THE SAPIENT SPARROW: conservatism for commoners

"What has always made the State a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven."–Holderlin


All this talk about “pivoting” by our basketball loving President started me thinking about the word, “pivot”.  The basketball term, as I believe Mr. Obama uses it, is defined as:

The stationary foot around which the ball handler is allowed to pivot without dribbling.

In other words, a pivot foot remains planted, in fact it must remain planted according the rules of the game, while the player seeks to find a way to either pass or shoot the ball.  Actually, I am impressed with the choice of  “pivot” to characterize the change in Mr. Obama’s focus.  It is truly apt, since it seems as if he either plans to pass the ball to others, or simply freeze in place, attempt a long-distance shot in the direction of the basket and hope for the best.

Speaking of freezing, the White House has announced a spending “freeze” of discretionary spending that will save $250 billion over the next 10 years.  There are varying opinions about this plan.  Here is how I look at it.  Say I spend $20 per week on bubble bath, (a discretionary expense because I do not really need bubble bath).  Now, my husband comes home one day and says, “Honey, I just had my salary cut by 5%.  We’re going to have to adjust our budget or we’re going to be spending more than we take in.”  This is analogous to what is happening to the Federal Government.  Tax receipts have been declining at the same time that Government is spending more than it is taking in.  Okay, back to my example.  After my husband’s announcement, I begin to think about how to adjust our budget and come up with the following brilliant plan.  I will “freeze” my discretionary spending on bubble bath!  After much research, I find that the cost of bubble bath increases by approximately 10% per year, (a purely hypothetical amount), so in the first year alone I will be saving  $104.  In ten years I will have saved at least $1040!  And here is the best part-I don’t have to give up bubble bath altogether to realize these savings, I just have to find bubble bath that will continue to cost no more than $20 per week.  Now, who in their right mind thinks that this will solve my personal budgetary crisis?  Following this model simply puts my family further and further into debt.  Freezes do not work unless income increases.  Barring that, spending must be cut not frozen.

However, neither increasing tax receipts nor spending cuts are what Mr. Obama has in mind.  Instead, in his new-found populist incarnation, he is proposing new programs to help the “middle class” that seem to involve tax credits, i.e., less tax revenue coming to the Government from these families.

There are immediate steps we can take to reduce the strain on family budgets by helping middle class families manage their child and elder care responsibilities, save for retirement, and pay for college,” the White House said in a statement.

Will these programs be the “Hail Mary” shot that finds the basket?  I suppose it depends on whether the team playing defense is alert enough to successfully block it.  At the same time, there seems to be no shortage of those on Obama’s team waving their arms and shouting, “I’m open.  I’m open”.  Perhaps, the POTUS will pass the ball to one of them.

For example, David Plouffe, newly appointed White House political adviser, is convinced that he can win the game by continuing big Government programs and spending.  (Oh, yeah, pass the ball to him!)

Then there is Thomas Friedman, the author of Hot, Flat and Crowded.  He attended the December “Jobs Summit” at the White House and seemed to have a great time yukking it up with the POTUS.  Today, on Fox Business, Don Imus asked Mr. Friedman how Government could create jobs.  Good question, albeit rather rhetorical.  Mr. Friedman launched into a description of a program that would use tax money to fund a program to educate high school students on how to be innovators and entrepreneurs.  He went on to say that since the job creators are small businesses and entrepreneurs, this program would increase both and hence increase jobs.  Although, he admitted, not in the short term-ya think?   (NOTE: I had heard about the outcome of one of these pilot programs.  Of the two top winners of a high school innovation competition, one, after attending an H&R Block tax class, had “invented” tax software to help high school students with their taxes; the second had “invented” a t-shirt with a distinctive logo.  Ummmm, does anyone expect a job boom to sweep the country as a result of these kinds of ideas?  Perhaps “teaching” innovation is not as simple as it sounds.)

However, Mr. Friedman is in good company.  Consider T. Boone Pickens whose current advertisements are pushing for the passage of H.R. 1835.  This bill provides tax payer dollars to retrofit semi-trailer trucks and buses with natural gas engines.  On Fox Business this weekend, Mr. Pickens spent a great deal of time trying to convince John Stossel that his ideas would lead to jobs and bring us a step closer to energy independence.  Perhaps he is right, but if so, the private sector would be a much better place to support and implement such a plan.  In fact, Mr. Stossel reported that the private sector is right now sponsoring a competition with the goal of creating an automobile prototype that is production-ready, attractive, manageable, responsive, safe and uses fuel at the rate of 100 m.p.g.  Guess what?  The competitors are very close to creating one, and without a single taxpayer dollar or piece of legislation supporting them.

Tomorrow, Mr. Obama will give his first State of the Union address.  Reportedly, it will include the 3R’s of “Rescue, Rebuild, Restore”.  Hmmm, I would wager that none of those things will be cheap, and that all of them will involve spending more money than any of us have.  So, would someone from our team please steal the ball from this guy while he’s still trying to pivot-and then score with it?  This game is just too important to lose.

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