Sunday, February 01, 2009

Beebe Pay Raise and the Real Problem

Hot dogging in the grandstands. Governor Mike Beebe declines his pay raise.
It wasn't just sycophantic AP writer Andrew DeMillo who lauded Mike Beebe's decision to forgo his own pay raise, the former communications director for Asa Hutchinson did the same (sort of) at his Arkansas Project blog. As proof positive that the world will end soon, John Brummett actually offered the opinion closest to my own.

For once Brummett beats the charge of hypocrisy. Former State Senator Jim Holt, a man Brummett once made a living off of because so many of his columns were directed against him, routinely voted against his own pay raise and that of other legislators, and Brummett never seemed impressed. Come to think of it, I don't remember anyone in the media gushing about it when Holt did it. DeMillo and accomplices in the state's print media only seem impressed when their beloved insiders do it.

My opinion on this matter is on two levels, the political and the structural. Even on the political level I am not convinced that it was a great move. Sure it scored points for Beebe among the least sophisticated voters who don't know that: a) Beebe is already rich from suing people, and b) the real money in his job comes from corporate quid-pro quo, not official salary.

But what did this stunt do besides make Beebe look good to the slice of the electorate who will have forgotten it by 2010 anyway? It made the legislature look bad. The same legislature that he has to deal with right now on some tough votes- including a vote or three that will require super-majorities. Is this really the time to embarrass them )even the leadership from your own party) by making yourself look good at their expense? Is it politically smart to blindside them? Is it smart to put it into their heads (again) that they cannot trust you? I don't think so. Consider that the failure of the tobacco tax would be a much bigger loss to Beebe than any PR points from the pay raise issue.

But the political horse-race aspect of this business has always been less interesting to me than the structural issues- what sort of ideas and approaches constitute good public policy. The real problem here is something I mentioned earlier, and is an inevitable consequence of a big-government viewpoint. Mike Beebe can make more money for himself from helping the "right" people loot the public Treasury than he can from his official pay as Governor. That's the real root problem, and it is unavoidable once you say it is proper for Government to have programs that pick winners and losers in the economy. It will always be a negative force on government integrity to have the government doing so many things that almost any corporation no matter what they are selling can get its profits from satisfying government contracts instead of regular consumers.

A big-government approach will therefore ALWAYS, without exception, produce graft and corruption. And this will not be a fixed or limited amount of corruption, but rather a problem that will grow larger over time. The problem will snowball so that anybody who wants to run for office with a classical view of limited government will be grossly out-raised by candidates who will continue to expand government to the profit of the businesses making money off of the expansion. This will continue even after it is painfully clear that we can no longer afford it.

Men unwilling to be corrupted by this process will find that they cannot compete in fund raising with those who are willing, and soon the one who is only willing to be "X" corrupt will be unable to compete with the one who is "XX" corrupt. All the while, few are even willing to admit that it is corruption in the heart of it. Quite the reverse, the corrupt politicos that spend a republic into oblivion will self-delude themselves into thinking they are more righteous than the ones who attempt to stop the orgy of over spending.

Remove God from the top and the next higher power is human government. Instead of the classical position that Government is a minister of God to protect the God-given rights of its citizens, government then makes itself out to be God. That is, it tries to become the answer to every human need without considering if it has any natural boundaries on what it should attempt to do. In making itself out to be god, the government ruins the economy of its country through overspending, and spreads itself so thin that it can not even do what it is supposed to. I told you I liked talking about the structural stuff more.

This is not Mike Beebe alone who has this temptation. They all do. Almost none of them want to close the "revolving door" between government and industry. Industries have a way of "doing right" by legislators who "did right" for them by looting the public treasury on a program which provided profits to the industry. Rounding up thousands of dollars for "campaign contributions" to a legislator who is term-limited and has never been opposed anyway is another example. Mike Beebe and others like him can make tens of thousands of dollars from his official salary, but he can raise millions in "campaign contributions" that he does not need to use for campaigning. So you tell me, who are they working for?


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