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Who Governs Us?

A collection of thoughts on the nature of government, by Bill Hees (last updated 6/2/2004)

Heinlein's Well-Presented Views (6/2004)

I just found a page about science fiction writer Robert Heinlein's views on government (and other civil matters). Heinlein was good at questioning what society often takes for granted, pointing out the flaws, and incorporating an alternative system in his stories. Check out this summary of this aspect of his work: http://www.halexandria.org/dward272.htm

Wasting the 'Wasted Vote' Syndrome (2/2004)

I heard a typical complaint the other day: 'I fully believe the principles of [third party X] but they have no chance of winning the election. I don't want to waste my vote, so until they become strong enough to win I'm going to have to vote for [major party Y] which I consider the least bad of the two major parties.'
I asked the gentleman if he thought his vote would be the deciding vote in the next election.
'Of course not', he replied, 'but where would we be if nobody made the effort to vote?'
'Or if everyone wasted their votes on candidates who had no chance of winning?', I asked.
'Yeah, that too.'
'Well I suppose we might accidentally elect one.'
Silence.

Keeping Money Out of Politics (11/2003)

Want to reduce the amount of money corrupting American politics? Great! Let's start with the federal budget. Estimated federal spending for 2003 is 2.2 trillion dollars, or $22,000 per average household. Cut that in half and there will be a lot less money in politics. "Hold on" you say, "we don't want to cut the 2.2 trillion dollar budget, we just want special interests to spend less money fighting over who gets to control it". Right... You think the contestants will spend less on the fight while the prize money stays the same or even increases? You are living in la-la land.

Where's the Real Monopoly?

We have just one federal government. There's no competition. Look inside a court room for the Microsoft antitrust case. Where's the monopoly? On one side you have a humongous enterprise who thinks not only are they the sole supplier for their goods and services but they can name their own price and force people to buy them even if they don't want to, even force people to pay for them if they'd rather use a competitor's product. On the other side of the bench, there's Microsoft.

Shortages

Communism in the USSR was notorious for product shortages. Even when high production quotas were imposed you'd get situations like a shoe factory producing 10,000 pairs of black size 9 shoes, because it was easier to meet quota that way than by producing a variety. We think we don't have a problem here in the US but that's because most people limit their thinking to products available in the free market. Traffic jams are a shortage of road capacity. Airline delays are often the result of shortages of gates at government-run airports. Why can't Johnny read? He must not be a size 9.

Authority Over Some Things = Authority Over Everything?

How did the U.S. go from the situation 200 years ago where the federal government had authority over the few things specified in the Constitution such as defense and coinage, to the situation now where just about anything is fair game? Where did the authority come to spend citizens' hard-earned tax dollars subsidizing agribusiness and unpopular art, or to outlaw smoking the plant that Thomas Jefferson grew? Did the heroes of the Revolutionary War die so we could be free from England, or so we could be taxed and regulated by Washington D.C.?

Local Control is Less Bad

States, cities and towns can't cheat you too much. If they do, you can move to a different one. It's much harder to move out of the U.S., and for most people that's not an option. Citizens of the U.S. are a essentially a captive market and the exploitation is rampant. It's no coincidence that federal taxes are an order of magnitude higher than local taxes. Not only that the federal government owns the currency and could devalue it a la Argentina if they felt like it.

Military Coup / Politician Coup

Everyone knows what a military coup is -- the individuals who are in control of the military take over the civilian government. Instead of following the laws of civilian government, they just run things the way they want to do it. Is there such a thing as a civilian coup? Yes. This may not be the best name for it, but there certainly is such a thing. It's when the individuals who run the civilian government go beyond their authority, disregard the laws of government, and simply run things the way they want to. Maybe a 'Politician Coup'.

Who Owns Your Town?

There's no clear ownership of public property in my city (or any public place in the U.S.). Instead we have a bunch of people fighting each other for control of stuff by whining and pleading and making up rules as they go.

The very concept of public ownership of anything stands on shaky ground. Who is 'the public'? I live in a city with around 100,000 people and for the sake of argument let's say $1,000,000,000 of public buildings, roads, and other infrastructure. If the city is 'owned' by it's residents that means each one's share is $10,000. However, you don't buy a share when you move in and you don't sell your share to someone else when you leave. There's some correlation between votes, property taxes, property values and the value of the city at large so it's not totally crazy, but basically shares just pop in and out of thin air.

Hippie Rebellions

I recently read an excerpt of Abbie Hoffman's 'Steal This Book'. Everything seemed so clearcut in an us vs. them sort of way ('us' being the hippies and 'them' being the establishment). Back in the sixties young people rebelled against the establishment because 1) the establishment was sending kids to die in a stupid war, and 2) the kids didn't have any representation in this process. That was a very real trampling of rights and a cause for just rebellion, but in my admittedly spotty understanding of the scene it looks like the hippies overgeneralized and blamed the establishment for denying them economic power as well, when their powerlessness was merely a result of their age. As they grew up they gained power as individuals just like in any other generation.

Libertarianism

One political philosophy, libertarianism, recognizes that 'society' is nothing more than a collection of individuals, and comes closest to pinning down the faults of governments acting on behalf of society. Libertarians stand for upholding the rights of individuals; various members of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian-thinking people may focus on different aspects of this, but that's the general idea. Here are some libertarian organizations and Massachusetts campaigns (my home state):

Copyright (c) 2002,2003,2004 Bill Hees. All rights reserved.