When I was a kid, the movie RETURN OF THE JEDI was a favorite. Not only was it a great film, but the following dialogue exchange truly fascinated me:
Luke Skywalker: You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi: Your father... was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and *became* Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view.
Luke Skywalker: A certain point of view?
Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi: Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
As a person with unique religious views, that line, “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” really resonated with me. For years, I have referred to this as “the Kenobi Axiom.” (I know, I’m a geek.)
I was reminded of the Kenobi Axiom this past week, hearing defenders of Obamacare deflect criticism of the Act. Recent incidents of people losing their existing insurance policies and/or having their premiums massively increased and/or being dropped by their doctors have caused many to accuse the president of lying when he – repeatedly – said, in promoting the Affordable Care Act, “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan. Period. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.” Tape of him saying this over and over and over has been played over and over and over on television news programs, and not just in the so-called “conservative media” like Fox News. And I can see why he is being accused of lying.
But I would suggest that the president was not, in fact, lying… and that the fact that he was telling the truth, from his perspective, makes the situation even worse… and not just with Obamacare, but with his entire presidency and with the Left in general. You see, to him, and his defenders, he is not lying, because the actual text of the Affordable Care Act does not tell insurance companies or employers that they have to drop people from their plans, or increase their premiums, or that doctors have to stop taking anyone as patients. And most of the changes haven’t even taken place yet, so they can’t be affecting anything! No, these are all decisions being made by the insurance companies, employers, and doctors in question – in the view of these Obamacare supporters, because of their greed – and thus the blame cannot be laid upon the law. This is absolutely true… from a certain point of view.
That view – the view that government intervention into the economy on behalf of those in need is entirely positive and has no ill effects in and of itself – and their absolute belief in it, is the true danger. If they were merely lying to get a bill passed, that would be better. It would mean that they had some grasp of the notion that government intervention can (and usually does) have unexpected and dangerous negative consequences, because people have to adjust their lives and business practices to make up for it. But it seems that they truly believe that they and their policy ideas are absolute forces for good, and that anything bad that happens subsequent to it is simply the result of what Communists call “counter-revolutionary forces.”
This changes the entire debate. If you watch Fox News Channel’s show THE FIVE, you will see that liberal panelist Bob Beckel and the other panelists are usually just arguing past each other on this subject, because they are looking at the world through fundamentally different paradigms, and as such there are no logical grounds for a debate. If you cannot even agree that such regulation can cause negative consequences and force people to make choices counter to what you want, then there cannot be a debate about the effects of such regulation.
This is what makes modern liberals so dangerous when they’re in power. They function from a naïve perspective that does not take into account the realities of the market and human behavior. The very fact that the excuse “it works on paper” becomes an argument is indicative of why this is a serious problem. If it was truly a case of a liberal cabal withholding the truth and falsifying data to make their arguments look good, then at some point you could convince enough of them that this is a bad idea and change their minds to be able to work together to bring about positive outcomes. But when a person’s basic worldview is so set in a direction that doesn’t believe that unintended outcomes could possibly be the result of their policies, then civil discussion and compromise becomes impossible. This, then, is why Obama and the Dems refused to negotiate during the government shutdown. Such a perspective leaves no room for negotiation, because true compromise means (to them) to invite evil into a situation where it did not exist and could not exist in the first place.
I am not saying all Democrats or all liberals have such a worldview. The problem is that the ones in power all seem to. And we can trace it all the way back beyond Obamacare to the establishment’s response to the recession. Even when the massive government interventions failed to make matters better – and in fact seemed to those not of that worldview to be making matters worse – the answer was always, “More intervention!” The schools continue to fail, despite pouring billions of dollars into them? The answer isn’t a total re-evaluation of how our education system works and trying a different tack, it’s “more money!” War on Poverty not only doesn’t decrease poverty but we’re seeing poverty increase? We’re not trying hard enough; more welfare!
The Kenobi Axiom shows us why our country is falling apart. Too many people are clinging to “truths” that are proven untrue by events because their point of view does not allow them to see the lightsaber of reality slashing us all in the gut.
Now that the government "shutdown" is over, I had intended to write about lessons we should learn from this debacle. And I still will. But this evening, I watched STOSSEL on the Fox Business Network, and he devoted his show to a discussion of the debt, the debt ceiling, and default. So I decided to write about the insanity of the debt, because the Republicans were forced to capitulate on the "shutdown" crisis and totally give the Democrats everything they wanted because of the supposed "default crisis." I put "default crisis" in quotation marks for the same reason I put "shutdown" in quotation marks: IT'S A LIE.
That's right, it's a lie. We weren't in any danger of defaulting on our debt... or, at least, we didn't need to be. There was a lot of screaming about "default," but it was, in the words of William Shakespeare, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." What do I mean? "Defaulting on our debt" means not making our interest payments on it. Our annual interest payment for the coming year is $235 Billion. Our projected income for the coming year is $3 Trillion. So, if we were to pay our interest payment out of our projected income, that means we would have $2.765 Trillion left to spend without accruing more debt. To put that into perspective, our entire budget for 2006 was $2.7 Trillion. And President Obama's projected spending for 2013 is $3.8 Trillion. In other words, despite what the president and others have been saying, we aren't raising the debt ceiling to pay bills we've already racked up, but rather to allow ourselves to spend $1.1 Trillion more than we are taking in.
Let's look at it this way. A family of four has an income of $4500 a month. Their family budget currently is spending right at $4500, including a car payment of $300 a month, insurance of $25 a month, and gasoline of $75 a month (I know, it must be a very fuel efficient vehicle, but let's say they work out of the home or something). Instead of continuing to spend on their budget, they decide to go out once a week for a nice steak dinner, because you know what, they deserve it. The total with tax and tip comes to $100 a week, or $400 a month, or the same as their car costs. So, they decide, since it's spending they've already committed to, to charge the car costs to their credit card, which already has a huge amount on it.
Well, guess what: that family is actually acting MORE responsibly than our federal government, because what the government is putting on the credit card -- adding ever more to that debt -- is equivalent to almost one-third of its revenue (after the paying the interest payment), whereas the family is only going 10% over. This is incredibly insane... and, in the words of Senator Barack Obama, back in 2006 and 2008, it's unpatriotic.
But what to do? What can we cut? According to Nancy Pelosi (Idiot of California), the cupboard is bare! Hardly. And, in fact, we don't actually have to cut anything, if all we're after is balancing the budget. According to Dan Mitchell, senior fellow of the Cato Institute (on tonight's STOSSEL), if we just capped spending to the rate of inflation for the next five years, we would eliminate the budget deficit. That's okay, but I think we can do better.
How so? Well, to make our liberal friends happy, I'm going to start with the conservatives' sacred cow: the Defense Department. (If I really had my way, we would start by cutting as much waste as possible from the federal government, but every time that's been tried, all that has happened is another layer of bureaucracy has been added.) Now, I would like to say eliminate our foreign deployments in areas where we have no active enemies -- for example, we could get rid of NATO, which was founded to fight the Soviet Union, which is no more; we could also end our military presence in the countries we defeated in World War II, such as Germany and Japan. I would keep our presence in South Korea, though, since North Korea is still an enemy. However, I know that's hardly likely to happen, so let's just cut our presence there by, say half. Cut the costs in half. There must be SOME way to do that.
Next, let's eliminate "corporate welfare" or business subsidies. The government doesn't need to be involved with this. This includes farm subsidies. At the same time, government price controls need to go away. One big reason milk costs more than gasoline in many instances is because of price controls.
Next, I think we should do what even some Democrats suggest (including Bob Beckel on tonight's STOSSEL) and means test for Social Security and Medicare. There is no reason wealthy people like Warren Buffet should be getting Social Security or Medicare, but he (and they) get both, simply because they have reached 65. Also, we need to raise the retirement age to 70. That is a very minor change that would actually accomplish quite a bit in terms of cost lowering.
(BTW, I know I'm not supplying any hard numbers here. These are all examples. This is not a definitive budget proposal; it's a budget philosophy, a statement of intentions. I trust the hard numbers will bear out that these proposals would go a long way towards getting our fiscal house in order.)
Now, let's talk welfare. Currently, we have two sets of perverse incentives: one, we raise welfare payments for every new child born into a family. This just incentivizes irresponsible behavior. Two, we cut all payments almost immediately upon the person getting work. While that does keep costs down theoretically, what it does is set up a perverse incentive NOT to find work. And when their allotted time on welfare runs out, they are (essentially, if not literally) encouraged to apply for disability. This has got to stop. I suggest we need to eliminate additional child allotments once a family is on welfare, and I suggest that we need to set things up that you can continue to receive welfare for awhile after you get a job. This will encourage people to find work and thus eventually get off of the dole... which will, I suggest, end up saving money, especially coupled with eliminating additional child allotments.
Those are just some ideas. But the takeaway is this: there was no "debt crisis." It was trumped up to get the public scared on top of mad about the fake "shutdown" in order to force Republicans to just give Democrats what they wanted without the Democrats having to negotiate or compromise. And the Republican leadership -- knowing full well that it was a lie -- went along. Both parties share the blame for the true continuing crisis: our ever-increasing debt. Or at least, both parties' establishment. If we're not going to turn out everyone in Congress next time around, we should at least consider getting rid of everyone who has been there more than a few years...
This weekend, a spotlight was shown on the damage wrecked upon our society by the welfare state.
Tandem glitches caused serious problems in fifteen states; in Louisiana, chaos reigned as welfare recipients discovered they suddenly had no limits on their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards and went on shopping sprees, while in Alabama, California, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine,
Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, a glitch made it impossible for people to access their EBT cards at stores, and people went hungry.
Of course, many people will seek out villains in this affair, and there are some. The Xerox Corporation, for example, is the EBT vendor whose system caused the problems, many on the liberal side will be quick to point out. On the conservative side, there have been denunciations of the welfare recipients who went hog wild and took advantage of the “no limit” glitch and went on sprees, leaving empty shelves behind for cash-paying customers. We would expect some of this. Glenn Beck took the inflammatory rhetoric to new heights:
Animals. Theft. And I can guarantee you no one will prosecute them because they are not the forgotten men. They are the one that takes from the forgotten man,” he continued. “They are the one that the government has gone to them and said, it’s not fair the way you have to live. And so, I’m going to solve it for you. And so, politician A looks at suffering person B and says, for your vote, I will take it from person C and give it to you. That’s the forgotten man. So, they stole from you. But politician A certainly won’t tell you that because that will hurt his constituent B because A and B don’t really give a flying crap about you at C.
Yes, Glenn… and what do you think your listeners will do about this outrage? This is the sort of rhetoric that foments revolutions, and I don’t mean at the ballot box. You see, as much as the system breeds villains and victims in those who perpetuate the system, it also breeds vindictiveness amongst the masses who pay the bills, especially when the flames are fanned by the likes of Beck. And when they are churned up to rebel, who are they going to rebel against? The most powerful military in the world. A military that has just spent over a decade learning how best to fight against insurgents, which is exactly what these people will be.
And to put the bulk of the blame on the welfare recipients is to completely not get that they have been victimized by the very system that has purported to help them. How many of these people have been told it’s not their fault, you’ll be cared for, and have not learned the sort of self-control, self-reliance, and public consciousness that would keep them from taking advantage of an incident like this? Not to mention the folks who have become so dependent on the system that the glitch that kept many more people from using their benefits meant that they went hungry. They, too, are victims of the system. And they will not be helped by the immediate cessation of benefits that many conservatives would love to see happen.
As much as I believe in private charity, and the government charity only breeds the kinds of disasters we saw over the weekend, I also believe that we’ve gotten people so addicted to free money and benefits from the government that to just take it all away all at once would be heartless and cruel. Which is exactly what the liberals are banking on, that the immorality of immediate cessation will mean that the conservatives will never truly push to end the welfare state, because that always seems to be their desire, cut it off right now.
As usual, reality comes somewhere between the extremes. As unfair as it seems to the people footing the bills, you can’t convert from a government charity system to a private charity system overnight, or even quickly. And as unfair as it seems to the people receiving the charity, we must face the reality that the system doesn’t work and must be changed, and that means ending a permanent guarantee. It will have to take a period of time, and I suggest that it will have to take something like five years. We must take a close look at the welfare system, see who is using it, and divide them into five groups:
1) Healthy people with no children.
2) Healthy married people with healthy children.
3) Healthy single people with healthy children.
4) Healthy people with disabled children.
5) Disabled people.
Once that is done, we inform the people in group one that at the end of one year, their benefits will be cut off. At the same time, we cut taxes and/or create tax incentives of at least a 1-1 ratio for donating to help people in need. We also inform the people in group two that their benefits will be cut off at the end of two years, and the people in group three that theirs will be cut off at the end of three.
About groups four and five, we would have to decide: are we going to continue government charity for the disabled, or are we going to transition to private charity? That is a decision we should make by the end of year two, at the latest.
But this is just one possibility. I’m sure the geniuses in the Capitol (and I use that term loosely) can come up with another. But we have to do something. However, we must make sure that something doesn’t further victimize the poor while we attempt to remedy the wrongs done to the taxpayers.