Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New York probably gets DOMA on the Supreme Court docket

The Constitution is singularly the greatest document that has ever been written and has resulted in more good for more people around the world than any other single document of man in history. It’s not however perfect. It has an amendment process that allows citizens to make bad choices – see the 16th and 17th Amendments, both enacted in the midst of a progressive frenzy in 1913 – but such changes require the active participation of a large segment of the population.

There is however a move afoot to change the Constitution in a different way. Article Four of the Constitution says: Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof. This is the part of the Constitution that says if you’re born in one state you can take your birth certificate to another and get a driver’s license, or that you can drive in one state with a driver’s license from a different state. It also of course is what allows persons married in one state to be recognized as married in another.

It has not been much of an issue in modern times until states started allowing same sex marriages. Sometimes done via legislation, more often than not the change has occurred as the result of judicial action. In no case where states have given voters a choice has a majority voted for same sex marriage. This includes California, where Proposition 8 banning same sex marriage passed but was then ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.

The Constitutional question comes into play with 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which explicitly states that no state shall be forced to recognize a same sex marriage contract from another state. It also prohibits the federal government from recognizing such compacts. This is where changing the Constitution comes into play. DOMA opponents read the first sentence of the Full Faith and Credit clause and suggest DOMA is unconstitutional. The problem however is that they simply choose to pretend the second part of the clause does not exist… but it does, in black and white: “And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

The whole of the Full Faith and Credit Clause was not some afterthought. The Founding Fathers included in the body of the original Constitution, a place where you will not even find the various elements of the Bill of Rights such as freedom of speech or religion. This should demonstrate exactly how important contracts were to the Founders in that they wanted citizens of the United States to feel confident those contracts would be valid throughout the country. The states however remained sovereign, and could not be forced to accept contracts that violated their own laws under Full Faith and Credit. When laws were written banning interracial marriage, it was the Equal Protection clause that provided relief, not Full Faith.

The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution was not crafted as a fulcrum to allow activists to foist on the nation policies that could never be implemented on their own. The federal system gives states the right to define marriage virtually any way they want. It does not however give those states the right to force other states to agree with them. If the definition of marriage can be changed from one man to one woman to two men or two women, why stop there? Utah could resurrect polygamy and the other 49 states would have to recognize it. California might allow for the members of a commune to marry one another simultaneously. Now that you have California and New York lined up against the almost 80% of the states who explicitly ban same sex marriage, DOMA is likely an issue the Supreme Court will have to take up.

If 21st century activists want to change the way America deals with marriage they can do so, but they can’t just wish away half of the Full Faith clause. They might want to go back and read the playbook of their progressive brethren from the last century. The Amendment process is tough to get through, but that’s by design. Big changes require big buy in, and changing marriage is definitely a pretty big change.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What does it say about the United States when a Russian president sounds more like a capitalist than the American president?

In preparing for the 2012 election campaign the President said the following: "The proposition that the government is always right is manifested either in corruption or benefits to 'preferred' companies." He went on: The “economy ought to be dominated by private businesses and private investors. The government must protect the choice and property of those who willingly risk their money and reputation." Also: "Corruption, hostility to investment, excessive government role in the economy and the excessive centralization of power are the taxes on the future that we must and will scrap."

Hallelujah! After three years of statist rhetoric a President who understands that it is free markets that create economic prosperity.

Unfortunately however the president speaking was not President Obama, but rather Russia’s President Medvedev. What has become of the world when a Russian president is making a stronger case for free markets than a sitting American President? Is the world standing on its head? Should we now expect the Chinese to declare Falun Gong as the national religion and announce free and fair elections?

As depressing as having a President who’s less of a free market fan than his Russian counterpart is, he’s only the tip of the iceberg. President Obama has plenty of progressive company across the country who fail to understand that freedom and economic prosperity go hand in hand.

And freedom is beginning to exit stage left… Not sure about that? The National Labor Relations Board went to court this week seeking to give unions the power to decide where private companies can invest their money; San Francisco is trying to ban circumcision, and some Chicago schools actually ban students from bringing their own lunches from home.

In a less anecdotal appraisal of our freedoms, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University just released the 2011 edition of its Freedom in the 50 States - An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom. The rankings take into account 150 different measures of freedom compiled into four main measures: Fiscal Policy, Regulatory Policy, Economic Freedom and Personal Freedom. Together they give an overall picture of a citizen’s level of freedom on things like the ease of starting a business, overall tax burden, gun laws and a wide variety of other measures.

The rankings pretty much play out the way you would expect. At the top of the list – most free – are # 1 New Hampshire; # 2. South Dakota; # 3. Indiana; # 4. Idaho; # 5. Missouri. At the other end of the freedom spectrum are # 46. Massachusetts; # 47. Hawaii; # 48. California; # 49. New Jersey; # 50. New York.

I would venture to say that most people are not surprised by these rankings. The notion of freedom to do just about anything you want in places like New Hampshire and Idaho are about as strong as the recognition that California and New York are busybody states that seem to want to regulate everything.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the correlation between freedom in general and economic prosperity in particular. My hypothesis was that the states high in freedom would be significantly more robust economically. I was surprised to discover that on my first datapoint – income level growth – that was not the case. From 2005 – 2009 household income for the five least free states grew faster than income growth by the most free in 3 of the 5 years. And their incomes were higher.

That was the last of the surprises however. On every other measure the most free states came out clearly ahead. Unemployment: Every year from 2005 right up to today the average unemployment rate amongst the five most free states was lower than the least free. Indeed, as the economy worsened the disparity grew: In May 2005 the most free states had an average unemployment rate of 4.36% while the least free states had 4.44% - a difference of .02%. Jump ahead to today and the most free states have an average unemployment rate of 7.22% while the least free states have an average rate of 8.52%, a difference of 1.3%.

On taxes the story is pretty much the same. Every single year from 2005-2009 the average tax rate was lower in the most free states than in the least free states, with an overall average of 8.6% vs. 10.8%.

What about cost of living? In ranking the states from 1-50 with one being the least expensive state to live in and 50 being the most expensive, there are no big surprises. The most free states averaged a score of 15 while the least free states hovered near the bottom with an average of 45.

So there you have it… citizens of the most free states have lower unemployment, lower taxes and a lower cost of living than their counterparts in the least free states. Residents of the least free states however come out slightly ahead based upon income and income growth.

It almost seems like it might be a wash with a slight tilt towards the free states… until you look a bit deeper. Why did income grow more in the least free states? Well, it turns out that that difference in growth is not that hard to find… it’s from their state governments’ deficit spending. During 2009 the five least free states ran an average deficit of $11 billion each while the five most free states averaged $494 million each. During 2010 the numbers were even greater, $17 billion vs. $828 million. In both cases the billions of dollars in deficit spending of the least free states was more than responsible for the disparity in income growth rates. So, not only do the citizens of the least free states pay higher taxes, suffer greater unemployment, experience a higher cost of living, it turns out the one measure where they were ahead of the game is a mirage created by a government shell game that leaves them with tens of billions of debt on their backs.

Dmitry Medvedev seems to have come to the realization that freedom and economic prosperity go hand in hand. If he ends up losing the 2012 presidential race to Vladimir Putin (who's not known for his capitalist or freedom sentiments) perhaps he can start a second career here in the United States teaching President Obama and the rest of the progressives how to bring an economy back to life…

Monday, June 13, 2011

$62 Trillion and counting... Uncle Sam's fantasyland

Dreams vs. fantasies. Dreams are a good thing to have. They inspire us. They generally have some connection with reality and are usually the kinds of things one can work at attaining or accomplishing. Fantasies on the other hand usually have very little connection with reality and even less likelihood of coming true. One might dream of making a million dollars or growing up to play for the Yankees, but one fantasizes about being Superman or achieving world peace.

With age, most of us begin to recognize that there is a difference between the two… So too is it with countries… or at least it does theoretically. Unfortunately, in America in 2011 the citizenry and their agents in Washington are still living in a fantasy world. The fantasy I’m talking about is government spending. And I’m not even talking about current spending… I’m talking about future spending, in the form of unfunded liabilities: Those promises the United States has made for which it has no money to pay, no ability to pay and no plan (realistic or otherwise) for how it will pay them.

At what point does a nation grow up? At what point does a citizenry demand that its representatives speak honestly and act rationally? How big does the stack of promises have to be? Is there some dollar threshold? If so, what is it? The late Senator Sen. Everett Dirksen is said to have uttered the following: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.” I wonder what the late Senator would say if he had knew how large Uncle Sam’s unfunded liabilities had become. In a universe where the GOP is talking about going to the mattresses over raising the debt ceiling by a couple trillion dollars, Senator Dirkson’s “real money” has become $62 Trillion of promises Uncle Sam has no way keeping!

That $62 Trillion overhang is more than twenty times the federal government’s $2.5 Trillion 2011 revenue – and four times our $14 Trillion GDP. To put this in some perspective, let’s imagine you earn $50,000 a year in salary but your annual expenses are $65,000. To make up the shortfall you borrow $15,000 a year from a distant uncle. Given that you are spending 30% more money than you earn every year, how are you going to fund the $1,000,000 college education you just promised your newborn baby? At some point your once rich uncle, to whom you now owe $150,000, is going to cut you off. Then what does junior do for college? Imagine how upset he will get when he turns 18 and finds out you broke the promise you reiterated to him every day of his life for two decades. Unable to pay, you go out and adopt a bunch of foster children and put them to work to pay for Junior’s education. Soon enough you’ve got a house full of angry young adults each wanting their educations. At some point the reality of their bleak situation sinks in and the kids organize themselves and throw you out of the house, take whatever money you had stored in the floorboards and maybe even find out if there is a place where they can sell you into slavery.

At the end of the day, this is exactly the situation that America finds itself in. Uncle Sam – AKA the American taxpayer - owes private citizens and foreign countries $9 Trillion; owes himself another $5 Trillion (due to using the money paid into the Social Security trust fund to pay for current operations); and owes citizens themselves a whopping $62 Trillion… And that’s using the optimistic assumptions of the CBO – others peg it at $100 Trillion or more - bottom row... brace yourself!

This fantasizing simply cannot continue forever. The question is, when are the American people going to decide to force their employees in Washington to begin to take real steps to address this problem? Democrats suggest it can be solved by simply growing the economy and raising taxes on corporations and the rich. Unfortunately however, as Bill Whittle demonstrates very clearly, taking every single penny from the rich still wouldn’t even be enough to cover the costs of current operations, never mind future spending.

One doesn’t even need to raise the specter of Greece to make the point about what happens when government makes promises it can’t keep, although that is certainly an apt comparison. (Don't believe me... read what Bill Gross has to say about it.) No, you just have to look to California. Two weeks ago the US Supreme Court told the state they must release 40,000 prisoners. Why? Because they were all innocent? No. Because they had all apologized? No. Because the Court decided that the conditions in which the state was keeping them were “cruel and unusual” and therefore unconstitutional. The reason America is now going to be welcoming 40,000 criminals back into its arms is because California was not spending enough on prisons. With so many contracted promises to unionized employees there was simply not enough money left to pay for more prison cells. Sacramento, like Washington, lives in a fantasyland from which it refuses to emerge.

Forty thousand prisoners is just the beginning for California and for America. The New Jersey Supreme Court just last week demanded the state (broke or not) spend an additional $500 million for education, period, end of discussion – and just so the point wouldn’t be missed, one justice suggested raising taxes.

As shrinking credit availability and a government controlled economy that produces moribund tax revenues begins to intersect with trillion dollar deficits and exponentially larger promises of future spending, things will only begin to steamroll, and not in a good way. It will start with arbitrary budget cuts to things like national defense and homeland security and will eventually squeeze out everything other than wealth transfer payments. If Americans think they have little control over how Washington spends its money today, wait until the federal courts (filled with lifetime tenured judges) start telling Congress and the Executive Branch what they have to spend, where they have to spend it and how high they must set taxes.

The only way out of this black hole is to address the problem of unfunded liabilities and current account deficits today. If we don’t, we shouldn't be surprised when the Supreme Court demands tax rates be doubled and the pentagon slashed down to a triangle in order to pay for welfare, Medicaid and Social Security. Unfortunately however, even the entire federal budget isn’t a fraction of what it would take to pay for all of the promises Washington has made. Most of us survived learning there was no Santa Claus. The question is, how bad do things have to get before we summon up the courage to break the news to Uncle Sam?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Government programs have accomplished what slavery and Jim Crow could not... they've destroyed the black family.

For those of you who have never looked at my picture, I’m a white guy. Given the subject of today's piece I might as well get it out of the way. In addition, other than participating in ROTC at Florida A&M University (an historically black institution), spending a semester in Florida State’s Degraff Hall dormitory (at that time the dorm established primarily for “African American students”) and minoring in Black Studies while at FSU, I don’t have any particular experience in what one might call black culture. (I use the word culture in the general sense, recognizing that not every member of a particular group shares all aspects of that culture.)

I do have eyes however, and much of what I see of black America is not good. I say that not as an indictment of black people. On the contrary. I don’t think blacks are any better or worse than anyone else on the planet or in the country.

That being said, I put pen to paper on this topic because of a series of disturbing headlines I’ve seen over the last month combined with something Walter Williams recently said on John Stossel’s show. Over the Memorial Day weekend Drudge ran a series of headlines about chaos breaking out across the country: Chicago, Charlotte, Boston, Miami, Nashville… The common factor across each of these melees was that the problems involved large groups of black teens and young adults. These stories dovetailed with numerous recent accounts of “Flash Mobs” across the country (Washington, Las Vegas, St. Paul) where similar groups of black youths descended on a store of one sort or another and brazenly walked off with hundreds or thousands of dollars of merchandise.

Something struck me about the people whom I was reading about or watching on video… they seemed to have no appreciation for personal property. It seemed to me that the violence and mayhem being displayed was the result of people who had an entitlement mentality where they felt they could do whatever they wanted, could take whatever they wanted, regardless of the consequences on anyone else, simply because they could. One asks how do people end up with this type of mentality. The answer was obvious: the government’s nanny state.

Then Walter Williams crystallized my thinking when he made the observation that government programs had accomplished what slavery could not do and what Jim Crow laws could not do… they destroyed the black family. The numbers are stark. Williams points out that up until the 1940’s between 75 & 90 percent of all black children were being raised in two parent homes while today the number is less than 1/3. He continued, pointing out that the illegitimacy rate amongst blacks was 18% in 1940 but ballooned to 72.5% in 2008. In a 1985 documentary he suggested that government programs, with their “good intentions” had led America’s black families into Hell.

The recent news stories about riots and gangs and flash mobs are simply the symptom of the Hell Williams discussed. There are now millions of government supported and government non-educated black youth (and in many cases their parents before them) who simply have no understanding of the concept of individual responsibility, private property or work. The result is exactly as one would expect. As Williams points out, “If you subsidize something you get more of it” i.e. dependency, illegitimacy, poverty… and most brutally, if you tax (or regulate) something you’ll get less of it… i.e. jobs.

Culture of course is different than people and there are many black people and families who do not fit into this culture. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the notion of a black culture in the first place, one must agree that the state of black America is difficult. Bill Jones, the Chairman of the Black Studies program at FSU back in the 1980’s once said that he could make a very strong argument that blacks in America were better off before the civil rights movement. His primary argument was built on the loss of role models in the black neighborhoods as most of the successful people moved out to the suburbs as soon as they could. Without those positive role models to show them how to act, who could the young people in those neighborhoods look to for guidance?

While that was not his position, he suggested a good argument could be made for it. He makes a valid point. Role models are always important for young people, but particularly for those growing up in difficult circumstances. Despite what Hollywood might want to suggest, data clearly demonstrate that growing up in a two parent home is one of the most powerful indicators of a child’s success in life. By ameliorating the financial burden of having children, by removing any correlation between individual responsibility and income, and most devastatingly of all, by making fathers superfluous, the liberal policies of the last five decades have destroyed the lives of millions of black Americans who make up what one may or may not want to characterize as black culture.

America is too great of a nation and the challenges of the 21st century are too many to leave any group behind. If America is going to survive and thrive well into the 21st century, it will require the entrepreneurial, creative and productive efforts of everyone, including her 40 million black citizens. Let's face it, we're in this together. Five decades of government policies have handicapped millions of black families and we’re seeing the consequences of those policies in headlines across the country. Perhaps the recent demonstration of that destruction playing itself out in front of news cameras and security cameras will be a catalyst to make black Americans reconsider their fealty to the Democratic Party and the big government programs that have wrought so much damage to their communities… One can only hope.