Good Government


Good government is sort of like unicorns and fairies.  We all know what it’s supposed to look like, we just have never seen any.

That said, though government is something that can go wrong very easily, due to the normal pressures of the human makeup (and even their rouge) there are degrees on how bad a government can get.

Arguably, the founders tried to create good government by surrounding it with internal pressures designed to keep it small.  What they counted without was semantic wizards capable of turning “interstate commerce” into laws over everything including what type of food you can grow and how much and what kind of cars you can drive.  They certainly didn’t count on the power to tax meaning that you’d have to submit your possible treatment to a panel of bureaucrats.  Or perhaps they knew it, and they thought if they could establish a government that worked for just a little while…

Most government is mildly bad – would that it were indifferent, but that would require the people who get into administration jobs to be sort of like me and believe that telling people what to do is too much work and they’ll figure it out, anyway.  Most people who do that are, in fact, the type of person who thrives on power and telling you what to do.  This is why in our modern fables, greed is the worst sin, but love of power isn’t even mentioned, even though most of the time wealth is just a means to power.

What this means is that most governments tend to wish to acquire (and mostly succeed) the most power possible over the most people possible.

Right now you’re squinting at it and thinking of a prison state, with people strictly regulated, with police taking you in for anything even mildly bad, with uniforms and goose stepping and you’re thinking “We’re rid of that at least.”

But you forget that the State has two means of force: one is force as we understand it, the blunt trauma of (increasingly militarized) police, of guards, of physical violence; the other is the power of the purse.

Once a government has the right to seize someone’s income (were you under the impression taxes were something else?) and redistribute it, or even the power to regulate contracts between individuals to where it can say they can happen or can’t, and if they happen it has to be on these terms, and your plant must be built this way, and you can or cannot use this fuel: once that happens, the government has power over you, even if you never see a soldier or policeman.  They can step in and stop you making a living by declaring your backyard a wetland, or by decreeing that the child’s toy that has made you rich is “dangerous” and can no longer be manufactured.

Worse, they can make it so the only rational choice is for you to take “government services” which means most people will then fight to keep those services, because they can’t imagine surviving without them.

One of the things people tended to yell at me about was “How come you don’t like government but send your kids to public school?”

I was talking to my publisher (at Baen) Toni Weisskopf at Liberty con and after three pieces of business (one of them was Basset’s antho, and yes, I will post an announcement on that by this weekend.  Sorry.  I’m still getting over the con crud and it seems to be mutating instead of getting better) we started talking about the “interesting times” we live in.  It started with stuff like how it seems to us all of our colleagues have taken a running jump off their rocker and the insanity is so universal that we sit and stare and go “surely, the money is coming in, I’m doing well, it can’t be that my model is wrong.  But then why is everyone else doing this other thing and screaming?”

Of course, us being us and insanity being mentioned, we had to talk government. Part of it came down to the type of thing like sending your kids to public school.

See, I would gladly have continued teaching the younger boy – at least – at home, until I could put him in his dual college/high school program, where he was at last at least semi-happy.  BUT teaching him cost me eleven thousand a year and that was without hiring a math tutor, which I’d need to do if I’d kept him at home, because he outstripped my math when he left Algebra II.  (Yes, I took pre-calc in 9th grade, but even the notations are different here/now.)  (I’m not, by the way, saying these are the normal costs of homeschooling, but they were the normal costs for a child who “ate me out of home and curriculum.”)

Of course “it’s for your kid.  Why wouldn’t you make a sacrifice” etc.  Yes, indeed.  The problem is that we COULD’NT.  We couldn’t afford that 11k and pay our mortgage, and that was with me delivering six books (half of them were mystery, which is to say 5k books) that year.

How come?  Are we driving gold plated cars? While goldplating would be funny on my 20 year old SUV and Dan’s 35 year old mustang, no.

Periodically we decide we need to reduce our expenses and we sit down…  Other than the house – which in retrospect was a bad idea to buy, particularly since we did it for the schools, but which even now is well below what we qualify for (though that doesn’t count maintenance, natch) – our most onerous expense is… taxes.

That year that I could barely afford 11k to teach my kid, I paid 14k in taxes from my own income.  (And before you think I must have made a lot – I made around 28k.  Of course, it goes on top of Dan’s income, but Dan’s income is already depleted by taxes.  There’s also, of course, self-employment stuff, also known as “paying for the privilege of not having job security”.)

At that point Toni said, “Yeah, you know how progressives always say ‘you’re against big government but you take disability, or social security, or—’?  That is because the government forces immoral choices on people.”

I’ve been thinking about that.  It is immoral, of course, to take from other people for your own good.  I mean, if you do it you’re called a thief and put in jail, right?  Why is it legal for the government to do things you can’t?  And why would it be moral for you to take money from others, if you use government?  (Is it armed robbery if you use the army, instead of a snub nosed Saturday Night Special?)

Does the government force you to take money?  Does the government force you to take advantage of its regulations?  Well, of course not, but the incentives are very strongly towards making you take the immoral choice.

It uses your best instincts: you’re supposed to look after yourself and yours, right?  So, what kind of parent, what kind of person would you if you turned down that which made you or others that depend on you better off?  What kind of person would you be if you lost your house instead of taking unemployment?  And, at the same time, by taking from you the means to provide for yourself – through taxes, social security excise, unemployment insurance, the myriad bites out of your paycheck – the government makes that choice inevitable.

A system designed to seize and redistribute money is going to make the individual, rational actor take advantage of it, no matter what the person really wants to do.

This is why I don’t judge conservatives who are on disability or unemployment or supplemental income.  What their political choice means is that they see that government is buying their soul piecemeal and binding them up with velvet shackles, and they’re trying to change the system so that others (many of these people are now older or infirm and there’s no hope for them) won’t fall into that trap.

Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying “They’ll turn us into beggars because beggars are easy to please.”

I wish it were only that.  But as regulations on our health, on whom we’re allowed to hire, on what use we can make of our own property multiply, I think what the government is actually trying to do is turn us into children.  Adult children, in our parents’ basement, kept away from real choices and real freedom, and supposed to be grateful they let us live here.

This is something I worry about with my own kids.  We’re trying to do college on the cheap and either without debt or with as little debt as possible (without debt depends on my writing doing well.  There are two of them, after all.)  This means the kids are living at home.  They’re generally good kids, and they have chores and stuff.  But we feel guilty, because it’s not the same thing as their living on their own.

I remember with vivid tones the terror I felt the first time Dan and I came up short while on our own.  I’d been living semi-on-my-own for a few years: I lived in my parents’ house, but I kept independent finances.  HOWEVER it was not the same.  When I had an extended period of unemployment, I had to walk from the train to college (an hour on foot at a good clip) and I couldn’t buy books or food while I was out.  But I could raid mom’s fridge, my bed was still there, and no one was going to turn the lights off.  There is an amount of growing up that doesn’t happen until you come face to face with that “if you don’t work, you die.” (Or at least you’ll go without light, water or a roof.)  That is when you learn to make decisions like “We can’t go out to eat tonight, much as we want to, because that’s half our grocery money for the week.” Or “I’ll wait for that book from the library.”

But our present government turns us into that sort of adult children, living in their parents’ house.  “Never mind having catastrophic health insurance; it will be there when you get very ill.  Meanwhile give us all your money, we need to buy candy for your siblings, because they’re crying.”

The government as constituted, what some have called The Blue Model turns our finances public and private into a tragedy of the commons.  That is – for those who never heard of it – they make all our wealth whether public or private a public resource, which you must use or someone else will.

As we continued our discussions in email Toni told me: If you undermine the institutions that foster virtue, do not be surprised when the people do not act virtuously.

I don’t know what she means by virtue.  I don’t think she means religious – it’s possible she does, but I don’t think so, since her religion is almost as complicated as mine – I think she means the civic bourgeois virtues: pay your own way, work to support yourself, look after your own, do the right thing.

Our government not only undermines them, in many cases it penalizes them.  It’s bad enough when people like us, who pay the mortgage we agreed to pay, who work even when we don’t feel like it, who raise our kids to be productive are forced to subsidize the lifestyle of people who do none of those things.  Worse, we’re attacked and belittled – you didn’t build that! – while the people receiving are considered saintly and victims, because they “are in need,” and never ask how they came to be in need.  And successful, productive companies subsidize corporate welfare for pipe dreams that will never pay off (Solyndra!)

The essence of a middle class life has become things, and the government seems incapable of believing that things do not make the lifestyle and the very virtues they undermine with redistribution and handouts are the ones that would make the “victims” free.  Or perhaps they know it and it’s intentional, of course.

But worse than that, there is the power it gives government to alter political discourse.  Take the Tea Parties and the IRS.  I keep getting people who say “why did the tea parties apply for tax exempt status?  If they’re anti-government, why apply to government for goods?”

Note that most – if not all, I don’t know – tea parties didn’t apply for TAX DEDUCTIBLE status (that was what was delayed for a couple – yes, only a couple – of progressive groups) which is the ability to have people deduct their contributions to you as charitable.  No, all that the tea parties wanted was for the person collecting the money for tea-party use not to be taxed on it as personal income.  Why did they want that?  Because otherwise it becomes a serious pain in the neck.  Take it from me.  I’ve never run anything as large as a tea-party, even a local one, but I dealt with finances for cons and local groups (long ago, before the kids) and if that money is falling into a bank account you control, it’s YOUR money, and you have to declare it.

So, to create a group that fights back the encroachment of government, you have to apply for tax exempt status, which means you give government the chance to curtail your activities.

Not only is government behaving like it’s the parent and we live in its basement – it’s an abusive parent who yells at us for not doing the dishes and makes us late for an interview, which means we can’t get a job and move out.

More than that, the government and the er… media industrial complex promote the idea that if you try to work for yourself and better yourself you are somehow doing something wrong: “You didn’t build that” and “We belong to government” and the whole thing about the role of government being to help the less fortunate (which in government parlance – no, not in reality – is often those who are UNWILLING to help themselves.)  If to be considered virtuous and worthy you have to stop exercising the bourgeois virtues that made this country great – restraint, foresight, self-care – and if those virtues are ridiculed, why would you even try to live a “decent, bourgeois” life?  (And note how bourgeois has become an insult, though what it really means is “not born to power and striving for self-sufficiency and decency.”)

As I was pondering this article, I came across this article from Powerline where Raoul Castro, younger member of the most notoriously and murderously rapacious family in Cuba, berates the Cubans for their lack of civic morality.  He yells about children born out of wedlock, and graffiti and public urination.

Well, Raoul, if your government extols – at least from the lips out – the virtues of those who have nothing; if you make business a sin and profit a bad thing; if you make everything bad that happens in the isle, and the fact that your economy has been below life support for years someone else’s fault: mostly the US embargo’s and “imperialists” – why would you expect your subjects to take action to better themselves?  Wouldn’t that make them “imperialists” and “greedy?”  While if they fail, it’s someone else’s fault.  (It might also not have been a good idea to become the USSR’s lap dog, provider of mercenaries and tit-sucker.  Just saying.  The USSR was not known as a bastion of morality for about the same reason you’re not.)

My father used to tell me that a weak leader makes a strong country weak.  Perhaps.  I’ll add that an immoral government makes a moral country immoral.

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”- Robert A. Heinlein

And that bad luck is aided and abetted if government gives you incentive for all the wrong choices.  That’s a bad government.  It might even be evil.

So, what is good government?  I’ve never seen it in my life, since, since long before the sixties (when I was born) government has seized on charity as a good way to get more power to itself “for the children” and “for the poor” and thereby has been destroying civic virtue and that which allows civilization to exist.

But if I had to make a guess, good government would be something like this: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Strangely this same document foresees (talks about – I mean they were facing one) governments that have strayed from this purpose, and advises a remedy: That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

It is not one to be undertaken lightly, and I’d rather we undermine and under-build government so when it collapses we’re ready for it.  It’s possible that technology and the complete mess government has become make undermining and underbuilding a reasonable choice.  But to manage that, we must remember what is our natural disposition and inclination and what are the immoral choices forced on us by government.  We might conform to those choices while they’re there, since it’s our duty to stay alive and look after ourselves and ours by any means possible.  But we should remember at all times this is not the government’s house.  This is our house.  We’re not children.  We did build that.  We can come out of the basement and into the light anytime we choose to.  And it is our duty to try.



234 thoughts on “Good Government

  1. And of course, anybody who has paid taxes has paid for public school for their own kids and those of others. Anybody who has been employed long enough to collect unemployment has paid for unemployment “insurance.” Most working people have ponied up already for things like Social Security or welfare for other people. Those aren’t gifts from the magical blue fairy.

    1. I’ve been fiddling with a gov’t reduction idea… keep “unemployment insurance,” but make it just a portion of your pay….say, 5% a month. It goes to the gov’t and is kept specifically for you. After 2 years of employment…either it pays you the amount taken out the first month, or you don’t pay in, I can’t figure which is more efficient, but it can’t keep growing or it becomes a reason to quit… When you are unemployed, the money is immediately and directly returned, tax free. (the gov’t having had use of it for however long it was there…at least getting intrest)

      Gets rid of the silly paperwork for unemployment, removes the “free govt money” aspect, and is less game-able.

      1. I suggest a close look at the history of Social Security. It was initially set up, with a similar “lock box”* that .. about 30 years in .. the Dems moved to the general fund.

        I’ve a better idea. If you want unemployment insurance, save 5% of your check! If you become unemployed, pay yourself or go straight to welfare.

        Much simpler, no?

        * I cannot see “lock box” without hearing Al Gore’s voice .. creeeepy!

        1. I don’t want unemployment insurance.

          I am aware, though, that “get rid of unemployment” isn’t an option.

          Making it simpler MIGHT be politically possible. After that’s normal, so people realize the money is being taken from them, then maybe we can skip the being-forced-to-save-for-a-rainy-day part.

          1. Ever hear about the guy, must have been back in the ’50s, who paid his factory workers in cash? I’ve never been entirely convinced the story’ snot apocryphal, but .. bear with me.

            Anyway,this guy had two windows on payday .. pay and deductions. Employees filed past pay, got their cash, and then had to go to deductions and hand some of it back.

            The story says the D.C. nitwits sued to make him just take out the deductions, rather than having the employees hand ’em over directly.. not quite sure what the grounds were, though… which is what leads me to believe it’s apocryphal.

            Still, there were echoes of the same in Wisconsin in 2011 .. Walker campaigned, more or less, on making the state union employees write a check .. and won.


            1. During the Clinton presidency I heard about companies issuing “Full Cost” paychecks: starting with the labor cost to the company then deducting ALL expenses to reach net pay. Thus the myth of “employer contribution” to SSI and other programs was visible to the worker.

              1. I have a spreadsheet I used to use to track these calculations myself. I based them on the published charts available from the state and fed at the time. It helped give me a huge advantage when negotiating pay for jobs or contract work as I knew, usually better than the interviewer or client, how much I cost the company for a given ‘salary’.

                With the current administrations emphasis on transparency, I’d love to see this kind of pay stub mandated. I’d like to see it on gas receipts, grocery receipts, etc.. as well. Show people, up front and in writing exactly what they’re paying to the government each time they collect a paycheck or buy something.

        2. I’m not sure that it’s fair to blame the Democrats in this specific instance. My understanding is that there was a Supreme Court decision to the effect that there was no way for the Federal Government to legally sequester any part of the money it takes in from any source (please check this; IANAL and I don’t remember the source). Of course that does mean that every politician since, of either party, who has referred to ANY government program in such a way as to imply that it came from sequestered funds is a goddamned liar.

          But we knew THAT.

    2. Unfortunately, some of those “people have ponied up already…” things amount to “you’ve paid into the Ponzi scheme for the people currently drawing on them and the only way you get anything ‘back’ is to get future generations to pay for you

  2. Here’s the gambit: you’re forced to pay into the system, so when it comes time for you to be eligible to withdraw from it, you’re put to the choice: stand on principle and turn it down, or accept it knowing that you’re encouraging the system to continue.

    One way to think about it is that what you paid for was benefits for other people. It was never true insurance, in the sense of fees you paid for your own future security. For it to be that, the “insurance company” would have to have been solvent and on the up-and-up. What you paid into was a Ponzi scheme. At some point, Ponzi schemes have to shut down, even though people invested in good faith and are taking a loss.

    1. But by not withdrawing, you’re making it more likely to go on– imagine if a portion of a private ponzi scheme were subsidized by people not wanting to take their “profits” out.

      1. Good point. Maybe the trick is to find a way to draw the funds that doesn’t insidiously lead you to start voting to maintain them?

          1. But it’s not just about a fear of looking hypocritical. It can be a question of becoming dependent on the income. It’s hard to get anyone into office who seriously intends to reform Medicare or Social Security, because the voters fear losing the income.

            1. Somebody needs to tell the voters the cold hard fact. The money is already gone. Unless the country gets some real economic growth starting in 2008 or 2012 at the latest the whole system will not have the funds to sustain itself starting 2020 or so. Oh, wait, there hasn’t been any growth? 2008 and 2012 are past and the government did not make any changes? Well look out for fun time ahead as the various groups and people that have been feeding off the trough realize the parties over.

            2. Spend their entire lives taking from them, making it hard to build up enough that you don’t need support…


              1. It’s worse than you think. count how many kids are out there. Demographics have a power all their own and guess what, the problem, at least here and in Europe isn’t overpopulation, it’s underpopulation. As each generation has been sponged off, having kids has been made more expensive for those who work and the government pays those who don’t. We’ve been encourage the dumb and indegent to have kids and making it almost impossible for the smart and productive to have kids without making significant lifestyle choices.

      2. The false assumption I see here, Foxfier, is that the next generation – hint, a bit younger than Our Hostess – will be able to get anything back out.

        There is no way “means testing” (i.e. you paid in but you also saved for yourself, you get NOTHING!”) doesn’t become law at some point .. it’s too perfect a balance of actually saving the system and anti-rich.. and somehow “rich” for purposes of government benefits is usually either loopholes for the 1% and bennies for the bottom 10%… so I’m boned.

        Assuming that I’m wrong, and that means testing isn’t implemented, I’m still screwed because the true-boomers, the recently added “social security disability” types, and the repeated “let’s cut social security taxes to stimulate hiring” are pushing social security into insolvency faster than Fat Teddy Kennedy went through whiskey.

        I view all social security etc. taxes, which I have paid both as an employee and paid doubly as a self-employed person, as “just plain stolen”.


        1. The false assumption, Mijacat, is that I wasn’t aware that Social Security’s days are numbered. Kind of obvious, since I pointed out that not withdrawing props it up.

          1. You got a way to withdraw, Foxfier, I’m all ears.

            Short of that, it’s stolen money. Period.


              1. In other words, your interpretation of the original was backwards. “Withdrawing” meant “withdrawing your share from the system”. And by not withdrawing, you’re leaving more for the others, so the system is more likely to continue.

                1. I didn’t misinterpret it; mijacat just decided that I didn’t know it was unlikely to ever be more than an academic question for myself.

                  1. Whoops, sorry – I meant to expand on what you said, rather than disagreeing. I believe Mijacat misunderstood what you meant in your first comment, and had it backwards.

                  2. I get spitting mad every time I think about social security, I am FORCED to pay (and doubly so as ‘self-employed’) in when I know damn good and well I’m never going to see a dime back.

                    1. A bit older than you, actually….
                      We’ve got one set of honorary grandparents already, although they’re a Korean War era couple. Good thing to collect, grandparents. ^.^

                    1. I just assumed so myself, since she happens to have a brain in her head (she has been posting here a while, so most of us have some experience with her to judge whether she is capable of basic reasoning or not).
                      I went back and reread her original post, it says the same thing I thought it said. Absolutely no mention of herself or her generation, it reads like she is talking to someone who is who is currently eligible, or will be so soon.

                      Now, what she did not say, but I read into her post (because it is obvious to me, and would be the point I would make) is that the longer you limp SS along, the more money is taken from her age group, while they will never see a dime of that back. For somebody who is currently becoming eligible to draw SS, the more they draw, the bigger percentage of what they paid in they get back. As a side bonus, the faster they draw it down, the faster they make the system collapse, the faster the system collapses, the less money the younger generations have to pay in.

                    2. Not just my generation, but my kids, too; the fund has a bit over a decade left, and I expect at least three big pushes to try to re-balance that before it crashes. I suspect the pushes will be “raise the taxes, lower the pay-out” style things. My girls will be old enough to have graduated college by that time, and if the Baron follows his dad’s family tradition he’ll be in his first hitch in the Navy.

                      Always assuming things don’t go more wrong, faster.

                    3. Reply to bearcat .. hope this ends up in the right place.

                      Those who are currently receiving are getting far more out than they put in. The system was based on a (for men) life expectancy of 60. Think about that.

                      This clearly, blatantly incentivizes Florida to vote to keep voting to keep social security solvent.,.. i.e. keep the money flowing *to them*.

                      As to Foxfier, I’m not going to see a dime back from the tens of thousands I’ve paid in .. I’m paying for those who are currently taking out more than they put in… plus the whole new class of “social security disability” types .. with no help from the underground economy types.

                      So .. we agree it’s a mess. Unless we get a hard, fast crash I’m not going to get to *stop* paying in .. and every dime they take is a dime I can’t shove into something tangible.

                      Please do take your own advice.


  3. “My father used to tell me that a weak leader makes a strong country weak.”
    A strong leader does not make a nation strong. A strong principled leader who chooses good advisers, and presents a good example makes a company strong, Thank G_d we had George Washington as our first President, and Abraham Lincoln when we needed to save the nation.

    1. On the other hand the present administration does fit your father’s description.

      1. This comes to mind very often, as well as the sentence from Starship Troopers “And then the veterans had had enough. Coming home from a war they weren’t allowed to win–“

          1. Why odd, if I may ask? Progressives don’t like winners … underdogs are much better poster-beings for their propaganda… so naturally they do not want to be in a position of actually *winning*.


            1. Losing (especially when it is somebody else who dies) demonstrates moral purity.

    2. I hate the myth of Lincoln. Lincoln shredded the Constitution more than any president (though Obama is catching up). Lincoln unilaterally decided that states were not sovereign and went to war when a bunch of them seceded. He jailed or exiled political opponents and war protesters. He authorized total war: the killing of residents while razing cities and the destruction of crops and livestock to starve the population. (This was a strange way to treat people he wanted back in the Union.)

      Lincoln had no interest in banning slavery. He stated that he would support continued slavery if it would keep the southern states from seceding. His pre-presidential writings said that if slaves were freed, he favored shipping them back to Africa. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free a single slave: it applied only to the states that had seceded. The four Union states with legal slavery were not required to free slaves.

      1. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free a single slave: it applied only to the states that had seceded.

        That’s because he didn’t have authority…but a the proclamation made it so they could recruit their slaves to fight on the Union side.

        IIRC, if the Confederates hadn’t massed like they were going to attack… oh, well, I don’t think you’re interested in any countering information…..

        1. I can’t speak for Mingo, but I understand exactly what you are saying about the southern states; on the other hand my opinion of Lincoln pretty much agrees with Mingo. Like they say, the winners write the history books.

          1. Disliking him is one thing; complaining about him exceeding his power on one hand while complaining he didn’t go further– even though the tactic was sound and it paid off– is another.

          2. For “Lincoln”, substitute “Chase, Stanton, and the Radicals” — they were the ones ramming stuff like “states cannot secede” (how can slavery be abolished when the places which have it aren’t part of the Union any more?), the E.P., and so on through what remained of Congress. When Lincoln wasn’t dealing with the aftermath of the Radicals’ idiotic “On To Richmond” obsession on the battlefield, he was trying to prevent the Radicals throwing him out, or neutralizing him by stuffing the Cabinet with Radicals.

            If you want to understand just how important having a middle-grounder like Lincoln in charge was, I have one word for you: “Reconstruction”. Unfettered Radicals meant the blacks effectively stayed enslaved for another century.

      2. Lincoln was always anti-slavery, but he was also strongly pro-union. Suspend habeus corpus? Yes, he did. Allow Sherman’s march to the sea? You bet.
        But you can’t tell me that he wasn’t anti-slavery, because I know better. I know that he said that if slavery wasn’t unjust, then nothing was – when he was in his twenties. I’ve seen the desk where he was figuring it out in his head – writing things along the lines of “if you believe that you have a right to enslave people because your skin is whiter than theirs, watch out because that means that people more pale than you will have the right to enslave you.” And this was years before his presidency.
        Are we dealing with unintended consequences from the Civil War amendments? Yes. The Civil War fundamentally changed the relationship between the Federal Government and the States. And we’ll never know how Lincoln would have handled reconstruction. But the fact remains that he was a friend – a GOOD friend of Frederick Douglass – so much so that on one occasion when Douglass was denied entry to the White House, and climbed in the window, it was Lincoln who stopped people from throwing him out.
        In condemning him, you commit the same fallacy that others do when they condemn the Founders as “rich, white, slaveowners.” You judge him by current standards, current culture, and current practices, when by the standards of his own day he was very much anti-slavery.

        1. Sorry, should have pointed out, I do believe Lincoln was always anti-slavery, but I don’t believe he ever would have fought a war over it. He fought a war for power. Like I said earlier, the winners write the history books, and they have decided to write that the Civil War was all about slavery, when actually it was all about state’s rights, and slavery was just one of the side issues. You know, one of those issues the states thought they had the right to decide themselves, instead of Daddy government deciding for them.

          1. Well, we may have to agree to disagree. I believe it was just about the opposite. The Civil War was fought over slavery, with states rights being the side issue. And for that, I rely on the Confederacy’s constitution, which mandated slavery in its constituent states. If they were really about states rights, that wouldn’t have been a mandate.

            1. The Confederate constitution’s treatment of slavery is discussed here, with links to the original text. For example:

              No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

          2. Yeah, well, killing 600,000 men is a kinda steep price to end an evil a little more quickly. . . his plan was to choke off slavery in the south by banning it in the territories, and in due course abolishing it by law, once the south was way out numbered. You know how that went.

      3. MIngo, you are aware that South Carolina and the other states seceded before Lincoln was even president. As for total war, well It’s not as if the South was immune to doing horrible things, look up Nathan Bedford Forrest. By the time Sherman marched to the sea, the goal was to end the war, in any way possible. That section of Georgia was a major industrial contributor to the war effort and Sherman did not have the logistics to occupy. So What choice did he have? War is not a good thing and if you don’t want the consequences don’t start one. The south couldn’t give up the interest a minority of petty greedy stupid individuals who were so afraid of the changing demographics and loss of the political power they had that they decided to fight a war rather than make political arguments. I’m not going to shed a tear for the South, they brought it on themselves.

      4. I hate the myth of Lincoln the tyrant. Anyone with more brainpower than a Democrat would see that states cannot have the right to secede simply because their favored candidate lost an election. If they did North America would look like Africa, but bloodier. Lincoln was totally correct in declaring the first set of states in insurrection, and the second wave were wrong to join it. By the way, the Constitition specifically suspends Habeas Corpus in times of insurrection.

        And Sherman’s march to the sea had nothing to do with taking war to the civilian populace. It was the first step in using his half of the Army of the Tenneessee to do what the Army of the Potomac couldn’t in the Petersburg works: surround and cut off Lee. Sherman’s army followed the age-old principle of sustaining itself on the territory it passed through, and I cannot blame them for being a bit more enthusiastic in drawing their sustenance from those responsible for starting the whole mess. It is an all to rare thing for those responsible for a war to feel its effects.

        You should read up on the War of Southern Agression. The Confederate Army is like most of the Whermact. They both fought honorably for an evil cause.

        1. Trust but verify, according to the Gipper. Yep:

          Article 1 – The Legislative Branch
          Section 9 – Limits on Congress

          The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

  4. Two things.

    First, I submit it is impossible for government to be moral. It’s contrary to the fundamental nature of the beast. Nor should a free people wish it to be, else it try to force its morality on those who hold otherwise.

    Second, I see the fundamental flaw in our (small-c) constitution is that our government as designed has a power vacuum at the top. That is, there is not supposed to be exercise of ultimate power, as that is reserved to the people.

    It may be observed that power unused will be grabbed and used — by someone. And, as we all know, power attracts the corruptible. How much more so a power vacuum? See “First” above. The worm Ourobouros, world without end, lather, rinse, repeat.

    The older I get, the more attractive anarchy becomes, not as a desirable end state (as you say: unstable), but as a set of ideals to be striven toward with the understanding that the approach will be asymptotic, never actually reaching 1.0. Self government does not mean ceding power to the state. It means SELF government. MYOB.


    1. “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” — George Washington

      Heinlein distinguished between “large mouthed” and “small mouthed” anarchists; favoring the latter. They’re essentially the “I’ll mind my business; you mind yours; you need help, don’t hesitate to ask, but I decide how much to help you, if at all” types.

      The “large mouthed” anarchists are the ones who spray paint the circle/A everywhere and natter on about “smashing the state” between whines about deregulation and how people can get away with “hate speech”.

      1. I am a small mouthed anarchist. Actually I meant to comment on no government is “moral” in human terms in dealing with other governments, and that’s fine, but maybe I’ll do that tomorrow…

      2. Yeah. Small-mouthed, c’est moi. Or, at least, on this topic. On other things, my mileage definitely varies. ::grin::


      3. We used to rag on “Anarchists on Welfare” (“Smash the State – after the checks run out.) in college.

        But the funniest thing I ever saw was the “Circled A” logo with a tiny “TM” next to it. I really have to wonder who owns it….

        1. You mean the hordes of non-conformists who dressed alike, listened to the same music, had the same majors, and hung out together?

      4. Actually the thing motivating the Large Mouthed Anarchists the most lately is protesting their student loan payments.

        1. The sort that got sniffy because you were supposed to follow your dreams, as one OWS girl explained when justifying loans that she can’t pay back.

  5. Ayn Rand described exactly the sort of “tragedy of the commons” process you’re discussing in the story of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Like her writing style or not, but she really understood the effect of perverse incentives.

    1. Couldn’t find a better description of Detroit than Starnesville. They are even talking about plowing under parts of Detroit and “returning it to farmland”. The end result of socialism.

      1. Thought they were beyond talking. Going to be interesting to see what happens to Michigan politics as Detroit’s power shrinks following the 2020 census. Not hugely interesting, mind, but .. still.


  6. All government is evil. The term itself is nothing more than a handy label for the practice of one group imposing its will on another group by means of force, ultimately deadly force.
    That said, some level of government is a necessary evil to allow people to live in proximity to one another.
    Human nature is such that most people just want to live their lives and be left the hell alone to do so, and cannot be bothered to spend precious time mucking about with government. Eventually the busybodies infiltrate. These aberrant folks have some sort of defect that compels them to judge and control other people. A companion to this trait is an unshakeable belief that they know what’s best for others, though that concept is ridiculous on its face, and particularly so when you have a few in power attempting to make choices for a vast and diverse population.
    Eventually the busybodies become such a nuisance that good people can no longer tolerate their interference and the disruptions caused by their bad decisions. Unfortunately, by that time they have usually become so entrenched that their removal requires the use of fire and sword. And that I fear is where we are today. I suspect the really nasty bits are three to five years out, but precursors can be expected leading up to the firestorm, some perhaps in as little as a few weeks hence.
    What your typical busybody lacks is any ability to self criticize or the empathy to see the world from another’s viewpoint. I’m sure when it hits the fan they will express shock and dismay, and be incapable of accepting that they are the catalyst for the ensuing destruction and blood letting.

  7. Gov’t is the lesser of two evils– it is exchanging some freedom for some security, but the rub is that folks want to make it provide absolute security… and it can’t do that.

    I think a question my cousin asked might be a good illustration of the difference in view of the gov’t:
    Conservatives hate gov’t, so why do they like the military?
    My response was to the effect that we don’t hate the gov’t, we just want it to be limited, and the military is the kind of job that 1) needs to be done, and 2) can only be done by a gov’t.

    1. Given human nature, some sort of government is inevitable. In a power vacuum, a strongman government will arise, because there will always be those who seek to control others, and there will always be those who are too weak or too timid to resist them. If people band together to defend against these strongman types, then there must be a group to organize them into a coherent whole, or else they will founder and be eaten from without due to being disorganized and not being able to present a unified front. This will also be a government. If you allow it to grow organically, it is like Kudzu; it will turn into something oppressive and all-encompassing. What we want is to prune it back and keep it leashed, so that its power goes back to being what it should be responsible for.

      1. I remember reading the idea that “strongman” government works in a tribal situation because there were always enough “beta” strongmen around to take down the “alpha” strongman if the alpha went too far.

        1. Eh, only if they’re too dumb to enlist the “betas” as their enforcement wing.

  8. You owe nothing to people using the law as a weapon of repression and failing to follow it themselves. The question becomes an absurdity if you try to invoke morals. The only thing that matters when they prohibit you from doing the basic things that allow you to pursue happiness and support your family is – will they catch me – and how bad can they punish me?
    Congress exempts themselves from the laws they write. The executive orders the Attorney General which laws it suites them to enforce and against whom they shall apply. They don’t even hide the corruption now.
    Respect for law is easily damaged and almost impossible to repair. The authorities show by actions they think they can force compliance even with no public support. They are wrong. When it gets to the point that the police dare not stop and sit at a traffic light or venture from their car to sit in a restaurant and have lunch, that will tell you that there is a revolution on. It won’t be a war in fields and with lines and areas of control. It will be everywhere.
    The police are now militarized and use military tactics on civilians. They line up in a conga line to enter and depend on intimidation, not actual force to suppress resistance. This for minor crimes and absurd regulations.
    It’s amazing that none of these ‘dynamic entries’ have not resulted in the entire team being wiped out. It’s terrible tactics.
    I’ll predict this. The first time an entire SWAT team gets killed to the last man these guys will go nuts. The rules of engagement are already harsher than our military uses. If they have an example of actual resistance they will drop the last few vestiges of due process and just shoot up a house and burn it to the ground rather than risk trying to make an arrest. The sort of siege of a community you saw in LA with the rouge cop, or the lock-down in Boston will be the new normal, not the exception.
    Plan on it, and figure out how you are going to avoid being in the middle.

  9. Frankly I feel no qualms whatsoever about making use of government-provided goods, when alternatives have been driven out of the market.

    I’d like to live in a world where most-to-all of those goods were provided privately. I don’t. I work (with little success) to change that reality politically, but in the meantime, the goods must be had, and we must make the best choice we can.

    Would I prefer to have stayed on at my employer as a contractor instead of an FTE, continuing to be ineligible for government-backed unemployment insurance but taking home about twice as much money every month (MORE than enough to build my own cushion of savings)? Sure. But they weren’t willing to do so, because if they were audited by the IRS, my situation would probably be ruled illegal. So if my position here ends, I’m not going to feel guilty about taking payouts from that system while I look for a new one.

    Milton Friedman lived in a rent-controlled apartment. Didn’t stop him from working for the abolition of rent-control.

  10. All government cannot be evil, because it rests on the consent of the governed. Saying all government is evil is like saying all sex is rape.

    And you’d be in favor of force pretty darned quick if I yanked you out of the way of a car! 🙂

    Now, all government being based on the consent of fallen human beings and not of angels, you don’t see a lot of criminals who are grateful to have been stopped by force from committing crimes. And no governments being based on the consent of all humans everywhere, war is bound to involve force against the other guy. But in principle, government is like binding yourself to the results of a caucus.

    1. And of course, just like sex, the governed can consent to some very evil acts as well as some darned bad ideas. Unlike most sexual relationships, we do not ask most participants to opt-in; you get born a US citizen most of the time and have to formally opt out instead. But still.

    2. The “consent of the governed” is another one of those mythical unicorns. It’s a variant of the “implied social contract” theory used to justify the coercion of the powerful over others. I’m working on a SF universe in which the “social contract” is explicit. It’s not the easiest thing to realistically contemplate. I think it may rank up there with plausible FTL drives in degree-of-difficulty.

    3. I will go further and say that there is no such thing as a nessecary evil. If it is nessecary, it is not evil as evil is never nessecary. A neccesity may have costs, including bad by-products, but is is never evil, only perhaps very expensive.

      1. Without darkness, what is light?
        Without cold, what is heat?

        Without evil, what is good?

        Your going further runs into a philosophical brick wall, Scott.


        1. @mjiacat –

          You’re making a classic philosophical blunder by equating opposites that cannot be equateable.

          Darkness is the absence of light. But light is not the absence of darkness. Light is a thing-in-itself, while darkness is not.

          Cold is the absence of heat. But heat is not the absence of cold. Heat is a thing-in-itself, while cold is not.

          And good and evil are the same. It is impossible to define evil without good, and most definitions of evil end up defining it as the opposite, or even the absence, of good. But good is not the absence of evil. Good is a thing-in-itself. You can have good without evil. In Christian theology, God’s character reflects that very thing: ultimate good without any shadow of evil. Which is why hell is also defined by the absence of God: it’s the absence of all good that makes hell hell.

          But whether you subscribe to Christian theology or not, the principle remains that to equate cold and heat, darkness and light, or evil and good, is a basic philosophical error.

          1. Quick clarification: on re-reading my comment I see I said “good and evil are the same”. Obviously, I meant “are the same way (as heat/cold, light/darkness)”, not “are the same as each other”. I don’t think anyone misunderstood me, but just in case… 🙂

            1. A quibble, Robin. In the absence of darkness, how does one recognize, let alone measure, light?

              A similar problem exists with the differences between good and evil .. while good may, as you say, exist without evil .. how do you observe it?


              1. Note to Mijacat: Could you please be a trifle more sophomoric? The current discussion is insufficiently banal.

                    1. You’re welcome to ignore me.
                      You’re also welcome to ask me, politely, to move on.


                    2. But not welcome to convey what a jejune asinine contribution you’re making? “Que c’est triste!”

                      Explaining the underlying fallacies of your arguments would be even more tedious than is your argumentation, so I mock you instead.

                      You are welcome to improve your arguments.
                      You are also welcome to accustom yourself to being mocked.

              2. Quite easily. Light can be observed and measured and compared to other types of light, and darkness does not need to enter into it. Imagine a stained-glass window with the sun shining through it: is there any need for darkness to contrast the different qualities of light from each other?

                I have never eaten dirt. Does that mean my enjoyment of ice cream is lessened, because I do not have a horrible-tasting experience to compare it to?

                A five year old child from a good home may never have experienced hatred. (Some have, which is tragic — but many do not, not at that age.) Does that mean they are unable to enjoy, and feel, their parents’ love? Stick-figure drawings on refrigerators all over the country prove otherwise.

                As RES mentioned, the assumption that good needs evil in order to (exist, be measured, be appreciated) is a mistake that many sophomores just discovering philosophy make. It seems to make sense on the surface, and has an appearance of profundity. But deeper, more mature reflection shows it to be mistaken. Good can stand alone and be appreciated for itself alone, and does not require evil to exist. Zoroastrianism and the philosophies derived from it are making a basic category error.

                1. Ah, I see the issue. You’re calling the whole spectrum “light” .. and then calling specific absences of sub-spectrums “light through a stained glass window” without recognizing that what you’re *really* observing isn’t light, but *fractional* light, limited light; the subset of light resulting from darkness in certain frequencies.

                  You are, in fact, praising the darkness for making the light more interesting.

                  1. “The blue part of light” is still light, not dark.

                    You’re making the mistake that because some things can be divided into subcategories, they’re not all still part of the whole.

                  2. Apply that same reasoning to my other examples and perhaps you’ll see how specious it is. Ice cream has a specific taste, and it is not the taste of brussels sprouts, or the taste of asparagus, or the taste of tomatoes. (Unless you’ve buying some really weird ice cream. Though tomato ice cream could be pretty tasty…) Is the taste of ice cream better thought of as the absence of all those other tastes? Likewise, when you see blue light, what impinges on your consciousness is not the absence of redness, it’s blueness. Yes, blue light must, by necessity, not have (much) light in the red spectrum (depending on the shade of blue, it may have some). But that still doesn’t make it darkness. “Darkness in certain frequencies” is not darkness — it’s light in the other frequencies. The only definition of “darkness” that has any meaning at all is “the absence of light in any frequency”. (Or the relative absence of light — a dark room, where you can barely see anything, has a smidgen of light in it, but only a sophist would try to argue that that’s not a meaningful example of darkness.) To say that blue light is best characterized by the absence of other frequencies, rather than by the presence of the blue frequencies, is a mistake. If those other frequencies were added, the blue light would be changed into a different kind of light… but it would still be light. If the blue frequencies were taken away, then and only then would the blue light be changed into darkness.

                    But the reason I brought this whole thing up in the first place wasn’t light. I’m not too concerned about the definition of light. If you want to engage in silliness like calling blue light “darkness in other parts of the spectrum”, it’s no skin off my back. The reason I brought it up was because of the “without evil, what is good?” comment you made, which is committing the basic category error of equating good with “the absence of evil”, when in fact it’s the other way around. Which is why the final analogy I gave was the experience of love. It’s not necessary to have experienced hate in order to experience love. Nor is it necessary to have experienced evil in order to experience good.

                    And that’s the fundamental point I want to get at with all these analogies. (Analogies that are necessary because “evil” and “good” are such huge concepts that it’s hard for the brain to approach them directly, like it’s hard to stare directly at the sun. You have to come at the ideas sideways to have any hope of understanding.) The point is that good can stand alone, and does not need the presence of evil to help define it. The concept of druids in D&D as trying to strike a “neutral” balance between good and evil goes against reason. The balance between chaos and order, yes — that’s sensible, and also very fitting to a nature-worshipping archetype. (The reasons why nature depends on both chaos and order would make a whole essay of their own). But good and evil are not two equal-but-opposing forces that a balance can be struck between. Good creates, but evil destroys.

                    … Now I want to go dig out my D&D books and roll up a Neutral Good druid.

                    1. Tomato jam? Fascinating; I’d love to try it.

                      When I first tried tomato juice, I was severely disappointed, because I had been expecting the taste of raw tomatoes and got, instead, the taste of cooked tomatoes. Now, cooked tomatoes are quite tasty, but there’s nothing like fresh tomatoes. In a salad, in a burger, eaten by themselves with a little salt… Yum.

                    2. That’s because, Robin, you confuse love and hate as opposites of one another, but they aren’t .. they’re cousins. The opposite of both is apathy.

                      A child who is loved or hated at least gets some emotional response, a child who is ignored gets .. nothing.

                      I also find your oversimplification of “good creates but evil destroys” to be very strange indeed, given the “evils” of various people who have most assuredly “created” .. even if what they’ve created is despicable.

                      You’re right, it’s complex .. and I suspect it’s more rooted in perspective than we may wish to think.

                      I brought it up to clarify a specific point, a meme that I personally dislike, although tomato jam came out of it, so .. I suppose that’s something good.


                    3. Yes, I realized almost as soon as I’d written it that “good creates and evil destroys” was an oversimplification… though not so much in the end. Evil men can create massive systems, but those systems end up destroying much that is good. And good men can destroy, but usually in order to build something better, or prevent something better from being destroyed — like the surgeon who destroys a tumor so that it won’t destroy the patient’s life, or the engineer who blows up the old bridge so that the new one can be built in its place.

                      And while I used to agree that love and hate were not opposites, but that the opposite of love is apathy… I’m not sure I do any longer. But that was a trivial point in my argument anyway. Since you haven’t addressed my main argument (that the ability to appreciate good doesn’t rely on the presence or experience of evil), I should probably assume that you agree with me on that point (otherwise surely you would have brought it up by now) and that we’re “in violent agreement”, as the saying goes. In which case better to leave it off and move on to other discussions, rather than continue to argue over trivialities. 🙂

                    4. Thus my uncharacteristically sharp responses to the cat’s thesis. The argument was semantic games-playing and serving to obscure rather than enlighten. To engage is to invite further trollishness as the point of the exercise was (as noted) sophomoric demonstration of “cleverness.”

                      The existence of Good absent Evil is readily apparent in individual acts of generosity, charity, self-sacrifice and beneficence toward those who have suffered the ravages of events which are not themselves moral. Donations to victims of a tornado, flood or earthquake, for example, represent human goodness in the face of indifferent nature, just as the sacrifice of firefighters attempting to curtail the harm inflicted by a wild fire represents nobility even as the fire contains no element of evil.

                      But nobody old enough to wander the interwebs unsupervised should need such as that explained, and deserves to be shamed and mocked for expressing such callowness.

                    5. Perverse semantics.

                      I like things that are a matter of semantics– but that’s because I abhor the fallacy of equivocation, AKA perverse application of semantics (aiming to obscure rather than make clear) AKA “word games.”

                    6. Wouldn’t most anything that’s good with cream be good as an “ice cream”? Unless it’s something that really needs warmth to bring out the flavor… I remember that garlic ice cream was a big hit when I was a kid, and I still mourn my inability to find good green tea ice cream over here.

                    7. Wouldn’t most anything that’s good with cream be good as an “ice cream”?

                      Now I have this perverse desire to attempt a tikka masala ice cream. Thanks, Fox. *mock scowl*

                    8. Note to RES: Semantics. If you are going to call me a troll, grow a pair and do so.


                    9. Guys, blue on blue. Though it’s the only blog where you guys get this heated over semantics and metaphysics, it’s ceased being amusing sometime back. Maybe you can get back to batting each other around when I’m breathing better. For now, please drop it.

                    10. Sigh – arrived while I was posting my clarification in response to mijacat. Even had the request not been made, the fact that the comments have run smack-dab against the right-hand margin suggests there is naught more to be done in this pursuit.

                      Apologies to the blog hostess (blostess? shudder – horrid term). Truce? to the cat.

                    11. ‘s okay. this has been a horrible week, though, and I’ve been on the receiving end of pointless bickering, so my patience for this stuff is thinner than normal. Dave B.’s too, I think.

                    12. You weren’t being a troll, else I would have called you on it. Doesn’t mean you weren’t playing the jackass..

                      Semantic note: there is a difference between being trollish and being a troll.

    4. All sex that is consumated through the coercion and intimidation of one party by another is rape. Consent implies that one has a choice in the matter. Just for grins try an experiment and opt out of paying your taxes this year. Withdraw your consent. Promise that you won’t use any public services so you are choosing to not be a part of the system. The most likely outcome is confiscation of all your worldly assets and jail time to boot.
      I say again, all government is evil in that it is in fact the imposition of the will of one group upon another by threat of force. Human nature being what it is some such arrangement is necessary for people to live in a polite society. Without some rules lies anarchy and lawlessness, so some government with the cooperation of the governed is, while still coercive and evil, necessary.
      If a man cuts me with a knife, that’s an evil act. If that man is a doctor cutting out a tumor the act is still evil, but necessary and has my full if reluctant consent. Our current government is fast approaching the point where they fully intend to “figuratively” strap each of us down and cut out a kidney for transplant. After all we have two and it would be antisocial not to share. And since our leaders know what’s best far better than we, consent does not enter into it. It’s all for the collective good, after all.
      And if you think that last ventures too far into the realms of hyperbole take a gander at some of the historically factual abuses conducted by any of the European or Asian communist countries. There really is not that much difference between “we know what’s best for you better than you do” and “we own you body and soul.”

  11. When you combine the desire for power and the idea that humans can be “improved” by regulation or physical force, nothing good happens.

    On a related tangent, I noticed that the effect of the FLOTUS’s school-lunch program has been an increase in the amount of food wasted and the number of children who are hungry in school (because what a sedentary 200 lb 40 year old needs is rather different from what an active 5th grader needs. Who’d a thunk it?)

    1. When I went to the naval Academy the days were long and we were constantly on the go, but the food was good and there was lots of it. After I graduated they got a new supply officer who tried to make the menu healthy, but they didn’t change the physical requirements. It was a bad couple of years before they transferred the suppo.
      FLOTUS idea for grade school just moves the idea down a couple of levels.

  12. It is not one to be taken lightly.</quote

    Indeed, as the Declaration goes on to say:

    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

  13. It is very easy (and reasonable) to reason why you should take Social Security or Unemployment benefits. After all they are money taken out of your paycheck before you ever see, if they weren’t taken out beforehand, it would be more money in your pocket to save for those times when you need them. So, when you do need them, taking a portion (and only a portion, if you are a working individual) of what has already been paid in by you makes sense. I don’t have a problem with this, but there is no reason for the government to be involved in the first place (except of course because it is an extortion racket). If they would have kept their nose in their own business, I would already have the money, and more of it, because they wouldn’t have taken their cut.

    1. That makes total sense, except that the money didn’t go into a lockbox whence you can retrieve it. The money was spent on other stuff. It’s not there any more. Where will the money come from to pay you, and is that a money-raising system you want to support going forward?

      1. Our fearless leaders in their infinite wisdom decided a good many years ago to divert the excess income garnered from Social Security payroll deductions into the general fund and replace it with government bonds of equal value. After all, those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States of America. For all the years that SS ran a surplus this was a tidy little revenue stream to feed the ravening appetite of our federal government for ever more revenue. Unfortunately, last year the cash flow turned negative so they are now having to cash some of those bonds and cover the expense from current revenues. The cash cow suddenly became a money pit.
        And IMHO this practice has and always did have the same moral authority as mom and dad raiding the kid’s college fund piggy bank for money for beer and smokes and leaving IOUs in its place written on tissue paper in lipstick.

    2. As you were not given a choice to assent to their plan in the first place, the argument of accepting benefits from having been conscripted is invalid. It would require draftees to refuse the G.I. Bill or TriCare or, taken to its greatest extreme, salary.

      The actual argument for accepting benefits while opposing the necessity is the one presented in Catch-22:

      Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.”

      “Then,” said Yossarian, “I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?”

  14. Note Raul Castro’s anger at the loss of Cuban bourgeois virtues. It illustrates my point: when you have to cheat the system to survive, cheating becomes an ingrained habit.

    1. When I was at university in Germany, the Russian students were astonished that I wouldn’t cheat or help them cheat. It was the only way they saw to do well while still doing other things besides studying. (I suspect their alcohol consumption had something to do with it). When I explained that my college had (at the time) and iron-clad honor pledge and I’d get expelled if I were caught, they almost could not believe it. In the USSR, you cheated if necessary, studied if necessary, and (probably [I didn’t ask]) bribed the professor if necessary. At least, that was these students’ approach to things.

      1. This is the real tragedy of Communism. The death of fair dealing and honest behavior is every bit as sad as political repression and secret police.

      2. In junior high and high school, I never hesitated for an instant to let anyone cheat off of me. I didn’t give it any thought that I can remember: just instinctive rebellion or solidarity. To the extent a thought process was involved at all, I think I assumed the whole thing was a silly waste of time, and why not help someone else navigate the essentially irrational waters?

        When I went to college, though, I was offended by the very idea that anyone would cheat. I wouldn’t have wanted to associate any longer with anyone who would try. It was such an overnight, spontaneous, unreasoned change that I can only assume the difference was that I took the college seriously. For that matter, I think I would have been offended if anyone in my serious (accelerated) classes in high school had wanted to cheat, but it never came up. So perhaps it was a matter of unexamined condescension regarding the kids who signaled that they wanted or needed my help. If they had wanted tutoring instead, I’d have done that.

      1. And the original rationale for socialism was that it would make underhanded behavior unnecessary.

        1. I thought that the original rationale for socialism was to grab power and make everybody do what YOU think is best

          1. You know they’re not that blunt. They say that it’s a way of giving oppressed peoples a chance.

  15. Blast it! My comment quoting Keynes on greed as a supposed mental disease has gone into a black hole, although it had only one hyperlink.

    Maybe WordPress messed up (either deleting the comment or sending it to the spam filter), or maybe I made an HTML error. Or maybe the Web or WordPress need a Heimlich maneuver.

  16. Amen.

    I’ll note that one reason I have not not seeking permenant US residency/citizenship is that it seems to me the US govt has, in many ways, becoe far worse than many other developed nations, despite the constitution.

    The “ruling party”* in most democracies these days – and that certainly includes the US, UK and France – appears to be made up of jobsworths, bansturbators and nannies at best as well as more evil control freaks. Short of revolution, lamp posts etc. I see no way to get rid of them unless they overreach sufficiently that a solid wedge of non-ruling party pols can be elected who agree to work together to cut the monster down to size. In the US that probably means an offshoot of the Tea party with a message that resonates well enough for occupytards and the like to agree. In the UK in probably means UKIP. Not sure what it means elsewhere

    * see (Stross is someone I disagree with politically but he’s an astute observer)

    1. This is a sad thing. I remember when we could talk about the US with a sort of arrogant pride, as a place free of the official bullying common in other countries.

      Not anymore.

      1. Sorry, I tried to reply twice and WordPress ate them both. The second attempt had no hyperlinks.

        1. And this comment was intended for your question elsewhere about grad school. Given WordPress, I’m not sure the mistake is mine.

          Anyway, I’m exasperated and should log off for a time.

  17. On telling other people what to do: I can’t keep a dog, because dogs don’t respect you if you don’t dominate them, and all that dominatin’ seems like too much work if one is a slacker like me. Some say that something similar applies in man-woman relations.

    I mind the passage in “Time for the Stars” in which the protagonist is gently dumped by the gal he is sweet upon, who is very good at math. She says something like “I think a gal should look up to her guy, and I don’t think I could look up to a guy who can’t solve partial differential equations in his head.”

    1. P.s. That said, I am partial to Smart Girls. The gal I took to my high school prom was the one who sat next to me in Physics class. The other gal I was sweet on in high school later went off to get a Master’s in mathematics, and I lost touch with her. I can get along with a slut, ‘specially if she is a Smart Girl, but absolutely cannot stand bimbos.

      1. eh gods. That’s me and female friends. I can be friends with sluts, provided they’re smart.
        Dan and I ended up specializing. when it comes to math and hard science I’m a moron compared to him, and in language I’m better than him, plus I keep up with politics and give him the digest version. Our family time tends to be things we both enjoy which is why the kids grew up in Natural History Museums, car museums, airplane museums, science fiction cons and lectures about space exploration. They seem to be okay…

        1. Well, I’m safe from that. Frankly, for the last 28 years there’s only been one man in the world for me. In the unimaginably bad situation in which he per-deceases me, I probably won’t want anyone else, because every case I know of a very happy first marriage, the second sucks. I’ll content myself with my male friends for companionship and conversation. BUT should I get back in the game, my orientation is firmly hetero. I should add thank heavens, since I don’t think I could live with a woman. Oh, maybe one or two of my closest friends, but we’d still need a lot of space.

    2. I have no interest in being dominated. It’s just not me. It seems to be true of 90% of women though. The thing is I ALSO have no interest in dominating. I had to find a man who WOULDN’T let me walk all over him. Weirdly this was very difficult.

  18. I suspect that those who anticipate a coming collapse in the next decade are most prescient. The federal government and those of many of the state’s rest firmly in the hands of degenerate corruptocrats who will betray any principle or moral standard to maintain their power. Their integrity exists only in their mouths.

    Sadly, a sizeable minority of the population have learned that they do not need to work to live. Rather, they can embrace a parasitic existence by drawing their sustenance from the body of productive citizens. They are aided by malignant do-gooders who seek to assuage their own moral inadequacies by lending their voices to those of the ravening horde in demanding ever more generous government largess for the “virtuous poor.” Of course, “the greedy and materialistic” productive classes will pay the freight. Tragically, after a lifetime of paying taxes for Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment (as you correctly note), most people see little real choice – and in reality possess no realistic financial alternative – but to accept government payments. The decision is not immoral, but its effects are corrupting. The primary beneficiaries of this corruption – our betters in government “service.”

    Realistically, what alternatives do we possess? Does anyone really believe that if Republicans won control of all elective branches of government in 2016, along with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, that anything would change significantly? Does anyone really anticipate a revolutionary upheaval that would topple the existing tyrannical government and replace it with a smaller and more limited entity? Does anyone believe a Constitutional convention aimed at reining in the current monstrosity in DC. likely to occur? The best we can anticipate is an economic collapse when the despicable ruling class finally succeeds in undermining all the traditional virtues that made the U.S. a special place, runs out of other people’s money, and discovers that no one cares enough even to attempt to preserve the collapsing structure. It will be interesting to watch as the corruptocrats’ former clients drag them into the streets and pull them to pieces, but what follows is likely to prove even more brutal and more oppresive.

    1. Two things: a) I think the crash is closer. b) I think the tech is going the other way. No, seriously. Most younger people are already libertarian in their way of life. I’m fifty and no one younger than I expects a cent from social security. I think post crash some places will go bad (I expect Europe to revert to nationalistic strong men. It’s the pattern.) But I expect after a while a new mode of life will shake out, one we don’t even understand. Perhaps that’s the real singularity. How do you govern a population not forced to live anywhere particular or work where they live?

      1. I hope your tempered optimism is correct. I do see some hope based on tech, but I’m not sure how “free” it will be to develop after a collapse. I do not think it wise to rule out a strong man ruler (or perhaps regional strong men rulers) in the United States or successor states. In light of current events, how far removed are we from such a regime now?

        Also, really enjoyed your Darkship books.

        1. Quibble. The U.S., outside of the cities, doesn’t lend itself to the kind of checkpoints, informant-networks, etc. etc. that are practically a requirement of the typical strong man .. and while the culture and dialect of, say, New Orleans is different from Chicago .. there’s always been a flow of people from one to another, and more similarities than differences.

          This country would be hell on a would-be dictator…..


          1. If you wrecked the interstates it would be harder for people to move around the country. Otherwise I totally agree with you.

            1. If you wrecked the intersttes, it would be hard to move troups around the country and harder to move goods, People would only be inconvenienced a little. The whole reason the interstates were build was that Eisinhower had to move troups from one side of the country to the other by road when he was a young officer and it was a miserable job,.

                  1. I remember that series! And apparently he published a fourth book in 2011. I’m going to have read that once July is over. Thanks for posting this link.

              1. If you take out a half dozen major interchanges, most of the country would collapse within a week. Stores would run out of food in two days, and everyone would start to panic. Riots would happen in that first week, and it would explode out of control.

                1. I’m not sure about that Wayne. This country is so DAMN DECENT. Look, when the lights went out in NYC, people WALKED home, no increase in crime… I don’t think we are what the movies show. Some neighborhoods, sure, but they’re on the verge of riot ALL the time. And, okay Detroit. But you know…

                  1. But we’re not talking about a day, or even two, but many, many days. Sure, the old roads can get you to the same places, but there are 30,000 trucks every day crossing the Brent Spence bridge in Cincinnati, and trying to route around on the old roads would create havoc.

                    Plus, the psychological difference of knowing that deliveries would be delayed for several weeks would eat at people, while in an ordinary power outage, they know that the power will be back at the stores within a day or two at the most. I can take out one interchange and stop all traffic from getting TO the Brent Spence without rerouting around, or in the opposite direction, it can’t get past that same spot after crossing the bridge. (Hmm… completely blocking it would take a little more effort than I had thought at first, but not much).

                    I’m not guaranteeing it, I just think that if they don’t see a resolution in the near (couple of days) future, it will increase the fear factor significantly.

                    1. Brent Spence is one of two highway bridges there. They’d shift to the Big Mac, or failing that, the I-275 bridges. That’s all highway; four lanes minimum; 70MPH traffic, and (especially for the Big Mac) not many more miles than the Brent Spence. Brent Spence HAS been closed to truck traffic before — the hill on the south side was horrible for semis until they straightened it a bit. And you could press the “surface street” bridges into use, but I don’t think we’d want to see heavy truck traffic on the Roebling.

                      Diverting some traffic east to the Maysville or Portsmouth bridges would be a pain, but for traffic already headed off that way, not horrible. There are some equivalents to the west, as well.

                      As much as we gripe about our infrastructure, in transportation at least we still have a lot of redundancy.

                    2. Ah, but see, I didn’t say take out the Brent Spence, I said a major interchange. If you take out all the connections between I-75 and I-275 in Florence, nothing is getting through without major detours and delays. This is something I’ve been afraid of since 9/11.

                      No way Routes 42 and 25 are going to take up the slack. The Interstate Highways may have started out as ways to route troops and equipment quickly, but we are now heavily dependent on them.

                    3. Adding to what Mr. Crawford said .. how much chaos would it cause if the cops blocked one of those older routes to *non* truck traffic? Get the crunchies out of the way and let the convoys roll on through…

                      To use a particularly foul truism, there is more than one way to skin my kind, and I’m reasonably sure the competent sheriffs and state police folks have plans, and nightmares about using those plans…..


                    4. Even if they could (a HUGE “if”), it wouldn’t matter much. It only takes an hour to cause a multi-mile backup here if two out of three lanes on the Interstate get shut down. The old routes cannot handle a fraction of the traffic, and the only alternatives involve enormous detours.

                    5. How many of those huge backups, Wayne, are caused by truckers?

                      Trucks are generally better maintained than cars, truckers are better drivers than most behind the wheels of cars, so .. while the old routes won’t handle cars + trucks .. they should handle trucks *alone*.. which is what I proposed.

                      I suspect they’ve got enough units and Jersey barriers in stock to make it work. I will note that Indianapolis seems to shut down half of their interchanges every couple years – which is why the Cats head south on I-57, not I-65 – and are still there.

                      Related to that .. while Cincy makes a good diagonal connection between Indy, Columbus, Charleston, and Louisville, any thru traffic can still route around the edges ..from Indianapolis, taking I-65 to Louisville then I-64 to Lexington is not shorter than taking I-74 to Cincy then I-75 to Lexington, eh?

                      Any northwest-southeast can take the alternate route through Chillicothe. (The West Virginia piece between Chillicothe and Charleston isn’t four-lane divided, but it isn’t bad and it’s pretty rural so not much local traffic to conflict.)

                      In short, the interchanges are important to local traffic, but less so to thru traffic .. which further reduces the load on the old routes.


                    6. Routing through Louisville? That just takes one more hit, and everything then has to go all the way out through Charleston or St. Louis, or add to the parking lot, er, I mean traffic on the older roads.

                    7. How many of those huge backups, Wayne, are caused by truckers?

                      They’re caused by the reduction in available lanes. While a-hole drivers make it worse, the traffic simply cannot funnel rapidly through that small a choke point.

                    8. At one point there was a close up to the highway and trucks went down our narrow old street, with cars parked on both sides. It was a sigh to see, but nothing hit.

                    9. Clearly, we are both impersuasible, Wayne. I submit that reducing the volume of traffic (route around, trucks only) and increasing the aggregate skill of remaining traffic (trucks only) will let the smaller routes work adequately. You assert that it will not.

                      I will point out that Washington State is getting along without the I-5 bridge between there and Vancouver, BC .. and Minneapolis/St.Paul got along adequately without the I-35 bridge ..

                      Did they get along *well*? No .. but you appear to be hypothesizing a coordinated strike across multiple cities which is what we would have faced during the Cold War .. not what a breakdown in federal control will bring.


                2. Nah. The increasingly indistinguishable from the armed services cops would create and defend a route for truck traffic .. even if that means semis doing 55 through residential neighborhoods. It ain’t even that complicated in most areas.

                  As for going cross-country, if you’re relying on the interstates, you’re doin’ it *wrong*. Just my opinion, mind.


      2. About 10 or 15 years ago, one of the panelists on the McLaughlin Group brought up a survey that said that more of the young believed in UFOs than believed that Social Security would be there when they retire. Fred Barnes just absolutely refused to believe that survey. My estimate of his IQ took about a 20 point dive.

        Heck, I’m 10 years older than Sarah and I’m doubtful that it’s gonna be there in 6 years.

        1. I’m three years younger than you, and I knew 20 years ago that I was paying for my parents,and would never see a dime. And after working for 41 years (from the time I was 16) to last March when Federal cutbacks put me in the unemployment line I don’t feel guilty about getting the weekly unemployment while I work on a new opportunity.

    2. ” Does anyone really believe that if Republicans won control of all elective branches of government in 2016, along with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, that anything would change significantly? ”

      Honestly? That would be my BEST case scenario. I know and you know that the politicians are not likely to change stuff significantly to the better; because it would be to much like firing themselves. So doing nothing significant sounds like the best I can hope for. Every time Obama called the Republicans ‘the party of No’ this last election, I thought, “yep, you just incentivized me to vote Republican.” a) I understand they control one house, while Democrats control one house and the Executive Office. This makes it VERY hard for the Republicans to pass anything, so in my eyes the very BEST they can do is be ‘the party of NO’ and not allow the Democrats to pass anything. Sadly they have been failing rather badly at that.

      1. I agree a period of not much happening would be better than our current descent into the maelstrom. Unfortunately, we are so far advanced on the road to perdition (sorry for mixing metaphors) that stasis merely means means we merely roll more slowly to ruin – but we roll to ruin nonetheless.

  19. In times like these, I recommend loading the Kenneth Alford CD. Sorry, Sousa just doesn’t do it, being too optimistic and all. Alford’s marches are about sucking it up and plodding ahead anyway. In them it is understood that you will lose fights, but that’s no reason to quit.

    Jtg, old band nerd, over here at the Right of The Line, with The Colors.

    1. Say, BCR, if you’re reading, “Cavalry of the Clouds” just came up on the Alford CD and I immediately thought of Our Bill. Have you any news of him?

  20. When answering whether an entree is spicy it is important to know what the questioner deems “spicy.” Some people consider ketchup spicy, others think the habanero sauce is mild.

    Before I can begin to define Good Government I must first know what you think government good for. If you think government is supposed to see that your every need is met and that you never go without; if you think that government is supposed to ensure everybody has equal enjoyment of society’s emoluments; if you think government is to protect your inalienable rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness — and nothing more; or if you think government is supposed to enact the “will of the people”: in each case your definition of government as “good” will differ.

    Government is a tool, and the question of “good” cannot be answered without knowing the purpose of that tool. A screwdriver is a poor tool for driving nails, just as a hammer is a poor tool for soldering circuitry.

    1. Name one government program that was on time and/or under budget.

      Just one.


      1. I’ll go out on a limb and say “the collection of the first income tax”.

        When it comes to stealing from the productive, they work harder, after all.

      2. Well, the moon landing did happen within the “in this decade” target window, but on budget? Oh hell no.

          1. A valid point. The Dems could use more of JFK’s influence. Not the mythical “Camelot” knight, that was never real .. the pragmatic dealmaker.


  21. I have a website that I started in 2006 where I and some others post stories for others to read free of charge. I have discussion forum for the stories and one for anything else, For years I was a good little conservative and the worst I did was identify trolls — but I never banned one. Before our current president was elected I was warning people that there were some serious questions about his resume — but as I had done since I’d started my site, I didn’t allow ad hominem attacks, but merely warned people that I might eject someone at some future date it they kept it up.
    Like a lot of people, I demonstrated at tea parties and was greatly encouraged by the results of 2010 elections. In the run-up to 2012, I could see the handwriting on the wall. Tea party groups across the country were being sidelined by any number of statist strategems. People like Glenn Reynolds and you, Sarah, started advocating that it was time and perhaps past time to speak up. I started speaking up on my forum; I’ve been downright rude to people (call me a tea bagger if you dare!).
    It’s not enough. Like a lot of those here (and elsewhere) I believe things are going to get much worse. I’m a history buff; I can compare 1776 and 1789, I understand why 1848 wasn’t the trauma for England as it was for most of the rest of Europe.
    Hard times are coming, how hard I can’t predict. But, like Sarah, I’m firmly convinced that we can get through this on something like an even keel, if for no other reason than the dread number — 47%. People who believe in the dream still outnumber those that don’t — and they are a 1000 times more motivated (when they finally get off their bottoms). I imagine it is going to take a wrenching tragedy to get most people off their bottoms, and a great many will be hurt. But you know what Isoroku Yamamoto said about the dangers of waking sleeping dragons.

  22. How come you don’t like government but send your kids to public school?

    Give me back my money, plus interest, and I can educate the kid myself.

    Open the public schools to competition: issue vouchers.

    Government is requires I pay for public schools, requires I send my kids to public schools or pay a fine (paying for public school and private school constitutes a fine) but does not guarantee to actually educate my kid. When I want over-priced programs, shoddy service, unresponsive management, poor quality control and abundant unappealing choices I can get it from Cablevision.

  23. “Does the government force you to take money? … the incentives are very strongly towards making you take the immoral choice.”

    I was a pathologist who became disabled by severe bipolar disorder. I was feeling guilty about requesting Social Security disability, so I calculated how much money I paid to the federal government over my work years and adjusted for inflation. The amount was one million 2012 dollars. After doing that calculation, my anguish about collecting disability disappeared. However, I would give up my disability, Social Security, and Medicare if those programs were completely shut down and my kids and future grandkids no longer would be losers in the government’s massive Ponzi schemes.

    1. Another consideration — there might be benefits to making the system crash now — while we can fight, my friend — than leaving it for our kids and grandkids to fight with diminished the resources.
      So what you’re doing in taking disability could be considered virtuous. It’s at least defensible.

      1. Except…

        I cannot stomach the thought of inviting the Four Horsemen in for dinner. Or even a light snack. Or, for that matter, attempting to meet them at an out-of-the-way diner for lunch. I know enough history to know they’ll stiff me for the check, follow me home, then ransack the place while I’m away at work.

      2. I agree about the virtue of a crisis today rather than leaving the burden to a future generation.

  24. “The best government is that which governs least.” [Motto of _The US Magazine and Government Review_]

    I heartily accept the motto,—“That government is best which governs least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe, “That government is best which governs not at all;” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.
    —Thoreau, _Civil Disobedience_

    “No, now — none of that. Now, I’m here to help you — not to help you feel sorry for yourself.” [Mr. B Natural]

    God Entity: Bender, being God isn’t easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you. And if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch, like a safecracker or a pickpocket.

    Bender: Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money.

    God Entity: Yes, if you make it look like an electrical thing. When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.
    [“Godfellas”, _Futurama_]

  25. Reblogged this on Quasi Renaissance Man and commented:
    Worth a read. Good analysis of the tendency to aggregate power to higher and higher levels of political organization (I don’t mean Political Organizations, I mean more moving from fifedoms and kingdoms to nation-states). However, such a tendence goes against the principle of subsidiarity, which, to my mind, ought to be reinjected into the concept of public service and into the DNA of government.

  26. Hmm. Sarah, would you be interested in a little essay about the not-really-as-Dark-as advertised Dark Ages? Since people seem interested in what happens after “the lights have gone out in Rome.”

    1. It’s not the Dark Ages that were the problem, so much as the no-freaking-trade-route, lots-of-slaving-pirates, thanks-Saxons-Visigoths-and-Muslims ages. Ireland had great times then, because they were out of the way (partly because they pirated other people) until the Norse went at it.

        1. Reading between the lines of one of the sagas, they took the first dairy cow to the New World.

          Unfortunately, the Skraelings were lactose-intolerant and thought the milk they were served was poisoned…

          1. oops– I was thinking the Viking lines– well ding dang, I bet they got their asses kicked. I know that the Vikings were really careful when they came to the New World–

      1. I read that and thought “Hmm. USB mouse. How hard would it be to stuff a USB hub and a USB drive with a virus on it inside a USB mouse?”…

        Expensive, sure, but if you could get them into the right departments …


  27. Not relevant to this particular post, but I just finished Draw One in the Dark, your first full book I’ve read. I’ve been recommending it to my (librarian) wife.

    1. AH! I must write Ringo’s appreciation for Fencon booklet tomorrow. Don’t let me forget it. I’ve begun it: When I first met John Ringo, he was wearing a kilt, something this Heinlein fan deeply appreciated. How was I to know that less than 7 years later, I’d kill him in cold blood? Or perhaps I should say in cold ink.

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