Government as Walmart

Most people, if not all, can understand the concept of a big chain store building in an area where lots of small businesses exist.  The chain store changes the economic landscape such that the small competitors can not survive and compete.  The end result is that Walmart gets bigger and more profitable and the once-business-owner becomes a Walmart employee making 20% of what they were making on their own.  It’s very clear, it’s something that happens consistently, we can predict it, and I know of no one who will disagree that this happens.  Where we differ is in how we interpret the outcome.

The same can be said about our governments.  Bigger government or smaller government, it’s the exact same issue as with Walmart and small businesses.  The differences of public view is in how the results are interpreted:

  • On one hand:  Some folks see bigger, better, government as good because it’s all cheaper for “me” and rich people are made less rich which is obviously more fair.  The average income level drops which makes “me” closer to the average and, thus, more wealthy.
  • On the other hand:  Other folks see it as an affront to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and as Socialism.  They see it as striving for mediocrity and about as rewarding and fulfilling as Olympic class nose picking.
  • Somewhere in the middle:  Other folks see these large businesses as having a place just like the small businesses have a place.  If “we” try to force people to do what we want it makes “us” no better than Socialists and does not fit the American way.

The solutions will be born of the same entity as the problems … government and laws.  The difficulties come when our politicians wrap all the issues together so they can meet the requirements of the deals they’ve brokered with each other and have leverage for all the earmarks.  These are are bundled in packages that make the public think in polarizing terms.  It’s done on purpose because it gives politicians more power, which translates in to more leverage, which means more money for them. Here are the mechanisms  “We The People” are aware of these days:

  • Earmarks:  These are essentially bribes to grease the wheels of compromise in the halls of congress.  Literally, “You vote for my legislation and I’ll include $2million for your “save the purple testicle mole” project.”
  • Gargantuan Bills and Laws:  For example the Obama Administration Health Care reform Bill (now law).  How much of the health care reform law is actually about health care?  It deals with student loans, taxes, and god only knows how many small projects through earmarks.

We’re forced to take the good with the bad and, I think, as we go forward we get more bad than good.   I believe it’s a symptom of the ‘rule of law’ and the fact that power positions attract people who want to use that power for personal gain.  People want to do what they want to do regardless of law but the vast majority of us follow the law.  Politicians, with power over the rule of law, now have the ability to make what they want to do legal and make what competes with them illegal.  This is what special interest and lobbyists are ALL ABOUT.  What you end up with is a complicated rats nest of laws and counter laws as these people battle it out.  Eventually they have to fight about laws in degrees of separation from core issues too because the balance of Power becomes so tenuous; which is another end served by the public being polarized and made in to a distracted mob.

The real problem is that the laws never go away and the governing body just extends everything.  The job of congress moves from that of defending the constitution to maintaining the balance of power and justifying their jobs and high salaries.  The constitution has not only been relegated to “a guideline” instead of “A Law” but a lot of times it’s just outright ignored.  So the whole situation becomes a house of cards where none of them have the courage, intelligence or fortitude to just blow the damn thing down.  This is precisely why our founding fathers wrote a lot about how revolution can play a key role in good government.  A government should be afraid of the people, not the other way around.

  • Term limits:  If politicians can’t make a very lucrative living at being in congress then they’ll not want to be there to do so.  Not only do they each get a salary, tons of perks and free benefits, the BEST retirement setup you could imagine, but also a million dollar or more budget to run their “office”.  They EACH get this … it’s obscene.  This also makes lobbyists, special interests, and the like less able to predict their futures – in theory more of them will just go away.
  • No earmarks:  I go back and forth with this one because, while it is a bribe in all sense of the word, it still is a tool to encourage compromise.  At the end of my internal debate I generally land on the side to get rid of them because they are abused.  Removing them also would have a nice consequence of reducing the power of lobbyists and special interest groups (like power hungry unions who really don’t give a rip about the workers they represent).
  • Flat income taxes:  Whether this is in the form of a national sales tax or a true flat income tax I’m open either way.  Fair is fair, we should ALL be paying our part.  Fairness swings both ways remember; with a 10% flat national income tax you will have the poor paying some in, yes, but you will also remove the ability of the rich to hide and shelter income from the tax.  I would advocate a 10% flat tax on income past the first $20K or so per adult individual.  The details of how it would work can be negotiated and hammered out.  But, without the complexities of taxes our politicians have to live by a budget and have no leverage on our behavior.
  • Education:  Education needs to taken back from our governments and put back in to the hands of “We The People” DIRECTLY.  Yes, we can still fund it publicly and I think we should with K-12.  But vouchers and other systems that let consumers vote with their dollars and feet directly will force our schools to perform better.  And it will likely do a good job at minimizing, to the extreme, the practice of using our schools as political indoctrination camps.  Better schools and no politics … win win.  College is a hard one but I do know that giving the federal government sole custody of college loan powers is NOT the way to go.
  • Entitlement programs:  Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, unemployment insurance, welfare assistance are all worthy programs and I think they need to be continued and REFORMED.  And by reform I don’t mean layering crappy law on top of crappy law that only has the effect of making government bigger and more bloated.  I mean REAL REFORM.  I’ll lump immigration in to this category because a good number of legal immigrants need assistance to get started and should get it, period.  They come here with faith in our system and I think we need to give them some faith in return.  Not to mention an actual reason to come here LEGALLY.
    • Social Security:  Just remove the cap on what income is taxed and maybe even lower the tax rate for this as a whole too.  This is a no-brainer … what’s the holdup?
    • Medicare/Medicaid:  Reserve it, like it is, for the retired and those under a certain income level with a graduated premium based on your income level.  EX:  Family making $40K per year might be eligible but they pay 90% premium.  At $20K per year they pay nothing toward the premium.  The details are negotiable but the concept makes the whole system work better for everyone.
    • Unemployment insurance:  Admittedly I don’t know how this is funded or how premiums are paid for at the moment.  My guess it that it’s required by law that employers fund it through premiums of some kind or another.  I also have no idea how the premiums are set.  I do think that unemployment is a good idea but we should NOT extend the length of time someone can use these benefits.  Letting congress extend this benefit just gives them the power to directly take money out of the pockets of business owners.  Once unemployment benefits run out individuals and families have other options if work can not be found; welfare assistance.
    • Welfare Assistance:  This one is the toughest because it’s impossible to know whether someone “deserves” it or not and, truthfully, we shouldn’t consider that anyway.  I’m definitely NOT in favor of making it a right though.  If you have to resort to using welfare assistance it’s assumed that you’ve exhausted all your other options; yes this can mean you sold your home.  It’s sad and unfortunate but that’s what it means to be on hard times  It might be a little embarrassing or degrading but it’s better than living on the street and begging for bus fare; that which does does not kill us makes us stronger.  Besides, if losing your job was a fun experience we’d all sign up for it from time to time.  We need to PLAN better as individuals and families instead of CONSUMING and living beyond our means.  Do we all NEED cell phones that are on the internet 24/7?  Do we really NEED to have 200 channels on TV?  Do we really NEED to spend $1000 on Christmas presents to have a happy holiday?  No, we don’t.  Welfare assistance should be simple and designed to encourage us to get back to work without it being to painful to do so.  If someone can not work then, we’ve decided as a as a society, that person or family should be able to continue using assistance as long as they need it.
    • Immigration:  Why is this so hard?  Encourage legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration.  No one will debate that America is a great country and the fact that we have this problem illustrates that fact.  Illegal immigration is not good in any way and we already have guest worker programs … they are call visa’s.  The problem is that of convenience … it’s too easy to sidestep the process and it’s cheaper.  How do we fix it?  Walls and fences won’t in my opinion; besides, walls and fences can keep us IN just as much as keep others OUT.  I think if we enforce labor laws properly that’s the best we can do.  This also means that the concept of “sanctuary cities” is patently illegal.  Employers should have to verify employees and no way around it.  If an employer wants to pay a bunch of migrant workers in cash there isn’t a lot you can do about it.  BUT, illegal immigrants should NOT be eligible for welfare assistance or any other programs just like the folks in Haiti do not get Social Security benefits.  We like to help, yes, but not outright provide for anyone anywhere for any reason no matter what.  If you want your money to go to help the children of illegal immigrant families then give money to your local church, synagogue, non-profit organization or whatever.  Forcing everyone to do so through taxes and entitlement programs is institutionalized theft.

Whew … with all that said and tons more bubbling up in the back of mind it becomes very apparent why this whole government thing is hard to iron out.  There’s a lot of crap in there to deal with.  Times change and maybe the time of the small business is coming to a close, much like the time of small villages and nomadic clans came to a close.  I truly don’t know and I’m betting no one else does either.  What I do know is that bigger isn’t better, smaller isn’t better, they are all just different.  It’s just too bad that successful people and companies feel the need to succeed to the excess and to the ruin of other people and companies.  Just like governments that get to big for their britches push to be bigger, more global, to the ruin of their ideals and their people.

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One Response to Government as Walmart

  1. Matt says:

    I agree with a majority of your points, with some notable exceptions:

    Overall, I definitely disagree with the apologetics conforming to “a isn’t better, and b isn’t better, they’re just different”. Certainly, this can apply to some things, but its a claim of relativity that doesn’t always apply, and certainly can’t be used as a formal argument of anything. In this case, “bigger isn’t better, smaller isn’t better, they are all just different” is not something I can agree with at all. Smaller (i.e. minimized) government *is* better, and larger (i.e. not minimized) government *is* worse – conclusively.

    I also completely disagree with the statement “a good number of legal immigrants need assistance to get started and should get it, period”, which I find no valid reasoning in support of. Being an immigrant simply can’t justify receiving money taken from someone else.

    I disagree in general with the notion that existing entitlement programs are “OK, and just in need of reform”. I think most of the existing programs have been introduced intentionally to become what they are: leechings of unnecessary expenditure entrenched by their very nature of being addictive to the constituencies that benefit from them. They are artifacts reflective of exactly why the “system” is “broken”, and should be mostly completely eliminated. If the government is to provide a “social safety net”, it will need to be singularly simple and constrained – a single program that is spartan in its complexity, as well as its means – designed to reflect the primary goal of minimizing participation. There isn’t a place for any of the existing programs in there, because there is simply no place for government in charity. See my blog entry on that for justification: http://www.samudio.net/~matt/blog/index.php?/archives/11-Collectivism-and-Poverty.html

    While I agree with most of your points on illegal immigration, I believe the primary measure, along with enforcement of labor laws with employers, is elimination of the welfare state. If they can’t “freeload” by just getting here, then only the ones willing to be productive will bother, and those are the ones we want to welcome. This also plays into my position on providing aid to legal immigrants, which is “don’t”. Further, noone (native or immigrant) should get any public assistance unless they qualify according to a very narrow and specific set of criteria, as would be determined by the afore-mentioned singularly-spartan safety net. I completely agree that “deserve” has nothing to do with it, but there are concrete considerations that do, and would be reflected in the criteria.

    Last but not least, I completely disagree with the notion that you hinted at about a “spirit of compromise” in government … it can be nothing but bad. Compromise is *not* what government is about – it implies that there is something we can do without, that gets done because another thing we can do without is also done on a quid-pro-quo basis. This is corruptive in the extreme, and completely contrary to the notion of minimized government. If something requires compromise, then its best just left out of the government period. There’s almost nothing that government actually needs to do – the list was pretty much complete (with a very small handful of changes) from the beginning of the nation, and we shouldn’t be compromising to add more to that list.

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