Another Rightie Who Can’t Read

-->
American History, big picture stuff, conservatism, The Constitution

I noticed this trackback to the last post. It proves my point about the general fuzzy-headedness of the “limited government” argument. Even though I specifically (and clearly, I think) wrote that government must be restricted from abusing civil liberties, the blogger wrote,

Does Ms. O’Brien really believe that there shouldn’t be any limits on the will of the people ? If she does, then we’ve got to toss out most of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, because that’s precisely what they do.

I wonder sometimes if these meatheads cannot grasp that, ultimately, “the government” and “the people” are the same thing. In the U.S. the government is an instrument by which We, the People, govern ourselves. The Constitution provides the basic parameters, structures, and divisions of authority of that government. The Bill of Rights enumerates which things the government does not have the power to do, meaning that no government official or political faction can use government to do those enumerated things.

And I think that’s grand. But libertarians want to deprive people of the ability to use government in ways that don’t have a dadblamed thing to do with civil liberties, and which in fact fall under the aegis of matters for which the Constitution was purposed –

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If We, the People, want to promote the general Welfare by initiating taxpayer funded universal health care, for example, ain’t nothin’ in the Constitution that says we can’t have it. People opposed to it can argue about why they think universal health care is not a good use of taxpayer dollars, and then the voters can decide which way they want to go. But when such a program is nixied purely on some ideological dogmas about “big government,” that’s essentially an argument against republican government, and against democracy itself. It’s an argument that says people may not govern themselves, and it’s a violation of the principles on which this nation was founded.

The blogger I’m snarking about is the one who wants to “toss out most of the Constitution” and replace it with an antigovernment ideology.

It isn’t the size of government that makes it oppressive. I provided an example from history in the post below — in the very decade (the 1870s) that government was “smallest” and least intrusive into matters of business, markets, securities, etc., it was opening peoples’ mail to be sure they weren’t using the postal system to provide information on birth control.

Some years later federal courts ruled that Comstock Law agents could not interfere with dissemination of birth control information and devices. To many at the time, the courts’ rulings were an example of “big government.” Would the libertarians reduce the power of government to protect the civil liberties of people?

The knee-jerk attitude that government is always bad, and “big” government is worse, is not based on either reason or the Constitution.

The simple fact is that people oppress each other. They do this with or without government. Sometimes powerful political factions do use government as an instrument of oppression, but throughout our history government has also been the tool used by citizens to gain relief from oppression.

I say that reducing the size and power of government does not reduce oppression, because oppression takes place by means other than government. Those laissez-faire businessmen of the 1870s oppressed their workers outrageously, for example. Many of the inhuman outrages that were common then are rare today — because of government. We, the People, decided workers should have some protections. Labor unions were behind much of the political organization that brought about the Department of Labor and legislation protecting workers, but labor unions by themselves weren’t having a whole lot of success at protecting workers before that.

I’m old enough to know that much of the hysteria over “big government” that arose after World War II came about because government acted to protect the rights of African Americans and other oppressed minorities. The racist bigots who jeered at the “Little Rock Nine,” for example, thought that “big government” was oppressing them. The Governor of Arkansas had wanted to use National Guard to keep African Americans out of the public high school. A federal judge issued an injunction against this. When Little Rock police feared they could not protect the Nine from mob violence, President Eisenhower sent 1,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division to protect the students from the mob. Eisenhower also federalized the Arkansas Guard, taking it away from control of the Governor. (Note that Eisenhower acted after the mayor of Little Rock asked for help.)

For years after that, white bigots complained about those armed troops in the streets of Little Rock and whined about how their “rights” were being infringed by “big government.” They were talking about their “rights” to prevent nine teenagers from going to school because of their skin color. They were talking about their “rights” to form a mob and tear nine young people to pieces because of their skin color.

Libertarians want to protect those “rights.” They want to deprive the federal government of the power to protect the civil liberties of citizens.

I’m not saying that all libertarians are bigots. I’m saying they haven’t thought it all through. They see “big government” and think “oppression,” and that’s that. But whether government is “big” or “little” is not the issue; the issue is whether government functions within the parameters of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, or whether it doesn’t. The issue is whether our government remains an instrument for self-government as it was intended, or whether it doesn’t.

Update: I’m closing comments on this post, as we’re starting to get an infestation of commenters who don’t know they should be polite to the hostess.

Share
52 Comments

52 Comments

  1. Mike the Mad Biologist  •  Dec 19, 2006 @8:48 am

    But then the anti-gummint crowd would have to evaluate and justify the consequences of their actions, as opposed to just blindly following dogma. That’s hard, and if you wind up being wrong, very bad for one’s self-esteem. ‘Small’ government dogma, much better.

    Snark aside, I’m so glad you pointed out the racist roots of the anti-government movement. It really didn’t start until whites were forced to share public facilities with black people. Before that, they liked their New Deal programs.

  2. xpara  •  Dec 19, 2006 @9:48 am

    Ah, the Solid South. Once again, Maha, you have got it so right.
    The Solid South. Solid Democrat until Truman integrated the armed forces and glider trooper Strom (his one truly inspirational act in his long career was joining up in the combat arms overage and riding a glider down in the airborne assault that led off the Normandy invasion) objected mightily, pranced the Dixiecrat strut, and led the way for just about all the old white Southern power structure to switch to the GOP. Remember all those pious pols saying “I am not leaving the Democrat party, it left me,” with a mock sad wink as they signed up for slightly more subtle black bashing and continued political and economic power under such moral morons as the Trickster.
    Yea, verily, yet another rung down into the depths of the Inferno, down towards the Bush-Cheney level of trading American military lives for oil, graft, and votes.
    Libertarians, always sounding so nice in theory (kind of like “race blind” affirmative action), were sometimes witting, sometimes unwitting allies and enablers of the fighting retreat of the segs. They gave Southern obstructionism some intellectual cover until the “conservative” “Christian” “leaders” steered their shorn flocks into the Republican corral.
    Here’s hoping for happier holidays ahead. And, in the spirit of Charity and Christian Civility (and damn little of that), may these malignant political maestros live long enough to realize the disaster their lies and low cunning have inflicted on America and the world.
    Wow. Think of the leap of faith I’ve posited there.

  3. Donna  •  Dec 19, 2006 @9:57 am

    Clear as it can be, yet I just now understood the obvious connection today between the anti-government mantra and the anger in the South about giving respect and dignity to blacks. Hats off to you, Maha.

  4. Ian  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:26 am

    The implications of libertarianism … any time I start to feel libertarianism might be a good way to go, I just watch an argument between some of the hard-core libertarians and everybody else down at my favorite discussion board, and eventually somebody will be forced into admitting implications. For instance, on several occasions I’ve seen libertarians forced to take the position that business really has no power to oppress at all, only government has the power to oppress, because people have the ‘option’ to either work or starve to death. Yes, starving to death is seen as a valid personal choice to make. I always, always, come away from those threads with a feeling of ‘oh yah, that’s why I hate libertarianism’.

    -me

  5. Ian  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:36 am

    Oh and take a look at the place where your intrepid trackbacker found the link to here. The comments to that post are a very nice collection of libertarian cliches. I especially love the one about democracy being about two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner (or something like that) … I mean how much more clearly can you say that democracy (and therefore the entire system of government upon which the USA is based) is a bad idea and should be suppressed? Ya gotta ask yourself if these people have really thought through the implications of all available alternatives, and then of course ya gotta answer yourself no of course not, else they wouldn’t say such stupid things…

    -me

  6. kerryinalaska  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:37 am

    This was a post that made my heart sing. For years I have been aggravated by the “reduce government” crowds desire to “drown it in the tub”. These same people who advocate for constant downsizing and reduction of taxes are the same folks who think nothing of paying exorbitant fees for their golfing priviledges to the “club”. Well, the US is a club, of sorts, and taxes are the fees we pay to live here. In fact, it seems to me, that real patriots, those who truely love and support their country, would be falling all over themselves to pay their fair share. In fact those who advocate the reduction of taxes to the detriment of society are guilty of intentional sedition. Pay your goddamned taxes, and know that when the storm hits YOUR house gov will be there to help.

  7. Griff  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:38 am

    Ian,
    Someone (Kim Stanley Robinson?) once wrote that (I’m paraphrasing) “Libertarians believe the only role of government is to protect them from their slaves”
    And I have had southern relatives who thought the WPA was great but desegregation was “big Gummint”.
    Nuff said.
    Regards,
    Griff

  8. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:52 am

    You’re missing one thing here. The Constitution explains very succinctly what powers Congress has to create legislation. It lists them in Article I, Section 8. Nowhere in there is anything related to, say, expropriating money from one citizen to pay for another’s health care. Oh, and the 9th and 10th amendment kinda spell it out even more clearly. All powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states, or to the people themselves.

    You’re focusing too much on the Bill of Rights. At the time of the Founders, there was serious debate over whether a Bill of Rights was even necessary. The reason for this debate was that the creators of the Constitution thought that as long as the government stayed within the bounds of Article I, Section 8, they wouldn’t have the power to infringe upon those civil liberties. They also believed that a declaration of a Bill of Rights would create the false impression that only those rights spelled out in Amendments 1 through 8 could not be infringed by government, and that was the purpose of adding the 9th and 10th. The rights of individuals are far wider than those deliberately added to the Bill of Rights (explained in the 9th), and the legislative powers of government are expected to remain within their explicit descriptions in Article I, Section 8 (explained in the 10th).

    If you want to add powers to the government beyond those laid out in Article I, Section 8, the Constitution gives “We, the People” the ability to do so. It’s called amending the Constitution. Considering the fuzzy-headedness of most Americans, educated by government schools, you’d probably be successful doing so. But “We, the People’s” ability to act through Congress is clearly limited by what powers the Constitution has explicitly granted to Congress. And while jurisprudence of things like the “necessary and proper” clause have completely eviscerated those limits, in effect doing what you suggest and turning the Constitution from a document which protects people from the overreaches of government into a document which enables government to do whatever the hell it wants.

  9. Ray Dobson  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:52 am

    I’m a liberal but I believe in limited government. Limited simply means “not unlimited”. Government should not have arbitrary, untrammeled, unaccountable power. Its powers should be enumerated and its actions should be transparent and answerable to We the People. That’s a liberal idea, surely?

    The problem is that ignorant righties think “limited” means “zero”, or “crippled and ineffectual” so that government can’t impose inconvenient regulations on polluters, war profiteers and what not. But even apart from that, righties are hypocrites. They *lurv* big government in the bedroom, telling everyone what they can and can’t do, and who they can and can’t do it with.

  10. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:02 am

    “I especially love the one about democracy being about two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner (or something like that) … I mean how much more clearly can you say that democracy (and therefore the entire system of government upon which the USA is based) is a bad idea and should be suppressed?”

    Sounds a lot like a quote from Thomas Jefferson, doesn’t it? “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

    Democracy has never been an adequate guard of liberty, as quite a few things in the history of this nation prove (such as slavery, segregation, the 16th Amendment, etc).

  11. J. R  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:12 am

    Hi:

    I got pulled in by your discussion of your experience on a Jury, and find that I agree with you a lot about things political.

    I served on 2 capital murder cases in one term of court several years ago. We acquited on both cases, in one it was pretty clearly self-defense, and in the other there was plenty of room for reasonable doubt that it was just a terrible accident, or that someone else may have done it.

    I was foreman for the first trial, which ended a little bit late on Oct 31st. I declined the honor the second time, and we deliberated until nearly midnight on Dec 27th, my birthday.

    The county is very rural, and the juries both had a good spread of folks, from rural country boys to nurses, government workers, and me, I’m a professional software developer. They pulled in jurors who had served on the first trial just to have a better pool for the second trial, and I got lucky along with 3 or 4 others.

    I thought everyone did a pretty respectable job at both trials, and went away with a renewed sense of respect for the founders and their work product!

    You’re right on with your view point on libertarians. They all read too much Ayn Rand back in the ’60s and decided that “enlightened self-interest” aka selfishness is a worthwhile personal philosophy and political system.

    I have no respect for any of them – they’ve decided that government should do everything they think it should do, and as for the rest of us, too bad, you’re on your own, jack!

    Keep up the good work!

    JR

  12. Steve  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:14 am

    As to the argument about the effectiveness of the free market vs. big government, a comment by former Texas Republican senator Phil Gramm (I think that’s the proper spelling of his name, but excuse me if I’m incorrect) is, I belive, instructive. Back in the early days of the Clinton administration Gramm tried to dismiss the idea of a government-run, single-payer system by stating that he would “not let the greatest health care system in the world become the U.S. Post Office.” The Post Office is a favorite whipping boy for many people who rage against so-called big government, and it isn’t perfect by any means, but I think a comparison between the Post Office and our current health care system actually favors the Post Office:

    1. The Post Office provides universal access to all (there’s a location in almost every community).
    2. It remains remarkably affordable (if people disagree with you about this, give them a letter and 39 cents and ask them to deliver it to Alaska).
    3. They still make house calls.

    Who would not wish that our health care system had those same traits?

  13. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:21 am

    Steve,

    Then I assume you support breaking the postal monopoly on first-class mail, such that the mail could also be delivered by UPS and FedEx? If the government is efficient, they should be able to compete, right?

  14. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:47 am

    Brad essentially wants to give the American people of the late 18th century power over the American people of today. The notion that because something wasn’t an issue in 1788 means government can’t address it now is just weird. It misses the entire point of what the Constitution is, which is an instrument of self-government that We, the People, can use to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,” etc., as we see fit.

    For example, people in 1788 didn’t know what germs were. So does that mean the federal government should take no steps now to protect consumers from e coli backteria? The constitution doesn’t say a dadblamed thing about food and drug inspectors, you know. Or air traffic controllers, either.

    Weird, I say.

  15. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:49 am

    By the way, I have to be offline for a while. I’ll let you regulars argue with Brad on your own. Have fun.

  16. Ian  •  Dec 19, 2006 @12:07 pm

    Democracy has never been an adequate guard of liberty, as quite a few things in the history of this nation prove (such as slavery, segregation, the 16th Amendment, etc).

    True, of course. However, totally irrelevant to the argument of libertarians vs liberals.

    Government can and should be limited in what it can do. Obviously. One of the things I hate most about the current government is how far they’ve pushed the limits in what government can do … for example, by denying habeous corpus, by illegally wiretapping, by all kinds of ways.

    Everybody, but EVERYBODY agrees that government can and should be limited. Liberals focus more on limiting government intrusion into private life, conservatives focus more on government intrusion into business life, but all sides agree that there must be limitations.

    That, of course, is what Jefferson was arguing for … pure, ideal democracy is impossible, there must be limitations.

    The argument is what those limitations should be.

    Now, enter the libertarian who says “haha, democracy is just three wolves and two sheep voting on what’s for dinner, stupid liberals/conservatives/whatever!” Since all sides agree that limitations are necessary, this is either a mind-blowingly banal statement of a universally agreed upon principal (and therefore not actually an ‘argument for libertarianism’ so much as an ‘argument for the ignorance of the arguer of basic political principals’), OR it is an argument that democracy, as a system, can NEVER work, under ANY circumstances, and must be replaced with … well, with something else. What that ‘else’ is, is never really defined.

    -me

  17. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @12:07 pm

    “Brad essentially wants to give the American people of the late 18th century power over the American people of today.”

    Great strawman there, maha. I see you didn’t see my point about the ability to amend the Constitution, did you?

    In no way am I saying that we should give the American people of the late 18th century power over the American people of today. I am saying that we are a nation ruled by laws, not by men. And if you desire to change those laws. There is a process by which to do so within the law. Failure to follow that process, and wholly disregarding the Constitution, turns the Constitution into an empty document, to be shaped by the casual whims of the electorate.

    Again, just so I make my point clear, your argument is a blatant strawman. There is a major difference between the rule of law and the rule of men. When I state that we should be bound by the Constitution, I am not saying that the men of 1787 should rule us instead of the men of now. I am saying that we should be bound by the rule of law. That law was created in 1787, yes, but with built-in methods for changing it, which have been done numerous times over the past two centuries.

  18. Ian  •  Dec 19, 2006 @12:43 pm

    Then I assume you support breaking the postal monopoly on first-class mail, such that the mail could also be delivered by UPS and FedEx? If the government is efficient, they should be able to compete, right?

    I’m confused by what you mean here. What monopoly are you talking about? UPS and FedEx can deliver any mail that is given to them to deliver, can’t they? Not trying to argue anything here, just honestly don’t understand.

    -me

  19. KS  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:03 pm

    UPS cannot find my house, the post office finds it everday. UPS (or “Oops”) regularly leaves packages two houses down the road because they would rather trust their maps than the numbers painted on my house and mailbox or delivery instructions on the package.

    The Post Office regularly delivers packages between Alabama and London in less than a week for under 3 dollars. UPS chooses not to offer that service at that price. I choose not to use UPS.

  20. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:18 pm

    Ian,

    I’m talking about this monopoly.

    KS,

    Again, I assume (as from the above link), then, that you’d have no problem breaking the USPS monopoly on first-class mail? You can continue to choose not to use a non-government service, and the rest of us can have the choice to use whichever service we prefer.

  21. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:35 pm

    Ian,

    So we both agree that government should be limited. Maha’s argument appears to be that the limit should be determined by the actions of Congress, since they are the extension of the will of “the people”. And that “we” shouldn’t let pesky things like the enumeration of powers contained in the Constitution get in the way of that.

  22. KS  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:36 pm

    Brad: You assume wrong. Go ahead and use whatever service you want to use, nobody’s stopping you. Put your money where your mouth is.

    Do you really think that first class mail service will be improved by breaking up the monopoly? Do you also want to privatize federal highways?

  23. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:41 pm

    As for libertarianism and democracy, the two are completely unrelated concepts.

    Libertarianism is a moral philosophy that values Liberty. Democracy is a form of government. Libertarianism is an end, Democracy is a means. Obviously libertarians are not in favor of unbridled democracy, because unbridled democracy often leads to ends that are quite anti-Liberty.

  24. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:48 pm

    KS: “Go ahead and use whatever service you want to use, nobody’s stopping you.”

    Read the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Postal_Service#Statutory_monopoly

    Nobody’s stopping me? I would think that the statutory monopoly protecting the USPS is most definitely stopping me. The USPS opened up part of the monopoly, such that if I want to send a piece of letter mail overnight, they’ll ALLOW UPS to send it for me. However, if I want to give UPS a piece of letter mail to be sent in a non-urgent manner, the government has made it illegal.

    That’s what a monopoly is. It’s the government physically stopping other competitors from entering the marketplace. You are saying that by retaining the monopoly, I should not be free to give a non-urgent piece of mail to UPS to deliver for me utilizing their standard ground service, but I should ONLY be allowed to give them “extremely urgent” mail. And that if I give them “extremely urgent” mail, UPS is required by law to charge me $3 or double what the USPS would charge, whichever is greater.

    So again, somebody is clearly stopping me.

  25. KS  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:57 pm

    I don’t have a problem with this particular monopoly. It seems to be working.

  26. KS  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:01 pm

    How much non-urgent mail are you sending? Are you sure that a non-UPS entity will absolutely do a better job and charge less? Or do you want to pay more to have non-urgent messages delivered.

    Oh yeah: Are you in favor of privatizing the federal highway system?

  27. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:05 pm

    So we both agree that government should be limited. Maha’s argument appears to be that the limit should be determined by the actions of Congress, since they are the extension of the will of “the people”. And that “we” shouldn’t let pesky things like the enumeration of powers contained in the Constitution get in the way of that.

    No, what I’m saying is that it’s way too stupid to say that just because the Constitution, for example, doesn’t specifically say that Congress can print paper money that we can’t have paper money, or that if the Constitution doesn’t mention air traffic controllers that we can’t have air traffic controllers. The Constitution lays out broad parameters within which Congress can legislate to meet the needs of people. If the Constitution is interpreted in such a tightly constricted way that it can’t respond to the problems that people want government to address today (but didn’t exist in 1787), then it’s worthless.

  28. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:09 pm

    Libertarianism is a moral philosophy that values Liberty.

    It does not value liberty because it doesn’t protect liberty.
    The moral philosophy that actually does value liberty is called “liberalism.”

  29. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:18 pm

    Libertarianism used to be called liberalism, before socialists took the word “liberalism” away from us. They’re starting to move on to “progressive”, so maybe after a decade or to, we can wash their stink off the word liberal, and reclaim it.

  30. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:33 pm

    The Constitution is written in such a way as to give the Federal government very limited powers, and letting most of these issues be handled by the States.

    Article I, Section 8 gives explicitly defined spheres of power, and states that Congress shall have all power to create laws “necessary and proper” to those spheres. Before the New Deal, it was understood that for Congress to do something like enact an Income Tax or prohibit the production/sale/distribution/etc of alcohol would require changes to the Constitution. Since the New Deal, it has been assumed that Congress can do basically whatever it wants (as enacting a social security payroll tax or beginning a “War on Drugs” would illustrate).

    The Constitution’s strict limits have been watered down for centuries by the Supreme Court. The expansion of the “necessary and proper” clause is crucial, as it has been redefined to mean that Congress can create any law peripherally associated with an enumerated power. The Supreme Court has apparently forgotten about both the 9th and 10th amendments. A lot of people get deep into the “commerce clause”, which has expanded, but its expansion is really an extension of the watering down of the “necessary and proper” clause.

    By our Court’s current understanding of the Constitution, something like Air Traffic Control would be just fine, as it is a law “necessary and proper” to “regulate Commerce … among the several States”. By the initial understanding of the Constitution, we probably would have required a Constitutional Amendment to create a Federal air traffic control system.

    You’re right, in that without watering down the Constitution, we couldn’t do all these magical things you want to do. I would say that it does not necessary follow, however, that these are things the Federal Government needs to be doing, nor that they wouldn’t be done if the Feds weren’t doing them.

  31. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:34 pm

    Note: For anyone still following along on this discussion, I recommend a book by Randy Barnett titled “Restoring the Lost Constitution”. If you want to understand the exact ways our Constitution has been watered down over the last 200+ years, it will really give you a very clear look at it.

  32. fshk  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:47 pm

    Jefferson thought we’d have to draft a new Constitution every few years to meet the changing needs of the people. That’s why there’s breadth; the Founders knew they couldn’t anticipate the needs of the people 200 years in the future, particularly in a country with an expanding geographical area.

    If we’re going along with the premise that libertarianism is anti-government, then it’s also fair to say that that it doesn’t address protecting or ensuring liberty. The philosophers the Founders were reading lived in an era of oppressive monarchies and were conemplating questions like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there were no government?” (only, you know, however you’d say that if you lived in 17th Century Europe) and still concluded that government was necessary to preserve and protect life, liberty, and property. Libertarianism argues for the least amount of government possible to prevent us all from going primal but doesn’t do much to ensure that basic liberties are protected and defended, does it? Liberty doesn’t necessarily follow life with no rules.

  33. Ian  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:53 pm

    In ref the mail monopoly… Didn’t know about that. Will have to think about it.

    The first thing that come to mind, tho, is the US Office of Inspector General. That office can protect me from cetrtain types of fraud, etc, from showing up in my mailbox. Private services will have no such guarantee, unless they go out of their way to duplicate the function of the OIG, and even then, how can we as citizens know for sure WHAT they’re up to? For an example of why that might be a bad thing, look in the inbox of whatever e-mail account you use for ordering stuff off the web. I’d really hate to see my physical mailbox stuffed to overflowing with offers for vi@gr@ and nigerian bankers that want to move a million dollars out of country and they just need my bank account number to do it….

    The second thing that comes to mind is the fact that much much of where USPS delivers will be highly unprofitable for private business, but the USPS delivers there, in the same amount of time, and for the same amount of money, as anywhere else.

    Destroy the monopoly completely and IF private business really is THAT much more efficient, there is a chance the USPS will be driven “out of business” (ie the scope and need for USPS would shrink so much, so fast, that short-sighted politicians would axe it in order to be seen to be reducing unnecesary spending)

    In that case, what guarantees do we have that mail will continue to be cheap, fast, and private for people who are unprofitable? What guarantees do we have that mail will even continue to be AVAILABLE for the unprofitable?

    Hmmm … the existence of the USPS guarantees EVERY citizen of the USA the right to be able to drop a piece of mail in a convenient location, ANYWHERE in the country, and have it get to ANYWHERE else in the country within a few days, untampered with. How do we guarantee private companies would provide the same guarantee?

    And if private companies would NOT be that much more efficient than the USPS … what, exactly, is the motivation for screwing with something that seems to be working well already?

    -me

  34. Steve  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:22 pm

    Brad,

    I think you are changing the subject, which is that a government entity can be run relatively efficiently, and to great benefit of society. Whether or not the Post Office should or could compete with UPS and FedEx is irrelevant. However, as someone who works for a small company that ships many packages a day to customers around the U.S., I much prefer dealing with the USPS than UPS.

  35. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:23 pm

    “For an example of why that might be a bad thing, look in the inbox of whatever e-mail account you use for ordering stuff off the web. I’d really hate to see my physical mailbox stuffed to overflowing with offers for vi@gr@ and nigerian bankers that want to move a million dollars out of country and they just need my bank account number to do it….”

    There are some scams already done by regular mail. However, sending an email is basically free, and sending a letter costs money. There is a physical cost to printing and mailing paper, which IMHO explains a lot of why this isn’t found in regular mail. The same is true with junk faxes. It’s not expensive to send (but more expensive than email), so my office fax line gets about 3-4 junk faxes a week. That’s an economic issue, not a regulatory issue.

    “The second thing that comes to mind is the fact that much much of where USPS delivers will be highly unprofitable for private business, but the USPS delivers there, in the same amount of time, and for the same amount of money, as anywhere else.”

    There you have a point. Other providers have a tiered service. For example, I’m assuming if UPS were sending a letter one state over, it might cost me $0.10. If I were sending one to Alaska, it might cost $0.75. Breaking the monopoly would ensure that when I have something that’s going nearby, I’d use UPS, and if I were sending something cross-country, I’d use USPS. However, isn’t that an indictment of USPS’s business model, that it doesn’t in any way account for the higher costs associated with shipping things farther?

    “In that case, what guarantees do we have that mail will continue to be cheap, fast, and private for people who are unprofitable? What guarantees do we have that mail will even continue to be AVAILABLE for the unprofitable?”

    None. I’m not offering guarantees. What I can tell you is that the free market has a decided history of providing these services better than government. But I’m not offering a guarantee of anything. I’m asking for freedom to try.

    Of course, as an example, I could point out to the history of the telephone. Once the government started getting *OUT* of the regulation market, telephone service added lots of new features without really increasing in cost.

    “And if private companies would NOT be that much more efficient than the USPS … what, exactly, is the motivation for screwing with something that seems to be working well already?”

    If private companies won’t be more efficient, they won’t make money. If private companies can’t provide the service better than the government, they won’t provide the service. If they can provide the service better than the government, though, think of what we have to GAIN.

  36. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:39 pm

    Steve,

    I wasn’t intending to change the subject. However, doesn’t the USPS run at a deficit every year?

  37. KS  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:40 pm

    Are there any companies that are being harmed by the Post Office monopoly? If so, why aren’t they trying to get the monopoly overturned?

    How about baseball? How do the Libertarians feel about that monopoly?

  38. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:42 pm

    Ian,

    I did find this link, which talks about several nations which have demonopolized their postal services, with lower costs for consumers, profits for the companies involved, and no loss of service to rural areas.

  39. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:45 pm

    KS,

    Explain what you mean by the baseball monopoly? Are you talking about the fact that MLB is a closed league which only has a certain number of teams?

    That’s not necessarily a monopoly, because there is no coercive force of government stopping other baseball teams or leagues from opening. Baseball isn’t that great of an example of my end of the point, but what about football? The NFL, if you consider MLB to be a monopoly, would have been an equal monopoly years ago. But that was before the Arena Football League. It still doesn’t have the market power that the NFL does, but it consistently grows in popularity. They attempted to bring in the XFL a few years ago, which was a flop, but hey, not everyone wins in competition.

  40. KS  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:49 pm

    Brad, the Post Office is operating at a profit: http://www.usps.com/financials/ar/welcome.htm

    They get high approval ratings from the public too.

  41. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:09 pm

    KS,

    Thanks for the link. I wasn’t sure on that one.

  42. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:16 pm

    What I can tell you is that the free market has a decided history of providing these services better than government.

    No, it doesn’t. The postal service has been federal since, well federal began. Benjamin Franklin thought up the original postal service, as I recall. And my understanding is that our postal service is actually quite good compare to other countries’.

    If you are aware of a nation with competing privately owned postal services that move as much volume of mail as our does, and as quickly, at less cost, trot it out. Let’s have a look at it. Until then — there is no such history, son. You’re blowing smoke.

    The thing is that the “private is always better than public” myth is a pile of crap, as I wrote here. There are some sorts of things the private sector does much better than the public sector, but the reverse is also true. Deregulation and privatization are not the magic elixirs that libertarians claim they are.

  43. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:19 pm

    BTW, Brad, since you’re alone here arguing for your “position” and not actually persuading anyone, do you want to wrap it up soon? I don’t allow trolls to monopolize comment threads forever here.

  44. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:20 pm

    I guess someone needs to tell that to the father of the 3 cent stamp.

  45. Brad Warbiany  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:24 pm

    “Troll”? I’m offended! You were the one who wrote a big long post to blast one of my co-bloggers from The Liberty Papers…

    But yes, I can wrap it up. I’m going to visit a neighbor, his wife, and their new baby tonight, so I need to get this wrapped up anyway.

  46. Ian  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:33 pm

    Like i said, I’ll have to think about and research this one.

    However, I think the basic point is that regardless of whether or not private entities would be able to do it any better, the USPS is an example of a government run program that provides a massive amount of service to a massive amount of people, and does it well AND does it cheap.

    With the health care system in this country, we don’t have to speculate about whether or not private entities would be able to do it efficiently… The health case system in this country is broken, irretrievably. And it’s only getting worse as time goes by.

    A government run program to provide health care to every citizen of this country, if as successful as the USPS , would be reliable, universal, and relatively cheap. All of which gets back to the original original point … big government does not necessarily equal bad government. It’s not the size of the government, but how you use it. Which further implies that we should NOT be trying to cut OR grow the size of the government, we should be attempting to make the size of the government be the correct size for what we want it to do.

    -me

  47. Adam Selene  •  Dec 19, 2006 @5:59 pm

    I love this title:

    Another Rightie Who Can’t Read

    There is a fundamental lack of understanding in viewing the political spectrum as a simple right/left line. I could spend hundreds of words explaining that there are anarcho-syndicalists and authoritarian capitalists, neither of whom fit a simplistic left/right model. I could point out that libertarians are anarcho-capitalists and detests the American “right” (i.e. George W. and Co) as much as the American “left”, but I suspect that would all be wasted words.

    Instead, I’ll tackle just one thing that our esteemed author posts:

    The Bill of Rights enumerates which things the government does not have the power to do, meaning that no government official or political faction can use government to do those enumerated things.

    Ummmm, nice use of the word enumerated, but have you actually read the Constitution? The entire Constitution is about enumerating those limited powers that “We, the people” intend to allow the government to have. In order to protect ourselves from ourselves, we deliberately made it difficult to amend the document. The intent was to have a government that could only do specific things, and nothing else. The intent was NOT to have the people be the government. The Founding Fathers knew the dangers of democracy and did everything possible to guard against it. They also knew the dangers of an unaccountable elite and did everything possible to guard against it.

    They also knew that folks like maha would try to undo the limiting effects built into the system. Thus we have comments like Ben Franklin (A republic, madam, if you can keep it) and Thomas Jefferson (The tree of liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants). History had shown that revolution against both elite and populist tyrants was necessary. Today, we have managed to give ourselves both, simultaneously.

  48. Adam Selene  •  Dec 19, 2006 @6:07 pm

    Ian:

    it is an argument that democracy, as a system, can NEVER work, under ANY circumstances, and must be replaced with … well, with something else. What that ‘else’ is, is never really defined.

    1. Democracy cannot work. It will always result in a tyranny of the majority. Check history books to find out the results of pure democracy.

    2. What ‘else’ is well defined. A constitutional republic with limited, enumerated powers. If it turns out that the 21st century demands the government have powers that the 18th century didn’t foresee, those guys were pretty smart. They provided the amendment process. Is there some reason you don’t want to amend the constitution?

  49. marijam  •  Dec 19, 2006 @6:09 pm

    For the record, Ayn Rand was against ‘pure libertarianism’ and said that she was anti-statist, not anti-state. Taken to its utmost limits, being anti-statist leads to Marxism and/or anarchy. Ayn Rand was certainly not for either of those. Also, as anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged will know, she was most against those who would take the work product of others as their own. She never said beans about not paying ones taxes, or taking someone else’s money to use for others – except when it came to altruism which she said should not be coercized, but again, this was mostly in regards to work product and not functions of a republic style democracy which she was definitely for.

  50. Adam Selene  •  Dec 19, 2006 @6:16 pm

    maha:

    I don’t allow trolls to monopolize comment threads forever here.

    You clearly don’t know what a troll is. Apparently it is, to you, someone that disagrees with your positions and does so publicly.

  51. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @6:37 pm

    Adam: Ooo, I just love psuedo intellectuals who deduce everything they need to know about me from one blog post title.

    You may not be familiar with the Maha Doctrine of No Ideology. It says: Any ideology taken to logical extremes will self-destruct or turn into something very different. That’s true of pure capitalism or pure democracy or pure socialism or pure communism or pure libertarianism or pure anything else. And anyone who thinks HIS particular ideology is the answer to all of society’s problems is a damn fool.

    Ideologies are, essentially, strategies to make the world easier to understand by limiting one’s cognitive options. Most ideologies that last more than a couple of weeks work within certain parameters. But sooner or later they become corrupted by factors they didn’t anticipate (those pesky cognitive options the ideology doesn’t consider). And then they fail.

    The difference between a realist and an ideologue is that, when a realist sees failure, he adjusts his ideology. When an ideologue sees failure, he makes excuses and clings to his ideology even tighter. In extreme cases the ideologue will be unable to see the failure. (See my series, “People With One Watch, Part I, Part II, and Part III.”)

    That said, civilization requires some kind of parameters, and at the moment we’re struggling along with a democratic republic. It ain’t perfect, but it’s what we’ve got, and I can’t think of a better alternative. The U.S. does not have a pure democracy or a purely majoritarian system (the Bill of Rights sees to that). But at the same time, a 21st century first world industrialized nation faces a whole lot of issues that the Framers of the Constitution could not imagine, and a government that limited itself as strictly as Brad wants it to be restricted would be utterly inadequate to deal with the issues we’re facing or to guide the ship of state in any direction but down the shithole.

    I’m not saying to abandon the Constitution; I’m saying to not be so damned left brained about it.

    I do not think the Founders meant for the Constitution to limit what We, the People, could do to forge progress and better our way of life. The Constitution was intended to be an instrument of self-government, and you and Brad clearly are in denial about that.

    And if you knew anything at all about history, you’d realize that if the nation had gone through an amendment process every time a matter was legislated that was not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, you’d need a damn truck to haul around just one copy of the amendments. Libraries would be filled. And it would all be worthless by now.

    The problem is not that the Constitution has been “watered down”; the problem (for you) is that most of us are not as rigidly linear and left-brained as you are, and can understand that interpreting the Constitution to fit new realities is not watering it down, but reaffirming it.

    Now, until you and Brad begin to demonstrate some spark of comprehension (frankly, I think most of this discussion has sailed over your heads), please leave.

  52. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @6:37 pm

    Actually, I’ve decided that Adam is a big enough asshole he can leave now. He’s done.



    About this blog



    About Maha
    Comment Policy

    Vintage Mahablog
    Email Me
















    The Mahablog

    ↑ Grab this Headline Animator



    Support This Site





    site design and daughterly goodness

    eXTReMe Tracker












      Technorati Profile