Streetwise Professor

February 20, 2012

I Don’t Give a Flying F*** About Contraception (Policy)*

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 10:29 am

If you need a graphic illustration of the degraded and delusional state of American politics, you only need to observe the fact that the issue that has dominated the political headlines in the past weeks is contraception.  Really.

Yes, the administration presents a fantastical budget, one which acknowledges that the nation’s fiscal situation is unsustainable.  The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in years.  Many states-including most of the largest ones-are on the fiscal precipice, and the nation as a whole is not far behind.  Entitlement spending is metastasizing.  As for growing our way out-please.  Despite all the Happy Days Are Here Again rhetoric emanating from the White House-duly echoed and amplified in the media-growth is anemic, and far below what is needed to right the fiscal ship.  The unemployment rate is falling-but the employment rate is at multi-decade lows, as many are dropping out of the labor force.  And it’s not due to an aging population.  The employment rate among those in their 20s has fallen most, which is a catastrophe, as that is the period when people should be building the experience and human capital that can only be obtained by working-learning by doing-and that generates returns for a lifetime. And it’s not like we’re lacking for examples of what can happen when fiscal problems fully ripen. We see the consequences of fiscal profligacy playing out in Greece and Europe generally playing out right before our very eyes.

But we’re hung up on contraception.

Why?  I can think of several reasons.  One is that when faced by an overwhelming problem, people deny and avoid, and concentrate their efforts on something smaller-trivial often-and more easily managed.  The fiscal situation is daunting, so the impulse to avoid and deny is particularly strong.  Another reason is that it is very convenient for Obama to distract attention from his Achilles’ heels, of which the looming fiscal crisis is the most vulnerable.  Of course, the media is quite willing to play along, and the Republicans are living up to their reputation as the Stupid Party by falling right into the trap.

The only reason that the contraception issue should matter at all is that it provides a very clearcut demonstration of a progressive administration’s willingness to run roughshod over the Constitution and and private property (by compelling private companies to provide a good or service for free).  But this isn’t news.  By word and deed, Obama has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a committed progressive, with all that entails.  Since the Progressive Era at the beginning of the 20th century progressives have heaped disdain on the Constitution and the constraints it imposes on the ability of the government to order us all about. Do we really need another example to make the point?

The candidates of even A Slightly Less Stupid Party would focus on the impending fiscal train wreck and put Obama on the defensive.  Little chance of that.

(And for those who are about to fire off a comment saying-“See-you should support Ron Paul because he’s the only one who cares about government spending and the Constitution”: spare me.  Paul punts completely on the most pressing medium- and long-term spending issue: entitlements.  Moreover, his proposals to cut a trillion dollars tomorrow are, like most Paulian ideas, political fantasies.)

Right now it looks like that the main obstacle to a second Obama term is $5 or $6 gasoline over the summer.  Which would be wickedly ironic, because he and his policies have little effect on the price of energy in the short run (though his policies are a complete cluster**** in the medium-to-long run).

But it’s truly come to that.  Due to a complete lack of seriousness and courage in the political class, a transformational election hinges on something completely unrelated to the transformational issues, and completely out of control of any of those participating in it.

* SeekingAlpha often changes the titles of my posts.  I wonder if they’ll change this one?

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  1. Don’t underestimate the tactical brilliance of team O – yes I said it. They picked a hot button issue for their base – the absolute right of women to control their bodies, and a hot button for the right – the intrusion of Government through regulation into the so called private right of people to exercise their beliefs without government coercion.

    These are easily “sound bite- able” issues that even the bought and paid for morons in the media can deal with, to make the Republicans look bad.

    You are absolutely right as to the importance of the fiscal train wreck we are facing but I would put it differently: Oppose this as a manifestation of the policies of the O and his minions that are wrecking us.

    1. Fiscal disaster will weaken civil society to survive (#1);
    2. The cynical use of wedge issues to divide the American people while we face this crisis;
    3. The growth of the overweening state through undemocratic means;
    4. The destruction of property rights, and the ability of those without property to earn some, not as a function of a hand out, but through productive labor.

    The point being we need to come up with a formula that can express each and any action of O as an assault on our liberties and the liberties of our children. How we get the corrupt and infantile media and our politicians who play into their hands to deal with this is beyond me, however.

    There is an interesting article on the great divide as expressed by contrasting Robert Reich and Romney: Reich views increased dependency as a function of rising poverty, while Romney argues that increasing programs are a sign of unhealthy government interference in private lives.

    I think both are right. Poverty is increased by dependency: if handing out money made a good society, Saudi Arabia would be populated by Philosopher Princes. What is missing is the analysis that increasing dependency and poverty increases the power of elites, to the detriment of the nation as a whole. We are creating a Praetorian Guard that does not fight, but perpetuates those in power none the less. The fiscal train wreck is not just a fiscal issue, but a profound challenge as to what America has tried to mean to the majority of its people.

    Comment by sotos — February 20, 2012 @ 10:57 am

  2. Umm, who’s hung up on contraception? Get a grip man- Your turning into a ranting fool.

    Comment by andrewi31 — February 20, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

  3. Americans and their petty debates – so beneath you, eh? It must be all deficit, all evil Putin! all the time!

    “willingness to run roughshod over the Constitution and and private property” – You fucking little histrionic bitch.

    Comment by andrewi31 — February 20, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

  4. Usually I agree with your posts, but I have to disagree on this. The contraception mandate issue is an important one. It may not be news to you or me that Obama is willing to run over the Constitution, but it was (stunningly) news to the Catholic Church hierarchy and millions of Catholics.

    If this stands, it will as fundamentally alter the USG’s relationship to religion freedom as TARP did its relationship to the rule of law. After TARP, even mere lipservice to the law went out the window. The bill itself wasn’t so important, it was [accurately] understood not to be a law in itself, but a carte-blanch authorization to do whatever was deemed necessary, in or outside of the positive law. There no longer existed any practical restraint to anything the USG might choose to do, so long as it was even incredulously linked to the economy or banking.

    If this decision holds, the same effect will take place three important ways: (1) the USG will dictate to religions what are their politically appropriate and inappropriate doctrines. Inappropriate doctrines will not be brooked. (2) Any private company may at any moment be required to provide some service to someone at some rate (including zero) dictated by the USG. (3) From here on, ‘preventative medicine’ will be defined in purely political terms. I expect the rent-seeking to be extraordinary, and also in time a move from optional preventative medicine (you may…) to required preventative medicine (you shall…).

    (1) is more important than the fiscal crises, (2) every bit equal to it, and (3) either less important or more important depending on whether it does in fact shift to a requirement.

    Comment by ThomasL — February 20, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  5. @LL & @sotos. I don’t agree with either of you on the substance. At all. I agree that the progressive/Obama assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law is abhorrent, and will be extremely destructive. My frustration, which led to that post being more rant-y than it should have been, is that these arguments are political losers. As you point out sotos, this is a hot button issue that will appeal to the Dem base, and which the media will echo in a way that will benefit the Obama cause. These social policy debates are sure losers for Republicans, because they will always be framed in ways that will make them look like the ones who are advocating rolling back personal freedoms. Perversely wicked, no? The anti-freedom side usually succeeds in getting portrayed as being the pro-freedom crusaders. The very correct, principled arguments you both make never stand a chance. But that’s the way these social policy debates tend to play out.

    I think that the fiscal issue is actually far more likely to resonate with people on an emotional as well as intellectual level. That + Obamacare is what really galvanized the Tea Party movement in 2010. Which is precisely why, IMO, Obama and the media pom-pom squad is hell bent on changing the subject to something else–anything else. The Democrats have an edge on social issues, which is why they are so eager to push this. And which is why it is imperative to attack on another front, particularly one which is appealing to the 20 pct of the electorate that can be swung one way or the other. They will swing left if the debate focuses on social issues. They would be far more likely to swing right if the debate focuses on fiscal issues.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 20, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

  6. @The Professor-It is safe to conclude andrewi31 is a card carrying member of the 80%. No talk of of that unimportant $16 trillion chump change debt for him huh uh not a word.

    Comment by pahoben — February 20, 2012 @ 8:43 pm

  7. Professor. I notice you are sticking with Progressive. What is the difference between a Progressive and a Marxist. If Obama were a Marxist and cunning what do you think he would have done differently?

    Comment by pahoben — February 20, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

  8. @pahoben. The lines are definitely blurred. I think, though, that progressivism has more in common with fascism than Marxism. It is statist, but more corporatist, making private enterprises and private organizations (e.g., organized churches) the pawns of the state, rather than truly Marxist/socialist with direct public ownership of the means of production.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 20, 2012 @ 9:23 pm

  9. Thanks-good explanation.

    Comment by pahoben — February 20, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

  10. get a grip man; assault on the Constitution? Fascism? Why do you get your panties in a twist over inconsequential regulations when men are being detained and even put to death in your state without proper trials? The right to life is a fundamental tenant of the Catholic faith and all right thinking societies and yet in the bizarro world of US politics the words of long dead slave owners are treated as Gospel

    Comment by OilLocal — February 21, 2012 @ 5:50 am

  11. Without proper trials? On average and over the long term about four people are killed by lightning strikes each year in Texas and ten are executed. The four killed by lightning do not have proper trials but the ten that are executed have millions of dollars of proper trials.

    Comment by pahoben — February 21, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  12. The last estimate I can find is that each execution costs the State of Texas an average of $2.3MM in legal fees.

    Comment by pahoben — February 21, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

  13. Wasn’t Bush’s 2004 campaign run on a “family values” platform?

    Comment by So? — February 21, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

  14. “Due to a complete lack of seriousness and courage in the political class, a transformational election hinges on something completely unrelated to the transformational issues, and completely out of control of any of those participating in it.

    Very true. Decades of the Nixonian “Southern Strategy”, which even its author Kevin Phillips now understands as leading our country to disaster, has developed a significant “conservative” voting bloc that is batshit insane and requires regular feedings of Santorum/Bachmann-style Red Meat.

    Now, Phillips argues in American Theocracy,

    “…the underlying Washington strategy… was less to give ordinary Americans direct sums than to create a low-interest-rate boom in real estate, thereby raising the percentage of American home ownership, ballooning the prices of homes, and allowing householders to take out some of that increase through low-cost refinancing. This triple play created new wealth to take the place of that destroyed in the 2000-2002 stock-market crash and simultaneously raised consumer confidence.

    Nothing similar had ever been engineered before. Instead of a recovery orchestrated by Congress and the White House and aimed at the middle- and bottom-income segments, this one was directed by an appointed central banker, a man whose principal responsibility was to the banking system. His relief, targeted on financial assets and real estate, was principally achieved by monetary stimulus. This in itself confirmed the massive realignment of preferences and priorities within the American system….

    Likewise, huge and indisputable but almost never discussed, were the powerful political economics lurking behind the stimulus: the massive rate-cut-driven post-2000 bailout of the FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) sector, with its ever-climbing share of GDP and proximity to power. No longer would Washington concentrate stimulus on wages or public-works employment. The Fed’s policies, however shrewd, were not rooted in an abstraction of the national interest but in pursuit of its statutory mandate to protect the U.S. banking and payments system, now inseparable from the broadly defined financial-services sector.”

    So you FIRE “Conservative” types have done vast damage to our country in your path to power, and have a lot to answer for.

    Comment by wanderer — February 22, 2012 @ 5:23 am

  15. Dear Prof,

    I think you are right, the fiscal issue should have more importance and should resonate more. I hope you are right that it will; the problem is that I don’t think it will. You are also correct that a lot of the social issues do tend to blow up in conservatives faces. The problem in a fiscal debate is that it too can blow up in the Republicans’ faces by framing it as, OK, who is going to be cut?

    The historical problem is that much change in American politics is touched off when people reach a Popeye point – I have had all I can stands and I can’t stands no more. In other words one action, in itself not that significant, can set things off. Dred Scott affected only a handful of people directly, but created the Republican party. A more recent example was the attempt in the Carter administration by the HEW to have the IRS revoke the tax exempt status of all schools founded after Brown vs the Board of Education, unless they demonstrated that their classes were integrated, i.e. diverse in current parlance. though this was quickly withdrawn, this and the bureaucratic assault on Home schooling caused the religious right to actually come into existence as a political force. These guys had been around a long time, these actions gave them the critical mass to start making some noise. Once Regan was elected, the more extreme actors, such as Falwell and Robertson lost a lot of their influence; indeed they existed and exist more as a bogey man for the media and Dems than as a political force.

    The lesson is one of packaging. Somehow we have to turn the Dems so called advantages on social issues into Liabilities:

    1. Fiscal disaster will damage us for years to come. The government is enslaving the future.
    2. People have a right to their consciences, and should not be forced to violate them except under the most extreme conditions. To do otherwise is to enslave our present.
    3. Obama care must be brought to the fore as an example of where a government (and an incompetent one, at that) is dictating to the Americans what they might do.

    A program of Liberty was best summed up by Regan’s comment that the most dangerous 10 words were” I am from the government and I am here to help.” May Obama care be our Popeye point.

    Comment by sotos — February 22, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

  16. You wish, Sotos.

    The batshit insane “Base” Republicans created with 50 years of the Southern Strategy requires regular feedings of “Culture War” red meat. They’re yours, and you created ’em. Now, I get to watch and laugh as Barack coasts to victory while Republicans fumble with their problem that no electable candidate can get the Republican nomination.

    Read it and weep, professor.

    Comment by wanderer — February 23, 2012 @ 6:02 am

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