Clinton Clobbered

Richard B. McKenzie ("Clinton Confidential," November) tries to have it both ways: giving Clinton credit for the fact that "the relative growth in federal spending seen during the Bush years has been reversed during the Clinton years" and also admitting that Clinton "has not been able to expand federal involvement in the economy as much as he imagined he could four years ago."

Indeed, if the era of big government is over, it is in spite of Bill Clinton and not because of him. In February 1993 Clinton announced his first economic program–a $16 billion "fiscal stimulus" package that was nothing but a pork-filled payback to the big city Democratic mayors who helped him win election. In September 1993 he lobbied to defeat the bipartisan Penny-Kasich bill that would have cut federal spending and the deficit by $90 billion over five years.

In January 1994 Bill and Hillary announced ClintonCare, the proposed government takeover of one-seventh of the U.S. economy that the Congressional Budget Office projected would have added at least $75 billion to the deficit over six years. In January 1995 Bill Clinton submitted a 1996 budget plan that called for $12 trillion of spending over seven years and $200 billion deficits as far as the eye could see. Clinton's April 1995 budget, according to the CBO, would have had a $210 billion deficit in 1996, rising to $349 billion by 2002. In February 1996 Bill Clinton released a $1.6 trillion 1997 budget that increased spending by $360 billion over seven years, or $3,100 per American household.

It is hard to see how Clinton's proposal for spending like the Gipper's proverbial drunken sailor "compares favorably" with the record of Ronald Reagan. Not on this planet. Professor McKenzie concedes that the "Clinton White House has been constrained by Republicans in the Congress" but alleges "the differences between the two on budgets" are only "a matter of a few billion dollars a year."

Really? A few billion? Former Congressman Tim Penny and Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute state that between 1996 and 2002 "the federal government will borrow about $1.1 trillion less under the congressional budget than it would have otherwise" had not the GOP taken control of Congress in 1994. Indeed, the 104th Congress, not Bill Clinton, produced a real cut–not just reduced growth but a real cut–in discretionary spending of $53 billion. Christopher Frenze, chief economist to the Joint Economic Committee, notes further: "Of the $126 billion decline in the deficit between 1992 and 1995, $71 billion is accounted for by a continuation of the business cycle, $21 billion by swings in deposit insurance outlays related to the S&L problem, and $8 billion by spectrum auctions."

Professor McKenzie says we "should be happy that Bill Clinton defeated George Bush." Instead, we should be lighting candles for Newt Gingrich.

Daniel John Sobieski
Chicago, IL

Richard McKenzie replies: I find truly amazing the extent to which policy partisans seek to shift the grounds of the debate when the numbers don't turn out the way those partisans might like. My article sought to evaluate the Clinton years (as distinguished from the Clinton effect) by way of key measures of government involvement in the economy that have been used widely in the past by Republicans and conservatives to tout the record of the Reagan years (as distinguished from the Reagan effect). My article was concerned with what happened, not with who did it.

What happened during the past four years stands in sharp contrast with what a lot of people think happened (which can also be said about the 1980s). I agree that Clinton intended to be an activist president and that the data cited emerged in spite of his fondest dreams. I don't give much credit to the Republicans either. As Rick Henderson reports elsewhere in this issue (page 10), Dwight Lee and I were so confident back in 1992 that government would be a smaller part of the national economy in 1996–in spite of Bill Clinton's election and in spite of Democratic dominance of the Congress at the time–that we wagered $500 in print in this magazine. We won! I suspect that Mr. Sobieski would have been eager back then to take our bet. He would have lost.

Contemplating Koontz

Thanks for running the interview with Dean Koontz ("Contemplating Evil," November). I've read most of Koontz's novels and have found him to be a friend of liberty and human dignity, as well as a very entertaining storyteller. I hope many of your readers try Koontz's novels. I suggest they start with Watchers and Mr. Murder. If they can read these two and not go immediately back to the book store for more, they're probably hopeless policy wonks who watch C-SPAN on Friday nights.

While Koontz's novels are not overtly political–Dark Rivers of the Heart is the most political–there's always an anti-government meddling, pro-individual subtext that takes intelligent pokes (and the occasional body slam) at the futility of and outright dangers posed by big government. He spares neither left nor right.

Koontz's disadvantage with serious (I hate to use that word here, but I don't know what other adjective to use) readers is the supernatural dimension of his novels. He gives us some monsters, human and otherwise. But he also gives us rich, non-monstrous characters we can care about; great suspense, mystery, romance; and satisfying endings. His characters overcome their obstacles through solid human qualities, not with supernatural tricks.

With the great stories, we also get the Koontz world view, which is worth the price of admission. It's a view that libertarians and most conservatives (the ones getting enough fiber in their diets) find simpatico. And he's a lot more fun to read than Ayn Rand.

Larry Thornberry
Tampa, FL

Thank you so much for the wonderful Dean Koontz interview. What took you so long? I'd been wondering when REASON was going to comment on the intellectually stimulating, freedom-loving ideas in his novels. If the stories themselves, and the characters, weren't engrossing enough, his style elevates writing to an art form. I'm still wondering, though, why there was no mention in the interview of some of his call-to-arms novels, so reminiscent of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. This might have helped some of your readers, not familiar with his novels, better understand the gist of the interview. I enjoyed the interview immensely. It was just what I needed in the midst of this politically charged climate.

Roberto M. Sanabria

Questioning Authoritarianism

Christopher Lingle ("Communitarian Capitalism," October) takes issue with two recent surveys by the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute which ranked Singapore number two in terms of minimal government economic intervention. To support his claim that Singapore is an emerging form of autocracy, Lingle relies on factual inaccuracies and fallacious arguments. Lingle is wrong in claiming that international banks in Singapore are prohibited from collecting deposits from Singapore residents. The fact is that foreign banks in Singapore command a 40 percent market share of resident non-bank deposits in Singapore.

Lingle's statement that "the Monetary Authority of Singapore has consistently intervened in foreign exchange markets to control the exchange rate and to influence interest rates and inflation" shows his ignorance of the role that central banks all around the world play.

Similarly, Lingle conveniently ignores the many mandatory old age savings' schemes that are in place elsewhere in the world when he takes issue with Singapore's compulsory pension scheme, the Central Provident Fund.

Lingle's suggestion that business licenses are or can be revoked arbitrarily is absurd. He ignores the fact that Singapore's business environment has been highly rated by many international business surveys.

Lingle's penchant for distorting the facts is clear in his statement that "there is an overriding moral corruption in the administration of 'justice' by jurists who are only too eager to carry out the bidding of the ruling People's Action Party." This does not square with assessments of Singapore by international ratings agencies. The World Competitiveness Yearbook of 1996 ranked Singapore fourth in the world and best in Asia in terms of public confidence in the fair administration of justice. Similarly, on the rule of law, the Global Competitiveness Report 1996 ranked Singapore the best in Asia and eighth in the world.

In short, Lingle has made unrestrained allegations based on partial facts, mistruths, and fallacious arguments. His credibility and integrity as a scholar are therefore in question.

Jean Tan
First Secretary
Singapore Embassy
Washington, DC

Christopher Lingle responds: Ms. Tan suggests that "foreign banks in Singapore command a 40 percent share of resident non-bank deposits in Singapore." This deliberately obtuse statement overlooks my original point. Foreign banks cannot compete with domestic banks for accounts denominated in Singapore dollars, such as checking deposits used for domestic transactions. The deposits she refers to are denominated in international currencies.

The point of Ms. Tan's remarks about the role of the Monetary Authority is unclear. Indeed, most central banks act that way, and other countries do have mandatory pension schemes. That does not vindicate Singapore or undermine my argument. My point was to show that the government of Singapore has a more extensive hand in the economy than is suggested by the economic freedom ratings. Singapore's Central Provident Fund controls about 40 percent of total earnings, and there is no outside independent evaluation of how those funds are used.

The misleading impression of economic freedom in Singapore is based on treating the international sector differently from the domestic sector. For the most part, the rule of law is applied assiduously when the interests of international business are at stake. This provides a superficial impression for outsiders that all is well. However, the absence of individual and civil rights means that citizens have few freedoms. This dualism is supported by a lapdog legislature, compliant courts, and a muzzled media.

To defend my own claims, I can cite various organizations that specialize in assessing judicial proceedings (e.g., the New York Bar Association and various human rights organizations) who have criticized the arbitrary application of the law in Singapore.

In attempting to discredit my views, Ms. Tan impugns the integrity of some of Singapore's own institutions. I was hired by the National University of Singapore on the basis of my academic record, and was interviewed personally for my appointment by the former ambassador to the United States, Mr. S.R. Nathan. Apparently he found my credentials to be in order when he recommended that I be hired. My credibility and integrity were not challenged by anyone in Singapore's higher education community or its foreign service until I voiced my opinions about their repressive regime.