Patterico's Pontifications


Rush Limbaugh Praises Trump’s Trillion-Dollar Infrastructure Plan

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:30 pm

Rush Limbaugh spent part of the morning justifying Donald Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure program. Neither man has apparently ever heard of Bastiat or Henry Hazlitt. That’s why Rush can’t explain why this boondoggle is a problem.

It’s OK. I’ll explain it, since Rush won’t.

Here’s Rush:

If Trump actually follows through on this trillion dollars to modernize airports, you’re gonna have conservative arguments against it claiming this is not how it works. This is still federal spending, it’s still budget busting, it’s still massively expanding the government. However, there will be tangible results that will result in improved and modernized airports, which will make them more economically booming, which they will then be able to attract more traffic, more landings and takeoffs, which include fees, more cargo being moved back and forth through them. So it’s gonna be an interesting philosophical argument. The idea of conservatism and smaller government, less government.

And then on the other hand, the projects we’re talking about . . . who builds them? I mean the federal government built the interstate highway system. It was a federal government expense. Same thing with those two bridges. They did it in connection with the states, I mean, there was, there was a lot of cooperation on all of these, the Hoover Dam in Nevada, and so forth. And there were other things. And don’t forget, even prior to that, we did the Panama Canal, even prior to the 1930s.

The point is, in the past, with a much smaller economy, and a much lower standard of living, we have been far more productive. We have built many more projects at a much faster rate before all the environmental impact studies were necessary, and all this. And if Trump does this and if there are witnessable, demonstrable results of modernization at airports, you’re gonna be hard-pressed to get people to find a problem with it.

What are you frowning at me for? If, well, of course it could backfire, but on the other hand, don’t forget my three initials FDR. FDR doing all this stuff gave the Democrat party a 50-year guaranteed majority. Well, that was his dream, it didn’t actually work out to 50 years, but he made the Democrat party a majority party.

Remember: Trump’s not a conservative. So small government, less government, that’s not how he sees things. And I’ve tried to tell people this from the beginning of the campaign. He does things and says things that sound conservative, and he’s gonna do things that sound conservative. He’s gonna also do things that are not gonna look conservative. ‘Cause he’s not an ideologue. He’s a results guy and get things done. And he’ll look at that trillion dollars as an investment, and he’ll tabulate a way of having, of showing that it paid off. Even though the philosophical, theoretical discussion will argue against it.

Rush tried to warn us, you guys! He told us Trump was not conservative! We shoulda listened to Rush!

Except Rush never really seemed to be warning us. He always seemed to be justifying Trump’s non-conservative ideas — just like he does today.

Rather than explain why it’s wrong, he simply declares that the pointy heads will have their theoretical discussions, but Trump will call it an “investment.” If that word sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the word that Obama and the other Democrats always use to describe government spending. Why is Rush Limbaugh justifying a Democrat code word for spending?? Next thing you know, Trump will be proposing a tax increase on the wealthy, and Rush will tell us that all Trump is doing is “asking the wealthy to pay a little more.” Good gravy.

OK, I’m going to do what Rush should have done here, and explain why increased government spending is not always good, even on infrastructure.

The first argument is that we are about $20 trillion in debt, with tens or hundreds of trillions more in unfunded liabilities, and this is all taxation on our children, who can’t vote against it. It’s taxation of future generations without representation, and it’s unAmerican.

The second problem — and I hate to sound like a broken record here — has to do with Bastiat’s principle of the seen and unseen. Look at what I have bolded above. Much of Rush’s argument here revolves around the idea that there will be “tangible results” — that “if there are witnessable, demonstrable results” then “you’re gonna be hard-pressed to get people to find a problem with it.”

In other words, there will be results that can be seen. But this requires taxation, which prevents private citizens from doing other things with the money, and that is the unseen. In his fantastic book Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt explained the logic with respect to a publicly funded bridge:

Two arguments are put forward for the bridge, one of which is mainly heard before it is built, the other of which is mainly heard after it has been completed. The first argument is that it will provide employment. It will provide, say, 500 jobs for a year. The implication is that these are jobs that would not otherwise have come into existence.

This is what is immediately seen. But if we have trained ourselves to look beyond immediate to secondary consequences, and beyond those who are directly benefited by a government project to others who are indirectly affected, a different picture presents itself. It is true that a particular group of bridgeworkers may receive more employment than otherwise. But the bridge has to be paid for out of taxes. For every dollar that is spent on the bridge a dollar will be taken away from taxpayers. If the bridge costs $10 million the taxpayers will lose $10 million. They will have that much taken away from them which they would otherwise have spent on the things they needed most.

Therefore, for every public job created by the bridge project a private job has been destroyed somewhere else. We can see the men employed on the bridge. We can watch them at work. The employment argument of the government spenders becomes vivid, and probably for most people convincing. But there are other things that we do not see, because, alas, they have never been permitted to come into existence. They are the jobs destroyed by the $10 million taken from the taxpayers. All that has happened, at best, is that there has been a diversion of jobs because of the project. More bridge builders; fewer automobile workers, television technicians, clothing workers, farmers.

But then we come to the second argument. The bridge exists. It is, let us suppose, a beautiful and not an ugly bridge. It has come into being through the magic of government spending. Where would it have been if the obstructionists and the reactionaries had had their way? There would have been no bridge. The country would have been just that much poorer. Here again the government spenders have the better of the argument with all those who cannot see beyond the immediate range of their physical eyes. They can see the bridge. But if they have taught themselves to look for indirect as well as direct consequences they can once more see in the eye of imagination the possibilities that have never been allowed to come into existence. They can see the unbuilt homes, the unmade cars and washing machines, the unmade dresses and coats, perhaps the ungrown and unsold foodstuffs. To see these uncreated things requires a kind of imagination that not many people have. We can think of these nonexistent objects once, perhaps, but we cannot keep them before our minds as we can the bridge that we pass every working day. What has happened is merely that one thing has been created instead of others.

I suppose this is the sort of pointy-headed theorizing that Rush airily dismisses. But it’s not mere theorizing. It’s economic reality. By way of analogy: communism doesn’t work — and the reasons might sound like ivory-tower economic theory, right up until millions starve to death.

And I guarantee you, if we spend a trillion dollars that we don’t have, all these pointy-headed theoretical concerns are going to get very real. Jobs will be lost. The economy will spiral downward.

Of course, people won’t realize why. But I just told you why. It just takes some imagination to realize it.

[Cross-posted at RedState.]

The Left Suddenly Discovers the Joys of Decentralized Governance

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:30 am

Under Barack Obama, leftists relentlessly pursued national laws to address every possible issue, from health care to gun control. But all of a sudden, pieces in left-leaning publications indicate that some leftists, faced with a federal government controlled by Republicans, are starting to muse about the merits of states’ rights.

And I think it’s wonderful. Amusing . . . but wonderful.

We’ve seen the spectacle of Jelani Cobb at the New Yorker citing the example of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions from 1798-1799, for crying out loud, in defense of state nullification of federal laws. In a similar spirit, Jeffrey Rosen writes in the New York Times:

Having lost all three branches of the federal government again, progressives are now concluding that they have no alternative but to redouble their efforts at the local level. . . . [S]ome important progressive victories have already occurred in blue and red state referendums. On Nov. 8, voters in three states (California, Nevada and Washington) voted for stricter gun control. Four states (Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington) voted to increase the minimum wage. Four Trump states (Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota) passed ballot measures allowing or expanding the use of medical marijuana, while California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana.

. . . .

Whether the Republican White House, Congress and Supreme Court allow progressive federalists to get away with that will depend on whether Republicans prove as devoted to states’ rights now that they control the federal government as they were when they were the ones in the wilderness.

Many Republicans will indeed shed their devotion to states’ rights, of course — because (like many leftists) they care more about their preferred policy outcomes than about the constitutional structure of our government.

But some of us are willing to help the left make structural changes in favor of federalism — if the changes are designed to outlive the Trump administration, and rein in the left as well as right.

Some of the proposals by leftists are inappropriate, such as urging locals to establish more sanctuary cities and resist federal efforts to enforce anti-immigration laws. Immigration is one of the few issues that is national in character, and efforts to resist our federal laws are not rooted in federalism.

But, by contrast, if the left wants to enable states and local communities to make decisions that the Constitution leaves to the states, I’m all for it. If they suddenly want to help us make long-lasting structural changes to our government that favor states’ rights, I’m in. If they want to help set precedents to rein in the federal government at all times, and not just when Republicans are in charge, I agree.

One of the less shrill and more reasonable arguments has been made by conservative Democrat Joel Kotkin at the Daily Beast, who appears to have a principled view of the possible benefits of local power for both the right and the left:

What Americans across the political spectrum need to recognize is that centralizing power does not promote national unity, but ever harsher division. Enforced central control, from left or right, polarizes politics in dangerous ways. The rather hysterical reaction to Trump’s election on the left is a case in point, with some in alt-blue California calling for secession from the union. Had Clinton and the Democrats won, we would have heard other secessionist sentiment, notably in Texas.

This is no way to maintain a “United” States. Under Obama, conservative states resisted ever expanding federal executive power; now it’s the progressives’ turn to worry about an overweening central state.

. . . .

In his drive to make America “great” again, the new president needs to revitalize our flagging democracy not by doubling down on federal power but by empowering local communities to determine what’s best for them. Anything else gives us a choice between ideological despotisms that can only enrage and alienate half of our population by forcing down their throats policies they can’t abide, and, in most cases, should not be forced to accept.

I, for one, welcome our new friends in resisting our federal overlords. The sentiment isn’t going to last long; the second the leftists think they can regain federal power, they’ll chuck federalism overboard. Let’s strike while the iron is hot.

Let’s make the changes structural, so they can’t change them back when they feel like it. Let’s start with an Article V convention to carry out some of the proposals made by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, like “Allow[ing] a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation” or “Prohibit[ing] administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.”

Come on, progressives! Let’s do this! Call it opposing Donald Trump if you like. That’s fine with me.

Hurrah for decentralization!

P.S. If these ideas appeal to you, consider joining my group the Constitutional Vanguard, which supports liberty, the free market, and the Constitution. We have a private Facebook group and a private forum to promote those issues. Join us!

[Cross-posted at]

Al Gore Meeting with Ivanka Trump on Climate Change [UPDATE: And With Donald Trump Too]

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:58 am

Offered without comment:

Ivanka Trump is meeting Monday with climate change activist and former Vice President Al Gore.

The president-elect’s daughter, who reportedly wants to make global warming one of her signature issues, will meet with Gore at Trump Tower in Manhattan, according to transition spokesman Jason Miller.

The former vice president will not be meeting with the president-elect, Miller said in a conference call with reporters on Monday morning.

He would not elaborate on the contents of the meeting.

Ivanka has close ties to influential Democrats, and she has supported causes traditionally more dear to the left than to conservatives, including pushing her father to support child care and paid family leave policies.

OK, maybe a little comment.

There is no better place to make global warning one of your signature issues than as head of the Trump Organization, with no ties whatsoever to the government. Ivanka can learn from The Master how to keep the new hotels green. Win/win, is what I say.

Here is old Al himself walking in for the meeting:

I have some of the most intelligent commenters around, and they are generally sympathetic to Donald Trump. I am fascinated to see how they will react to this.

Speaking as a skeptic both of climate change hysteria and of climate change skepticism, I am fine with the Trumps taking a look at climate change. If they want to do by having a daughter who is supposedly soon to be out of government meet with a huckster who routinely exaggerates the issue, who am I to criticize?

How about you?

UPDATE: Looks like Mr. AlGore met with The Donald as well. Thanks to DRJ.

Evan McMullin Does Not Like Donald Trump

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:53 am

And says so in the New York Times::

On July 7, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, met privately with House Republicans near the Capitol. I was present as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. Mr. Trump’s purpose was to persuade the representatives to unite around him, a pitch he delivered in a subdued version of his stream-of-consciousness style. A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress.

Mr. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as “Article XII.” Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.

There is still deeper cause for concern. Mr. Trump’s erroneous proclamation also suggested that he lacked even an interest in the Constitution. Worse, his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.

He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.

There is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day. Last week, Mr. Trump commented on Twitter that flag-burning should be punished by jailing and revocation of citizenship. As someone who has served this country, I carry no brief for flag-burners, but I defend their free-speech right to protest — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment. Although I suspect that Mr. Trump’s chief purpose was to provoke his opponents, his action was consistent with the authoritarian playbook he uses.

Mr. Trump also recently inflated his election performance, claiming — without evidence — that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” This, too, is nothing new. Authoritarians often exaggerate their popular support to increase the perception of their legitimacy. But the deeper objective is to weaken the democratic institutions that limit their power. Eroding confidence in voting, elections and representative bodies gives them a freer hand to wield more power.

I agree with McMullin about virtually everything he says (although I suspect Trump may be right about the illegals voting). But he’s likely to have people throwing rotten fruit at him, figuratively. His timing is poor. People just got through voting for Donald Trump, and there is a sort of era of good feelings and hope. Whether the hope is well-grounded or not, it’s what people seem to be feeling.

McMullin ends with a call for a new “civil engagement”:

We need a new era of civic engagement that will reawaken us to the cause of liberty and equality. That engagement must extend to ensuring that our elected representatives uphold the Constitution, in deed and discourse — even if doing so puts them at odds with their party.

Regardless of your feelings about Donald Trump, the call for civic engagement is a good idea. Promoting liberty, the free market, and the Constitution is what true conservatives should focus on.

The Constitutional Vanguard: Article II and Presidential Power

Filed under: Constitutional Vanguard,General — Patterico @ 5:00 am

The Constitutional Vanguard is my group that promotes liberty, free markets, and the Constitution. I started it on May 3, the day I left the Republican party, and it is now my main vehicle besides this blog for spreading the word about principles I worry that Donald Trump will ignore. More than just an entertaining and informative newsletter, the group has its own private Facebook page — and I have now created a private forum for members of the group, at Instructions for joining the Facebook page and the private forum are available in the newsletters.

This week the newsletter will focus on Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which deals with executive power. What does Article II actually allow Presidents to do? Do Donald Trump’s plans fit within Article II? And if they don’t, will he be the first President of all time to go beyond the powers specified in Article II? (Hint: hell no. Not by a longshot.)

To get an idea what the previous emails are like, browse the archive. If you decide you want to join up, you can do that here. Right now, that’s the only way to join the forum or the private Facebook page.

The group is growing all the time. At least count, we had 233 members in the private Facebook group, and 835 members in the group as a whole. Maybe it’s time for you to join us! The Article II newsletter goes out tomorrow morning, so sign up in time to be part of the discussion!

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