Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If I Were King of the Forest

If I Were King of the Forest
©2012 Ross Williams

Not surprisingly, I get a lot of criticism of my criticism of how our country has been run [poorly] by traditional politics. Most of the criticism I get no longer sees the light of day in the comments section because I have disallowed anonymity – due more to spamming than the nameless and cowardly jerkwads wanting to throw turdballs at me, but yes, the jerkwads who bravely call me names while not leaving their own is part of it.

“If you’re so smart, how would you do it better,” is about the politest reduction of their childish challenges. And honestly, I thought I’ve been very, very forthcoming about how I’d do it better. There’s hardly an essay I’ve written which doesn’t, in some way, describe the better alternative to be taken. I will grant, however, that many people can honestly not comprehend the alternative I discuss, for there is a tendency among most people to refuse to see the absence of policy as a policy itself.

If you are a doctor and someone comes to you saying, “Doc, it hurts when I stick my elbow in my ear...” what is the most responsible action as a doctor? Is it an operation to give the dope a third hinge in his arm so that it will no longer hurt when he tries to stick his elbow in his ear? Is it to prescribe opiates so that he will no longer care that it hurts when he sticks his elbow in his ear?

Of course not. The most responsible action is to tell the moron to not stick his elbow in his ear. “Don’t do it.” Problem solved.

“Oh, but... but... but... what should be done with my elbow and my ear instead?”

Nothing, anything. How about finding a hobby that involves only one at a time?

Seriously, it’s not that difficult.

But that’s what is so difficult about it, apparently, because most Americans are uncomfortable with having to come up with their own ideas and taking responsibility for their own success [or failure]. Ours is a nation which was designed specifically to have its citizens come up with their own ideas and take responsibility for their own lives without saddling the government with any of it.

Those who defined our government knew from experience that when the government is given the job of coming up with ideas they typically come up with lousy ideas and their only means of implementing those ideas are to pass laws or issue edicts – which are historically the least effective ways of doing most things. The only thing laws and edicts are good at doing is collecting power in the hands of the government, which our Constitution was written to prevent too much of.

Those who defined our government knew from experience that when government assumes the responsibility for its citizens it makes a citizen’s success contingent upon blind obedience and leaves everyone else to squat in the mud as dependent slugs. Success becomes a matter of who you know and stops being about competence and innovation.

It was for these reasons that those who defined our government deliberately limited the government’s power to control its citizens. Government control is usually stupid, pointless and self-propagating nonsense.

So what I would do better is ... nothing. If it’s stupid to do ‘this’, then don’t do this. If it’s pointless to do ‘that’, don’t do that either. Don’t stick your elbow in your ear.

Arguably, the vast majority of what the government does “for us” they are not allowed to do. I would stop them from doing it.

TSA – not authorized. It would go away.
FDA – not authorized. It would also go away.
Medicaid – same.
Medicare – same.
Social Security, “welfare”, EPA, DEA – gone.

On the other hand, some things are authorized, and they would stay. The Post Office. The same Post Office that keeps whining about losing money – $3.3 billion in the last quarter of 2011 – and keeps demanding to raise postage and cut services ... doesn’t matter how much it loses; it’s Constitutionally mandated. We’d have 7-day mail service and 5-cent stamps.

The military; a keeper.

Roads; rebuilt.

IRS; alas ... left in place.

Make me the all-powerful Doge for the dictatorship our democracy is descending into and I’d go through the budget line by line and demand each line-item’s director to point out the specific Constitutional provision that allows the government to do what he does, and if he fails to justify himself – gone. And everyone who works for him.

A great many agency heads, or their loyyers, would attempt to justify their existence by citing the Tax and Spend clause or the Interstate Commerce clause of Article I, § 8. I would strongly advise against this, though, for these are the two most abused statements of federal authority we have in the Constitution, and claiming justification by a highly abused authority would lead me to suspect another case of abuse; he’d better make a damned good argument if he goes this route.

Claiming that Social Security is a proper authority because the Tax and Spend clause allows the federal government to tax ... and to spend ... so therefore whatever it does that includes taxing and spending is proper, is to deliberately misread the Constitution for the purpose of amassing federal power that was it never intended to have. These two clauses have been used to justify the government doing what it wants, when it wants, because it wants, endlessly. And since the Constitution itself says that’s not what the Constitution is for, and so did those who wrote the thing when they were trying to sell their fellow citizens on the idea of ratifying it, it seems that once again I am right and the courts are not.

The federal government, when I got done with it, would be a fraction of itself. The DC Beltway would be a series of ghost towns, and millions of people who’d recently been federal employees would be out of a job ... not coincidentally at a time that government unemployment benefits, as another non-authorized federal power hoovered up by the Tax and Spend clause, ceased to exist. They’d have to find a real employer to hire them for their bureaucratic skills at writing and enforcing meaningless gibberish by remote control.

This would be a hit with around one-third of the nation ... about as many as supported the Revolution in the late 1770s, for what it’s worth. Another third would absolutely hate this plan, for they would be the millions thrown out of federal jobs [with inconceivably insupportable pensions], those who live off federal handouts, and those busybodies who’d built their lives and livelihoods around advocating for even more federal intrusions.

The remaining third would be wary of me doing this and, I’ll have to admit, they’d be wary for very good reasons. We didn’t become this monstrosity of byzantine bureaucracy [which dwarfs the original Byzantine bureaucracy by several orders of magnitude] overnight; we accumulated it layer by layer by having normal people without evil intent thinking something was a “good idea” and not worrying about whether it was a good idea to give the government control of that “good idea”.

For purposes of illustration, I will again point at Certified Organic food. Many people don’t want preservatives and pesticides and antibiotics in the food they eat. I don’t blame them. So they started buying food that was “organic”. And paying more for it, because truly organic farming is labor-intensive and does not easily acquire the efficiency of scale that commercial farming can employ when it uses preservatives and pesticides and antibiotics.

But the large farming outfits saw a profit there, and started labeling their non-organic food as “organic” and charged more for it – but less than true organics charged – and they made more profit while driving the real organic farmers out of the market. So the normal people without evil intent demanded that the government define what “organic” is to prevent those who are not organic from using the term and fooling the normal consumer who does not have evil intent by wanting “organic” food.

The USDA – the US Department of Agriculture – then got together with all the farming people they knew and came up with a definition of “organic” and a means to certify it. The only problem is, the only folks the USDA policy-makers know in farming are large-scale farmers [and their loyyers], and the only rules they know how to write are those which can only be understood by loyyers, and the rules are so bureaucracy-heavy that the only ones who can wade through it are industrial-sized outfits.

As a result, we have exactly the same situation we had before: large-scale farms are the major supplier of “organic” food [of dubious organicity besides], because they are the only ones who can both understand and afford the certification process.

For someone like me who raises lamb and hens without chemicals to become Certified Organic would require hiring a loyyer and a CPA and spending a few thousand dollars each year I wished to be recertified. Only then could I stamp “Organic” on the egg cartons I sell to women I work with, and the packages of lamb brisket I get back from the butcher, all of which gives me about $1500 annual revenue ... before buying a grain of chicken feed or a single bale of hay.

Nothing has changed, but now the government is involved in it ... and the normal people who wanted this to happen never bothered to take a peek into the Constitution to see if Congress was even given the authority to define what “wholesome food” consists of in the first place. As if it needs to be said: they weren’t.

Society has a very difficult time accepting rapid change without flying apart at the seams. And my plan for refitting the government back into its Constitutional boundaries would certainly be rapid change. I would expect the nation to come apart at the seams, and rather quickly.

This is why, as the Grand Poobah of the dictatorship we are rapidly becoming, I would not in fact take the chain saw to the Federal Register the way I would prefer to. As I’ve mentioned before, libertarianism has inherent flaws in it, and moving from state-dependency to sudden independency in one step is similar to a baby moving from a crawl to piloting a spacecraft at once. Most people can’t do it, and our nation would die a quick and violent suicide.

Libertarianism requires abiding by the Constitution, yes, but the purpose of the Constitution is to provide a nation for our posterity – for future generations – to live in. My plan to re-stuff Pandora’s Box with the excessive government that flew out is as ultimately fatal as everyone else’s plan was in opening it in the first place.

You can remove 200 years of layered paint from a building at one time without major damage to the building; removing 200 years of layered government from a nation has to be done a layer at a time if you don’t want to damage the nation. And so, my fiat would require a little more analysis than simply justifying each governmental line-item’s constitutionality – although that would be part of it.

Each line-item in the budget would still have to justify their Constitutionality, and most agencies would not be able to do it. They’d immediately have their pre-inflation funding frozen and they’d be given, oh, let’s say 25 years to get the Constitution retro-fitted with the authority for their existence. If the required super-majority of the American People determines that this governmental function is needed ... okay, we’ll keep it; after all, the purpose of the Constitution is to serve the needs of its citizens. If we find instead that not enough citizens need it badly enough to change the Constitution, it’ll have another 25 years to phase out.

I would suspect that a great deal of the current federal government would evaporate in the next half century. My grand- and great-grandchildren – and yours – will thank me, though you might not.

The next step is to determine if the function served by the government agency is being accomplished at all, regardless whether it is authorized or not. The Post Office is beyond authorized, it’s required. But it’s run so ineptly that those who use it for the unsavory purpose of polluting the nation’s mailboxes with low-tech spam are given preferential pricing – that’s gotta stop. Here’s a hint: if you don’t know who you’re mailing something to and have to address it to “resident” hoping to get donations, you’re paying double postage. If you’re a business sending mail to someone who does not currently do business with you and hoping to get more business out of it, same thing.

No wonder the Post Office is losing money as fast as it is. Those who use it for its intended purpose – personal communication and actual commerce – are underwriting its use by those who use it for cheap and anonymous commercial solicitation.

If the government agency is authorized or not, it would have to answer why they exist in the first place ... to do what? Specifically.

Medicare for example was created to fulfill the non-authorized function of providing medical coverage to our nation’s senior citizens and control the costs through efficiency of scale. It has failed to do that. Costs are not controlled, and because costs aren’t controlled Medicare has pared back what it does and has forced senior citizens to supplement their government health coverage with private health coverage – thus defeating the purpose of government health coverage in the first place – and, effectively, rationing medical care. Until it does what it was designed to do, as it was designed to do it, it would receive less funding until it eventually would cease existing.

...and the nation’s public schools ... Their purpose is to educate children in what they need to know, not what is convenient to teach them. If some students refuse to play along with their own education, then get rid of them. There is a right to an education, yes, but not an entitlement. If a student abuses his right to an education by interfering with others’ education, his parents can damn well pay for a private school. Or not, their choice.

“Oh, but taking money away from government programs which don’t have the money to perform their charter is counter-productive to those programs performing their charter!”

Yeah? and? They’ll either find they can suddenly do it and we’re all better off for it by making them do their job without profligacy, or they’ll find they can’t and we’re still better off for it by not being profligate ourselves on something that has proven it doesn’t work. We somehow managed to survive, indeed thrive, as a nation before, for example, federally-funded public schools existed and old-age subsistence was thought up.

Local communities would build themselves a school, hire themselves a teacher, and the teacher taught the kids who wanted to learn. Once education became mandatory we got deluged with kids who didn’t want to be there and with parents of those kids who didn’t want to cooperate with them being there. Imposing a government program on reluctant or outright hostile citizens is only accomplished by force, and a free people is not free when subjected to forcible compliance with a program that is “good for them”. If a child wants to be stupid, if a parent wants his kids to be stupid, they have that right. Just stay away from those who want to get an education.

Before old-age subsistence existed, granny lived with an aunt or an uncle who took care of her and paid the doctor, and maybe got some money from granny’s other kids to help with her bills. Granny wasn’t sent off on an ice floe nor left in the street to die. Granny’s kids don’t like her well enough to take her in? that simply makes it more imperative that she be a good mother of responsible children, doesn’t it? In any event, it’s not the government’s responsibility.

Besides, if We The People truly want old-age subsistence to be a government responsibility, we have the power to collect the super-majority needed to change the Constitution to allow it, in which case cost will no longer be an object ... just as it shouldn’t be with the Post Office. In the meantime we’re going to save money because, unless the government has the legitimate authority to do it, cost IS an object. More governments fail due to foolishly incurred debt than from any other cause.

The third and final portion of each budget line-item review, after its Constitutional justification, its efficacy test and while we are determining whether or not to phase out the program for being an unauthorized power, or for being a cost-effective failure, is that it still has to treat the citizens it encounters with all the rights they are guaranteed.

This means public schools cannot compel attendance; this means Medicare cannot compel participation; this means TSA cannot compel warrantless searches in exchange for traveling by air; this means EPA, DEA, APHIS and all the other Alpha-Bits regulatory agencies cannot impose their regulation on anyone without proving that the regulation is allowed upon that person by the law that invented it.

A government that respects the rights of its citizens: what a concept.

Slowly removing the layer upon layer of government intrusion into and government control over our daily lives is the only way we can get the government we were promised without recreating the revolution that none of us wants to have. At least I don’t want to have it, which is why I recognize that my libertarian solution is not workable; I’d be killing what I’m trying to save out of sheer ideological arrogance. Ironic, since ideological arrogance is what got us here in the first place. Governing a nation of free people is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be very difficult. The more difficult it is to govern, the freer the people governed.

I sadly recognize that some of us do want a second revolution, however, whether they care to admit it or not. All we need to do to get it is just keep going the way we’re going. When we run out of China’s money the revolution will happen on its own, with or without – but almost certainly with – foreign prodding and territorial claim-jumping. If we’re determined to spend ourselves to death, we’d better learn Mandarin or Spanish to make our new masters feel welcome.

Won’t that have been worth it?


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