November 15, 2023
Upon becoming speaker, Mike Johnson told the current house of representatives, "We are going to establish a bipartisan debt commission to begin working on this crisis immediately."
But commissions are problems. The key to rapidly surfacing better information and increasing freedom is well-advised extensive change, rapidly performed. Commissions are substitutes for action.
Even simple actions that would just move the Overton window towards freedom would beat freezing that window into place right where it is.
Making a commission bipartisan makes it even more intransigent. The 1981-1982 Gold Commission produced a superb minority report but was compromised in a way that was bipartisan—it was compromised both by its Democrats and by its Republicans other than Lewis Lehrman and Ron Paul.
Spending, debt, and other deprivations are the work products produced by the majorities. For a commission to be high-functioning, the commission's majority would need to be made up of people who are currently in the minority. These people must be intellectually prepared to understand what to do, and emotionally prepared ready lay it out.
In commissions, like in all committees, the more-principled members compromise their principles to cater to the less-principled members. Committees bury accountability. They help make problem behaviors continue forever.
President Reagan would have done far better to have just convened both houses of that earlier congress and insisted that all of them on one side, versus the Gold Commission's expert witness Murray Rothbard on the other side, simply debate what legislation would best deliver the gold standard that the Constitution already requires.
If Johnson is determined to have his commission, he must staff it so its majority is drawn from the minority of members who will advance actions that the current majority would block. Also, he should commission it to focus not on the symptom, debt, but on the cause, spending.
An honest appraisal of the problem has to begin with coming clean that governments are the ultimate free-riders. They take enormous fractions of the value we produce. They produce very little. They do this inefficiently, not disciplined by customers. Even at the most elemental level of criminal justice, they at best block proven private adjudication and substitute their monopoly justice. They are parasites.
Across 235 years, congresspeople, both using smaller committees and as committees of the whole, have logrolled pork into massive spending bills, egregiously violating the separation of power by grabbing executive power from presidents and setting themselves up as plural executives.
Their Congressional Budget Office sequesters away their "current-status reports" on appropriation bills, saying only that the office is "currently developing a plan to make more of the account-level analysis of appropriation bills publicly available in an accessible format."
Congresspeople only selectively release crumbs that make the congresspeople them sound good. The big picture is revealed only after the voting is done and the spending plans are, in practice, irreversible.
By design, then, estimates and data only become visible after significant delays. These delays are what make process control hardest. Legislatures are terrible executives.
Spending could be legislatively limited by any of a number of far-simpler, commonsense processes. Here are examples:
- Congresspeople could immediately repeal every past grant of power that they come clean by now correctly interpreting is unconstitutional.
- Congresspeople could reduce the overall appropriation for a new fiscal year by the same percentage that the Fed increased the money quantity in the previous year.
- Congresspeople could reduce the overall appropriation by an arbitrary significant rate—say, 20% this year, 20% of the remaining balance the next year, and so on.
- Congresspeople could set the overall appropriation to be a fixed percentage of the overall revenues. So when we the people are prospering, the government will rake off more. But when we the people are suffering, the government will rake off less.
The sequence above proceeded much like a commission or committee would. As time went on, each successive point got weaker. Each was a further compromise away from the most-principled first point, that unconstitutional statutes must be repealed immediately.
Spending that exceeds revenues is financed by taking on debt.
Debt is a lagging indicator—a scorecard that reflects the spending problem, but reveals it only slowly and makes it look like a smaller problem than it is.
The current debt is the result of spending choices that are claimed to be required from future taxpayers because of the actions of past politicians. But spending was increased by majorities of politicians in both parties. Voters never had a real choice to elect a majority that wouldn't increase spending. This was taxation without representation. Taxation without representation would deprive persons of property without due criminal process, military process, or civil process. It's unconstitutional.
This debt could be repudiated through a simple-enough process of rapid controlled demolition.
Savers would become loathe to get stuck holding the debt of value-destroying governments, and would instead flock to extending credit that would build up value-creating businesses and organizations. This wouldn't be a bug, it would be an enduring antiparasitic feature.
The bottom line? Spending and debt could both be radically transformed simply. The current house need only draw a red line and hold it. No legislation can be enacted unless this house passes it.
A debt-commission sideshow would frustrate this course of action that we need from elected representatives. It would provide cover for the worst of them and bring further delay and destruction to us.