Cliff Dwellers

We, unfortunately, are getting used to living at the edge of a steep cliff, going about our everyday business pretending the fatal drop to the abyss doesn't exist.

Culturally, one needn't be what's called a "social conservative" to be appalled at excesses in Europe where Zurich is creating outdoor booths to facilitate prostitution and Germany has many "erotic zoos" where patrons pay for the right to engage in bestiality with the penned-in farm animals.

Customers at the German erotic zoos consider this a simple lifestyle choice. Alas, the 1969 repeal of German laws got the government out of the bedroom, or perhaps more appropriately, out of the barnyard. And under a libertarian model, cows and pigs are properly consider chattel, mere property like a chair or tractor. If one wants to do things to a chair or tractor they own, then they certainly aren't hurting anyone else.

That's just part of what's at the bottom of the slippery slope. In the same article, author Christian Adams reminds us that you can ring up a euthanasia van in the Netherlands and in the U.K. the Royal College of Obstetricians support infant euthanasia.

Others report that it is becoming more common for British hospitals to withhold food and water for the elderly to speed them to their death and make another hospital cot available, a procedure known by the innocuous phrase, "Liverpool Care Pathway".

In America our perversions remain tamer than they are in Germany (but are at least as pernicious to the general welfare), and our regard for the value of life is a bit higher. Still, we are coming to realize how government policies are discouraging low and middle income men and women from marrying, are creating a society in which more children are born in fatherless homes, and are multiplying the speed of our own social disorganization.

Over at Just One Minute Tom Maguire weighs in on this phenomenon:

Social Collapse At The Margin

Glenn links to this study noting the various "fiscal cliffs" faced by low income recipients of me[a]ns-tested Government aid. Why work, one wonders?

The Tax Policy Center looked at this problem last summer and re[a]ched a similar conclusion. However, they added a second question -- why get married?

Marriage Penalties. Means testing and joint filing has resulted in hundreds of billions of 
marriage penalties for low and middle-income households. Essentially, when moderate-income couples marry, their marginal tax rate moves up from, say, 25 percent, to the 50 and 80 percent ranges shown above.

For instance, a moderate-income male marrying a working mother with children can easily cause her to lose EITC, SNAP, Medicaid, and other benefits as well. Marriage penalties arise because of the combination of variable U.S. tax rates and joint, rather than individual, filing by married couples for benefits and taxes.
If graduated taxes were accompanied by individual filing or if all income and transfers were taxed at a flat rate, there would be no marriage penalties. The EITC, by the way, can provide both subsidies and penalties, and Social Security generally provides very large marriage bonuses.

Someone looking at our system from Mars would conclude that we don't want moderate-income families with children to marry, since we penalize them, but we do want older households (at ages when children are likely to be gone) to marry, since we subsidize them.

Government assistance is an area where Obama could show Nixon-to-China leadership. And pigs might fly.

Legal Insurrection's William Jacobson, a law professor, and Zero Hedge, a market analyst, both weighed in on the subject this week as the rest of us were sleeping off Thanksgiving feasts:

Back in November 2009, I saw the government benefits trap as a key political tool for Democrats, 100% Plus Taxation Key To Permanent Dem Majority:

In addition to all the other problems with highly subsidized, income-tested health care benefits, will come an even more permanent underclass which, being economically rational, will choose not to earn another dollar rather than lose more than a dollar of benefits.

Conservatives often speak of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis as seeking to create a permanent Democratic majority through big government handouts. This implicit marginal tax analysis shows that it is much worse than it seems; the permanent big-government majority will not be there by choice, but by government-created economic necessity....

A permanent, Democratic-voting majority living off government benefits with no way out. It really is that bad, and this really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the Democrats to achieve a permanent, economically-enslaved majority.

This chart I posted showed that the problem, implicit marginal rates in excess of 100% for wage earners moving from $30,000 of income to $50,000 of income:

It's almost like I actually saw Julia, Sandra Fluke, and the Obama campaign 2012 coming.

At Zero Hedge today there is an article making similar points, When Work Is Punished: The Tragedy Of America's Welfare State (emphasis in original):

Exactly two years ago, some of the more politically biased progressive media outlets (who are quite adept at creating and taking down their own strawmen arguments, if not quite as adept at using an abacus, let alone a calculator) took offense at our article.

Knowing the tragedy that these unthinking entitlements are creating, is it any wonder that -- the difficulty of overcoming our already crushing debt aside -- the secretary of the treasury was laughed at when he proposed the president's plan to avoid the fiscal cliff: tax more and we'll discuss unspecified cuts later?

Asia Time's Spengler sees in this debt crisis a diminution of America's powers abroad:

It is symptomatic of the national condition of the United States that the worst humiliation ever suffered by it as a nation, and by a US president personally, passed almost without comment last week. I refer to the November 20 announcement at a summit meeting in Phnom Penh that 15 Asian nations, comprising half the world's population, would form a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership excluding the United States.

President Barack Obama attended the summit to sell a US-based Trans-Pacific Partnership excluding China. He didn't. The American led-partnership became a party to which no-one came.

Instead, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, will form a club and leave out the United States.

I never doubt Spengler's intelligence or analysis but I wonder how much this reflects on the "national condition of the United States" and how much on the incompetency and arrogance of the president. Friends remind me of the amateurish performance of Obama at the Copenhagen Climate Conference when he burst uninvited into a meeting held by Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian negotiators who were deliberately leaving him out of the discussions,
And he was no great shakes at the G20 Summit in Mexico whose leaders quite openly ignored him.

Perhaps his controversial presumptive nominee for the secretary of state, Susan Rice, will do a better job of it than her predecessor in office. I highly doubt it though.

Her role in shaping U.S. policy toward Central Africa should feature high on this list. Between 1993 and 2001, she helped form U.S. responses to the Rwandan genocide, events in post-genocide Rwanda, mass violence in Burundi, and two ruinous wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As it's Sunday, I don't want to leave you without a ray or two of hope. It looks as if the citizens are starting to wake up:

"A new Gallup poll shows that 54 percent of Americans think it isn't the federal government's responsibility to ensure all citizens have healthcare coverage. This is the first time Gallup trends have shown a majority of Americans holding this opinion since 2000, according to Gallup's Jeffrey Jones."

Legal efforts to dismantle Obamacare continue with many thinking some of the lawsuits have a decent chance of success.

On the other hand, perhaps our best chance of staying alive, in addition to cutting spending on entitlement programs, is to bring in more highly skilled, talented people not yet poisoned by the Western world's descent into darkness and ignorance. Shikha Dalmia says it's doable and provides the Canadian provincial-nominee program as a template.

There is talk about raising the cap on visas for skilled workers -- called H1-Bs -- and scrapping the limit on green cards so that applicants from some countries don't have to wait longer than others. Right now, no more than 7 percent of the roughly 140,000 employment-based green cards issued every year can go to residents of one country. (That creates a 10- to 15-year wait for immigrants from India and China, the biggest suppliers of graduates from high-demand STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math.)

Behind the Curve

As for the unskilled, a guest-worker program for Mexican labor that would make it easier for migrants to get temporary visas for seasonal work is gaining traction.

While such changes might address the most egregious defects in immigration policies, the discussion shows how behind the curve the U.S. is compared with other countries. Canada and Australia, for example, skip the temporary work-visa step completely and offer fast-track permanent residencies to highly-skilled workers and their spouses before they even arrive in the country. Australia offers almost as many employment-based green cards as the U.S., even though the American population is 14 times bigger.

Canada's provincial-nominee program is the best model for the U.S. Under this system, 13 provincial entities sponsor a total of 75,000 worker-based permanent residencies a year, and the federal government in Ottawa offers 55,000. Each province can pick whomever it wants for whatever reason -- in effect, to use its quota, which is based on population, to write its own immigration policy.

A shift to such a plan should get the support of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who bankrolled Obama. It might help California repopulate itself with skilled workers, and perhaps it would help make the country more productive and aid in paying off the seemingly insurmountable national debt.