February 2009

American Sunrise

American Sunrise

By: Brian Sikma

When President Barack Obama signed the $780 billion stimulus bill into law on February 17, he made official an economic policy that takes our nation further down the wrong path.  The billions of dollars in new government spending that the stimulus contains represent the wrong kind of response to our nation’s economic troubles.  With unemployment rising, home foreclosures increasing, businesses struggling, and banks faltering, we do not need an economic “recovery” plan that calls for policies that will increase inflation, penalize those who succeed and deal with the symptoms, and not the root, of our problems.

History does not often grant the actors in its drama the luxury of writing their own account of events and their response to them.  But sometimes the challenges of the day are of such magnitude and of such a nature as to demand a clear and unmistakable response.  It is during times like these that our answer defines us more than the challenge itself, and history is left to draw but one conclusion from our actions.  Such a time is before us now.

Although the economic challenges that we face are severe, they will not define us for generations to come.  Our generation will not be judged by history based on the magnitude of the problem we were required to face.  Our generation will be judged on its response to the problem and, in turn, its embrace of liberty or its embrace of a government controlled security that requires us to sacrifice our freedom.  The response of our government to the economic slowdown has, to date, been one of greater intrusion, intervention, regulation, and management.  It has not been one that respects freedom, advances the principles of our founding, and lays the groundwork for future economic prosperity.

If we chose to continue to allow our government to pass economic stimulus bills that we cannot pay for now, and that we may never be able to pay for in the future, and if we continue to stand by as our government takes our money and the money of future generations and bails out politically powerful companies, we will have chosen to abandon a future of freedom.  I do not believe that this is what the American people will do.  I do not believe that they will choose this ignoble course.

The choice that we face between choosing freedom and choosing slavery to our government is not a choice between action and inaction.  The question before us today is whether we will accept government-backed security or whether we will chose to embrace liberty and all of the exhilarating possibilities and boundless opportunities that it presents us.  To answer in either way we must act.  We must either act by allowing government to continue on its present course of expanding at the price of our freedom; or we must act by replacing outdated regulatory structures and tax systems with new structures and new systems that reward entrepreneurialism and hard work.

Among us today are some leaders who preach a gospel of greater security and a more equal distribution of success.  They urge us to set aside the freedom we have enjoyed in the past for the sake of a security guaranteed by a government that will have control over every aspect of our life.  The uncertainty of freedom is just not worth it, we are told.  Unless we accept their prescriptions for more spending, more government mandates, and less personal responsibility, we face an economic catastrophe on a scale greater than any in our history.  This is but one voice in the debate, however.

There is another voice, or perhaps a symphony of voices, urging us to pursue a different course.  A course that diverges from the path that we are presently on and our current leaders are intent on following.  This other voice urges us not to forsake freedom for the temporary safety that is found in government mandated mediocrity.  It is the voice of our founding fathers who endured the perils of independence, suffered the dangers of war, persevered through the miseries of economic hardship and worked to overcome petty political differences to create a new nation birthed in freedom and bought in blood.  It is the voice of a generation that fought to overcome the terrible evils of slavery.  It is the voice of a generation that, not all that long ago, found itself embroiled in a world war that was a global conflict between good and evil.  It is the voice of countless millions who endured the hardships of our history because they believed in the limitless potential of a free people.  It is the voice of future generations urging us to keep faith.

Freedom has never been an easy or free thing.  Nor should it be.  It costs something to earn and keep freedom.  For the citizen-soldier that price is sometimes the ultimate sacrifice.  For the citizen-statesmen that price is sometimes short-term expediency and popularity.  For the citizen like you and me that price is the security that a big government brings.  We could have security in an instant, we could have government mandated efficiency in a heart beat, if we are willing lay aside our hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future.

Government granted security brings a certainty that is unlike the sometimes unpredictable business of individual responsibility and personal economic choice.  With government in control, we can expect all the misery to be shared equally, for there is no such thing as success in a socialist state.  With government in control, we can all expect to achieve the same bland level of subsistence, with our futures undifferentiated by our dreams and our ability to find our personal calling and fulfill our God-given destiny as individuals.

Will we chose to follow the prophets of doom and gloom who predict calamity if we do not submit to a government that is growing more socialist by the day?  Or will we answer that other voice, the voice of the past and the voice of the future, that urges us not to give up on our heritage of freedom?  We are Americans and it is our history, our tradition, and our nature to chose freedom over bondage.  We will not sacrifice freedom for the sake of a temporary and fleeting moment of security.  Yes, we will be required to endure an economic downturn, but we will not do it by remaining inactive.

Instead of choosing a future defined by government and socialist policies, we will chose a future that rewards the virtues of responsibility, integrity, work, thrift, and saving.  We will chose a future where we fulfill our purpose in life without the government telling us what we can and can’t do.  Our dreams and our visions will not be bound and limited by the anemic thinking of bureaucrats.   We will stand tall and rugged in the face of this storm for we will chose to follow the path of freedom.  We will not falter now and we will carry ourselves forward with such character and bearing that future generations of Americans will look back and say that we stayed true to our principles, we kept the faith, we endured the struggle, we strove for higher things.

Indiana State Flag

Indiana State Flag

By: Brian Sikma

When the Indiana House-and primarily Speaker Pat Bauer and Rules Committee Chairman Scott Pelath- failed to pass SJR 7 (the proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman) last year, they effectively reset the entire effort to protect marriage in Indiana. The process of placing the definition of marriage in the state constitution starts anew this year with this session.

Since 2004 the Senate has passed a marriage amendment 4 times (2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 ) and this year a new face is carrying the proposal forward. Freshman Senator Marlin Stutzman (R-Howe) is the original author of SJR 15, a slightly revised version of past proposed amendments. The language was revised to be nearly identical with that of Kentucky’s marriage amendment, which voters placed in that state’s constitution in 2004. The tested wording of the Kentucky amendment should help overcome concerns that some had about all the implications contained in the language of SJR 7.

With the state facing a slumping economy that is not only causing high unemployment but also creating a decline in government revenues forcing tough budget decisions, some may question whether or not it is appropriate to consider a social issue this session. Indeed, economic issues should be a first-priority item for the General Assembly. But there is nothing to limit the legislature’s focus to only one first-priority item. Even as he works to manage the size of the state budget and carefully cut wasteful spending and maximize the funding that will be appropriated this year, Governor Mitch Daniels is moving ahead with advancing his property tax caps in the constitution plan (I am not necessarily endorsing this plan-I am emphasizing leadership). He understands that leadership demands that more than one important issue be dealt with at one time, and the members of the General Assembly would do well to take note of this.

In the past Speaker Bauer has pointed to any number of “pressing” issues as reasons for why he could or should not waste valuable House time on debating and voting on a marriage amendment. The Senate, with much prodding from advocates of a marriage amendment, has been more apt to move the measure forward through the committee process and onto the floor for a full vote.

Inspite of what opponents of the proposal may say, Indiana still needs a marriage amendment. The events in California last year reinforce this point. When a majority of judges declared that marriage in the Golden State may not be limited to one man and one woman, they not only defied state law, but also the will of the voters of California who expressly voted to protect marriage in a referendum vote in 2000. Exercising their right to counter the judges’ reasoning via a referendum vote, California voters passed Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage, last November. The fate of the faux marriages that took place between the Supreme Court ruling and the citizen’s vote in November is still being determined.

Unless members of the General Assembly act now, including Senator Richard Bray who chairs the important Senate Judiciary Committee, Indiana will continue to be left vulnerable to the whims of judges seeking to conduct social experiments with devastating consequences. If the future of Indiana depends in part on how our state leaders respond to the economic downturn, it depends much more on how we respond to attempts to turn marriage into something that it cannot successfully be. A strong economy is good, but protecting an institution so central to the training-and even survival-of future generations is at least as important.

Small Town Parade

Small Town Parade

By: Brian Sikma

When the economy slows down it is appropriate for the government to take action to help solve the problem. Doing nothing is not the right response, just as doing the wrong thing is not the right response. The stimulus bill advanced by President Obama and crafted in a partisan fashion by Democrat leaders in Congress, is not the stimulus plan that we need. We need an economic policy that promotes job creation and rewards work and saving, not an economic policy that bails out irresponsible companies, discourages efficient work, and penalizes success.

Any attempt to help the economy must focus on helping the American people. That may sound self-evident to those of us here in the heartland of America, but it is a lesson that needs to be learned by our leaders in Washington. The proposed $825 billion stimulus bill contains massive amounts of new government spending that will not help Hoosiers rebuild their economy and move forward. The reason is because government spending spent on government priorities and directed towards projects that are supported by those who believe in a bigger and more complex government, will not meet the needs that we face.

The “stimulus” bill contains $600 million for new cars for government employees, $50 million for artistic endeavors, $400 million for climate change research, billions of dollars to remodel and redecorate government offices, and even a provision spending $200 million for new sod on the National Mall. It also doubles the size of the Department of Education and increases that agency’s involvement in our every day lives.

The passage of the stimulus bill would boost the size of our national debt to 95% of our country’s annual gross domestic product. This stimulus plan is supposed to cure an ailing economy, but it is on track to be worse than the ailment itself.

Instead of spending the money of hardworking Americans on frivolous and unnecessary projects, and forcing them to either pay higher taxes or further bury their children and grandchildren under a mountain of excessive national debt, Congress and the President should embrace an alternative plan. By focusing on tax cuts that lower our nation’s record high tax on employers, allow more individuals to keep their hard earned money, and that reward savings and investment, Washington can help the American people lift themselves out of an economic mess caused by government mismanagement.

The American economy is strong enough to sustain this slowdown, and the American people are resilient enough to weather this storm. If government is to help and not hinder the recovery, it should focus on a solution that benefits the American people, not a solution that benefits bureaucrats in Washington.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff into law and turned an economic downturn into the Great Depression.

By: Brian Sikma

A British economic analyst and writer has made dire predictions for the global economy if the “Buy American” provision that was heavily backed by Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN 1) stays in the stimulus bill and is signed into law by President Obama. Comparing the provision to the “protectionism” of the 1930s (more specifically the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of the 1930s, which raised tariffs on over 20,000 different products) Financial Times writer Willem Buiter declared “if the Buy American provisions of the Economic Stimulus Package were to become law, this would amount to an economic declaration of war on the rest of the world.”

What one of Indiana’s own Congressmen has failed to learn from history and economics is nevertheless being picked up on by economists both here at home and abroad. Engaging in populist economic protectionism is risky when times are good and catastrophic when times are bad, as they are now. Even though in percentage terms the American economy, and thus most if not all of the global economy, is still stronger than it was during the Great Depression or even some of the bleak economic times of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s, it certainly will not be able to survive the shock of a massive limitation on trade policy.

There were many factors that contributed to the implosion of the housing market and the financial markets that relied so heavily on the easy lending and loose monetary policies that made the housing market expand like a California wildfire. But the single impact of suddenly clamping down on the global market and attempting to halt trade by limiting government purchasing contracts to only those products made here at home will be perhaps the single most important factor in taking us into a full blown depression.

It is true that the “Buy American” provision does not raise tariffs on any imports and that it is confined to only government spending as part of contracts provided for in the $825 billion stimulus bill-spending that I believe is not the best way to stimulate the economy-but when that government spending accounts for a significant portion of a nation’s GDP (the newly added debt would push the total amount of government debt obligations to 95% of GDP by 2010), it has reverberations throughout the non-government sectors of the trade markets.

As Mr. Buiter said in concluding his article “Yes we can. I hope we don’t.” America does not need to travel the road to serfdom to reach economic prosperity. Good intentions will not change the fact that the current path our government is on will have deeply unfortunate, and frustratingly avoidable, consequences.

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