Are We *Competent* To Use Government Power?

I have had a couple weeks of absolutely delightful “talking point” conversations with people on Twitter. These have been with several people from the left and right of the modern American political spectrum.

I call them TP convos because they almost exclusively consist of things like, “Marijuana causes insanity” and “Virtue in the People is caused by laws from the govt” on the right, and “Corp greed is destroying America”, “We should equalize all wages” and “The 99% are powerless against big business so lets give lots MORE power to Washington” on the left.

These are really fun because they don’t require much mental exertion on my part and I figure I might be able to get through to people whose depth of thought/research on these topics seems to run rather shallow. Now I don’t say that as a criticism however, I naturally don’t think people SHOULD necessarily spend much effort becoming better acquainted with these issues. Being “informed” in even a marginal sense is a fairly intensive and significant investment of time and energy. Don’t most of us have better things to do?

However, what I am left pondering in more seriousness, is how few people seem to realize they have a shallow understanding of many topics. In our lives we very regularly have to make assumptions, work from incomplete pictures, act from faith rather than knowledge, in other words, most of our day, every day, is made up of a series of our best guesses. That seems fine because individually we balance our certainty (or lack thereof) against the potential outcomes and what we will invest in the action. I guess that Campbell Ave is my quickest route to school, but if there happens to be an accident, it may take me a few minutes longer or I hop over to a different road. In this case the consequences of error in my choice are shallow even when my knowledge is relatively deep (the route I take every day). That seems intuitively rational. Continue reading

Magic Pots Of Money

First published on the Wake Up Tucson Blog:

Over the last year I have taken issue with characterizations of politicians here in Tucson. Specifically the commendations and congratulations for spending time and effort focusing on, and eventually succeeding in, bringing federal grants to our local community (in the form of TIGER and other federal transportation dollars) for our newest, big scale, fun-time, public works project: The Modern Streetcar.

Without getting into a lot of other issues with this project let me state one simple fact that people seem to be missing: There is no magic pot of free money in Washington, DC.

Federal grants and project funding only come from our own pockets or from pockets in other communities.

To the former, why are we sending money to Washington just to have it sent back to Tucson? To the latter, why should Tucsonans be living off of anyone else?

However, the situation is more complicated than that simple philosophical construct. You could answer that you believe that both of those are wrong and you still would likely take the money. Why? Because you don’t want someone else living off of you either. If we don’t take the money, won’t someone else?

Nasty little conundrum, right??

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200 WORDS – “Unions” are GOOD… “National Labor Relations Board Coerced Associations” are BAD

Modern unions wrap themselves in the human rights vernacular of voluntary association. Individual rights to form organizations, enter into agreements with each other, etc. A “rights” justification for an evolution from the monopolist “guilds” of earlier centuries.

Classical guilds (e.g. the stonemasons) had both legal associations (built on voluntary organization, contracts, common interests, family ties, etc.) and illicit (nominally illegal) associations (built on coercion, e.g. “If you’re a blacksmith, you have to join or else.”).

What changed from classical guilds to modern unions (with early 20th c. legislation like the National Labor Relations Act) was that the “or else” became legal.

After the NLRA, with a single union organized election (simple majority ruling), employees permanently lost (1) the choice to be a member or not, to negotiate their own wages/hours, to pay union dues or not… Lost most choice beyond their option to cast a ballot or quit.

This coercion has weakened over time (e.g. “right to work” laws), but the heart of unions remains their National Labor Relations Board connection and the consequential ability to bring legal force against “non-compliant” employers and workers.

Modern NLRA unionization legalized a “tyranny of the majority” in our workplaces, reducing individual liberty and devaluing personal initiative.

(1) Unionization is almost never reversed. Annual rate of “decertification” (defined as active election to rescind union representation, thus union membership drop not due to layoffs from or failure of companies with union representation) for sample year 2010 was 0.04% (approx.). In 2010, 6,200 employees were decertified after a member vote (National Labor Relations Board, FY2010, Table 15C) versus 14,700,000 total nationwide union membership (Bureau of Labor Statistics, FY2010, Union Members Summaryf).

Election Day Musings

Goodmorning Election Day!

Can I make a quick suggestion as everyone is rolling out of bed and contemplating that trip to your nearby polling station?

If you feel uninformed, that’s okay…

You’d really have to quit your job to even ATTEMPT to keep up with everything in which our government presumes to involve itself.So if you don’t know… drumroll… don’t vote.

No judgment here, honest, I totally get it.

But (if you are going to the polls today) I would ask, why not vote for what you think will make our government simpler? Will make it less intrusive, less involved, less expansive?

Maybe over the years, we can (step by step) shrink it down to the point where understanding a single ballot at the beginning of November once every two years isn’t an 80 hr/wk full time year round profession.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

President Ford echoed this sentiment during a joint session of Congress in 1974, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

What “bigness” of government will you support today? Less or more?

Happy Voting! 🙂

The Vain Illusion

“But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it.” – Lysander Spooner, political philosopher (1808 – 1887)

“(We) must do more than chase the vain illusion that someday a good and illuminated man will come to power.” – Guatemalan “ProReforma” Campaign Brochure (2009)

These quotes always help me remember that there is no perfect elected representative or perfect political legislation that once in power or enacted will turn my life around.They remind me that “We, the people” must be the guardians of our own lives. We don’t “guard” our lives by voting for the guy or supporting the law that gives us more cookies out of the communal jar. We guard our lives by supporting and pushing for more FREEDOM and for those who will stand up against more intrusion in our private lives.

Again, there is NO perfect choice, but the marginal revolution happens when we make choices that push us a little further along the continuum one way or another.

In this election, it is not about who will make you free (see above for that fantasy) but who will make you free-ER. Then the next time choose again, to be free-ER.

When we make choice after choice after choice, always in the direction of more economic freedom and personal liberty, how different, better, more prosperous will this country be when our kids are our age and making these same choices?

A Story About Hogs…

A quick story as related from Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education (


Thomas Anderson, author, farmer and presidential candidate in 1972 & 1976, used to tell a story about a herd of wild hogs, that lived along a bend of river in Georgia.

Now this band of pigs was a stubborn, ornery, independent, self reliant bunch. They had survived floods, and freezes, and fires, and droughts, and hunters, and dogs, you name it.Nobody thought that these hogs could ever be penned up or captured.

But one day a stranger came to a town not far from where the hogs were, and he went into the general store and he said, “Tell me where I can find the hogs. I have a plan to pen them up.”

And the store keeper said, “Ah, well you’ll never do that.”

But he nonetheless gave him some general directions and off the stranger went with nothing but a few sacks of corn, an axe, and a one-horse wagon.

A few months later he came back into town, came into the store and said, “I’ve got ’em all penned up, out in the swamp. I need some help to bring the hogs out.”

The storekeeper couldn’t believe it, and others came from miles around to hear the story of how this guy had penned the hogs that everyone assumed could never be captured.

He said, “Well it was really rather simple. At first, I made a clearing at the middle of the swamp with my axe. And then I put some of the corn at the center of the clearing and for the first few days none of the hogs would take any of it. But after a while the younger ones would come out and grab some of the corn and scamper back into the underbrush, and before long then the older ones were coming out, each of them taking some corn, figuring if they didn’t take it one of the other hogs would. And so they were all now taking the corn regularly as I put it in the clearing.”

He then said, “It was about that time, unnoticed by the hogs, that I started building a fence around the clearing. One more small section each day until at just the right point I built a gate, and at just the right moment I swung it shut.”

And his last line was, “Naturally they squealed and hollered, when they knew I had ’em. But I can pen ANY animal on the face of this Earth, if I can first get him to depend on me for a free handout.”

That describes a number of civilizations that have risen and fallen in part because of people deciding that it may be easier to vote for a living than to work for one… To use the political process as a means to redistribute wealth that belongs to others.

– Lawrence W. Reed, 2010


Some great ideas to keep in mind as you head out to vote this Tuesday.

Happy Election Season!

Pima County Passes Smoking Ban

Oh fantastic…

Does anyone else remember those PBS brand commercials built around something like, “You Own This…”? Basically the gist was that the camera went swooping over the National Mall in DC and then the words would pass over the screen “You Own This…” The shot then faded to helicopter shots of Mt Rushmore and Yosemite followed by “You Own This…” It went through a couple of iterations on this theme, ending finally with a slow fade-in and light flare across the PBS logo and then a last drop in of that phrase, “You Own This…”

How patriotic, right?

I was always really offput by those… In my mind, we don’t own ANY of that. The US federal government owns those assets (PBS being a public-private partnershipy thing). We are given some access to those places and assets, but we don’t OWN them in any meaningful way.

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Will someone please let me know when “The Long Term” gets here?


First published on the Wake Up Tucson Blog:

As we start debating the re-authorization of our state’s 1 cent sales tax I would like to pause for a moment and take a slightly closer look at what has been, and will undoubtably be again, one of the oft heard sentiments in these discussions.

You almost certainly have heard some version of it, but Paul Krugman (writing in his recent release A Manifesto For Economic Sense) provides a good example: “There must of course be a medium-term plan for reducing the government deficit. But if this is too front-loaded it can easily be self-defeating by aborting the recovery.”

So more or less, “Yes, we absolutely, positively know we need to get back to (INSERT NORMAL HERE) but certainly not right now.”

Dr. Krugman is certainly and simply an easy target but is an excellent example of those who, over many years, have maintained an incessant drum beat for “emergency measures”. Whether it is stimulatory fiscal and monetary policy, private company bailouts, vast military spending, expanded police powers, environmental regulatory interventions, increased taxes or other“temporary”, “one-time” reactions to current difficulties, there always seems to happen to be another “emergency” on the horizon which will serve to extend the definition of “temporary” and turn “one-time” into repetitive.

My primary issue are the pundits and government officers who prefer to define us in an almost constant state of “crisis” or for whom at least the pendulum seems only to swing in one direction.

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Please Politicians, Stop “Helping”

First published on the Wake Up Tucson Blog:

As an insurance broker I am faced with clients every day preparing for and dealing with some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable: loss of their home, injury in a car accident, unexpected medical conditions and many more. My job is to place them into financial products that, while not eliminating their suffering, can at least help them avoid the financial ruin that will make it all the worse. Thus I help people face their fears and manage them… unfortunately I had to face a professional fear this past week and there was no way to manage it or deal with it. Over the course of 5 days, I received two separate calls from clients for whom I could not place coverage, whom I could not help. They were healthy children and I couldn’t provide coverage because of changes made to the health insurance market by the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Due to budget constraints and mismanagement, effective October 1st AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid program) made changes to benefits eligibility.  As a result of these changes a friend and client of mine recently received a notification that her two minor children would be losing their coverage. She came to me last week as her agent to discuss options for replacing this insurance.

The second call came from two grandparents. Tragically, their daughter and her husband had died in a car accident several weeks earlier. Because of this they were taking in their 16 year old granddaughter. They called me because they were both in their 70’s and on Medicare, thus they needed an individual policy for the new teenager in their home.

As recently as a few months ago I would have been able to help both of these situations easily with policies that would have cost no more than tens of dollars every month ($30-$60); very reasonable and within reach of a working student and mother as my friend was, and a couple on a fixed income as the grandparents were.

But no longer.

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Raising The Bar

Published by the Wake Up Tucson Blog, 11/18/2011:

I will start by saying I do not know Phil Lopes.535af4b96e847.image

However, he made a series of statements this last week (unusual in their clarity as examples)  that I would like to address due to their implications regarding the level of discourse and understanding in our fair Pueblo.

In case you are not familiar, Mr. Lopes is a long time Arizona activist, a founding staff member of Pima Community College, a former senior manager at the AZ Dept. of Health, a state legislator and the current coordinator of the Tucson Chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America a “group of left-leaning Democrats, Independents, and Greens who work… for progressive change.” (PDA Tucson website).

Those roles have placed Mr. Lopes in the group of what, in our city, passes for “Public Intellectuals”.  This group includes political party leaders, any number of media personalities, some members of the university, and a few participants from the business, religious, non-profit communities and others.

“Public Intellectuals”, as a vocation, can be defined as the entrepreneurial class within any community’s market of ideas.  And as with all entrepreneurs they are constantly competing for customers.  However, unlike those in the business world aiming for dollars or other measures of growth, entrepreneurs in the political and thought arenas are competing for ears and minds.  They count their success not in financial terms but in how many people they can get parroting their beliefs and the level of influence of those who echo their thinking.

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