Give Thanks for the Bear Patrol—Supported by Your Tax Dollars!

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Remember this Simpsons episode?:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Well, that scene kept running through my head as I read a post by Ruth Rosen at TPMCafe about all the wonderful things we should be thanking government for as we pony up our taxes this weekend. She begins:

The Republican mantra—"shrink government and lower taxes"—is fundamentally dishonest. They want us to believe that we are heavily taxed by an oppressive government and get nothing in return.

Now, imperative statements don't have truth values, so I don't know how this one can be "fundamentally dishonest," but we can give her a pass on that one–she's a historian, not a logician. But it is worth noting how this ridiculous setup frames the debate: Republicans apparently think we get literally nothing for our taxes. So we don't need to worry about questions like "how much are we getting for what we pay?" and "is it worth it?" and "could someone else do it better or cheaper if government didn't?" Nah, we just need to see whether government does anything with our tax dollars. Gotcha Republicans–it does!

I wake up and brush my teeth with water whose purity is inspected by government agencies. I pour some cereal and milk into a bowl. No creepy crawlers appear; both are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federally mandated labels on the cereal box and milk container, moreover, list the ingredients contained inside. [….]

In a cafe, I turn on my computer, remembering that a Pentagon agency created the Internet and that the federal government subsidized the development of the chips that now drive my laptop. To complete some research, I call a colleague at the University of California at Berkeley, the world's premier public university. The U.C. system has educated hundreds of thousands of undergraduates who, as educated and skilled workers, have fueled this state's economy.

By now, I have a headache. So I take some ibuprofen, tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Now, plenty of the things Rosen mentions are things I think government should do. But nothing about this list does anything to answer the question of whether we should "cut taxes" or "shrink government." Would some of these things get done without government action? And even where government is uniquely suited to perform some function, could we be getting a better value? Could we get more for less? Never mind! You didn't find roaches in your Cheerios or arsenic in your ibuprofin, the magic government-rock must be working! My favorite bit, though, is this:

Rarely do I remember that it's the taxpayers of California who pay my salary and give me the opportunity to teach and write.

So thanks to government, a woman who thinks that her post constitutes an interesting argument—and who, incidentally, is capable of producing linguistic abortions like "our quality of life is far safer and more convenient"—draws a monthly check for helping to form young minds? I can't wait to pay my taxes!

NEXT: Your Privacy. Delivered.

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  1. That’s a great episode for the current immigration foofaraw, too.

  2. I didn’t RTFA, but she’s clearly not doing her job if she didn’t mention (wait for it) ROADS. The de rigeur example of taxation and big government apologists.

  3. I also agree that the things Rosen mentioned are valid areas that the government should be involved in and regulate

    My problem with pro big governments types is they never seem to admit that at least some programs simply do not work and may actually make things worse.

    And does NPR really need a subsidy from the government?

  4. I wake up in the morning and take a dump. I have to flush twice because some idiot bureaucrat decided to scale down the amount of water used for flushing. I pop some pills I ordered from canada because the same drugs are far more expensive when ordered in the US.
    I catch a state run bus and it’s late as usual. In addition, it has the inimicable smell of stale urine from the myriads that have used it as a public restroom. I get to work early because I make allowance for the inefficient public transport, which is, however, cheaper than parking near my office due to state controled development which prevent more parking garages from being built in that area and thus there are no incentives to drive down parking prices.

    I could go on, but it just gets more depressing from there.

  5. All of the things that are listed there, health and safety kinds of things are just a miniscule portion of the budget. The only things that the federal government spends a lot of money on and should be doing are defense and law enforcement and even in law enforcement they waste money on the drug war and enforcing laws that ought to be enforced at the state and local level. Yes, the government does a lot of good things, but at the price of 19% of our economy I would hope so.

  6. So it’s the gubble-mint that doesn’t let me eat frosted roachee-ohs! Damn it, I finally find a cereal that stays crunchy in milk and the Fried Dung Agency gets in the way.

  7. My problem with pro big governments types is they never seem to admit that at least some programs simply do not work and may actually make things worse.

    My problem with small government types is that they never seem to admit that at least some programs do work and actually make things better.
    See how that works.

    My real problem with both sides are that they are dishonest and neither one is willing to honestly evaluate, on a case by case basis, what is working and what isn’t. (War on Drugs???)

  8. I must spend too much time reading H&R, because reading the comments on that TPM post…like a bizarro H&R, mostly for the totally different set of shared assumptions, but also for the freaking novella-length comments.

    “For me, paying my taxes (until the advent of GW Bush) was an act of faith, like a secular tithe, and I enjoyed the act of reinforcing my belief that in government lies the greatest hope for human welfare.”

    “Government is an expression of the highest human hope, inclusive of all people, even criminals and Muslims. It is inspiration without all the baggage of religious faith. And it is practical to the extent that it remains committed to objective measure.”

    “Even criminals and Muslims”? Okay, that’s only one commenter, and it’s probably just Jersey using another name, but it’s still ridiculous there.

  9. The ‘Republican Mantra’ to shrink government and reduce taxes? What Republican is she reading?

    Oh, and for the record:

    When, in a era of fantastically expanding governmental power and shrinking civil rights due to that institution known as ‘government’, I’ve yet to meet a liberal that doesn’t (or won’t) see the irony within their love of big government. Hopefully her phone has already been tapped, her email scanned and read, and 72% of all her previously normal and legal behavior been criminalized. She deserves nothing less.

  10. ChicagoTom,

    Like others have said, there are several legitimate needs that the Federal government does well.

    I do like your idea, lets have some kind of debate on what programs work and which ones really don’t work at all.

  11. My real problem with both sides are that they are dishonest and neither one is willing to honestly evaluate, on a case by case basis, what is working and what isn’t. (War on Drugs???)

    I disagree. I’m nearly as ‘small government’ a type as you can get, and I’m always willing to admit what agencies and functions of government should exist. Too often though, that’s not the point of the discussion, I’d argue. There’s nothing wrong with a philosophy around the idea that the Government that governs least, governs best. It needs little more explanation. It’s like the environmentalist camping credo : LNT or ‘leave no trace’. We don’t have to hash out what and where we’re going to leave no trace, it’s an overriding philosophy that helps guide one through the basic process.

    My general view (not an absolute one) is that the best and most effective (and proper) agencies of government are the ones we don’t notice. Ie, if we take it for granted, it probably is an effective arm of government. Make of that what you will.

  12. “Recycle plastic and save resources” implies that recycling plastic will save resources. If one believes that recycling plastic causes more resources to be consumed than one saves, that imperative sentence is fundamentally dishonest.

    It’s a unlikely that RR thinks that shrinking government would cause taxes to rise. More likely she thinks it’s dishonest because-in her mind-government does things more efficiently than the private sector and the result of shrinking government would be to pay more in taxes and non-governmental fees for equivalent services.

  13. I have actually had a bunch of liberal types tell me that they were “proud to pay taxes”. Oddly enough they never seem to be proud of paying mine too.

    As for the government roads thing, I love the fact that sidewalks are privately owned in New York City. It makes setting up statist types so easy. “I’m so glad the government fixes the sidewalks. Can you imagine what it would be like if it were left up to individuals? No one would repair or clean their sidewalks – we probably wouldn’t even have any!” And when you’ve got them all nodding in happy agreement, you “remember” that sidewalks are privately owned and maintained, while the government is responsible for Bruckner Boulevard.

  14. The Republican mantra — “shrink government and lower taxes” — is fundamentally dishonest. They want us to believe that we are heavily taxed by an oppressive government and get nothing in return.

    Trust me, the last thing I would ever do is shrink the government.

  15. It’s a little convenient to ignore the biggest thing that the government does badly, education, which could easily be improved by lowering government control. If you throw in other mishaps like the war, and maybe Medicare, this is the vast majority of what the government does.

    I pass the public library where I often do research. I stop at lights and signs that regulate traffic and keep drivers from murdering all the kids walking to public schools.

    Without the little red light, even the most mild-mannered of us morphs into a child murdering monster apparantly.

  16. “I’m so glad the government fixes the sidewalks. Can you imagine what it would be like if it were left up to individuals?

    Same here in Seattle. And for a city peopled almost entirely by big government liberals, you can sure hear the cry of dismay when a homeowner living in his $480,000 fixer-upper calls the city to fix the sidewalk in front of his house, only to be told “It’s on you, player”.

  17. Without the little red light, even the most mild-mannered of us morphs into a child murdering monster apparantly.

    Oh, yeah, another thing about Seattle, almost all of the in-city residential neighborhoods have no (read zero) stopsigns. I was a little alarmed when I moved here from the southwest, but its amazing how people cooperate voluntarily on ‘right of way’ when given the chance.

  18. The problem of “small government” is that you get a lot of small governments, and those small governments tend to be as cumbersome as mosquittoes, you know, one is little bother, but a swarm of them can bleed you dry, or close to it.

    Small governments tend to be quite more tyrannical than the central ones, because they got less people to control, and thus can concentrate in enforcing silly laws against them. Some people who have had experience with condominium boards can tell scary stories as to enforcement of conformity, not to mention tinpot dictators with neurotic personalities.

    Also the lack of coordination between those small governments can play havoc with economic activity. Just recall how in the golden age of railways, each town had its own rail gauge and trains needed a width adjustment to go from one rail to the other. One Hell of a way to run a railroad.

    Not to mention the great Philadelphia fire when they found out that size 2 hoses were not exactly the same diameter as size 2 water pump connections. Small wonder that shortly after that we got the Federal Bureau of Standards and Measures, to make sure that hoses fit water pumps and keep neighborhoods from going up in smoke.

  19. again, there’s the conflation of different levels of government in the statements of many commenters here. certain functions may be appropriate for one level of government, but not others. US public universities include some of the world’s best. locally run elementary and secondary schools are often pathetic.

    also, feel free not to excuse Rosen’s logic just because she’s a historian and not a logician. historians, particularly full professors, particularly full professors at esteemed universities such as UC Davis ought to be able to string together a coherent and compelling argument, no matter their field of training.

  20. anon2,

    At the risk of nitpicking your nitpicking post, you’re right that an imperative statement can have truth value IF it implies something else. In your example, there was a causation being implied, and that causation is open to judgement. Is that the case in Rosen’s example? By your reading it is, but I think that reading is a stretch. I think more likely she simply meant that Republicans advocate both shrinking government and lowering taxes. Otherwise, it would have made a whole lot more sense to repudiate the “mantra” immediately by saying that shrinking government can raise costs. That she didn’t is evidence that she did not mean it in a causational way. That said, I think we can assume that her “lie” was that shrinking government and lower taxes are good. THAT said, anyone but an anarchist would want some government, and you don’t have to be against all taxes to be a Republican or an advocate of small government. As has already been said, the question of where we’re starting from and what does or doesn’t work are rather inherent to the whole debate. THAT said, Republicans and small government advocates can SEEM like they’re mindlessly in favor of anything and everything that lowers taxes and reduces government because that’s what we usually hear from them. THAT said… well, I’ll leave it there!

  21. “She asks if it’s possible to earmark your taxes so that you don’t pay for the war in Iraq. I wish.”

    That would be great, wouldn’t it, if we could chose what our taxes pay for individually. Oh, I got a better idea! We could save a lot of administrative overhead and not collect the taxes at all and let people chose what to spend it on directly! Because no-one would ever pay for sewage disposal, critter-free breakfast cereal, network connectivity, or computer chips unless threated with jail.

    Chiller – Reading the comments threads at sites like TPMCafe is a great antidote to any excess respect that may incidentally be acquired for liberals.

  22. Adrianna,

    You make a very good point. If left to their own devices the states would completely strangle commerce in this country. You are much better off with governments that are geographically larger to allow better movement of trade and people.

  23. When I was in college, a liberal challenged my belief in limited government by claiming that without government, we wouldn’t have things like public schools and the post office. How weird is that? Of the two programs he cited to show why the federal government was indispensible, one of them was the post office.

  24. Julian,

    This post is hilarious. Thanks.

  25. Some people who have had experience with condominium boards can tell scary stories as to enforcement of conformity, not to mention tinpot dictators with neurotic personalities.

    Adriana, point taken, however, you just described the entire apparatus of the Federal Government.

    But seriously- you’re very correct about describing what are often small municipal government agencies with relatively large amounts of power over relatively small groups. This is almost a problem of trying to model micro-economies within larger ones. Always contradictions will arise.

    In general, I wasn’t talking about small governments over small peoples, I think most of us here are referring to the general ‘idea’ of government remaining a minimal force in our lives.

    In fact, by recent experience, it has been precisely the smaller municipal and state bodies which have exerted the greatest abortions of constitutional rights throught the ‘mosquito storm’ of petty outrages.

  26. She asks if it’s possible to earmark your taxes so that you don’t pay for the war in Iraq. I wish.

    This definately deserves more mockery. I would try to do it myself, but I’m posting in a computer at a Public University, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.

  27. The problem of “small government” is that you get a lot of small governments, and those small governments tend to be as cumbersome as mosquittoes, you know, one is little bother, but a swarm of them can bleed you dry, or close to it.

    Three thoughts:

    (1) This statement is oblivious to the distinction between “small” government and “limited” government. People often use the two interchangeably.

    (2) Since governments tend to assert geographic jurisdiction, it is hard to be subject to more than a pretty small handful at a time. Here in the US, your worst-case scenario is probably four – national, state, county, and municipality. Four mosquitos is hardly a swarm.

    (3) The great thing about having multiple governments is they are very jealous of each other, and will do everything in their power to limit the reach of the others.

    Historically, totalitarian centralized states have a much worse record than societies with dispersed and devolved state power.

  28. Oh, and on a slightly off topic post, but apropos of small governmental bodies exerting large amounts of power over small numbers of people:

    I will now officially refer to Eminent Domain or (E.D. as it’s referred to on H&R) as Manifest Destiny, or (M.D.). This now squares with the idea that Europeans Manifest Destiny’d the land known as ‘North America’ because they were able to put it to ‘public use’ and derive higher tax revenue from it. Besides, the country prior to that was clearly blighted… I mean, one just needed to look around the place before Europeans got here. No proper sidewalks, ill maintained roads, certainly poor, drafty housing with no proper running water, electricity- and nothing, but nothing was up to code.

  29. I can’t believe nobody has picked up on this:

    Rarely do I remember that it’s the taxpayers of California who pay my salary and give me the opportunity to teach and write.

    So not only a leech, but an ingrate leech.

    Then there’s this:

    I see cars locked in gridlock on an interstate freeway funded by the federal government.

    Ruthie, sweetie? That’s a bad thing. She’s also seeing SUVs subsidized by inconsistent federal fuel efficiency regulations. We should really ask our liberals to stick to the talking points.

  30. Fucking looter.

  31. I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting a long post, but …

    This is basically a failure of imagination as much as logic.

    A few years ago, my local newspaper posted an op-ed under the byline of a state or local government official, Gloria Weber, that was very similar to Ruth Rosen’s piece.

    In response, I sent the newspaper the following. I got a letter back from the editor that they actually liked it, but “in light of the problems with Gloria’s piece, we have decided not to run it.”

    I looked into that, and it turned out Ms. Weber hadn’t actually written the piece attributed to her. She had sent it in from somewhere else, hoping the paper would reprint it, and it was mistakenly run under her byline. Or something.

    This has languished on my hard drive until now.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Learning To Love Big Government

    Weary of mounting complaints that government institutions are incompetent, expensive, and meddlesome, Ms. Gloria Weber has written a commentary on “The Invisible Helping Hand of Government” (May 29). She depicts a day in the life of a citizen who is served by the government in countless ways, yet remains unappreciative.

    She implies that if the government did not provide such services, no one would, so we should be grateful.

    This is doubtful. In addition to doing many things badly, government often pre-empts competition from the private sector by setting up excessive regulatory hurdles, extracting subsidies from taxpayers, or establishing outright legal monopolies. Private-sector alternatives that could do the job better are crowded out or aborted.

    Ms. Weber’s paean to big government contains many assumptions that deserve challenge. How much do these government-provided “services” really cost? Are they worth it? What if we don’t want to use them? Must everything important or desirable be handled by the government? Could private organizations deliver even “essential” services better than government can, to rich and poor alike? Has this been done in the past?

    It would take several books to fully examine these questions. I recommend starting with The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to a Radical Capitalism, by David D. Friedman. You can borrow it from the St. Louis County Library.

    In the meantime, let’s return to Ms. Weber’s all-too-common assumptions, stretch them slightly, and examine a world where government is even more “helpful” and its citizens more appreciative:

    Gloria’s shift at Public Textile Factory No. 189 ended at midnight. The sidewalks suddenly became jammed as every other business in the Downtown Urban Industrial Zone changed shifts at the same time. Under the National Division of Labor Act, the nation’s entire work force was assigned to one of three daily eight-hour shifts. The law was not only good for business — it kept industry humming efficiently 24 hours a day — but also humane. It created jobs while limiting hours of work. Without it, employers would certainly hire fewer people and everyone would be forced to work 16 hours a day.

    Gloria waited barely an hour before a bus became available to take her home. All bus routes and dispatching were centrally coordinated and approved by the Greater Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which enabled this extreme efficiency. The bus was crowded, smelly and in minor disrepair, but Gloria appreciated it — it was better than walking across town! The Unified State of America provided all transportation for its citizens, and Gloria was glad of it.

    (End part 1 of 3)

  32. If left to their own devices the states would completely strangle commerce in this country. You are much better off with governments that are geographically larger to allow better movement of trade and people.

    One is tempted to draw a parallel between this example and that of two nation-states with a large shared border, right, John?

  33. Ah, the fucking server would choose this moment to fuck itself. I just lost a fucking essay. Fuck fuck fuck piece of shit.

  34. “My real problem with both sides are that they are dishonest and neither one is willing to honestly evaluate, on a case by case basis, what is working and what isn’t.”

    Alas, “working” is ideologically loaded. A drug war that punishes drug users and puts scary looking people (non white?) in jail is working just fine from a certain perspective. Ending welfare as we knew it is either working or not working depending on who you talk to.

    If I value liberty more than you, we will see the same programs differently because I perceive a liberty cost where you perceive none. Of course, the same trick works in reverse if we talk about egalitarianism. I don’t care about it one bit after we have equality under the law, so I don’t see costs and benefits the same way you do.

  35. Ah, the fucking server would choose this moment to fuck itself. I just lost a fucking essay. Fuck fuck fuck piece of shit.

    Stevo- we’ll never know what would have happened had this been a govenment server…

  36. RC,

    You’re wrong. I live in the U.S., in a state, in a county, in a city … but also in a school district, a community college district, a water district and probably 8 other “special districts” I don’t even know exist. Ain’t California grand? Thanks, Democrats!

  37. Stevo Darkly,

    As the mosty minimalist US president since Reagan liked to say, “I feel your pain”. —WJC—

    Four words of advice: Control A Control C

  38. I have a lot of left wing friends who are paid on a fellowship (no withholding or FICA is taken from it) yet have no idea what estimated taxes are. Hmmm….

    The most left wing “friend” of mine even brags that she doesn’t pay taxes.

  39. Steve:

    Yes, but, can you not understand the difference between a “district” and a “government”? I’ve yet to be tyrannized by a school district superintendant.

  40. My lefty friends here in SF that make any kind of money are always looking for more tax deductions. Hypocrites.

    Stevo,

    Damn squirrels! I was enjoying your essay.

  41. Evan,

    The school district takes tax money, and can raise property taxes to finance bonds. It can seize property through eminent domain. In what way is that not a government? Yeah, it doesn’t have a police force, but it’s another layer of government.

  42. This kind of smackdown bloggin’ is what I remember liking best about J. Sanchez. Bring it back full-time!

  43. Paul:

    Yes, there is a difference between small government and limited government, only that one can lead to the other.

    If there is no central authority the result is not everyone free to do as they please, but the forming of small groups to run things. And these can quickly degenerate into tinpot dictatorships. I put the example of the condominium boards that can be quite intrusive and despotic and purely private.

    I do not doubt that totalitarian governments can be quite oppressive,but still a husbanding of the resources available to then, plus a sense of priorities would lead them to overlook certain behaviors, which a group of “concerned neighbors” would not. At some point they heed the wisdom of “not wasting powder on chickehawks” while the local chapter of “Concerned Women for stamping out things that need stamping out” would thrive on
    the chickenhawk hunt.

    It takes a strong central government to strike down barriers to internal commerce. In other thread Hayklut mentioned that the power of the Crown in France during the eighteenth century was weak since it could not do away with all the internal tariffs and trade regulations that different towns had erected. He was bemoaning then that there was not enough of a strong interventionist State (interventionist in the direcition he wanted, natch!) to abolish all the arrangements that people had made themselves without the interference of the State.

    I always maintain that if you cannot appreciate irony and paradox you will not understand much of History…

  44. Despite the recent ham-fisted political issue themed shows they’ve done in the last couple of years, The Simpsons has established itself as a true fountain of human wit and wisdom. The Bard himself would be jealous of the truth in that bit.

    And Lord, I’m depressed that I now live in California. My quality of life is convenient? JEEZUS. I mean, my writing is crappy, but at least I don’t get paid for it. Much less gloat about it to the very people paying.

  45. You could Rich and in an ideal world you would want open borders and open trade. The problem arises when one side of the border is completely corrupt and incompetent and incapable of providing for its people. If Mexico had a decent government and standard of living, an open border would not be a problem. Indeed, I don’t think anyone would have a problem if there was an open border with Canada. I know I wouldn’t.

  46. Reminds me of a poster in a California classroom I surreptitiously took a picture of when the Little Woman and I were visiting beloved daughter “out there.”
    I already posted about it here. Someone else can find it.
    It was a play on grading, with “D” for democracy at the top, and “A” for anarchy being at the bottom.
    Really pissed me off.
    “A” for anarchy rightfully belongs at the top.
    “S(hit)” for (public) schools belongs at the bottom.

  47. Bear Patrol reminds me of the Bush logic that the Eternal Middle East War? must be preventing large-scale terrorist attacks on our soil because none have occurred since 9/11. I think that’s called a “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, but I’m sure someone who was a better Logic student than I can tell me if I’m wrong.

    The most left wing “friend” of mine even brags that she doesn’t pay taxes.

    Former acquaintances of mine through a third party, total white trash, with their assorted Welfare gimmes, WIC benefits, food stamps, free childcare, and free tuition — all “earned” by their choice to recklessly grunt into our world two of the least promising, most brutish hellspawn ever known — used to brag to everyone that they’d get $4000 back a year thanks to the Earned Income Credit. Trailer Trash Dad had an $11/hour job at a printer’s, while Trailer Trash Mom eschewed work in favor of pursuing a degree in “earley childhud edumakashun,” three taxpayer-paid credits per quarter.

    They had digital cable, high-speed Internet cable, and three cars. Meanwhile, I, a full-time, gainfully-employed and college-educated person, had one 14-year-old car, and could not (at the time) afford cable TV, let alone broadband. I once told Trailer Trash Mom about some great finds I made at the neighborhood thrift store, and Mom responded by wrinkling her nose, saying “Ugh, I could never wear somebody else’s old clothes.”

    Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.

  48. Zeroentitlement,

    All that talk about how immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do. Well, to whatever extent that is true, things might change if we cut off the welfare.

  49. Ruthless,

    So, what was F standing for? Or is that one of the schools that doesn’t believe in Fs?

  50. crimethink,
    I’m now looking at the photo.
    There is no “F,” probably for the reason you suspected.
    FYI, in the middle are “conformity” and “bullying.”
    Makes you want to puke, eh?

  51. Yeah Ruthless, I don’t see how I can ever have children. I am too lazy to homeschool and I can’t imagine sending my kid to 12 years of public school without going postal at some point.

  52. Hey! Part 1 eventually posted! Well, then …

    (Part 2 of 3)
    Gloria disembarked at the Federal Grocery Dispersal Station nearest her home. The right to adequate nutrition was guaranteed by the State, of course. Each citizen was issued weekly ration stamps, sufficient to buy an adequate amount of healthy food as determined by the Food and Drug Administration. In addition, Gloria carried a few dollars of ordinary money — she had a good job that paid well, even after taxes. So she could afford to buy herself a special treat as well. An onion, perhaps. Or maybe even a candy bar.

    After waiting patiently in various lines, Gloria received all her selections and made for the checkout counter. A bored clerk zipped a laser-wand over the bar codes on each item, tallying not only the cost of Gloria’s purchases but also their nutritional content.

    Gloria was informed that under FDA regulations, her choice of foods was illegal. “You’ve got too much too much fat here, and not enough fiber or vitamin C,” the clerk told her. “Substitute fruit for some of this meat, and I can pass you.”

    Gloria was chagrined, yet grateful — she was no nutrition expert, and it was good of the State to look after her needs. She returned a package of hot dogs to the meat counter, and rejoined the end of the checkout line with a couple of oranges — slightly shriveled, but the best available this time of year.

    Once outside, she looked at her watch. This time of night, the grocery lines really hadn’t been too bad. Gloria had purchased a full bag of groceries in less than three hours. Some people complained about the lines, but Gloria was grateful for the State’s benevolent service. After all, what alternative was there? Should each person grow her own food? Or buy it from a private farmer, who could charge as high a price as he pleased? Without government control of food production, surely everyone but the very rich would starve.

    (End part 2 of 3)

  53. (Part 3 of 3)

    At last Gloria reached Public Housing Complex 87B-Northwest, and climbed the sagging, littered stairs to her apartment. The stairwell and hall were dimly lit — State maintenance crews serviced the building like clockwork, every three months, but a few bulbs had burned out ahead of schedule. All in all, though, it was a very nice place to live. Few Americans realized what a bargain government housing was. Four hundred square feet of living space provided to each adult citizen for only $1,000 a month — truly affordable luxury! In other countries, many people were severely crowded or had no shelter at all.

    A police officer patrolling the hallways greeted her courteously, and asked for her identification. Then, somewhat apologetically, he asked that she step into a room down the hall and submit to a strip search for weapons and drugs. A routine, random check, he said. Gloria submitted gladly — the inconvenience was a small price to pay for her safety.

    Gloria caught nearly half an hour’s slumber before 6:30 a.m., when the apartment’s wall-sized telescreen automatically came to life for the Public Broadcasting System’s morning exercise program. By law, it could not be turned off, and random audits through the spy-eye discouraged citizens from skipping their daily exercise. The alternative to this forced regime, of course, would be a nation of flabby, unhealthy Americans. Most people did not have the self-discipline to exercise on their own. Gloria thanked the State for her svelte good health.

    Of course, the morning routine was slightly inconvenient for people with Gloria?s schedule — but then, the government could hardly provide each individual with his or her own exercise program! Polls showed that 53% of the population preferred to rise at 6:30 a.m. You had to respect the wishes of the majority. The State was a democracy, after all.

    Gloria finally sank into bed, exhausted but with few worries to trouble her. She worked hard, but most of the day’s decisions were made for her — and tomorrow?s too. Her sleep was blissful . . . and entirely undisturbed by dreams of a better world.

  54. Former acquaintances of mine through a third party, total white trash, with their assorted Welfare gimmes, WIC benefits, food stamps … used to brag to everyone that they’d get $4000 back a year thanks to the Earned Income Credit.

    Thank you for pointing out the most Orwellian named piece of government confiscating bullshit that pisses ME off!

    I love how bastards that don’t work for a living, or irresponsibly have children they are not intellectually or financially capable of taking care of, get free tax dollars to the tune of THOUSANDS (and I know the figure you cited is about correct, as one of my eugenic-cleansing-deserving relatives got that much for “Earned Income”), while I continue to get sucked cleaned to feed the Bush Welfare-Warfare state.

    Fuck it, maybe I should just move to France and live off of THEIR welfare system, since a responsible working man can’t get a break in this freakin’ country anymore.

  55. Stevo Darkly,
    Tomorrow is a food pitch-in day at the anal bank.
    I’m going to avoid the obligatory crap and just have my standard canned fish product and some kind of drink (pineapple juice).
    I’m old enough, I can get away with it.

    John,
    First, have children…
    Earth needs, yea is cryin’ out fo’ yo chillen.

  56. I live in the U.S., in a state, in a county, in a city … but also in a school district, a community college district, a water district and probably 8 other “special districts” I don’t even know exist.

    I don’t count those as full-fledged governments because they lack even the most basic police powers. Districts like that generally have only the power to tax (bad enough) but lack the authority to legislate or adjudicate.

  57. I live in the U.S., in a state, in a county, in a city … but also in a school district, a community college district, a water district and probably 8 other “special districts” I don’t even know exist.

    I don’t count those as full-fledged governments because they lack even the most basic police powers. Districts like that generally have only the power to tax (bad enough) but lack the authority to legislate or adjudicate. They are basically jumped-up administrative agencies exercising delegated power.

  58. Reminds me of a scene from “The Life of Brian”:

    REG:
    They’ve bled us white, the bastards. They’ve taken everything we had, and not just from us, from our fathers, and from our fathers’ fathers.
    LORETTA:
    And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
    REG:
    Yeah.
    LORETTA:
    And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
    REG:
    Yeah. All right, Stan. Don’t labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?!
    XERXES:
    The aqueduct?
    REG:
    What?
    XERXES:
    The aqueduct.
    REG:
    Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that’s true. Yeah.
    COMMANDO #3:
    And the sanitation.
    LORETTA:
    Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
    REG:
    Yeah. All right. I’ll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
    MATTHIAS:
    And the roads.
    REG:
    Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads–
    COMMANDO:
    Irrigation.
    XERXES:
    Medicine.
    COMMANDOS:
    Huh? Heh? Huh…
    COMMANDO #2:
    Education.
    COMMANDOS:
    Ohh…
    REG:
    Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.
    COMMANDO #1:
    And the wine.
    COMMANDOS:
    Oh, yes. Yeah…
    FRANCIS:
    Yeah. Yeah, that’s something we’d really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
    COMMANDO:
    Public baths.
    LORETTA:
    And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
    FRANCIS:
    Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let’s face it. They’re the only ones who could in a place like this.
    COMMANDOS:
    Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.
    REG:
    All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

  59. The Roman legions may have brought some beneifts to far laying areas through their conuest, but could probably have made trade arrangements to mutual benefit and still would have brought all those benefits without the need for conquest. Ah, well, the sensibility of the times.

  60. You could Rich and in an ideal world you would want open borders and open trade. The problem arises when one side of the border is completely corrupt and incompetent and incapable of providing for its people.

    Thanks goodness the US has only ever taken immigrants from countries with a history of property rights and liberal democracy.

    – Josh

  61. If there is no central authority the result is not everyone free to do as they please, but the forming of small groups to run things. And these can quickly degenerate into tinpot dictatorships. I put the example of the condominium boards that can be quite intrusive and despotic and purely private.

    Yes, but this misses the point: it’s easy to change condominium boards. Even if you can’t vote them out, you can move. It’s a lot harder to move out of the United States than out of a condo association.

    Oh, and Mr. Pocketsrippedclean? The EIC only goes to people who do work for a living.

  62. The problem arises when one side of the border is completely corrupt and incompetent and incapable of providing for its people.

    The Mexicans will just have to figure out how to handle the hordes of American refugees.

  63. Ah, David, about the condo association. Sometimes it is easy to leave the condo behind and sometimes it isn’t. And even if you do get out of that one, the next one might not be any better. No matter where you go you get stuck with nosy neighbors who have a talent to dominate groups that you end up doing business with.

    People forget that one of the reasons their ancestors moved away from bucolic small towns to the impersonal big cities was to ge away from a place where everyone knew everyone’s bussiness and felt duty bound to enforce codes of conduct. But in a big city those small subgroups tend to re-form.

  64. The whole point of this Sanchez piece is utterly specious and wrong-headed. In the Simpsons episode Homer makes the silly argument that there are no bears around and so therefore a bear-ban must have worked. The logic fails in that there were no bears around to start with.

    “I wake up and brush my teeth with water whose purity is inspected by government agencies. I pour some cereal and milk into a bowl. No creepy crawlers appear; both are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federally mandated labels on the cereal box and milk container, moreover, list the ingredients contained inside. [….]”

    What possible problem would the writer have with this? Now, water purity is really an urban/suburban matter. They use “city water.” The water is sometimes managed by private contractors, but the city, since the water is for the use of all the city and it’s taxpayers, is responsible for it’s purity. If the water is fouled, someone has to clean it up, figure out how and why it was fouled, etc. If someone fouled the water, then the government has to figure out who and why and how and place responsibility where it lies. And yes, of course the government has to inspect milk and grains.

    You see, the failure of the logic in Mr Sanchez’s case is that bears don’t intentionally foul water and sell tainted milk – people will. Bears don’t have human rights and can be managed as wildlife in reserves – people can’t. People will do bad things for a buck, bears don’t care about bucks – except the fuzzy, horned kind.

    JMJ

  65. Did someone mention failure of imagination?

    JMJ, you are making the argument that the only conceivable answer to diverse human actions is diverse regulatory agencies.

  66. “You see, the failure of the logic in Mr Sanchez’s case is that bears don’t intentionally foul water and sell tainted milk – people will. Bears don’t have human rights and can be managed as wildlife in reserves – people can’t. People will do bad things for a buck, bears don’t care about bucks – except the fuzzy, horned kind.”

    This is more a failure of imagination on your part, Trolly McJersey. You’re mired down in the details, but that’s not where the point was being made. The “logical connection” between the Simpson’s scene and the op-ed is not whether people are like bears—the point Julian was trying to make (and succeeded, I believe) is this: the op-ed assumes that, since government provides service “X”, said service wouldn’t be performed otherwise. This is specious reasoning. Just like Lisa’s “this rock keeps away tigers” argument. The point that he was making was that both arguments are SPECIOUS. The definition of specious is:

    “Having the ring of truth or plausibility but actually fallacious.”

    I just don’t know what else to say, Trolly. The fact that you would completely miss this obvious point, and get mired down in fleeting details like “bears aren’t like people”, is unreal. I’d say that I can’t believe you’re that dense, but, that’s not really true. I do believe it.

  67. This is why I think gov’t should be evenly divided among liberals and libertarians. On social issues they agree, on fiscal issues they can restrain each other’s worst (most extreme) impulses.

    At least until they are entrenched in power and become just as corrupt and ineffectual as the people who are there now.

  68. JMJ,
    Hate to be pedantic and reveal myself as a Simpsons nerd, but the whole reason there was a bear patrol was that Homer J. did in fact see a bear in his front yard:
    http://www.tv.com/simpsons/much-apu-about-nothing/episode/1436/summary.html

  69. “It takes a strong central government to strike down barriers to internal commerce.”

    That’s right. I keep forgetting that we live in the North American Confederation, and that’s how NAFTA came to pass. Oh yeah, and it created the WTO, too.

    Man, I gotta keep up on (drug addled) current events…

  70. “For me, paying my taxes (until the advent of GW Bush) was an act of faith, like a secular tithe, and I enjoyed the act of reinforcing my belief that in government lies the greatest hope for human welfare.”

    Separation of church and state? For many liberals the State IS their Church, and their beliefs are just as faith-based as, say, Christians’ beliefs. As such they’re impervious to pesky things like logic and information. Just don’t expect any miracles.

  71. those small subgroups tend to re-form.

    Adriana,

    That’s kind of proof that the majority of people WANT tinpot dictatorships. Perhaps they don’t like the particular dictator they’re living under, but the concept of a dictatorship is still fine with them.

  72. Evan-
    Actually, the link I was imagining was something like: The “bear patrol must be working” argument assumes there would be bears if not for the bear patrol; the “thank the government” argument assumes these functions would not be performed if not for government (when actually they might be performed cheaper and better). But the link certainly wasn’t, as JMcJ apparently assumed, that it’s not necessary for these functions to be performed at all. I suppose I can see how you might think I’d meant that if you *only* read the simpsons quote, but I’d thought the rest of my post left it pretty clear.

  73. Russ2000

    It might well be that our predilection for dictatorships is hard-wired in your genes

    (Rant about biological imperatives and chimp troops)

    In general people do not object so much to dictatorships as not to being dictators themselves. Democracy is a kind of truce “I will not try to lord over you if you do not try to lord over me”, subject to cheating.

    As to why so many small groups degenerate into tinpot dictatorships, you might want to consider the various pathologies of small groups. I am interested in it, and would kill to get my hands in a copy of “Oh, Sweet Idiocy” or any other account of fandom, because I suspect that’s where I will find those pathologies most evident.

    In any case, the sheannigans at the Unitarian Fellowship where I go has soured me on the concept of Democracy. The whole thing is just a giant soap-opera in which people will do anything just to get a bit more power or social prominecne.

    (Reminds me of the Lucia books of S. M. Benton. Lucia and Miss Mapp engage in the most ruthless tactics in order to achieve social prominence in a backwater)

  74. quasibill:

    Internal commerce, internal commerce. As between Pennsylvania and Delaware. As between the city of Pittsburgh and the city of Philadelphia. As towns deriving their revenue for tolls to use their roads (we still have them in some part of the country, they are called speed traps).

    Internatioal commerce is a subject all by itself.

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