America cannot be the best in everything. That might sound very un-American, but hear me out.
While it is undoubtedly a lofty goal, it is not practical. It is especially impractical when being the best in something is equivalent to spending a lot more money on it, and that seems to be the Obama administration’s philosophy these days. The administration has so many goals it is hard to list them all, but here are a few:
- providing free health care to every man, woman and child in the U.S., including illegal immigrants.
- leading the world in the percentage of citizens with a college degree
- being energy independent
- leading the world in technology and innovation
- providing free education from birth to college for everyone in the U.S.
Each of these goals requires more government spending, according to the Obama budget. As crazy as he was at times, at least Howard Dean was sane enough to realize that we can’t have everything we want. When he was running for president, he made it clear that some sacrifices would have to be made, and while I disagreed with his politics I at least respected him for being honest about the trade-offs we faced. He made it clear that we can’t spend more on Medicare, spend more on education, spend more on defense, cut taxes, and reduce the deficit all at the same time. Those goals are in conflict with each other and something has to give. And even though I hear President Obama talk about his budget and the “hard decisions” and sacrifices that he is making, I don’t see where he’s making any sacrifices at all. He’s spending more on everything. He’s telling everyone they won’t pay more in taxes unless they make more than $250,000 (despite increasing cigarette taxes and other taxes on business, like carbon taxes or cap-and-trade, that will increase prices of many goods the poor purchase), and apparently the only people who are going to pay more are evil rich people. That’s the sacrifice? Studies have shown that even if we took ALL of the income of the people making more than $250,000, we would not be able to balance the federal budget. So we have to cut spending at some point, do we not? Talking about sacrifice is great, but at some point, to quote our president, ”words must mean something.”
In economics, we have a concept called opportunity cost (discussed here in the context of television viewing). Bush didn’t understand it and apparently neither does Obama. And sadly, a sizeable chunk of our population either doesn’t know it or doesn’t take it seriously, so politicians get elected promising to make government work more efficiently, spend less, and tax less — then they get elected and, if we’re lucky, they do one of those three things.
The Tax Day Tea Parties were not about taxes as much as they were about government size and scope increasing at a frightening pace in the last six months, and that includes the Bush administration. A trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there, and suddenly we’ve spent an entire year’s worth of GDP trying to keep GDP from decreasing a few percentage points. When a CNN ”reporter” at one of the Tea Party protests asked a man why he was there, he started talking about Lincoln and liberty. She interrupted him to ask him if he was aware he would actually qualify for a $400 tax cut. What she and so many fail to realize is that for a lot of people, this is not about their individual tax situation. Some people are not willing to sell out their principles or their vision of America and what made us great for a mere $400 in tax cuts or some stimulus money for their state. Even if you may be willing to tax my neighbor and give me his money, I don’t want it. I find it funny that people like this reporter can’t seem to fathom why these people were protesting even though their own taxes aren’t increasing, yet they would have no problem understanding why people in the U.S. would protest poverty in Africa that does not affect them directly, or people in the U.S. would protest children dying of malaria in some third-world country, or people in the U.S. would protest women being treated as second-class citizens in a middle eastern country that most of us will never even visit. I don’t remember reporters going up to people protesting China’s actions in Tibet and saying, “Why should you care about this? Don’t you know that you don’t live in Tibet?” My neighbor may have more money than me, but that does not mean I have a right to his income. When half of this country pays no federal income taxes, which is what will happen under Obama’s budget, that just strikes me as wrong. Apparently, in this reporter’s eyes, that makes me an idiot. By her logic, I should want to be poor so I won’t pay any taxes. That’s the mindset at work here.
I’m a little off topic now. The point of this post was to say that we cannot be the best at everything if we have limited resources. While every NFL team may want to have the best defense, the best offense, and the best special teams, that rarely happens. NFL teams operate under a salary cap. If good players are more expensive (they usually are, but not always), NFL teams cannot have the most expensive offense, the most expensive defense, and the most expensive special teams players. Teams face trade-offs and have to make decisions that require sacrifices. They work harder to find talent that is not expensive and that wants to win, not just take home a paycheck. They try to get the most out of the players they have. They set up systems that reward effort and improvement, so that a third-string receiver has an incentive to work hard and become a great player so that, when they have the opportunity, they can help the team win the Super Bowl (David Tyree, anyone?). I’m fine with trying to have the best education system in the world, but we should have learned by now that the most expensive education (Washington D.C. public schools, for example) is seldom the best education. I applaud Obama’s stated plans to increase accountability in public schools, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I applauded his promises to put bills online for five days before signing them, to eliminate earmarks, and to not hire lobbyists — those promises lasted less than a month.
The fundamental difference between the people protesting on Wednesday and the people who make teabagging jokes about them is that the protestors honestly believe the government is not the answer to all of our problems. That many in government do not understand this and actually criticize these protests should not come as much of a surprise. When people have to undergo public scrutiny and ridicule in running for government office, the only people who are going to go through that are people who feel they can make a difference by being in power. In recent decades, these tend to be people who think that a) government is the solution, and b) spending more money will result in better government. These tend to be people that think they can make a difference by changing laws and increasing the power of government to correct what they perceive as wrongs or injustices, so naturally government becomes more powerful. It is happening now under Obama and the Democrats, and it has happened under Republican administrations as well. At some point in the last 10 to 20 years, “Republican” and “conservative” stopped being synonyms. One of my favorite quotes is from the book Fair Play by Steven Landsburg, and he describes this beautifully. He writes the following (emphasis is his):
When Bob Dole resigned from the U.S. Senate, he combined a clarion call for smaller government with a list of his proudest legislative accomplishment, EVERY ONE OF WHICH has increased both the size and the scope of government. Either he was lying about his political philosophy, or he was lying about what made him proud, or the part of his brain that’s supposed to screen out illogic had simply ceased to function.
In much the same way, President Obama says that he is being responsible and making tough choices and sacrifices, but the stimulus bill and his proposed budget prove otherwise. When we fail to make any sacrifices today, allowing our national debt to soar and our currency to be devalued by inflation, it is our children’s future that will be sacrificed. That is what many people at the protests were trying to say, if “reporters” would have allowed them to finish their sentences…