Give the Governor Harumph!

In this week’s EconTalk podcast, guest Glenn Reynolds says well something I think about often:

 …it’s always funny to me that the people who go on the most about sustainability in other areas seem the least concerned about sustainability when it comes to things like government and spending.

Here he sums why government grows:

…there is a scene in it [the movie Blazing Saddles]–which I regard as one of the most powerful metaphors for our political situation every produced–and it’s the one where Mel Brooks, playing Governor Le Petomane, has all his cronies around a big conference table and he says: Gentlemen, we’ve got to protect our phony-baloney jobs. And the problem with making the government smaller is it threatens a lot of people’s phony-baloney jobs.

LOL

This immediately follows his plea to protect their phoney-baloney jobs:

Here Reynolds mentions what motivates politicians, something that should get more airtime:

I think it’s a mistake that a lot of economists make–not just economists but a lot of other critics of government–to think that the only question is just sort of money. I think the other issue that people guard almost as vigorously, and maybe more vigorously, is the non-monetary economy of self-importance.

Which I think for politicians is really what drives them more than anything else. I think the sense of being a big man.

It’s funny to me that it is assumed by default that CEOs are motivated by greed, but this motivation of a politician goes past society nearly undetected. Rather, politicians are often considered to be ‘serving the people’, when all they’re doing is spending other people’s money and getting their kicks out of being loved and a big shot.

Reynolds offers a nice rebuttal to a previous guest, Louis Michael Seidman’s, position that we shouldn’t be beholden to the Constitution.

If you are the President, if you are a member of Congress, if you are a TSA agent, the only reason why somebody should listen to what you say instead of horse-whipping you out of town for your impertinence is because you exercise power via the Constitution. If the Constitution doesn’t count, you don’t have any legitimate power.  …if we are going to start ignoring the Constitution, I’m fine with that; the first part I’m going to start ignoring is I have to do whatever they say.

Though, in Seidman’s defense, I think Russ and Reynolds are missing something in Seidman’s argument (even though they kind of mention it in the podcast, but don’t connect the dot back to Seidman’s argument). I hear Seidman basically saying that what ‘we’ consider the Constitution has evolved over time, without necessarily being updated through the official amendment process. I believe this is a fundamental point made by libertarian-minded folks like F.A. Hayek. Law isn’t the set of rules written on paper. That’s legislation. Law is the set of norms and customs by which people get along with one another. When legislation lines up with the customs, it looks like we are following the written rules (like stopping at red lights). But, when legislation doesn’t line up with custom, we generally ignore them (like driving 5 miles over the speed limit).

One last tidbit. Here’s Reynolds’ idea to help slow the growth of government (emphasis added — incentives matter):

…create a third house of Congress, which I call a House of Repeal, in which people run for election in which their only power is to repeal laws. And if that one house repeals a law, that law is repealed. And when you go before the voters every two or four years or whatever term you choose for it, the only thing you’ve got to run on is which laws you struck down. Because right now, one reason why we’ve got growth of big government is there is literally nobody in the government with an institutional incentive to shrink government. Courts can strike down laws as unconstitutional, and they do sometimes, but it doesn’t do anything for them institutionally to do so. The other two branches are all about making government bigger. And everybody runs for election and tells voters what they are going to do for them; it would be nice if we could have somebody run for election and tell voters what they are going to undo for them.

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Who is Gary Johnson?

Former Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, provides an example of what I prefer to hear from politicians.

Regarding the high rate of job creation in New Mexico while he was governor, Johnson said:

I didn’t create a single job.

We are proud of this distinction. We had a 11.6 percent job growth that occurred during our two terms in office. But the headlines that accompanied that report – referring to governors, including me, as ‘job creators’ – were just wrong.

The fact is, I can unequivocally say that I did not create a single job while I was governor

…we kept government in check, the budget balanced, and the path to growth clear of unnecessary regulatory obstacles.
My priority was to get government out of the way, keep it out of the way, and allow hard-working New Mexicans, entrepreneurs and businesses to fulfill their potential.
That’s how government can encourage job growth, and that’s what government needs to do today.

I wish more people preferred to hear this from their elected officials.

Rep. Barney Frank

I consider Barney Frank a politician at his finest.  I don’t trust any politician, even the ones I end up voting for, because I think they all have a little bit of Barney Frank.  It just amazes me at how blatant Frank can talk out of all sides of his mouth, never accept responsibility for supporting obviously flawed policy and nobody seems to care.

Here’s a post from Harvard Econ professor Greg Mankiw’s blog:

Barney Frank, Then and Now

A news story from 2003:

The Bush administration today recommended the most significant regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan crisis a decade ago.

Under the plan, disclosed at a Congressional hearing today, a new agency would be created within the Treasury Department to assume supervision of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored companies that are the two largest players in the mortgage lending industry….

Among the groups denouncing the proposal today were the National Association of Home Builders and Congressional Democrats who fear that tighter regulation of the companies could sharply reduce their commitment to financing low-income and affordable housing.

”These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ”The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”

A news story from yesterday:

In a sharp-edged debut debate, US Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat, and Sean Bielat, his Republican challenger, squared off yesterday over national security, illegal immigration, and the roots of the mortgage crisis….

Bielat, a former Marine officer from Brookline, said Frank had contributed to the downfall and subsequent recession by supporting lenient lending standards for prospective home buyers.

“He has long been an advocate for extending homeownership, even to those who couldn’t afford it, regardless of the cost to the American people,’’ said Bielat, 35.

Frank, a leading liberal who has represented the state’s Fourth Congressional District for nearly 30 years and became chairman of the House Financial Services Committee in 2007, said he and other Democrats fought to curb predatory lending practices before the recession but were thwarted by Republicans. He said he had supported efforts to help low-income families rent homes, rather than buy them.

“Low-income home ownership has been a mistake, and I have been a consistent critic of it,’’ said Frank, 70. Republicans, he said, were principally responsible for failing to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants the government seized in September 2008.

New Threads – Questions for Politicians and Questions for Managers

I’ve seen enough clueless elected officials and business managers in my day to make me wonder what questions were asked of these people before they got their jobs.  I thought it would be a good idea to add categories to this blog to list questions to ask political candidates and managers along with answers that I would like to see.  Hopefully some reporters or board members will find these questions valuable and ask them.

Here’s an example of how these categories will work.

Question for Political Candidate for President

If elected President you will take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Can you briefly explain what that means to you?

An acceptable answer for me to this question would be something like:

The Constitution of the United States defines the powers of each branch of government to maintain checks and balances on power.    The authors of the Constitution were concerned about government power becoming concentrated at the expense of the liberty of our citizens.  As colonists, they saw firsthand the ill effects on liberty of unchecked power by the arbitrary decisions made by the King of England.

To me, protecting and defending the Constitution means ensuring that the powers I exercise as President are those that are specifically defined in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution and I will use those powers to ensure that other branches of government only exercise authority in which they are empowered by the respective sections of the Constitution.

Protecting and defending the Constitution means that when my replacement assumes power through the peaceful election process, as defined in the Constitution, that the source of the power of government will still be the consent of the governed and nothing else.

What I Want to Hear Politicians Say

This week I listened to an interview of Congressman Roy Blunt from Missouri on the Chris Stigall radio program.  In talking about an upcoming race for Senate to fill the seat currently occupied by Kit Bond, Roy Blunt said something to the effect of:

It will not be hard decision.  If you want more of the policies that the Obama Administration is pushing through, vote for my opponent, who will likely be Robin Carnahan.   If you don’t, then vote for me.

That’s exactly what I want to hear from politicians.  I don’t want to hear long-winded, sophisticate, non-committal discussions on their ever wavering positions which are standard fare for political speech.

I want to hear, these are my principles, this is how I will vote, if you like that vote for me, if not, don’t.  In other words, I appreciate plain and simple honesty.