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When humans lose control

September 23, 2014

This is a pretty interesting article about government bureaucracies – and their incentives – at The Atlantic by Philip Howard. RTWT.

When Humans Lose Control of Government

The Veterans Affairs scandal of falsified waiting lists is the latest of a never-ending stream of government ineptitude. Every season brings a new headline of failures: the botched roll-out of Obamacare involved 55 uncoordinated IT vendors; a White House report in February found that barely 3 percent of the $800 billion stimulus plan went to rebuild transportation infrastructure; and a March Washington Post report describes how federal pensions are processed by hand in a deep cave in Pennsylvania.

The reflexive reaction is to demand detailed laws and rules to make sure things don’t go wrong again. But shackling public choices with ironclad rules, ironically, is a main cause of the problems. Dictating correctness in advance supplants the one factor that is indispensable to all successful endeavors—human responsibility. “Nothing that’s good works by itself,” as Thomas Edison put it. “You’ve got to make the damn thing work.”

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Good for him

September 23, 2014

The TSA wanted to screen Kahler Nygard after his flight from Minneapolis to Denver. (I don’t know if the flight continued past Denver.)

So he called their bluff about getting the local police involved and he walked – bless his heart. This stuff won’t stop until we put a stop to it.

If you don’t defend your rights, you don’t have any.

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Eugene

September 20, 2014

An old friend sent me a link to Greg Brown’s Eugene.

Sometimes you gotta not look too hard – just let the dog find you.

Live free or die.

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An official protection racket

September 13, 2014

Matt Ridley gives us a lesson in the history of governments – think of it as Civics 101 – while he writes about the militarization of police in the United States.

Government begins as a monopoly on violence
It’s an official protection racket

My Times column last week was on the historical roots of government: [...]

The deal implicit in being governed is at root a simple one: we allow the people who govern us to have an exclusive right to commit violence, so long as they direct it at other countries and at criminals. In almost every nation, if you go back far enough, government began as a group of thugs who, as Pope Gregory VII put it in 1081, “raised themselves up above their fellows by pride, plunder, treachery, murder — in short by every kind of crime”.

Was Canute, or William the Conqueror, or Oliver Cromwell really much different from the Islamic State? They got to the top by violence and then violently dealt with anybody who rebelled. The American writer Albert Jay Nock in 1939 observed: “The idea that the state originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation — that is to say, in crime . . . No state known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose.” [...]

One of the great peculiarities of the United States is that it never quite managed to impose a state monopoly on powerful weaponry. The right to bear arms was a reaction to the presence of redcoats as an occupying army before 1783. The government got to own the tanks and aircraft carriers, but never pointed them at its own people, who were allowed to own guns much more freely than in other countries.

This is what makes the kit that the police displayed in Ferguson, Missouri, this month so alarming. With their camouflage uniforms, armoured vehicles and heavy-calibre machine guns, “law enforcement” cops looked less like a constabulary and more like an occupying army. In recent years, largely by exploiting the “war” on terror and the “war” on drugs, the American police have indeed been radically militarised. [...]

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Like watching your sister’s kids go to pot

September 10, 2014

The more news I read from Venezuela, the more anti-socialist (or anti-statist, if you prefer) object lessons I see.

Venezuela Set To Import Oil

The management acumen of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro continues to amaze. Reuters:

Algeria is in talks to export crude oil to fellow OPEC member Venezuela, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi said on Tuesday, confirming a Reuters report. [...]

“Yes, we are in talks,” Yousfi told Reuters when asked whether Algeria was planning to export crude oil to Venezuela. He declined to provide details.

More details come care of the Miami Herald:

It turns out that Venezuela’s own production of light crudes has plummeted since the late President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, and the country desperately needs light crudes to blend with its Orinoco Basin extra heavy crude oils. Without such a blend, the Orinoco Basin’s extra heavy crude is too dense to be transported through pipelines to Venezuelan ports and exported abroad.

Venezuela’s oil production, which accounts for 95 percent of the country’s export earnings, should be used in world classrooms as a textbook case of what happens when a populist government starts distributing a country’s wealth in cash subsidies, without investing in maintenance and innovation. Much like happened with Cuba’s once flourishing sugar industry, Venezuela’s Chávez-inspired populism has destroyed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

In 1999, when Chávez took office, PDVSA had 51,000 employees and produced 63 barrels of crude a day per employee. Fifteen years later, PDVSA had 140,000 employees, and produced 20 barrels of crude a day per employee, according to an Aug. 14 report by the France Press news agency. [...]

There was a popular riddle bandied about the Soviet Union back in communist days that went something like this: Question: if the Soviet Union conquered the Sahara, what would happen? Answer: nothing for 50 years, then a shortage of sand.

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Present-day highwaymen is what I’d call them

September 10, 2014

The Institute for Justice has been running a campaign to end civil forfeiture — a topic I mentioned recently with the video about the ‘forfeiture machine’ in Philadelphia.

The IJ contributed to a three-part series in The Washington Post titled Stop and seize. The first installment is a long article but the thing that jumped out at me was this bit (fairly early on).

A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing “trophy shots” of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.

“All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine,” Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book under a pseudonym. Hain is a marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training firm based in Guthrie, Okla., whose founders also created Black Asphalt.

Hain’s book calls for “turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods.”

Evidently we’re all fair game now, according to Deputy Hain.

Here are Part 2 and Part 3.

As I often say, RTWT.

And when you have time, pay a visit to the IJ’s EndForfeiture site.


Update (9/22/14):

Here’s an editorial by John Yoder and Brad Cates (both former directors of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office) that appeared in The Washington Post on September 18th. My emphasis below.

Government self-interest corrupted a crime-fighting tool into an evil

Last week, The Post published a series of in-depth articles about the abuses spawned by the law enforcement practice known as civil asset forfeiture. As two people who were heavily involved in the creation of the asset forfeiture initiative at the Justice Department in the 1980s, we find it particularly painful to watch as the heavy hand of government goes amok. The program began with good intentions but now, having failed in both purpose and execution, it should be abolished.

Asset forfeiture was conceived as a way to cut into the profit motive that fueled rampant drug trafficking by cartels and other criminal enterprises, in order to fight the social evils of drug dealing and abuse. Over time, however, the tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.

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The mark of a master

September 6, 2014

Paul sends a link to this interesting story about Richard Feynman and fuzzy black holes: Why “Hawking Radiation” Was Almost “Feynman Radiation”.

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