Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cheap. Pitiful.

I see that Indy's Mayor is proposing a cut on the County Option Income Tax (COIT) for Marion County. From the Indy Star report:
Mayor Greg Ballard has introduced a proposal to lower the county income tax by three-hundredths of a percentage point, to 1.62 percent.

The adjustment would give a $6 million break to taxpayers. That works out to about $12 a year for the average $40,000-a-year wage-earner in Indianapolis.

Well, ain't he Santa Claus! Is this the same Mayor Ballard who was greatly aided in his election by tax protestors? Is this the level best reward he can give to a constituency that rallied to make itself heard?
Last year, the council increased the county income tax from 1 percent to 1.65 percent to cover an ongoing shortfall in public safety and criminal justice costs. The 2007 state law authorizing that tax increase required 0.3 percent of the money to go toward freezing property tax spending.

On Nov. 7, the state certified the county tax rate at 0.27 percent and gave counties the option of returning excess revenue to taxpayers. In Marion County, that excess is 0.03 percent.

It's very safe, very likely to gain passage by the City-County Council. It's a gain. But it's pitiful. It's a pittance. It doesn't reflect any genuine cut in government, it only represents not taking that small amount which isn't deemed 'necessary', in returning 'excess'.

In times of economic hardship, government is a luxury, not a necessity, and people at home should be allowed to keep a greater share of what they earn so that they can provide for their households.

At what point can we expect to see actual cuts in government?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Do We Call It 'Socialism'?

One of my favorite things to observe in the jubilant Left these days is an unwillingness to embrace the possibility that the first 100 days of Democratic rule might be socialism.

I think The Left knows well enough that socialism is not going to be broadly embraced, but I think it also knows that given bits and pieces of socialistic policy here and there, especially if dressed up with different words, like 'benefit', can make for broad enough an embrace.

My greatest fear is that we will be treated to socialized medicine in the first 100 days. If I learned anything from Mitch Daniels' first term, or Bill Clinton's, it's that you do the controversial things very early, and then you spend the next three years doing innocuous things. Well, it also helped that in both of these cases, the response to their first year was that they lost their parties' legislative majorities and returned to divided government.

When I mention this to my Obama-supporting friends, I get a heap of resistence, pooh-poohing the idea that there are any socialistic intents, just an improvement of benefits, or increasing access, or something, anything besides socialism.

I'd like to see how some of you would define socialized medicine.

Here's a definition I consider useful, from the Cato Institute, in a recent publication:
Socialized medicine exists to the extent that government controls medical resources and socializes the costs. Notice that under this definition, it is irrelevant whether we describe medical resources (e.g.,hospitals, employees) as “public” or “private.” What matters—what determines real as opposed to nominal ownership—is who controls the resources. By that definition, America’s health sector is already more than half socialized, and Obama’s health care plan would socialize medicine even further.

There is one main reason I oppose socialized health care. I believe it inherently unjust to involuntarily cause one person pay for any good or service consumed by another person.

I've always been mystified by The Left's gigantic blind spot, willfully or otherwise, on this point. How can one oppose involuntary servitude, or involuntary conscription into the military, and yet accept involuntary responsibility for the cost of another's health care? In any of these cases, an individual is denied the full decision of the allocation of his resources. They are taken by the state, against the will of the individual, and given elsewhere, on the basis that the state has first claim, and knows best besides.
Interesting Take On Transparency

A few of my friends have recently been touting with excitement the Obama transition plans, as shown on the website Isn't it nice to see exactly what's coming down the pike? No secrets, all there to see.

Well, my friend Michael Jarrell has been watching with interest as well. He notes that while things may be transparent, they aren't permanent.
Apparently Team Obama keeps a sharp eye on their opposition these days. It seems that they saw the many commentaries on their new plans for involuntary servitude and decided to attempt to memory hole them.

He lays out an interesting change. One day the website said this:
Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. (emphasis supplied)

The next day:
Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. (emphasis supplied)

The initial hope was to require the oxymoronic 'forced volunteerism'. When noticed, it became a 'goal', and now comes with a transfer of wealth.

That's all pretty shady, if you ask me. All of it.

What is hopeful in any of this?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Oh, what's this? A nice rah-rah piece on Amtrak, that suck-hole of tax dollars and inept provider of passenger transportation, courtesy the Lafayette Journal-Courier:
Recent spikes in gasoline prices, airport congestion and environmental awareness are among the reasons why Amtrak is reporting record ridership for the 2008 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Nationwide, Amtrak carried 28.7 million people this year, compared to 25.8 million in 2007. That was an 11 percent increase.
So, since the gasoline prices are now lower than when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, back in August 2005, ridership will certainly have already begun to tank, if it were such a factor in driving an increase in ridership. I love this quote from a rider:

"We're students and we're poor," she said with a chuckle, noting the train's comparatively cheap cost.

A round trip ticket between Lafayette and Chicago generally runs between $30 and $50 depending on the days, according to Amtrak's Web site.

Well, poor student, you aren't learning mathematics at Purdue, that's for sure. With gas now around $2/gallon, even if you drive a Hummer or some other beast that gets 10mpg, you can drive from Lafayette to Chicago for $25.20.

126 mi / 10 mpg = 12.6 gal x $2 = $25.20

You're going to be poor for a lifetime if you can't do the math. Amtrak isn't the solution. Oh? Riding for the environment? Ok, then calculate the ride in my Toyota Corolla:

126 mi / 40 mpg = 3.15 gal x $2 = $6.30

Seriously. What kind of stupid do you have to be to lap up what this article is offering?

Update: In response to the astute comment that caught where I didn't (shame on me!) that the Amtrak pricing is based on round trips, and my car pricing is based on a single leg, I decided to shore that up. Doubling my auto prices is the easy part:

252 mi / 10 mpg = 12.6 gal x $2 = $50.40
252 mi / 40 mpg = 3.15 gal x $2 = $12.60

I went to Amtrak's website to see the various prices. Turns out that the article is wrong. One cannot get a $30 round trip fare. It varies pretty significantly depending on the days of departure and arrival.

$36 - Depart Lafayette Nov 19 or 20, Return from Chicago Nov 24
$41 - Depart Lafayette Nov 19 or 20, Return from Chicago Nov 22 or 25
$52 - Depart Lafayette Nov 21, Return from Chicago Nov 23 or 26
$58 - Depart Lafayette Nov 19 or 20, Return from Chicago Nov 22 or 25
$67 - Depart Lafayette Nov 21, Return from Chicago Nov 23 or 26

So, the J-C's range of 'generally between $30 and $50 for a round trip' is misleading. You can't get a fare as low as $30, and most combinations are more than $50.

I guess we're both shoddy journalists, quick to make our points. In any case, my ride in the Corolla is still WAY cheap.
Doing The Math

Harvard Economist Greg Mankiw offers advice to President-Elect Obama. Here's the bit the struck me most:
during the campaign, you promised that you would cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, that you would vastly expand health insurance coverage, and that you would never cut Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age. You will almost surely have to renege on some of these promises. As your economic team will often remind you, even if the laws of arithmetic are ignored during campaigns, they provide a real constraint when making actual policy.

One of the best criticisms of the Bush Administration offered by the Left was an attack of borrow-and-spend. So, if Obama is to try to deliver on his campaign promises, how can he do it but to borrow and spend?

btw, Mankiw's had some really good posts lately, including an analysis of the GOP's failure, with the remedy being to run more libertarian. FWIW, he authored the textbook I used in my MBA Econ class.