Tag Archives: government spending

Government greed

The Economist observes:

Arthur Brooks, the head of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, feels that the real culture war in America today is not about gay marriage or abortion, divisive though those issues are, but about capitalism. Everyone agrees that Wall Street messed up last year, but many are disturbed by the expansion of government that followed the crash. Voters particularly dislike the way the state is using their money to reward deadbeats, says Mr Brooks. They themselves work hard and live within their means. They see their neighbour, who borrowed more than he could afford to buy a fancy house, getting a bail-out to save him from the consequences of his own poor judgment. They see reckless bankers getting bailed out too, and the ill-managed carmakers of Detroit likewise. And they resent it.

There is some truth in Mr Brooks’s analysis. The bank and car bail-outs were indeed unpopular. And the fear that the Democrats aim to make government too big, too expensive and too intrusive set off a wave of “tea-party” protests that is still rolling. Democrats have tried to dismiss the tea parties as motivated by racism, because Mr Obama is black. But racism cannot explain why the president’s approval rating has fallen this year. As Mr Obama observed: “I was actually black before the election.”

Some of the critics of big government are a bit hysterical. Glenn Beck, a talk-show host, foments panic and then urges listeners to buy gold from a company he endorses. Michelle Malkin, a blogger, has written a bestselling book about the Obama administration called “Culture of Corruption”. This is silly, but the rabble-rousers are popular because their audience has genuine grievances. Many working-class men have lost their jobs. Those who are still employed have seen their wages stagnate and their pensions shrivel in the stockmarket crash. Their health insurance is insecure, but they don’t trust Congress not to make it worse.

Working for the man

Meanwhile, they can see that one group of Americans has been practically unaffected by the recession: government employees. Their hours have not been cut, their benefits are gold-plated and they are almost impossible to sack. In good times, few Americans notice these things, but in bad times, the disparity grates. Cops and firefighters can retire in their 40s and draw defined-benefit pensions for life. With overtime, one tenth of the police in Massachusetts made more than the governor’s annual salary in 2006, according to the Boston Globe. Including benefits, the average employee of New York City makes more than $100,000, according to Forbes, while some Californian prison guards “sock away $300,000 a year”.

And what do taxpayers get for their generosity? The bad bargains get all the publicity. Union contracts force the postal service to pay thousands of unneeded workers to do nothing. In New York, public-school teachers who can’t be trusted to teach but can’t be sacked either are paid to sit and do crosswords.

One should not overstate the rage of taxpayers against public servants. Most Americans admire firemen, teachers and cops. They like receiving government benefits, too. And roughly half of them will pay no federal income tax at all this year. The problem is that this is not sustainable. During his election campaign, Mr Obama promised not to raise taxes on anyone except the rich, but with the deficit so vast, the question is not whether he will break this promise but when.

Connecticut has quadrupled state spending (in inflation – adjusted dollars) in the two decades since imposing an income tax on Fairfield County while the state population has remained static. Greenwich municipal employees, including teachers, have done very well, thank you, during that same period. Government never cuts costs or employees, it just soaks taxpayers more. The center will not hold.

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Recycling money

Our garbage is now worthless, making recycling a money-losing proposition. Cardboard that sold for $250 a ton just a year ago now sells for $50, according to an NPR article this morning, “if it can be sold at all”. The stuff’s piling up in warehouses, unwanted, all across our fair land, so this State Legislator’s observations struck me as ignorant and misguided – in other words, typical.

(From the Greenwich Post, which doesn’t provide links to its articles – smart, eh?)

State Rep. Alfred Camillo Jr. toured the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA)’s Single Stream Facility in Hartford last week, calling the technology “the way of the future.”

Single-stream recycling is the process in which paper and cardboard may be mixed with bottles and cans in a single recycling bin. Since single-stream recycling permits collection using 64-gallon wheeled barrels rather than the 14-gallon bins currently in use, people may now recycle more material.

Previously, all recyclables delivered to CRRA had to be separated, with newspaper, junk mail, cardboard and other paper products brought to one portion of the facility, and bottles, cans, jars and other containers brought to another portion.

CRRA sells recyclables to companies on the open market and those companies then turn them into new product. The Hartford facility is taking single-stream deliveries from 59 cities and towns, with qualifying municipalities receiving rebates.

“It makes it much easier for citizens to participate, incorporates more materials and has proven to be a huge success in the places it has been implemented around the nation,” Mr. Camillo said of single stream recycling. “If protecting the environment as well as becoming more financially efficient are the goals we are striving for, this concept is a winner.”

“While we are in dire economic times, the $6 million needed to retrofit the Bridgeport facility is an expenditure that will pay big dividends down the road,” he added. “We need to find that money at some point to allow us to go to the next level in recycling.” [emphasis added]

How far down the road does Camillo suggest we look? And why is it that, despite every new expenditure that we’re promised will save money “down the road” like health preventive mandates and the like, health care costs keep soaring? Where are the savings we’ve been promised all these decades?

UPDATE: See the comments for Mr. Camillo’s response.

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