The Craze to Canonize Mike Wallace

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Day after day, the big news — according to Yahoo, CNN, the old TV networks, and all the self-important newspapers — has been the sad demise of Mike Wallace, at the young age of 93.

Always he is called the “legendary” Mike Wallace, as if “legendary” were a title like Grand Exalted First Convener of the Muskrats’ Fraternal and Benevolent Association — an honorary title that for form’s sake must always be prefixed to the real name. Sounds good, means nothing — except, I’m afraid, to the fraternity of “newspeople” who put out this stuff.

Fools like Wallace were, and are, appointed to parrot the common opinions of a small circle of “opinion leaders.”

The man was a legend? He was a television “correspondent.” How can a man who read the news (or purported news) be the subject of some mysterious legend? If “legendary” is taken literally, it can only mean that to most Americans, his very being was mysterious; until now, most living people didn’t even know he existed. But to read the “news,” one would think that American peasants sat around the hearth fire every night, spinning yarns about Mike the Great.

Fortunately for the nation’s sanity, one of Wallace’s real, uh, um, accomplishments has now resurfaced. It’s a documentary about homosexuality that he concocted for CBS in 1967. In it, he opined:

“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of heterosexual marriage. His sex life — his love life — consists of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits, and even on the streets of the city. The pickup — the one night stand — these are the characteristics of the homosexual relationship.”

That was grossly and offensively untrue. It is untrue now; it was untrue then. It was known to be untrue to people who actually knew any gay people (which, however, Wallace did), or had read a book that went deeper into the mysteries of sexuality than, say, the collected sermons of Pope Pius XII. Wallace later insisted:

“That is — God help us — what our understanding of the homosexual lifestyle was a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that’s what we heard from doctors.”

But supposing it’s true that “nobody was out of the closet” (and some of the people whom Wallace encountered were out of the closet), and also that this is what everyone understood (which it wasn’t): why, if Wallace knew nothing more than the falsehoods that everybody else — i.e., “we” — appeared to know, did he appoint himself to announce those falsehoods from the papal chair of CBS, as if they were news?

Here’s what’s going on. Fools like Wallace were, and are, appointed to parrot the common opinions — that is, the callow beliefs, misinformed notions, strange hunches, weird superstitions, and flat-out hysterias — of a small circle of “opinion leaders.” That is the “we.” These people are not particularly well educated. They know little or nothing about history. They aren’t curious about it, either. Their knowledge of science (“what we heard from doctors”) is extremely limited and completely unskeptical. If they read a book, they look for something that will confirm their pre-existing views, especially their assumption that everything important or “legendary” will naturally pertain to people like themselves. They know little of normal human life, by which I mean not only the vast field of sexuality but also such commonplace and obvious matters as how money is made, the nature of governmental power, normal forms and practices of religious belief, the fact that people actually enjoy getting drunk (I have an academic book on my table that attempts to explain why people drink), the various reasons why people value guns and other means of self-defense, the reasons why young families might want to live in the suburbs instead of some “green” high-rise, the resistance of parents to new-fangled notions of education, and above all, the sullen resistance of normal people to being “educated” by dopes like Wallace.

Yet these people — the “we” — are advertised (by themselves!) as heroes and “legends.”

You can say this about every broadcasting or newspaper “legend” you find. Cronkite. Murrow. And the next one who dies. He’ll get no eulogies from me.




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Beyond Race

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A hundred years from now, historians will probably cite Barack Obama’s election to the presidency as a momentous victory in America’s struggle against racism. The arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown in 1619 and the election of an African-American to the presidency in 2008 make a nice pair of bookends. But of course, only in Hollywood is a story line so tidy. Neither history and nor the struggle against racism has reached an end. So: What will those future historians look back upon as the victory against racism that followed the election of Barack Obama? Here’s a thought.

The election of President Obama was caused, at least in part, by the fact that many of his white supporters felt good about voting for him because he is black. This feeling was not a secret. It was much discussed at the time. And there was nothing mysterious about it. Many white Americans felt, and still feel, a pang of guilt and shame about the historical treatment of black people in the United States. To cast a vote for a black candidate was a way of alleviating the sting, a means of atoning for the collective sins of the past. To support a black candidate was a way of saying, “I am not a racist.” The wave of euphoria created by this public affirmation swept over millions of enthusiastic white voters.

Caution is called for here. The subject of race is sensitive. To be fair, there were probably thousands of white voters who did not take into account Mr. Obama’s ethnicity when they voted for him. There were probably thousands more who voted for him in spite of his race. However many voters there were in these two groups, the following is not about them.

To accuse someone of harboring racist motives is a serious matter. Nevertheless, the truth must be told, and it is this: the extent to which a voter selects a candidate based on race is the extent to which that voter is guilty of racial bias. Racism is, after all, discrimination on the basis of race. To vote for or against any candidate because of that candidate’s race is, simply put, racist. For example, to vote for John McCain would be one thing, but to vote for him because he is white is quite another. Sorry for being so blunt, but there it is.

Now imagine how the current presidential campaign season would look if the Democratic incumbent were white and all other variables were unchanged. Bear with me.

The national debt is many trillions and rising fast. The annual deficit is a trillion-point-whatever. The fed is creating money (not wealth) like there’s no tomorrow. The unemployment rate is at some painfully high level and falling oh-so-slowly. Record numbers of twenty- and thirty-somethings live with their parents. Millions of mortgages are under water. College debts are astronomical. Federal entitlement programs are fiscal time bombs. Food grows more expensive weekly. Gas prices are through the roof. The EU is slowly fracturing. There is no sign of peace in the Middle East. The Arab Spring is a mess. Iraq is sliding back into authoritarianism. The Taliban is running out the clock. Iran is nuking up like North Korea. Russian democracy is dying in the cradle. Mexico is overrun by drug gangs. China is our manufactured-goods crack dealer and T-bill loan shark. There’s more, but you get the picture.

Now ask yourself: in this set of circumstances, would a white Democratic incumbent have a prayer of reelection? (Hint: No.) Why, then, is the president doing so well in the polls? I’ll say it: President Obama’s fairly rosy reelection prospects are the result of the same racial bias that put him in office in the first place. For most African-Americans, not to vote for him is out of the question. For many guilt-ridden white voters, not to vote for him would just be too painful.

Still, there is hope. A hundred years from now, historians may look back at the election of 2012 and say that the American electorate closed its eyes to race, endured the pangs of guilt, chose to do without the second wave of euphoria, and won a major victory in the struggle against racism by making Barack Obama a one-term president.




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Obamacare and Judicial Activism

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Last week the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument on whether to overturn Obamacare. I had written previously in Liberty that I suspected Obamacare would stand, and estimated a mere 1% chance of the vile, disgusting step towards socialized medicine being struck down.

But amazingly, Obama’s Solicitor General, who argued the case, was, by most accounts, totally incompetent. He got so tongue-tied that he had to be verbally bailed out by Justice Ginsberg — several times. He could not articulate a limiting principle for where the powers of government would stop if Obamacare stands. This frightened some of the justices (although, in fairness, no such limit can be articulated, because Obamacare is a slippery slope towards socialism.)

Most importantly, Justice Kennedy said things suggesting that he would probably vote to strike Obamacare down. Kennedy is the moderate justice who holds the crucial swing vote between four liberals (all of whom are thought to support Obama’s health care bill) and four conservatives (who are believed to oppose it). So the legal community now suspects that Obamacare is doomed. The so-called “individual mandate” is most likely going to die, and the entire convoluted, ungodly abomination might get dragged down with it, thus ending America’s nightmarish experiment with socialized medicine.

This is great news for libertarians and bad news for President Obama.

How did Obama respond? This is how: by holding a press conference in which he bullied the justices, threatening them with the charge that overturning his law would be “judicial activism” and noting that the Supreme Court is not elected whereas Obama’s Congress, which narrowly passed his healthcare plan, was elected. His statement contains two glaring flaws.

1. Yes, Congress is elected and the Supreme Court isn’t. That is the beauty of the Founding Fathers’ scheme, that the rights of individuals are safeguarded by courts which do not answer to the whims and emotions of the hysterical and easily manipulated masses. Yet voters had sent a clear message that they did not want Obamacare passed, when they elected Senator Brown of Massachusetts. The Brown election was widely viewed as a referendum on Obamacare. It was an election in which a Tea Party candidate won in a strongly left-leaning state. The bill only passed because of procedural maneuvering by the then-Democratic House. The 2010 election of the Tea Party House was a resounding rejection of Obamacare by the American people. Once again, Obama has a mass of facts wrong.

2. The practice of “judicial review,” the name for courts overturning unconstitutional laws, dates back to the famous case of Marbury v. Madison (1803). Since that case was decided, it has been well established that the courts have the power to overturn laws that violate the Constitution.

It is true, of course, that conservatives often bemoan “judicial activism,” and now Obama is bemoaning it. So what is the difference between judicial activism and judicial review? Is it merely that if you like it you call it judicial review and if you dislike it you call it judicial activism?

I do not believe that’s the truth. I would offer a deeper libertarian analysis: the Constitution of the United States was designed to limit the powers of government and protect citizens from the state, as a reaction by the American Revolutionaries to the tyranny of the British empire, which they had recently defeated. Democrats love to say that the Constitution is a “living document,” which means that the Constitution changes to reflect the desires of the public (which, they believe, have become ever more leftist since the American Revolution). But the meaning of the Constitution is clear, and it does not change. The argument to overturn Obamacare comes from the fact that Congress has only the enumerated powers given it by the constitution. Obamacare sought to use the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate “interstate commerce,” in order to effect a partial nationalization of the healthcare industry. But as I argued before, and as Justice Kennedy implied at oral argument, this is far beyond what the Commerce Clause and the cases interpreting it explicitly permit.

So it will not be judicial activism but judicial review, which consists of faithfully conforming the law to what the Constitution allows, if the Supreme Court overturns Obama’s health care plan. It is judicial activism when leftist judges follow the philosophy embodied in the legal theories called “legal realism” and “critical theory.” These theories hold that there is no such thing as an objectively correct or incorrect interpretation of the law, and therefore a judge is free to rule as his or her subjective feelings on morality and justice dictate (and note that somehow these feelings are almost always Marxist or leftist feelings).

Critical theory, which explicitly attacks the legitimacy of “legal reasoning,” is hugely popular on many law school campuses. Many of the lawyers and judges of the future may buy into it. But when the Supreme Court rules on Obamacare in June of this year, I hope it will be clear to the Marxists that they don’t run America quite yet.




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Somebody’s Gonna Win

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Our cleaning lady was smiling widely as she polished our dining room table. She was in such a good mood she didn’t drop or break a single goblet or plate on the granite kitchen counter — as was her custom, usually two a visit.

Had she finally found her Prince Charming? I impulsively asked Betty, let’s call her, “Why so happy?”

“I’m gonna win the Tennessee State Lottery,” she giggled, then uttered the declaration immortalized by losers: “Somebody’s gonna win — might as well be me.” The booty amounted to hundreds of millions, because counter to the mantra, nobody had won for eons. Today they’d pluck the lucky number out of a barrel. And Betty had 25 tickets. How could she lose? They only sold 100,000 or so.

Lotteries? A verification of Bastiat’s contention that the state’s one form of expertise is “plunder.” Whatta racket! Of course, you’ll find better odds at your local racetrack or casino. And to heighten the state’s hypocrisy: gambling is illegal in your own home. The letter of the law says you and your Wednesday night poker club can end up in jail, subsisting on grits and bread crusts.

It wouldn’t grate so badly on my sense of justice if the state solicited gambling gangs in a formal competition in which the main variable was payout vs. ticket income. As an 87% libertarian, I believe people should be allowed financial ruin if they so desire.

But it should not be sponsored by the same state that prohibits gambling. It prohibits theft, too, of course, but its main source of revenue is taxes — a euphanism for theft. Theft is theft, so what if they patch my street with tar every three years? They provide schools, too, but the real value of roads and schools and such services never quite equals the take from taxes. And you can’t sell hooch, either, but the state can.

By the way, I’m quite proud that my state, Alabama, amid flagrant corruption from the gambling lobby, rejected a lottery. It’s Tennessee that caved in. Coincidentally, the purchase of mansions, yachts, barrels of caviar, and Rolexes by state legislators skyrocketed. Supply and demand, you know. I’m waiting for the states to open up a string of escort services. Quite legal, if run by the state.




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The Latest EV News

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I like to stay informed on the latest developments in electric vehicles (EVs)—in other words, with the amazing idea of trying to resurrect a technology that died a century ago, with the advent of the internal combustion engine. EVs are a retro-idea so captivating to our genius president that he has been willing to lavish billions of taxpayer money on funding EV makers. It’s easy to play at being a venture capitalist when you’re using other people’s capital.

A new Wall Street Journal article reports that Azure Dynamics, a Canadian company that, in partnership with Ford, makes electric vans for sale in Europe and America, has stopped production of its e-vans and filed for bankruptcy. It did this in spite of receiving millions of dollars in federal grant money, including a recent $5.4 million grant to work on a new electric inverter.

Azure hit the wall after making a miserable 508 e-vans (and retrofitting 1,500 Ford vans to make them hybrids) this year, and only 800 last year.

Ford is now worried about who will service the damn things, and 120 of the company’s 160 workers are looking for work.

The WSJ piece also notes that recent sales of Nissan’s EV (the Leaf) and GM’s EV (the Volt) have been lousy. Fisker Automotive has had two recent recalls and is jonesing for another government loan. Its battery supplier, A123 Systems, has just issued a recall of its products, and is looking for suckers—pardon me, investors — to come up with $55 million to cover the recall.

Earlier this year, Bright Automotive went dim — it filed for bankruptcy when it could not get any more federal subsidies. Last year, EV maker Think Global failed miserably, leaving Indiana with a nice, empty factory. Think Globally, fail locally — what a great business model!




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The New Untouchables

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A recent study in the UK found that more than half of smokers lie to family and friends about the extent of their habit. And why wouldn't they? Anti-smoking sentiment is now so prevalent that cartoons are retroactively edited to delete animated cigarettes, and movies that still allow actual smoking are castigated with the same moral fervor once (and still) directed at X-rated films.

Nothing has helped me understand the social impact of stigmatizing “illegal drug users” as much as watching the stigmatization of smokers over the last decade or so. Quite apart from whether smoking is as damaging as reported, the marginalization of those who choose to do it has been instructive.

Once a socially respectable and sexy practice, lighting up a cigarette now converts the puffer into a pariah and even into a child abuser by means of the “toxic” secondhand smoke. Companies require smokers to conduct their filthy habit on the pavement outside, despite subzero weather. Some refuse to extend health insurance to smokers; others refuse to hire them at all. Public areas open to the wind and weather have been closed to smokers. Weighing the smoking-status of battling parents is a growing trend in child custody cases.

All this has occurred while cigarettes are still legal and tobacco companies reap billions in profits. While “victims” of obesity receive love and sympathy, “victims” of smoking receive hatred and contempt. And it has occurred despite the fact that — unlike illegal drugs — no one seriously accuses cigarettes of causing prostitution, theft, impaired driving, or reduced judgment. Nor are cigarettes a slippery slope to heroin. But despite the absence of such horrendous accusations, the smoker is despised and shamed. Even as she hands over more and more tax money for the privilege of consuming a legal product, the government targets the smoker with panic-inducing campaigns such as the one underway from the CDC, an agency that has invested $54 million tax dollars to promote televised “public service” announcements and posters with revolting images.

I've watched in wonder as society has created a reviled class of people virtually out of thin air.




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Impudence, Sir, Sheer Impudence

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In his history of England, the great classical liberal Thomas Macaulay continually used the word “impudent” to describe the proceedings of the English kings as they labored to find new ways of invading their subjects’ liberties. The word has ironic truth. We think of someone as “impudent” when he lodges obnoxious objections to the doings of people holding justified authority — but unjustified authority is impudence as well, and it is almost always worse.

This is the year of impudence.

President Obama impudently spends trillions he doesn’t have, and sends the bill to us, and future generations, as if only he and his friends mattered. His friends, in turn, spend virtually all their time telling us things that aren’t true, as if we weren’t smart enough to detect the fraud.

Government labor unions impudently insist that the nation, and the citizens of every state and city, must bankrupt themselves in order to provide luxurious retirements for people who, in many cases, impudently didn’t do a lick of work while they were “employed.”

Now justifiably-former Senator Santorum impudently lectures a nation of other adults about the evils of the “pandemic” of “pornography,” insisting that he knows it is “toxic” for marriages, “relationships,” and, I suppose, the birds and the bees, and promising that he will try to ban it.

Anyone who knows anything about what Santorum’s website calls “relationships” can think of some that may have been saved by the judicious use of “pornography.” (Yes, and some that may have been harmed. Is that the business of the law, or Sexologist in Chief Santorum?) And it would be funny, if it weren’t so cruel, to think about federal agents swooping down on some 90-year-old widower in North Dakota who, like the old bathtub-gin artists, whiled away his hours making his own dirty stories and pictures, and possibly purveying them to some other old degenerate.

But the major effect of Santorum’s remarks — nay, of his very being — is impudence, sheer impudence. Who does this man think he is? What item in the Republicans’ limited-government agenda does he suppose gives him, or any other politician, the right to act as Father Inquisitor to fellow adults?

Of all the year’s disgusting performances, this, to me, is the most disgusting, because it is the most impudent.

So far.




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A Step in the Right Direction

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When there is good news, I will report it. In our mathematically “challenged” country, when people add 2 and 2 and — finally! — get 4, I will celebrate. I’m just that kind of guy.

To the idiocy of recent American energy policy — to the extent we have ever had one — I have devoted considerable attention in these pages. I’ve criticized it under Bush, and even more under Obama, because while Bush’s policy (which was to encourage both fossil fuel and “green energy”) was partly idiotic (the green part), Obama’s (which has been to end fossil fuels and substitute only green energy) has been completely, insanely idiotic.

But the free market, led by entrepreneurs (as opposed to academics, bureaucrats, or other parasites), working primarily on private property (as opposed to public lands, which this administration has locked away), and using private capital (as opposed to taxpayer money), has created a Renaissance of oil and natural gas production.

Even as solar, wind, and biofuel energy has generally proven economically unviable even with massive taxpayer subsidies, the new, unconventional, fossil fuel production — from sources such as shale formations and oil sands deposits, by hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling — has proven very viable, commercially. It has proven viable, please note, despite a firestorm of new regulations created by the Obama administration, which is eager to choke it off.

That's good news. Here's more.

The symbol of our idiotic energy policy is surely the Chevy Volt, produced by a socialized auto company but poorly received by almost all of society. It has been so poorly received that Government Motors has announced that it is suspending production of the “Sparky Lemon.” Even with massive federal and state subsidies, the whole EV concept has been a flop.

But a recent article in the WSJ reports some good news. A number of car makers are producing cars and trucks that can run on compressed natural gas (CNG), that now inexpensive and clean-burning fuel.

Start with Chrysler. It is announcing plans to build a line of bi-fuel (gas and CNG) powered Ram trucks. And GM is announcing that it will build bi-fuel Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Siena pickups in the fourth quarter of this year.

Honda Motor Company (not being government-run!) is nimbler. It has been selling CNG Civics since 1998 at 200 dealerships spread over 36 states. The starting price for these cars is about $26,600.

Ford, which already for several years has been offering CNG conversion kits for some of its cars, has announced that it will start offering some of its pickups with the option.

CNG-powered vehicles make great sense (as I have argued elsewhere). We can get all the natural gas we need from domestic sources, and it is relatively cheap. Indeed, you can buy conversion kits for any car, and gas compressors for your garage. But it makes most sense if the automakers make the cars powered by CNG right on the factory floor. First, that saves money — pure CNG cars don’t need catalytic converters, for example. And there are economies of scale.

Widespread conversion will take years, because people will move to CNG vehicles only when there is a widespread network of gas stations with CNG pumps. Still, it is a welcome development.

If Obama were sincere when he says, “My administration will take every possible action to develop this energy [natural gas],” he would merit some praise, and I would be happy to supply it. The problem is that in this matter (as in many others), he is lying through his teeth. He has bitterly fought fracking, using every tool in his administration — the Department of the Interior, the SEC, the Department of Energy, and even the Department of Agriculture — while locking away as much public land as he could.

Let’s hope a Republican administration (should we be lucky enough to see it replace the current, benighted one) would truly encourage the transition of vehicles to natural gas, and this country to energy independence. Most of the Republican candidates at least get energy, whatever else they don’t get.




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They Shoot Owls, Don’t They?

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Some years ago, I wrote a piece in these pages about the infamous spotted owl. Under the misguided Endangered Species Act of 1990, the spotted owl was declared "endangered" (meaning, of course, "endangered by man"). As a result, the logging industry in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California was severely curtailed to “save” the bird. Tens of thousands of jobs were killed off, rates of alcoholism, divorce, and suicide spiked in the logging communities where formerly productive and proud loggers were reduced to living off the dole. Communities died.

But it turned out that the primary reason the spotted owl was dying was that another owl — the barred owl! — was moving in and taking over the wimpy spotted owl’s niche.

In short, it was natural biological evolution at work. As I noted then, 90% of all species that ever existed on this planet went extinct before hominids ever existed.

You would have expected hearings on this. You would have expected Congress investigate the bureaucrats who made a cold-blooded decision to terminate the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of victims. You would have expected that Congress would then grill the biologists who decided that it was the timber industry and not ordinary evolution that was to blame for the spotted owl’s plight. You would have expected panels of economists to testify about the cost to society of this stupid mistake.

But government almost never investigates its own mistakes and frauds. It prefers to investigate mistakes and frauds by private industry.

Indeed, when government makes a policy mistake, not only doesn’t it investigate itself, it just keeps pushing the policy further. A recent dispatch illustrates this with complete clarity.

The AP reports that even after shutting down much of the logging industry, the spotted owl continues its die-off. Its population in the Continental US has fallen by 40% in 25 years. The more aggressive barred owl just keeps taking over.

So the Obama administration, led by hardcore environmentalist Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar, has taken the next “scientific” step.

It has ordered the shooting of barred owls!

Yes, in the name of wildlife preservation, the Interior Department will start slaughtering wildlife! I mean, Kafka couldn’t have dreamt up this daffiness.

So the hard-ass, kick-ass barred owls are facing execution for daring to win the evolutionary race with the sensitive, limp-taloned spotted owls. No doubt Darwin is spinning in his grave.

Since these damned rodent-munchers are spread over 24 million acres of forest, we are talking about a hell of a lot of shooting.

What is even more absurd is that this administration — which intends to gun down the gangsta owl — is totally anti-gun.

Maybe Obama and Salazar could contact the Mexican drug lords whom Ken Holder's Justice Department helped to arm, and have them do the killings. It might be enough for Salazar to spread the rumor that the barred owls are importing drugs, thus challenging the hoodlums in their own ecological niche.

Just a thought.




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Who are the Real PIGS?

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As Europe continues to flounder, and as people continue to wonder whether (or more likely, when) Greece is going to default on its sovereign debt, various commentators have bandied the epithet “PIGS” (or “PIIGS”, depending on which nations a commentator wants to include).

By this acronym they refer to a group of countries — Portugal, Ireland, (Italy), Greece, and Spain — that have borrowed profligately, unlike such disciplined places as France, Germany, and the United States. What the miserable PIIGS need to do is start getting their snouts out of the troughlearn to manage their economies efficiently, as their betters do.

It’s obvious that the PIIGS need to liberalize their economies and better manage their fiscal houses. But the morally supercilious tone of the commentary annoys me. I don’t think the US or the major European states are in any position to be giving lectures. Their own levels of debt are outrageous, too.

A recent report brings the point home. If you don’t look at sovereign debt by sheer amount, but look instead at per capita debt — that is, take the aggregate national debt and divide it by the number of citizens in a country — you will see that the PIIGS aren’t as piggish as we are.

Spain’s per capita debt is $18,395. Portugal’s is slightly more, at $19,989. But France’s per capita debt exceeds these two by a wide margin. It’s $33,491.

Again, Greece is outrageous at $38,937, Italy at an amazing $40,475, and Ireland — Erin go Bragh!—at a staggering $43,887.

But the US, the paragon of fiscal rectitude, already stands at $44,215 per capita — more porcine than any of the PIIGS. And under Obama’s latest budget plan, that debt will reach $75,000 per capita (in current dollars) within a decade.

Americans can truly join the PIIGS as they squeal “Oink! Oink!”




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