Archive for October, 2015

Why Statists Don’t Want to Shut Down the Government

October 27, 2015

The fight between conservatives and statists is flaring up in congress again. The conservatives want to bring the federal government back under the control of the American people, while the statists want to see it put unborn generations of Americans in even further debt. Up until now, the fight has been favoring the conservatives.

On the subject of shutting down the government, I had the following thought.

If the government shut down, conservatives would just shrug their shoulders. We know how powerful the average American is and how truly unnecessary the vast majority of what the federal government does is. We know that if you stop paying our military and our elderly, they won’t die in the streets but will figure out a way forward without government’s help.

On the other hand, the statists have the most to fear from a government shut down. Not only do they rely on the government for all of their power and wealth, they also need to perpetuate the lie that the American people are helpless without the federal government. Should the federal government shut down and the American people find out how truly unnecessary it is, they would be forever out of a job.

That’s why the fight is the way it is. Statists like John Boehner are fighting tooth and nail to ensure the government has permission to borrow from children as yet unborn, with no end in sight. The small group of conservatives in congress are fighting to ensure that this unsustainable policy ends, and sanity returns.

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How Centralized Government Causes Pollution

October 23, 2015

The following video is a satirical look at China’s pollution.

If you aren’t familiar with the channel yet, check it out. He does a great job of explaining the problems with centralized authority in a humorous way. It will help shed light on how we, as a government and culture, need to change to avoid becoming like China.

Now, let’s examine the issue with pollution.

In China, if someone is destroying your home with pollution, what can you do? Since all the power is centralized, the answer is nothing. Unless you are the son of on of the rulers running the country, your opinion doesn’t really matter. If you petition too loudly, you go to jail. If you don’t have something that the centralized government wants, they don’t care about your opinion.

In the US, under our decentralized federal system, issues such as pollution are assigned to the states and to the people by the constitution. What do you do if your neighbor is spewing toxic fumes into the atmosphere and won’t stop? You engage the state and city government to stop them. All it takes is enough people complaining and the city council and state legislature will do just about anything to keep themselves in power. The federal government focuses on international matters, and so if another country was polluting into ours, they would be your advocates.

Pollution is an economic problem. There is a financial incentive to pollute, otherwise no one would do it. There is also a financial cost, which the polluter usually doesn’t have to bear. We call this “externalities” in economic terms. Meaning, something I do makes you pay for it. External costs are a bad thing. After all, we’re all human, and if I can make an extra buck by making you pay ten, why wouldn’t I? We could rely on our good nature and appeal to logic and reason, but we all know that doesn’t work very well in the real world. Thus, wherever externalized costs exist, there is going to be problems until those costs can be internalized.

Of course, if the external cost is good, then people won’t complain. Let’s say a farmer is using a fertilizer that leeches into a lake that causes it to overflow with even more fish that are healthier. What fisher would be upset with that? So if the external cost is good, we don’t call it pollution.

In a capitalist system, where the means of production is owned by the people and not by the government, and property rights respected, when you externalize a cost, then the person whose property is hurt has a claim for just recompense from the person who did the injury. In the case of pollution, the obvious compensation is to clean up the pollution. Thus, the producer of the pollution bears the external cost of the pollution. The courts exist to provide this mechanism. Thus, the external cost of pollution is internalized. The polluter has to think whether it really makes sense to pollute, or if it will be cheaper for everyone to not pollute.

In one very special case, when a small external case is distributed among a large number of people, should government get involved a more than an arbitrator. In this case, since it is difficult to have all the hurt individuals come together to petition for redress, and difficult to fairly distribute the cost and expense, government can and should step forward and levy a pollution tax equal to the cost of cleanup and for the sole purpose of cleaning up the pollution or compensating those affected. Of course, the danger of raising taxes too high always exists, but taxes that are too high end up killing the tax revenue stream anyway so it will self-balance.

Let’s take a specific example. Say that a farmer wants to use extra fertilizer to increase his yields. However, that fertilizer is washed into the local streams, rivers, and lakes causing problems. The owner of that land would have a just claim to demand the farmer clean up the mess caused by the fertilizer. This provides the farmer an incentive to minimize the damage or ensure it is cleaned up. The economic cost will drive people to innovate in new ways of farming with less pollution or cheaper ways to safely clean it up.

Another example: Let’s say a power company is burning coal to make power. This pollutes the atmosphere, which affects a lot of people very little. Since so many people are affected, government steps in and demands that they either install a scrubber to eliminate the pollution or pay the government to do it themselves. At the same time, the government could demand that the power company pay the bill for restoring the land back to its clean state, perhaps by de-acidification of lakes and soil. Or government could simply distribute the money among the people, which they could use to clean up their own land or spend in some other way they see fit.

In China, since natural rights are not recognized and all the government occurs in a centralized body, none of these things occur. The temptation to pollute and have someone else bear the external costs of it are too great, and there is no redress for those so affected. We’ve heard the story far too many times of Chinese people asking their government to do something simple, just, and honest and ending up in jail for it, or even dead.

If you want to make America clean or rather, keep it clean, we need to continue to apply property rights and decentralized government. Having the EPA be a federal department is actually what allows pollution to continue. Having each state, county and city manage their own pollution will ensure the proper balance. When people get affected by pollution, they will petition their local agency to crack down on the polluters, and will have far more influence than they can ever have on a central bureaucracy.

The Solution to Out of Control Federal Government

October 22, 2015

It would surprise you, or at least should, if the Founding Fathers had not anticipated our day.

Indeed, they probably could not have conceived of the weapons we use in war. They probably could not conceive of the computers and the internet that tie us together. But they did perceive man’s propensity to accumulate wealth and power, and the attraction that government offers to such people.

They knew that governments do what governments do: grow. Government start off with a fair promise and a fair deal. You, the People, give us money, give us food, and give us your young men, and we will protect you so you can live in peace.

This was the deal that gave rise to the first kings of England, more general and less king, appointed by the local governments across the land, to a temporary term for the purpose of rallying the troops and expelling the invaders. Over time, the kings stayed kings beyond their terms, and could call the army when they thought it was necessary. By the time the Normans invaded in 1066, they had a full-fledged government, still with the purpose of protecting the people, but doing other things as well. The Normans brought their castles and knights and French words like beef and pork. They quickly learned that the English people were not subjects, but partners, and it wasn’t long before they resurrected the age-old promise of protection for products. And thus the English people remained, with much of the power focused in the local villages with lords and kings handling the affairs of state and calling upon the young men for the occasional war.

By the time the American Revolution occurred, England had already experienced several revolutions. It was not a few times that the kings asked too much, and it was not a few times that the lords or the people refused. There was even a period of time where there was no king, although that was abandoned when it was realized no king could be worse than a king.

The Americans were just another revolution in a long list of revolutions. Perhaps they saw it that way, and perhaps the English saw it that way too. Thus, the War of 1812, when the British said, “You have had your fun. It is time to get back together again.”

The Americans, however, had something new. They have perspective. They had wealth. They had a bit of time. And with these resources, they developed the modern statesman, an individual who, with his wealth and privilege, sacrificed so that his people could benefit. This was the era of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. It was also a time for George Washington, the man who refused a crown because he cared too much.

We suppose that the Founding Fathers did not expect that our government would grow too large or powerful only if we ignore that they lived under a government that grew too large and powerful. Their desire was not independence, no not at first. They wanted unity with their brothers and fathers in Great Britain. However, by that time they had grown too powerful and too pompous as to consider the colonies anything like one of their own villages. Perhaps they didn’t understand what was happening overseas, the “Little Britain” that was quickly developing, the intellectual Renaissance of the American independent spirit. Perhaps they saw men wielding hatchets and wearing buckskin as backwards and unrefined. Regardless, they did not accept the entreaties of the Americans, and in the end, the Americans decided they were better off alone.

Having lived under such a government, the Founding Fathers conceived a plan to prevent it from ever happening again. Or rather, a plan to recover balance when it does occur. That is, the constitution is not so much a roadmap as a fire escape. It is to be employed when things go wrong.

And who can say they haven’t gone wrong?

In Federalist 46, James Madison under the name Publius describes why things won’t go wrong easily, and how to remedy it. His chief concern was twofold: One, that the states would grow too powerful, one bullying the other. Two, that the federal government would overpower the states.

If a state grew too powerful, the federal government would be the device by which its power would be limited. We see this today as California and New York are rebuffed by senators from Wyoming and South Dakota. To them, they would prefer we had a national popular election to settle matters, while the smaller states insist on the power of the senate. We have not had a case where one state grew too large, and I don’t think it will ever happen if we insist on applying the constitution. Should we ever abandon the Senate and the Electoral College, that would spell the end of that.

If the federal government grew too powerful, then it would be limited by the states. On the one hand, the states are closer to the people. On the other hand, they deal with matters of greater concern to the people, and so the people are thus more interested in maintaining its power and are thus loyal to it. With its power it can reward its people with rewards that the federal government cannot afford.

The only cause for concern to Madison was the absurd notion that the federal government would build a military which would dwarf the states. He wondered aloud how it could possibly do that, and why the states would send the federal government the funds and the equipment and the bodies needed to build such a war machine. Nevertheless, he points out, should the federal government somehow manage to raise an army larger than any other, it would still be dwarfed by the people. Unlike Europe, Americans were heavily armed, and not just with anything, but with military equipment. And so it is simply impossible for a minority to use military force to compel the majority. Sure, in Europe this happens all the time, but, he says, imagine what a lord in Europe would do if he could actually access the sentiment of the common folk? What kind of army could he raise and who could stop him? In America, any man who can rally the people would be such a lord, and if he were sufficiently popular, all but unstoppable.

Madison asserts that ultimately, the power behind the state and federal government come from the people. The people, as a separate body, are the power that any official in either government wants to gain control over.

I doubt that Madison knew that one day, militaries would become so efficient. Our federal government now possesses the means to destroy entire cities at the push of a button. A crew of men can put a bomber in the sky to wipe out an entire army. With technology, I fear that the federal government has reached a point where it could possibly challenge the people and win. The only hope I have is that there are enough good people in the military who won’t push the button and won’t order the troops to do such a horrible thing.

This fear, I think, should translate into a general policy. The parts of our military should not be controlled by the federal government, except in times of war, and only for the purposes of that war. Every missile, every bomb, every member of the armed forces should make their oaths to their state, and then pledge their loyalty to the federal government only inasmuch as the state permits it. In this way, if we were to break down to the point where a group of people would like to use military force on another, they would have to negotiate an alliance among the several states — which would be what we wanted all along. We wanted people who have competing interests and ideas about how government should work to sit down and talk about their ideas and convince others of the validity of their ideas in the several realms. Only once you can gain a supermajority can you make significant changes.

Those of you who are fed up with the federal government: Take over your state governments, and use the state to poke the federal government in the eye. Tell the federal government to stick it when they ask for help or resources. If push comes to shove, the state governments should be quite capable of rallying the people to a righteous cause, even if it means rallying them to fight a war.

I am reminded of one thing. During the 80’s, there was a big push to lower taxes at the federal government level. Yes, they were lowered, but the states raised their taxes and the actual effect wasn’t that much on the average family because of it. Had we instead focused our efforts on making tax shelter states, and then prevented the federal government from collecting from the state’s people, we would never have had a need to limit taxes on the federal level. That is to say, if you really want to change things, change Olympia, not DC.