Saturday, November 24, 2012
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
This afternoon (November 17, 2012) I heard Richard Epstein talk on the implications of the recent election for the economy. He gave the annual distinguished scholar lecture as the SEA meetings. To hear Epstein talk is awe-inspiring. Hard to describe. Always without notes, he delivers intricate, clever, funny, insightful prose without hesitation, seamlessly weaving his web of logic, backwards and forward, while making knockdown points.
What he said today reinforced my conviction that Obama is by far the worse of the two candidates we faced in this election - though both were pretty bad. Epstein's knowledge of the details of each and every Obama program, the law, the economics, the bureaucracy, ... left me with little doubt on this score - and pretty pessimistic for what lies ahead. In addition Epstein has the rather unique advantage of knowing Obama personally from his University of Chicago days.
This is a situation where personality matters a lot. According to Epstein, Obama is the exact opposite of his convivial exterior. He is someone who is unlikely to change his mind on anything and who takes criticism extremely badly. He brings to the White House not your standard self-serving, but flexible politician. He is, rather, someone who is a principled and stubborn believer in policies and values antithetical to the health of the American economy and its civil society. His serious agenda is not the "liberal" agenda of the 1960's which focused on civil rights; rather it is the agenda of the Progressive era in America, wherein social planning politician sought, by the power of government, to redesign society from top to bottom. And you see this in every part of the various programs he has already addressed.
Healthcare, financial regulation, environmental policy, protectionism in international trade, trade unionism, education, and more. In every case Obama has skillfully constructed a powerful regulatory apparatus. Where he has been able to use Congress he has obtained the legislation he wanted (and designed), legislation deliberately vague, so as to leave as much discretion for the bureaucracy as possible. Where legislation was unnecessary, or unobtainable, he has resorted to administrative discretion, issuing decrees often without the necessary Congressional approval. He knows that the regulated companies and organizations have the option of either obeying or taking the government to court, and that the latter is costly inconvenient and risky, so they almost always comply. In this way, little by little, our freedoms are regulated away.
Epstein pointed out that the accumulating regulations act like taxes to sap the creative power of private economic initiatives and when combined with macro tax and spend policies can only have one outcome. The prospect for the future is one of dwindling growth, smaller technological advances, less capital investment in America and slowly declining standards of living, not only for or mostly for the 1%.
I wish I could do his analysis justice. I can't even come close. But he has expressed this in parts in various places available on the internet and I will be looking for them so as to be able to share more specific detail.