Biden's unlimited national government
Have the American people really become so enfeebled and dependent that we need the national government involved in our purchase of leisure time activities?
While listening to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, the following question sprang to mind: Is there anything this man thinks isn’t the business of the national government? That should be left to state or local governments? Or to people and markets to work out without any interference by government?
There were three layers of the unbridled buttinsky in the speech. The first was the bragging about the results of the infrastructure bill passed in the last Congress.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was a principal architect of the bill. If she runs for re-election as an independent in 2024, it undoubtedly will figure prominently in her campaign. It will be a classic “I brought home the bacon” pitch.
There is an important context for thinking about this layer: The national government is broke but state and local government finances are, as a general proposition, pretty healthy.
In the speech, Biden bragged about airport projects from Boston to Atlanta to Portland. These are all big, mature cities. If their airports need improvements, why aren’t they able to scratch up the cash themselves?
Likewise with a bridge between Kentucky and Ohio that made the speech. If the bridge is as vital to commerce as Biden described it, are Kentucky and Ohio really so impoverished that they can’t find the funding from local sources to keep it in good repair?
Arizona provides a good illustration of the unnecessity of national involvement in infrastructure, all of which lies in some state or local jurisdiction, which it primarily serves. The state hoped to get a national grant to help pay for an expansion of I-10. Having lost out in the preliminary funding round, the legislature is likely to appropriate sufficient funds to do it entirely on the state’s dime.
The second layer was untargeted price controls on prescription drugs. Biden crowed about capping the price of insulin for Medicare patients and called on Congress to extend it universally. And he gave himself a pat on the back for capping out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare patients at $2,000 a year.
Now, there are people for whom the market price of insulin could be a financial burden. And there are seniors for whom more than $2,000 a year in prescription drug costs would be a hardship. But there are plenty of people capable of paying the market price for insulin and plenty of seniors who can pay more than $2,000 a year in prescription drugs without it being a squeeze. Yet the national government’s intervention is universal, not targeted based upon need.
The national government is going heavy into price controls for prescription drugs. While that may provide politically popular financial benefit for the users of currently available drugs, it may also reduce the incentive to bring new drugs to market. It is an excellent example of Bastiat’s point about what is seen and what is unseen.
The third layer is the stuff that makes a libertarian wonder if it's meant as satire. Or what Biden referred to as “junk fees.”
Biden talked about policing airline seat pricing, bank overdraft fees, credit card late fees, resort fees, fees to switch cable or internet providers, and service fees for tickets to concerts and sporting events.
So, we have a national government running chronic trillion-dollar deficits, the Medicare and Social Security trust funds marching steadily toward not being able to pay promised benefits, a disorderly southern border, diplomatic and military challenges in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, and the president of the United States is concerning himself with whether a credit card late fee should be $8 or $30?
I know there are commercial practices that can be irritating or even infuriating. But surely these are things that people acting as consumers and markets can sort out on their own. Have the American people really become so enfeebled and dependent that we need the national government involved in our purchase of leisure time activities, such as vacation hotels, concerts, and sporting events?
Moreover, there are tradeoffs and consequences to government regulating or limiting fees the politicians deem as junk. Anyone who believes that the politicians will understand and give due consideration to these tradeoffs and consequences hasn’t been paying attention.
The founders wanted to create an energetic but limited national government and a federal system that reserved local concerns to sovereign states. We are steadily drifting further and further away from that enlightened framework.
Reach Robb at firstname.lastname@example.org.