George Will

Today her Web site calls her proposal a way to save for "a secure retirement." After an undisclosed epiphany, she belatedly recognizes that 401(k) funds invested in equities are a foundation for security.

John Edwards, too, has puzzling ideas. For the entertainment of Iowans, he has reinvented himself as a 19th-century Kansan -- Mary Elizabeth Lease, the prairie populist who urged farmers to "raise less corn and more Hell." In August, Edwards urged an Iowa audience to throw off Washington's yoke: "We need to take the power out of the hands of these insiders that are rigging the system against you."

To measure how much Iowans are suffering from the rigging, Stephen Slivinski of the libertarian Cato Institute was asked to mine the most recent Census Bureau data. He concluded that Iowans paid $15.6 billion in revenues to the federal government and got $19.4 billion back, a gain of $1,286.53 per Iowan.

But that is not all. Washington has rigged the system to inundate corn-growing Iowa with subsidies for corn-based ethanol. Slivinski says it is difficult to pin down the Iowa corn farmers' harvest of dollars because the subsidies come from exemptions from excise taxes and tariffs (54 cents per imported gallon) that stifle competition from cheap ethanol imports. It is, however, reasonable to add $2 billion to Iowa's gain from Washington's rigging of the system, so the average Iowan's gain is at least $1,963.65.

Suppose Iowa did not have crucial presidential nominating caucuses. Or suppose it had them but that its crucial crop were, say, broccoli rather than corn. Would the federal government still be, well, rigging the system to create a phony "market" to satisfy a specious "demand" for mandatory and subsidized ethanol? No, but it probably would be mandating broccoli at every meal.

Many politicians pander, as Edwards does with gusto, to Americans' current penchant for self-pity. Hence the incessant talk about "the forgotten middle class." Because such talk is incessant, it of course refutes itself.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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