Brother Against Brother: searching for common ground
June 1, 2017 | View PDF
“Brother against brother” oft conjures remembrance of how a voluntary coalition of States morphed onto the forced coalition of states result observed these past several score. Mr. Trump swore his oath of office hand on the Lincoln bible to then speak of another FDR (increasing debt per capital twelve fold) type federal spending model in his inaugural address. President Trump recently asserted war between the States could’ve been avoided. Accomplished with compromise [lowering] tariffs to attenuate the Nullification Crisis when war between the States was imminent in the 1830s, it is certainly possible again. Ms. Clinton also failed to display much acumen for law and economics for non-duopoly voters to forecast she would be any improvement if elected. Mr. Trump offered little insight on how he would avoid making these same mistakes again pressing toward a path of great death and destruction - the usual end of command economies.
My column on electoral college versus popular vote victories [http://www.alabamagazette.com/story/2016/12/01/opinion/bush-2000-versus-trump-2016/925.html] shows only two times in US history where a Constitutionally correct HoR electoral college outcome does NOT match the popular vote outcome. The first was Grover Cleveland (only president to not serve consecutive terms) and Donald Trump. This is indeed extraordinary - Cleveland was the last ‘traditional Democrat’ president who returned battle flags to conquered states, refused to sign re-introduction of the unconstitutional federal income tax, made some progress curbing Union pension abuse, etc. This extraordinary result signaled the end of small govt. Democrats who were an effective force against the traditional big govt. Republicans. As Wilson made huge advances toward extracting more to DC under the militarily imposed centralized govt. result, we quickly ‘progressed’ into the return of Lincoln era fiat currency, federal income tax, class warfare, re-segregating the White House in keeping with the progressives’ agenda. This paved the way for even greater federal distortions under the Hoover/FDR, LBJ/Nixon, Bush/Obama results to ratchet US on our increasingly hegemonic path.
On vacation, Dave and Stan Laband engaged in dialogue transcribed into the following text to some major US papers. Some readers are familiar with David N. Laband, now an Emeritus Professor of Economics at Auburn University after recently retiring as Department Chair at Georgia Tech. Prof. Laband is among top economists in world rankings. I’ve been blessed to have such a great thinker shepherding my (less accomplished) thoughts these past decades. His brother Stanley J. Laband is the principal of a veteran-owned LLC which consults on thermal imaging systems. While I’ve not enjoyed as much interaction with Stan over the years, I have no doubt his ‘candlepower’ is on par with his younger bother Dave. I found their “Recommendations for Bridging America’s Political Divide,” a worthy read. The irony of this emanating from a great geographic divide like the Grand Canyon didn’t escape me…
We are brothers. Both in our early 60s, we measure our political awareness back to President Nixon. One of us thinks Barack Obama was the worst president in his lifetime; the other thinks Donald Trump (already!) is the worst president in his lifetime. Not surprisingly, this means we tread carefully into, and out of, discussions involving politics. Surely, we are not unique in this respect -- we suspect the current political landscape in America threatens the familial harmony of millions of our fellow citizens. Yet despite our own sharp differences of opinion about our country’s two most recent presidents, we are the best of friends. We took the opportunity presented recently by a trip to the Grand Canyon to explore aspects of our politics that unite, rather than divide, us. Out of this discussion emerged several suggestions that we both agree strongly on.
Policy should focus on the General Welfare, not special interest handouts
This is a first principle. America’s founders stressed the importance of government that promotes the “general Welfare” in the very first line of the U.S. Constitution. However, our general welfare is not promoted by Congress passing (and the President signing) legislation giving many billions of dollars in direct or indirect corporate welfare (e.g., ethanol blending requirements, agricultural subsidies, private monopolies, targeted tax breaks or government-backed loans for specific firms, and so on). Nor is the general welfare promoted by government actions that assist, and in many cases mandate, the well-being and separateness of specific groups at the expense of the general welfare. The tax code is rife with examples of provisions that set certain individuals in America apart from others. For example, why should individuals with children be tax-advantaged over those without children? Likewise, why should individuals who borrow money to buy homes be tax advantaged over those who rent or do not borrow? Why should the tax code subsidize college students or individuals who purchase certain appliances, windows, solar panels, electric vehicles, and so on? These are government policies that promote individual welfare, not the general welfare; they are divisive, not unifying.
We believe that most Americans agree strongly on a core set of things including, but not limited to: the importance of family and friends; a desire for safe places to work and live in; a belief in the ‘American Dream’ -- that what you do, not who you know, should determine success; the related understanding that equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, defines the American Dream; public officials are beholden to citizens, not vice-versa; and the ugly reality that demands by individuals or groups that they be treated differentially better than everyone else serve to divide, not unite, our country. We the people, and the government officials we elect, should focus on what unites us (laws that promote the general welfare), not on what divides us (laws that protect and enrich special interests). Little children operating a curbside lemonade stand enhances the general welfare; shutting it down for ‘health reasons’ is government overreach that diminishes the general welfare.
Laws should apply to the politicians that pass them
Politicians are their own interest group and pass laws that afflict others while exempting themselves. Members of Congress do not worry about Obamacare or Trumpcare for the medical needs of themselves and their families, because they have exclusive access to a private, lavish, taxpayer-funded health care plan. They pass laws affecting everyone else’s pension plans, but not their own lucrative, taxpayer-funded pensions. Living with the consequences of your own actions helps enforce an implicit accountability that disciplines against over-reach. That politicians should be subject to the laws they pass is a no-brainer.
Compulsion should be avoided
The incisive question to ask about any government action that makes something mandatory is: if the putative benefits are so compelling, why make purchase/participation compulsory? Why won’t individuals voluntarily behave in ways that are consistent with the stated aim of the government action?
Government forces people to pay taxes because voluntary participation results in under-funded government, and the non-payers ‘free-ride’ on the payers. While services provided by the government may promote the general welfare, the distribution of contributions does not. Compulsory consumption amounts to a subsidy. Some people – perhaps a large percentage of people – are forced to buy certain goods (for example, CFL or LED lights) because getting rid of consumers’ opportunity to purchase a different light bulb (incandescent, halogen) makes the ‘winners’ feel better. They gain, others lose. This does not promote the general welfare.
Wouldn’t consumers voluntarily purchase these products without the government mandate? Why must individuals buy a government-mandate product that includes features they don’t want? Why should females be required to purchase health insurance that pays for Viagra? Why should males be forced to purchase health insurance that covers OB-GYN visits? Indeed, why should anyone be compelled to purchase health insurance or any other good or service? Compulsion does not enhance the general welfare. It reflects unwanted and arguably deeply resented government overreach and intrusion into individuals’ private lives.
Eliminate ballot access restrictions….
That have been legislated by the two major political parties to cartelize American politics, making it virtually impossible for third-party candidates with creative ideas and policy prescriptions to successfully compete for public office. The two-party-only system failed Americans in 2016 by producing a Presidential election in which many individuals voted for the candidate they considered to be the lesser of two evils and many others did not vote because neither candidate was a compelling option.
Re-districting should be apolitical
Gerrymandered congressional districts are a national disgrace that serve the parochial interests of the two-party duopoly, not the general welfare. A small handful of states (e.g., California) have moved in the direction of making redistricting apolitical by placing the process under the control of neutral boards, not state legislatures. This is what is known in the business world as ‘best practice.’
While we may disagree about specific government policies and figures, our shared interest in ‘big-picture’ aspects of our government, at all levels, means that our disagreements are short-lived and provocative, but not damaging.
Hope you also found this a worthy read and sound starting point of common ground. 25% of eligible voters casting for one block of transfers over another block doesn’t provide much of an option for productive citizens hosting our proliferating array of wealth transfers. Voting for one extreme or the other conveys little information, esp. with so many voters not participating when dissatisfied with both extremes. When hundreds of thousands of voters who cast for their Senator do NOT cast in the presidential race, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the process - esp. when in a battleground/swing state which may impact the outcome on the margin. Some States, who fought to establish US as a forced coalition of states, now want to exit (e.g., CALexit) as they observe sending more dollars to DC (to accomplish things not authorized for the federal govt. to address) than they get in return. Some states which receive more (in excess of the dollar sent to DC) are finally starting to realize these distortions make their state (in general) worse off, while those who receive the crony contracts, largess, etc. enjoy the wealth transfer to the specific individual(s) who benefit. I grow weary of those who claim (perhaps disingenuously) they can’t understand those who voted for and continue to support Trump as he works to redistribute Obama transfers away from them to other recipients of the largess. They’re trying to send a message to STOP this proliferation destroying US but can’t communicate it via our current flawed process.
I recently attended another SoD (Seeds of Democracy) meeting where problems under our current ‘less than representative’ republic guaranteed in our Constitution were addressed, focused on beginning in Lee County. The Laband brothers offer some sound common ground to change our command economy path and set a course back toward liberty over hegemony and duopoly. “If these shadows go unaltered,” as Dickens penned, the rational forecast is another brother against brother outcome devoutly to be avoided.
Postscript: bittersweet to read stories on the 20th Anniversary of our apology for the deadly, shameful Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Civil rights attorney Fred Gray’s 1973 lawsuit won $10 million for survivors of the ‘study.’ Exacerbating our shame, the government didn’t apologize until 1997. I’ve been a faculty advisor for many students groups at AU over the last 25 years. One of the proudest moments was to watch the zeal of Student Libertarians (most notably PhD candidate Scott Kjar) efforts championing more than apology, specifically prosecution of those known to commit these atrocities upon our citizens. Big government progressives (promoting racism, sterilization, etc.) protect their own thwarting all efforts to establish precedent of disciplining this here at home as we crow about prosecuting national socialists in Germany, etc. Given the poor record of public servants (Hubbard, Riley, Siegleman, Sessions, Sewell, Thompson, et al) tolerating civil rights abuses these past decades, it is little surprise justice for criminals responsible for this terrible chapter in our history will not see justice in this world after this long overdue apology.