Tag Archives: Social Security

The evil trinity of big government: media, public schools, and government bureaucracy

With Occupy Wall Street in the news, the decline of the American economy and competitiveness, and our growing indebtedness as individuals and a nation, I have been thinking a lot the causes of our current “unequivocal experience.” [Hamilton, Federalist No. 1] Or as Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 15, “We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation. There is scarcely anything that can wound the pride or degrade the character of an independent nation which we do not experience.”

For those who read this blog, my tweets, or my books, you already know that I firmly believe that all problems in government can be traced to the people. No government can stand long without the support–or lack of opposition–from the people, as Hamilton points out in Federalist No. 21 and Madison in Federalists No. 28 and 44.

The question then is not why the government has grown, but why the people have encouraged or allowed its growth from under ten percent of GDP to over forty percent over the past century.

Quite a while ago I came to the conclusion–and I’m sure I’m not alone in this opinion–that there is an evil trinity promoting big government.

  • The media: The print and television media has long been controlled by the left. Only with the emergence of Fox News and talk radio has the right gotten a voice. The Internet has also helped expanded “alternative” viewpoints. Nevertheless, the left still has a dominant market share among casual listeners/viewers/readers. The media has an innate interest in promoting government. The media’s job is to find a problem or crisis and blow it out of proportions to get ratings. On top of that, a story gets even more traction if there is somebody to blame. Who to blame? Well, you certainly cannot blame your customers, even if they are responsible. So, the media blames big corporations, the government, or foreign nations. If they blame a foreign nation, obviously it is the government’s job to protect us from these foreign attacks. If they blame a big corporation, only the government is large enough and powerful enough to rein them in. If they blame the government, they suggest, promote, or demand that the government do more next time to prevent its own mistakes. (Think about government stimulus, which the media says failed only because it was not big enough.)
  • Public education system: Most Americans received the majority of their education from the public school system. Public schools teach nearly 100% of K-12 students. Even in college, many universities are public with tuition subsidized by the states. On top of that, the federal government subsidizes student loans to private universities, which creates all sorts of market distortions. Public school administrators and teachers alike receive their paychecks from the government. They have chosen to work for government and most of them, by choice or mandate, join the teachers union. These teachers and administrators are brainwashed by unions and government education departments and then brainwash their own students to believe those same ideals. When election time comes, they turn out in droves and convince parents through phone calls (I received one the other day) and PTA activities to vote for their candidates and to approve propositions to increase their funding.
  • Government bureaucracy: Currently, seventeen percent of American jobs are in the government sector. On top of that, as I write in The Path to Tyranny, “these employment figures do not include all the jobs created by the 529 billion dollars worth of contracts given out by the federal government each year, two-thirds of which were for defense programs. As of 2006, government contracts to private defense companies employed an additional 1.4 million people.” Just like the teachers and school administrators above, these people want to keep their jobs and generally believe that they are doing more good than bad for the country.

With such a large percentage of Americans working for the government, either directly or through public schools, with the media’s influence on the American mind, and the public school system’s stranglehold on our children’s education, the left has been able to advance their agenda with little opposition. There should be little doubt as to why government’s size has more than quadrupled in the last hundred years and now eats up almost half of our GDP (with the cost of regulation added on top of that).

A fourth group may possibly be included: welfare recipients. Back in 2009, I wrote about this in The Path to Tyranny, but the situation has worsened since then. Here is what I wrote then:

In the first quarter of 2009, Social Security, Medicare, welfare, and other benefits provided by the government accounted for 16.2 percent of all personal income, a record high. Americans have become dependent on the government, something the Founders did not intend. After paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into Social Security and Medicare, only the very rich would be able forego the benefits promised them. Every election, retirees and people approaching retirement vote for candidates who promise not to touch their retirement or health care programs. This has made fixing the structural problems behind these programs virtually impossible, but it has accomplished the goal of modern liberals and socialists of making Americans dependent on the government.

Nevertheless, I do not include these welfare/benefit recipients because they are people from all walks of life who do not represent a singular group. Though they certainly skew elections and public sentiment, there is no way to infiltrate, attack, and convince them as a group; we can only do so as individuals. The other three are institutions influencing government; this one is a loose collection of individuals. The left uses the apparatus of the left within the media, public education, and government bureaucracy to influence others. In contrast, those dependent on government are a symptom of big government more than a cause, though they certainly seek to maintain their benefits and this makes shrinking government more difficult. But these people do not necessarily promote big government. In fact, many oppose government’s actions to increase welfare because it may threaten their own benefits. Thus, welfare/benefit recipients are not including among my evil trinity.

Topic to be continued…

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How much does an education really cost?

I thing the 7% expected annual return may too high, but otherwise Mr. Bill Walker has a very good point. Are we really getting our money’s worth with our public schools?

US Education: Show Us the Money!

by Bill Walker

According to the 2009 OECD figures, the US government spends more per pupil than any nation in the world except Switzerland. The US spent an average of $149,000 for the K–12 education of every 2009 public high school graduate. That works out to $11,461 per year or so.

So the solution is obvious: shut down the schools and invest the money instead. Just let the kids stay home and study on the Internet. Let’s even save some money to reduce the deficit, and only invest $11,000 per year. At 7% return, each child would have a $391,000 IRA when they’re 18. That way, even if they spend the next 50 years surfing or hiking the Appalachian Trail, they would all retire at 68 with $12,512,000 (assuming the same 7% average yearly return). This solves not only the education crisis, but the Social Security problem (they wouldn’t need it) AND the health-budget crisis (how much heart disease could there be, if everyone spent their time surfing and hiking?)

Continue reading…

Dear comrade to propose even more deficit spending (via Da Mook)

The President will propose more spending, or “targeted investments” as he calls it, in his State of the Union.

This is President Obama’s idea of being a moderate? Oy!

Dear comrade to propose even more deficit spending Imagine this scenario: You get a brilliant idea that you can beat the odds in Las Vegas. You mortgage your home to the hilt, empty your savings accounts and your kid’s piggybank and drop it all on a single roll of the roulette wheel. Naturally, you lose everything. So, what now? Well, being broke you don’t have a lot of options. But if you’re a bureaucrat and you’re playing with someone else’s money, the answer is simple – double down. That’s ess … Read More

via Da Mook

Government seizing retirement assets. Machiavelli says this is a big mistake.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that European nations begin seizing private pensions:

People’s retirement savings are a convenient source of revenue for governments that don’t want to reduce spending or make privatizations. As most pension schemes in Europe are organised by the state, European ministers of finance have a facilitated access to the savings accumulated there, and it is only logical that they try to get a hold of this money for their own ends. In recent weeks I have noted five such attempts: Three situations concern private personal savings; two others refer to national funds.

The five countries involved are Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Ireland, and France. Apparently, the leaders of these countries forgot to read their Machiavelli. In The Prince, the great political thinker wrote:

But above all a prince must abstain from the property of others; because men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.

Government says it’s OK to break social security agreement, but not pension agreements.

Barack Obama’s debt commission proposed several changes to Social Security to help reduce the deficit. The New York Times reports:

The plan would reduce cost-of-living increases for all federal programs, including Social Security. It would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades, though low-income people would get higher benefits. The retirement age for full benefits would be slowly raised to 69 from 67 by 2075, with a “hardship exemption” for people who physically cannot work past 62. And higher levels of income would be subject to payroll taxes.

I have no idea how much these measures will contribute to reducing the deficit or paying off the debt. My complaint is more ideological.

When employees contribute to social security, they are doing so with the understanding that they will receive certain benefits starting at a certain date. Currently, an American expects to pay a certain amount each year into the system, retire at age 67. and receive cost of living adjustments (COLA) each year. The proposals by the debt commission would violate this agreement, forcing people to pay more each year if they earn over a certain amount, retire at a later date than originally agreed to, and receive less in benefits than promised as the COLA is reduced. In effect, the government is unilaterally canceling its contract with each American and replacing it with a less attractive one.

In reality, I am not opposed to these changes, especially the retirement age which will not fully take effect for 65 years, thus having little effect on anybody working today. The reduction in COLA would have a much greater effect on everybody starting in the near future while the removal of the cap on social security taxes would have an even larger effect, but only the wealthy. But while these are necessary changes, contrast this with the government’s stance on pension funds.

In a Q&A titled The pension time bomb, The Week asks:

Can benefits be scaled back?

Only for future employees. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently signed legislation reducing pension benefits for new state employees. In California this month, voters in nine municipalities approved ballot measures to limit benefits for future public employees. And governments are starting to take a harder line in collective bargaining with public unions. “I’ve seen a sea change in the local collective bargaining process,” said Dwight Stenbakken, deputy executive director of the League of California Cities. Some analysts recommend following the lead of Georgia, which requires that prior to being enacted, any changes to retiree benefits be studied for long-term impacts. According to the Pew Center on the States, the policy has helped Georgia avoid “costly and irreversible” mistakes.

These pension liabilities have already been promised to employees and retirees. The government has a contractual obligation to pay the pensions as promised.

So why are the pension obligations sacrosanct while money can be taken from Social Security beneficiaries? Social security is just as much a contractual obligation as public union pensions. If social security benefits are to be reduced for those who have already paid in, public union pension benefits should be as well.

* Though I have not yet read this (too busy writing my next book), Robert Graham discusses this topic in much more detail in his Job Killers: The American Dream in Reverse. How Labor Unions are Destroying American Jobs and the Economy. If you’ve read it, leave a comment here or send me an email, tweet, or facebook message letting me know what you think of it.