Archive for the ‘limited government’ Tag

Understanding Liberty   Leave a comment

Perhaps you’ve heard that America is a “free” nation. Really?

I don’t feel very free when I’m told that if I heat my home with wood, I can be fined because my neighbor objects, but if I object to his diesel furnace, I can’t complain and he won’t be fined. There is something inherently not-free about such a system.

The word freedom implies that individuals can act in any manner they wish, that there are no limits on human actions and you have obligation to no one.

I think we can agree that you can’t live like that in the company of others. Society requires boundaries. Thus we use the word liberty to describe specific freedoms of action without required obligations toward others, but recognizing that voluntary obligations might exist.

This was the understanding of liberty that most of the Founders held. It was a voluntary system of individual self-governance that formed into cooperative governments for the purposes of accomplishing what the individual could not easily do by himself.

When Alexander d’Toqueville toured the United States in the 1830s, he was fascinated that our government really had so little power and most of it existed at the local level. If the local authorities became abusive, people could appeal to their state or the federal government for redress, but mostly they just fired their abusive local public servants through the ballot box or confronted them face-to-face. He warned us that if we drifted from that method, we would pay a price in the loss of liberty.

His book is still around. Perhaps we should read it.

 

What Is Essential Service?   Leave a comment

The government shutdown, which so far doesn’t seem to affect anything important in my life, is good practice for what we will have to do without when the federal government collapses from unsustainable debt, so it might be a good idea to ask ourselves –

What is an ESSENTIAL federal government service/program?

Don’t get me wrong! I loved the Statue of Liberty when I saw it and Independence Hall is on my bucket list. The Smithsonian museums were really cool, and I was sorry to miss the National Zoo on that trip. The Grand Canyon is beautiful and, while I’d rather raft through it than ride a mule down the side of it, I get that people enjoy that. But –

Are these ESSENTIAL federal government services? There’s two questions there, by the way.

  • Are they essential?
  • Does the federal government need to do them?

PBS used to have an advertisement – if PBS doesn’t do it, who will?

Well, it turned out that cable TV does a lot of what PBS used to do and from what I can tell, PBS is still producing shows, so the answer to the question is – HGTV and A&E and PBS with a different funding stream. The world didn’t end. My TV viewing options changed, but they expanded rather than became more limited. Ain’t market competition wonderful?

So, are national parks an ESSENTIAL government service? Someone who doesn’t live in Alaska is going to have to weigh in on this one because I can go into the woods anytime I want with no help from a federal agency. In fact, federal agencies RESTRICT my access to nature with rules, regulations and permits on the assumption (I gather) that I’m going to dump radioactive waste in the wilderness. Because unpermitted hikers go into the wilderness for the express purpose of destroying the wilderness, don’t you know?

Anyone familiar with Old Sturbridge Village? It’s a non-profit “living” museum funded by donations to the foundation that owns the museum and grants from state and local governments. As far as I can tell, they don’t take federal funds, though I didn’t research whether they’d ever gotten a federal grant. The point is, they aren’t an agency of the federal government. News has it that it’s open today.

Ditto Colonial Williamsburg, another living history museum, which receives no regular state or federal funding. They’re a private non-profit foundation that operates a for-profit wing that provides the largest percentage of funding. I believe they’re open today as well.

In fact, there are dozens of private, non-profit and/or state-funded museums and cultural centers all across the United States that are open today AND paying their employees.

So, Question #2 can be definitively answered as – NO! The federal government does NOT need to be the manager/owner/tyrant of parks. We could have these cool things without the federal government doing them.

As for Question #1 – are these services ESSENTIAL? I suppose if you work for the federal government at the National Zoo, your job is essential … to you … but is that job so essential to the public good that I should have to pay for it? There are folks working for Old Sturbridge Village and Williamsburg and they get paid by the people who are actually using those services and/or individuals and organizations that support the work of those foundations. Nobody is saying the Statue of Liberty isn’t worth having around. The argument is — is it essential and must it be done by the federal government?

I think the answer is, to both questions, no. It’s not essential, but it’s cool and I hope it’s around for a long time to come, but a private non-profit or the New York State Parks system could administer it just as well.

Now we can move on to determining if the next bunch of furloughs meet those two requirements. The longer the shutdown goes on, the more opportunity we have to evaluate the necessity of the tabled programs and the non-federal alternatives to providing the important ones.

The federal government is going to have to reduce to a manageable size eventually anyway, so we might as well get in a little practice.

What Purpose Does the DOE Serve?   Leave a comment

Government spending has increased outrageously over the past decade. Bush doubled spending during his eight years in office and Barack Obama has tripled spending since coming into office four years ago. Unless a dramatic shift occurs, spending will continue to grow at unsustainable rates. Alleviating the huge debt burden that the government is placing on future generations by reining in federal spending must be a priority for Congress. One good place to start is to cut the wasteful, inefficient, and unnecessary spending at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Congress’s ultimate objective should be to eliminate any Department of Energy function that does not support a critical national interest unmet by the private sector. This objective will require a broad reorganization, and could very well result in the elimination of the entire department.

Yes, I said that. I’m a small-government conservative with libertarian leanings. I’m okay with eliminating government departments, especially at the federal level, especially if they don’t serve a function only government can serve.

The Department of Energy was born in the middle of the OPEC oil embargo in the 1970s. Energy seemed like an urgent concern at the time, but times have changed. Policymakers frequently create a sense of urgency for the particular government programs that they support. The reality is the United States today enjoys robust domestic energy resources (nuclear energy, oil, coal, and hydroelectric power). The energy market can be diverse and competitive without government interference. While some government research can spur new technology break-throughs, DOE programs should not compete with or crowd out private-sector research. President Obama’s proposals instead move in the opposite direction, spending more money on activities best left to the private sector.

The reality is that when it comes to energy policy, the free market works. Indeed, the business environment for energy is robust despite endless red-tape entanglements by policymakers and bureaucrats. Those attempts to control energy markets do have an effect, resulting in higher prices, fewer available energy sources, reduced competition, and stifled innovation. As federal interventions increase, so do the consequences, which are almost always negative. As a result, the U.S. is now dangerously close to a point where meddling by Washington could have a long-term negative impact on the standard of living of every American.

Image gas pump wrapped in red tape

By attempting to force government-developed technologies into the market, the government diminishes the role of the entrepreneur and crowds out private-sector investment. This practice of the government picking winners and losers denies energy technologies the opportunity to compete in the marketplace, which is the only proven way to develop market-viable products. When the government attempts to drive technological commercialization, it circumvents this critical process and forces technologies on the public that the public does not want or need.

The DOE has intervened through applied research, technology development, and demonstration activities, such as carbon capture and sequestration and biomass infrastructure. With respect to the DOE budget, necessary reforms generally fall into two major categories:

  • programs that the DOE should eliminate or privatize, and
  • programs for which the DOE should scale back funding significantly because they evolved well beyond the scope of basic research.

The Department of Energy’s budget grew from $15 billion in FY 2000 to $25.7 billion in FY 2011. That’s a 71% increase in one decade! Many government programs included in various Presidents’ annual DOE budgets evolved from basic research and development to attempts at commercialization better left to the private sector. Other programs are politically correct pet projects of various members of Congress that taxpayers should not have to pay for. The private sector is much better at allocating resources and developing energy technologies than government-directed initiatives. Such wasteful use of taxpayer money provides Congress an opportunity to significantly scale back or eliminate a number of government energy programs and return the Department of Energy to its traditional mission of promoting national and economic energy security and focus on areas that meet a critical national objective.

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