Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rick Santorum and Casino Politics

Today Rick Santorum announced he was dropping out of the race to be the GOP presidential nominee. The only surprise here is that he lasted as long as he did. I think everybody knew he wasn't going to make it since day one. And even if he somehow did make it, I'm sure Obama would have danced on him in November.

Santorum reportedly had an agenda that was anti-woman, anti-porn, anti-gay, anti-civil liberties, and pro-war. I believe all those things to be true (to varying degrees), but he and his supporters probably didn't see it that way- or if they did, they thought those were positive attributes. They genuinely wanted what he was selling.

Much as he's portrayed as an evil man (and much as I disagree with his political opinions), I don't think Rick Santorum is really as bad as they say. I think he sincerely believes his platform is what's best for everybody, and was simply trying to use the power of government to realize it. What's wrong with that? Every politician does it. What distinguishes good politicians from bad ones, though, is the extent to which the proactive power of their office figures in with their plans. And there aren't many good ones around.

There is, however, a superabundance of self-anointed intellectuals who see it as their duty and right to control others. People are practically lining up for the job- to wage war, to spy on people, to tell people what they can and can't buy/build/sell/make/eat/know, to try to control the economy, to take from some and give it to others. All it takes for one of these people to be president is for enough people to agree with him (or to disagree more with his opponent).

It's a scary situation, but consider this: without the levers of government at his command, Rick Santorum would be just another bigot yelling at his TV at night. Maybe the best he could do is have his own radio show. But as president, he's a different story. As president, he becomes a bigot with a military. He becomes a problem- perhaps even a burden- that a lot of people have to worry about. Put differently, he becomes a living argument for why we need a government with absolute limits.

We can either have a powerful government and spend our lives trying to keep [Your Most Hated Politician] away from that power, or we can have a government that would be useless in the hands of idiots and would-be tyrants alike. The former is more of a casino than a system of governance- even if your favored candidate wins, the probability of actually getting what you want is very low, and the decks are necessarily stacked in favor those who can buy the most influence. Moreover, the wrong people will eventually be in charge, and they'll inherit all the power we gave to the people we thought were right. At least in the latter system, government can focus its resources on doing what everyone generally does agree it should do: maintain the rule of law and keep us out of war.

We have played casino politics for decades now, and it's a sorry example to be setting for future generations. We may have dodged the Santorum bullet, but the Romney and Obama cartridges are right there behind him. My only hope is that Americans of all stripes realize how much they disenfranchise themselves by voting for establishment politicians who promise what cannot be delivered.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

There Ought to Be a Law

Back in March there was a news story about a man named Mitch Faber who was jailed on account of not having siding on his home. The details of the story are here.

In one sense, the story is outrageous. Yes the man's house was in dire need of exterior repairs for almost four years, and yes it could be argued that the condition of his house might affect surrounding property values, but these things pale in comparison to the fact that someone was arrested and taken to jail for keeping his house in a condition the government deemed unacceptable. What Mr. Faber did (or did not do) was considered criminally offensive enough to warrant not only locking him up, but making him wear a monitoring device upon his release.

In a different sense, the story is enlightening. It's a perfect example to highlight what can happen every time a law goes into effect. Laws are not suggestions; they're orders, backed up with threats of violence. You either do what it says, or you'll be made to pay a heavy fine, or men with guns come to take you away. Every single law and statute has this property.

I understand the intent here. Laws are needed to keep order. I don't advocate lawlessness; many laws are worth being backed up by force, such as those that protect property rights and prevent theft or aggression between people. But with some things (many, I would argue), it's just not worth pointing a gun in someone's back to get them done. The law that put Mitch Faber in handcuffs for the way his house looked is one such example.

When people say, "There ought to be a law," what they're really saying is, "This is potentially worth police resources, court time, tax dollars, and prison space." A lot of people don't realize this when they run to the government for solutions to problems they wish would go away but are too lazy to deal with themselves, but it's true. In this context, it's entirely predictable (however absurd) that someone could be taken to jail for not repairing his home's fa├žade. That's what laws do, for better or worse, and it's equally true for issues big and small.*

What would I have done in the case of Mitch Faber? I really don't know....but I do know that I wouldn't have gotten the police involved, and I wouldn't want my taxes funding any part of what happened. Maybe there's an objectively better answer, maybe not- but even if the only two options were 1. getting the cops and courts involved or 2. doing absolutely nothing and putting up with it, I'd have opted for the latter. Because I understand that I wouldn't want that kind of treatment brought down on me, I'd resist subjecting even my most hated neighbors to it. Would that we all thought that way.

*For one popular example, take the national healthcare law. Looking past the high-sounding intentions (even if you're in favor of it), it says to Americans: You're either going to buy health insurance or you're going to go to prison. Do not all government programs come with this unspoken ultimatum attached? Has there ever been a privately managed corporation in all of our history with that kind of coercive power?