Brickbats

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• Fresh from their public service campaign to alert Californians to the apocalyptic consequences of Proposition 13, Golden State intellectuals were pushing back even more challenging frontiers of political science and economic theory in attempting to demolish the case for two Los Angeles ballot measures allowing private contractors to bid for work now performed by city and county workers. Labeled A and P, the propositions are unrelated to the grocery. J. Travers Devine (you may recall that name from a large marquis in a W.C. Fields circus movie), a representative of a public-employees union, must have spent tedious years filled with arduous analytics at the London School of Economics to deduce: "It doesn't make sense to believe that a private company, which rightfully makes a profit, can do things cheaper than a government which doesn't make a profit unless management is so bad that that is the real problem."

It would be unconscionable to slight another union mouthpiece, Ed Burke, who revealed the latest scientific finding in political theory characteristic not, say, of the University of Chicago, but of the city of Chicago, where the study of "applied politics" has reached its perihelion: "Los Angeles has pretty good government now, but Propositions A and P will likely destroy that. They seek to open the door to the spoils system by setting up the machinery for corruption."

Both propositions passed in November by wide margins.

• And concerning the exploitation of our dedicated government workers, a horrified public school teacher moved from Texas to Louisiana to find that the pay for substitute teachers was a measly 25 bucks a day. The civil servant fired off an angry letter to authorities demanding an explanation of the source of this abomination. Included, as proof of qualifications, were seven errors in grammar and spelling. The word substitute was twice botched. The letter was one paragraph.

• Death and taxes continue their discomfiting presence. David Horowitz, NBC's economy-sized Ralph Nader, has uncovered massive fraud in the casket mega-business. Consumerist Horowitz conducted a far-ranging investigation of the guarantees that go with the sale of coffins, something the public has been clamoring to know more about. Our tireless fraud scout found, first, that warranties were always included but only in an attempt to sell the product. Sniffing chicanery, he pushed on to find, second, that there is no good way to check the standard 20-year warranty unless the departed is moved or happens to reside in a crypt. Mr. Horowitz, aghast that a stationary, grounded deceased person could be the victim of a leaky coffin, can now take full credit for exposing this casket industry rip-off before millions of appreciative TV viewers.

• Howard Jarvis, the Knute Rockne of the tax-slash crusade, launched his American Tax Reduction Movement on a half hour of national television on September 26. Howard was prominently featured on the show and delighted greedy taxpayers everywhere by telling a questioner that death and taxes are inevitable, but that it is not inevitable that we be taxed to death. The Jarvis phenomenon has, at any rate, allowed more serious enemies of the state to phase out their efforts vis-à-vis bumper-sticker-slogan production and to focus on more scholarly concerns.

• Cold War revisionists, who assert that US foreign policy is responsible for Soviet expansionism, have been given forceful new documentation in a recent book by the former presidential aide and Bert Lance predecessor Bobby Baker. "Wheeling and Dealing: Confessions of a Capitol Hill Operator" reveals that Lyndon Johnson, while vice-president, was privy to a display of blatant US aggression by State Department officionado (later ambassador to India) Chester Bowles. Johnson reported of Bowles: "He's losing us friends all over the world with his…halitosis. I got a whiff of it the other day, and if it had been Khrushchev instead of me, there'd be a war on now."

• James Madison once suggested that government has a propensity to exploit every contingency into an excuse for growing larger and more obnoxious. But who would have had the anarchistic audacity to suspect that they'd even turn the very problem of Big Government into such a contingency? Well, Colorado's so-called sunset laws, which were recently enacted to put a lid on wasteful state government bureaucracy, have been just such a story. The statute has succeeded in eliminating three unlucky bureaus, including, surprisingly, the critical Board of Registration for Sanitarians. This took $6,810 off the taxpayers' backs. But the "red tape" service charge for lightening the load (audits, legislative testimony, private consultants) tossed $212,000 right back on. It cost $31 to save $1. Hey, does that crisis ever look like a new contingency!

• Eric Hoffer, writing in the October Harper's, once again demonstrates that not all brilliant social scientists are social scientists: "Inflation is turning me against the rich. Yet I cannot see myself living in a socialist society. My passion is to be left alone, and that is possible only in a capitalist society. Capitalism is ideally equipped for mastering things, but awkward in mastering men. It hugs the assumption that people will perform tolerably well when left to themselves.

"The curious thing is that the reluctance or inability to manage men makes capitalist society uniquely modern. Managing men is a primitive thing. It partakes of magic and is the domain of medicine men and tribal chieftains. Socialist and Communist societies are a throwback to the primitive because of their passion for managing men."

• One of the most catastrophic concessions for the Big Brother credo was cruelly dealt by the famous Senator George McGovern to only a medium volume of raspberries last summer when he attacked Proposition 13 as an act of "hedonism" by the middle class. The reviews that this statement received have, incredibly, virtually all (even Jerry Brown's) criticized the senator for misunderstanding the motives of the virtuous middle class. Not even one hand has been raised to applaud the South Dakotan for suggesting a connection between hedonism and Prop. 13. Yet this proclamation reveals that at long last our politicians are willing to understand the correct causality of government fiscal policy. Where we have been told since the emergence of Lord Keynes that high taxes and big government would put two pop-tarts in every toaster, it is now conceded that if "the people" really want more for their hedonistic selves, they can obtain it by giving the government wizards less. Folks have gotten the message that the politicians were right all along when they said that high taxes led to prosperity. The taxpayers have simply come to understand whose prosperity they were referring to.

NEXT: Slumlord

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