Sunday, April 26

Maybe someone should give PM Narendra Modi a copy of James Buckley's book

I've deleted my specific address to "Americans" from the title of my 4/25 post (Americans: Tired of baloney instead of a workable plan to roll back federal government?), which references a book by James L. Buckley, Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering Their People. I did this because from what Shadow Warrior says, obviously Americans are not the only ones with the same basic problem Buckley writes about,

Shadow Warrior post from 4/23, which starts:
Land Bill Being Shelved
The Modi govt is shelving the Land Acquisition Bill after political opponents have pounced upon the issue and raised increasing outcry over it.
I feel that the Modi govt should have taken the approach of handing over more control of land policy to the states. Then states with a more forward and progressive outlook could move to develop themselves faster, while states with a more regressive outlook (bimarus) could be left to lag behind. The states more amenable to change would reap the rewards sooner, while the laggard states would suffer the consequences and feel more pressure to catch up.
Modi has often spoken of empowering the states and involving the states, but on the land issue he seems to have conspicuously ignored his own advice. Maybe his rock-concert-tours abroad have misled him into believing that he can change India purely through the force of personal charisma, but he is now receiving a rude dose of reality. He does not have the personal force to just hoist up the entire country and raise the Titanic in one heave.
I don't know whether any or part of the mechanics of Buckley's plan could be applied to India's government. Yet I'll bet that federal overreach in India happened at least in part in the same way it did in the USA.  As Buckley explained during his conversation with John Batchelor on Friday, the feds made an offer to state and local governments they couldn't refuse: free money from Washington in the form of what's called "federal grants-in-aid."

However, there is a string attached in that Washington controls the programs run by the federal aid grants.

So it turned out that free money was hideously expensive for the states -- and American taxpayers in general. This is because it's really, really costly to fix a flat tire in Kansas City from a garage in Washington. DC. That's not even talking about how expensive long-distance administration is for the kind of programs the feds actually fund.

And when people are getting money for free, they're not prudent with the way they manage it.  This too turned into a huge problem for the states' taxpayers.

So why don't states just refuse the handouts from Washington?  Here we find a tangled ball of yarn.   State governments and the taxpayers in the state are in a serious bind if they want to refuse federal money for grant programs that the feds have already funded.  That's because the programs have state employees working on them. Shut down the program, throw many people in your state out of work.

Plus, people in the state collecting checks from the federally-funded program suddenly lose the check.

Plus, Washington says to a state, 'Okay, if you don't want your share of the pot of federal aid money -- which by the way taxpayers in your state have contributed to -- we'll just give it to another state.'

But what if the state applying for the 'extra' money is rich, and the state trying to withdraw from the government's free money is poor?

Now it's possible to address the dilemma on a case-by-case basis. But the only viable solution for all the U.S. states is a remedy that finally tackles the roots of the problem.  Yet despite bright minds in Washington (they do exist) wrangling over this problem for decades, proposals for a remedy always get hung up on the sticking point of rich states v. poor states.

The upshot is that taxpayers say to heck with it; we'll just keep paying for these federal aid programs because at least we'll get some of the money.

After listening to Buckley detail the situation for John Batchelor's radio audience, I was reminded of people who start using credit cards to make ends meet from month to month.  They know they're ruining themselves with the interest payments but they don't see any way out.  
Libertarians and Conservatives have had no workable answer for the states' dilemma. And Liberals ask, 'What're you gonna do if the well runs dry?'

Watch Ken Burns' Dust Bowl to understand why Liberals have a point.  What happens if there's a perfect storm of events affecting several low-income states for years, and there are no federal aid grant programs?

Actually, ways other than the federal aid grant programs can be found for the federal government to deal with real disasters in states that are overwhelmed.

And I think Conservatives would charge that the whole of the Liberal agenda since Lyndon Johnson's presidency has been to brand everything a disaster, from being poor to requiring a college education to needing medical care to being a minority, to not having the right kind of protein in public school lunches.

It's a tribute to the large hearts of Americans that this perversion of the concept of disaster hasn't destroyed volunteerism in the United States.

Yet the world changed in the wake of the 2008 financial crash.  Even many Liberals now concede that the federal aid grant program is out of control -- a disaster in itself, by their interpretation of the term. From the introduction to Buckley's book:
Saving Congress from Itself proposes a single reform: eliminate all federal grants-in-aid to state and local governments. This action would reduce federal spending by over [$641] billion a year and have a profound effect on how we govern ourselves.
The proliferation of federal grants-in-aid programs is of recent vintage: only about 100 such grants existed before Lyndon Johnson took office, and now they number more than 1,100.
Eliminating grants to the states will result in enormous savings in federal and state administrative costs; free states to set their own priorities; and improve the design and implementation of programs now subsidized by Washington by eliminating federal regulations that attend the grants.
In short, it will free states and their subdivisions to resume full responsibility for all activities that fall within their competence, such as education, welfare, and highway construction and maintenance.
And because members of Congress spend major portions of their time creating grants and allocating funds assigned to them (think earmarks), eliminating grants will enable Congress to devote its time to responsibilities that are uniquely national in character.
But that's just the introduction.  Again, the sticking point about the 'block grant' remedy has been rich states v poor ones if the grant program is ended. The rich states can survive the immediate shock when the programs are ended; poor states can't necessarily.  So it's at this point Buckley proposes a stepwise solution.

I transcribed part of his conversation with Batchelor on the John Batchelor Show about the steps. I stress there's additional steps so you want to listen to the podcast of the conversation to perceive the staircase. The entire segment for their conversation begins around the 19 minute mark. The part I'm quoting starts around the 34 minute mark.

(As I mentioned in the earlier post, James L. Buckley is a retired Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and former U.S. Senator.)
My proposal is to kill all these [aid grant] programs -- just abolish them all. But because they've grown to the point where about 30 percent of the average state income is in the form of these grants, you have to fill in the gap.

My specific proposal is to immediately have Congress give each state 'block grants.' meaning grants with no strings attached, which equal the amount [states] were expecting from all the various programs and grants that had been approved. And then phase those out.

But there is an alternative that I think Congress might find more attractive and that is to convert those sums of money into what was called "revenue sharing" in the 1970s.  In other words, a return of money to the states with no strings, but in a manner that would allow a certain amount of redistribution from the wealthy states to the poor states.
[This] on the assumption there are certain levels of service that we should expect citizens to receive whether they live in a poor state or rich one.
Again, there are a couple more steps after that, as you will learn from the rest of the 39 minute conversation, but they form an integrated remedy.  The additional steps are necessary because working out a fair resolution to the rich-poor states conundrum, in the way the federal government would do it, is so incredibly complicated, as Buckley explains, it would be well into the mid-century before they had it sorted out.

Buckley is saying, 'Here's how to do it more simply.'

Now of course this doesn't solve all America's problems.  But it does solve a huge problem that seemed intractable until a 90+ year old American with vast experience in Washington, and whose mind is sharp as a tack, sat down and wrote a book. Another book, that is; Saving Congress From Itself is not the first one James Buckley has written.


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