Book Review: Leave us Alone

I am blogging from Seattle, where I am attending a conference on government transparency. One of the best aspects of flying across the county is catching up on some reading.

One of the books I read on the flight over – Grover Norquist’s Leave Us Alone – I heartily recommend (look for a less than stellar review of Newt Gingrich’s newest book shortly).

Norquist describes the political dynamic as being between two coalitions. The “Leave us alone” coalition, which wants lower taxes, economic freedom, gun rights, religious freedom – and the groups (taxpayers, small business owners, etc.) who support that. The “Takings” coalition thrive off big government – typically working for government or receiving subsidy from it.

Here are some highlights:

Norquist notes two kinds of government employees – those that protect lives and liberties, and those that suckle at the teat of Big Government. The former (part of the “leave us alone” crowd) want their friends and neighbors to know how much they earn and how hard they work—they will be thanked. The latter (members of the takings coalition) want to keep their pay and benefits a secret, because they make more than the people paying their wages and don’t produce.

On Government “creating jobs”:

The Government can take money out of the real economy (defunding a job in the private sector) and drag the money into the government’s coffers and spend it to create a new job. This is the economic equivalent of taking a pail of water out of one side of a lake and walking around the lake – spilling some of the water – and the holding a press conference surrounded by cameras to be
filmed pouring what is left of the budget back into the lake.

Norquist argues that people of faith are largely Republican because of how Democrats look on them, “with a hostility that is difficult to believe from people who think of themselves as devoid of prejudice.”

On government reform issues:

But the best way to stop the government from giving out goodies is not to put fences around elected officials. It is to cut government spending and government power so that they cannot give anything away. If a congressman had no power to hand out earmark or pork-barrel spending, there would be no need for a law forbidding taking him out for a three-martini lunch or flying him to Tahiti.

Norquist spares no sympathy for the trial lawyers, trade unions, or Republicans that rely on patronage rather than principle. He summarizes the “moral argument” against welfare (i.e. welfare keeps people dependent on government and causes them real harm) quite well. His analysis of the growth of the investor class (more than half of all households) and the entrepreneur class is insightful, as are many of his discussions of the demographic and political trends that are coming. And his discussion of the growth discrepancy between high- and low- tax states bears repeating, as does his discussion of earmarks (they are misspent funds used as bribes to encourage more misspending of funds).

His policy prescriptions on tax reform (though he gets a little over-the-top in his praise of ATR’s Tax Pledge), health care reform, and entitlement reform are eloquent.

The biggest gripe is typos, which I will be sending to the publisher to correct by the second edition.