Thursday, November 04, 2010


Sound-bite Masquerade

I've noticed that many people use favorite quotations, or "sound-bites," to express principles that they believe to be very important or compelling.  These people will use such a quote to make a point in a political argument.  I've undertaken a hobby of collecting them and I'm starting my collection with this post.

Governments should learn to live within their means, just as we do as family members.  This expression is used in a discussion of the deficits run year after year by the federal government and many States, particularly California.  The speaker means that the solution to the deficit is simple: cut expenses.  The speaker never gives a thoughtful list of programs to cut or abolish.  He or she may give a list of a few well-publicized examples of waste or fat in government, such as providing free car washes for government employees.  It doesn't matter that eliminating the free car washes will reduce the deficit by less than 0.001 percent.  That is the only solution offered.  A more thoughtful response to the deficit problem is to discuss both ways in which major expenses can be eliminated, such as closing the prisons or the schools, as well as ways in which revenue can be increased.  A government is not like a family.  A family can lose its home and declare bankruptcy.  A government can not go bankrupt.  A family can not make modest increases in its income.  A government can increase taxes.

Only private businesses can create jobs.  To me this is a surprising assertion.  The speaker will often in the same conversation comlain about all the public employees and how much government has to pay them.  To me these employees have jobs.  They perform activities that are generally useful to me as a citizen and resident.  Public employees carry the mail.  Public employees repair potholes.  Public employees teach our children.  In California public employees maintain and repair the State's highways and freeways.  Governments contract with private firms to build bridges, canals, highways, new educational buildings, new prisons, and the like.  To me that activity seems an awful lot like creating and maintaining jobs.

Liberals have no interest in creating wealth.  They just want to divide it up.  This speaker typically is arguing that we "liberals" want to rely on government too much and have disdain for private business.  I can think of many things that governments have done that either created wealth or provided facilities that enabled private businesses to create wealth.  After the Civil War the American government provided railroad companies a subsidy just for building railroads.  The American government created the Panama Canal.  Governments have built highways, bridges, the internet, postal systems, dams, and many other facilities that have enabled others to create wealth.  Many of these projects were supported by liberals who were willing to have governments spend money on projects that no private business could undertake.  A private business can not fund the building of a bridge unless it is a toll bridge, so that stockholders would have a return on their investment.  If a private firm built a toll bridge, it would locate the bridge in a place where there was bound to be heavy traffic.  Bridges in remote locations would never be constructed and many rich areas of the country would remain inaccessible.  Bridges in such locations have to be built with government funds.

This is the beginning of my list.  Dear Readers, you are welcome to add your own favorite sound bites to the list.



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