And So here we are…

And now the Republican’s own it. What ever happens, whether their doing or not, the Republicans own what ever happens on their watch. It is filled with opportunity to turn our country away from an ever growing government rule over our personal lives back to greater personal freedom with a limited government safety net rather than an ever more extensive rulebook of what we can and cannot do. Donald Trump has demonstrated over his life that he ruthlessly pursues what benefits him with little to no regard for those he tramples on and little hesitation to use the powers of government for his personal gain. This history is set out in the attached article that I wrote thinking we were saying good-bye to Trump.

Hopefully some of Trump’s promises (deporting 11 million illegal aliens, blocking entry to Muslim’s, high tariffs on China—all of which would be devastating to our economy as well as illegal) will simply be forgotten. Some other promises (respectable Supreme Court appointments, reducing corporate income tax rate and other badly needed tax reforms, a more restrained foreign policy) would be very beneficial and should be adopted. Many promises were contradictory. David Ignatius reported in today’s Washington Post that: “A Trump foreign policy, based on his statements, will bring an intense “realist” focus on U.S. national interests and a rejection of costly U.S. engagements abroad…. Trump also promised repeatedly that he would step up the U.S. military campaign against the Islamic State and replace U.S. generals who were insufficiently combative. But he has been vague about what he plans to do in Iraq and Syria.” Let’s hope that we get the first Trump rather than the second one.

My hope (I am always inclined by nature to be hopeful) is that Congress—a Republican controlled Congress—will reassert its proper constitutional role and roll back the extensions of executive power we have suffered under George W and Obama. Trump’s “strong man, leave it to me” impulses risk abuses of executive authority every bit as much as Obama has or Hillary might have. My other hope is that Trump’s transition team, with sound thinking people like Ed Feulner, will staff Trump’s administrative departments with good people with good ideas. Trump is smart but ignorant of most conservative thinking about economic policy issues. Hopefully he rejects his earlier claim that he is his own advisor and listens to his government as well as David Ignatius’s admonition that: “Undoing globalization isn’t possible. But undermining America’s leadership in that system would be all too easy.”

Hillary Clinton’s beautiful concession speech could have been given by Ronald Reagan. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/2016/11/09/watch-live-hillary-clinton-addresses-supporters-after-defeat/93532872/. She said nothing that President Trump should disagree with and I wish him and his future administration the very best.

The Ugly Face of Capitalism

Capitalism is an economic system in which people, individually or in groups, can keep the fruits of their labor and in so doing can invest and deploy what they save from it to increase their output and thus income. In short, capitalists create value– things other people want– in order to improve their own incomes. The absolutely amazing accomplishment of capitalism can be glimpsed from the following, which I wrote two years ago: “World per capita income didn’t change much from the time of Christ to the founding of the United States ($444 to $650 in 1990 dollars), a period of 1,790 years. But in the following 320 years it jumped to $8,080. And about half of that jump came over the last 50 years.” https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/free-markets-uber-alles/

Capitalism involves relationships between people that we might call win-win. You make money when you produce something others want and will pay you for. Donald Trump presents another face of capitalism. Rather than a value creator, Trump prides himself on being a great bargainer. He was often playing a zero sum game. Rather than increasing the pie, he focused on increasing his share of the pie, thus reducing someone else’s share. As Andrew Sullivan put it: “[Trump] has no concept of a non-zero-sum engagement, in which a deal can be beneficial for both sides. A win-win scenario is intolerable to him, because mastery of others is the only moment when he is psychically at peace. (This is one reason why he cannot understand the entire idea of free trade or, indeed, NATO, or the separation of powers.)” http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/11/andrew-sullivan-trump-america-and-the-abyss.html

But Trump has not just bargained for better deals for himself, he has also often stolen them. It is not unusual, nor even necessarily a black mark, to fail in business and then to pick up and try again. Trump has many failures under his belt: Trump Shuttle, Trump: The Game, Trump Magazine, GoTrump.com, Trump Mortgages, Trump Steaks, Trump Super Premium Vodka, Trump University (over which he is being sued for fraud) and several Trump Casinos. Four Trump owned casinos in Atlantic City filed for bankruptcy: Trump Taj Mahal, 1991; Trump Castle Associates, 1992; Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts, 2004; and Trump Entertainment Resorts, 2009. But Trump was clever enough to generally lose other people’s investments rather than his own. He even claimed to make charitable contributions that were actually other people’s money and spent other people’s charitable contributions on himself. He probably has not paid federal income taxes for many years, but we cannot know for sure because he has not released his federal income tax returns.

More disturbing to the property rights foundation of capitalism is Trump’s use of the government’s right to seize property for “public” use under its eminent domain powers. When he was unable to convince private owners of property to sell it to him, he did not hesitate to turn to government to force them to: See the excellent article by Cato’s David Boaz: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/19/donald-trumps-eminent-domain-nearly-cost-widow-house as well as the article by John R. Lott, Jr. in the National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/431005/trump-eminent-domain.

According to USA Today: “Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will ‘protect your job.’ But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans.

“At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA TODAY NETWORK, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey.  A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.

“Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. That includes 21 citations against the defunct Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and three against the also out-of-business Trump Mortgage LLC in New York.  Both cases were resolved by the companies agreeing to pay back wages.

“In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s.  The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing….

Trump’s comment on his unpaid bills was that: “If a company or worker he hires isn’t paid fully it’s because The Trump Organization was unhappy with the work.”[1]

That Donald Trump received the Republic nomination for President and a large number of American votes despite his immoral behavior, rude comments about women, Hispanic, Muslims, threats of torture, and bombing the families of terrorists, etc., has damaged the United State’s image abroad. But he has damaged the image of capitalism as well. Trump’s business activities have been bullyish and exploitive and have not added value to the world as the counterpart to his wealth in the normal and laudable tradition of capitalism. The damage from Trump’s campaign is wide indeed.

[1] Steve Reilly, USA Today, 06/09/2016 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/06/09/donald-trump-unpaid-bills-republican-president-laswuits/85297274/

Our Unsupportable Empire

Most of you are grudgingly aware that the U.S. government has promised us more than we want to or can easily pay for.  China is no longer willing to fill the gap knowing that we will not be capable of repaying it.  This is on top of the existing national debt from past borrowing to cover the government’s current and past spending in excess of its revenue of $16 trillion, about the same as the United States’ total annual output.  These numbers pale in comparison with the government’s unfunded commitments (those not covered by the revenue expected from existing tax laws and user charges) to future retirees and recipients of medical care (social security, medicare and Medicaid). The present value of the revenue short fall to pay for these future commitments (the government’s unfunded liabilities) is currently around $50 trillion for an astonishing total debt of around $66 trillion, which is larger than the total annual output of the world per year.

Naturally, these promises must be pared back because they can’t be paid for. To some extent a healthy, growing economy will also increase our capacity (lighten the burden) to pay for them but by itself growth will not be enough. This is one, but only one, of the reasons that we also need to reconsider our military promises around the world, while reducing and reorienting our military budget and modestly increasing our diplomatic (State Department) expenditures.

Our promise to provide security to most of the world suffers from the same moral hazard as does an overly generous welfare state.  Incentives matter. When access to welfare is easy and the level of support is generous, more people will choose it over taking a job that doesn’t interest them much.  When President Bill Clinton signed “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996” (PRWORA) on August 22, 1996 (with strong Republican support), he fulfilled his campaign pledge to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” The law ended welfare as an entitlement by introducing tighter conditions for receiving it. Welfare costs dropped following adoption of the law. “A broad consensus now holds that welfare reform was certainly not a disaster–and that it may, in fact, have worked much as its designers had hoped.”[1] While some people remain skeptical, Sweden’s welfare reforms of the last two decades have demonstrated very similar results.[2]

The United States spends more on its military than the next 14 largest military spenders combined (China, Russia, UK, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Turkey). We are policing/protecting most of the world. This has two negative effects. The first, similar to chronic welfare recipients, is that other nations spend less on their own defense, taking a free ride on the United States’ ability to keep the world safe for everyone else. The second is that by diverting so much of our productive resources into the military, we reduce the resources available for developing and strengthening our economy. It is our powerful economy that underlies our influence in the world as much, if not more, than our military power. Moreover, our military might is made possible by our economic power. So we need to get the balance right. I urge you to read David Ignatius’ recent discussion of this issue in The Washington Post, (“The foreign policy debate we should be having”, Oct 21, 2012, page A15)

But there are more reasons that our military adventurism and spending should be reduced and more resources given to diplomacy. Our national security and the freedoms America was founded to establish and protect will be strengthened as a result.

American hegemony rests largely on our economic and military power, but also on widespread respect for the American way of life (our respect for human freedom and dignity and our prosperity). Our efforts to promote democracy via military interventions have generally not gone well.  The talents and spirit of enterprise that have served us so well at home have not generally contributed to success in building new democratic nations where we have militarily intervened. Books like Joseph Heller’s, Catch 22 (about WWII) and movies like Robert Altman’s Mash (about Viet Nam) entertainingly introduced us to the bureaucratic problems of fighting and/or governing in foreign lands. We have the best trained and most well equipped military history has ever known, but it has failed for the last ten years to win in Afghanistan, which is now the longest war in American history. Our powerful military is not good at nation building, nor should we expect it to be. The military is not the right tool for promoting the values we believe in around the world. That is a job for diplomacy (with our powerful military well in the background).

We have been more successful at promoting our values and our economic interests through our promotion of and participation in international organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization and a wide range of international agreements and cooperation that facilitate free trade, and capital movements, and that extend the protection of property and human rights internationally. These organizations and agreements have developed the international legal frameworks for telecommunications, patents, financial and product standards, etc. that underlie the explosion of globalization that has dramatically raised the standard of living for much of the world’s population.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, has written an excellent exposition of our military efforts in Afghanistan, which I urge you to read “Afghan security forces rapid expansion comes at a cost as readiness lags” (The Washington Post, Oct 21, 2012, page 1). Every few years America’s military strategy has changed: from counter terrorism, to counter insurgency, to building and training (and equipping) an Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. As each approach fails, the Joint Chief’s extract the lessons learned and try a new one until it fails. In recent years, our military commanders have correctly emphasized the fact that “success” cannot be achieved by the military alone (it amazes me that anyone could have thought so – no wonder they are so eager to start wars).

But those are far from the only reasons for reducing our military footprint and budget. I believe in keeping government relatively small and encumbered with the organizational and political checks and balances meant to replace the role of competition in the private sector in bending self-interest to the public good. People are influenced by their self-interest whether they are in government or the private sector. However, in the private sector success comes from serving the needs of others in the market. This exerts a strong incentive on individual behavior. (Dishonesty can exist in either sector and can only be addressed by embracing appropriate moral standards and consistent punishment of breaches of those standards) In place of market discipline (acceptance or rejection), government must rely more on checks and balances to ensure that government officials behave as intended and they can only go so far to keep government honest and impartial in serving the public. The power of the government to coerce, and the expenditure of large sums of money by the government create enormous temptations for personal gain by those in positions of power in the government. The bigger government gets the more difficult it is to prevent some in government from yielding to the temptations to direct its power and money to their own good rather than the general good.

The firms in our large and important military support industry (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Halliburton, United Technologies, Computer Sciences, BAE Systems, General Electric, Bechtel, and Honeywell International, to name a few), do not have a disinterested view about the most appropriate and cost-effective military technology the defense budget should provide for. The millions of dollars they spend attempting to influence the choices of the services and congress are, in a sense, “honest” efforts to promote their self-interested view of what best serves our national security. The growing behemoth of the industrial military complex of which Eisenhower warned us over fifty years ago now both defends and threatens our liberties. See my earlier comments on Ike’s famous farewell address: http://dailycaller.com/2011/01/17/ikes-farewell-address-fifty-years-on/

The risks of the misallocation of our resources and waste are directly related to the size of our military (and government more generally). The boundary between honest differences of opinion over the best military equipment and systems and simple cronyism is fuzzy.  Consider, for example, the recent award of a large contract to build 100,000 homes in war-torn Iraq to HillStone International, a newcomer in the business of home building. When its president David Richter was asked how the newcomer swung such a big deal, he replied that it really helps to have “the brother of the vice president as a partner” (James Biden).[3] It would not be fair to disqualify bidders because they are friends or relatives of high government officials (As Afghan President Karzai’s brother Mahmoud said to us with regard to the shares of Kabul Bank given to him by its founders. The Bank is now in receivership as the result of the bank lending 95% of its deposits to its shareholders), but how can you tell what is merit and what is cronyism?

My point is that the defense budget needs to be on the table when our elected officials finally confront the cuts that must be made to the government’s expenditures to save the country. Defense spending needs to be cut not just because we can’t afford it, but also because our oversized military is weakening our economic base on which both our military and our political power in the world rest. And perhaps most important of all, over reliance on military power to the exclusion of diplomacy has actually weakened our security and standing in the world.


[1] The New Republic, editorial September 4, 2006, page 7.

[2] The Economist, “Sweden: The New Model” October 13, 2012.

Leading from behind in Libya

The U.S does not own what happens next in Libya, and the prospects for a good outcome are better because of that.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have come out well with the limited role they gave to U.S. support of the now victorious Libyan insurgents. President Gaddafi was removed from power (and life) without the help of American boots on the ground. It was a victory by Libyans and the outcome, and they are just at the beginning of chapter two, will be theirs to celebrate or lament.

The American approach this time around has several advantages. The hit on our over taxed budget was small and is likely to remain small. But more importantly, the resentment that always follows eventually when our (or any ones) troops occupy a country will be missing. This will also contain long run costs and improve American security.

More important still is the almost certainty that the prospects for Libya to develop a liberal democracy that respects its citizens are larger if they must build it themselves. If they fail, that will be theirs as well.  A viable government that respects human rights cannot be simply stepped into no matter how good a model we might give them. It must be the product of give and take and negotiation amount competing Libya groups. Libya is now entering into such an internal struggle. We should take the side of proper principles of government and human respect, but not the side of a particular group. President Obama’s reserve in limiting American involvement makes such a process among Libyans possible. It will not be easy and I wish them well.