What do you expect from the government?

Nov 6, 2014

New York, New York

    The best thing I like about human beings is that they stack so neatly.
    House of Cards
Dear Diary,

This morning, before we left for New York, there were at least 20 big trucks parked around the square, in front of our building in Baltimore. Crews dressed in black unloaded boxes, wires, booms, derricks...filling up the sidewalks with equipment of all sorts.

"What's going on," we asked at the office.

"They're filming a piece of 'House of Cards.' It's supposed to take place in Washington. But this looks a like Washington. And it's much cheaper and easier to film here."

The main characters in the show - politicians, journalists and Washington fixers and Capitol Hill aparatchiks -- are unscrupulous, opportunistic, merciless, murderous and nasty. We had to stop watching; it was too much like real life. Except that most of the people who play these parts in real life are not nearly as clever, bold or attractive.

When we were 10 years old our teacher told us that anyone of us could grow up to become president. We looked around the room and wondered. But now, seeing who gets elected, we believe she was right.

No impediment - moral or intellectual -- is such a handicap that it prevents getting elected. No character failing, no matter how grave, stands in the way of the Capitol or the State House... No lack of charm, intelligence, or humor prevents a successful career in politics. It was remarked of Vice President Hubert Humphry that the only thing standing between him and the presidency was a heartbeat. But a beating heart is the only real requirement, too.

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Of course, that's also the only requirement for voting.

Every half wit and chisler has suffrage. In a properly functioning democracy, people with a personal interest in the outcome excuse themselves. They have a conflict of interest, a conflict between what is good for them and what is good for everybody else. That is still the protocol for civilized groups, be they corporate boards or church vestries. People with their own dog in the fight 'declare an interest' and go wait outside until the vote is over. But in modern politics, everybody gets to vote, no matter how many dogs they have scrapping for handouts. And guess what? They vote their own interests.

That is the conclusion of Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban who wrote a book about it...and an article in the New York Times:

    Unemployed people are more than twice as likely as people working full time to want unemployment benefits increased. African-Americans are by far the most likely proponents of affirmative action and government help for African-Americans. Rich white men are especially likely to oppose income redistribution...
What do you expect from such a government? Everyone pretends to be acting for the good of the country - politicians and voters alike -- and they are all looking out for Number One.

The newspapers reported that Tuesday was a big day for Republicans. But it was a bigger day for zombies. Red states...blue states...the zombies won everywhere. As you know, zombies do not produce; they take from producers. Politics is their method of choice.

Yesterday, we explained how young people get a bum deal. Over time, more and more special interest groups find ways to use government to keep out new competitors. The young are always new. They are shut out.

They can't get a job because the economy isn't growing; since 2000 the rate of growth, 1.8% per year, is only half the rate of the second half of the 20th century. The economy won't grow because too much output has already been claimed by old people; debt and debt-like social welfare costs depress growth. Existing jobs are already held by old people too. And it's tough to start a business of your own, because the geezers have stymied competition with high hurdles to new entrants - regulations, licensing, certifications...insurance, taxes, labor rules...

The old folks make up for their lack of energy and imagination with treachery and cunning. They usually have the candidates in their pockets before election day. Old people have accumulated property and privileges. They vote for people who promise to help them keep what they've got. And the cleverest of them also bid for the candidates directly. That's how Mitch McConnell raised $31 million for his re-election campaign. The Blackstone Group, for example, was his single major contributor. It put in $227,000. Wall Street as a whole ponied up $2.1 million. The insurance industry tossed McConnell another $1.2 million bone. What return did they expect on their investment? We don't know. But Steve Schwartzman, CEO, 67 years old, is surely expecting something.

Creative destruction can wait. McConnell, 72, urged voters to support Republicans in the elections to 'end gridlock.' This was very similar to Barack Obama's fraudulent appeal to support "change." But change is the last thing either of them wants to deliver. They're at the top; they want to stay there.

Senator McConnell's top five donors, in addition to Blackstone, include two other Wall Street firms, JP Morgan Chase and Elliot Management, and two health care collossii, Humana and Kindred Healthcare. Together, they put in nearly a half a million dollars. The return on investment must be huge. A single grid, locked up nicely by McConnell et al, could earn billions in profits for these companies.

Surprising, to us at least, is that the security industry was so cheap. It invested only $23 million in buying candidates in this last mid-term election, according to OpenSecrets.org. But this is probably because the security industry does such a good job of scaring the voters and has such a complete lock on the Capitol anyway, it doesn't need to buy the candidates; in effect, they are already bought and paid for.

Most voters make their decisions like investors - based on fear, greed and self interest. They fear Ebola, ISIS and drug crazed loonies. And they want free pills, a better retirement than they could afford, and cheap cable TV. They vote for whomever makes the most convincing promises. This year it was the Republicans.

Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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