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Archive for January, 2010

 New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 7.2 percent of private-sector workers belong to unions, which makes sense since unions behave in a myopic fashion and undermine competitiveness (and thus reduce jobs in the long run). On the other had, insulated from competition, 37.4 percent of bureaucrats are unionized. Moreover, because the burden of government has been climbing so fast during the Bush-Obama spending binge, this has resulted in bloated government payrolls. One consequence is that a majority of union workers, for the first time in American history, are now bureaucrats. The New York Times has the story, including a good observation by a scholar that there is a corrupt relationship between Democrats and bureaucrats that is leading to huge burdens on taxpayers:

For the first time in American history, a majority of union members are government workers rather than private-sector employees, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday. In its annual report on union membership, the bureau undercut the longstanding notion that union members are overwhelmingly blue-collar factory workers. It found that membership fell so fast in the private sector in 2009 that the 7.9 million unionized public-sector workers easily outnumbered those in the private sector, where labor’s ranks shrank to 7.4 million, from 8.2 million in 2008. …According to the labor bureau, 7.2 percent of private-sector workers were union members last year, down from 7.6 percent the previous year. That, labor historians said, was the lowest percentage of private-sector workers in unions since 1900. Among government workers, union membership grew to 37.4 percent last year, from 36.8 percent in 2008. …government employment grew last year, inching up 16,000, to 22,516,000, according to the bureau. …Fred Siegel, a visiting professor of history at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, said, “There were enormous political ramifications” to the fact that public-sector workers are now the majority in organized labor. “At the same time the country is being squeezed, public-sector unions are a rising political force in the Democratic Party,” he said. “They depend on extra money for the public sector, and that puts the Democrats in a difficult position. In four big states — New York, New Jersey, Illinois and California — the public-sector unions have largely been untouched by the economic downturn. In those states, you have an impeding clash between the public-sector unions and the public at large.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/23/business/23labor.html

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 I’ve always been mystified by GOP politicians, pollsters, and consultants who argue that the GOP needs to support big government in order to win votes. The biggest victories for Republicans in living memory, after all, are the 1980 and 1994 landslides, when the GOP was most aggressive in promoting an anti-government message. The big-government, compassionate-conservative message of Bush, by contrast, led to electoral debacles in 2006 and 2008. Tom Sowell has been addressing the strange predilection of some Republicans to tack left. In his third column of the series, Sowell explains that the GOP should use an explicitly conservative message to appeal to black voters rather than foolishly assuming that a “me-too” platform will somehow work:

One of the things that is long overdue is some Republican re-thinking– or perhaps thinking for the first time– about the approach that they have been using, with consistently disastrous results, for trying to get the black vote. …There is no point today in Republicans continuing to try to win over the average black voter by acting like imitation Democrats. Those who like what the Democrats are doing are going to vote for real Democrats. …[Blacks] want their children to get a decent education, which they are unlikely to get so long as public schools are a monopoly run for the benefit of the teachers’ unions, instead of for the education of the children. Democrats are totally in hock to the teachers’ unions, which means that Republicans have a golden opportunity to go after the votes of black parents by connecting the dots and exposing one of the key reasons for bad education in inner cities and the bad consequences that follow. But when have you ever heard a Republican candidate get up and hammer the teachers’ unions for blocking every attempt to give parents– black or white– the choice of where to send their children? The teachers’ unions are going to be against the Republicans, whether Republicans hammer them or keep timidly quiet. Why not talk straight to black voters about the dire consequences of the pubic school monopoly that the teachers’ unions and the Democrats protect at all cost, even though many private schools– notably the KIPP schools in various states– have achieved remarkable success with low-income and minority youngsters? 
http://townhall.com/columnists/ThomasSowell/2010/01/21/are_republicans_due_ part_iii

In his fourth column in the series, Sowell makes the common-sense point that a squishy, moderate message winds up appealing to nobody. That doesn’t guarantee a lost election, to be sure. As Bush and Nixon showed, a milquetoast Republican can prevail if facing an incompetent Democrat in the right national climate, but those often turn out to be Pyrrhic victories since they often set the stage for big Democratic victories in the future. As Sowell notes, Reagan is the right model for the GOP:

A long-standing battle within the Republican Party, going back at least as far as the 1940s, is between those who want the party to clearly differentiate itself from the Democrats and those who seek a broader appeal by catering to a wider spectrum of social and ideological groups. The “smart money” advocates a “big tent” and deplores those who want a clearer adherence to the kinds of ideas espoused by Ronald Reagan. What the “smart money” fails to explain is how Reagan won two landslide presidential elections in a row. He certainly didn’t do it by trying to act like Democrats. That’s how the Republicans later turned off their own supporters, without gaining enough other voters to keep from being wiped out by the Democrats in two consecutive elections. …When you try to waffle and be all things to all people, you can end up being nothing to anybody. That is where the “smart money” crowd have gotten the Republicans in recent years. 
http://townhall.com/columnists/ThomasSowell/2010/01/22/are_republicans_due_ part_iv

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Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have a great column in USA Today explaining why we should let private companies be in charge of airline security. As a frequent traveler, I wish this would happen, but governments rarely give up power once they have expanded into a new area:

After the underwear bomber’s attempted mass murder, Americans are losing patience with the airline security system. It is bad enough that our screening process makes innocent people work far too hard to prove that they are not terrorists. It also manages to make it too easy for actual terrorists to be treated as innocent. …The security process needs several things it is lacking. It needs continuous adaptation, with a strong focus on satisfying customers and improving results. It needs to find new and better methods of meeting the demands of customers who value safety as well as speed and efficiency. It needs to function in a dynamic environment, disciplined by rigorous competitive pressure. In short, it needs the market. …Responsibility for the design and implementation of airline security should be handed back to the private sector. …A post-9/11 market system would combine the benefits of a competitive system with the much-stricter federal oversight necessary to ensure a basic standard of travel security. Airlines would select firms to screen passengers who will fly on their planes. Let’s say that it would be up to each airline to contract with at least one security firm at each airport. The airline would pay the firm a set dollar amount per passenger, and this cost would be passed along through ticket prices. …Several incentive mechanisms, some of them market-based, would keep private sector firms focusing on safety. First of all, the flying public may show a preference for airlines that employ security firms with rigorous procedures just as today many drivers prefer safer cars that get lower gas mileage. Second, if a private firm were to allow a single failure or even a near-miss, it would immediately lose the confidence of fliers. Airlines would switch to other suppliers, and the flawed firm would go out of business. Security companies also could be required to be liable for damages up to, say, $25 million from terrorism, and to post bond to cover that liability. (It is harder to sue the government for damages than the private sector.) The government’s role would include two functions. It would collect intelligence on high-risk suspects (as it does today) and share this intelligence with private airline security firms — which will require the firms to have robust data security. And government would audit private security companies, with the power to impose fines if lapses are found. The government could still ensure, for instance, that every firm at least meet the minimum standards that the TSA employs today. …good solutions are more likely to emerge regularly and consistently under a robust market dynamic than under government monopoly. Competition will force even the lowest-quality provider to raise standards year after year by adopting the good ideas that emerge from their competitors. This is why even a cheap automobile today has more amenities than a luxury car of 30 years ago.
http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2010/01/column-airline-security-lets-go-private-. html

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It seems that the European Union’s governing entities, the European Commission and the semi-ceremonial European Parliament, combine the worst features of statism and collectivism from the entire continent. The Euro-crats make lots of noises about subsidiarity and other policies to leave decision making in the hands of national and local governemnts, but it seems every policy coming from Brussels is a new power grab for unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. The latest example is possible EU-wide driving laws for the purposes of imposing absurdly low speed limits and to requiring foolish rules against more comfortable and safer large cars. Here’s what the UK-based Express wrote about the topic:

Brussels bureaucrats want to slap draconian European Union driving laws on Britain’s roads in a new “green” campaign on motorists, it emerged last night. Measures being considered include a barrage of new maximum speed limits in town and city areas. British motorists could also be forced to undertake exams in “environmentally-friendly” road skills as part of an EU-wide overhaul of driving tests. And many large cars and other so-called gas-guzzling vehicles face being banned from newly-declared “green zones” in urban centres. The latest threat of meddling from Brussels comes in an Action Plan on Urban Mobility drawn up by European Commission transport chiefs. …Mats Persson, of the Euro-sceptic think tank Open Europe, commented: “This illustrates that the EU simply can’t stop interfering in every aspect of people’s lives.”
http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/153073/Europe-plots-green-blitz-on-Britis h-roads

Meanwhile, a different tentacle of the European octopus is proposing that the European Union be given the power to audit budget numbers from member nations. Given the fiscal fiasco in Greece, this seems like it might be a reasonable step – until one remembers that the EU’s auditors every year give a failing grade to the EU’s own budget practices. The EU Observer reports on the issue, but the phrase “blind leading the blind” somehow did not get included:

…the European Commission has indicated it will seek audit powers for the EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, in order to verify elements of national government accounts. …Speaking to journalists after a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday (19 January), outgoing EU economy commissioner Joaquin Almunia said greater Eurostat auditing powers could have avoided the mistakes that led to the Greek revision. He said the commission will propose “a new regulation in order to obtain powers, which we’ve already requested, to give Eurostat the possibility of carrying out audits.” 
http://euobserver.com/9/29302

Last but not least, that same EU Observer story has a tiny bit of good news, or at least a dark cloud with a silver lining. Some of Europe’s governments want to impose an EU-wide tax on banks. This certainly fits the theme of ever-growing levels of bureaucracy and interference from Brussels, but the good news is that there is still (even under the statist Lisbon Treaty) a national veto on tax matters. So even though some of the big nations in Europe want to demagogue against the financial sector, the EU’s taxation commissioner (and former communist from Hungary) sadly indicated that such a tax probably would not make it through the process:

While discussion on Greece took up considerable time, EU finance ministers did have an opportunity to discuss a Swedish proposal for an EU-wide bank levy to mitigate the effects of future financial crises. …British, Belgian and German ministers were amongst those who showed moderate support for the idea. However, outgoing EU taxation commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said it was unlikely to fly because of EU unanimity voting in the area of taxation.

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The French government is relentlessly awful in its support for tax harmonization, regulatory harmonization, and other policies to drag other nations into the cesspool of statism. But France’s desire for a one-size-fits-all approach miraculously vanishes when it comes to language. Even though English is now the world’s language, especially for commerce, the French are resorting to coercion and protectionism to protect against – gasp! – English words. I greatlyenjoyed this column about France’s fight against modernity:

A French group entitled Avenir de la Langue Française (Future of the French Language) has claimed that the invasion of English words poses a greater “threat” to France’s national identity than the imposition of German under the Nazis. Writing recently in Le Monde and l’Humanite, the group, supported by eight other patriotic organizations, has called on the Sarkozy government to turn back the English flood. “There are more English words on the walls of Paris,” they state, “than German words under the Occupation.” …English has became the dominant language of the Internet, air traffic control, computers, international business and by 2030 more Chinese people will be able to speak it than there are Americans. Already by 2001, English was being spoken by more than one in three of the 350 million citizens of the European Union, whereas fewer than one in 10 spoke French outside France itself. Even in those areas where French influence has been strong —Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chad, and elsewhere—English has encroached very successfully. English is the official language used by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and the only working language of the European Free Trade Association, the Baltic Marine Biologists Association, the Asian Amateur Athletics Association, the African Hockey Federation, while it is the second language of bodies as diverse as the Andean Commission of Jurists and the Arab Air Carriers Organization. …France’s traditional response to this linguistic “Anglobalization” has been to attempt a form of legal protectionism against the steamroller tongue of “les rosbifs” and “les Anglo-Saxons”. In 1994 the French Assemblée Nationale passed the Loi Toubon, which was signed into law by President François Mitterand. Named after Jacques Toubon, the culture minister, it stipulated that “French shall be the language of instruction, work, trade and exchanges and of the public services. “The use of French shall be mandatory for the designation, offer, presentation, instructions for use, and description of the scope and conditions of a warranty of goods, products and services as well as bills and receipts. The same provisions apply to any written, spoken, radio and television advertisement” and so on for another 21 highly prescriptive clauses. The law has been used against American and British companies, such as Disney and the Body Shop on the Champs Elysées that had labels in English. …In two centuries, French may have to be protected as a linguistic curio, like Britain does with Cornish or Manx. Until then, the French must learn to be bilingual, or risk being left behind in the global market-place, gasping outraged complaints in a tongue fewer and fewer people understand.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703837004575013033899213 088.html

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In a National Review Online article, Kevin Williamson notes that a proposed federal banking tax seems purely inspired by vilification politics, but will none-the-less put American banks at a very real competitive disadvantage in the global market:

The new proposed tax on banks — 15 basis points on all liabilities — is not about revenue or responsibility: It’s about politics. President Obama is running away from Wall Street as fast as he can, but Wall Street has a funny way of catching up with him…

…The bank tax is not only a new and unneeded burden on our struggling financial sector, it’s also a long-term competitive disadvantage for American industry: Finance is a cutthroat world, and New York City is in a constant battle with London, Shanghai, and other financial centers for jobs and investment. If it inspires even a handful of firms to relocate, Obama’s new tax could end up costing the government money in the form of forgone revenue from personal-income taxes, corporate-income taxes, and capital-gains taxes. Wall Street’s loss will be the City of London’s gain. The real mystery is why Wall Street is still paying for the privilege of being scourged.
http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NThhNDZkZmQxNjcxZDExYWRjNTJ kYmQ4YTFmNjFjNzU=

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Oregon voters are currently deciding on personal and business income tax increases.  Should the tax hikes pass, look for Oregonian businesses to avail themselves of the advantages of tax competition and move to other states, such as nearby Washington:

A great beauty of the American federal system is that any of the 50 states can offer its policies as an experiment for others. So the nation owes some gratitude to Oregon for testing whether it is possible for a state to tax its way from deep recession to prosperity.Oregon’s unemployment rate is 11.1%, among the nation’s highest. But Oregonians are now voting by mail whether to endorse a pair of tax increases passed by the legislature last year: one to raise the state’s top personal income tax, to 11% from 9%, and another to raise the business income tax, to 7.9% from 6.6%. Both tax hikes would be retroactive to January 1, 2009…

… the liberal Portland Oregonian has editorialized against the new taxes, which it says would target “the very businesses and employers that Oregon is depending on to lead an economic recovery, start hiring again and pay the wages that support state services.”The battle in Oregon is a case study in the political drama now unfolding in many states. Essentially, it’s about whether a state’s wealth belongs to its public employee unions or to everyone.

The public unions are the primary drivers behind the Oregon tax hike campaign. In recent weeks, national powerhouses AFSCME and the SEIU have poured close to $1 million into the state campaign to secure passage. Oregon’s public employees have one of the sweetest deals in America. Their average pay is about one-third higher than that of private Oregon workers, and Oregon public employees don’t have to pay anything toward their health-care benefits…

…The 11% income tax rate will make Oregon’s income tax about twice as high as the national average. Businesses in Portland can move across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington and pay zero income tax. Oregonians used to argue they didn’t have to pay a state sales tax. But the current tax proposal imposes a first-ever “gross receipts tax” on certain retail and wholesalers. This is a disguised sales tax.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704281204575003120650 806714.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLETopOpinion

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