George Will and The Dependency Agenda

   Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives. It’s not their money, of course they’ll waste it.

      Wherein we see that the silly assumptions of government are everywhere. I wonder if these people ever look at the results of their programs. Of course, they don’t. Politicians just hone their rhetoric.

    National Post
    George F. Will in Washington
    Washington Post Writers Group

Government is the disease

Two phrases that Daniel Patrick Moynihan put i nto America’s political lexicon two decades ago are increasingly pertinent. They explain the insufficient dismay about recent economic numbers.

Moynihan said that when deviant behaviours — e.g., violent crime, or births to unmarried women — reach a certain level, society soothes itself by “defining deviancy down.” It de-stigmatizes the behaviours by declaring them normal. And sometimes, Moynihan said, social problems are the result of “iatrogenic government.” In medicine, an iatrogenic ailment is inadvertently induced by a physician or medicine; in social policy, iatrogenic problems are caused by government.

When the economy grew by just 2.6% in 2014’s fourth quarter, The New York Times headline cheerfully said “Economy Pulls Ahead.” The story said the U.S. economy is “an island of relative strength” in a world facing “renewed torpor and turmoil.” This was defining failure down.


    The Times cheerleading a Democratic President. Unheard of. Everything eventually becomes a caricature of itself. The Times is high on the list.

The Wall Street Journal said “U.S. Economy Hits Speed Bumps,” as though speedy growth had been normal for a while. The speeding had consisted of one quarter (2014’s third) of 5% per cent growth. But the economy had gone 43 consecutive quarters without 5 per cent growth, the longest such period since the government began keeping the pertinent records in 1947. There also was unmerited triumphalism about November’s job growth of 353,000. This was just the fifth month of 300,000-plus growth in the 68 months since the sluggish recovery began in June 2009. In the 1960s, there were nine months of 300,000-plus job creation — and at its highest, in 1969, the nation’s population was nearly 118 million smaller than today’s.

By the time — April 2014 — the economy returned to the number of jobs it had before the recession began in December 2007, there were 15 million more Americans. Nicole Gelinas writes in the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal: “A healthy economy should add 200,000 new jobs every month, even when it’s not recovering from a recession. By that standard, America should have 133 million people working in the private sector right now, not 118.4 million.”

Economic weakness is both a cause and a consequence of alarming cultural changes. In 1960, 12% of 25- to-34-year-olds were never married; today, 49% never have been. Although the population was 27 million larger in 2010 than in 2000, there were fewer births in 2010.

The lingering economic anemia is astonishing, given plummeting energy prices. To a considerable extent, the anemia is an iatrogenic social ailment, induced by government behaviour. The business burdens and uncertainties created by the Affordable Care Act are just part of the Obama administration’s regulatory mania (3,659 new regulations finalized in 2013 and another 2,594 proposed, according to Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute).

That the employment picture is not worse may owe much to the end of an iatrogenic policy. The Economist reports that during the recession, unemployment benefits were extended from 26 weeks for most workers to an average of 53 weeks. In December 2013 Republicans blocked further extensions. Now a study of 1,000 counties shows that employment grew fastest in counties where there were the biggest declines in the duration of unemployment benefits.

Barack Obama’s plan to tax the earnings from parents’ “529” college savings plans lived just long enough to indicate why some progressives perhaps prefer slow rather than rapid economic growth. Rapid growth reduces the appeal of redistributive policies and the need for the bitter, jostling, divisive politics that advance such policies. The 529s help enable families to achieve self sufficiency. This excites progressives’ dislike of any private provision that impedes implementation of their dependency agenda.


   “Dependency agenda”–good phrase.

Insecurity grows rapidly when the economy does not. Anxious and disappointed people are susceptible to progressives’ blandishments about the political allocation of wealth — “free” this and that. By making slow growth normal, iatrogenic government serves the progressive program of defining economic failure down.


   Voices crying in the wilderness. At least, there are some who do not believe in the Great Pretend.

Government Job or Respect–Which’ll It Be?
Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson, Ph.D.
Author, “Days of Songs and Mirrors: A Jacobite in the ‘45.”
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies


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