Thursday, February 19, 2009
Turning "Mr. Hand" into "Mr. Fist"
The embodiment of bureaucracy: Arthur Dent, left, and his alien friend Ford Prefect, are menaced by a representative of the Vogons, a slimy, officious, dull-witted race of interstellar "public servants," in the film adaptation of Douglas Adams's masterpiece The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
The $787 billion federal spending spree we are all but required by law to call a "stimulus package" is many things, all of which are thoroughly contemptible and economically ruinous.
It is a veritable pinata of plunder made plump with plentiful perks and payouts to various Democratic Party-aligned parasites.
For the devout Keynesian, the measure is the fiscal equivalent of hard-core pornography; perhaps this is the only sense in which it should be called a "stimulus" bill. One imagines the typical Keynesian, his face flushed, his pupils dilated, sweat beading on his upper lip, hair sprouting on his palms, grunting: "Oh, that's it baby -- spend harder! Harder!" Of course, the truly hardcore Keynsians, like Paul Krugman, are cursed with sensibilities so coarsened by collectivism that only the economic equivalent of a snuff film will stimulate their prurient interests.
The act is also a useful instrument for exposing the purulent hypocrisy of most Republican congressmen and governors, none of whom (with one valiant exception) displayed so much as a particle of concern over federal profligacy during the reign of Bush the Lesser. Several of the Republican congressmen who opposed the spending bill are poised to take political credit once the hijacked wealth is sluiced into their districts.
Likewise, many Republican governors -- save a few who are wrestling with their conscience, and will probably win -- have outgrown whatever principles they may have had and are eager to be in receipt of whatever stolen wealth Washington deigns to send their way.
As with all government spending, the fraudulent "stimulus" measure will devour wealth rather than creating it by abetting the growth of government employment at the expense of private productivity. The only people who will actually benefit from the "stimulus" package are those belonging to what the Brits call the "Quango Class."
"Quango," a term I learned only recently, refers to QUAsi-Non-Governmental Organizations," or what are more commonly called "public/private partnerships." Minette Marrin of the London Sunday Times, who introduced me to the term, describes "Quangocrats" as "the vast and growing army of state sector workers -- public servants, civil servants, whatever you call them ... the actual providers and arrangers of public services. You can find them in any town hall or local authority...."
In socialist Britain, as in the corporate socialist (that is, fascist) USA, private sector businesses that actually produce desired goods and offer useful services are shedding jobs by the million; private citizens are cinching in their belts and -- as their retirement plans evaporate -- contemplating the prospect of ending their days by expiring with their noses still firmly attached to whatever grindstone is still operating in this economically blighted land.
Meanwhile, writes Marrin, the public is beginning to suspect that "very large numbers of state sector people are ... doing wasteful non-jobs, which we don't want to pay anyone for doing ... [And] the government keeps on creating these jobs despite constant, informed protest." Those who find themselves thus employed are often "deeply ... incompetent and yet very rarely face the consequences of their failure" and enjoy "secure pensions and security of employment" with the option of taking "very early retirement on full pensions" even as the rest of us will have to bear increasingly onerous taxes -- both directly and through inflation -- in order to provide the Quangocrats with the benefits to which they feel themselves entitled.
Is this the "kind of thing that drives a patient man or woman to fury?" Marrin continues. "I think so."
Although things are bad for our trans-Atlantic cousins, it's actually worse on this side of the Great Pond. Ours is the largest and most expensive government any population has ever inflicted on itself. And despite the pretense that it is some variety of federal republic --
I'll pause briefly for the hysterical sarcastic laughter to subside ... there, all done?
-- the Regime is as monolithic as the enigmatic extraterrestrial artifact from Kubrick's cinematic acid trip 2001: A Space Odyssey. This can be demonstrated in many ways, not least of which is the way purportedly local governments are eager to reconstitute themselves as "stimulus soviets" -- appendages of the central government in charge of receiving and disburse the plundered funds.
Just across the Snake River from where I live can be found Oregon's Malheur County. Pat Caldwell, the editor of the county's sole daily (actually six-times-a-week) newspaper, the Argus Observer, recently explained how "a select group of officials banded together and staged a number of meetings to work out a priority list regarding what project[s], if any, should gain federal taxpayer dollars."
Oh, sure, Caldwell continued, there are some who contend that the whole process is hopelessly corrupt and immoral. But "once one gets past philosophical issues tied to the stimulus ... the fact is that the money could be a god-send for a financially strapped county like Malheur." Unlike many others in the media, Caldwell had the minimal decency to mention that the taxpayers themselves had no effective voice in this process. But hey, he points out, the good news is that the "stimulus" bill "is a huge taxpayer-filled money trough, and just about everyone is going to get a chance to take a big swig."
Well -- no. Some will be permitted to swig at the local trough; the rest of us will be hewers of wood to build that trough, and carriers of the water to be swigged therefrom. And while we're hewing and carrying, whatever we've managed to save will be stealthily stolen from us -- via inflation-funded deficit spending -- to provide for the continued comfort of the privileged swigging class once the wells run dry.
We are constantly urged to admire the "sacrifice" of "public servants," and to revile the "greed" and "selfishness" of those who choose to make an honest living in the private sphere. Yet public "service" is frequently a much more lucrative racket than honest private work.
Witness the fact, reported in a Washington Post column by Chris Edwards in August 2006, that the average federal civilian employee is paid twice the amount that was earned by the average private sector worker -- a little more than $106,000 per year, as compared to an annual salary of $56,000. Note as well that while real estate prices are plummeting throughout most of the country, the suburbs and exurbs of the Imperial Capital continue to boom, thanks in no small measure to the metastatic growth of government and the lucrative compensation enjoyed by the federal nomenklatura.
No steak knives for this guy -- he was a "closer": For Glen Goss -- seen here flashing the coprophagous grin of a guy who's found a really slick racket -- a referral to a "public service" position was better than a "Glengarry lead." (Warning: The linked clip is replete with vulgar language.)
Indeed, government "service" offers a much faster route to wealth than entrepreneurial (that is, "risk-taking") capitalism. It also offers incomparable security, with respect to both employment and retirement.
Forbes magazine begins a study of the "Gilt-Edged Pensions" enjoyed by those in the "public" sector by highlighting the case of 46-year-old millionaire Glenn Goss, formerly of Delray Beach, Florida. He actually retired from his first job -- which paid an annual salary of $90,000 -- at age 42. He immediately began to draw a guaranteed $65,000 annual pension. He then took a second job, with comparable benefits, in nearby Highland Beach.
Goss's first job was working as a police commander. His second position is chief of police in Highland Beach. Notes Forbes: "He is already worth nearly $2 million, based on the present value of his vested retirement benefits. Looked at another way, he is a $2 million liability to Florida taxpayers."
Eugene Gordon, a former assistant city attorney in San Diego, recently retired. His highest base salary was $152,792 -- a bit steep for an assistant city attorney, one would think. His taxpayer-funded pension, however, will be at least $235,000 a year. Now, granted, any "public servant" is more valuable as an ex-employee, since he can't do as much damage to the public weal. But Gordon's retirement goldmine -- a product of an institutional double-dipping scheme called the Deferred Retirement Option Program -- is but one example (albeit an extreme one) of the extravagant pension plans enjoyed by government employees nation-wide.
It's not just police and city attorneys who are reveling in retirement dough. John A. Brennan, Jr., a former Massachusetts state legislator, retired a while ago from a volunteer position on the Malden Public Library Board of Trustees. He missed a full five-sixths of the board's meetings during the past four years.
Yet, owing to his superior knowledge of how to game the system, Brennan was able to use his board membership to enhance his pension package: Instead of $19,097 a year, he will now receive $41,088 a year. If he lives out the current 78-year life expectancy, Brennan will receive $740,000 in payouts.
Notes the Boston Globe: The cost of almost all of that pension, according to state law, must be split proportionately between the state and Malden, a city often strapped for cash, including a $1.5 million cut in state aid for the current year."
A depression, as Lew Rockwell likes to point out, is more properly called a "correction." It should lay bare clusters of investment errors, patterns of malinvestment, and pockets of entrenched corruption, which are to be cleaned up and corrected ruthlessly and efficiently. But there will be no depression where the tax-fed Quangocrats are concerned. One purpose of the "stimulus" bill is to keep their ugly truths buried beneath a thick blanket of redistributed wealth.
Those of us in the productive sector will scrimp and save and strain and starve -- and the Quangocrats will continue to thrive behind an ever-thickening wall of official protection.
As the Sunday Times's Marrin put it: This state of affairs will eventually stimulate the fury of a patient man. Or, as the late philosopher-sage Sam Kinison once put it, this is the kind of thing that turns Mr. Hand into Mr. Fist.
Dum spiro, pugno!