
By Graves’ reckoning, $8 billion invested before Katrina would have reduced property damage and loss of life by 80 to 90 percent across the state. “We need to have a balanced budget and spend responsibly,” Graves argues. “But if you make infrastructure spending decisions with the right criteria, you actually generate cost savings.”
RESTORE Act funds aren’t taxpayer money; they’re a civil fine that would have otherwise gone to the federally administered Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Instead, they’re going to the states — along with great leeway in deciding how to spend them. The question is whether they’ll be spent responsibly, or — like the tobacco-settlement funds from the 90s — turn into a slush fund augmenting general revenue and growing government in the process.
What happens next is in the hands of the Gulf Coast states, and Louisiana is leading the pack in having thought through how to spend its windfall intelligently. Whether Louisiana and its neighbors end up turning the fallout from the oil spill into something beneficial will be a significant part of the legacy of the coast’s five Republican governors — and will have ramifications for decades to come.
After decades of controlling America’s energy narrative, on January 5, CBS’s 60 Minutes fired a shot that has put the green lobby on the defensive. The next day, two very different media outlets lobbed blows that could represent a new trend; a change of tone in Washington.
The 60 Minutes piece, featuring correspondent Lesley Stahl, aired, perhaps intentionally, at a time when it may have had the lowest possible viewership, as it aired opposite the NFL playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. You may have missed it. But environmental/renewable-energy believers took the hit—and they are pushing back.
Stahl opened “The cleantech crash” with:
About a decade ago, the smart people who funded the Internet turned their attention to the energy sector, rallying tech engineers to invent ways to get us off fossil fuels, devise powerful solar panels, clean cars, and futuristic batteries. The idea got a catchy name: ‘Cleantech.’ Silicon Valley got Washington excited about it. President Bush was an early supporter, but the federal purse strings truly loosened under President Obama. Hoping to create innovation and jobs, he committed north of a $100 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks to Cleantech. But instead of breakthroughs, the sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops. Suddenly Cleantech was a dirty word.
Midway through the segment, Stahl states: “Well, Solyndra went through over half a billion dollars before it failed. Then I’m gonna give you a list of other failures: Abound Energy, Beacon Power, Fisker, V.P.G., Range Fuels, Ener1, A123, ECOtality. I’m exhausted.”
Regarding Stahl’s list, Bruce Barcott, “who writes frequently about the outdoors and the environment,” in a rant for OnEarth Magazine about the 60 Minutes segment, asks: “Where was the evidence of cleantech’s crash in the ‘60 Minutes’ report?” He continues: “It seemed to boil down to the fact that Solyndra, Fisker, LG Chem, and five other clean tech companies went bankrupt. All true.”
Perhaps, to Barcott, eight bankrupt companies do not offer enough “evidence” to write green energy’s obit. How much would he need?
If Stahl had read the entire list of Obama-backed taxpayer-funded green-energy projects that have gone bust—let alone those that are circling the drain, she would have truly been fatigued. Together with researcher Christine Lakatos, I’ve been following the foibles for the past eighteen months. Our bankrupt list (updated May 2013) includes 25—17 more than Stahl cited (and there have been new failures since then).
Calling the “cleantech crash” segment a “hit piece,” Barcott claims: “the evidence of success is overwhelming.”
In the National Journal’s daily energy newsletter, “Energy Edge,” Amy Harder agrees with Barcott: “The story did not give much credence to successful renewable-energy ventures or to a major impetus for clean energy, which is global warming (as opposed to just job creation).” She adds: “Nonetheless, the report reminds green-energy advocates that Solyndra’s shadow is not nearly gone.”
For RenewableEnergyWorld.com, Scott Sklar, a DC lobbyist for clean, distributed-energy users and companies using renewable energy, claims: “In reality, clean energy has never looked better.” He called the 60 Minutes segment a “bash fest” and suggested: it “seemed like it was co-written by the Koch Brothers.”
For the National Journal, Ben Geman wrote: “Green-Energy Battle Flares Over ‘60 Minutes’ Report.” He concludes: “The report and the response are the latest thrust and parry over White House backing for green-energy projects that have faced heavy GOP criticism. The Energy Department—which Stahl said declined to grant her an interview—hit back on Sunday night. The department has for years noted that failed or badly struggling companies represent only a very small portion of the overall green-energy loan portfolio. ‘Simply put, 60 Minutes is flat wrong on the facts. The clean-energy economy in America is real, and we are more competitive than ever in this rapidly expanding global industry. This is a race we can, must, and will win,’ spokesman William Gibbons said in a statement.”
Ironically, while the believers busily “hit back,” the news tells a different story.
One of the projects featured by 60 minutes is KiOR—a Columbus, Mississippi, plant that turns wood products into gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil funded in part by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla—has shut down in a “cost-cutting move.” A January 9 report states: “the debate in Washington in changing alternative fuel standards drove down prices so low that the company couldn’t afford to continue production for now until it can get efficiencies to the point where it is producing at least 80 gallons of fuel for every ton of wood.” Even if Khosla’s KiOR is able to improve efficiencies to “80 gallons of fuel for every ton of wood”—which would be about four times the current production—that is still a terrible return. (Incidentally, Khosla started the bankrupt Range Fuels that was mentioned by Lesley Stahl in her brief list of failed “cleantech” programs.)
Robert Rapier, also featured in the 60 Minutes segment—which focused primarily on biofuels—reported on the Department of Energy’s follow up audit for Financial Assistance for Integrated Biorefinery Projects. Among his “results,” Rapier states: “40 percent of the demonstration-scale and commercial-scale projects selected from the FOAs [Funding Opportunity Announcements] were mutually terminated by the DOE and the recipients after expending more than $75 million in taxpayer dollars.” He cites the audit: “Program officials acknowledged the projects selected were not fully ready for commercial-scale operations and that the projects were high-risk. However, they indicated that the EPAct required them to move forward with commercial-scale projects…” Rapier concludes: “I think the lesson here is that political wishes continue to trump scientific realities, and taxpayers are left to pay the bills. … If only our political leaders understood that you can’t mandate technical breakthroughs, even if you require money to be spent trying to do so.”
Hardly the “overwhelming success” 60 Minutes’ detractors proclaim.
Barcott defends use of taxpayer money to support “emerging technologies” and acknowledges that “asking hard questions about if and when we should cut off that support” is, well, “hard.”
All of this “thrust and parry” is taking place during the time Congress is considering retroactively extending various tax breaks for cleantech projects—such as the Production Tax Credit for wind energy that expired on December 31, 2013. Amid the blows fired upon the renewable energy industry this past week, the Chicago Tribune (hardly a defender of right-wing policies) piled on with a January 5 op-ed encouraging “Congress and the White House to stop manipulating the tax code as America’s de facto energy policy: Thorough federal tax reform should sunset this arbitrary favoritism for wind energy and other politically favored industries.”
The other lobs, from CNBC and Fox News, landed on January 6.
CNBC’s Kudlow Report featured a “what happened to global warming” segment in which Larry Kudlow scoffs at the “all wrong” predictions that have now “come unglued.” His guest, Steve Hayward—a visiting professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder—stated: “Global warming is going away” like so many other scares before it. Hayward claimed that environmental crises follow a pattern: “Find a problem and blow it up into a world-ending crisis and demand endless political solutions.” Yucking it up, they laughed at the “sheer comedy of the ship getting stuck in the ice in Antarctica,” calling it “an eco-tourism stunt that backfired badly.”
On Fox Business, Stuart Varney’s “Stuart Says” feature was: “Annoying greenies influence policy that hurts U.S.” In his 2-minute-18-second monologue, Varney suggests that we “respond to this climate change demagoguery with ridicule. Frankly, the global warming crowd now looks ridiculous. People are laughing at them.”
Yes, the “annoying greenies” are on the defense—and, as the Green Bay players on that cold January 5 in Wisconsin knew, you can’t win on the defense.
In the year since President Barack Obama’s re-election, a handful of advocates for compassionate conservatism have re-emerged to push back against limited government conservatives with the same agenda they’ve been peddling for nearly 15 years. Built around a message of governance in favor of the public good, they have chided the Tea Party and its limited government allies for ignoring the plight of the poor, heartlessly pursuing libertarian ends, and adopting a view of government’s proper role which is unrealistic and ahistorical.
The problem is that their own views are based on assumptions undermined by the failings of the George W. Bush presidency and by the organic growth in distrust in government among all Americans – and they fail to recognize the inherent weakness of their message, which confuses a political slogan with a coherent philosophy of governance and would allow for sweeping expansions of the state.
Former Bush speechwriters Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner have a long essay in National Affairs about conservative governance which has been getting some attention over the past few weeks. If it’s too much for you to read, you can read a shorter summary in Gerson’s Washington Post column here, which critiques “the identification of constitutionalism with an anti-government ideology” as “not only politically toxic; it is historically and philosophically mistaken.” Gerson continued on that theme in his subsequent column:
“One of the main problems with an unremittingly hostile view of government — held by many associated with the tea party, libertarianism and “constitutionalism” — is that it obscures and undermines the social contributions of a truly conservative vision of government. Politics requires a guiding principle of public action.”
“For popular liberalism, it is often the rule of good intentions: If it sounds good, do it. Social problems can be solved by compassionate, efficient regulation and bureaucratic management — which is seldom efficient and invites unintended consequences in complex, unmanageable systems (say, the one-sixth of the U.S. economy devoted to health care). The signal light for government intervention is stuck on green. For libertarians and their ideological relatives, the guiding principle is the maximization of individual liberty. It is a theory of government consisting mainly of limits and boundaries. The light is almost always red.”
“Conservatism (as Peter Wehner and I explain in our recent National Affairs essay, “A Conservative Vision of Government”) offers a different principle of public action — though one a bit more difficult to explain than “go” or “stop.” In the traditional conservative view, individual liberty is ennobled and ordered within social institutions — families, religious communities, neighborhoods, voluntary associations, local governments and nations. The success of individuals is tied to the health of these institutions, which prepare people for the responsible exercise of freedom and the duties of citizenship. This is a limiting principle: Higher levels of government should show deference to private associations and local institutions. But this is also a guide to appropriate governmental action — needed when local and private institutions are enervated or insufficient in scale to achieve the public good.”
The problem with Gerson’s framing here is obvious: in what way is appropriate governmental action to achieve a public good determined? If we are in an era when social institutions are in decline – partially due to government, but due as much to culture – what limits if any should expansionists recognize on the size and scope of government? This is the equivalent of the general welfare clause: If there is any limit to what can be defined as a public good, which of Michael Bloomberg’s policies would Gerson describe as unconservative? Isn’t it good for people to be healthier, even if the state is being a bit of a nanny? Were local and private institutions really dealing with those problems of too much soda and salt?
Throughout the piece, Gerson and Wehner make arguments that are very difficult to distinguish philosophically from liberalism. “The founders, then, provided us with a strong governing system – strong precisely because it could adapt to changing circumstances,” they write, echoing the liberal idea of a “living Constitution.” The authors also argue for a federal government “strong enough to shape global events and to guarantee a minimal provision for the poor, ill, and elderly.” Though Gerson and Wehner insist they believe in limited government, it’s hard to see what limiting principle they have in mind, as the definition of “minimal provision” could vary widely. Evidently, what philosophically separates them from liberals is a belief that the welfare state should be less centralized and technocratic.
Gerson and Wehner are not politicians, of course. But there are those who appear to be adopting their brand of reform. Senator Marco Rubio’s proposal this week for an anti-poverty reform agenda is a useful example of the problem these compassionate conservative assumptions run into when you attempt to put them into practice. While consolidation and block-granting are all well and good, Rubio doesn’t stop there:
“Mr. Rubio will also propose Wednesday to replace the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was used by 28 million tax payers in 2011, with a new “wage enhancement” system that directs federal money towards supplementing the income of people who work in “qualifying low-income jobs.”
Rubio’s motivations here are noble, and almost certainly pass Gerson’s “public good” test: wage stagnation is indeed a problem, and the EITC is a warped system which has racked up a roughly 25% fraud percentage over the past decade. But think for a moment about what he’s proposing here: a future of long fights over what a “qualifying low-income job” is, a definition ripe for unions to exploit under future Democratic administrations. And let’s not even get started on the audits and oversight. I thought that limited government advocates would want to get government out of businesses, not further integrating them. Conn Carroll explains:
All conservatives should ask themselves: Do I want to empower President Obama to decide which are the “qualifying low-wage jobs” and which are not? Is there any doubt Obama, or future liberal presidents, would use this new government program to play favorites in the market place? Would Obama or President Hillary Clinton every give wage subsidies to coal miners? Or Americans working at an oil refinery? Of course not. How would the federal government prevent fraud and abuse without making the new program a burden on participating employers? Instead of creating a brand new government program to subsidize low paying jobs, why not just cut the payroll tax for everyone? No favoritism. No fraud. No abuse. Just make it easier for employers to hire and let Americans take home more of their money every paycheck. Why not keep it simple?
Robert Rector has some criticism of Rubio’s plan here. But the bigger issue is that Rubio’s focusing on the wrong problem, as Scott Winship indicates here in a piece on another topic. Wage subsidies accept the left’s proposition that the problem here is a monetary one, where just giving poor people more money to be more comfortable in their poverty is the solution. That’s the opposite of a safety net, which – if properly designed – offers peace of mind to the most vulnerable in the event of total disaster. And Rubio’s answer ignores the fact that the real problem faced by the working and middle class isn’t wage stagnation so much as the actions of government have caused things like health care, education, gas and groceries to eat up a larger portion of their pocketbooks… an approach which would be far more consistent with a limited view of government’s role.
The best critique of Gerson and Wehner’s views may be this 2008 review of the former’s book, Heroic Conservatism, by John Podhoretz. In an eloquent passage, Podhoretz reveals the real failing ignored by the compassionate conservative advocates: they’re trying to turn a limited marketing slogan into a comprehensive governing philosophy.
But it is precisely the gap between the lofty principles expressed in speeches and the often compromised policies enacted by officialdom that has helped create public skepticism about the efficacy of government action to cure social ills. This skepticism vexes Gerson, but he does not offer a reasoned argument against it. He simply cautions conservatives not to be excessively fearful of the so-called “law of unintended consequences”—i.e., the possibility that government action intended to do good can have the opposite result…
“Like all true conservatives,” Gerson writes, “I believe in limited government.” But there is very little in this book about limiting government’s reach and a great deal about expanding it. Gerson’s call to idealism is inspiring, especially in his chapters dealing with Bush’s campaign to combat AIDS in Africa—surely the most underappreciated initiative of this presidency and perhaps of any presidency in modern times. And his account of the thinking behind the magisterial series of addresses through which George W. Bush transformed the foreign policy of the United States after September 11 is essential reading for any student of American politics.
But it seems Gerson never really grasped the truth about compassionate conservatism. This is that it was not a party program, let alone a developed political philosophy, but a marketing gimmick. It is thus little wonder that eight years of exploring the depths and reaches of this topic have led to a very singular brand of politics. Michael Gerson’s party of heroic conservatism is, I fear, a party of one.
The challenge of conservative governance in this era of the right’s muddled grappling with their ongoing philosophical disagreement will continue to create tensions between a faction that believes conservatism means doing the business of compassion more efficiently in pursuit of a vaguely defined public good, and one which believes it’s more important to restrain the warping effects of government and return the government to the role it occupied for most of American history, before LBJ set us on the path toward an unsustainable entitlement state… which was, if you think about it, entirely justified at the time if you adopted Gerson’s approach.
Here’s a hint: If your approach to conservative governance would justify the Great Society, it’s usually a sign you took a wrong turn somewhere. Maybe because the lights were all green.
[First published at The Federalist.]
Net neutrality activist opposition to AT&T’s new Sponsored Data offering exposes that the purpose of “net neutrality/open Internet” is not just about protecting consumers and free speech, or preventing anti-competitive behavior.
Those calling for an FCC investigation of AT&T’s Sponsored Data are trying to mutate the “net neutrality/open Internet” debate to also be about whether or not there should be permanent economic entitlements, i.e. downstream “zero-price” subsidies, for edge websites and applications – to “subsidize creativity” and start-up innovation via an explicit FCC ban on network termination charges.
Translation: all websites and applications should be entitled, by “open Internet” network design, to no cost Internet distribution/access to consumers forever, regardless of the costs that their services cause everyone else to pay for.
That previously-rejected Title II broadband approach effectively would have the FCC mandate that consumers must permanently subsidize the video streaming of over-the-top (OTT) video streamers, like Netflix and Google-YouTube, which together consume half of the Internet’s downstream bandwidth per Sandvine.[For more on the thinking behind this mutating view of net neutrality, see Professor Tim Wu’s 2009 paper: “Subsidizing Creativity through Network Design: Zero-Pricing and Net Neutrality.”]
The mutation of the debate is evident in the over-the-top criticism of AT&T’s Sponsored Data offering — which obviously is not an actual violation of mainstream freedom-defined net neutrality or the FCC’s open Internet rules – but only a perceived violation of hoped-for Title II reclassified common-carrier-defined net neutrality.
Concerning AT&T’s voluntary Sponsored Data offering, a content seller now has an additional option to market their content to consumers by paying for the downstream bandwidth that their content consumes. In other words, “sponsored data” means the consumer is not “billed” for the sponsored bandwidth usage, the sponsor is “billed” for it.
Picking up part of a consumer’s tab to entice a consumer to try or use their product of service is marketing 101. It’s like free breakfast with a hotel room, or free financing with a new car. This consumer freebie practice is among the most normal, prevalent and effective marketing techniques in the economy today.
Importantly, AT&T’s Sponsored Data does not affect the speed of anyone’s delivery. It does not slow down, degrade, or impair anyone’s service and it does not block a consumer from accessing any legal content, application or device a consumer chooses. It isn’t discriminatory, because it’s totally voluntary. And it limits no one’s free speech.
AT&T’s Sponsored Data only lowers the cost of delivery of sponsored content to the consumer. Consumers benefit. They are hurt in no way.
Moreover, this is not a “double dip.” It is a simple cost transfer from the buyer (the consumer’s bandwidth bill) to the seller (the sponsor’s bandwidth bill). Thus the bandwidth in question is not paid twice; it is just paid by someone else than the consumer.
This is a two-sided market like a traditional newspaper, where both a consumer and a seller can pay for part of the cost of delivery of the content to the consumer. It is one of the great benefits, efficiencies, synergies and innovations of a market economy over a regulated one, because it enables and incentivizes more people to cover the cost of the broadband infrastructure from which they all benefit.
Now consider the highly-successful, effective pilot of “sponsored data” in the marketplace used by tens of millions of Americans for the last six-years without activists objecting it was a violation of net neutrality or an open Internet.
To promote its business, Amazon offers free delivery for physical goods ordered over Amazon, and equivalently offers free downstream delivery of its digital content to Kindle readers. Amazon has proved over the last six years that offering free downstream bandwidth delivery to Kindles stimulated more sales of both Kindle devices and e-book digital content.
Why has it been perfectly OK for Amazon to do this for six years, but now that AT&T is offering this exact same sponsored data opportunity to other businesses, it somehow isn’t?
So what is really going on here? Their response makes no sense unless there is another agenda.
Net neutrality activists are actively trying to move the goalposts – again – this time to Title II common-carrier-defined net neutrality. The net neutrality debate will no longer be just about free speech or no anti-competitive discrimination, blocking, degrading or impairing of bandwidth. They are now trying to make it about Professor Wu’s utopian “subsidizing creativity through network design,” i.e. formally requiring everyone to economically subsidize “edge creators” by imposing a common carrier price ban on termination fees.
Simply, what they want is that edge entities — which send their content downstream to the consumer — should NEVER have to pay for that downstream bandwidth. To achieve their utopian ideal of perfect creative egalitarianism on the Internet, activists want the FCC to have Title II common-carrier pricing authority so it can mandate an absolute ban on anybody paying specifically for downstream traffic.
Why activists are freaking out about AT&T’s Sponsored Data is that it defiles their utopian ideal of perfect Internet egalitarianism of universal, unlimited, free, downstream-bandwidth for edge creators.
In advancing their utopian ideal, if anyone is allowed to pay anything for downstream bandwidth, (even if it is the same speed and quality of everyone else’s bandwidth; is voluntary, it benefits the consumer; and is pro-competitive), it violates the egalitarian principle of “subsidizing creativity” via “zero-pricing.”
Free downstream bandwidth is necessary for “edge creators” to enjoy the exact same economics as broadband companies that have invested hundreds of billions of dollars to provide the very high-speed downstream bandwidth everyone uses. Simply net neutrality economic entitlements are about trying to eliminate any economic advantage of vertical integration of content distribution and ownership. That’s what activists mean when they say they don’t want the Internet model to be like cable model.
Activists covet duplicating the monopoly common carrier model for telephone, because it long enabled economic entitlements and wealth transfers outside of the normal legislative tax or appropriations processes. Historically, the monopoly common-carrier, telephone model ofstrict price regulation was quite effective in having urban consumers subsidize rural consumers and businesses subsidize consumers.
Free culture Net neutrality activists (Lessig, Wu, Crawford, et al) covet monopoly common carrier price regulation of broadband in order to mandate free downstream bandwidth, and to economically-destroy the capitalist media/cable companies that they loathe.
The monster political problem with the activists’ desired economic entitlement scheme is who subsidizes whom. For telephone service there was strong political consensus for implicit telephone subsidies where businesses and then more affluent urban consumers subsidized less fortunate rural consumers.
Perversely, net neutrality economic entitlements of zero pricing are upside-down, where activists expect consumers to subsidize corporate welfare for Netflix, Google-YouTube, and Amazon, all very profitable companies that obviously do not need subsidies.
In sum, activists are trying to mutate the “net neutrality/open Internet” debate towards implicit economic entitlements. Their ultimate purpose is to destroy the offline media/cable model and replace with a utopian, Internet commons model.
The fatal flaw with their concept is that any such inherently uneconomic pricing scheme will naturally be gamed and manipulated by arbitrageurs. And by far the biggest arbitrageurs and beneficiaries of free downstream bandwidth are Netflix and Google-YouTube.
While there remains strong consensus for freedom-defined net neutrality where Internet users should be able to access the legal content and applications of their choice, there is little appetite for official corporate welfare for Netflix and Google-YouTube – which together devour half of all Internet downstream bandwidth in the U.S.
[First published at the Precursor Blog.]
Conservatives, for the first time in quite a while, are beginning to take the issue of poverty seriously. Tea party figures like Marco Rubio and Mike Lee have given thoughtful speeches on income mobility. Liberals, surprisingly, don’t like a lot of what they see.
Writing in the Washington Post, Washington Monthly‘s Ryan Cooper (who has also done work for R Street) argues that “a keystone part of any anti-poverty agenda must be the transfer of resources… without that it will accomplish little.” I think he’s wrong about this. While some sort of “resource transfer” should be part of an anti-poverty agenda, it’s not the only (or even the most) important thing.
Let’s start with the resource transfer part. Yes, it’s important. Like a lot of conservatives who care about poverty, I think that the best way to deal with the money problems is to give more money directly to the poor. Such a system could take the form of a “negative income tax” or “basic guaranteed income” that would replace almost all current social assistance with a simple cash grant. Such a program could be more generous than the existing welfare state and, if it were provided to absolutely everybody, would erase all of the work disincentives implicit in the existing programs. Since it would be very simple to administer — every adult would get the same grant — it would also reduce the size, scope and intrusiveness of government.
But such a program, no matter how worthy, simply isn’t enough. The state does a variety of things that tend to hurt many of its poorest residents and eliminating them can do a lot to help the poor. Two stand out.
First, except in cases where there’s a obvious health and safety risk (open heart surgery, civil engineering) the government should stop standing in the way of individuals’ desire to pursue their chosen careers. Professional licensing, in its current form, creates an enormous burden on the people who most need opportunities for upward mobility. The Institute for Justice, a fantastic libertarian public interest law firm, finds that one out of three workers need some sort of license and that the typical license requires hundreds of dollars in fees, nine months of training and an exam. For people striving to make it, this is a massive and unfair barrier. Dismantling the great bulk of the licensing regimes — inspections and certifications could still assure health and safety — would likely do more to help the poor than any new job training programs liberals might dream up.
Second, the government needs to make it easier for people who have done prison or jail time to return to society. An enormous percentage of lower-income males have done time in correctional facilities and ex-offenders have a very difficult time finding work when they’re released. While spending on programs to reintegrate them into society has increased in recent years, governments still don’t do nearly enough to solve a problem its own laws have played a major role in creating. The fact that criminal records follow many people around for life means that a youthful mistake can seriously impede one’s life opportunities.
People can change over time and those who commit less serious offenses should have a pathway — albeit an arduous one — to having reasonably minor offenses “spent” after a period of exemplary behavior. While I think it would be a mistake to outright legalize most currently banned drugs, likewise, mere possession of small quantities of most drugs should be treated more as a public health issue than a crime. Other laws that create new crimes should also be looked at seriously and, in many cases, repealed.
Assistance to the poor is a worthy and important function of the state. Net increases to direct aid to the poor may even be justified, particularly if they can be offset by cuts to spending that benefits the wealthy. But government does a lot to stand in the way of the poor. Getting the government out of the way is at least as important as resource transfers.
From The Advocate:
One of the major advocates for Biggert-Waters is R Street, a conservative Washington think tank. “While it is reasonable for Congress to address hardships that could make flood insurance unaffordable for lower-income homeowners, a blanket delay would mean continuing to subsidize beach homes for the wealthy, as well,” R Street analyst R.J. Lehmann said of the new push for changes by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and a bipartisan group of senators…
…We note that R Street recognizes that changes have to be made to Biggert-Waters, in part because of the way in which the federal government has failed to assess properly the flood protection provided by levees so common in Louisiana and the clumsy way in which the rate increases are to be levied unless the law is amended.
A new European study from Britain’s Office of Communications tries to argue that the EU’s wireless regulation approach is better than America’s. The New York Times’ clever headline on the report sees right through it: “Europeans pay less for mobile use, but at a cost.”
In Europe, regulators regularly lower prices and roaming rates for political purposes, ignoring the market economics or economic sustainability of their regulatory approach. The EU’s politics-of-the-moment interest in lower prices, based more on operating costs than total costs that fund long-term investments in infrastructure, ultimately harms consumer value.
The EU’s wireless approach is the equivalent of pushing farmers to sell almost all their current corn harvest to maximize corn supply to maximally lower prices in the short-term, which ignores the obvious need to save enough seed-corn to plant for a successful next harvest. Without market economic thinking and pricing that plans ahead and continually funds infrastructure investment, the EU will continue to fall further behind other countries around the world.
It should be no surprise that that is exactly what’s happening.
Europeans have slower data speeds than America and they know it. EU Vice President, Neelie Kroes, recently said:
Japan, South Korea, and the USA have around the same population, but … about 15 times more 4G. Europe needs to catch up.
France Telecom’s Deputy CEO recently echoed that sentiment:
It’s humiliating – we’re behind. . . . The web was mainly invented by a European, but . . . the fastest networks are in the U.S. and Asia.
The White House knows it too:
In 2012, North America’s average mobile data connection speed was 2.6 Mbps, the fastest in the world, nearly twice that available in Western Europe.
And Europeans should know that their lower-priced wireless services underfund network capacity, so consequently they get less value and productivity from the Internet — in average usage by consumers. Overall Americans use 50.2 gigabytes per month to Europeans’ 23.6 gigabytes per month according to USTelecom 2012 data.
The old adage is true here; you get what you pay for.
Finally, those activists in America who advocate for a more government-driven broadband marketplace, in hopes of the government mandating: common-carrier net-neutrality, bans on usage pricing/caps, and government-owned networks, need to realize that the EU uneconomics model — that they historically have held up as the shining example that America should follow — is badly falling behind and under-performing America’s market economics model.
In his Thursday morning press conference regarding “Bridgegate,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie demonstrated the sort of leadership and responsibility-taking that has allowed him to be a popular Republican governor in a very blue state and the current front-runner for the Republican nomination for president (to the dismay of many conservatives).
In short, the scandal revolves around Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, contacting a Christie-appointed Port Authority official named David Wildstein and telling him to cause traffic problems for the town of Fort Lee, NJ. It is believed, though not proven in the e-mails uncovered by the Bergen Record, that the purpose was retaliation against the Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie in his most recent election.
Wildstein resigned last month and Kelly has been fired, and in today’s press conference Christie also reported that he has told his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who had knowledge of the events, to withdraw his name from consideration for state party chairman and to end his consulting for the Republican Governors Association. In a hearing before a state House committee on Thursday about the events, Wildstein asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, perhaps wise given that some are blaming the death of an elderly woman on an ambulance delay caused by Wildstein and Kelly’s actions; the committee voted to “place him in contempt of this committee, which is a misdemeanor.”
Christie, for his part, was aggressively contrite. He said he felt “embarrassed and humiliated” but also said that what happened in his office is his responsibility and he would deal with it in every possible way, including going to Fort Lee today to meet with the mayor and apologize to the town’s people while in their town. Mayor Sokolich initially suggested that Christie stay away, saying that an apology is “premature” with investigations and more press conferences still to come, but Sokolich soon changed his mind.
As part of his explanation of why he had denied the story two weeks ago, Christie said that the story didn’t make sense to him from the beginning because Mayor Sokolich was never on his radar, that the Christie campaign was not looking for the mayor’s endorsement, and therefore that he didn’t believe early reports that someone in his campaign had retaliated against someone whom Christie didn’t think was important in his reelection. Christie said of Sokolich, “Until I saw his picture last night on television, I couldn’t have picked him out of a lineup.”
He also said that the sort of behavior represented by Bridgegate is the exception, not the rule, within his administration and reemphasized the bipartisan nature of his campaign and the way he has operated the New Jersey government, getting things done with Democrats.
I don’t write this as particularly a Christie fan: I think he has great strengths and important weaknesses.
But what struck me the most listening to this man speak was the couldn’t-be-greater contrast between him and Barack Obama. And not just his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion.
Chris Christie expressed credible contrition and a “buck stops here” attitude for a few days of traffic issues caused by someone else who kept him in the dark and then lied to him about it.
Barack Obama has never expressed believable remorse or taken responsibility, nor held anyone else responsible, for any of his scandals and disasters. Not for the IRS targeting conservatives. Not for the DOJ targeting reporters. Not for the death of four Americans in Benghazi. Not for the deaths of more Americans due to Fast and Furious. None of these things is directly his fault, but contrast the president’s non-reaction to Governor Christie’s words on Thursday:
I didn’t know about it but it’s my responsibility because I’m the governor. So I’m taking that responsibility and taking actions appropriate with executing that responsibility in accord with what the information is today.
Seriously, can you imagine a president who has not fired anybody for any of his administration’s many scandals doing anything like what Christie did today?
Nor has Obama apologized for causing millions to lose health insurance policies (and we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg), triggering huge increases in health insurance premiums, raising deductibles, and limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals. Obamacare, the single most damaging piece of legislation in modern American history, is named for him and only passed because of him; it has his signature on it. If he didn’t know the law would do exactly what it is doing, he is a truly incompetent president. If he did know (which I believe he did) he should be profoundly apologetic, but that is impossible for the malignant narcissist who occupies the White House.
Additionally, the presumably liberal reporters at the press conference asked Chris Christie very aggressive questions such as that posed by CNN’s John King:
What kind of questions are you asking of yourself? . . . These are people you trusted. . . . they either thought ‘this is what the boss wanted’ or as a group they were willing to go rogue and then lie to you about it.
I’m heartbroken about it and I’m incredibly disappointed. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the angry stage yet but I’m sure I’ll get there. But I’m just stunned. And what does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask ‘What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me?’ There’s a lot of soul-searching that goes around with this.
Again, can you imagine Barack Obama having even a fraction of that introspection or public humility?
And, while they’ve been slightly braver lately, can you imagine the Washington press corps asking such tough questions of our Teflon (though it’s wearing thin) president? Can you imagine him giving an answer that takes less than 10 minutes and which actually answers a reporter who questions his character or competency or leadership? And can you imagine the fear in the reporter as to whether he would ever be called on again to ask another question?
Christie’s entire press conference was as good a response as he could have offered to the mess dropped on his head by a stupid, unscrupulous staffer, and an even better contrast to Barack Obama’s petty tyranny, his disconnectedness from the truth and from the public, and the timidity of most of those whom the nation relies on to ask him the hard questions and get the important answers.
Contrary to the hopes of liberals and the half-worried, half-hopeful reaction of staunch conservatives who simultaneously don’t entirely trust Christie but want very much to elect a Republican president in 2016, it is just as likely that Christie’s handling of this mini-scandal will help him politically as hurt him.
[First published at American Spectator.]
Colorado broke new ground by ringing in the New Year with the nation’s first legal pot industry for recreational use, where a doctor’s note is not required and where production of the marijuana is unregulated (unlike in the Netherlands). Although federal law still makes the sale of marijuana a crime, Attorney General Eric Holder made clear in August 2013 that he’s not much interested in prosecuting marijuana cases.
Following is an account of how the news was greeted in Colorado:
Hundreds of people — if not thousands by the end of the day — braved cold temperatures and intermittent snowfall on New Year’s Day to make history in Colorado by legally buying recreational marijuana. Lines formed well before dawn at most pot shops, but many said that it was worth the lack of sleep and discomfort to be among the first in the world to buy marijuana in state-sanctioned stores. Across the state, 37 shops opened for business and dozens more are expected to open in the coming weeks and months.
The owner of two Colorado Springs medical pot shops who came to Denver to toast the dawn of pot sales for recreational use had this to say:
This feels like freedom at last. It’s a plant, it’s harmless, and now anyone over 21 can buy it if they want to. Beautiful.
Sounds wonderful, but the pot shop owner is wrong, according to Dr. Marvin Seppala, the Chief Medical Officer at the Hazelden Foundation, a prominent drug recovery center in Minnesota. He stated there is danger of addition and studies on the brain have shown the use of pot alters the hippocampus affecting short-term memory. It also affects the lungs. According to Yale University scientists There is a higher chance of users suffering from chronic bronchitis. Marijuana smoking also exposes a user’s respiratory system to infectious organisms such as molds and fungi.
Brian Vicente, one of the co-authors of Amendment 64 called the grand opening “a watershed moment” in U.S. history and said Colorado will serve as a model for other states preparing to legalize marijuana by “charting a path for the rest of the country to follow.” Considering the potential mental and physical negative aspects of smoking marijuana, that path may be filled with snares and dangers.
Of note is that neither Gov. John Hickenlooper or Denver Mayor Michael Hancock were present at the opening day celebrations. Both had campaigned against Amendment 64, passed by Colorado voters in 2012.
In the midst of all the celebratory hoop-la on New Year’s Day over what can rightly be called Colorado’s pot experiment came predictions of a “hogwild” Colorado train wreck. Coming from a surprising source, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) had this to say in a conference call hosted by “Smart Approaches to Marijuana” the day before the Amendment 64 took effect.
Colorado and Washington state — where stores will open later in 2014 — are ‘canaries in the coal mine.’ There are a lot of unintended consequences’ . . . that will make them ponder whether this was the right decision. Kennedy predicted more traffic accidents, increased school truancy, higher drop-out rates, and a general decrease in public health.
Linda Chavez, author of An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal, had these cautionary remarks about the “Rocky Mountain high” in a Dec. 29, 2013 Viewpoint article published in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Even before marijuana becomes legal, the effects of the drug are apparent in everyday life in the city I now call home (Boulder). The work ethic in Boulder already leaves something to be desired. Try finding someone to put in a full eight-hour day doing home repair, painting or yard work in this college town. It they show up by 10, you’re lucky. . . . But the real damage will be to Colorado’s youth. Young brains are especially vulnerable to marijuana use, with studies showing that becoming drug-dependent is far more likely among people who start using marijuana in their teens. Drug related school suspensions are a major problem in Colorado, with more than 5,000 occurring in the last year for which there are records.
The legal limit is a quarter of an ounce for non-Colorado residents, while residents can purchase up to an ounce of marijuana at a time. Buyers are not restricted from shopping from store to store, although under state law they are only allowed to have up to one ounce at a time. Possession of more than one but less than eight ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor and carries fines up to $5,000 and up to 18 months in jail. More than eight ounces is considered a felony and fines can be as high as $100,000 and up to three years in prison. Amendment 64 does restrict where marijuana can be smoked.
One gain is how marijuana warehouses are creating massive energy demands with an increased carbon footprint. An energy bill received by the owner of a Colorado marijuana grow facility was for $21,500 for one month of electricity and climate control. He didn’t complain to the utility but simply paid his bill, admitting that this is just the cost of doing business for him and others in the medical marijuana business.
[First published at Illinois Review, with co-author Bonnie O'Neil.]
From National Review:
David Brooks’s column yesterday highlights the excellent content of the latest issue of National Affairs: Michael Strain of AEI’s jobs agenda for the Right, Eli Lehrer and Lori Sanders’s call for “mobility grants,” Henry Olsen’s call for a rightly ordered populism, and more, an agenda that Brooks calls “the conservatism of skeptical reform,” “oriented, first, around social problems, not [runaway] government.”
I realize that I ought to be writing about Chris Christie, the recently re-elected Republican governor of New Jersey, who has just had a brush with political death. But though I wish Christie well, and though I continue to believe that he is one of the most promising elected conservatives to have emerged in my lifetime, the Republican future rests less on the fate of individuals and more on the fate of ideas. And this week, one of Christie’s fellow presidential aspirants, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, introduced a genuinely new idea for helping tens of millions of Americans escape poverty.
On Thursday, the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty,” Rubio gave an address that weaved together stories from the lives of his immigrant parents with the barriers to upward mobility facing people very much like them today. “America is still the land of opportunity for most, but it is not a land of opportunity for all,” Rubio told the assembled crowd, drawing on the fact that 70 percent of U.S. children raised in poverty never achieve middle-income status.
Conservatives are known for celebrating American exceptionalism, and Rubio does so himself. Yet in this speech, he raised a number of awkward truths, like the fact that more Canadians surpass their parents’ incomes than Americans. Moreover, he offered a clear-eyed, if not complete, diagnosis of the reasons why so many Americans raised at the bottom of the income distribution remain stuck there. In the past, the U.S. economy was dynamic enough to replace jobs lost to automation or offshoring with new jobs. Yet that dynamism has suffered in recent years, and the result has been a series of jobless recoveries, each more disappointing than the last. After decades during which the educational attainment of Americans steadily increased, educational gains have stagnated. Nonmarital childbearing has grown more common, a seemingly self-reinforcing development in which the diminished economic prospects for less-skilled men make them less attractive as partners, and the sons of single mothers find it exceptionally difficult to stay in school.
Recognizing the complexity of the problems facing poor Americans, Rubio doesn’t propose a single silver bullet for fighting poverty. Rather, he calls for a two-pronged approach that rewards those who step on the first rungs of the economic ladder by taking low-wage jobs, and gives state and local governments more flexibility in meeting the needs of their most vulnerable citizens.
Though there are major details to be ironed out, Rubio’s basic idea is to consolidate anti-poverty programs into a single Flex Fund, which would be disbursed to state governments to design and fund their own anti-poverty initiatives. At the same time, he calls for replacing the earned income tax credit with a federal wage enhancement designed to raise the effective hourly wage for low-wage jobs. Rubio states that whereas the EITC offers very little to single workers without children, his wage enhancement would help increase disposable income. And whereas the EITC arrives in the form of a lump sum payment, the wage enhancement would come with every paycheck.
In the question and answer session that followed the speech, Rubio noted that the idea for the Flex Fund and the new wage enhancement came from Oren Cass, Mitt Romney’s former domestic policy director and the author of “The Height of the Net,” a National Review article that outlined a very similar proposal. The most noteworthy difference between Cass’ proposal and Rubio’s is that while Rubio presents the Flex Fund and the wage enhancement as separate programs, Cass sees them as part of a seamless whole. It remains to be seen if Rubio is thinking along the same lines.
Essentially, Cass’ goal is to make work, including low-wage work, more attractive than non-work. At the same time, he recognizes that the most straightforward way of achieving this goal — stripping the non-working poor of the in-kind transfers, like food stamps and Medicaid, that help them lead decent lives — is not an acceptable option. And so he envisions a system in which the working poor receive cash transfers, in the form of a federal wage subsidy, while the non-working poor would take part in a state-administered safety net, financed by the federal Flex Fund, state funds and public-private partnerships. The idea builds on the logic of the welfare reforms of the 1990s. In that era, the goal was to ensure that families wouldn’t lose food stamps, Medicaid and housing assistance just because they started to earn a modest income. Cass’ goal is to see to it that families don’t lose their purchasing power as they earn more, but that they can free themselves from the strictures, and perhaps the stigma, of in-kind transfers.
In Cass’ proposal, the funding formula for Flex Funds would be pegged to the size of the population deemed to be in need and it would grow at the same rate as the federal poverty threshold. States would have complete freedom to spend the money as they see fit, provided they use it to meet the needs of their poor residents. As people transition from the non-working poor to the working poor, Flex Funds would shrink and money would be shifted to the new federal wage subsidy.
By design, the state-administered safety net will “feel” different for its beneficiaries. Assistance that flows to the non-working poor will come with strings attached. The working poor, in contrast, will receive funds that they can spend as they please. Cass offers a scenario in which two households, one working, one non-working, would under the present system be offered $3,000 in nutritional support. Under his system, the non-working household might still receive food stamps while the working household will receive cash via the federal wage subsidy. It is easy to see why cash would be more attractive — for one thing, it would allow working poor families to set their own priorities. Cass’ wage subsidy would also be relatively easy to administer, as it would essentially function as a reverse payroll tax.
You could say that Cass’s proposal has a moralistic dimension. It explicitly differentiates between those who work and those who don’t. Those who work are entitled to help without hassle, as their decision to work represents a first step towards economic independence that deserves to be honored. Those who do not work are given a combination of help and hassle from state programs designed to nudge those who are capable of economic independence in that direction, while also meeting the needs of those who are incapable of making the leap.
Not everyone is taken with Rubio’s call for a Flex Fund. Robert Rector, an expert on anti-poverty programs at the Heritage Foundation, condemned the proposal in an interview with McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed on the grounds that it isn’t likely to produce conservative policies, particularly in liberal states. Rector’s skepticism about granting states autonomy in running federally-funded safety net programs runs deep. But it must be said that if Rubio’s proposal mirrors Cass’, the availability of the federal wage enhancement, with its promise of a substantial effective increase in disposable income, will be a powerful inducement for people to enter the labor force.
Others on the right object to the idea of wage subsidies on the grounds that they are welfare by another name, and that poor Americans, whether they work or not, should rely first and foremost on charity and state and local government. What is clear is that Rubio has injected new life into the debate about how to get Americans stuck in worklessness and poverty out of it, and for that he deserves praise.
Smoking by teens has declined to record-low levels, according to the latest University of Michigan annual Monitoring the Future Study, which examines youth tobacco, alcohol and drug use in 2013. The figure below, which shows the percentage of high school seniors using alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco in the past 30 days over the period 1975-2013, is highly informative.
Cigarette use continued a long-term decline, reaching 16.3 percent, the lowest prevalence since the survey’s introduction in 1975. Cigarette use was lower than marijuana use (22.7 percent) for the fifth consecutive year. Smokeless tobacco use among boys was 14.6 percent, and among girls 1.4 percent.
The CDC issued a press release in September describing a scary but unsubstantiated gateway scenario, crystallized by CDC Director Tom Frieden:
Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.
Frieden’s speculation was based on data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey in 2012, indicating that 0.054 percent of high school students in the United States used an e-cigarette at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey and had not smoked or used any other tobacco product. Of the nearly 15 million high school students in the country, that’s about 8,000. Meanwhile, about 1.8 million students smoked.
Smoking prevalence among high school seniors has declined every year since 2007, about the time that e-cigarettes were introduced in the United States. With numbers like this, it is unlikely that e-cigarette use has contributed to teen smoking.
The explosively angry reaction on the right to Jesse Myerson’s recent Rolling Stone piece, “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For” is, like its earlier reaction to “Pajama Boy” both richly deserved and extremely frustrating.
That the piece is poorly thought out and economically illiterate is obvious. That it was practically plagiarized from the Soviet Constitution, and is written like a college freshman’s essay finished at 3 a.m. under the influence of multiple brain-addling substances also goes without saying.
Yet focusing solely on these flaws misses bigger problems with the piece – namely, that it is targeted to millennials but does not comport remotely comporting with their interests and that, in other ways, it is as American as apple pie. Conservatives are obligated to engage with both problems seriously, rather than simply retreat to yelling “Stalin” in a theater crowded only with the choir to whom they so often preach.
The anti-millennial character of the piece is more obvious, as its proposed solutions are much, much worse than the problems they are meant to solve. It endorses a land value taxes that will obviously hit tenants worse than landlords, and given how few millennials own homes, this will hit them the hardest. It also proposes sovereign wealth funds and state-owned banks, while ignoring that such institutions introduce perverse incentives that concentrate investment in increasingly obsolete manufacturing industries, while disfavoring the kind of innovation economy that best serves tech-savvy and entrepreneurial millennials.
As to the comparison with the Soviet Union’s 1936 constitution, it reveals the extent to which these proposals are utopian, rather than practical. What’s more, they are transparently aimed to help arbitrarily favored groups, rather than crafting any sort of objectively justified national policy.
There was a time, from the age of FDR through the age of Reagan, when the right regarded both temptations – utopianism and naked political favoritism – as unforgivable sins. More recently, it has become fashionable among conservatives to rebrand utopianism as “optimism” and to support political favoritism on behalf groups and industries that conservatives find culturally or aesthetically appealing.
These twin tendencies have so emasculated conservatism that all it took for Washington Post writer Dylan Matthews to frame Myerson’s every prong as a “conservative” policy proposal was either to claim it would achieve a conservative-sounding, but vague utopian goal (“tear down the welfare bureaucracy,” “eliminate job-killing income, payroll and corporate taxes”) or change its intended beneficiaries (“help small businesses grow” vs. “offer cheap loans to farmers, students and businesses”). It’s fashionable on the right to mark every instance of a Republican politician behaving badly with the hashtag #thisiswhywelose. But Matthews’ clearly tongue-in-cheek piece might as well have been titled #thisiswhywecantgovern, so completely did it illustrate the content-free optimism of many on the right who privilege the protection of core constituencies over the defense of conservative principles.
Granted, many conservative commentators (such as Charles Krauthammer) correctly point out that the right must make peace with living in a post-New Deal world. Indeed, many of the right’s brightest stars, like Paul Ryan, endeavor to use conservative economic and political principles to save the New Deal’s achievements from the left. But there is a world of difference between using conservatism to save liberalism from itself, on the one hand, and either accepting the left’s vices as if they are virtues or endorsing the left’s aesthetics the instant they become culturally convenient, on the other.
Similarly, there is a difference between acknowledging that trying to relitigate the New Deal would be politically foolish and admitting that you don’t see much wrong with the goals of unreconstructed leftism. In fact, at least the latter act is self-aware, unlike the supposed “conservatism” of former Carter staffer Mike Gerson, or, say, the sort of person who thinks “the greatest threat to conservatism today is too much individual freedom.”
It is, for instance, truly sad that only the Objectivists pointed out the disconnect between Sen. Mike Lee’s paeans to Norman Rockwell (painter of a New Deal propaganda piece extolling “freedom from want”) and Frank Capra (whose “It’s a Wonderful Life” was investigated for Communist influence by the FBI) and his commitment to American individualism. Then there’s how quickly many conservatives forgot that “corporations are people, my friend,” and therefore enjoy the freedom of association, as soon as one company made an (admittedly imprudent and problematic) firing decision with which they disagreed. I’ve often complained about excessive attention to purity on the right, but a little more purity about this sort of thing, rather than whether someone supports an obviously doomed political maneuver, or had the effrontery to attend an Ivy League school, might be helpful.
The bottom line is this: If Myerson’s column is a utopian vision of a world without conservatism, then Matthews’ imitation is a frightening portent of a world in which conservatism has become nothing but the ghost of liberalism past, reflected through a glass darkly. I have spent many words writing about what conservatives must do in order to win hearts and minds. But in order to govern again, they will have to figure out what – beyond their choice of TV show, preferred food item, or preferred recipient of forcefully expropriated money – makes them fundamentally at odds with the left’s vision for America.
Otherwise, when #fullcommunism comes to this country, it may be wrapped in the flag and carrying a duck call.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.