Peter Orszag, Meet F.A. Hayek

Peter Orszag, Barack Obama’s former OMB director:

In an 1814 letter to John Taylor, John Adams wrote that “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” That may read today like an overstatement, but it is certainly true that our democracy finds itself facing a deep challenge: During my recent stint in the Obama administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget, it was clear to me that the country’s political polarization was growing worse—harming Washington’s ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing. If you need confirmation of this, look no further than the recent debt-limit debacle, which clearly showed that we are becoming two nations governed by a single Congress—and that paralyzing gridlock is the result.

So what to do? To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.

F.A. Hayek (The Road to Serfdom):

It may be the unanimously expressed will of the people that its parliament should prepare a comprehensive economic plan, yet neither the people nor its representatives need therefore be able to agree on any particular plan. The inability of democratic assemblies to carry out what seems to be a clear mandate of the people will inevitably cause dissatisfaction with democratic institutions. Parliaments come to be regarded as ‘talking shops,’ unable or incompetent to carry out the tasks for which they’ve been chosen.

(Thanks to Jason Vines for the Hayek quote.)

Green Jobs

I’m writing a very short piece on the nebulous “green jobs” we hear so much about, when I came across this claim from 2007:

Renewable energy creates twice as many jobs per unit of energy than traditional fossil fuel-based generating technologies.

Roughly translated, this says to me:

Renewable energy requires twice as many labor hours to generate one unit as an identical unit of energy produced from fossil fuels like coal or oil.

Why is that a selling point in favor of renewable versus fossil fuel-based energy sources? It’s almost like saying that renewable energy is good because it’s inefficient to produce.

FYI

Sincerity is the new sarcasm. Earnestness, the new irony.

Cops on Camera in Fullerton, Calif.

In large part because of social media and consumer-level video technology, two Fullteron, Calif. police officers likely involved in the death of Kelly Thomas have now been charged with murder, manslaughter and excessive use of force. Reason.tv’s Paul Detrick has produced an excellent video detailing the events that led to the charges. Be warned: Some of the images presented here are quite disturbing.

Still many jurisdictions claim that they can arrest and charge individuals when they use video technology to document police engaged in their public duties, even when those people are documenting police abuse. Further, police agencies are often reluctant to use video documentation to show what happens in high-stakes police encounters like SWAT raids. The Cato Institute’s “Cops on Camera” video last year provides some context about how technology can be used by individuals and should be used by police to help document how police do their jobs.

Does Gatewood Galbraith Walk the Walk on Limited Government?

My friend Andy Hightower has an uncomfortable question for my friend Gatewood Galbraith:

When is Gatewood Actually for Limited Government?

When it comes to economic issues, it’s perhaps true that he shows almost no commitment to a smaller, less-intrusive state government. For example, it’s not clear how you square automatic pay raises for state workers with assuring that there is no waste in government. A pay raise to an ineffective worker is pretty much the definition of waste. And any pay raise has ripple effects, the largest of which is that any pay raise also raises pension payments for decades after the worker has retired. Andy has a few other troubling examples of where Gatewood clearly opposes shrinking the size and scope of government.

But even in that range of issues, I think Andy misunderstands one claim. When someone speaks of moving the Kentucky Retirement Systems to a “sound actuarial basis,” that might well mean changing benefit formulas, reducing the rate at which workers accrue obligations from their fellow Kentuckians and other adjustments that could mean spending less.

One Gatewood campaign promise (the least binding form of social commitment, I realize) is this:

“Every budget will make positive steps to correct the underfunding of the Kentucky Retirement System. We cannot fix decades of legislative underfunding of the retirement system in four years, but we can start moving the system to a sound actuarial base.”

This could be simply a dog whistle to people like me (or to state workers) that means, depending on your view, that Gatewood will raise new revenues to cover these growing obligations or he’ll fight to make the program more rational (smaller) with regard to the accrual of benefits. Most appropriate would be for the program to stop using high “assumed rates of return” for the purposes of calculating funding levels.

Kentucky’s governor basically has no authority to make changes to the program, but there are changes the governor could make to raise the political price of future promises to the state workforce. I wish all gubernatorial candidates would consider those ideas. As direct beneficiaries of state pensions, both David Williams and Steve Beshear have muted incentives to do anything to change or make more transparent the pensions that state workers receive.

But there’s another side to “limited government,” and it’s the side I think Gatewood Galbraith, a successful criminal defense attorney, can and should claim as his moral high ground.

Gatewood, at least in my conversations with him, holds an expansive view of the Fourth Amendment especially when it comes to when police may enter the home. He opposes mandatory minimum sentences for most crimes and generally takes a dim view of the immunity that prosecutors and police have, which can provide cover for prosecutors and police either overstepping their authority or failing to provide defense attorneys with exculpatory evidence.

The case of Kentucky v. King handed police new powers to enter your home without a warrant. If Gatewood wants to be the protector of civil liberties, decrying this encroachment loudly and often seems appropriate. Here’s my colleague Tim Lynch on the case.

As Governor, however, I’m not sure how that translates to a greater protection of personal liberties. The governor is the chief executive. He shouldn’t be the chief policymaker. My point here is not to say that Andy is wrong. In every particular he offers, he seems to be right about Gatewood’s troubling support for some forms of government expansion. My only suggestion is that being for “limited government” means a broader range of issues than Andy seems to imply.

Clarence Page

Years ago, I attended a college journalism conference here in Washington, D.C. After a forum featuring Clarence Page, I got the chance to tell him that my (very liberal) microeconomics professor used Page’s columns occasionally in class. Page seemed impressed. Had I told him how my prof used his columns, he wouldn’t have looked as pleased.