Monday, November 2, 2015

Economic fear makes governments do bad things

     Being a Democrat, I know the government sometimes does good things.
     In Illinois, for example, the state supports programs for residents with disabilities, services for the blind, transportation for those with limited mobility.
     Or did, before the economic crunch prompted our leaders to push those people over the side of our foundering ship of state. You can't blame Bruce Rauner for this; Pat Quinn started peeling the fingers of the needy off the gunwales. Rauner just picked up where Quinn left off, and he seems to relish the process.
     Which I suppose points to the true essence of government, like every human activity: some good (helping the disadvantaged) and some bad (deep-sixing the needy).
     Though sometimes governments do things that are purely bad.
     For instance China. In the 1970s, panic over population growth — we thought we'd all be shuffling through dense cities crawling with people — inspired Chinese leaders to require that couples bear only one child. That grotesque intrusion into the intimate lives of their citizens was finally reversed last week, and so the news was filled with stories of the decades of horror that the rule imposed — compulsory sterilizations and forced abortions, infanticide — preference for sons prompted couples, particularly in the countryside, to murder their infant daughters. Life magazine ran a haunting photograph of a baby left in a forest. Some American tourists had found the baby and took her to a hospital, which returned the infant to the woods to die.
     That kind of awfulness overshadowed two very significant aspects of the Chinese policy that deserve attention.
     First, it didn't work. The birth rate in China in 1970, before the One Couple/One Child rule was begun, was 33 births per 1,000 population.
     By 1998, China's birth rate had fallen to 15 births per thousand, cutting its birth rate by more than half.
     Which would be impressive, except other countries, without the draconian One Child rule, had nearly the same result or more. South Korea's birth rate was 31 per 1,000 in 1970; in 1998 it was 14 per 1,000.
     In Thailand the change was even great: 37 per 1,000 in 1970, 16 per 1,000 in 1998.
     What happened? Birth rates fell everywhere, no coercion necessary, because the world urbanized and grew in affluence; couples living in cramped city apartments don't want as many kids as couples trying to run a subsistence farm. People did voluntarily what the Chinese government was trying to force them to do.
     Millions of second-born Chinese — I've seen estimates around 12 million — entered the world in rightless limbo and became shadow people, the Chinese version of illegal immigrants, without official documentation because they weren't supposed to be born and thus unable to go to school or get medical care. I used to savor a little-known coincidence of the two countries: the United States and China are nearly the same size geographically, the U.S. at 3.8 million square miles, China at 3.7 million square miles. Add to that a second eerie coincidence, one that has more real world significance: both nations have about 12 million residents living in permanent limbo, "but they're illegal!" the identical empty cry of those in both nations who would rationalize the injustice.
     Which leads to the second point about the one-child policy: it was inspired by economic fear. The Chinese wanted their country to grow, and worried overcrowding would sap their success. They didn't realize that trying to avoid one problem — too many people — would create a worse one: too few young people supporting a graying population.
     Economic fear is also driving policy in Illinois now. The disadvantaged are given the heave-ho, eroding the humanitarian atmosphere of the state, with the middle class's turn next, right now being seized by the back of the pants by Gov. Rauner for the tip over the side in his quest to destroy public unions. Even if he's successful — not a safe bet by any means — his actions, like the Chinese One Child policy, would instill much suffering while not creating an economic boon. Sure, it might mean more jobs, but those jobs would be worse.
     So we go from being a state with good jobs struggling to pay its bills to a state struggling less but with no middle class. Government policy prompted by economic desperation tends to fall hard upon regular people, whether China's One Child policy, or Mayor Richard Daley selling the parking meters, or Rauner's demand that unions be gutted as his ransom for agreeing to a budget.
     People will be hurt, and it won't end up helping anyway. A shame you have to be a Democrat to see it.


  1. I saw this earlier today on a totally unrelated comment board, "Republicans hate the idea that government might be used to help people. On the other hand, government is a wonderful thing when used to punish and kill people."

  2. The most critical demand Rauner has placed upon the legislature is to submit a balanced budget, that is one in which expenditures match tax revenue. It is their primary job, and they haven't done it for years. Tribune columnist John Cass and Anon-Not-Anon, write of something they called the combine, in operation for many decades, a large clique of both Republicans and Democrats united in one purpose, lining their own pockets with taxpayer money. The waste Cass points out is seemingly endless. A few years ago Madigan tacked onto a bill a provision allowing a few select people to be temporary teachers for one day, and collect an extra 40k in their pension payments per year. If you would like a real reason to be angry at Republicans, there are school districts downstate spanning square miles in area, have a total enrollment less then the smallest Chicago grammar school, yet have a six figure salaried district supervisor. There are duplicate government employees and supervisors at the township level with little to do, because the bulk of the work is done at the county level. Rauner allegedly is not collecting his salary. Unfortunately Rauner can't cut the salary for these parasites in government, he can only cut benefits to those who are truly in need.

    1. Except the governor is required by the Illinois Constitution to prepare & send to the General Assembly a budget fro the GA to then approve, after making any changes the GA votes on.

      Rauner has yet to send the GA a budget. That's an impeachable offense.
      If he doesn't cave, Rauner will be impeached & probably removed from office in January!

    2. Good point, Clark.

    3. Well if Rauner gets impeached, and the new Governor puts together a balanced budget that restores funding to the needy, I certainly won't complain.

    4. Clark - The Legislature hasn't had a truly balance budget, also required by the Illinois Constitution, in a dozen years. So you sat idle for 12 years on the impeachment sidelines and NOW you get all excited for following the letter of the law?

      Each one of those 12 unbalanced budgets passed was an agreement by all in office to not help the needy in the future. Each and every one. The only thing that has changed is that future is now. If you voted (especially re-elected) those politicians that voted "YES" on those unbalanced budgets, that means YOU ALSO approved of not helping the needy today.

    5. You don't read well, do you nixit?
      I never wrote a damned thing about balanced budgets!
      I wrote that the governor must create a budget for the GA to then slice, dice & reassemble & then send it to the governor to sign or veto.
      I also never wrote a single word about the needy or the extremely unneedy!
      The same goes for voting!
      So stop being an asshole & definitely, don't go accusing me of things I never wrote!

  3. I think Rauner's end game isn't cutting benefits to the needy. Nor even, in the long run, weakening unions.

    I think what he really wants is to force the Democrats to pass a tax increase by themselves, over his veto. The next step will then be to saturate the airwaves in the next election with TV commercials screeching, "The Democrats raised your taxes!!" so he can get himself a Republican legislature. Luckily, Madigan has been too canny so far to fall into that trap.

    As for China, it boggles the mind how bland we in the U.S. have become toward what amounts to murderous Communist tyranny. As trade increases, scruples melt away.

    And Bernie, the guy's name is spelled Kass. As in jackass.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks for the correction, I dropped my subscription to the Tribune years ago. That was followed by years of hearing Kass on WLS while driving past Cass Avenue on the Stevenson.I don't worry too much about the schemes politicians concoct among themselves, I'd be happy if they at least tried to cut into government fat.

    3. But what is government fat? Isn't it usually somebody's job? I'm guessing that very few of us have a job that couldn't be eliminated for the sake of efficiency. But as Walter Reuther once said, "[The robots that assemble automobiles] don't buy cars."


    4. John, some of these levels of government happen to be redundant. What has occurred for decades in the private sector, the elimination of middle management positions, needs to be done in the public sector, so more money is available for the needy. I would hope the hard working employees at the township level, would become employees of the county, with a need for fewer supervisors. As big in area that they may become, I hope you would agree some of these school districts can be consolidated. And don't get me started on double dipping, pension spiking, innumerable fully funded state boards that meet once a month if that, and. people retired on a pension working for another level of government.

  4. Well sometimes gov't controls on births are necessary to the well being of the general population Yet, old traditions won't allow it. India is one example.

  5. Neil--
    You need to stop writing about Illinois state government issues until you write a column or blog post about your wife's employment as an Assistant Attorney General in the office of AG Lisa Madigan.
    You once told an interviewer doing a book review of You Were Never in Chicago that you refused to write the S-T editorial page endorsement of Lisa Madigan because she obviously did not have the required experience and it was blatant nepotism. Fast forward a few years and you are waving down from the roof of a suburban Dunkin Donuts with Lisa as part of some charity stunt and a short time later your wife is hired by Lisa's office.
    You were very candid about the role you played in getting your brother a job with Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas. What role did you play in your wife's hiring?

    1. But I've already done that, in both the column and on blog posts. I had nothing to do with her getting a job at the AG's office; it wasn't my idea, and I never approached them. Now, as to whether they were inspired to approach her because of me, well, you'll have to ask them that. She was a lawyer at the city and for Jenner and Block for six years, so certainly has contacts who aren't me. If I were going to push my wife into a place of employment, it sure wouldn't be the state of Illinois. That said, she likes it, and I'm glad she's there. It does give folks like you another unfair criticism to fire at me, but if it wasn't this, it would be something else.


Comments are moderated, and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.