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Belmont Club

The Same But Different

October 13th, 2013 - 5:32 am

Pundits for the Economist and the Daily Mail are worried America has because ungovernable because some Republicans have decided to impose line item budgets on president Obama in a revolt against his health care plan and debt increase program. The Economist characterizes the problem as breakdown in consensus.

Republicans are setting a precedent which, if followed, would make America ungovernable. Voters have seen fit to give their party control of one arm of government—the House of Representatives—while handing the Democrats the White House and the Senate. If a party with such a modest electoral mandate threatens to shut down government unless the other side repeals a law it does not like, apparently settled legislation will always be vulnerable to repeal by the minority. Washington will be permanently paralysed and America condemned to chronic uncertainty.

Max Hastings of the Daily Mail sees that breakdown as arising from a violation in a 2 out of 3 rule I’ve never heard of. “For centuries, the system has operated on the basis that societies acquiesce in majority poll verdicts.”

But if anything the system is performing it was designed: to lock up when consensus breaks down. And consensus breaks down when you don’t have three out of three agreeing that a Obama’s hand beats Boehner’s. Technically one out of three can slam on the brakes and nothing moves until the underlying impasse is resolved.

That underlying impasse, the Economist believes, is rooted in the emergence of the ‘safe’ partisan seat which allows ‘extremist’ politicians of either persuasion to avoid the ‘sensible centrist’ middle. “The problem is especially acute in the House, because many states let politicians draw their own electoral maps. Unsurprisingly, they tend to draw ultra-safe districts for themselves. This means that a typical congressman has no fear of losing a general election but is terrified of a primary challenge. Many therefore pander to extremists on their own side rather than forging sensible centrist deals with the other.”

Yet neither the Economist nor Hastings are bold enough to take their own arguments to their logical conclusion: that if what they say is true then neither the Republican congressional leadership nor the president are wholly free to make a deal. Not in the context of the chasm that has opened up between the liberal and conservative political persuasions.

The negotiating gap reflects not individual political unreasonableness but differences on the ground that are now just too big to paper over. Like the spokesmen of polarized parties everywhere the current denizens of DC are constrained in what they can agree to.

What is unreal is that both sides — if the rhetoric can be believed — are ostensibly intent imposing a diktat upon the other. Thus Obama vows no deal. And Boehner, though he would fain succumb, finds himself unable to surrender with an energized conservative base breathing down his neck.

Yet clearly neither side has the power to impose itself on the other; for if they could they would have already. Nor could any such diktat stick. Even if president Obama could compel Boehner to run up the white flag it would last only as long as it would take for the Republican base to replace him. Doubtless the liberals are similarly situated.  Thus the equilibrium is standoff. It is making a “deal” which requires the application of external energy. And breaking the stalemate in favor of one side or the other will require strength that neither side may have.

The seizure is at one level the result of a system previously designed to produce a multi-attribute Pareto optimal solution suddenly forced into becoming a zero-sum game. The US political system is designed to resolve problems by horse trading, via buying factions off.  But the lack of money has made meaningful horse trading impossible.   The log rollers are still there; it’s the logs that are missing. For years the solution to the shortfall has been to merely print more and more. Lately this works less and less.

As those who are now reeling in shock over their new Obamacare premium notices can testify, what used to be a horse trading system has now become exactly zero sum. To pay for the uninsurable you must overcharge the insurable. While in the past it was possible to square the circle from some indefinite stash, a la Detroit, that has become impossible of late. This hard fact makes any possible compromise unstable because it is not supported by any cash flow. The challenge confronting any “deal” the Republicans and Obama can strike is who will pay for it. In particular who will pay for Obamacare, which has been promised to the Democratic base? Who will pay for increases the debt limit, which have likewise been promised to the Democratic base?

The answer of course is “someone”. But getting that someone to cough up will now be like pulling teeth.  The brief panic caused by the temporary malfunction of the EBT system showed, as little else could, how nobody is in the mood to give up anything anymore while nobody feels like paying for anything either. That is the cage in which Obama and the Republican leadership now find themselves trapped.

Sherlock Holmes famously said that “once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”  And implies that the crisis will continue, whether over this or that makes no difference. It will continue for one simple reason: the money’s run out. It is illusory to hope, as the Economist seems to, that Washington will soon return to the old normal. This — crisis after crisis — is the new normal. Too many checks have been written against too little funds to expect any other result. The consequences to America’s foreign policy, the value of the dollar and the future of the Washington elite are incalculable, but it is unavoidable.

It’s hard to predict how it will play out. Yet it seems safe to say that the new circumstances will alter the old rules of thumb; and that Washington either moves to a new equilibrium of similar structure but at lower rates of resource consumption or toward a highly skewed distribution of resources with favored factions frankly living at the expense of the others.


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Top Rated Comments   
Twenty years ago I read the Economist weekly because it wasn't part of the left consensus that dominates so much of the "news" media. In the 1980's when the media was praising Japan for the way the government picked "winners and losers" the Economist said "The Sun will set." I read them because they were often right -- not just politically but right about the results of choices made. Then Transformation happened at the publication. They talked of the coming change but didn't actually say what it would be. Turns out they just wanted to join the consensus. They just wanted to be a more verbose version of Time Magazine. As a business decision it was an odd choice. But, of course, it wasn't a business decision.

I don't think the US actually has a ruling class. A ruling class would take a proprietary interest in the continued success of the nation. The first George Bush was a member of the ruling class. The second would have been but there wasn't much of one left. The revisionist history of the last fifty years was meant to lessen the affection of ordinary people for the country as they found it. Then they would more willingly allow the left to "transform" it. Perhaps it missed its mark. You cannot unfairly attack something and retain your affection for it. In fact your affection must be indifference at the start which your own unfair attacks turn into hate (people soon believe what they repeat). The country becomes devalued in the slanderer's eyes. Allowing the destruction of the hated old order is a good thing. Now, instead of a ruling class we have a crony class. Self dealing is a virtue. Sapping the nation will further "transformation." The consensus is that transformation is succeeding because for the sappers it is. They prosper while the nation declines.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wrote this some months ago but it fits here as "Obamacare" has turned out to be in part just another pay-off scheme transferring OPM to the progressive groups and power to the leaders.

The modern Democratic Party could be viewed as being built around the principle that every vote, is a bought and paid for vote, paid for by, to the maximum extent possible, other peoples money. This has worked for them at least since the FDR times.

In 1994 there were a series of Democrat scandals where the general population got a peek at this principle in action and they lost the House. The Republicans, not understanding their exact role in this system, tried to run as if they were the New-Democrats. It didn’t work out so well for them and they lost out in 2006.

The establishment Republicans then came to realize what their place was in this. They are to be the side that attracts all those who want to stop the Democrat vote buying scheme, and to always, just barely, not be able to stop it. For this they get to partake of some of the table scraps from the Democratic Party feast. This was their role for most of the 20th century.

The problem with this whole system, the weak point, is the OPM that is the support for the entire edifice. The money has to come from, be generated by, some source which is outside the system itself. This outside source must be larger than the insiders system and not be able to or want to fight the theft.

Sometimes it is said that the Democrats resemble an organized crime syndicate. I think it is more that their Party through its big city machines came to see that organized crime was built in imitation of government not the other way around.

Obama, Pelosi, and Reid in the course of taking back control of “their” system of governance from the Republicans and ensuring that they never should actually lose it again have let loose a monster that may consume them along with all of us too.

To cement their power they raised the price they would pay for votes. The stimulus was the first shot and aimed at buying the votes in elections and of those in the lower levels of governments. These payments then became the new normal expected by their base. The second price inflation was during the Obamacare voting. Things like the “Cornhusker kickback” showed the higher levels of the Party that they too could now demand more, much more than before. Once these expectations are there they can only increase over time.

This is the real curve the Obama has bent. The vote-price curve has been setup to go hyperbolic. They are riding a monster that must eat up more and more OPM, but the more it eats the less OPM there is the next time. Not ending well.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actions have consequences. The treasonous shameless assault on GW Bush by Pelosi and the Democrats, their abuse of rules to cripple the Republican administration, damage the war effort, and then once they gained the White House to jam through unpopular and dangerous legislation against precedent and rules and probably, despite Chief Justice Roberts last minute conversion, unconstitutionally, has consequences. As to the argument that they won and should be deffered to I have two replies, Senator Al Franken and the blatant ballot stuffing in Ohio and Florida and elsewhere. I do not believe that Barack Obama is the legitimately elected President and I endorse every device to frustrate the Democrats coup d'etat against the US Constitution.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (78)
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Zizek of the Grauniad: "This is why, as an antidote to the populist rightwing ideology of choice, countries such as Norway should be held up as a model."

Norway? The global laughingstock of a country which gave Soetero the Noble Peas Pryze for doing ... nothing? Which gave the same now-worthless prize to some never-heard-of group which stood by while someone used chemical weapons in Syria? THAT Norway?

Face facts -- Norway looks good because what was formerly Sweden's poor neighbor now has a small population with a massive production of evil carbon-rich oil, which they sell to cause Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming -- not that CAGW will affect the selfish Norwegians since the only time it stops snowing there is when the rain starts.

Norway as a model? Get real!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
--y'now, it's funny, if you behold a map, and superimpose amental image of a bear biting down on Europa, there at the northern fangs is Norway, a NATO member but not an EU member, meaning local effects on currency and economy can and are easily effected by large neighbors; and down south at the bottom fangs is Cyprus, EU but not NATO, meaning the same affect re matters military. And right there in the epiglottis middle is Switzerland, whose bankers thunk up the whole western economic crisis, neither NATO nor EU. The little epiglottis busily valves and routes food and air incoming and outgoing as sound waves so that one can eat without breathing in the food and also recreate the phonetics of every dialect! That's some epiglottis, that epiglottis!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Larsen, you are acute in your wisdom, as usual.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
thanks, MF --i was afraid it sounded crazy. Thank goodness the Mad Fiddler doesn't think so (cough).
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment

Oh, it's crazy allright. But a fine madness that. You, sir, are as mad as a March hare, and we March hares salute you for it.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
LOL --this place really is an open asylum, where one can check in and get a pretty reliable inference on what condition one's condition is in
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Slavoj Žižek at the Guardian argues that freedom in America will be permissible when everyone is suitably enlightened. "Freedom of choice is something that only functions if a complex network of legal, educational, ethical, economic and other conditions exists – the constraints that form the invisible underpinning to the exercise of our freedom. This is why, as an antidote to the populist rightwing ideology of choice, countries such as Norway should be held up as a model".

But there's far less edifying reason for Žižek's indignation. The free rider has lost his ride, lost the underpinning of all the "West's" reflected glory. The truth is that without the US Federal Government nothing defends Žižek. Nothing defends the Commons. Certainly not Norway.

The only way the European "West" can replace that shut-down they so urgently want the "right wing" is to pay for, is to fund it themselves. But they haven't got the money to do it either. Somebody has pulled the plug on their jukebox and how can they live without the music?

Of course the situation is rife with danger for everyone. China is already talking about a post-American world. And at this rate China will be right. But only half right. The correct phrase is "post-Western world", isn't that so, Žižek?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Zizek lives in quiet fear that someday his world may collapse around his ears, because freedom of choice will catch up with him and the Guardian, and freedom of choice may decide that they are no longer needed.

So freedom of choice must always be managed, so that we always make the correct choices. Some freedom, some choice.

Time marches on.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem is with words. The phrase "the government is going to pay its bills" really means "you are going to pay its bills". The Chicago Tribune reports the lament of a nurse who is stunned by the rise in health care insurance premiums.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-1013-obamacare-deductibles-20131013,0,7779257.story
-----
"I believe everybody should be able to have health insurance, but at the same time, I'm being penalized. And for what?" said Weldzius, who is not offered insurance through his employer. "For someone who's always had insurance, who's always taken care of myself, now I have to change my plan?"

Many Illinoisans buying health coverage on their own next year will face a similar dilemma spurred by the health care overhaul: pay higher monthly insurance premiums or run the risk of having to shell out thousands more in deductibles for health care if they get sick.
----

Well where did they think the money to provide coverage for the uninsured and uninsurable was going to come from? Why from "the government" that's who. From the "health care exchanges" that's where they were going to get "affordable" health insurance.

But unless you print money or get new wealth from somewhere external, it's the same pat of butter over a bigger slice of toast. And a bigger slice of toast still after immigration "reform" is enacted. So it's spread thinner, absent economic growth to pay for it.

"Penalization", as Weldzius puts it, is the arithmetical consequence. And nobody can beat arithmetic.
(show less)
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is wonderful to find so many references in these precincts to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Bilbo says to Frodo just before the Council of Elrond, "I feel stretched, Frodo... like butter spread too thinly over too much bread."

(... might not be word for word...)
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Well where did they think the money to provide coverage for the uninsured and uninsurable was going to come from? Why from "the government" that's who."

Government procured services are always the most expensive services available. ANYTIME you add extra layers of checks and audits and procurement regulations, the result will be a more expensive product. So, with Obamacare what the Democrats have done is take the second fastest inflating sector of the economy (with education being #1), and have added layers upon layers of regulation and government costs. This, plus expanded coverage to more Americans, was supposed to reduce the cost of health care to the average American?

Only a fool would have thought that this would be the case. It's like the 19th century physicians using leeches to bleed a weakened patient; they might as well have just used a bullet to achieve the same results.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The idea that Obamacare is just tax farming and vote buying through the health insurance process is a good insight.

Democratic politicians have been using electric utility rates here in California for some time for political purposes. Charges are tacked onto the bills to pay off financial interest groups like wind mill owners and jobs within the utilities are allocated to special ethnic groups.

Getting away from that graft is one benefit I got when I recently moved from NorCal to Washington state. My marginal electric rate with Pacific Gas and Electric Company was 35 cents a kW-hr. Here in Richland, WA people are still bitching about a recent increase to a flat rate of 6 cents per kW-hr.

Looks like the progressives are just applying their business model to new opportunities.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank Democratic Governor Gray Davis. During his last years in office - before the California electorate had a spasm of sanity and held a recall election - criminals in his administration colluded with several suppliers of electrical power. The result was revealed in criminal investigations a few years later: those companies had conspired to schedule impromptu "maintenance" shut-downs of power generating equipment AT TIMES OF PEAK DEMAND, deliberately causing shortages that required rolling "brownouts" and even a few blackouts. The governor's office entered into emergency contracts that gave them sky-high rates for years into the future. The public was told this had to be done because of inadequate power generating capacity, but it had been a complete FRAUD.

I left the state in disgust before all that came out, and I've never regretted it.
The other State-run scam going on at that time was the California DOJ suing retired dry-cleaning business owners for clean-up money for using chemicals AS THE LAW SPECIFIED up to two decades earlier. The state was bankrupting these people who had complied with the laws that governed them; just defending themselves from these disgusting charges was ruinous.

That's what the California government has become. Vindictive, Larcenous, and Brutal.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The bigger problem was El Paso Natural Gas, owner of one of three major gas pipelines into California. They would restrict supply through their pipe to increase the sale price and hence total revenue for their gas.

Enron traders found a clever way to sell "negawatts" to the California Independent System Operator.

And let's not forget the $50,000 Assembly Speaker Willie Brown picked up from PG&E inside the Capitol dome - extortion or bribery?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
With their efforts to retain Obamacare unchanged and the Federal government with no debt limit, the Democrats in Congress are playing Russian roulette with a semi-automatic handgun. They just yet haven't figured out the ramifications of their actions.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
@geoffb "The problem with this whole system, the weak point, is the OPM that is the support for the entire edifice. The money has to come from, be generated by, some source which is outside the system itself."

Love it. A closed system with no input is a perpetual motion machine. Any engine needs energy input and waste heat discharge. Money in, services performed (an efficiency approaching 0) and graft and corruption as waste discharge.

Remove or limit input and IT.ALL.STOPS.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem is that DEMOCRATs BELIEVE in perpetual motion machines. I guess it's the result of their deliberate sabotage of the educational system.

When I arrived in CA in 1993, I went to the public library to get a card. As I walked up to the entrance, I noticed a small Xeroxed sheet with an announcement: "We apologize, but because of budget shortfalls, we have had to cut back on hours and services..." I went inside and filled in the application.

When a woman behind the desk gave me my new card, I asked, "What is the fee for overdue books?"

"Fee?" she replied, incredulously. She actually seemed offended, or at least shocked. "There's no FEE for overdue books."

I wanted to scream.

I wanted to hop up and down and grab her by the shoulders and SHAKE some sense into this obvious MORON.

Couldn't she understand the direct link between BUDGET SHORTFALLS and a system in which there is no FEE penalty for overdue library books?????????

But I bit my tongue, and left.

Sadly, an awful lot of California residents think that way.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hooray for that --you took the time to verify that those small telling proofs are tellable and not just occasions for long shuddering sighs.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hastings writes: But seldom, if ever, has the chasm between the sophistication of America’s East Coast and the primitive passions and thought processes of middle American lawmakers yawned wider.

And no, I don't think he's kidding. Does he even know how that comes across? OTOH even I'm not about to defend everything that goes on in Texas politics, but neither am I going to defend everything that goes in the "sophisticated" east. If there is something Hastings is good at maybe he should stick with it, this ain't it.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I ran into some English Obama lovers the last time I visited the UK. Absolutely lost in the progressive leftist labyrinth they were. Never heard anything but hosannas to the Lightbringer.

Having remarked that I thought Cameron and Obama were prime examples of progressive feminized males, the woman progressive bristled and proclaimed that to be a deeply offensive remark about women. i agreed that indeed it was but she missed my point.

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
--maybe he's using 'sarchasm' --the gap between a formal meaning in isolation vs the formal meaning in the given context. The sarchasm gap is often yawning to the sophisticated while simultaneously to the primitive producing the yawning.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Speaking of that particular form of humor, I got one today:

Medicare Part G

You're a sick senior citizen and the government says there is no nursing home care available for you.
So what do you do?
Our plan gives anyone 65 years, or older, a gun (G) and 4 bullets.
You are allowed to shoot four Politicians.
Of course, this means you'll be sent to prison, where you will receive three meals a day, a roof over your head, central heating and air conditioning and all the health care you need.

Need new teeth? No problem. Need glasses? That's great. Need a new hip, knees, kidney, lungs or heart? They're all covered.

As an added bonus, your kids can come and visit you at least as often as they do now.

And who will be paying for all of this?
The same government that just told you they can't afford for you to go into a home.

And, you can get rid of 4 useless
politicians while you're at it.

Plus, because you are a prisoner, you don't have to pay any income taxes anymore.

Is this a great country or what?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Of course, the new rule would have to be tested in a court of law;

http://tiny.cc/k9qy4w
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think he means every word of it. And of course he knows best.

The incredible parochialism of the British world view is at most times amusing, especially when harnessed to Hasting's formidable intellect. He almost makes you think he is right. Well, not really.

Amusing too that some of the intellectual elites of the UK rally to support Obama, who would never hesitate to insult and dismiss them. Another abusive relationship to ponder.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The answer of course is “someone”. But getting that someone to cough up will now be like pulling teeth. "

"Someone" are the American kiddies in baby strollers. The politicians spending tomorrow's tax receipts today are enslaving tomorrow's generation in chains. The yet unborn will be constrained by Harry Reid's, Nancy Pelosi's, and Barry Obama's spending today.

This isn't conjecture; it's logically induced fact. "Someone" owes and will certainly suffer the consequences long after the current tyrants have left office and passed on to greet their Lord Lucifer. It's the ultimate construct of the "me" generation, ME gets it all now, someone else's kids pay later.

Moreover, increasing taxes to stratospheric levels to balance the budget STILL robs tomorrow's generation of the birthright of a strong independent nation, with a strong economy. In fact, the twenty-somethings today are already paying for the last twenty years by record unemployment, by being constrained by delayed careers, delayed first home purchases, and delayed new families. When the current generation ends up living in their parent's homes past their 20's, into their 30's and 40's, how patient will they be with a future promise of "home and change" that they cannot see on the horizon.

The American Congress is playing a game but they don't appreciate the consequences. Obamacare is the first reckoning, when American bankrupt leftist policies reaches out and touches them. The bills are literally in the mail. I've mentioned in prior posts that we had our own insurance crisis last summer and finally secured a very expensive health insurance policy with slightly reduced benefits at extremely high rates (3x increase since 2009). That has now been cancelled, and the Obamacare plan available from the same company is perhaps 10% to 15% more expensive with sharply reduced benefits.

The bill is indeed coming due. When the coming inflation storm arrives, and arrive it must, due to the historic amount of green paper being printed under the Obama Administration (i.e. the Fed IS NOT independent of leftist politics; its now run by leftists), Americans will riot. When Americans see food stuffs, fuel, and other basics increasing at 20% to 30% EACH MONTH, the bill will have arrived. Americans will tar and feather these left-wing and RINO nuts in Congress, and kick out the "Tea Party" Republicans if they play along now.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
edit: " future promise of "home and change" >> future promise of "hope and change"
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have read all of Max Hastings’ military history, and highly recommend them, but I don’t think he is an authority on the American political system that was deliberately designed to produce friction, if not gridlock, the better to control the political class. That the gridlock has reached the point where the two parties are now scorpions in the proverbial bottle is a temporary phenomenon, to be resolved by the voters electing one of the scorpions to ultimate power.

The Daily Mail
Has without fail
Been in the Lefty corner
Wins by the Right
Election night
Makes them a sobbing mourner
Believe me, Max
The spend and tax
Blue Model is a’waning
And very soon
The crying Loon
Announces it is raining
So just for now
Just take a bow
Your latest on the Great War
Is simply great
But let me state
Your punditry’s a great bore

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
--here's some prime-grade Walt-o-meal for the project file --recalled it last night talking about Beethoven: a brief fashion in the academy's deep-causation analysis of The Great War, that the blame falls on Victorian-era Prussian toilet training.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wretchard, outstanding analysis ! The lack of money to patch over differences is at the core of what is going on here. No more money has produced a larger partisan divide, as the entire political system has become a zero sum game, and the stakes get higher as the political losers have real losses, not just a smaller share of the gains.

You are right that the crisis will continue, however this particular episode turns out.

Also, once a political system only has zero-sum/win-lose politics, new types of politicians suddenly prosper in that environment. This confuses the political establishment which was previously able to marginalize such politicians as "fringe extremists"
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
--also afoot, the notion that the communication revolution keeps every congressperson psychologically always in their home district, campaigning, and loathe to horse-trade knowing how the oppo will play it back there on Smalltown's Main Street, word-of-mouth 24/7 ASAP & for the duration.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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