Thursday, April 17, 2014

First world problem

This bush has been a thorn in my side for about fifteen years.  It is ugly, it produces nothing useful, in short, it serves once purpose, and that is to take up space.  For about three days each year it produces a few reddish flowers.  It needs to go.

And then there is this year.  For the past week it has looked like this.  Absolutely spectacular.  Where was this for the past fifteen years.

The threat of force and the state

Let's say we disagree about some policy matter.  Let's make it something silly for the purposes of argument.  I want to paint my house green.  You think that all houses should be painted tan or blue.  You lobby the city council, and they adopt an ordinance codifying your opinion.  I paint my house green anyway because I like the way it looks.

What happens?  The end result of this argument is that you believe that the state has the right to lock me in a cage or kill me because you and I disagree on what color my house should be painted.

Think that is too extreme?  What is the power of the state?  The state has one way to enforce its edicts and that is by force.  You could try to convince me that my house should not be painted green but you can't lock me away or kill me if I continue to disagree.  The state can.  I paint my house an "approved" color because I am scared that the state will send armed men to shoot me if I don't comply.

You might argue that this is an extreme case, that the state would never do that.  You might argue that they would issue a fine and a court order to repaint the house.  What then?  What if I like the color of my house and refuse to repaint?   I don't pay the fine because I think it is unjust.  The state will arrest me and lock me in a cage.  If I resist being locked up, they have the authority to shoot me.

Ergo, you have supported my murder because you don't like the color of my house.

Yes, this is a silly example, but the principle is sound and logical.  I don't agree with the welfare state. You believe that I should be locked in a cage or murdered if I don't actively support your welfare state.  I don't agree with social security. You believe that a refusal on my part to actively support the social security program by dutifully paying my taxes each year should result in my being murdered by the state.  I don't agree with the imposition of tens of thousands of pages of regulations through a swarm of regulatory bureaucracies on what is supposed to be a free people.  You are willing to stand by while I am murdered by the agents of the state for merely disagreeing with what you believe.

What else am I supposed to think? I am not killing anyone,, I am not assaulting anyone, I am not endangering anyone, but if I refuse to go along with your program, I am worthy of nothing more than being murdered.

This is the danger of the state.  They have one power and one power only, that of life and death.  Letters, fines, courts, jail,  all are backed up with the threat of violence.  Disagree with what your neighbors have decided to do and we will kill you.  Does this seem like an extreme argument?  Tear it down?  Demonstrate the flaws in the logical progression I've laid out.  Show me where there is any course where I don't get murdered by the agents of the state for disagreeing with you. 

I would feel better if you could, believe me.  But if you can't, then maybe it's worth thinking about which of society's laws are worth the threat of violence implicit in their enforcement.  Which of the tens of thousands of laws and regulations that we live under do you believe are so indispensable to the operation of society that it is worth the threat of murder to enforce them?  If the answer is "very few" then maybe we need to rethink how we, as a society, get things done.

Tax Day

Just a couple reminders as you ponder your recently completed income taxes:

  1. You only get a refund if you overpay your taxes.  What you are really doing is giving the government an interest free loan and putting money into a savings account that doesn't pay you any interest.  It isn't free money or something to be celebrated.  This year, change your withholding so that you don't end up getting more than a few hundred dollars back and set up an automatic withdrawal into an investment or savings account at your bank.  If you have the discipline, take the difference each month and buy some silver down at the local coin shop to stash away.  It is a good hedge against inflation.
  2. The number you should be looking at each year is "taxes due", not amount refunded or still owing.  This is what you pay the federal government each year.  You may wish to think about what you could have done with that money and whether you got a better deal from the federal government.  What are they spending your money on?  
  3. The federal government also borrowed about $3000 last year in your name.  Yes,that is your share of last years deficit.  Either you or your kids will have to pay it back.  Add $3000 to whatever you paid in taxes.  Was it worth it?  Are you getting good return on your money?
You may not know this, but when the 16th Amendment was being debated it was suggested that it include a cap of 5% for income tax to prevent the federal government from ever taking more than 5% of a person's money.  The idea was ridiculed as irrelevant and unnecessary.  After all, the opponents cried, why would the government ever want to take more than 5%?  What percent tax bracket are you in?

Worth remembering sometimes, when you think about how much the federal government spends and on what programs, that the states came first.  The federal government is a creation of the states, not the other way around.  This country was founded in a way that was supposed to allow the people of the various states to try out different ways to doing things.  If things weren't working out in one state, people could more easily change direction.  If they couldn't change the direction they could leave and move to another.  Where do you move to when the federal government does everything to everyone and takes your money at the point of a gun to do it?  What recourse do you have?

Maybe it's time to return that power to the states and shrink the federal government down to its original purposes.  If spending programs are really necessary they could just (if not more) effectively be run through the states, returning control and accountability closer to where it should be.  The people.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The secret to getting things done

I bought a book several months ago on getting things done.  Haven't read it yet.  I suspect that I have a problem.  Read this quote the other day in a John Ringo book The Last Centurion .
Do one thing every day that you don't have to do immediately and you don't want to do.

Makes sense to me.

Because there just aren't enough regulations

National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration mandates rear cameras on all cars

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Two Cheers for Anarchism

I have been doing a lot of reading on anarchism recently (no, not the "throwing bricks through the window of Starbucks" type, but the "we don't really need government" type).  Most recently James C. Scott's Two Cheers for Anarchism.  In it Scott outlines many areas where the immediate instinct of most people is that "government needs to do that" whereas the reality is that a lack of government control actually improves the situation.

A few things that stood out:

  • "there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression ...  We are here -- we are here because we are tired now"  Martin Luther King, Jr

  • Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities: A critique of 50s (and present presumably) urban planning which destroyed the vibrancy of cities by replacing theoriginal city with "planned" developments which lacked the life of  naturally occurring and mixed development.  This particularly interests me as a member of the Planning Commission for my town as we discuss what downtown "should" look like.

  • Edward Anderson's observations in "Plants, Man, and Life" on what he called "Vernacular Garden Design" in Guatemala, where what appeared to be a random collection of plants was actually a well designed garden where various plants complemented each other by providing shade, nutrients, and minimizing the spread of pests.

  • Danish playground design at Emdrup which basically was an empty area with a large stock of wood and tools.  The children, who had previously ignored the multitude of playground accoutrements, spent countless hours building and rebuilding their own structures.
  • Chuang Tzu "We make the path by walking".  This was tested in a large grassy area at a major university where no paths were constructed.  The builders instead waited to see where people would walk and then paved over the clearly delineated paths.

  • Hicksian Income: income that accrues only if the means and manner of production are not degraded. For example, farming that depletes the soil would have a lower income rating than farming that replenished the soil for future production.

  • Drachten, Netherlands removed all the traffic lights to see what would happen to traffic flow.  It improved.  Motorists and pedestrians substituted their independent judgement about safety for the mandated structure of the red lights, resulting in an improvement in traffic flow and a reduction in accidents.

  • Unintended consequences: pre-revolution French authorities imposed a tax on numbers of windows and doors of dwellings, on the assumption that richer residents would have more of them.  Over the next two hundred years the French rebuilt their houses to eliminate windows and thus reduce their taxes.  The tax resulted in French people having a reduced standard of living rather than increased tax revenues.

  • More unintended consequences: establishing "ratings" for various industries leads to an increase in the number of firms figuring out how to increase their ratings with no commensurate increase in quality.  The end result, an increase in price to the consumer with no increase in quality assurance.  Any time you add a rating you make it possible for people to "reverse engineer" the rating process to figure out how to get the highest ratings, instead of figuring out how to attract customers by providing a higher quality product.

3) Further reading:

  • Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Great American Cities: 

  • Edgar Anderson: Plants, Man, and Life

  • Colin Ward: Anarchy in Action

  • John Hicks: Hicksian Income

Saturday, April 5, 2014

California Dreamin'

Hoping to get more and better pics this summer but was fortunate to get this one.  Thanks to my sister in law who happened to have a camera with her on the last day out.  Waves were small but at this point that's a bit of a blessing.  Spent the first two days getting dumped on until I was so exhausted I could barely paddle.  Friday I at least had time to get set up and an easy paddle back out.  Had a great time.

9'0" Vercelli "Tropical Rush"

8'0" Waverunner Costco Special "unnamed"