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The Week

(Darren Gygi)



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Invading Congo? He really is turning us into Belgium after all.

The Cain mutiny against establishment politics rolls on. Cain is a charmer, and he is right to buck against a press that fancies itself a political gatekeeper: e.g., “When they ask me who’s the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Do you know?’” It’s not the zap answers to cover momentary lapses that alarm, so much as the sense that Cain’s lapses are subcontinental in scope. Immigration has been an inflamed issue for over 20 years, abortion for almost 40. Yet Cain can say the first plank of his immigration platform is building an electrified fence on the Mexican border, then say “that was a joke,” then say “I’m not walking away from that.” He can also say that regulating abortion “is not the government’s role,” then say that he is “100 percent pro-life.” Mutinies can be fun, but they need a foundation in substance if they are to succeed.

Rick Perry thinks taxpayers should be able to choose whether they want to pay under the current system or under a new 20 percent flat tax. The optional nature of the proposal avoids the most potent political objection to a flat tax: that it raises taxes on many people. But it also surrenders the advantages of simplicity and low compliance costs that are a flat tax’s chief selling points. And it means that the new hybrid tax code would raise a lot less money than the current system, thus making spending cuts all the more imperative. Perry has proposed some serious ones, such as raising the retirement age for Social Security and possibly Medicare. But they’re not enough. Perry, or some other conservative, should go back to the drawing board.

With a proposal that is one part jobs plan and one part energy plan, Perry also proposes to liberalize and revitalize the American energy sector, opening up oil and gas production in areas where American producers are either shut out or heavily restricted: the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida coast, and Alaska, among others. Perry’s plan entails the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and the relaxation of regulations hindering production throughout the United States. He estimates that U.S. oil and gas production could be expanded by some 9.3 million barrels of oil and 22.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, creating more than 1 million new energy-industry jobs by 2030. While those projections are optimistic, the Perry plan would be well worth pursuing if it did not create a single new job — because jobs are a means, not an end; the goal of public policy should be to make the nation wealthier and its economy more productive, not to micromanage industries. A country producing 9.3 million new barrels of oil and billions of new cubic feet of additional natural gas per day is a wealthier nation and a more productive one.

When Perry angrily told Mitt Romney, in the October 18 presidential debate, that “you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year,” it felt like a flashback to 2007. In a debate back then, Romney accused former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani of presiding over a “sanctuary city,” and the mayor shot back that Romney lived in a “sanctuary mansion.” Now: If paying a company that hires illegal immigrants disqualifies a person from the Republican nomination, then let every candidate who has ever eaten in a restaurant withdraw now, since the odds are good that some busboy or cook is there without papers. But perhaps the most significant aspect of Romney’s defense against Perry is how he characterized his own reaction: “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.” Of course, it is embarrassing for an outgoing governor and presidential candidate to “have illegals.” But, for Pete’s sake, it’s also wrong.

For all the talk of austerity in the news, there’s none to be seen in the real world: Federal spending is up about 5 percent for the year, with the government on track to spend at least $120 billion more this year than it did last year. State and local spending is up even more than that. Government salaries continue to increase, even as wages stagnate and decline in the private sector — i.e., in the real economy, which creates the wealth off of which the bureaucratic class feeds. This is precisely the inverse of the formula for prosperity, and the national economy is being hollowed out as capital is channeled away from productive enterprises and into political projects, many of them of scant value. Meanwhile, legitimate public services — from border patrols to local police and fire departments — are shortchanged, while grandiose boondoggles such as Solyndra and pet projects such as cowboy-poetry festivals receive remarkably generous infusions of taxpayers’ dollars. Austerity may be too much to hope for, but is prudence?


Pages

Contents
November 14, 2011    |     Volume LXIII, No. 21

Articles
Features
Books, Arts & Manners
  • Anthony Daniels reviews After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, by Mark Steyn.
  • Steven F. Hayward reviews Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America, by Joseph A. McCartin.
  • David Pryce-Jones reviews Jerusalem: The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
  • Stephen Smith reviews Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America, by Richard White.
  • Ross Douthat reviews The Way.
  • Richard Brookhiser turns the page.
Sections
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .