Roger’s Rules

Nightmare on Main Street, in which we think about some really big numbers

“One of the great follies in legislative history.” That’s how John Hinderaker at Powerline describes the bait-and-switch — I mean the cap and trade — bill that is due to be voted on in the House of, er, Representatives imminently.

As with the 1000-page non-stimulating stimulus bill that Obama shoved down your throat mere days after he assumed office, this bill will go largely unread by the people you elected to (among other things) oversee the country’s finances responsibly. Let me mention that bill’s sponsors, Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey, are up for re-election in 2010, something the readers in California and Massachusetts will want to think about when they wake up to what the bill would mean to them. (Note to readers: don’t forget about ThrowTheBumsOut.Org.) As Hinderaker points out, if enacted, the Waxman-Markey climate confusion bill would “create a convoluted federal bureaucracy that would control key sectors of the economy and of our lives.”

Hinderaker posts this informative graphic created by Minority Leader John Boehner, showing in schematic format some of the mischief that would follow in the wake of this piece of expensive legislative folly.

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I said “expensive legislative folly.” The Wall Street Journal has something to say about both the folly and the expense. The folly:

The whole point of cap and trade is to hike the price of electricity and gas so that Americans will use less. These higher prices will show up not just in electricity bills or at the gas station but in every manufactured good, from food to cars. Consumers will cut back on spending, which in turn will cut back on production, which results in fewer jobs created or higher unemployment. Some companies will instead move their operations overseas, with the same result.

Really, this bill should be called the decapitate and strangle bill, because what it would do is systematically hobble the U.S. economy by starving it of affordable energy. Why? Because of a misplaced faith in the virtue of using less energy. It’s a version of spiritual smugness like that emitted by eastern yogi, health nuts, and other graminivorous bipeds who believe that the extent of their asceticism is a reliable index of their enlightenment.

Waxman cites a misleading number from a preliminary analysis conducted by the Congressional Budget Office estimating that the bill would cost the average household a mere $175 a year. Cheap to save the planet and give yourself a daily pat on the back, what? But as the Journal points out the real cost is likely to be $1,870 a year for a family of 4 in 2010, a figure that rises to $6,800 by 2035 as various restrictions take effect.

Bottom line: “Americans should know that those Members who vote for this climate bill are voting for what is likely to be the biggest tax in American history.” I’m not sure anyone has been able to dramatise this effectively. I know I haven’t. Yesterday, I posted some reflections about John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s famous Credo, ten affirmations of belief that guided the noble philanthropist’s life. Some of them seem positively antiquated, like the declaration

I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

Tell that to Barack Obama, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelsoi (to say nothing of Eric Holder and many other lesser figures). But some of Rockefeller’s affirmations still have a ring to them, for example this paean to thrift:

I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

It is quite true that our masters in Washington long ago gave up practicing any of the virtues named in that affirmation — just as, let’s face, many American gave up practicing them in their private lives. Nevertheless, you could still utter that at an Upper West Side cocktail party and expect to see nods of agreement. Even Barack “I-can-spend-it-faster-than-you-can-make-it” Obama promised to go through the federal budget “line by line” in order to cut out wasteful spending and no one (publicly) laughed at him. The sad thing, alas, is the yawning gap between what our masters say and what our masters do. They say they are acting responsibly and frugally. What they do is spend money on a grotesque scale and then turn to us, the source of the dough, to pay the tab. Next year, the budget deficit will be nearly 2 trillion. In my post yesterday, I employed various techniques in my effort to dramatise the nearly incomprehensible size of that number. I wrote it with its full compliment of zeroes (12 of ’em!) point out that if could spend $2 million every day from January 1, 1 to today and still you would be about $500 billion short of $2 trillion. But a canny reader wrote me to point out that no one really can grasp the significance of those numbers. “Far better,” he points out, “to translate these into dollars per household.” (There are about 120 million of them.)

Consider a $60 billion farm program. For most of us “$60 billion” is utterly without meaning. Things come to earth with a bang, though, when (basing your estimate on 100 million households) you point out that that means an extra $1,200 in food costs per the taxpaying household. (“Taxpaying household”: i.e., currently about 56 percent of those who file: the rest — nearly 44 percent — are part of the great multitude of non-income-tax-paying blood suckers that form Obama’s core constituency.) Bottom line on that $2 trillion: nearly $400,000 in debt per taxpaying household. Think about that as you watch Congress “debate” what it’s going to do with your money.