and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September #3

Winds of change blowing
in Washington and on Beacon Hill
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 18, 2008

"One day a wind blew through the Ingleside garden... the first wind of autumn. All at once the summer had grown old. The turn of the season had come."

L.M. Montgomery, Canadian author (1874-1942), "Anne of Ingleside"

Change. The dramatic change of seasons. This is the reason many of us living in New England don't indulge in California dreaming.

There's also the daily change from day to night; can't avoid that by moving to Florida. It can be minimized by moving to the Arctic or Antarctica where you'll sit it in the icy dark for months, meditating on the permafrost, waiting for the change to months of midnight sun.

These are cyclical changes, which follow a repeating pattern that melds into a much larger pattern of climate change from ice age to warming and back again, with species evolving or becoming extinct. Extinction is a permanent change.

If the Large Hadron Collider creates a miniature black hole that grows to suck up Switzerland, then Earth, then our solar system that would probably mean a permanent change in our lifestyle.

Scientists tell us that this can't happen because a miniature black hole isn't possible. But how do they know? It took them ages to discover the larger black holes; how do they know they weren't small once, before they sucked up entire solar systems that we can't see now?

Change the channel, change the menu, change the oil.

Recognizing that things are going wrong, we demand change; then, shortly thereafter, begin talking about the good old days to anyone who will listen.

My point being: Isn't it obvious that using "change" as the focus of a political campaign is meaningless? Why has this year's presidential race come down to a debate about which one is really about "change"? No matter who wins, winter will come, night follows day, change happens. But do things actually get better in the United States of America?

People my age grew up in a Cold War that changed to a War on Terror against Islamic extremists. Now Russia is becoming a problem again. Peace would be a nice change, which both nature and history indicate isn't going to happen.

Which candidates can best deal with the ongoing reality of aggression, lust for power, and evil empires?

There were always economic cycles, boom to bust, growth to recession and sometimes depression, local and global. Is what is happening this week so different? Aren't the rules of economics basically unchangeable? For example, don't spend more than you earn or can't afford to repay if you borrow whether you are an individual or a government. Which candidates, at the federal, state, and local levels, can grasp the concept of fiscal responsibility?

So the federal government, having created the mortgage default problem during the Carter administration by forcing banks to give mortgages to the poor, is bailing out some of the financial institutions with money that it doesn't have, because some of the institutions are "too big to be allowed to fail." How big will the national debt get before the government fails?

At the state/local level, the public employee benefit systems must be changed before communities gets sucked into the black hole of bankruptcy. According to, "the city of Vallejo, Calif., declared bankruptcy in May, partly because it had granted police and firefighters six-figure pensions that kicked in at age 50." Similar change will be coming to a commonwealth near you unless Massachusetts gets control over its public employee unions.

A good place to start is with Governor Patrick's beginner proposal to replace some police details with civilian flagmen like those used in all other states. At this week's hearing held by the Secretary of Transportation, police unions angrily supported the status quo, while two unintimidated men Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute and David Tuerck of the Beacon Hill Institute supported the governor's plan for change that reflects the common sense of most citizens. I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw a detail cop watching a hole being dug in the middle of an empty parking lot at the Northshore Mall last week!

Tuerck was hissed and booed, and Stergios was told that he would be responsible for the first death at a construction site after detail cops are removed. Neither man backed down, and I don't think Governor Patrick will either. Good for them.

Meanwhile, some local police unions are trying to intimidate mayors and selectmen into quickly signing contracts that include paid details that can't be nullified by the new regulations unless those communities eventually declare bankruptcy due to extraordinary employee health insurance and pension benefits.

Sensing a public mood for it, candidates and leaders will pledge change, even knowing they face systemic attachment to the status quo in both Washington and on Beacon Hill. All of us, leaders and voters alike, need a clear understanding of the immutable laws of human nature and of economic principles before we determine which changes are good.

One thing is sure: "Business as usual" has grown old. This fall, if voters want a better country and a better commonwealth, they need to fan the winds of positive change themselves.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.