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on: July 10, 2014, 09:34:21 AM
Ideas for Renewing American Prosperity
If you could propose one change in American policy, society or culture to revive prosperity and self-confidence, what would it be and why?
July 7, 2014 7:53 p.m. ET
Editor's note: With the Journal's 125th anniversary coming at a time of slow U.S. growth and reduced expectations, we asked some Journal contributors to answer this question: If you could propose one change in American policy, society or culture to revive prosperity and self-confidence, what would it be and why? Their replies are below.
Return to Constitutional Government
By George P. Shultz
Let's get back to governing in the way called for by the Constitution. In the executive branch, this means that the president governs through people who are confirmed by the Senate and can be called upon to testify by the House or the Senate at any time. They are accountable people.
Right now, the White House is full of unconfirmed and unaccountable people responsible for various subjects and, all too often, the cabinet officers work through them. The right way is for the president to regard his cabinet as part of his staff. That way, you have access to the career people—something unavailable to White House staff. I have had the privilege of leading four units of government and, believe me, when you work with career people, they will work with you and they have lots to offer. Among other things, management will improve, something that is sorely needed today. Of course, for this system to work, presidential slots must be filled, so the Senate should give nominees a prompt up or down vote.
Don't you think it's also about time Congress lived up to its constitutional duties derived from the power of the purse? Continuing resolutions are a total cop-out. The way to build a budget is to set a framework and then work from the bottom up: Hold hearings, understand what the departments and agencies are doing, and help set priorities. That way, the budget will be up-to-date, and such a process, which is in large part operational in character, will get everyone into more of a problem-solving mode. So, better budgeting will also reduce knee-jerk partisanship.
Our country's prosperity and self-confidence will improve when we see an executive branch that can set sensible policies and execute them: management matters. And we will be better off if Congress does the hard work involved in executing the power of the purse.
Mr. Shultz is a former secretary of Labor, Treasury and State, and a former director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Fix the Jobs-Killing Tax Code
By Paul Ryan
If I could make just one change in Washington, it would be to fix the tax code.
No other reform would inspire as much confidence because no other policy is as big a drag on our economy. Today, the tax code is about four million words long. Taxpayers spend six billion hours a year just figuring out how to comply. But the tax code is more than confusing; it's also unfair. Riddled with over $1 trillion in loopholes, the current code punishes free enterprise and rewards political influence. And to top it all off, we impose high marginal tax rates—including the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world—which are nothing more than barriers separating working families from job creators.
A look back at the role of Opinion over the past 125 years and the lasting effects the editorials have had on The Wall Street Journal and the world.
Instead of pushing people out, we should bring people in. True tax reform would both broaden the base and lower the rates, so small businesses would have room to grow and job creators would come back to our shores. Economist Glenn Hubbard says tax reform could boost economic growth by anywhere from half to a full percentage point a year over a decade. And if economic growth were just half a percentage point larger, the federal government would save an additional $1.57 trillion over 10 years. Only by paying down our debt and growing our economy can we create jobs and increase take-home pay. Only then can we expand opportunity for all.
To pass such a vital reform, after years of gridlock, would show the country that Washington can still get something done. And our country would show the world that, 125 years since The Wall Street Journal began, "free markets and free people" is still the way to go.
Rep. Ryan, a Republican, is chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Encourage Two-Parent Families
By Heather Mac Donald
The disintegration of the two-parent family is the greatest long-term threat to American prosperity and cultural health. Nearly half of all births in the Millennial Generation (18- to 33-year-olds) occur outside of marriage; the national average is 41%. Children raised by single mothers fail in school and commit crime at much higher rates than children raised by both parents. These children's social skills—needed to become productive, self-sufficient adults—are weaker on average. Single-parent households are far more likely to be poor and dependent on government assistance. But more consequential than the risks to individual children is the cultural pathology of regarding fathers as an optional appendage for child-rearing. A society that fails to teach its young males that they are unambiguously responsible for their offspring will have a hard time inculcating other fundamental duties.
Unfortunately, family breakdown isn't amenable to public-policy solutions, since it results from something more profound than misguided tax structure or welfare rules. Though many factors are at play, the biggest culprit is feminism's devaluing of males and the conceit that "strong women" can do it all. Reversing the trend of fatherlessness will require public figures, from President Obama on down, to violate feminist taboos and start speaking at every opportunity about the essential contributions that fathers make to the formation of their children. Family decline will be stemmed only when it is widely understood that care provided by both biological parents is the most powerful social and economic advantage that any child can enjoy.
Ms. Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
Limit Government and Restore the Rule of Law
By John H. Cochrane
America doesn't need big new economic ideas to get going again. We need to address the hundreds of little common-sense economic problems that everyone agrees need to be fixed. Achieving that goal requires the revival of an old political idea: limited government and the rule of law.
Our tax code is a mess. The budget is a mess. Immigration is a mess. Energy policy is a mess. Much law is a mess. The schools are awful. Boondoggles abound. We still pay farmers not to grow crops. Social programs make work unproductive for many. ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank are monstrous messes. These are self-inflicted wounds, not external problems.
Why are we so stuck? To blame "gridlock," "partisanship" or "obstructionism" for political immobility is as pointless as blaming "greed" for economic problems.
Washington is stuck because that serves its interests. Long laws and vague regulations amount to arbitrary power. The administration uses this power to buy off allies and to silence opponents. Big businesses, public-employee unions and the well-connected get subsidies and protection, in return for political support. And silence: No insurance company will speak out against ObamaCare or the Department of Health and Human Services. No bank will speak out against Dodd-Frank or the Securities and Exchange Commission. Agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Internal Revenue Service wait in the wings to punish the unwary.
This is crony capitalism, far worse than bureaucratic socialism in many ways, and far more effective for generating money and political power. But it suffocates innovation and competition, the wellsprings of growth.
Not just our robust economy, but 250 years of hard-won liberty are at stake. Yes, courts, media and a few brave politicians can fight it. But in the end, only an outraged electorate will bring change—and growth.
Mr. Cochrane is a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a Hoover Institution senior fellow.
Look to the States, Not to Washington
By Darcy A. Olsen
Conservatives often lament, "If we could only find the next Ronald Reagan . . ." The reality is that even President Reagan failed to turn the tide in Washington. The federal government has been tightening its grip for a century. We cannot afford to indulge in this knight-in-shining-armor fantasy.
But what if the solution to the Washington problem isn't in Washington? In the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote that federal and state governments, each with explicit protections for liberty, would provide a "double security." Alexander Hamilton argued that if either government violated the peoples' rights, they could "make use of the other as the instrument of redress."
The Framers understood that the rival of power is power, and the only power sufficient to rival Washington is the collective body of the 50 states. The Founders didn't give us one constitution—they gave us 51. The Constitution provides a floor for freedom, not a ceiling. State constitutions can augment freedoms far above the federal baseline.
Skeptics say federalism is dead, states have become too dependent on Washington. That is too often true—but not always. When the Supreme Court gutted private-property rights with the Kelo decision in 2005, the solution didn't come from Washington. Instead, 45 states strengthened their own constitutional protections. When the Obama administration threatened to impose "card check" rules to unfairly help unions organize businesses, the solution didn't come from Washington. Instead, states drew up laws that are now protecting millions of workers.
State citizens and state lawmakers must do what the Framers equipped us to do: Put on the full armor of liberty. Then it truly will be morning again in America.
Ms. Olsen is the president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.
Unleash Molecular Medicine
By Peter W. Huber
In the past three decades, drug designers have learned how to craft molecules that modulate specific molecular targets—hence "personalized medicine" that fits precisely targeted drugs to patient-specific molecular profiles. Now, rapidly emerging are literally personal treatments created by reprogramming the genetic code in the patient's own cells.
Scientists have recently developed precise tools for adding, deleting or replacing genes inside live cells—tools that can do in hours or days what took months or years using other gene-editing tools. Reprogrammed stem cells—the progenitor cells that spawn all the rest of our cells—have the unique potential to provide complete cures for a wide range of currently incurable disorders, most notably the thousands of rare but often deadly diseases caused by hereditary genetic factors. Immune-system cells reprogrammed to attack cancers and other diseases have shown enormous promise in early trials.
Unlike conventional drugs, human cell therapies can be synthesized from scratch, one patient at a time, with tools compact and cheap enough to land in hospitals, clinics or laboratories that serve doctors in private practice. The technologies can be used to generate, at relatively low cost, a limitless number of biochemically distinct therapies precisely tailored to the individual patient's needs.
Washington's drug-approval process, grounded as it is in a one-size-fits-all perspective on how drugs are supposed to operate, and anchored in clinical-trial protocols and statistical methods developed decades ago, is lagging far behind the science. We need a regulatory process that can keep pace with a rapid proliferation of highly customized therapies that are grounded in a mechanistic understanding of molecular biology. This will require fundamental changes in clinical-trial protocols and in the type of evidence that is required for drug approval.
Mr. Huber is the author of "The Cure in the Code" (Basic Books, 2013).
Liberate Uber—and the Lemonade Stand
By Paul Otellini
It seems that hardly a summer passes nowadays without a story about how an enterprising child somewhere had his or her budding entrepreneurial hopes dashed by some bureaucrat shutting down a lemonade stand. Recently we have seen this same drama play out on a larger stage with regulatory moves to impede Web-based "disruptive" businesses like Uber, the innovative transportation service that has had to battle entrenched taxi cartels and sympathetic regulators. America is becoming an increasingly difficult place to do business, small or large.
We can and must be better. We must put in place a comprehensive approach to allowing free markets to function and capital to flow. Markets should determine the success or failure of businesses. What we need is neither hard nor unknown. First, review all of our regulations from the federal to the local level to ensure they make it easier to start and run businesses and employ workers while maintaining the essentials of health and safety that we have come to expect. Second, create competitive tax rates that incentivize U.S. companies to operate here and foreign companies to locate here.
Simply put, make America the best place to open and run a business. Unleash the creative spirit of American workers and entrepreneurs to do what they do better than anyone: create new products and technologies that improve the human condition. This edition of The Wall Street Journal celebrates 125 years of its existence. I can only imagine how readers of that first edition would react to our world today. They would certainly be amazed at the living standards we have and the wonderful gadgets we employ. But I think they would be appalled at how difficult we make it for people to build their dream, including that lemonade stand on the corner.
Mr. Otellini is the former president and CEO of Intel.
Listen to Peter Drucker On Regulations
By George Gilder
In 1966, the eminent management sage Peter Drucker wrote about government regulation in "The Effective Executive" that "at a guess, at least half the bureaus and agencies" in government "regulate what no longer needs regulation." He added: "There is a serious need for a new principle of effective administration under which every act, every agency, and every program of government is conceived as temporary and as expiring automatically after a fixed number of years—maybe ten—unless specifically prolonged by new legislation following careful outside study."
When Drucker wrote, the U.S. was by far the leading force in world capitalism, and most regulatory bodies were relatively new. Today the U.S. is falling far behind Asian leaders in capitalist vitality. Not only is the U.S. less free than Hong Kong, it is less capitalistic by many measures than China, allegedly a communist country. China now boasts government revenues of just 17% of GDP, compared with U.S. revenues of 26% of GDP.
The key problem is the same one that Drucker identified in 1966—a glut of regulations and programs that no longer serve their purposes but which constitute a nearly insuperable barrier for creative new enterprise. Twenty years ago, initial public offerings in crucial technology domains exceeded mergers and acquisitions by a factor of 20. Today there are eight mergers and acquisitions for every IPO. Large companies that can deal with the mazes of government rules increase their dominance by purchasing potential rivals.
Most efforts focus on making regulations more efficient. But efficient performance of futile or obstructive functions makes the problems worse. What we need is what Peter Drucker recommended: expiration dates for regulations.
Mr. Gilder is the author of "Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism" (Regnery, 2013).
Focus on Developing Human Capital
By Michael Milken
The late social scientist Gary Becker once showed that at least three-quarters of national wealth can be found in the knowledge, skills and experience of people—what he called human capital. There are three ways to increase human capital: Expand knowledge and skills through education; extend the length and quality of life by investing in health; and welcome skilled immigrants.
• The focus in education should be on the classroom. We give Oscars to actors, Grammys to singers and Nobel Prizes to scientists. Recognizing that effective teachers and principals are the most important school-based factors influencing student achievement, the Milken Family Foundation launched an awards program nearly 30 years ago to provide similar recognition for great educators. An affiliated public charity, the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, has developed extensive programs to ensure skilled, motivated and competitively compensated teachers.
• At least half of economic growth since the Industrial Revolution can be traced to improvements in public health and the results of medical research that have more than doubled average lifespans world-wide. We can now prevent or cure many of the infectious diseases that plagued mankind for millennia. America's greatest health challenge, representing 75% of current health-care spending, is the burden of chronic diseases. Public-health programs emphasizing prevention and wellness will help reduce that burden. And to assure progress against all diseases, the National Institutes of Health budget should be restored at least to the 2003 level, when it was 25% higher in real dollars.
• Immigration restrictions that keep out highly skilled workers, investors and entrepreneurs are counterproductive. These ambitious people can stimulate economic growth and create more jobs for all Americans. We should greet them with open arms.
Policies that expand human capital in these three areas will increase America's productivity and help sustain our global leadership.
Mr. Milken is chairman of the Milken Institute.
Set This Goal: A Great Teacher for Every Child
By Michelle Rhee
Great teachers change lives. They don't just follow lesson plans—they relentlessly motivate and inspire. The students of these teachers emerge from school with the skills and knowledge needed to reach their dreams. So to revive America, I would set this goal: Make sure that every child has a great teacher.
It's no secret that in the U.S. hard work doesn't always lead to success. For far too many families, their ZIP Code or income level virtually guarantees a lifetime of struggle. The problem is complex, but a better public-education system can help fix it. Each day, students across the country are forced to attend schools that fail to prepare them for life—simply because of where they happen to live.
How should we improve America's schools? It starts with great teachers. Research shows that teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor affecting student performance. We need rigorous, practical and accountable teacher-preparation programs. We need comprehensive classroom support and professional development to help teachers improve their craft. We need to recognize and reward the best teachers for their impact on students—not just how long the teachers have been on the job. There is no more important profession than teaching, and it's about time our laws and policies reflected that.
Many states and districts have already implemented some of these reforms, and students are benefiting. Tennessee and Washington, D.C.—both of which have invested heavily in teacher-quality reforms—boasted the largest gains in the country on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, "the nation's report card." And as shown recently in Vergara v. California, the courts have started getting involved in states that haven't passed policies to support great teachers. To move America forward, every state should follow suit.
Ms. Rhee, former schools chancellor for Washington, D.C., is the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst.
Pull the Plug On Crony Capitalism
By Carly Fiorina
To achieve America's economic comeback, we need to end the era of crony capitalism where out-of-control, bloated government and big businesses join forces at the expense of main-street entrepreneurs.
As Washington continues to expand overly complex and expensive tax codes and regulations, written by an alliance of corporate lawyers and government bureaucrats, the victims are the small-business owners who are the country's backbone. As a result of these regulations-on-steroids, innovation, business creation and job growth are being stifled.
Who is looking out for innovative newcomers as well as the neighborhood dry cleaners, the corner taqueria, the coffee shop and the lawn-care company? Not Washington. Government bureaucracies like complexity because it keeps them busy and funded. Americans can see that too much government actually causes the problems that big new programs are meant to solve. Wall Street bailouts, the housing crisis and the tragedy of ObamaCare are just a few examples of overbearing government.
More small businesses are failing and fewer are starting than at any time in the past four decades. This trend must be reversed. Until it is, our economy will not produce the jobs we need, nor will we be ready to lead.
It is time for a great American comeback. We will know we have succeeded when a single mother raising her two kids can easily open a new business in her neighborhood without having to worry about burdensome and costly regulations.
Ms. Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, HPQ -0.31% is chairman of the Unlocking Potential Project.
Move Elections To Weekends
By Juan Williams
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the 1876 presidential race by one electoral vote. He lost the popular vote. But he respected Americans who voted: "To vote is like [paying] a debt, a duty never to be neglected, if its performance is possible." Hayes was right—and we should encourage the "performance" of voting by holding elections on weekends. It is the one step that can enhance voter turnout and boost confidence that the people remain in control of the government. Legislation to move Election Day to weekends has already been introduced in Congress. A group called "Why Tuesday?" has been working for the past decade to highlight the benefits of weekend voting.
The group notes that the U.S. ranks last in voter turnout among Western democracies in the G-8. The key difference is that five of those other countries have weekend voting. Limiting voting to a single day during the week is a big challenge for people who have to get to the polls before or after work. On Election Day, they often have to juggle traffic jams, unexpected meetings and day-care pick-ups or drop-offs—in addition to trying to vote. The No. 1 reason people give for not casting a ballot is "too busy/couldn't get time off to vote."
In the past two presidential elections the nation has seen record turnout. But only about half of eligible voters got to the polls. Meanwhile, faith in the direction of the country and government has plummeted. Giving Americans the best chance to feel a part of the democratic process is key to reinvigorating trust in our elected leaders and the idea of self-government that is the basis of our liberty and prosperity.
With the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act coming next year, weekend voting is an idea whose time is here.
Mr. Williams is a political analyst for Fox News and a columnist for the Hill.
Cut Taxes and Watch The Economy Take Off
By Stanley Druckenmiller
My change in policy would be aggressive tax reform. At the corporate level, I would change the rate to zero and eliminate all subsidies, without exception. At the individual level, I would eliminate all deductions and institute a flat tax with three income thresholds. Capital gains and dividends would be the same as earned income. The only tax subsidy at the individual level would be the Earned Income Tax Credit. My guess is that growth would accelerate and all the talk of secular stagnation would end.
Mr. Druckenmiller, founder of Duquesne Capital, is the CEO of Duquesne Family Office.
Make a Grand Fiscal Bargain
By Kelly Ayotte
My grandfather, a decorated World War II veteran, recently passed away at age 98. He worked two jobs, provided for six kids, and he never used credit cards. The men and women of the "Greatest Generation" understood that you need to live within your means. They also worked hard to leave the country better off than they found it.
With over $17.5 trillion in debt and tens of trillions more in unfunded liabilities, our nation's credit card is maxed out. Republicans and Democrats, with presidential leadership, need to finally reach the much talked about, but elusive, grand fiscal agreement that will put America on a strong financial footing and create a pro-growth economic climate.
First, the agreement must address the long-term drivers of the national debt—entitlement programs. Social Security and Medicare are headed for insolvency as early as 2033 and 2026, respectively. If we don't update these programs to reflect the nation's changing demographics, they won't be there for the people who need them.
Second: tax-code reform. The existing code is mired with favoritism and crony capitalism that doesn't drive economic growth. The code should be made simpler and fairer, with rates reduced for individuals and businesses. Otherwise, we'll continue to see American companies relocate abroad, costing jobs in the U.S.
Tax reform should also allow U.S. businesses to bring back the trillions parked overseas because of our uncompetitive corporate tax rate—so they can invest here, creating jobs while also adding money to the Treasury for priorities like paying down the debt.
The "Greatest Generation" had the courage to fight for America's freedom and prosperity. It's time for our leaders today to honor that sacrifice and secure the futures of generations to come.
Sen. Ayotte, a Republican, represents New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate.
Inspire Real Hope, Not The Bumper-Sticker Kind
By Arthur C. Brooks
The one thing America needs most right now is hope. I realize how ironic that sounds. After all, "hope" was exactly the theme of President Obama's winning 2008 presidential campaign. Unfortunately, that promised hope neither elevated the American spirit nor renewed our economy: Six years later, a higher percentage of Americans have lost hope, with more saying the country is "on the wrong track" than when he took office. We are mired in the longest streak of pessimism since Watergate.
The poet Emily Dickinson once defined hope as "the thing with feathers." Hope as a campaign slogan was even less substantial—little more than a nebulous emotional state associated with what we imagined the president could do for us. A 2008 study in the journal Motivation and Emotion shows that this sort of vague hope is actually negatively associated with a sense of personal agency. It is tied to distant goals that we can't control, like hitting the lottery or depending on the largess of a faraway government.
Real hope—the practical kind that America has traditionally possessed and needs again—is very different than a bumper sticker. Social scientists describe it as the combination of two phenomena: possibility and responsibility. Real hope is the intersection of "it can be done" and "I can do it if I work hard." Studies show that this makes individuals likelier to take initiative and earn their success. This is the restless optimism that built our nation.
To revive American growth and confidence, we need real hope, not campaign hype. That requires a policy agenda not of unbounded government, but of jobs, entrepreneurship and education reform. Most important, though, it means leaders who have hope in the American people—to revive our national greatness through private initiative, hard work and personal responsibility.
Mr. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute.
Head Off the Looming Pension Tsunami
By Clifford S. Asness
We have not saved enough for the retirements that we have promised people, public or private. Moreover, that problem is greatly understated by current reporting methods. This may seem an undramatic candidate for addressing one of our biggest problems, but that's part of my point. Unlike hurricanes or wars or debt ceilings, we don't have to deal with retirement funding today. However, this problem grows and eventually will metastasize. Until the looming pension crisis is dealt with, one way or another, no one's retirement is secure, no government fiscal projections are fully credible, and no one's property is safe against extreme and unpredictable taxation.
It is an open secret that many official assumptions about future returns on retirement savings are too high. As a result, amounts put away to fund these obligations are much too low. Furthermore, decisions are made on incomplete inaccurate information. For instance, answers to questions like "can I retire now?" or "can we afford this dividend?" might come out very differently with more honest acknowledgment. A proper accounting for likely portfolio returns and liabilities, and mandatory funding (corporate, state, municipal, everyone) would lend light and discipline to this murky and fractious area.
The system we have now of "you choose how much you forecast you will earn on your portfolio in the future and then back out how much you need to save" is a great moral hazard. Organizations make overaggressive assumptions and ensure that in the not-too-distant future it will be someone else's problem—only likely much bigger. When the inexorable math eventually become unavoidable, contributions will have to go up (leading to rising taxes for government obligations or falling earnings for corporate ones) or benefits cut. We face the same trade-offs now; waiting with eyes closed simply means that the remedies required will likely be far crueller after years of quiet progression and poor decisions based on bad information.
Mr. Asness is managing and founding principal of AQR Capital Management.
Deregulate Labor Markets Now
By Richard A. Epstein
Wide-ranging deregulation of labor markets would produce an immediate economic jolt without costing taxpayers a dime. Labor markets are hobbled every day by ever-more-intrusive regulations and taxes, with two costly consequences. First, they reduce the opportunities for gains from trade between employers and employees. Quite simply, if the cost of regulatory or tax compliance exceeds the joint gains from the transaction, the deal is off. Second, these regulations add huge administrative expenses, both in the direct costs of government enforcement and in private compliance costs. We should never spend tax dollars to reduce productive activity.
So we have to bid farewell to the egalitarian mantra that we can lift the nation up out of its doldrums by raising minimum wages to living wages, by tightening overtime regulation, by strengthening public and private unions, by expanding family-leave protection, by continuing with aggressive enforcement of the antidiscrimination laws based on race, sex and age, by imposing a health-care mandate on employers, and by extending unemployment benefits. The tragic truth is that these feel-good measures hit hardest at the bottom end of the labor markets, especially minority teenagers desperate to gain work experience. Employers won't hire if they think that reforms are short-term gimmicks. Protectionist policies never work. But long-term stable reform could and should reverse those dismal unemployment and labor-participation figures.
Mr. Epstein is a law professor at New York University Law School.
Fix the Way We Do Public Works
By Charles Murray
I have a dream, a modest but inspiriting one, in which the government performs one of its few legitimate functions by repairing and improving the nation's public infrastructure—competently. In this dream scenario, contracts are awarded on the basis of cost and the contractor's track record, and not, as they are today, on whether the workers are unionized or have the correct ethnic and gender diversity. Decisions about projects in this dream are not subjected to review by 13 different environmental and development bureaucracies. Yes, a proposal to build a new superhighway across the Everglades gets a hard-eyed assessment, but a proposal to replace an existing bridge across the Hudson is evaluated on its engineering merits and routine eminent-domain concerns—and that's it.
The inspiriting part of the dream is that as I drive down a highway that is being repaired in the middle of the day, I don't drive past a few miles of idle construction equipment while a lone bulldozer scrapes away. Instead, I see the level of activity typical at a commercial construction site. Projects that once took years are finished in months. Repairs that once took months are finished in weeks.
But then reality crashes into my reverie: How many state and national laws would have to be changed, how many regulatory bureaucracies would have to be reined in? Could Congress or any president—not just this one—ever be expected to accomplish such changes? The American polity is critically sclerotic. If we don't come up with solutions, it will soon be terminal.
Mr. Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Find a Better Way To Tax the Rich
By Sheila Bair
Apple. AAPL -0.80% GE. Caterpillar. CAT -1.03% Google. GOOGL -0.77% These are marquee names in the drama of foreign tax dodges. But really, can you name one top U.S. corporation that hasn't moved some portion of its business out of the country to reduce its tax bill?
Like it or not, foreign tax havens have become a routine part of American business. Maybe it's time for government to throw in the towel. For 25 years, we've left the top corporate rate at 35%, while other (smarter) countries have cut theirs. Corporate tax revenues have eroded, while millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in profits have left our shores.
Is a corporate income tax even feasible in a globalized and digitized economy? We aren't taxing something tangible like people or property, but rather an extremely portable legal structure. It's kind of dumb to impose high corporate taxes on doing business here when it's so easy for companies to go somewhere else (where labor is probably cheaper too). By eliminating corporate income taxes, we would ease pressure on U.S. wages, bring back jobs and repatriate an estimated $2 trillion in profits stashed elsewhere.
Many will argue that this would be a giveaway to the rich. But the current system isn't taxing rich shareholders, it's taxing the corporate entity—and much of that tax is passed on to employees and customers. Today's policies actually favor the wealthy with lower taxes on capital gains and dividends to mitigate the impact of "double taxation." It would be smarter to tax corporate profits once, at the shareholder level, and apply the same, higher rates to capital gains and dividends that apply to us working stiffs.
The corporate income tax may appeal to our inner Robin Hood, but its economic impact has turned into a Greek tragedy. Time to bring down the curtain.
Ms. Bair is a former chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (2006-11).
Rediscover Men's And Women's Differences
By Harvey Mansfield
Amid the damage caused by bad ideas in our time, let us not overlook that done by the scourge of feminism—together with the male timidity and misplaced male gallantry that suffer it to proceed unopposed. Feminism has established the rule of gender neutrality in our society, a conclusion drawn from its doctrine that the sexes have no essential differences and are interchangeable. In practice, no one consistently follows this preposterous idea, endorsed neither by science nor by common sense. Only the minority of feminist women assert it (even while demanding special treatment for women). But it is a powerful minority that has been taught at our finest, and our average, institutions of so-called education.
Gender neutrality presents itself in plausible guise as the way to avoid sex discrimination, so as to give women a fair shake in the competition for jobs. But it goes far beyond this reasonable goal to an attempt to erase sex differences. The two sexes are to imitate each other, and each to follow the worst in the other: Women are to imitate predatory and aggressive males, men to imitate passive and submissive females.
The result of gender neutrality is to justify women in more extreme partisanship for their sex than they ever encountered in faltering male chauvinism. It is also to encourage them in the game of charmless, loveless sex that feminists offer in place of romance. The change we need is to rediscover our sexes and to make both of them more assertive of their differences, so that their attraction to each other becomes more interesting (and more fruitful) than under the grim domination of feminism. We may then find that men and women make couples, each sex making its contribution, rather than uneasy partners in selfish pleasure.
Mr. Mansfield is a professor of government at Harvard and a senior fellow of Stanford's Hoover Institution.
Transform Education With the 'Long Game'
By Wendy Kopp
When comparing the American education system with those of other developed countries, the best we can say is that ours performs about average.
In part, our poor standing is due to an enormous and unforgivable opportunity gap between the most marginalized children and their more privileged peers. But even in our top-performing state, Massachusetts, high-school graduates are on average at least two years behind their peers in the world's top performers.
Ensuring America's strength and prosperity will require our making a serious commitment to educating our children. It will mean embracing higher standards that demand critical thinking, just as other countries have. It will mean engaging in what I've come to call the Long Game—the long-term, all-out effort to build the capacity within and outside schools to ensure all students meet these standards.
For years, we've been looking for a quick education fix—giving parents vouchers, for instance, or supplying students with computers. But if we've learned anything, it's that there is no one silver-bullet solution. Vouchers work only if parents have a large number of high-quality alternatives to choose from, and technology is powerful only when used in the service of classrooms and schools with clear missions, strong cultures and capable faculty—not as a replacement for them.
Transforming American education is going to take massive investments over many years, investments not only of dollars but also of our most valuable resource: the time and energy of our most promising, diverse leaders. It is slow and deep work because it requires change from millions of teachers and administrators, parents, policy makers and civic leaders. But embracing this Long Game is the only way to realize the rest of our aspirations.
Ms. Kopp is founder and chairwoman of Teach For America and CEO of Teach For All.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Reynolds: Piketty data is worthless
on: July 10, 2014, 09:23:23 AM
Alan Reynolds is a very good supply side economist.
Why Piketty's Wealth Data Are Worthless
Private retirement plans rose to $12.4 trillion in 2012 from $875 billion in 1984. None of it is reported on tax returns.
By Alan Reynolds
July 9, 2014 6:39 p.m. ET
No book on economics in recent times has received such a glowing initial reception as Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." He remains a hero on the left, but the honeymoon may be drawing to a sour close as evidence mounts that his numbers don't add up.
Mr. Piketty's headline claim is that capitalism must result in wealth becoming increasingly concentrated in fewer hands to a "potentially terrifying" degree, on the grounds that the rate of return to capital exceeds the rate of economic growth. Is there any empirical evidence to back up this sweeping assertion? The data in his book—purporting to show a growing inequality of wealth in France, the U.K., Sweden and particularly the United States—have been challenged. And that's where the story gets interesting.
In late May, Financial Times economics editor Chris Giles published anessay that found numerous errors in Mr. Piketty's data. Mr. Piketty's online "Response to FT" was mostly about Europe, where the errors Mr. Giles caught seem minor. But what about the U.S.?
Mr. Piketty makes a startling statement: The data in his book should now be disregarded in favor of a March 2014 Power Point presentation, available online, by Mr. Piketty's protégé, Gabriel Zucman (at the London School of Economics) and his frequent co-author Emmanuel Saez (of the University of California, Berkeley). The Zucman-Saez estimates, Mr. Piketty says, are "much more systematic" and "more reliable" than the estimates in his book and therefore "should be used as reference series for wealth inequality in the United States. . . (rather than the series reported in my book)."
Zucman-Saez concludes that there was a "large increase in the top 0.1% wealth share" since the 1986 Tax Reform, but "no increase below the top 0.1%." In other words, all of the increase in the wealth share of the top 1% is attributed to the top one-tenth of 1%—those with estimated wealth above $20 million. This is quite different from the graph in Mr. Piketty's book, which showed the wealth share of the top 1% (which begins at about $8 million, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances) in the U.S. falling from 31.4% in 1960 to 28.2% in 1970, then rising to about 33% since 1990.
In any event, the Zucman-Saez data are so misleading as to be worthless. They attempt to estimate top U.S. wealth shares on the basis of that portion of capital income reported on individual income tax returns—interest, dividends, rent and capital gains.
This won't work because federal tax laws in 1981, 1986, 1997 and 2003 momentously changed (1) the rules about which sorts of capital income have to be reported, (2) the tax incentives to report business income on individual rather than corporate tax forms, and (3) the tax incentives for high-income taxpayers to respond to lower tax rates on capital gains and dividends by realizing more capital gains and holding more dividend-paying stocks. Let's consider each of these issues:
• Tax reporting. Tax laws were changed from 1981 to 1997 to require that more capital income of high-income taxpayers be reported on individual returns, while excluding most capital income of middle-income savers and homeowners. This skews any purported increase in the inequality of wealth.
For example, interest income from tax-exempt municipal bonds was unreported before 1987—so the subsequent reporting of income created an illusory increase in top incomes and wealth. Since 1997, by contrast, most capital gains on home sales have disappeared from the tax returns of middle-income couples, thanks to a $500,000 tax exemption. And since the mid-1980s, most capital income and capital gains of middle-income savers began to vanish from tax returns by migrating into IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement and college savings plans.
Balances in private retirement plans rose to $12.4 trillion in 2012 from $875 billion in 1984. Much of that hidden savings will gradually begin to show up on tax returns as baby boomers draw them down to live on, but they will then be reported as ordinary income, not capital income.
Tax law changes, in summary, have increased capital income reported at the top and shifted business income from corporate to individual tax returns, while sheltering most capital income of middle-income savers and homeowners. Using reported capital income to estimate changing wealth patterns is hopeless.
• Switching from corporate to individual tax returns. When individual tax rates dropped from 70% in 1980 to 28% in 1988, this provoked a massive shift: from retaining private business income inside C-corporations to letting earnings pass through to the owners' individual tax returns via partnerships, LLCs and Subchapter S corporations. From 1980 to 2007, reports the Congressional Budget Office, "the share of receipts generated by pass-through entities more than doubled over the period—from 14 percent to 38 percent." Moving capital income from one tax form to another did not mean the wealth of the top 1% increased. It simply moved.
• Tax rates and capital gains. There were huge, sustained increases in reported capital gains among the top 1% after the capital-gains tax was reduced to 20% from 28% in 1997, and when it was further reduced to 15% in 2003. Although more frequent asset sales showed up as an increase in capital income, realized gains are no more valuable than unrealized gains so realization of gains tells us almost nothing about wealth. Similarly, a portfolio shift from municipal bonds, coins or cash into dividend-paying stocks after the tax on dividends fell to 15% in 2003 might look like more capital income when it was merely swapping an untaxed asset for a taxable one.
In his book, Mr. Piketty constructed estimates of top wealth shares, decade by decade, melding and massaging different kinds of data (estate tax records, the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances). These estimates are suspect in their own right; but as we now learn from Mr. Piketty's response to Mr. Giles, we can ignore them.
Yet Mr. Piketty's preferred alternative, the Zucman-Saez slide show, is also irreparably flawed as a guide to wealth concentration. Mr. Piketty's premonition of soaring U.S. wealth shares for the top 1% finds no credible support in his book or elsewhere.
Mr. Reynolds, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, is author of a 2012 Cato Institute paper, "The Misuse of Top 1 Percent Income Shares as a Measure of Inequality."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Immigration issues
on: July 09, 2014, 07:11:01 PM
President Obama's Border Absurdity
Originally published at CNN.com
President Barack Obama is in Texas today.
Texas is the center of the current crisis at the border. From Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, thousands upon thousands of children are pouring into the United States.
This flood of foreign children is not a problem of border security. They are not sneaking across the border illegally. Under the Feinstein Amendment of 2008, unaccompanied minors from these countries can present themselves at a legal border crossing, claim to be political refugees and seek asylum.
The argument on the left is that these three countries have violent gangs and therefore we have a moral obligation to take in their children. One Democratic senator told me that the real key was to end violence in those three countries.
Given last weekend's 82 shot and 16 killed in Chicago, I wanted to ask that senator how he thought his policies would be more successful in Central America than they have been in our third-largest city.
It is in this context of the liberal fantasy -- that we owe the world everything, we can do nothing to protect ourselves and everyone else is innocent while we Americans somehow have an extra burden to take care of their problems -- that you have to view the President's current actions.
The President's trip highlights vividly the failure of Obama-ism.
It is clear he wants our money.
He is doing two big Democratic fundraisers in Texas this week to get political money.
He has just sent up a request to Congress for an additional $3.7 billion to address the immigration crisis on the southern border -- the majority of which would go toward caring for the unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Still, this request is larger than the entire U.S. Border Patrol budget in 2013.
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, on CNN's "Crossfire" Tuesday night, demolished the President's proposal.
"That's $60,000 per child that we're going to spend, in emergency money," he pointed out. (Parents and students trying to get through college should contemplate that number.) "That shows just how incompetent we [are] -- we can't do that for three or four thousand per child?...If we can't do that, the Border Patrol is as bad as the VA."
"For $8 million," he pointed out later in the show, "we can put them all on a first-class seat back to their homes."
Actually, he exaggerated a little bit. A business class flight from San Antonio to Guatemala City is about $450. Lowest economy ticket is $318. For the 60,000 young people entering the United States this year under the Feinstein Amendment, flying home commercially would be in the range of $18 to $26 million plus the cost of staffing etc. So the Coburn plan might cost (once staff, etc. is included) in the $40 million to $80 million range.
That means, of course, that the Coburn plan would save at least $3.62 billion over the Obama plan.
Why is the Obama plan so expensive? Simple. Left-wing Democrats wake up every morning knowing the answer is bigger government and more money. They just don't know what the question is.
The border crisis is a new opportunity for Obama to create even bigger government, spending even more of our children's money. In a rational world it would be an absurdity, but this is the world of Obama and Sen. Harry Reid, and nothing involving more spending and bigger government is absurd to them. Coburn also noted that the current scale of the border crisis would disappear if Congress would simply repeal the Feinstein Amendment.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte of the House Judiciary Committee also noted that there are a number of executive actions the President could take which would end the open borders for foreign children policy. The Obama administration policy of "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" was an executive decision to begin with (and one of questionable legality). The President certainly has the authority to enforce immigration law.
The Obama policy instead assumes the border will remain open and he wants to use taxpayer money to fund the lengthy process of getting children from Central America involved in the American legal system. It is a great excuse to have the government hire even more lawyers.
House Republicans should immediately repeal the Feinstein Amendment and call on the President to do everything within his power to stop this rush on our borders. Let's see how long Democratic senators up for reelection can allow Reid to bottle up a solution to the flood of foreign children coming into our country.
Three cheers for Senator Coburn and a loud "no" to President Obama is the right response to this mess.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hil;ary's favorite charity-- herself
on: July 09, 2014, 06:42:30 PM
Hillary's Favorite Charity: Herself
By DICK MORRIS
Published on DickMorris.com on July 9, 2014
After an uproar about the exorbitant college speaking fees paid to Hillary Clinton -- $225,000 and up for each speech -- she suddenly announced that all of these fees "have been donated to the Clinton Foundation."
So in other words, she's donated the over-the top $1.8 million in fees to her favorite charity -- herself. Is there really much difference between a fee paid directly to Hillary and one to the Bill Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation? That's like moving money from one hand to the other. It's not like Hillary's giving it away and losing control over it. Because, without a doubt, she and her husband control the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Foundation. Is there anyone at all there who would ever say no to them?
No, they're calling the shots.
Hillary's generosity to the Foundation is a little different than other gifts. Generally, when one makes a charitable contribution, it goes to an independent organization that spends it as it sees fit -- within the guidelines of the institution's goals. Sometimes, a gift is earmarked for a certain project of the recipient. But that doesn't mean that the donor controls staff hiring, spending, and other expenses, such as travel and entertainment.
That's not the case at the Clinton Foundation, which is now the epicenter of Hillary's professional life and the launching pad for her likely presidential campaign. In addition, the Foundation is one giant spoke in the many wheels of the Clintons' political and philanthropic fund-raising from overlapping donors. The Foundation is a highly useful perch for Hillary. She's installed her top former staff people and campaign aides on the foundation payroll, working on issues and scheduling her public speeches, recently estimated at hauling in $5 million since she left the State Department.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Clintons have raised between $2-3 billion in the past two decades, including $1 billion from American corporations. The donations were to Bill and Hillary's political campaigns, various political advocacy organizations they support, the Clinton Presidential Library, and, of course, almost a billion dollars in contributions to the Foundation.
The Foundation provides other useful perks: It gives them the largesse to fund elaborate travel and parties for donor/friends, including one event where they reportedly purchased a first class plane ticket for Natalie Portman and her dog. In 2012, the latest year available, the Foundation's travel expenses were $11,569,213 -- up about 10% from the $9,666,273 in 2011. From 2000 - 2011, the Foundation spent over $50 million on travel!
Bill Clinton's travel alone was over a million dollars and accounted for more than 11% of the total.
And that didn't include the free travel that Bill and Hillary use most of the time, frequently asking for a donor to the Foundation for the free use of corporate jets, like supermarket billionaire John Catsimatidis, who frequently lends one of his fleet as an in-kind charitable contribution.
The Foundation also maintains the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, which includes a luxurious penthouse apartment for the exclusive use of Bill Clinton and family. The apartment has rooms that are the exact replicas of the Oval Office, the State Dining Room, and the Oval Sitting Room. It's where Bill frequently entertains -- on the Foundation.
That's not all. The Foundation sponsors elaborate conferences and glamorous dinners that allow donors to hobnob with celebrities and rub elbows with Bill and Hillary. Recently donors were invited to a week-end in London that included a musical and a special dinner with the Clintons. All of this create a nice list of rich donors for a presidential candidate.
When Bill and Chelsea went to Africa for a week long trip in both 2012 and 2013, their entourage included VIP donors to The Foundation and a planeload of friendly journalists who dutifully reported gushing stories about the amazing Clintons.
It's a good way to develop a brand -- and its free!
The Foundation also spent over $26 million for meetings and conferences in 2011 and 2012. Those, of course, are the perfect venue for Hillary to mingle with potential supporters and donors and showcase the policy positions and programs developed by the Foundation. And it gives the donors a chance to get chummy with a possible presidential candidate.
So it's a win-win situation for everyone.
Except for possible campaign opponents, who don't have the same ability and opportunity to raise billions of tax free dollars and leverage it to advance their campaigns.
So, when you're thinking about Hillary's generosity, remember where she's donating -- to herself!
But back to the student speaking fees. Hillary, with her famous tin ear, actually claimed that the students at the University of Las Vegas who demanded that she return the $225,000 fee were not concerned about her fee!
"They're not worried about my speaking or my household, they're worried about their own. And that's the kind of debate I think I'm furthering as I go around the country speaking," she said of her critics."
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / John Dickinson, 1776: Natural Rights come from God
on: July 09, 2014, 11:04:18 AM
"Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness... We claim them from a higher source -- from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives." --John Dickinson, An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, 1766
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wesbury on jobs data
on: July 07, 2014, 01:24:27 PM
Monday Morning Outlook
New Career: Trashing Jobs #'s To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
There must have been thousands of new jobs created in the past few years just to comb through the minutiae of the employment data looking for negative nuggets. All someone needs is access to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and a calculator. Then, you go through the jobs data and find some stuff to spin negatively.
The job doesn’t pay that well, unless you have a radio or TV show or website with advertising. But, it’s politically rewarding on both the right and the left to prove how bad the economy is, even when the jobs data are improving month after month. The right gets to badmouth the President; the left gets to argue for more government spending.
This past month was no different. Payroll jobs rose 288,000 in June. Private sector jobs were up 262,000 – the 52nd consecutive monthly gain. From January through June this year, private sector jobs rose 1.33 million, the most job growth in the first six months of any year since 1998.
The unemployment rate fell to 6.1% in June – down from 7.5% a year ago. The median duration of unemployment fell to 13.1 weeks in June – it was 17.1 weeks in December 2013. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2%, and are up 2.0% from a year ago – this is not rapid wage growth, but average hourly numbers do not include benefits, tips, bonuses or sales commissions – in other words, this wage data is not the final word on income.
Finally, one of Janet Yellen’s favorite gauges of labor market strength, the quit rate – those voluntarily leaving jobs – rose to 9.0% of all unemployed last month. This is the highest quit rate since September 2008 and a sign of rising confidence in the jobs market.
Those who are negative about the economy have focused on four areas. 1- labor force growth 2 – part-time jobs 3 – wages 4- productivity.
The labor force has contracted by 128,000 in the past year. This does not erase, eradicate, or make irrelevant the positive job growth, but it’s clearly helped pull down the unemployment rate. Some note the number of adults “not in the labor force” is up 2.39 million in the past year. But this is largely due to aging Baby Boomers. And, even without aging Boomers, as the population grows it’s normal for the non-labor force population to grow, too. With only one exception (2006), the number not in the labor force has grown in every year since 1997.
Part-time jobs rose sharply last month, but total part-time employment was 27.4 million in June, which is down from 27.6 million for the full-year 2009. In other words, despite month-to-month volatility, job growth in the past five years has been full-time jobs.
We already mentioned wages, but even the flawed measure of average hourly earnings does not paint a picture of anything close to recession. Average hourly earnings
are up 2.0% in the past year, while total hours of work are up 2.1%. In other words, total earnings (hours times earnings) are up 4.1%, which is enough to keep spending on an upward trend.
Some fret about a slowdown in productivity growth during Q1 (declining GDP with rising jobs), but this is a one-off issue. We forecast real GDP likely grew at a 3% annual rate in Q2. In addition, measures of productivity are woefully flawed.
What we find most interesting is that a vast majority of those who work so hard to be negative about employment data support Republican politicians. They have been relentless in using any negative economic news in an attempt to gain political advantage over the past five years.
But, they ought to start taking credit for policies that have helped accelerate job growth and cut the unemployment rate. The improvement so far in 2014 is directly related to the end of extended unemployment benefits. By ending the 99-week payment of unemployment benefits, many were encouraged to find jobs, while others, who only said they were looking for jobs in order to get benefits, dropped out of the labor force. (KRAUTHAMMER MAKES THE SAME POINT)
Five years into an economic recovery was past time to end those benefits, and the improvement in the job market this year was predicted by free market economic models. By trashing the improved data on jobs, those on the political right are dismissing the benefits of their own policies. We don’t understand this, but then again we are just economists, not brilliant political strategists.
The bottom line is that our constituents are investors, not Republicans or Democrats. As a result, we look at the data and assess its impact on markets. The June employment report was a very positive and optimistic one. Stay cool, stay long, and stay optimistic. The Plow Horse Economy is trotting just a little bit, and should continue to do so.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Krugman: Conservative delusions about inflation
on: July 07, 2014, 12:46:05 PM
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The war on the rule of law
on: July 06, 2014, 11:45:55 PM
I can envision it failing for reasons other than standing with a practical result of giving Obama a chance to pretend his lawless rampage has been upheld.
If the Reps can't make the case for defunding in the court of public opinion, how can they succeed in an effort to take it to SCOTUS? Do we want SCOTUS as the arbiter of these things? What if Hillary is elected and she gets to appoint some justices? We'll be fuct.
I wish I had the time to read McCarthy's book on the case for impeachment. Anyone here know of any serious reviews of it?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Gen Charles Lee, Renegade Revolutionary
on: July 04, 2014, 05:32:02 PM
Book Review: 'Renegade Revolutionary' by Phillip Papas & 'Charles Lee' by Dominick Mazzagetti
Temperamental, conceited and sometimes downright odd, Charles Lee bridled under the command of General Washington.
by Stephen Brumwell
July 3, 2014 8:31 p.m. ET
Charles Lee has long been cast as one of the bit players in the drama of American independence. The Revolutionary Army general is remembered, if at all, for being dressed down by George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth.
Lee is, remarkably, the subject of two new biographies. If that were not enough, he has also appeared on the small screen in "Turn," the popular AMC drama loosely based upon the activities of the Culper Spy Ring, which fed intelligence about British military operations to Washington. In "Turn," Lee is depicted as having a fondness for debauchery and a readiness to collaborate with the enemy to gratify his own ambitions. Both Phillip Papas, in "Renegade Revolutionary: The Life of General Charles Lee, " and Dominick Mazzagetti, in "Charles Lee: Self Before Country," demonstrate that this picture is not far from the truth.
Charles Lee was born into a respectable gentry family in Cheshire, England, in 1731. The son of a British army colonel, Lee was commissioned into his father's regiment at 14. He fought in the French and Indian War, serving alongside George Washington in Gen. Edward Braddock's doomed campaign to capture Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio in 1755. Posted to Albany, Lee befriended the local Mohawk Indians, acquiring the suggestive tribal name "Boiling Water" and a native bride who bore him twins. In 1758, he was seriously wounded attacking French fortifications at Ticonderoga (America's bloodiest day of combat before Antietam in 1862).
By Phillip Papas
NYU, 403 pages, $39
By Dominick Mazzagetti
Rutgers, 271 pages, $32.95
'Washington's Rebuke of Lee' (ca. 1921), by Clyde Osmer DeLand. Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent,/Courtesy of Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection,/Bridgeman Images
With the American war winding down, Lee sought glory in Portugal, where, in 1762, Britain sent troops to help her Iberian ally rebuff a Spanish invasion. Under the command of "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne, another soldier destined to play a key role in the Revolutionary War, Lee led a dashingly successful night-time raid on a Spanish force. Such exploits did not bring the recognition Lee sought. In an era when patronage was paramount for promotion, the outspoken soldier had an unfortunate knack of alienating influential men, including the young King George III. Granted a royal audience, Lee interrupted his monarch's attempts to apologize for his stalled army career, stating: "Sir, I will never give your Majesty an opportunity of breaking your promise to me again."
Lee found consolation in a libertine lifestyle, mingling with a hard-drinking literary crowd fond of licentiousness, bizarre antics and radical politics. He was prone to extreme mood swings, alternating wild binges with long bouts of lethargy and depression, and Mr. Papas speculates that he might have been suffering from bipolar disorder.
In the 1760s, Lee, a gifted linguist, rambled across Europe, visiting its fashionable courts and wilder frontiers. He met Frederick the Great of Prussia and became a close acquaintance of Stanislas, King of Poland. Lee was awarded the honorary rank of major general in the Polish army and observed the Russians campaigning against the Ottoman Turks and Polish rebels, witnessing how small bands of irregular fighters could seriously disrupt and impede unwieldy regular forces. Combined with what he had already seen of frontier warfare in America, this experience did much to convince him of the superiority of guerrilla tactics over conventional ones.
During the escalating crisis between Britain and her American colonies, Lee's radical politics made him a vocal advocate for the patriots. He settled in Virginia and, as hostilities loomed, played an undeniably important role in inspiring resistance. He published a widely read pamphlet in 1774 that maintained that British army regulars could be beaten by a well-armed and motivated militia.
Many of Lee's American contemporaries were awed by his intellect and knowledge of the wider world. Yet his scrawny physique, unkempt appearance and devotion to his dogs raised eyebrows. Even in today's pet-centric society, a dog owner who insisted on seating his trusty hound at the dinner table, where it would proffer a paw to guests (a scenario recounted in a letter by an astonished Abigail Adams), might be considered odd. In Lee's era, such behavior suggested that he was barking mad.
Lee was the most experienced soldier available to the Continental Congress in 1775. As an Englishman, however, he was not eligible for the top command, which went to Washington. But Lee was far from content to play second fiddle to the reserved Virginian, who was in every sense his temperamental opposite.
Events in 1776 did nothing to diminish Lee's regard for his own abilities. Sent south by Congress that spring, he won acclaim for repulsing a bungled British assault upon Charleston, S.C. By contrast, Washington's reputation faltered as powerful forces tumbled him out of Manhattan. As Washington retreated across New Jersey, Lee repeatedly ignored Washington's pleas to reinforce him, convinced that he knew best how to win the war by using his troops for raiding parties to wear the enemy down. But Lee squandered his chance: On Dec. 13, while lodging in an isolated tavern at Basking Ridge, N.J., he was captured by British cavalry. Tellingly, just minutes before, he had been penning a letter criticizing Washington's abilities as a general. With characteristic pungency, he had written his friend Gen. Horatio Gates about how "a certain great man is most damnably deficient."
For the British, the capture of the popular general was a coup, and many patriots were correspondingly despondent. But Lee's removal from the field of battle was, in a way, fortuitous. On Dec. 22, 1776, Thomas Rodney, another officer in the Continental Army, noted in his diary that "too much confidence had been put in Lee," a circumstance that must have "greatly embarrassed" Washington. With Lee gone, the commander in chief "would be at liberty to exert his own talents." Rodney's analysis was astute: Within a fortnight, Washington had won his great victories at Trenton and Princeton.
Once it became clear that Lee would not be executed as a traitor to his king, he settled into a comfortable captivity and was soon corresponding with British officers. He even drafted a proposal suggesting that the rebellion could be crushed within months by deploying British warships to support an influx of crown troops from Maryland to Rhode Island, thereby encouraging an upsurge of loyalism. Mr. Papas, a professor of history at Union County College in New Jersey, is unconvinced that this document proves outright betrayal, largely because there is nothing to suggest that British Gen. William Howe took it seriously. By contrast, Mr. Mazzagetti, a lawyer and amateur historian, is less forgiving, seeing the proposal as hard evidence that Lee really was willing to betray the revolutionary cause in 1777.
In the event, "Mr. Lee's Plan" remained undiscovered until the 1860s, and, when he was exchanged in 1778, he rejoined the Continental Army with his reputation intact and his confidence in guerrilla warfare unshaken. But during his captivity much had changed. Thanks to the rigorous training regime of the former Prussian officer Baron Steuben, Washington's troops had emerged from the Valley Forge encampment confident enough to face the redcoats in a conventional, stand-up fight. Their chance came in June 1778, when the British evacuated Philadelphia and withdrew to New York across a blisteringly hot New Jersey. Lee chivvied the rear of the enemy column, but when the British turned to fight near Monmouth he was soon in trouble. Irate to find Lee's troops retreating without orders, Washington gave him the rough side of his tongue before stabilizing the situation.
The battle ended in a draw, and Lee's performance would likely have been considered unworthy of further rebuke were it not for his own intemperate personality. "Boiling Water" seethed with such resentment against Washington that he fired off a trio of increasingly insolent letters, voicing his discontent and demanding a court-martial. Washington was happy to oblige. In what amounted to a showdown between the commander in chief and his rival, the military court found Lee guilty of misconduct and disrespect and suspended him for a year.
Lee harnessed the press to defend himself and denounce his enemies, a misguided policy that cost him any lingering support—and resulted in a duel with one of Washington's aides, John Laurens (who wounded Lee). He never rejoined the Army and died in 1782 in Philadelphia, his passing barely noticed amid expectations of ultimate victory over Britain.
Mr. Papas argues that Lee's contributions to the winning of American independence, both as a propagandist and as a soldier, deserve recognition. To Mr. Mazzagetti, by contrast, any such merits are outweighed by the self-obsession that prompted Lee to cynically betray a cause he had once championed. Despite their differing verdicts, these are both soundly researched and readable books that can be equally recommended.
Much about Charles Lee's personality remains a mystery, but his latest biographers concur in emphasizing his vastly inflated ego. Given his craving for attention, Lee would surely be delighted to know that he is not yet forgotten.
—Mr. Brumwell's "George Washington: Gentleman Warrior" won the 2013 George Washington Book Prize.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Noonan: The Daydream and the Nightmare
on: July 04, 2014, 10:11:19 AM
The Daydream and the Nightmare
Obama isn't doing his job. He's waiting for history to recognize his greatness.
July 3, 2014 4:59 p.m. ET
I don't know if we sufficiently understand how weird and strange, how historically unparalleled, this presidency has become. We've got a sitting president who was just judged in a major poll to be the worst since World War II. The worst president in 70 years! Quinnipiac University's respondents also said, by 54% to 44%, that the Obama administration is not competent to run the government. A Zogby Analytics survey asked if respondents are proud or ashamed of the president. Those under 50 were proud, while those over 50, who have of course the longest experienced sense of American history, were ashamed.
We all know the reasons behind the numbers. The scandals that suggest poor stewardship and, in the case of the IRS, destructive political mischief. The president's signature legislation, which popularly bears his name and contains within it the heart of his political meaning, continues to wreak havoc in marketplaces and to be unpopular with the public. He is incapable of working with Congress, the worst at this crucial aspect of the job since Jimmy Carter, though Mr. Carter at least could work with the Mideast and produced the Camp David Accords. Mr. Obama has no regard for Republicans and doesn't like to be with Democrats. Internationally, small states that have traditionally been the locus of trouble (the Mideast) are producing more of it, while large states that have been more stable in their actions (Russia, China) are newly, starkly aggressive.
That's a long way of saying nothing's working.
Which I'm sure you've noticed.
But I'm not sure people are noticing the sheer strangeness of how the president is responding to the lack of success around him. He once seemed a serious man. He wrote books, lectured on the Constitution. Now he seems unserious, frivolous, shallow. He hangs with celebrities, plays golf. His references to Congress are merely sarcastic: "So sue me." "They don't do anything except block me. And call me names. It can't be that much fun."
In a truly stunning piece in early June, Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein interviewed many around the president and reported a general feeling that events have left him—well, changed. He is "taking fuller advantage of the perquisites of office," such as hosting "star-studded dinners that sometimes go on well past midnight." He travels, leaving the White House more in the first half of 2014 than any other time of his presidency except his re-election year. He enjoys talking to athletes and celebrities, not grubby politicians, even members of his own party. He is above it all. On his state trip to Italy in the spring, he asked to spend time with "interesting Italians." They were wealthy, famous. The dinner went for four hours. The next morning his staff were briefing him for a "60 Minutes" interview about Ukraine and health care. "One aide paraphrased Obama's response: 'Just last night I was talking about life and art, big interesting things, and now we're back to the minuscule things on politics.'''
Minuscule? Politics is his job.
When the crisis in Ukraine escalated in March, White House aides wondered if Mr. Obama should cancel a planned weekend golf getaway in Florida. He went. At the "lush Ocean Reef Club," he reportedly told his dinner companions: "I needed this. I needed the golf. I needed to laugh. I needed to spend time with friends."
You get the impression his needs are pretty important in his hierarchy of concerns.
This is a president with 2½ years to go who shows every sign of running out the clock. Normally in a game you run out the clock when you're winning. He's running it out when he's losing.
All this is weird, unprecedented. The president shows no sign—none—of being overwhelmingly concerned and anxious at his predicaments or challenges. Every president before him would have been. They'd be questioning what they're doing wrong, changing tack. They'd be ordering frantic aides to meet and come up with what to change, how to change it, how to find common ground not only with Congress but with the electorate.
Instead he seems disinterested, disengaged almost to the point of disembodied. He is fatalistic, passive, minimalist. He talks about hitting "singles" and "doubles" in foreign policy.
"The world seems to disappoint him," says The New Yorker's liberal and sympathetic editor, David Remnick.
What kind of illusions do you have to have about the world to be disappointed when it, and its players, act aggressively or foolishly? Presidents aren't supposed to have those illusions, and they're not supposed to check out psychologically when their illusions are shattered.
Barack Obama doesn't seem to care about his unpopularity, or the decisions he's made that have not turned out well. He doesn't seem concerned. A guess at the reason: He thinks he is right about his essential policies. He is steering the world toward not relying on America. He is steering America toward greater dependence on and allegiance to government. He is creating a more federally controlled, Washington-centric nation that is run and organized by progressives. He thinks he's done his work, set America on a leftward course, and though his poll numbers are down now, history will look back on him and see him as heroic, realistic, using his phone and pen each day in spite of unprecedented resistance. He is Lincoln, scorned in his time but loved by history.
He thinks he is in line with the arc of history, that America, for all its stops and starts, for all the recent Supreme Court rulings, has embarked in the long term on governmental and cultural progressivism. Thus in time history will have the wisdom to look back and see him for what he really was: the great one who took every sling and arrow, who endured rising unpopularity, the first black president and the only one made to suffer like this.
That's what he's doing by running out the clock: He's waiting for history to get its act together and see his true size.
He's like someone who's constantly running the movie "Lincoln" in his head. It made a great impression on him, that movie. He told Time magazine, and Mr. Remnick, how much it struck him. President Lincoln of course had been badly abused in his time. Now his greatness is universally acknowledged. But if Mr. Obama read more of Lincoln, he might notice Lincoln's modesty, his plain ways, his willingness every day to work and negotiate with all who opposed him, from radical abolitionists who thought him too slow to supporters of a negotiated peace who thought him too martial. Lincoln showed respect for others. Those who loved him and worked for him thought he showed too much. He was witty and comical but not frivolous and never shallow. He didn't say, "So sue me." He never gave up trying to reach agreement and resolution.
It is weird to have a president who has given up. So many young journalists diligently covering this White House, especially those for whom it is their first, think what they're seeing is normal.
It is not. It is unprecedented and deeply strange. And, because the world is watching and calculating, unbelievably dangerous.