Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘government’

Representation without taxation?

Posted by sanityinjection on April 12, 2010

Doctor Zero examines the question of whether the 47% of American households which pay no income tax should have the right to vote. It’s a politically impossible idea that hearkens back to the days in which only those who owned land had the vote, because they were the ones who had a permanent stake in the proper functioning of government (not to mention being more likely to have had sufficient education to vote intelligently.) The idea is that if you pay nothing toward the cost of government but receive benefits from it, your vote is all too easily bought with more government benefits which cost you nothing.

In discarding the idea, the author notes that it is not benefits for the truly poor and needy that are bankrupting America, but rather entitlements for the middle class who do pay taxes – Social Security, Medicare, and now ObamaCare.

I confess I have long found the idea of restricting the franchise attractive. However, even if it were politically feasible, any such restriction puts in the hands of men the right to establish who deserves to be represented in government and who does not. We might feel we could draw that line in the right place today, but then what would stop future leaders with less foresight and integrity from redrawing it in less wholesome ways? After all, it was not so long ago that poll taxes and literacy tests were used to enforce the  disenfranchisement of blacks for no better reason than simple irrational racism. The true value of America’s founding mythos that “all men are created equal” lies less in its truth than in the safeguard it represents against tyranny.


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Why do conservatives oppose higher taxes and expansion of government programs?

Posted by sanityinjection on March 25, 2010

Most people who are generally familiar with American politics understand that people who call themselves “conservatives” generally oppose higher taxes and expansion of government services (“big government”). However, I’m willing to bet that many people do not really understand *why* conservatives oppose these things. The average person may understand at some level that conservatives are not simply greedy, selfish people who are trying to weasel out of paying their fair share. But with this smear constantly being repeated to them by the Left and their media lackeys, and without an alternative explanation readily available, the stereotype becomes pervasive.

In fact, the conservative positions stand on a solid foundation of economics, common sense and even fairness. I commend to your attention this essay by Hal Gershowitz and Stephen Porter. Although lengthy, it explains in a clear and logical way many key conservative ideas on economics and government, including:

  • Why raising taxes creates a socialist system in which the rich pay far *more* than their fair share to subsidize everyone else
  • Why expanding entitlement programs such as subsidized health care is financially irresponsible
  • How the role of the federal government has inflated to take over things that local governments used to provide and that individuals and charities used to be responsible for
  • Americans are increasingly encouraged to view their life goals as “rights” to be provided by someone else (the government) rather than things we ourselves should work to achieve

The authors conclude by rhetorically asking: “Are you a morally bad person if you do not want to shoulder an ever-increasing government appetite to provide more and more benefits to a segment of the population who view these benefits as if they are birthrights?”

You can only get so many eggs out of the golden goose. If America continues to demand more and more from the top 10 percent – the people who really drive our econ0my – at what point will they get fed up and, like Ayn Rand’s John Galt, simply quit or move overseas?

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Protect us from ourselves?

Posted by sanityinjection on March 19, 2010

A recent arrest in Louisiana raises questions about whether we really need laws to protect us from ourselves. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Michael Housey had an argument with his wife in their home. In order to blow off steam after the argument, Housey took his shotgun, fired once in the air and then fired at his own fence three times. No one was injured and the only property that was damaged belonged to Housey.

Obviously, neighbors heard the shots and called police. After speaking with Housey, the police arrested him for disturbing the peace, a misdemeanor. I have no argument with that. But there were additional charges: “illegally discharging a weapon” and “aggravated criminal damage to property” – both felonies in the state of Louisiana.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? Apparently it is illegal to fire a weapon in the town where Housey lives, though I cannot imagine how that is constitutional – surely the right to bear arms must include the right to actually use them? Even more egregious though is the felony charge for “criminally” damaging his own property. Is that a level of protection Americans want or need their government to provide? Shouldn’t we have the right to foolishly smash, break or destroy our own possessions in a fit of rage if we choose to do so?

What we have here is a man who could potentially be facing jail time just for blowing off steam. I guess the state of Louisiana would rather Housey kick his dog next time he’s angry.

Hopefully the felony charges will be dropped and we can chalk this up to overzealousness by the police. But they represent one item among an increasing pattern of government seeking to control what we say, do, and even think not only in public but on private property and within the privacy of our own homes. The law does and should prevent us from using that privacy to harm or infringe the rights of others. But on what grounds does the government find itself to be a more lawful guardian of the property of a mentally sound individual than the individual is?

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Public policy primer: The theory of collateral damage

Posted by sanityinjection on March 2, 2010

“Collateral damage” is a military term applied when an action results in damage suffered by persons or things other than the intended target.  It’s a useful and easy to understand phrase which I propose to apply to the realm of public policy. I argue that one of the major reasons that government initiatives fail is that their creators fail to anticipate “collateral damage”.

Lemme ‘splain. Let’s say you are a politician with a public policy goal – maybe extending health insurance coverage to more people, or creating more jobs to bring down unemployment. As a politican you also have a secondary or even primary goal of good PR – it is even more important that you appear to be doing something about the problem than that you actually solve it. This creates a desire to move as quickly as possible, and that in turn leads to a tendency to fail to anticipate the “collateral damage”, or unintended consequences of the primary action. Almost nothing that government does is going to be without side effects.

For example, the collateral damage of a military build-up – however justifiable in terms of national security – is usually an increase in the deficit. That may not be a reason not to do the build-up, but it certainly should be taken into account and minimized as much as possible. The collateral damage of raising the minimum wage might be an increase in unemployment, as companies that have to pay higher wages compensate by hiring fewer workers. This incremental effect should be analyzed and used to calibrate an increase that is neither too little to help or so high that it causes harm.

The bigger and more complicated a government initiative, the more instances of collateral damage it’s likely to create, and you reach a point where that damage is collectively worse than the benefit you hoped to gain. This is one of the reasons why conservatives tend to reflexively view the expansion in size and scope of any government program as a bad thing. In far too many cases, the end result is that you are actually worse off in big-picture terms than you would have been had you done nothing at all. But the politicians get their photo-ops and press releases and can boast about the good they’re doing while ignoring the bad side effects.

Of course, not every consequence can always be fully anticipated. And some collateral damage is predicted and controlled for, but government, and especially Washington, could do a far better job than they do, with resulting benefits for the people they are elected to serve.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tug of war between privacy and security continues

Posted by sanityinjection on February 17, 2010

Of the many controversial topics in politics, one of the perennial favorites is the continuum between public safety and individual privacy. In other words, how do we protect an individual’s reasonable personal privacy while at the same time giving the government the tools it needs to keep us safe and protect us from criminals and terrorists?

The Founding Fathers considered this question very seriously. They came up with features such as search and seizure restrictions, due process, and the right to bear arms as ways of limiting the government’s power to intrude into citizens’ lives. With the passage of time, technology has vastly changed the landscape of the issue, offering new abilities to criminals, law abiding citizens, and law enforcement alike.

I try to keep an open mind and avoid a rigid ideology when it comes to these questions. For example, consider the recent decision by the TSA to begin randomly swabbing some air passengers’ hands to check for explosive residue. Even the ACLU is saying that if done properly, this is a reasonable security measure that does not constitute an excessive violation of travelers’ privacy; and I am inclined to agree.

But some questions are a bit more complicated, such as the issue of law enforcement’s access to cell phone location data. Many of us may not be consciously aware that whenever we use our cell phones, we are establishing a record of where we are located at that moment which is preserved by our phone service provider. There are good reasons why this should be possible – for example, emergency responders need to be able to locate someone making a 911 call if they cannot give their location. And law enforcement authorities can gain access to this information with a properly executed search warrant.

However, the courts are now being asked to consider whether law enforcement should allowed to access cell phone location information (though not the content of any transmissions) without a warrant. The Obama Administration is arguing that people using cell phones do not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” regarding their location when using a cell phone, and therefore no warrant should be necessary. Complicating the issue is the distinction between historical location information, and prospective or real-time location as seen on many television shows such as “24”.

For me, this is a much tougher question. The value of allowing law enforcement to access such information is fairly obvious. But the “expectation of privacy” question is a difficult one once you take the content of the conversation out of the equation. It would be easy to stand on principle and argue that the government has no right to know where a citizen is at any given time unless there is a presumption that laws have broken. But consider: The government knows where you are every time you get on a train or airplane, or make a phone call from a land line. Why should cell phone use be qualitatively different? If the government is actively chasing a terrorist, do we want them to have to get a signed search warrant before they can use cell phone location to find and apprehend him?

I admit to being torn, but I find myself leaning toward the Administration’s position on this. The potential for abuse seems minimal compared to the likely benefits in terms of public safety. But I’m open to being convinced the other way. What do *you* think?

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

There are unions…and then there are unions in Zimbabwe.

Posted by sanityinjection on February 5, 2010

For those familiar with the recent history of the African nation of Zimbabwe, it often seems like insanity has become the norm arther than the exception in that poor country, which has suffered many hardships thanks to its certifiably insane dictator-president, Robert Mugabe. Holding true to this pattern is Zimbabwe’s union of civil servants, which has just begun striking for higher wages.

Why is this insane? Let’s start with the fact that Zimbabwe’s government and economy are perilously unstable and hanging by a thread. Only the country’s drastic conditions and international pressure forced Mugabe to agree to an uneasy “unity government” with the opposition. The union may believe that they can exploit the government’s weakness, but in fact what they may end up doing is destroying it and giving Mugabe the excuse to return to his preferred form of rule – a ruthless and brutal dictatorship thinly disguised as democracy. Is that really worth the extra pay?

Now, let’s examine the union’s demands in the proper economic context. Civil servants are some of the most educated people in Zimbabwe and their skill level is high compared to the rest of the workforce. It is certainly appropriate that they receive above-average wages. The government has offered a 10% pay increase resulting in an average salary of about $170 per month. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but ask yourself if you got a 10% raise last year. Anyway, the union rejected the offer, so the government came back with a much better offer – a basic salary of $236 per month. The union rejected that, too.

At this point, it might be helpful to note that while we in the US are freaking out about an unemployment rate that is hovering around 10%, the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe is in the vicinity of 94%. That means people are incredibly fortunate if they have a job at all. Now, remember I said civil servants should earn an above average wage? The average wage in Zimbabwe is a whopping 30 cents per month. Seriously. That’s not a typo. The official poverty level in Zimbabwe is $41 per month. Source – Wikipedia: Economy of Zimbabwe (

So a little math: The government’s initial offer was about 4 times the poverty level. The US equivalent (based on 2008 federal poverty level of $11,000) would be about $44,000 annually. Not amazing, but not awful. The government’s second offer was about 6 times the poverty level, or the equivalent of $66,000 here in the US. I think most of us would consider that a reasonable salary for a qualified government official.

So what wages, pray tell, is the union demanding? They say they will not return to work for less than a minimum salary of $630 per month, or 15 times the poverty level – the equivalent of $165,000 in the US!   I feel fully confident that if US government workers made a *minimum* of $165,000/year there would be an armed taxpayer uprising. Even the SEIU would be embarrassed.

Honestly, this is like mugging a homeless person and looking in his wallet for $100 bills! These guys even make the baseball players’ union seem easy to deal with.

What is really going on in Zimbabwe is a society that has totally collapsed. The union has no faith that this government is going to last and they are out to beg, borrow or steal whatever they can get while they still can. They see a government that for the past ten years has not cared about the plight of its people, so why should they care about anyone other than themselves? And yet they are hammering the final nail in the coffin of their own people.

There is a lesson here for Americans. This is the ultimate end of the road that we embark on when we engage in attempts to pit one group of Americans against another politically and economically – rich vs. poor, white vs. black, men vs. women, labor vs. management etc. Scapegoating and race/class warfare is exactly what has destroyed Zimbabwe, and it can destroy America too if we let it. It was John F. Kennedy who said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Enlightened self-interest is the fundamental principle that has made our economy successful. But exclusive self-interest can just as easily destroy it. I hope that America’s unions take a lesson from the sad example of Zimbabwe.

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Haiti’s government is AWOL – and that might be a good thing

Posted by sanityinjection on January 15, 2010

AP reports that the United States has essentially taken over Haiti because the national government has effectively ceased to exist and there is nobody else capable of running the country.

For example, the international airport is now under the control of, and being manned by, US Armed Forces in order to manage the extreme logjam of relief flights trying to take off and land. Thousands of US ground troops are landing as we speak to try to create some order amidst the chaos. Haiti’s waters are under the complete control of the US Navy and Coast Guard. Some readers may recall there is a UN mission in Haiti, but it was affected by the earthquake as well and is focused on its own rescue operations at the moment.

The US swears it is not trying to sideline the elected government or undermine Haitian President Rene Preval. But you have to wonder whether doing so would actually be good for Haiti, considering that the quality of life of most Haitian people has shown no significant improvement in decades. The only public statement I have heard from Preval so far was him whining that his palace has been wrecked and he has nowhere to live.

Aid agencies are complaining that the Haitian organizations they normally work with are out of commission. Might that not be a good thing? Being able to sidestep corrupt Haitian officials for once may mean that international aid may be more effective, not less. Get your own people in there and get the job done properly this time.

What better lesson for this than Iraq? After the quick war in 2003, the US was concerned about appearing like a conqueror and moved quickly to turn over power to an Iraqi civilian interim government. That government proved to be hopelessly inept and corrupt, and the result was more American and Iraqi lives lost as the US military found itself having to divert from security missions to clean up the government’s messes. The Iraqi people would have been far better off had we placed the country under a formal US occupation government. World opinion would have howled and screamed, but we could have cleaned the place up a lot more efficiently and then presided over elections, leading to a full withdrawal and a stable country as early as 2006.

Is it now the Haitian people’s turn to be sacrificed – yet again – on the altar of national sovereignty and anti-imperialism? Let’s hope not.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »