Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Waxman-Stupak Letter

Because the volume of traffic downtown and the resultant noise and air pollution had become intolerable, the speed limit was lowered to tenty miles per hour and concrete "speed bumps" were installed to prevent cars from exceeding it...the lower speeds forced cars to travel in second rather than third gear, so they were noisier and produced more exhaust. Shopping trips that used to take only twenty minutes now too thirty, so the number of cars in the downtown area at any given time increased markedly. A disaster? No - shopping downtown became so nerve-racking that fewer and fewer people went there...even though the volume of traffic gradually went back to its original level, the noise and air pollution remained significant. To make matters worse, during the period of increased traffic, word had gotten around that once-a-week shopping expeditions to a nearby mall on the outskirts of a neighboring town were practical and saved time...downtown businesses that had been flourishing now teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. Tax revenues sank dramatically. The master plan turned out to be a major blunder, the consequences of which will burden this community for a long time to come.
- Dietrich Dormer, The Logic of Failure

I said yesterday that I want to address Henry Waxman's letter, and I do. As I work through it, though, I find that there's one sentence so egregious that nothing else seems to matter. Yes, he dishonestly cites the CBO, but that's been done, and I don't feel any particular urgency to redo it right now. Yes, he clearly misrepresents the Business Roundtable "report," and I could walk through that, but again, that particular dishonesty1, in context, pales in comparison to the rest of the letter.

So where's the big problem? Right up front. Here, in paragraph one, is the item that most warrants comment.
One of the top priorities of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be to ensure that the law is implemented effectively and does not have unintended consequences.
The arrogance of that statement is breath-taking. Staggering.

If you've followed me for any length of time, you've heard me talk about unintended consequences. More specifically, I talk about the "law of unintended consequences." I believe that it is a "law," just as gravity is a law. Bugs Bunny could disobey the law of gravity (because he "never studied law") but Henry Waxman would have as a good a chance of disobeying the law of gravity as he does of disobeying the law of unintended consequences. Every time that anyone does anything, there are consequences. Some of them are intended - after all, there's a reason that you took the action. But some of them are not. They may be ancillary, they may be unimportant, but they occur.

Go look at that introductory paragraph again. That's a very typical result of a "master plan." It's from the introduction of an outstanding book, which I guarantee that neither Henry Waxman or Barack Obama has ever read. The idea that Congress can pass a 2000+ page law (about absolutely any topic whatsoever) increasing taxes and regulations on activities which touch virtually every citizen, and which covers approximately one-sixth of the American economy, and that there wouldn't be "unintended consequences" is so farcically unrealistic that I almost cannot believe that he put it into a letter.

People respond to incentives. When behavior is subsidized, you get more of it. When behavior is punished, you get less of it. If you give corporations a tax break or subsidy for keeping retirees on their medical plans, you'll get more corporations doing so. Take away the subsidy and it becomes more expensive for them to do so, and then you'll get fewer corporations doing so. In the 1990 tax deal that effectively ended George H. W. Bush's re-election hopes, the Congress passed high taxes on luxury boats in order to increase tax revenues. The result of that was that people who wanted, and could afford, luxury boats then bought and harbored them offshore, boat-builders went out of business, and tax revenues dropped. The was not the intent of the law, of course. It was just one of the unintended consequences. Subsidize teen pregnancy, because you want to be kind and humane to pregnant teenagers, and you end up with more of it. Subsidize single-motherhood, you get more of it. With all of the social ills associated with it. Make a design decision that you only need two digits to represent the year in your database because memory's expensive, and you have to invest massive resources redoing it as you approach the end of a century.

You cannot see all of the impacts of what you're doing. You try, you do the best you can, but you cannot see them all. No one can. It is not possible. Congressman Waxman is as likely to leap the Capitol Dome in a single bound as he is to prevent "unintended consequences" of this piece of legislation, and the fact that he's willing to say that he can is indicative of a severe mental problem. He either a) doesn't know what he's saying (in which case he's stupid) or b) knows what he's saying and doesn't really believe it (in which case he's lying) or c) knows what he's saying and does believe it (in which case he's both stupid and incredibly arrogant).

Obviously, whichever of those is the truth, the letter reflects poorly on Congressman Waxman (and Congressman Stupak [the father of taxpayer funded abortion]). It is a blatant attempt to browbeat and intimidate private citizens and private enterprizes going about doing their business. And it's prima facie evidence that those "Representatives" ought not hold the positions that they hold.

1 - To be fair to Congressman Waxman, maybe he isn't intentionally misrepresenting the Business Roundtable report. Maybe he just doesn't understand what it says and when it was written. Suffice it to say that it doesn't say what he represents it as saying.

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