Enron: Dependent on Government

A new piece at the Library of Economics and Liberty written by Robert J. Bradley is a timely reminder that it’s often government policies that fosters bad corporate behavior—not the “free market” as the left likes to claim.

Bradley, a sixteen year employee of the now defunct Enron Corporation, demonstrates that the company was actually “a political colossus with a unique range of rent-seeking and subsidy-receiving operations.” Manipulating the tax code, pushing for self-serving government regulations, and grabbing taxpayer handouts were all key components of Enron’s energy empire. It’s not a stretch to suggest that in the absence of government, the Enron story never happens.

In my recent Cato paper on corporate welfare in the federal budget, I discuss the government subsidies that Enron received:

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Food Stamps Growth Has Bipartisan Roots

Republicans are jumping on the news that participation in the food stamps program hit a new record of 46.7 million individuals in June (about one in seven Americans). In a sluggish economy, an increase in food stamps participation is to be expected. Thus, it’s fair to hold up the increase in food stamps usage as being emblematic of the Obama administration’s failed economic policies. In addition, the president’s 2009 “stimulus” bill increased benefits and eligibility.

What Republicans don’t want to acknowledge is the role they played in expanding the food stamps program before President Obama ever took office. The 2002 farm bill—passed by a Republican-controlled House and signed by Republican President George W. Bush—expanded the food stamps program. As the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page correctly noted yesterday, “The food-stamp boom began with the George W. Bush Republicans, who expanded benefits in the appalling 2002 farm bill.”

The 2008 farm bill further expanded the program. However, on this the Journal lets the GOP off the hook when it says “But the supercharger was a 2008 bill out of the Pelosi Congress that goosed eligibility and rebranded the program as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to reduce the stigma of being on the dole.” Although Bush vetoed that farm bill (he didn’t cite the increase for food stamps in his veto message), congressional Republicans were instrumental in enabling the “Pelosi Congress” to override it. In the House, 99 (out of 195) Republicans joined most Democrats in voting to override the veto. In the Senate, only 12 Republicans voted to sustain Bush’s veto.

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Ryan and the Janesville Plant: the Fact that Matters

The latest conflagration over the media’s attempt to “fact-check” campaigning politicians centers on comments Paul Ryan made in his speech last night about a shuttered GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin:

President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two.  Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account.  My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.  It is locked up and empty to this day.  And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

A number of “fact checkers” cried foul. The left was pleased. The right was not pleased and has been crying foul on the left and the fact checkers. If you’re unfamiliar with the claims and counter-claims, you can Google the controversy if you’d like because I’m not going bother hyperlinking to all the back-and-forth.

I’m not going to bother because lost in all the predictable haggling between the left and the right over veracity of Ryan’s claim is the fact that really matters: Paul Ryan voted for the federal government’s bailout of the auto industry. In fact, he was 1 of only 32 Republicans to do so

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Paul Ryan Campaigns on Military Keynesianism

Speaking outside a helicopter museum in eastern Pennsylvania this week, Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan bemoaned the “irresponsible defense cuts” and subsequent job losses that would occur under the Budget Control Act’s sequestration spending cuts. That would be the same Budget Control Act that Paul Ryan voted for, and, at least initially, defended.

From TalkingPointsMemo.com:

“What conservatives like me have been fighting for, for years, are statutory caps on spending, legal caps in law that says government agencies cannot spend over a set amount of money,” Ryan told FOX News’s Sean Hannity shortly after the agreement was reached last August. “And if they breach that amount across the board, sequester comes in to cut that spending, and you can’t turn that off without a super-majority vote. We got that in law.”

It’s not just Ryan’s backing away from the BCA’s spending cuts that’s irritating; it’s the fact that he’s basing his opposition to the cuts on the same flawed Keynesian rationale that the president used to justify his failed stimulus package. As Chris Edwards has noted, shifting resources from the government sector to the private sector is good for the economy:

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Romney Runs from Spending Cuts

According to the Associated Press, Mitt Romney supports postponing the sequestration cuts scheduled for January 2, 2013 by at least one year:

The Republican presidential contender said Friday during a campaign trip to Las Vegas that the cuts would be “terrible,” particularly for the military.

Congress approved the cuts as part of a deal to reduce the deficit. They were designed to help lawmakers come up with a better plan. But that didn’t happen — so the cuts are scheduled to go into effect next year.

Romney says he wants President Barack Obama and lawmakers to work together to put, in his words, “a year’s runway,” in place to give the next president time to reform the tax system and ensure the military’s needs are met.

In other words, Romney’s position on sequestration is no different than the rest of the spendthrifts in Washington.

Romney’s punt coincides with the enactment of legislation that requires the White House to detail precisely what it would cut in January. The Office of Management and Budget has 30 days to release the report. The idea originated with congressional Republicans who relish the opportunity to get the president on record for proposing cuts to military spending. Democrats went along after the bill was changed to include provisions that force the White House to spell out cuts to domestic programs. The goal for both parties is to get the various special interests and their accomplices in the media to go bonkers when the report is released.

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No More Solyndras? Not Quite

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the “No More Solyndras Act.” As Taxpayers for Common Sense notes, however, the bill should probably be called the “More Solyndras Act” because it would still allow the Department of Energy to approve loan guarantee applications that were submitted by Dec. 31, 2011. Today the House Energy…

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The U.S. Postal Service and the Constitution

If my inbox is any indication, a lot of Americans apparently believe that an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary to privatize the U.S. Postal Service. That is simply not true.

Article 1, Section 8 says that [The Congress shall have the power] to establish Post Offices and Post Roads. It does not say that the federal government shall have the exclusive power to deliver mail. Nor does it require that the mail be delivered by an agent of the federal government to every home in the country, six days a week.

In a 1996 Cato book, The Last Monopoly, James I. Campbell writes the following in a chapter on the history of postal monopoly law:

The U.S. Constitution, in 1789, authorized Congress to establish “Post Offices and post Roads” but, unlike the Articles of Confederation, did not explicitly establish an exclusive monopoly. The first substantive postal law, enacted in 1792, listed post roads to be established, reflecting the traditional concept of postal service as a long-distance transport. It authorized the Postmaster General to enter into contracts for the carriage of “letters, newspapers, and packets” but limited the postal monopoly to “letter or letters, packet or packets, other than newspapers.”

According to Campbell, the Post Office “first began delivery of mail to a small portion of the U.S. population” in 1863:

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Ranting Against Big Government, But Voting for It

Drudge last week linked to a Brietbart TV video titled “‘USA! USA!’ Congressman’s Anti-Big Government Rant Gets Standing Ovation on House Floor.” In it, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) unleashes an oratorical blast against the stifling regulatory regime in Washington. It’s good stuff, but, unfortunately, Rep. Kelly’s anti-big government credentials are questionable. The Pennsylvania freshman Republican is a member of…

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A Scam’s Telling Success

According to multiple news reports, tens of thousands of Americans have fallen for a scam that’s being dubbed the “Obama utility bill scam.” The victims are told that a new Obama stimulus program will pay their utility bills. Fraudsters use the hook to get people to divulge their Social Security number and other personal information.…

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