Posts Tagged ‘government’

Why Government Isn’t Like Business

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Why Is Government Constituted?

Like most people, I’ve changed my thinking on a number of things over the course of my life, and one of them is the idea that government ought to function as a business.  I once believed that if government could only function with the efficiency of corporations, it would be phenomenal, and make much more sense.  I hear or read this proposition raised from time to time, mostly by people who are discouraged by the wastefulness of governments, and I share their frustrations though I now differ with their conclusions.   Many things have helped shape my opinion, but over the course of time, nothing has done more to change my thinking on this than seeing government in action, up close and in person.  My first experience with that was as a soldier, of course, and along the way to where I am now, I’ve held a temporary position in federal government employ and what I learned there, and since, has made me decide I had been wrong.  It’s not that government can’t be made more efficient, or more careful with our money, but that government is not a business, and if it were to operate like one, we would all shortly regret it.

Imagine a government that can flow into new endeavors by shifting its focus by direction from the top.  Businesses do this very thing all the time, and frequently to the inestimable benefit of employees and investors.  Even if an institution of government could behave this way, would you want it to do so?   Various statists will argue that such a government would be a grand institution, and return much value to its investors, also known as “tax-payers.”  The problem with this is that no company gets to decide the size of investors’ stakes in the business. No company is empowered in law to dictate greater investments, but at least a company has paying customers.  Government has a few who pay various fees of little consequence, but it cannot rightly be said that government has customers, since theirs is a captive market.

Companies try to obtain greater and greater shares of the market, in order to increase their investors’ profits, but governments with such an imperative would soon overrun every boundary we had previously imposed upon its growth.  In fact, our government is already squeezing out private enterprise, and the fact is that with a captive market, government can squeeze out as much as it is institutionally and politically able.  The last dozen years give witness to the fact that the proportion of the total economy the government dominates is increasingly oppressive.  Government already has a legal monopoly on coercion, and it lends that monopoly power to various enterprises on a continuous basis.  Some of these enterprises are government-owned, or formed, and a few more are simply companies that have figured out how to get their fingers in the government’s pie, but in any event, what results is not the sort of government most Americans would want.  It’s plain to see that a nation like Cuba has a governmental monopoly on everything, and Michael Moore’s panting endorsements of Cuban health-care notwithstanding, I think it’s fairly clear this is not a model we should follow.

Of course, there are those who argue that rather than at this very fundamental level, we could simply use common business practices to make government more efficient.  I wonder what efficiencies people seek in government?  Do you want them to become more efficient at tracking you?  Do you want it to become more effective at regulating you?  Do you want it to be more aggressive in taxing you?  I think not.  It is true to say, and I am certain that you will agree, that we can do things to make government accomplish more with less, and to likewise spend less altogether, but what that means is the ability to strictly limit the stake of the so-called “investors.”  Therein lies the problem:  All too often, those who bring business management experience to government see a vast ocean of potential revenue, and notice that unlike in the businesses to which they’re accustomed, the only limitation on their expenditure is their periodic requirement to stand for re-election.

Let us be circumspect in suggesting that we want government to function like business.  They have entirely different imperatives in a society such as ours.  Government exists for the purposes of defending the nation, minting the money, policing the criminals, and preventing commercial and civil conflict from becoming violent ones by the administration of an objectively moral law.  There is damned little else government should do, and can do effectively, and yet it is in this manner that we are told we must extend government’s power to encompass functions over which it has no just claim.  You might tell me some vaunted majority wants this or that, but does this legitimize the claim?  Can an orderly vote by wolves legitimize their consumption of the sheep, if they happen to be the more numerous?

This illustrates the most fundamental reason government must not function like a business:  Business is a voluntary endeavor, and it is business that must seek the agreement of others, and must find those who will purchase its products and services by choice.  Of all our founders, the one who might well have understood this more thoroughly than any was George Washington, and while it is in dispute as to whether he said this, it is nevertheless true, and whomever its actual source, it is a worthy idea:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

Imbuing such an entity with the purpose of business is as great a danger as I can imagine.  For those who argue that government should function like business, I wish you’d reconsider as have I.  I realize most think of this premise in terms of the tendency of government to be so wasteful, and the desire for greater efficiency, but we do not ever gain these efficiencies, and government grows only more powerful.  The government we now have all too often mimics the aspects of business that when empowered with monopoly and coercive power to implement its will, becomes a grave threat to its stakeholders.  Imitations of business practices do not make of government a business, and we must bear in mind its actual constitutional role, and limit it to those duties with great fervor.

Big Test of Emergency Alert System

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Don't Worry, They'll Warn Us

Four minutes.  That’s how long the Emergency Alert System (EAS) will be taking down all broadcast television and radio signals at one time to be replaced by their emergency broadcast.  You can see the original public notice at the FCC’s website.  Conspiracy theorists are naturally running wild with speculation, since the government has never conducted this sort of widespread test before.  On Wednesday, the 9th of November, at 2pm Eastern time, the test will be conducted. It’s an odd coincidence that this is being done on the 9th day of the 11th month, isn’t it?  OR IS IT?  (Now you can get out your tin-foil hats, if you like.)

We’ve been living with these broadcast interruptions for my whole life, and the normal response is to change the channel.  The FCC wants to be sure you can’t ignore this one, and of course, there will doubtless be millions of people who won’t get the word, and who will panic and dial 9-1-1.  You may wish to pass the word along to friends, relatives, and neighbors, to help alleviate any undue fear or apprehension.  On the other hand, if your friends, relatives, and neighbors are “conspiracy kooks,” you may only agitate them unnecessarily for the next two weeks.  Whatever you decide, be sure to check in here.  If anything big does go down, I’ll let you know.  Unless the President uses that “Internet Off-Switch” they’ve given him. You never know…

On Money and Politics

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Is Money the Problem?

There are many people who decry the influence of money in politics, but to be honest, I think most of them are confused about the causes and effects involved.  People will immediately assume that cash waved in a politician’s face will readily buy influence, and sadly, in all too many cases, they’re correct.  The question then becomes one of cause and effect, however, and I think this is where most people become confused.  Did the money corrupt the politician, or did he corrupt the money?  It remains my proposal to all who will listen that it is naive to believe that so long as government is involved in every facet of our daily lives, that you will ever substantially reduce corruption.  Every official has some financial interests, and it’s in this atmosphere that some propose that money must be gotten out of politics?  No, there’s no rational way to do so without destroying liberty, and besides, it doesn’t offer any hope of solving the actual cause of the problem.

There’s an old and important rule of economics that says simply:  One cannot purchase at any price that which is not for sale. The root of the corruption we see in politics lies not with those interests throwing about cash, but with the politicians who in one way or another accept money and benefits from them.  If you want to make a substantial change in the way politicians in Washington or anywhere else behave, you must address the corruption at its fundamental root:  The politician who is for sale.  If it were mine to do, and if there were even the slightest hope of enacting it, I would propose a new constitutional amendment stating simply:

Corruption among elected or appointed public officials constituting the better part of the potential evils of government, any official of government who uses their office and official authority for private gain, or gain of any sort beyond his salaries and benefits shall be eligible for trial as for charge of treason, with the same penalties to be applied.

The first time a public official faces such a charge, it will have a profound effect.  It’s easy for them to pretend they’re putting tough new limits and reforms in place, but the truth is that their regulations tend to punish them the most lightly of all, reserving the worst punishments for others.  I’ve always thought that the willing recipient of a bribe is far worse than the person who offered it.  As I said, it’s impossible to purchase influence if it isn’t for sale.

Of course, the problem extends beyond politicians.  In many cases, Congressional staff members are involved in the key details of writing legislation that ultimately profits a particular business or group, or class of citizens, and all too frequently, themselves.  The same goes for the extensive bureaucracy and the regulations they craft.  Too often, regulations are authored in order to benefit somebody in particular, but the only way to limit this effectively is to restrict that which government may regulate.  What we need to combat all of this is a separation of economics and State at least as thorough as that which we have erected between Church and State. The simple fact is that so long as government has its fingers in every pie, there will be reason to expect that those who own the pies will seek to minimize their losses.

I believe disclosure is critical.  Campaigns and causes should be required to list their contributors and donors from largest to smallest.  The truth is, I don’t care if you’re a billionaire and wish to spend a pile of money on a single candidate.  I would merely require that your contributions be listed and published prominently by any campaign to which you contribute.  I find it’s better and more honest to get it in the open.  How many of you would like to know exactly how much in indirect contributions Soros made to Barack Obama through intermediaries like MoveOn and other entities?  In this way, disclosure provides the key.  They’re going to find a way to do it so long as politicians have the monumental power you’ve permitted them to arrogate to themselves, so it is better that at the very least, we know in detail who is funding whom.

The other problem is that it’s usually not bribery per se, but more frequently a form of extortion.  It works like this:  Legislator Doe introduces a bill that would, on its face, harm the interests of a particular entity, knowing that this entity will then come in with a deal.  It’s a bit of a protection racket, and it’s not even hidden.  They do this sort of thing on a continual basis, because in terms of the number of laws enacted each year, there’s simply too much opportunity, and most of the laws aren’t written to prevent this sort of corruption.  That may be the real “trick” in all of this:  Too often, since they make the laws, they decide what does and does not constitute a violation of law on their part.  Prodding Congress to police itself is not going to be easy, if it can be done at all.  This is why various campaign finance reform initiatives, including McCain-Feingold are destined for failure.

I believe in free speech.  I believe that money spent in politics constitutes free speech.  Free speech does not apply to any other sort of entity than individual people.  The  sorry game that has cost the American people dearly is augmented by rules that limit what Americans can contribute in one form, while giving preference to a relative few Americans in another.  Newspapers, radio and television stations or networks function as advocates perpetually.  Is there a spending limit on how much positive coverage the New York Times can give to President Obama?  No, of course not, and there should not be.  Individual citizens are having this same right denied them by the FEC(Federal Elections Commission) on the shoddy basis that they’re not protected as “the press” under the First Amendment.

For instance, if you run a blog, you could be considered to have contributed to a campaign merely by linking to its website.  The value of the alleged contribution increases on the basis of how much traffic your blog sees.  The same thing is true of commentary on some TV stations, although other outlets have exemptions under the law.  This is clearly intended to stifle free speech, and yet TV funny-man(?) Stephen Colbert  wanted to lampoon the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, and among the other things he wanted to do was to set up a PAC(Political Action Committee.)  Imagine his surprise when he found the maze of laws that would obstruct him. Colbert found himself facing the very obstacles he insists other must face, and he didn’t like it very much.

Let’s be honest about something else, while we’re at it.  Your money is yours.  If you want to spend all you have in support of a cause or a candidate, by what authority does anybody lay a claim to restrict you?  More, what authority does government have in defining what is “the press,” or more frequently, what is not?  The problem with all of this regulation of speech is that there is no fixed bright line, and depending upon who is pulling the strings at a given moment, the rules will be shifted and twisted to suit the cronies of whomever holds power.  Free speech isn’t really free when some people are forced to comply with regulations while others are exempted from those same regulations on the basis of some arbitrary law or rule.

The truth is simply that money doesn’t corrupt politics.  People do.  If you want reform, the only way you’re going to have it is to move toward a free speech paradigm in which all are unshackled in their speech, but that full disclosure of contributors and donors is known, ranked from largest to smallest, so that all discerning citizens can choose accordingly when they head to the polls.   We need also to get government out of the business of business. Too frequently, it is the involvement of government that makes it possible  for corporate  interests to buy influence.  If government officials weren’t offering influence, for what purpose would corporations lobby them?  To reform this system, we’re going to need honest people in Congress willing to live under a much more strict regimen, and part of this will include sending the professional staff home.  Too many of them have far too much influence on legislation, and until we start sending them home with the politicians for whom they work, we’re not going to get very far.  Money is a problem in politics only inasmuch as people are open to corruption.  That’s the root of our trouble, and it’s the most difficult problem to fix.

Thinking About The Presidency

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Too Much Power?

One of the features of the 20th Century and continuing in even more grand form now is the extent to which the office of President of the United States has come to represent the country at large.  Given the development of mass media, it’s not surprising, but in truth, I’m not sure it’s been entirely healthy.  We speak of presidents as “running the country,” but none of these characters, neither the worst nor the best of them, ever really run the country, or at least, that’s not what our founders intended.  The President and the federal establishment are supposed to be as remote in our daily lives as they are from most of us in geographic terms.  The notion of the President “running the country” is illusory in most respects, and a testament to the fictions propagated by government in collusion with media that we perceive things in this way.  We shouldn’t regard our government as such a fundamental part of our daily lives, but over time, people now view the presidency in this light.  It is time that we begin the discussion about returning the government and our elected politicians to their rightful place, but the trouble lies not only with the temperament of our presidents, but also with the character of the presidency.

Our present constitution was established in part to create a stronger federal government than had existed under the Articles of Confederation.  That government was considered insufficiently weak by those who saw flaws in its ability to bind the country together in issues of taxation and expenditure, particularly with respect to a common defense.  This left the presidency, merely an instrument of Congress, in a state of impotence, incapable of responding to changing conditions, or coordinating the new nation’s defense.  This was intolerable, and there were significant problems even collecting revenues.  Provisioning for the Army was unreliable, and there was little of centralized form in the execution of law.  The United States was at this time more like a version of the present day United Nations, or European Union, in the sense that it was strictly a treaty among the separate and sovereign states, with little of their powers delegated to the confederation except as pertaining to warfare and foreign policy.  Some critics today would suggest that it had certain advantages over our existing constitution for precisely these reasons.

The anti-federalists argued that much as our Articles of Confederation had perhaps been unduly weak as a reflex against the tyranny of the British empire, in much the same way, the proposed constitution was likewise unnecessarily and even dangerously powerful as a reaction against the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.  Patrick Henry and George Mason were among the most notable critics, and there can be little doubt that he considered the new constitution to contain too many weaknesses, loopholes they thought, through which despots could arise.  The anti-federalists had three central objections:  There was no “bill of rights”; there would be a centralizing tendency; the government would take on an aristocratic character.  While the new constitution was ultimately amended to quiet critics on the matter of a bill of rights, the other two objections have come into sharper focus as it is clear that the history of the 20th Century is one of the centralizing of power, and the death of the concept of citizen legislators, resulting in a permanent political class that rules seemingly in near perpetuity.  The anti-federalists worried about the presidency created in the new constitution arrogating to itself new and terrible powers not specifically proscribed in Article II.   Some would argue with good cause that they had been correct, since at varying times throughout the course of our country, successive presidents have tended to accumulate more power than their predecessors.

This is the curious problem that now confronts us:  We must elect a President who will exercise the power of that office to slowly, wisely return such excessive power to its proper jurisdiction, either in the Congress, or within the several states, but perhaps most importantly, with the people.  Of course, this will not be done without the will and legislative commitment of Congress, but the truth is that a new President, properly inclined, will be able to change and diminish not only the role of the President, but also of the Federal Government generally.  Our nation has become too focused on and dominated by Washington DC.  This is why our federal budget has exploded out of all previous bounds. This is why we are beset by a regulatory nightmare in our small businesses, in our homes, and in almost every other facet of our lives.  We must begin the process of deconstructing the federal establishment to a degree that permits us to function as a nation again without daily reference to Presidential, Congressional or judicial whimsy.

The office of President of the United States was created to remedy an over-weak central government, but it has been so thoroughly enlarged in its power that we must elect a person with the character and temperament to practice self-restraint in the exercise of powers not explicit in the Constitution.  We need a leader who will slowly, carefully devolve as much power as is prudent back to the states and the people.  Our current economic morass is evidence of the accumulation and centralization of power in the hands of those who run our federal government, and they have become a blight upon our economic future, and indeed, our lives.  One need consider only those EPA regulators who have banned inhalers for Asthma drugs.  Some people will die because they will have been unable to afford the new inhalers, but the regulators are unelected, and frequently unaccountable, and they create new rules by which we are governed without respect to how those rules may harm us.  President sign executive order implementing what are essentially de facto law, with the stroke of a pen.  Somewhere along the course of the last two-hundred years, we have lost contact with the stern warnings the anti-federalists about the arrogation of power and the aggrandizement of the presidency, never mind the general growth of a permanent political class that no longer much cares for the will of the people, or even the constitution to which they’ve sworn to uphold.  These are also questions we must ask the GOP candidates for nomination, because we will soon lose our country if we don’t reduce the reach and scope of the U.S. Federal Government and its powers.  It’s time to tear down this leviathan, before it kills all of us.

So You Want to Spread the Wealth?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Spreading the Misery Equally

In a recent discussion with an acquaintance, who was interested in my recent article on the nature of the people who are rioting in London, and elsewhere around the world, the question was posed to me: “How can you expect to convince young people who’ve never really had to struggle for anything that they shouldn’t be handed everything for free?”  This question is about the entitlement mentality that now seems to be spreading in pandemic proportion and threatens the foundations of our constitutional, representative republic.  It’s true that it’s a difficult thing to explain to somebody who has convinced themselves that demands, and not hard work, are the road to personal prosperity.  I was considering the problem on my way home when a thought crossed my mind: One of the reasons I fight so hard against socialism is because I’ve already experienced its oppressive boot on my neck.  I know from personal observations how it cripples the ability of individuals to prosper.

The problem with most of the people who demand more and more at the expense of others is that they have no skin in the game.  Since many of these people have never been on the paying end of the socialist monstrosity, I’m inclined to believe they simply don’t understand it, and won’t, until they’re made to pay, somehow.

I hope you’ll forgive me, my patient readers, as I propose something in order to make a point, because I think we can make the notion of having “skin in the game” as literal as any dare suffer to imagine possible.  Consider now, if you will, my own modest proposal for the ultimate entitlement program, designed to fulfill a basic human need, to promote self-esteem, and otherwise “spread the wealth around,” albeit of another kind.  Before I make my proposal, let me start by saying that money, property and wealth are just extensions of one’s person, so that if any of these are up for grabs to the mob in the name of “the public good,” it is truly an assault on the individual.  For this reason, and in order to demonstrate the immorality of socialism, I therefore propose a new entitlement program aimed at giving every person in our society the chance to feel better about themselves.  It’s predicated on the notion of the “public good,” and will doubtless reduce the incidence of violent crimes and relieve the poverty of spirit with which so many now suffer.  I therefore give you: “S-GROPE“:

Sexual Opportunity Resource Equalization Sponsorship Act of 2011 (SORES)

S-GROPE” is an acronym that stands for “Sexual Gratification and Recreation Of People Everywhere.”  This program will be administered by a new division of the Department of Health and Human Services, to be called “SCROOME.”  (That’s: Sexual Conjugation Resource Office Of Managed Ecstasy”, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

S-GROPE will be enacted to ensure every American equal access to sexual gratification and fulfillment.  We’ve learned through intensive study that this is an important part of human behavior and social development.  Too many people have been forced by the selfishness of others to endure endless long nights alone with no hope of human contact.  In order to ensure fairness, every American will be assigned an S-GROPE account number, and all Americans will be entered into a shared pool.  This will ensure fairness to all, but more importantly, it will be carried out safely within the confines of officially approved SCROOME Centers.

Commencing on the first Monday of the New Year, couples will be selected at random, with notifications sent out to all participants with the name, address, and time of their conjugal visitation.  Upon receipt of said notification, participants shall have not more than five days to schedule and fulfill their obligations under the program. The only exemptions shall be for minors and dependent adults, Congress, and other Federal officers and officials.  This program will be administered in the  most fair and humane manner possible: There will be no discrimination on the basis of age, race, sex, sexual orientation, condition of disability, or other factors.  Pairings will be selected at random, within the 25 mile geographical range of the participant’s home of residence.

When contacted by notification from SCROOME, participants should understand this to be a mandatory activity for the good of society.  Failure to appear, or any attempt to leave the premises after arrival at the officially designated SCROOME Centers will result in strict criminal liability, up to and including not more than 10 years of incarceration at a Federal SCROOME rehabilitation center…

Now, every person who reads my blog knows that this is entirely in jest, and is even now thinking up their own clever acronyms, but I would suggest you ask all those you know who suffer from delusions of redistribution: “If you can demand my wealth, my earnings, and my property at the point of a gun, and threaten me with imprisonment, why not my body too?  Why not yours?  Why should you get a choice about when or if to engage in sex, or with whom?  After all, it can be clearly demonstrated to be in the public interest according to some research clinician’s study.  No?  You don’t want this? What else could be the possible meaning of a federal mandate to purchase health-care insurance?”

“If you don’t want this, then how dare you demand the wallets or bank accounts of others?  If you don’t think this a proper use of Federal power, what makes you think it a proper use of Federal power to force me at gunpoint, under threat of incarceration, to fund the food on your plate or the roof over your head?  Is it because I have a bit more money at the moment than you?  Do you think that justifies it?  Well, the sad fact is that somewhere there is somebody with even less than you, who will eventually look at your wallet as you’ve been looking at mine.”

“If you think the notion is absurd when it is applied as in my offered piece of legislation above, what in the world would make you think it’s any less absurd, in logic or morality, to propose the same notions with respect to my labor?  When you demand my wallet, you’re demanding a share of all the labor that went into filling it with what little it contains.  When you demand that government pay for this or for that, you’re demanding that citizens be strapped to a table in your SCROOME Center for your own pleasure and purpose.”

These are the questions you should ask of anybody who contends they have a right to a full belly at the involuntary expense of others, because that person is morally capable of all of this and more.  You cannot claim the labors of a millionaire or a billionaire, or even a dirt-poor horse farmer without committing the same essential crime:  You’re guilty of demanding that others live for your sake, or else.  You’re demanding they live for your satisfaction, or else.  You’re seizing their work and the means to the attainment of their own dreams and aspirations.

One can pretend this hadn’t been the case, but the truth is much worse than most care to admit: Programs for the redistribution of wealth are merely a form of enslavement, just as the bizarre program I’ve proposed offers the same logic in service to the same preposterous ends.  You cannot claim to want freedom while demanding entitlement to the efforts and wealth of others, just as you cannot claim a right to sexual fulfillment by a spree of government-coerced rapes.  By definition, none of these things can be a right, because they negate the rights of others to their own lives, liberties, and property.  It’s time to stop pretending that socialism isn’t what it so clearly is, and if my vulgar little proposal  assists you to better explain the crass depravity of the entitlement mentality, so much the better, for if the person with whom you’re discussing it refuses to understand, it can be safely said that such a person has abandoned humanity already.