Thursday, August 26, 2010


In an early August op-ed, Peggy Noonan laid out how many feel about the growing disconnect between “average” Americans and their political, civic, and cultural leaders. As Noonan put it “But do our political leaders have any sense of what people are feeling deep down? They don't act as if they do. I think their detachment from how normal people think is more dangerous and disturbing than it has been in the past. I started noticing in the 1980s, the growing gulf between the country's thought leaders, as they're called--the political and media class, the universities—and those living what for lack of a better word we'll call normal lives on the ground in America. The two groups were agitated by different things, concerned about different things, had different focuses, different world views.”

I don’t know what to make of it. At times I feel that events in Washington, D.C. are in a far away galaxy and there are times when I feel they’re like a huge asteroid poised to crash through the ozone layer. I find myself occasionally thinking back fondly to the days when Ike was the President and I was the stickball champion of Chatham Street. And, there are days when I feel that the serenity of the Flint Hills can protect me from the madness.

Unfortunately, the respite is only temporary. The disconnect is everywhere. There’s no escaping it.

On August 3rd the Gazette reported that “Even in tough economic times, 64 percent of Emporia voters agreed to continue a half-cent sales tax for economic development and property tax relief through 2024.” There are 13,808 registered voters in the city of Emporia. There were 2,156 votes in favor of the extension. The truth is, only 15.6% of those registered voted to approve the extension. Why did so few vote? Was R.D.A president Kent Heerman right when he claimed “it looks like voters were very interested in continuing industrial and economic development and property tax relief.”? Or, could it be that we’re seeing detachment and disenchantment played out locally?

In the wake of the vote, Steve Sauder thanked “the very astute voters in Emporia for extending the ½ cent sales tax through 2024.” Where does that leave those who voted no? Apparently, they’re not very astute. What about those who didn’t vote? Feeling disconnected? Were they were thinking “What’s the point? The deck is stacked.”

Last week, the city commission approved a budget with a gaping $750,000 hole. Among the line items that escaped the hatchet was a $250,000 subsidy to the municipal golf course. The prevailing argument in favor of the subsidy was that quality of life things like the golf course make Emporia appealing. A few budgets ago a $50,000 annual taxi subsidy for retirees on fixed incomes and folks with disabilities was scrapped. Apparently, seniors pushing walkers or wheezing through oxygen bottles must make Emporia less appealing. Oh well. I guess it’s all for the best, isn’t it?

I can’t figure out this mill levy thing. The school district approved a 2.55 mill increase in their budget, blaming it on decreased valuations. I’ve lived here since ’99. Property valuations have increased by 48% over that time. Following their rationale, the mill levy should have decreased over the same period. Yet, the school district levy has increased by about 30% since ’99. Overall, my property taxes have increased by 88%. If the formula weren’t so expensive, it would actually be funny.

A lot of Emporia’s ham and eggers have tried to tell their leaders they’re tapped out, but it doesn’t seem to be working. You don’t suppose the communications cables have been disconnected, do you?

The city is $35 million in debt. USD 253 is carrying another $27 million. That’s about $2,500 for every man, woman, and child in Emporia, or about $10,000 for the average Emporia family. On top of that, our federal government has us in hock to the tune of $44,000 per citizen. Our poverty rate is close to 20%. And, our leaders are wondering why folks aren’t “shopping Emporia first.” Could it be a sign of disconnect? You betcha.’

What’s the next shoe to drop? A few more mills, perhaps? $650,000 worth of Astroturf at Soden’s Grove? By the end of the year the city is going to have to figure out what to do with the old Arts Council building. I wonder if Mayor Jim Kessler, who has vowed to create revenue out of thin air, has a plan to set up the presses and print the money when the Arts Council vacates.

Peggy Noonan was right. There’s a massive primal scream building up in America. I fear that unless our leaders, at all levels, get connected, the sound of the explosion to come will make Krakatoa seem like a whisper.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Harry Truman was reported to have once said “You can line up ten economists end to end on the floor and you’d never come up with a straight line.” He was almost certainly right.

Since I retired a few years ago I’ve done a bit of dabbling in economics, principally to amuse myself as I amble off into the sunset. I’ve read the classics from Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” to Marx’s “Das Kapital,” with a bit of Hayek, Friedman, Pipes, DeSoto, DeSouza, and Higgs sprinkled in. I’ll admit my bias. Adam Smith and the free market capitalists make sense to me. Marx? I got about half way through “Das Kapital” and decided to ship it off, free of charge, to some east coast Marxist who could make better use of it.

This past May I decided to tackle John Maynard Keynes’ “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.” It’s now August. I’ve made it as far as chapter 10, “The Marginal Propensity to Consume and the Multiplier.”

Theoretically, I should like what I’m reading. Granted, I’m only an eavesdropper, but I think I’ve read enough to understand that (1) We’re all going to die (2) Thrift is bad (3) Consumption is good (4) Consumption is all the better if you can get government to pry the loot from the hands, bank accounts, and investment portfolios of the rich, their children, grand-children, and great grand-children and give it to guys like me right now so that we can consume like drunken sailors.

What’s not to like about that? It may not make sense, but it doesn’t have to. The notion of enshrining inter-class and inter-generational theft may not be an honest way to spend five shillings, as economist Paul Samuelson once put it. But, as he also said, it’s “pure genius.”

It’s no wonder politicians have become such skilled practitioners of the pickpocket’s art. They’re geniuses too. They can appropriate money they haven’t earned, from people who have. And what are they doing with the money? They’re creating a totally dependent class of citizens and an army of government bureaucrats that would be the envy of Genghis Khan’s pillaging hordes.

For the past 10 years this has been a very bi-partisan effort. George Bush, a closet Keynesian, gave us trillions in debt and deficits. Barrack Obama, a full bore Keynesian, has set the pedal to the metal. We now have fourteen trillion in debt and if the Congressional Budget Office is right we’ll add another eight trillion by the end of the decade. And you and me? We’re just along for the ride in the back seat, with the geniuses at the wheel. It may look to us like we’re careening down the edge of a cliff with no brakes and no clutch, but they know better. We may be scared out of our wits, but they’ve got the cure. “Just shut up and take a slug of the Sneaky Pete. Everything’s gonna’ be fine.”

The alternative to this is austerity and smaller government, which was just voted in by the British. As I write, British Prime Minister David Cameron is slashing and burning like a wild man. His task, as he sees it, is to drastically reduce the size and power of government that has “turned able, capable individuals into passive recipients of state help.” Now I ask you. How much fun is that? It seems downright uncivilized.

Is it really a good idea to have “experts” at the helm when you’re trying to navigate your way between disaster and catastrophe? I remember a young student from my days in grad school. He was absolutely brilliant, theology’s equivalent of Keynes. It was widely accepted that he could manipulate the Almighty like a child playing with Silly Putty. There was a word - eschatology - he became quite enamored of and he managed to squeeze it into every sentence he uttered. One day it might be the “consequent eschatology of Schweitzer.” On another it might be “eschatological developments and the social milieu.” I once asked him how he would explain what he was saying to a cab driver. He looked at me, nonplussed, and said “Cab drivers aren’t worthy of this.” I suspect many of his parishioners, if he ever had any, have long since been devoured by Scylla or sucked down the vortex by Charybdis.

Given the fun I’ve had to this point, I can hardly wait to get to Keynes’ chapter 24 – “Concluding Notes on the Social Philosophy Towards Which the General Theory Might Lead.” As I look out the windshield I think I know we’re it’s heading and I want to scream, “We’re going off the cliff; we’re gonna’ crash and burn!” But I’m no expert. Maybe I’d better take another slug of the Sneaky Pete to dull the oncoming pain.