Back to the Constitution?

There’s a popular movement among libertarians – I mean republicans – encouraging us to go back to the constitution as the recipe for fixing government. The idea is that, government should not be involved in anything not specifically outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

While the notion has surface appeal, a little investigation shows it’s one of the dumbest ideas around.

The most vocal proponents of Constitutional Fundamentalism have a habit of stating that anything not explicitly stated in the document is unconstitutional. The problem here, is one would have to presume the framers were capable of forecasting every conceiveble issue that might concern our government. There are speakers touring the country lecturing the locals (presumably too ignorant to read the Constitution themselves)  that agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Education aren’t mentioned per se, and therefore are unconstitutional.

Following this logic, NASA, the air force, social security, medicare, the National Science Foundation, FBI and many other programs are also unconstitutional. The idea that our forefathers sought to restrict government so severely as to constrain quality of life is ludicrous. These were fairly bright men; they didn’t write in crayon. They wanted a government that could enhance quality of life, not exclude it from doing so.

Another anachronistic notion is that, because God is referenced in the constitution, the framers intended a Christian state. Now, many authors have shared (convincingly) the historical context verifying our forefathers’ preference for separation of church and state, but here’s a different thought. The proponents of this idea must think the framers were idiots, incapable of stating their preferences. Somehow, the framers lost sight of the fact they were writing a document constituting our national framework. They probably wrote some good stuff and went to lunch. When they came back, they were going to say we would have a Christian nation, but they were tired so they just doodled in the margins until the bell rang. Or maybe they forgot Jesus’ name and just wrote ‘God’ next to something so people would think they were serious. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think they did a grand job of stating their ideals and preferences and the absence of a state religion was intentional. Alas, since the did not write there shall be no state religion(s) dominionists, libertarians, conspiracy theorists, and illiterates everywhere will impute the desire for an American theocracy. Interestingly, many theologists suggest our Christian God is the same one the Jews worship, which is also the God of Islam. The divergence stems from identification with Jesus, Moses, or Muhammad. Since none of them are mentioned, any of these religions could be implied by the same logic. Its bad logic in all cases.

The interpretation of the constitution as a limiting document is surprising coming from people with a legal background. Michelle Bachmann, for example, has a law degree. Most attorneys are familiar with the words “including, but not limited to…” which are common to legal documents where the authors want caveats to be binding beyond what they can envision in the moment. It allows a clause to be expansive, covering future circumstances that are not clear today.

And there’s the rub. Either the constitution is a broad document – including but not limited to our experience thus far – with applications beyond the day of writing, or it is not.  Including and limited to what we can conceive of, but no further… is little more than a laundry list – an inventory of what the government can and cannot do, and limited by the experience of those who penned it. And, while a discussion about the role of government is in order, a discussion of the verity of the constitution should not be.

This reductionist approach to the government, rationalized by diminishing the constitution in a fundamentalist way, is the province small minds. Those willing to think for a few moments will surely dismiss it. Those running for office on this platform should be run out of town.

The Jobs Plan. Will it work?

Last night the President outlined proposals for job creation that have historically gained bipartisan support. In this era of polarization, however, a history of bipartisan support does not suggest more of the same. Today the politicking will resume.

And while we expect rigorous debate on the merits of any plan, there is a difference between politics and governance. In politics, you can get away with slinging ideas and theories (especially ideas presented as “facts”). But governing involves the application of these notions, and evaluating them requires walking through the likely impacts to weigh their relative merits. An idea is only as good as it’s application. Right now, economic plans need to be vetted specifically for how they will affect the economy and jobs in the short term in order to gauge their value.

Today, economic growth is the #1 priority, and creating jobs is the holy grail. There are competing theories on how best to do this. The President is proposing a plan emphasizing construction jobs and investments in infrastructure. This approach involves putting people to work so they can spend their wages buying goods and services. The economic benefit hinges on a multiplier effect which circulates money through the economy. This happens when workers spend their paychecks on groceries, haircuts, clothes, or going to the movies. The people they buy from are also getting paid. They, in turn, will spend their income on dining out, school supplies, home improvements, etc.. The effectiveness of this approach hinges on the notion that putting more people to work will enable them to consume. And since consumption is 70% of the economy, it would need to be a broad effort. Walking through the application of this proposal, putting cash into workers pockets is a mixed bag. Many people are not spending, but paying down debt and saving more. But unemployed people getting back to work are a different matter – they do spend more. And with 35% unemployment in the construction industry the benefits of a multiplier effect are real. To the extent we put people back to work, the odds of realizing real benefits are very high. But its not a half measure, the scope of the investment needs to be very broad.

The alternative theory is that cutting taxes (without increasing the deficit means cutting government) will put more capital to work in the private sector. Less government will remove the constraints on job growth. This theory holds great appeal. It attempts to link lower taxes to a stronger economy in a general fashion. As far as job creation  specifically, it relies on the notion that companies paying lower taxes will use those savings to hire more workers. Again, to evaluate the theory we need to walk through its ramifications.

In recent years, cutting corporate taxes has not resulted job growth domestically. Indeed, tax rate and profitability can be correlated, but correlation between tax rates and domestic employment is harder to demonstrate. Today, companies are (wisely) sitting on their profits until increased demand for their goods and services justifies hiring. And when they do hire its not always in the United States. Cutting taxes in general has not created jobs. Entities who (can afford to) pay taxes do benefit, but those lower on the socioeconomic ladder do not. In practical terms, those realizing savings from lower taxes are stashing away the excess and depriving the economy from the benefits of a multiplier effect, and increasing the wealth gap. Further, if lower tax rates equated to a robust economy, our economy would be roaring right now. Taxes are at their lowest rates since the 1950s and we are mired in recession. Countries like Germany and Denmank, on the other hand, have much higher taxes are comparitively strong. While cutting taxes has boosted to the economy in the past, it is not working now – despite the popularity of the message.

One other conflict is that cutting government is cutting jobs. Measurable reduction of government does not come from “reducing waste and inefficiency” but from cutting budgets, departments – and jobs. And, if creating jobs in the near term is crucial to economic growth, someone needs to explain how cutting jobs creates them. This issue is largely absent from the public discussion, but on it’s face is nonsensical. In the long term, we need balanced budgets and smaller deficits. This goes without question as the current trend of overspending is not sustainable. Cutting government to fix the economy holds ‘grand gesture’ appeal – one simple act and the economy will be healed – but has been remarkably ineffective of late.

In governance, an idea is only as good as it’s application. And walking through these approaches suggests pumping money into the economy through direct job creation leads to economic benefit in the short term. At the same time, general cuts in taxes and government do not create clear benefits immediately and will likely harm a recovery. In the short term, job creation trumps debt. And while the recipe for long term success lies in reducing deficits, they will be easier to address if we strenghten the economy through job creation first.

Fareed Zakaria – the Debt Ceiling

Did you know that Denmark is the only other country with a debt ceiling? I didn’t.

Here is an excellent description of the issue, while admitting we need to get spending under control. But its a shame we’ve decided to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Fareed’s Take: The damage is already done! – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs.

Politics

With such polarization in the country there’s plenty to complain about. Just for the fun of it, let’s add to the noise.

  • If you’re willing to play brinkmanship with the debt ceiling, you’re putting your political interests ahead of the nation’s economic interests
  • If you’re not talking about entitlements in a debt deal, you’re not serious
  • If Obamacare is socialist, so is medicare
  • If you’re against Obamacare and on medicare, you have no integrity
  • If a governmental system is based on compromise and one party decides there can be no compromise, the system will stop working
  • Corrollary: Parties taking a “no compromise” stance are ill-equipped for political office
  • If accepting government support is socialism, then paid politicians are socialists

Who owns America? Hint: It’s not China – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs

Who owns America? Hint: It’s not China – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs.

An interesting breakdown of where America’s debt is held. And China still owns an extraordinary amount…

What’s Being Done to Keep Good People

In this article from ERE, the survey shows a collection of items designed to retain good employees. 

Whats Being Done To Keep Good People? Apparently very little – perhaps because not much can be done within the structures we have. And while I’ve never complained about getting a raise, more of the same is no answer to the fundamental problems creating a disengaged workforce. The underlying problem is how work is organized. According to the survey  ‘more career opportunities’ is the only tactic that might address the engagement issue – the E-Factor – which is our primary challenge. More salary and bonus opportunities are nice. But what if the best employees are merely those most able to ward off boredom and march forward with some energy despite a steady diet of constant repetition? Instead of focusing on the small sphere of rewards, we should either isolate the immunity gene for disengagement, or adjust how work is organized. 

Here’s the article:

Whats Being Done To Keep Good People

by Todd Raphael    May 12, 2011, 1:15 pm ET

Buck Consultants asked 91 companies what they’re doing to retain top performers. In a nutshell:

New career development opportunities 41%
Market pay adjustments 30%
Larger base pay increases 24%
Larger bonus opportunities 21%
More non-cash recognition 18%
Additional company stock 13%
Accelerated or off-cycle base pay increases 5%
Accelerated promotions 4%
Greater retention bonuses 2%
Other 7%
None of the above 31%

Industry varied, as did company size. About 14% of respondents had less than 500 employees; 6% had 500-1,000 employees; 36% had 1,001 to 5,000; 14% 5,001 to 10,000; 31% more than 10,000.

Getting Results Without Face Time – The Juggle – WSJ

Getting Results Without Face Time – The Juggle – WSJ.

While we’re on the subject of reorganizing work – an article with a real world example, along with positive impacts shown in lower turnover (and presumably greater job satisfaction).