THE BAD PARENT

I’ve had conversations with parties of opposing views that seem to think a job is a job, whether it be in the public or the private sector. After all, what’s the difference between someone getting a paycheck for a service provided through government employment and that same service through a company in the private sector?

Plenty.

The government, by virtue of its ability to legislate, shields itself from market forces, rather than operating within them. It can, for a while, manipulate the marketplace by printing, borrowing, and stealing (legally, of course, through fees and taxes). Hence the inflated retirement benefits that are driving all our governments at all levels to the brink of bankruptcy. We’re like one big, bloated General Motors, with the exception that no one exists to bail us out if (and I fear it’s when) we fail. Many people have become so used to these ploys that have seemed so successful or decades that they think it can go on forever. They also point to the corruption in the private sector as justification for growing the government slice of the economy, failing to recognize that crony capitalism that aids and abets this bad behavior is government-mediated. How many people in the street really know that the Dodd-Frank legislation, 800 pages of directions for more regulations, defines the big banks as “systemic” and therefore “too big to fail,” providing them with government (read: taxpayer) guarantees? This enables them to borrow at lower rates than their small brethren, giving them the edge they need to perpetuate the precarious status quo. Almost all governmental good intentions have toxic unintended consequences.

The marketplace can be a cruel mistress, but left to its own devices it is self-correcting. Governments can’t beat it. Delaying a tremor only leads to an earthquake down the line. That’s not to say that bad behavior shouldn’t be monitored and punished. Government policy, however, goes well beyond this, trying to manipulate market forces and pick winners and losers. The only real losers, ultimately, are the American people.

Currently, the Democrats and Republicans are fighting over how to deal with the upcoming “fiscal cliff.” In a bygone era the ruling class placed politics above the public good, but were loathe to admit it. In this new, progressive society, they revel in it. To wit: Zerlina Maxwell, a Democratic strategist, has suggested that Republicans put forth their idea for the entitlement cuts, as Democrats have already put their piece, the tax rate increases, on the table. This seems to parallel the president’s approach to date in his dealings with the legislature. The administration taxes the top one percent, a populist move (that generates little revenue), and requires the Republicans to do the heavy lifting—define the unpopular entitlement cuts that must happen if any hope of reversing the economic decline and paying off the burgeoning debt is to occur. This is a politically unbeatable “good parent/bad parent” strategy for the Democrats. One tells the child he can watch TV and play on the X-box and the other makes him eat his broccoli and clean his room. Bad parenting, it seems, wins votes.

It just doesn’t pay the bills.

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