Debt ceiling shenanigans

Russ Roberts of Cafe Hayek deserves credit for pointing me to this David Harsanyi blog post.

I’m partial to these two paragraphs:

Obama, as usual, claims that “economists” — by which he means Austan Goolsbee — contend that disaster looms if we play games with this arbitrary number we always ignore. (This administration is just jampacked with soothsayers and futurists, always relying on the unknown and the unverifiable as the core of its argument. The recession, for instance, would have been far worse if we hadn’t spent as many billions on green infrastructure that “saved” jobs and may one day create energy.)

Today President Nostradamus contends that not raising the debt limit would have a catastrophic economic impact. This, many argue with the help of history, is simply untrue. The United States has hit the debt limit four times in recent history, and it survived without any damage to the capital markets as they waited for a deal to be struck. The debt could still be paid with tax revenue. But that would mean cutting spending.

The Constitution in 8 words

A frequent commenter on the blog Cafe Hayek, JohnK, asserts that political progressives tend to reduce the U.S. Constitution to the following eight words:

General welfare, regulate commerce, necessary and proper.

If this were the full extent of the Constitution it would give government the power to do just about anything it wants, or at least anything it can convince others that are necessary and proper for general welfare.

I know this is a bit a straw man.  After all, even progressives fall back on the Constitution when  government does something they don’t approve of like wiretap terrorists phones without judicial oversight.

But, generally people seem to accept arguments for government activity with smart sounding “greater-good” rationales (whether it actually is for the greater good or not, but that’s a blog post for another day).  For people to believe government is empowered to carry out such programs means people are viewing the Constitution as the eight words that JohnK highlights.

Even as a young liberal, my intuition told me that it made sense to constrain the politicians I supported so that the politicians I didn’t support would be constrained as well.  I personally didn’t care to give W the right to wiretap without judicial oversight because I knew someday someone else might want to use that same power.

Only later did I learn what is spelled out in my previous post and that my intuition had some merit.  The interpretation of the Constitution by judges, and the electorate, was not meant to change over time.  The Constitution was meant to change through the amendment process.

That view doesn’t fit the cosmic reasoning of some people, like E.H. Allen commenting on this column by David Harsanyi (HT: Don Boudreaux) in the Denver Post:

George Dennison, retired president of the University of Montana, was my Constitutional History professor at Colorado State University. He would often say in class, “the beauty of the constitution is its eternal flexibility. Its ability to adapt to changes in time without having to amend the document several hundred times”. I agree with Dr. Dennison. 

We cannot survive constitutionally if the document is burdened with pithy detail.  We rely on the good and honest judgment of the nine men and women who sit on the Supreme Court to protect the American people from executive and legislative excesses.

I disagree with E.H. and Dr. Dennison.  The last sentence means that E.H. would like to give arbitrary powers to the Supreme Court and trust them to decide whether an action by executive branch or legislature is excessive.

I’m not so generous.  All I want the Supreme Court to do is decide whether something is lawful or not.  If we have a problem with the way the law is written, then by all means lobby the legislature to change it.  That’s the branch of government that actually has the power to write laws.

Who’s Fault?

Thanks to Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek for steering me to this excellent column by David Harsanyi of the Denver Post, Harsanyi: No Fat Kids! In it he discusses the methods used by politicians to change our lifestyles.

Michelle Obama — no doubt driven by the best of intentions — went on to take food manufacturers to task, asking them to “rethink the products” they produce because business, apparently, should be a clearinghouse for ethically sound groceries rather than a place that manufactures frozen pizza.

The first lady says there is a lack of “accessibility and affordability” as so many Americans reside in “nutritional wastelands” found in urban and rural areas (the latter, one gathers, filled with farms) with no access to supermarkets. “Some 23.5 million Americans — including 6.5 million children — currently live in food deserts,” claims the Let’s Move! site.

Harsayni counters effectively:

This fantasy quickly evaporates when one learns that the average American spends a mere 7 percent of his or her annual income on food (the lowest percentage in the world). That average person has an amazingly rich and diverse array of nutritious foods to [choose] from. In addition, it turns out that that there are very few “food deserts” in states that have the highest levels of obesity in the nation.

In Michelle’s mental model, obesity results from a broken system that spawns food deserts giving people little choice but to eat poorly and gain weight.

This isn’t that hard folks.

Obesity is caused by one thing: choices made my people to consume more calories than needed.  There are not many choices that are more personal than the choice of what we put in our mouths.

I see rampant obesity in the customers of five supermarkets that are near my work and home that I frequent.  None of these supermarkets have a shortage of nutritious foods.  They have plenty of fresh produce, lean meats, canned fruits and vegetables.

If these people have ‘access’ to nutritious food, why do you think they’re obese?  Personal choices.