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Nov 9, 2008

The Political Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce wrote The Devil's Dictionary, which gives skeptical, satiric, and bitter definitions of words and phrases. A wonderfully funny book. Many of his definitions are online here.

The following definitions of political meaning are inspired by his work. Email or comment your suggestions. I may accept, reject, or edit these, and I will cite you as the author if used.

New as of 06/29/12:  compassion,  greedy,  Heinlein: bad luck,  political,  rational ignorance,  shared sacrifice.

bad luck   n.  
Glen Reynolds:  Politicians are always surprised. They pile on taxes and regulations, and then — who’d'athunkit — businesses go somewhere else.

Robert A. Heinlein:  Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded here and there, now and then, are the work of an extremely small minority. They are frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as bad luck.

bipartisan agreement   n.   A temporary equilibrium where the available money has been divided according to power and seniority. Or, general support for important decisions where the outcome is chancy, and later finger-pointing must be avoided.

bribe   n.   A word for something that does not exist. Constituents learn of the politician's thinking and analysis, possibly in private meetings, and feel moved to support such important and practical legislation with political contributions. They may give cash, as a convenience, if they have forgotten a checkbook.

campaign promise   n.   H.L.Mencken:  Every election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods.

compassion   n.   Thomas Sowell:  A deep feeling for the poor and their votes. A politician shows compassion by taking earnings from those who are greedy and redistributing them to the more deserving and numerous members of his electoral district. The politician is deservedly proud of his compassion as explained in repeated emails to the recipients.

compromise   n.   Reconciling differences to find the middle way. When the Democrats want to take all of your money, and the Republicans want to take 1/3rd, then a compromise is taking 2/3rds of your money. It is a common observation that our government runs on compromise, and that politics is the art of compromise, at least until the money runs out.

down   n.   Up and/or down.

earmark   n.   From cattle ranching, where a mark on its ear would direct each cow to its buyer. It is the same for government spending.

First Principle of Government   n.   Be careful and frugal with the public's money. Don't cast it onto the land without thought. Each dollar should encourage a contribution or a vote.

foresight   n.   Identifying an issue of future importance, then supporting both sides of that issue. The skill for making those positions vague enough so that later one can be denied while promoting the other one.

greedy   adj.   Thomas Sowell:  A person who wants to keep what he has earned despite numerous people depending on his support. A compassionate politician is usually available to provide counsel, arrange payments, and attempt to save this person's miserable soul.

Ineptocracy   n.   Dr. Sanity:  A government where the least capable to lead are elected by those least able to produce, who are rewarded with the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of hard workers.

Keynesian Economics   n.   The economics of Lord John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). See also Wikipedia.

Winston Churchill said: "If you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of them is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three opinions."

Milton Friedman was an economist interested in maximum freedom and limited government. He commented: "Keynes was a great economist. Progress comes from people who make hypotheses, most of which turn out to be wrong, but which point to the right answer. Keynes set forth in 'The General Theory' a beautiful hypothesis which altered the shape of economics, and turned out to be wrong. That doesn't mean he wasn't a great man!"

In his 1936 book "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," Keynes proposed that total demand explained variations in the total level of economic activity.

He said the total income (production) in a society is consumption plus investment. When there is unemployment and unused productive capacity, one can only increase employment and total income by first increasing expenditures for either consumption or investment.

Translation. The total production of a society is what it consumes (eats) and what it invests (doesn't eat). When there are unemployed resources (people and machines), you can increase employment and production only by increasing what you eat and what you don't eat. To restate, you can increase production only by increasing what you produce.

This insight made Keynes the most famous and influential economist of all time.

In a fortunate accident, a government reviewer of The General Theory spilled coffee on the book, producing this result: "When there is unemployment and unused productive capacity, one can only increase employment and total income by first increasing expenditures [coffee stain]. This was such a happy justification for increasing government spending that governments never looked back. This is "Keynes' Command".

Keynes, Digger of Holes
No one should trust a theory that predicts greater prosperity from digging holes. Yet, this is the theory by Keynes that Obama and many past presidents have followed to forcibly change our society.

Liberal Economics   n.   Money falls from heaven for everyone to use. But, the immoral and sneaky rich gather more than their share. The government's purpose is to redistribute the money the way God intended. Or, if you wish, the way Gaia, or the Tooth Fairy intended.

Taxes remove the excess income of the rich and give it to the voting poor, through a fair and organized bureaucracy. The rich oppose this action by selfishly and spitefully decreasing employment. Government responds by borrowing and printing money to increase grants, spending, and employment. The government runs a deficit while it attempts to discover the secret formula for creating the jobs that the rich are hiding.

Business may decline in recession or depression. The free market is again proven to be a dangerous and unplanned experiment, failing despite detailed regulation, oversight, taxation, court action, and subsidy by government.

As a last resort, Government looks to its memory of the Great Depression. So far, politicians have not declared a world warAn economist quipped: If you think WW2 ended the Great Depression in the U.S., then we can carry out the same enlightened policies without needing a war.
  Conscript most of the able bodied men and have them build tanks. Then destroy the tanks. Impose rationing for good measure. At the end, everyone is supposed to be rich.
to improve the economyStatisticians would normally adjust for the price level to compute the "inflation adjusted" GDP. This adjustment couldn't occur, because the government made it illegal for the CPI to go through the roof.
  Official measures showing "real GDP" rising during World War II are as phony as the Soviet Union's announcements of industrial achievements.
. They do the next best thing, raising taxes and borrowing, then distributing the money to federal agencies, states, local governments, and politically connected businessmen and supporters. These people do their miracle work of innovation and efficient production, very slowly restoring wealth and happiness to the people.

Left  vs  Right   adj.   Puzzling terms applied with merry abandon to everything. People usually deny such classification, instead calling themselves Moderate.

To appear knowledgeable at a cocktail party:

  • Unelected dictators are of the Right. Elected dictators are of the Left. Lenin and Stalin were Leftists, but they are dead and don't count.
  • A leader is Right if he supports a uniformed army; Left if the army dresses in athletic workout clothing.
  • Left is right, and Right is wrong.

lie   n.   What your opponent always does. If you are proved by videotape or writing to have possibly told an untruth or a contradiction, then one or both of your statements were merely out of context, a simple word error, ill-conceived, not well-formulated, unintentional, a joke, a reaction to changing circumstance, a youthful indiscretion, in the past, already examined and dismissed, not like you, the result of cold medication, a true change of heart, a fresh look at the situation, an illegally recorded or obtained document, or all of these together.

The most famous and repeated examples are "I will not raise your taxes", "I did not intend to vote for/against that law", and "I did not have sexual relations with that woman".

lobbyist   n.   A helpful person who has devoted his (or her) life to effective politics. Often a former Senator or Congressman. He acts as a friendly connection to constituents, helps with office work (such as writing legislation) and ensures that contributors name the correct organization on their contribution checks. Most politicians see their time in office as a steppingstone to this helpful and genteel profession.

macro economics   n.   (Compare to "micro economics") The study of overall statistics about income, debt, production, and employment. You would think that statistics are dull, but macro economics is a center of intellectual ferment. Motto: "We just don't know, but we are willing to guess". Critics say that it is history confused by mathematics, or mathematics splattered by history.

Macro economics is noted for the gigantic cost of the occasional government experiments carried out with fanfare in times of crisis. Experiments in good times are never advertised or acknowledged, for fear of being held responsible for yet again ruining a good thing.

The world barely scraped together $9 billion for the A huge installation for accellerating and smashing together hadrons, a family of sub-atomic particles. Scientists look at the pieces to understand the forces and particles which form the universe.Large Hadron Collider to do fundamental research in particle physics. The U.S. scraped together $1000 billion over a weekend to find out if banks, auto companies, and restaurants can be encouraged not to lay off workers. Macro economists are cheering and watching closely. The statistics from this one event will provide professorships for 100 years.

Macro economics divides roughly into three areas of practice. Government is the experimental division, run by congressmen who are always willing to "do something" to meet a challenge. Fortunately, experiments cannot be rerun, so "doing something" always wins praise for action and courage, if not results.

Journalism is the executive division, where freshman courses in economics (minus the math), and experience with drinking and being fired, guide big media to establish the policies that will "stimulate the economy" and "save jobs".

Academia is the theoretical division. The complexities of their pronouncements using math and big words leave them respected, feared, and mostly ignored. An exception was Lord John Maynard Keynes, founder of  Keynesian EconomicsClick for the definition. who simplified the subject for politicians. He said in effect "You can increase production only by increasing what you produce - through government borrowing and spending", and won eternal fame.

Sociological bias is apparent. Liberal macro economists promote higher taxes, togetherness, and community spirit, where politicians eat American caviar. Unfeeling, heartless, "sell their grandmother", conservative economists promote lower taxes and prosperity, where businessmen and the public eat Russian caviar.

Con-men and beggars regard macro economists as gods. They all create elaborate stories which encourage their targets to hand over money out of greed or to improve their self-image. Only macro economists require the targets to fill out their own paperwork, while half the targets berate the other half for not giving more.

There is an enduring mystery. Half the time, macro economists call for higher taxes to fund spending. The other half of the time, they just print the money. They won't reveal how they decide this.

Macroeconomics is Astrology, Not Science Frank J. Tipler is Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University.
  [edited excerpt] "Our leaders are being advised by macroeconomists who haven’t got a clue where they are leading us. Their actions may lead us out of the current recession, or they may lead us into a depression as bad as the Great Depression."
  "Science is about prediction and precise explanation. It is not enough to construct a different explanation about each past event. Science must produce a consistent, precise explanation for all of the relevant past events."
  AMG: The economists advising our government can't predict anything. They might as well be plumbers. Macro Economics, Stimulus, Recession, Depression

micro economics   n.   (Compare to "macro economics") The study of how people exchange money to trade goods and services, organize businesses, and assign value. Critics say this is sociology spoiled by mathematics. Most knowledge about rational economic interaction was discovered by 1950. It remains to find rational people to apply it to.

Most practitioners advise business, receiving plentiful work in exchange for giving up chances for government appointment.

Among the great discoveries in micro economics:

  • You can withhold taxes and people don't miss the money.
  • $15.99 is seen as $15, and $19.99 is seen as a good deal.
  • "Get another one FREE (pay only processing and handling)"
  • You should buy a warranty extension, because the fine product we are selling you is going to break at around 14 months.

non-partisan   adj.   A person or organization wanting greater influence by claiming a higher morality. Similar to "non-lying". There are some rare cases where the term can be applied without laughing. For example, the need for at least a little reliable information has supported non-partisan data gathering and statistical analysis. Whether or not reliable, data is little used in political decisions.

off budget   n.   (synonym: no-limit credit card)  Budgets are written lists and totals of what can be spent. Thoughtful, public debate and cutthroat competition examines all aspects of the U.S. budget, a thick and respected document.

President Lyndon Johnson pioneered a breakthrough in 1968 when he found a way to move some government operations off budget.

[edited] "Lyndon Johnson was concerned about the cost of the Vietnam War on the federal budget. He privatized Fannie Mae in 1968 to move its liabilities off budget. The U.S. remained responsible for those debts, as the recent crisis makes clear. This is similar to Enron using “special-purpose entities” to avoid reporting liabilities on its balance sheet (list of assets and liabilities)."

The government applies the best of cartoon physics. Falling isn't a problem if you don't look down. (M) Wife:  I've been looking at our savings.
Husband:  We have $80,000.
Wife:  But, what is this note at the bottom "Aces Casino gambling debt: $105,000"? Do we owe that in addition?
Husband:  Yes, but don't worry, that is off budget.
- -
Put Housing GSEs in the Budget and then Privatize
02/25/10 - Cato@Liberty by Tad DeHaven
  [edited] The Congressional Budget Office accounts for the cost of subsidizing new loans and loan guarantees by Fannie and Freddie at $370 billion through 2020. The CBO concludes that these institutions are effectively government entities whose operations should be included in the federal budget.
  Treasury Secretary Geithner dismissed this idea: “It is not necessary to consolidate the full obligations of those entities onto the balance sheet of the federal government at this stage.” [It is not counted into any deficit projections. -ag]

out of context   adv.   When a statement made to one group (eg. teacher's unions) is reported to another group of a different opinion (eg. taxpayers).

Congressman Barney Frank:  Almost without exception, when someone in my business says this, he means "I wish I hadn't said that".

political   adj.   A decision or action which benefits the politician, often called a "compromise" (see entry). A decision based on reason and experience is called "thoughtful" or "reasonable", leaving all other decisions as "political".

A political decision may waste resources, favor some groups over others, make distinctions without differences, spread falsehoods and lies, reward the good (contributors), and punish the the bad (haven't given lately). A political decision will do anything but risk electoral defeat, if at all possible.

The primary defense is "If I didn't make this egregious decision, some other politician would." Knowledegable politicians are rare, as knowledge increases mental stress without changing political results.

politics   n.   Groucho Marx:  Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.

professional politician   n.   H.L.Mencken:  A professionally dishonorable man. To get anywhere near high office, he makes so many compromises and submits to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.

rational ignorance   n.   The economic observation that it may cost more to learn about a political policy than the policy will cost an individual when implemented. The personal cost is time, compared to the policy cost of higher taxes, less freedom, or fewer jobs.

Politicians love rational ignorance, saying "Don't worry yourselves. Leave it to us. It is rational not to follow what we are doing".

Two snakes intrude into this Garden of Eden philosophy.
•  How do you rationally know that you rationally need not know about something?
•  Politicians assess constantly what the public does not know. Then they drive a truck through it.

regulation   n.
Liberal:  Money is powerful and mysterious. Anyone attempting to earn a profit is collecting extra money from his customers, probably an evil act, and something reserved to the Government. Anyone smart enough to earn a profit (there is no parallel in government) is smart enough to steal people's money. This is probably a projection of experience in government.

The government must apply whatever oversight, paperwork, renewal forms, oaths, and intimidations needed to prevent stealing, before the fact. If this reduces the amount of business and profit, then so much the better, as this reduces the amount of money that can be stolen. The government then attempts to collect whatever profits may survive. Some relief can be gained through political contributions.

Conservative:  Money is powerful and mysterious, and making a profit seems natural and praisworthy. Fraud can be caught after the fact, and the criminals punished severely.

Nevertheless, Conservatives support the Liberal position to defend against the charge that they are "thieving Republicans". They go further to require regular accountings and audits (there is no parallel in government). Some relief can be gained through political contributions.

See also Liberal Economics.

revenue neutral   n.   Congress may target an industry for a special tax, for example a 10% surtax on cosmetic surgery. In this case, the surgeons had organized political influence, and they convinced Democrats that their industry and political contributions are of national importance.

The loss of even this small slice of revenue would violate high principles of budget-balancing, and deny Congress a much anticipated bonus. Tanning salons are a more fragmented and less influential group. Redirecting this tax toward tanning salons is called being "revenue neutral".

Congress incorporates the spirit of the Japanese Samurai warrior:  Once drawn, the Samurai sword must taste blood, or the Samurai is dishonored.

shared sacrifice   n.   Our politicians have their hearts set on expanding various programs, doublng the amounts they spend toward their best supporters and campaign contributors. Sadly, there is never enough tax revenue. Eventually, they cannot even borrow what they want.

According to the principle of "shared sacrifice", the politicians give up 50% of their expansion plans, and they ask the people to give up 5% more of their incomes in higher taxes. The politicians see themselves as remarkably generous. They sacrifice 50% compared to the people's 5%, a 10 to 1 ratio of political sacrifice to public sacrifice. See also compromise.

sincerity   n.
Groucho Marx:  Sincerity is the most important thing. Once you can fake that, you've got it made.

Willard Van Orman Quine:  It doesn't much matter what you believe so long as you are not sincere.  MHelme at Samizdata(v)
Intelligence destroys sincerity. Analytical thought makes it hard to agree with everyone. Intelligent politicians are rare, because they are the type who can beat a lie-detector, yet they have avoided a youthful criminal record. They usually come from wealthy families who can influence the local judges.

Most politicians have high-school yearbooks stating "I'm a people person." They are guided by their gut, not their head, a utilitarian choice. They can empathize with everyone except the rich, who they see as useful but immoral supporters.

A religious politician believes that God has chosen him to serve the public from high office. A non-religious politician sees himself as objectively the smartest person in the room.

spending cut   n.   An allocation below what you hoped or promised to spend. Last year your department spent $5 million. This year you wanted $8 million, but your allocation was just $6 million. This is a 25% spending cut.

stimulus package   n.   A distribution of $500 to each voting adult who is not rich. This stimulates the economy by reminding people that TV's are fun, and working hard to buy one is a good goal. Well, maybe the next TV. This supports job growth for 3 months, after which another stimulus package will prevent a job decline. For efficiency, the rich don't get checks; why send them part of what you are trying to take from them?

The government asks that everyone spend the money quickly for the greatest rush. Saving the money removes the stimulus effect. Have fun today, tomorrow is in the future. This supports the widely held belief that money deposited in banks only goes to buy boats, houses, and BMW autos for the bankers.

Each stimulus package is actively debated by Congress. The Democrats propose each time to print on the checks "Provided to you by caring Democrats". After this is defeated in the Senate, the bill receives overwhelming bipartisan support.

up   n.   Up and/or down.

wisdom of crowds   n.   The fabled effect where the combined judgment of many people is better than any one individual. The successful experiments asked crowds to estimate the number of jelly beans in a jar, or the butchered weight of an ox. The averaged estimates came closer to the exact answer than any one guess.

Unfortunately, we routinely see the awful result of applying crowd-wisdom to electing politicians. Possibly, this is because the crowd is smarter than any jelly bean or ox, and the beans and ox are incapable of making promises.

George Carlin expressed this well: "Just think how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of them are even stupider!"

wonk   n.   Also "policy wonk". Sometimes called "an accountant for legislation". The somewhat disagreeable but vital person who understands the details in current and proposed law.

A low level wonk corrects spelling and translates the particular dialect of Old English used in laws. For example, he crafts the intricate art called the tax code, rivaling the DaVinci Code in elegance and obscurity:

(11) the exclusion from gross income provided by section 911 (a)(1) shall not apply;
(12) in lieu of the deduction provided by section 164 (f) (relating to deduction for one-half of self-employment taxes), there shall be allowed a deduction equal to the product of—
(A) the taxpayer’s net earnings from self-employment for the taxable year (determined without regard to this paragraph), and
(B) one-half of the sum of the rates imposed by subsections (a) and (b) of section 1401 for such year;
A high level wonk maintains the "checklist" that relates political supporters to particular provisions, and advises how to apply legislation to business deductions and requests for subsidies.

The least careful wonks produce confused and contradictory law, and are most valued by lawyers who call them "career angels".

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