Friday, August 22, 2003

Absurd subsidies, and how to get rid of them

One of the most important causes and political sites out there, Kick All Agricultural Subsidies lays it on the line. We don't screw poor countries over with our free trade. We screw poor countries over with the many ways that the US violates free trade. Join their campaign for one of the many ways to relieve ourselves of the burdens our system of government sticks us with.

Look, agricultural subsidies are idiotic. We spend taxpayer money, (over $300 billion across the western world, that's $200 a person a year at least), to fund uneconomic farms, most of which does not go to the small farmers who are poster children for them, and they breaks the market so that unindustrialized third world countries can't develop their own farming economy. If you don't believe this is absurd, then 1) you receive such subsidies yourself probably, and 2) you really should read what every single economist has to say on this matter, before the next time you believe someone who says that one more corporate tax cut that will save our economy. Every academic and media outlet agrees that such subsidiesare a big swindle, supporting one special interest group (agricultural states), and says they should be done away with post haste. That we haven't, is just a sad sign of "how hard it is to get things done in Washington."

Well really, why do we have them? One answer is the Senate, which far over represents small farm states relative to their actual population. They won't let a budget pass without this pork to their constituents (and these over-representend but still a minority senators have many ways to stop it). But the problem goes deeper. Yes, it's those thrice-cursed committees.

No subsidy is voted on independently by all of Congress. They're in budget bills that are written up in committees. The Armed Services Committee writes the military provisions, the agricultural committee writes the amount of farm subsidies. So who sits on the Agricultural Committees? Would you imagine a Senator from New Jersey, or a Congressman from LA? Of course not, they don't have time for that. The Senator from Iowa or Congressman from Boise are the ones desperate to get on those committees. So we have the most absurd case of the wolf guarding the henhouse ever. All of America pays its taxes, but only the people who get farm subsidies decide on the size of the farm subsidies.

Our "commitee system" is often commented as one of the chief protectors of minorities in our government. It creates deliberative procedures among the representatives who know the most about issues. Ha! This log rolling is one of the most striking pieces of evidence that any system that dilutes the direct majority of the people, only creates huge inefficiences for everyone.

PS: Ok, so the version I gave is a little simplistic. The Appropriations Committee comes in their somewhere. Well there's an Agricultural Sub-Committee of the Appropriations Committee, so we still get screwed.

PPS: For more on how this system is horrible for third world countries (and thus, how by cutting spending we also help them), see the award winning documentary on free trade and Jamaica, Life and Debt. American subsidizing of white chicken meat, and thus non-competitive exports of dark chicken meat,have killed the once thriving yeoman farm industry in Jamaica.


Why voter turnout is lower than... well, something really low.

So, why should we abolish the Constitution? Well, pick your issue. School funding, government over-spending, campaign finance problems, environmental issues, unsubsidies? All of these have huge problems directly caused by our mode of government. What's more, they aren't issues just one side would support (like, say, gun control activists or pro-lifers), but things any member of any political party would see as needing to be fixed.

The most important issue though is what our Constitution does to public apathy regarding politics. I'm not just talking about voter turnout (although that certainly is a key indicator), but the detatchment and disgust almost any American citizen feels regarding their government. There are two problems that any complex political process foists upon us, and until we adopt a simpler system of government, they will remain a burden on our backs.

1) Splitting power. If you're reading this, you probably consider yourself an active participant in American democracy. You know who the Cabinet Secretaries are, who your Congressman and Senators are, who controls your state government. Okay, so what committees do your federal representatives sit on? Who are your state senator and state representative? What are the machinations of your state political party? Heck, what was in the president's platform regarding education funding last year? These are all very important things that the idea of "democratic accountability" assumes you are paying attention to. Because if even the political junkies of this country aren't paying attention to these things, most people certainly aren't, and so much else else goes down the drain after that. Special interest groups, yellow dog partisanship, pork-barrelling, you know the whole schpiel. It's often lamented as the root trouble with our country.

But ask yourself: why should anyone HAVE to know all this (let alone, everyone)? How can members of a republic be expected to be a watchdog for their state governments, their local governments, their federal executive branch, and their federal legislative branch? So they aren't. Why remember a President's platform, when he has to get it through Congress anyway, and is as likely as not to be railroaded by members of his own party (ala Tom Delay or Ted Kennedy)? How can we hold our Congressmen to their promises regarding education, when their hands are tied by the fact that the Constitution says this responsibility is solely the states'. So the simple answer is: we don't. The public doesn't ignore political news because they don't care about these issues, but because it's a bysantine process that no single vote can affect.

In all of the industrialized democracies, you know what the only country that has voter turnout rates as low as ours (50% and falling) is? Switzerland. You know what the only other country that has as complex a government, with regional "cantons" that each need to individually vote affirmative for a major issue to pass? Just guess. People aren't going to get involved if there is no direct way of changing their government.

2) Political maneuvering. Politicians who dedicate their life to improving the world have no inate desire to pull every trick in the book just to get their way. California Recall, impeachment, lawsuit acitivism, filibustering presidential nominees, finding loopholes in campaign spending limits, constant redistrictring. These are amoral plots that would wear anyone down, and have little to do about finding out what most people want - and simply enacting it. But offer anyone a special strategy, and if they truly believe in their cause, they'll HAVE to jump at it (if they wouldn't, their supporters should find someone who would). It's like accidentally putting a loophole in the tax code, and expecting honest people not to take advantage of it. Of course they will. Should we expect any differently of an elected representative who's spent many years trying to promote christianity and associated values in America, to ignore an opportunity to filibuster an amendment regarding God in schools, even if the majority of America oppose him? Or a inner city Democrat, preventing child care cuts? They'll take whatever tools we put on the table for them, and they are honorable souls for it.

But these types of political scheming is a constant gridlock, that forces us to pay for the court costs, election costs, media converage of irrelevant issues, and a bloated political infrastructure. In applying equally to both sides, it produces nothing but inefficiency. Without these tricks, with only simply majorities ruling on any issue, politics would be less about committee Machiavellians and more about public debate over serious issues. Should the government position on affirmative action be decided by public discourse and relevant voting, or whether the Senate Republicans can manipulate rules to break the Democrat's filibuster of Charles Pickering? If political decisions are decided by the latter, is it no wonder that we have a government that holds up biased Civil Rights Commission decisions on one hand, and flies pictures of the Confederate flag on another. This will not do.


Sic Semper Tyrannis

A moderate person proposing immoderate solutions.

This is the first political blog devoted to the elimination of the US Constitution. I'm a political centrist, who holds conservative opinions on abortion and free-trade, and liberal opinions on healthcare and civil liberties. The severe problems with our founding document should be evident to everyone, regardless of political affiliation. Hopefully in reading this, any political afficianando can see how the public would benefit, and their causes as well.

But the real purpose for writing this journal is to use this unique method of communication, for proposing this unique solution. The best contribution blogs have made to the political debate is an amazing attention to pragmatic details. Be it Matt Drudge, or kausfiles, many authors ignore their political leanings for the sake of pointing out annoying details in policy or past statements, that mock their own side just as much as others. Holding your ideology dear, but not letting it get in the way of facts that are important to know, is part of any mature political dialogue. It is something thousands of web jouralists can do, but a few political talk show guests can not.

So I'm here to point out the biggest detail of all, and to hope some readers can discard their preconceived notion to understand the poinths I'm getting at. Our Constitution is a creaking old document that costs us hundreds of billions of dollars a year directly, and has made our government into a complete and utter mess. If anyone bothers to read this, the feedback should be quite interesting. Hopefully some message boards will eventually get up, but in the mean time please use the comments section.

I'll start off with a couple posts about general problems (state government, disproportionate federal legislation, etc.) to add some meat, but in general this blog will: link daily to news items that point to the absurdity of our limited government, observe how other Western democracies deal with civil institutions, and a weekly commentary on one larger issue.