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Putting Government in Charge of Everything, Consumer Financial Division

We hear complaints when government is slow and inefficient, with Congress receiving the greatest volume of such complaints, but that’s a key point.  When an organization is empowered to confiscate people’s property, change the rules of the economy and society, put people in jail, and even kill them, we should want it to be structured such that it is difficult to abuse and that it doesn’t make sense to use it to undertake too many activities within our society.

This morning’s post on HealthSource fits into this category, as does Iain Murray’s observations of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in the case, PHH Corp. v. CFPB, that the Bureau’s structure was unconstitutional and ordered that Cordray should report to the President. Under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, which created the CFPB, the President has no power to remove the CFPB Director except for malfeasance, and Congress has no power to restrict the Bureau’s operations through the appropriations process, as the Bureau draws its budget from the Federal Reserve, itself an independent agency. The Court deems the CFPB’s unaccountable structure unconstitutional, saying that it posed a “risk of arbitrary decisionmaking [sic] and abuse of power” and “a threat to individual liberty.”

Sounds momentous. But you will find no mention of the judgment on the CFPB’s website, and so far the Bureau’s only action has been to file a brief in an unrelated case saying that the ruling “has no basis in the text of the Constitution or in Supreme Court case law,” and that, “The panel decision was wrongly decided and is not likely to withstand further review.”

Read the rest if you haven’t been following the antics of the CFPB.  The lawless agency has been imposing fees retroactively in what can only be described as extortion.

Next, move such boards — including all quasi-publics, government-aligned non-profits, and corporation-like entities like HealthSource — up on your list of things about which to be concerned and by which to judge the people whom you elect.


The Price of Being Victimized

John DePetro has continued his attention to the most critical story of the day: letters to the editor and yoga pants in Barrington.  Saturday, he spoke with the letter writer, Alan Sorrentino, who said that he’d received death threats and was reminded of intimidation he felt in the past as a homosexual man.  This morning, DePetro tweeted Sorrentino’s claim that the Barrington police wanted him to pay for the detail they dispatched to his house the day of the parade.

As I suggested when I wrote about this story on Friday, the whole thing has the feeling of a TV comedy show (see, e.g.), but that doesn’t mean the lessons aren’t real and important.  As much as the people involved may be comedic — Sorrentino now insists he wrote his letter in the persona of somebody who would actually disgust him and the yoga fascists, well, they’re comedic outright — death threats are simply not acceptable.

If Sorrentino correctly understood the Barrington police, that request is unacceptable, too.  Grievance mobs simply cannot be permitted to impose government costs on their victims.

Whether people laugh at this turn of events or not, the effect on public dialogue cannot be doubted.  Anybody thinking of expressing opinions that aren’t perfectly in line with the politically correct, self righteous mobs will think again, and we’ll all be poorer for it.


More of the Vicious Progressive Playbook Becomes Evident

Writing about James O’Keefe’s latest videos and one of its central characters, Democrat operative Robert Creamer, Stanley Kurtz notes that he’s a long-time ally of Barack Obama’s.  Kurtz’s essay ends with a quote from a book that Creamer wrote while in jail for financial crimes, and it casts light not only on the behavior of our current president and the amped up gaslighting many have observed in recent months and years, but also the strategies of progressive activists all the way down to the local level:

In general our strategic goal with people who have become conservative activists is not to convert them—that isn’t going to happen. It is to demoralize them—to ‘deactivate’ them. We need to deflate their enthusiasm, to make them lose their ardor and above all their self-confidence…[A] way to demoralize conservative activists is to surround them with the echo chamber of our positions and assumptions. We need to make them feel that they are not mainstream, to make them feel isolated… We must isolate them ideologically…[and] use the progressive echo chamber…By defeating them and isolating them ideologically, we demoralize conservative activists directly. Then they begin to quarrel among themselves or blame each other for defeat in isolation, and that demoralizes them further.

It would go too far to assume that Creamer’s book is a hidden guide that progressives prominent and unknown have memorized, but the above does indicate that such notions are in the air among them, and the standard rhetoric of progressives across the board proves that Creamer isn’t on his own in promoting these sentiments.

Most disconcerting is his emphasis on demoralization.  This is war to progressives.  The first assumption that non-progressives should make is that they are not really interested in dialogue, consensus, and harmonious living.  They want power and “the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless,” as Orwell put it.

Adding this tidbit to the running list of revelations about how the Clinton camp, the Democrat Party, and progressives generally think and operate, perhaps the most critical lesson for conservatives is that it is a strategic ruse.  Knowing what it is should help us to avoid feeling demoralized, as they desire.  Take their insults and their insistence that we’re alone as fuel, as reason to persist.

As for the advisable counter strategy, at this level of spiritual warfare (which is ultimately what this is) fighting fire with fire will not work, particularly where they have the advantage, which they do in popular culture.  Rather, we have to fight fire with water, which means upholding standards, adhering to a principle that everybody has value and deserves our attention and patience, and simply being better people than they are.  Judging from Creamer’s writings and O’Keefe’s videos, that shouldn’t be difficult to do.

People are generally good, and few can keep up a strategy that requires them to be unjust if their victims don’t reinforce the bullies’ hatred with a sense that it’s kill or be killed.


Unsightly Yoga Pants, Unsightly Politics

Rhode Islanders’ first reaction to the Providence Journal’s front page, today, might be, “What? A local yoga-pants letter-to-the-editor controversy on the front page?”  With some meta-analysis, though, the story’s a bit too perfect.

The most obvious observation is that the story is another contribution to the Hillary Clinton campaign, in the long line of stories to build up her woman-power narrative.  In this regard, the Providence Journal is just playing its role fomenting division and separating people from each other so politicians in the Democrat Party can capitalize on people’s aggravation and feelings of disconnect and powerlessness.

The story could also be seen as an upscale community’s sit-com take on current events, as a commentary on liberals’ fascist urge to escalate every issue to the point of personal confrontation and violence for the express purpose of forcing others to back down.  In Orwell’s 1984 the Party lured citizens into violations in order to crack down on them and make them suffer.  That was the point.  Party boss O’Brien tells our hero, Winston, the following.  (I quote the most relevant part, but readers should find the long paragraph in the middle of the page and read it for its astonishing relevance to our time)

There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever.

Some women (and men) are planning a parade in yoga pants down the street of a man who did nothing but express an opinion about appropriate clothing (published in a forum that only a portion of even his town’s residents encounter on a regular basis).  If it happens, the event will be mainly than an opportunity for some people to live out the fantasy of valor on a Sunday afternoon by reveling in somebody else’s powerlessness.

As with their attempt to stop the newspaper from allowing such views to be published, the parade’s effect — its intended effect — will be to warn others away from expressing views to which fascist agitators like Erin Johnson of Barrington might object.  In matters of disagreement with the self-righteous, only those willing to depart from the challenges of their daily lives in order to escalate the fight will push back, isolating the great majority of people who just want to go about life in harmony and forcing them to choose between extremes.  (Nevermind that one of the extremes is largely fictional.)

Our society once strove to encourage discussion of differing points of view to foster understanding and to resolve those differences in a way that we used to call “civil.” Guess those days are done.


The Problem When Government’s an Economic Player

This should be an uncontroversial story offering the latest in medical thinking on a vaccine:

Since the HPV vaccine went on sale a decade ago, three doses have been needed. The panel decided Wednesday that two doses are enough.  

“It will be simpler now for parents to get their kids the HPV vaccine series, and protect their kids from HPV cancers,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As readers of the Current know, Rhode Island responded (arguably) more strongly than any state in the country to the nationwide push to mandate that all students receive this vaccine — which is produced by a single company — as a condition of attending school.  That nationwide push makes one think it awfully convenient that the government would recommend 50% more shots than it now says is necessary.

On the other hand, with ObamaCare, government is increasingly (and disastrously) involved in handling payments for health care, and excess vaccines may not make the cut as it balances its desire to make people pay for other people’s services with the voting-and-campaign-donating payers’ willingness to sit idly by as their wallets are raided.  With premiums continuing to rise, and the government positioned to take the blame, spending isn’t all fun and games.

Obviously, these two dynamics are not mutually exclusive.  The government may have loved the idea of prodding consumers toward excessive utilization of a monopoly drug while it wasn’t so directly visible in the funding stream, but is now reevaluating the corporate cronyism in light of its own accountability.

So if we take away the government’s incentive to meddle, what would be the recommended dosage of this vaccine?  Unfortunately, the question points to the most profound reason to resist society-by-government.  Who knows?  The same entity we’re supposed to trust to give us an analysis of the data is in bed with those who profit from higher recommendations and on the hook if the prices get too high.

Somewhere in this great muddle of health care policy, there’s the intention that government agencies could be objective voices coming to conclusions on the basis of medical science and leaving the market to work out the consequences and individuals to make decisions about resulting priorities.  Trust in that intention has now reached the point of naiveté, and we’ll all be poorer and less healthy for it as long as we allow it to continue.


Sticking with Principles Isn’t Retreat

With an eye on the moral-legal weather vane, Wesley Smith notes the move afoot in Canada to force Catholic hospitals to kill people who want to be killed.  Quoting the Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provision on “conscience and religion,” he writes (emphasis his):

That’s an explicit and enumerated right.

If that right is to retain any heft, Catholic and other religiously-affiliated institutions should promise to close their doors before buckling under to the boot of the state.

That would leave Canadians with a choice: Do they want more good hospitals available, some of which won’t allow euthanasia, or would they prefer fewer facilities all of which willingly allow homicide.

Progressives’ political calculation on such matters puts morally traditional institutions in a difficult position.  The progressives rightly understand that Catholics (for instance) engage in these activities because we feel called to do so in order to help others and because we understand that only a visible light can attract wanderers (i.e., only public behavior can attract converts).

As a strategy, therefore, the Left seeks to corrupt those activities or to drive Catholics out.  We can keep doing them, but only if we continue to shrink the observable difference between our practices and those of the secular world.  As Smith’s example illustrates, the preferred method is to further make Catholics do things that seem to prove some teaching or other of the Church’s negotiable.

The other option is for traditionalists to do as Smith suggests and close up shop.  Such an action, while powerful as a threat, also opens us to the accusation that we care about some controversial social policy more than helping people, including clients, employees, and communities.

Unfortunately, we’re getting to the point that this is the better option.  The tests will become harder and the demands for compromise more thorough and more forceful.  If we’re to salvage the principles that define us, moving sooner is better than waiting for resistance to become even more difficult.

That doesn’t mean going about our lives, though.  It means moving back a step and making the charitable activities more fundamental.  Take the lesson of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  If Catholics can’t operate a hospital, per se, then we should find some way to help those whom hospitals won’t take or for whom they can’t do anything.  We should go out in the community and help people to do such things as keep them out of hospitals, and so on.

That is, if we don’t replace charitable occupations with some other activity of life, but with more charity, it will be clear that we didn’t choose our pro-life, pro-marriage, or pro-whatever stance over helping people, but were pushed away from doing more good because progressives have made society into a moral trap.


Ignorance of Ourselves: The Lesson Never Learned

Reading Richard Ebeling’s brief summary of the economic misadventures of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-312 AD), the striking lesson is how stunningly we fail to learn the lessons of history, with Venezuela’s being a recent example:

Michael Ivanovich Rostovtzeff, a leading historian on the ancient Roman economy, offered this summary in his Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire(1926):

“The same expedient [a system of price and wage controls] have often been tried before him [Diocletian] and was often tried after him. As a temporary measure in a critical time, it might be of some use. As a general measure intended to last, it was certain to do great harm and to cause terrible bloodshed, without bringing any relief. Diocletian shared the pernicious belief of the ancient world in the omnipotence of the state, a belief which many modern theorists continue to share with him and with it.”

Finally, as, again, Ludwig von Mises concluded, the Roman Empire began to weaken and decay because it lacked the ideas and ideology that are necessary to build upon and safeguard a free and prosperous society: a philosophy of individual rights and free markets.

Ebeling details that there is much more to the error than simple price controls.  One underlying theme, however, of which we can’t lose sight is the hubris of the central planner.  As with quantitative easing, the planners don’t see themselves as flailing around looking for some solution.  They really think they’ve got a workable idea.  They aren’t entirely dismissive of the risks; they just think the risks are minimal.

And for the most part, the piece they’re missing is the likely response of the people.  Ebeling peppers his essay with descriptions of people’s reactions to Diocletian’s heavy-handed economic policies, and they all seem obvious.  We can guess, though, that they weren’t obvious to Diocletian.  If only he’d been able to imagine what he would do if he were in the position of his subjects.  If our own elites could do the same.


Pressure Builds when Twisting Culture and Blocking Legitimate Grievance

Matthew Continetti is worth a read, related to my midday theme, yesterday.  He quotes John Marini’s suggestion that: “The American people themselves did not participate or consent to the wholesale undermining of their way of life, which government and the bureaucracy helped to facilitate by undermining those institutions of civil society that were dependent upon a public defense of the old morality.”  As Continetti elaborates:

Marini refers to institutions such as the family, church, and school, institutions charged with forming the character of a citizen, of instructing him in codes of morality and service, in the traditions and history of his country, in the case of the church directing him spiritually and providing him a definitive account of the cause and purpose of life. These are precisely the institutions that have been brought under the sway of bureaucracies and courts heavily insulated from elections, from public opinion, from majority rule. And as the public has lost authority over decision-making in the private sphere, as the culture has become more alien, more bewildering, more hostile to “the old morality,” as President Clinton keeps saying rather fatuously that the fates of Kenya and Kentucky are linked, is it any wonder voters have sought out a vehicle for their disgust and opposition?

“Undermining” is a good image, given the notion of removing the foundations of a structure.  As I’ve written with respect to same-sex marriage, government didn’t create or even really enforce the cultural understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman.  Rather, it simply recognized the cultural institution.  By expanding government’s involvement in our lives and then redefining marriage on its own terms, radicals used government to knock down supports for the institution.

We saw this very quickly, when Catholic adoption service providers in Massachusetts were forced to choose between their faith and their accreditation.  The radicals couldn’t abide a group that focused its services on situations according with its beliefs because the true goal was to undermine the group’s ability to affect the culture.

Marini and Continetti emphasize the unelected bureaucracy, but even our elections are becoming something of a sham, not the least in the sheer scope on which we’re supposed to make our decisions.  Sure, theoretically, if the people of Massachusetts didn’t like the decisions of the state’s bureaucracy, it could have elected officials who would force a change, but even putting aside the mammoth task of changing the bureaucratic blob, voters must cast their votes as a single statements covering activities across their lives.

The fate of Catholic adoption may be a consideration, but economic policies and others that affect how each of us lives our lives are in the mix, too.  In that regard, many voters are effectively bought off, and large, ideologically driven institutions (like the university and the news media) devote themselves to muddying the waters, while activists (now with flush budgets courtesy of Obama’s federal government) seek to impose social and financial consequences to anybody who speaks up against their views.


Profit Versus Public Service

Here’s an interesting conversation between somebody who manages public parks via a private-sector contract and a park ranger (via Instapundit):

Ranger:  I think it’s wrong that you make a profit on public lands

Me:  So you work for free?

Ranger:  Huh?

Me:  If you think it’s wrong to make money on public lands, I assume you must volunteer, else you too would be making money on public lands

Ranger:  No, of course I get paid.

Me:  Well, I know what I make for profit in your District, and I have a good guess what your salary probably is, and I can assure you that you make at least twice as much as me on these public lands.

Ranger:  But that is totally different.

I’ve periodically written about this general faith among government employees and their big-government sympathizers that “public service” is more akin to a higher calling for which one is compensated because it is just such an honorable thing to do.  To some degree, the sentiment is part of the mythology that enables labor unions and progressives to turn their supporters into a sort of cult.

Government union members must implicitly believe that they are sacrificing something, or else they would have to admit that their unions’ activities are wholly inappropriate, bordering on extortion and theft.  This may not have been the case, at one point, but we’re well beyond its being undeniable.  Similarly, progressives must implicitly believe that their motives are pure and non-ideological, or else they have no basis for asserting their vision of “progress” as objective or for offering their judgment as a better guide for the centralized plans that form their political philosophy.

In narrow cases, as in the conversation above, the dispute will likely be worked out over time, as private contracting becomes a larger and larger part of government activity (for better and worse).  When it comes to the progressive movement toward an ever-broader scope of centralized government activity, on the other hand, there may be no cure but to crash and rebuild.


Markets Judging Central Plan, Not Economy; Fed Stuck

I wonder if analysts of the future will look to our era and find one of the most telling dynamics to be that the investment markets don’t seem to be reacting positively or negatively to good or bad economic news in the way one would expect.  Instead of making decisions based on the likelihood that the economy will expand, investors seem most intent on watching the Federal Reserve and federal government for signs that the forced inflation of their assets will come to an end.

Even those who aren’t directly tapped into the government-corporate money flow take comfort in the idea that smart people with access to data and power can ensure that the economy hums along… sometimes slowing, sometimes bucking, but going forward as smoothly as reality will allow.  As comforting as it may be, that’s a fool’s belief.  Ultimately, the economy depends on your actions and mine and those of your neighbors and those of people around the world whom you will never even know exist.  People who could accurately predict the course of all of those decisions wouldn’t be government functionaries or even central bankers. They’d be quadrillionaires.

Take a moment to ponder this Washington Post article, as it appeared in the Providence Journal:

Two years ago, top officials at the Federal Reserve mapped out a strategy for withdrawing the central bank’s unprecedented support for the American economy.  

The official communiqué was titled “Policy Normalization Principles and Plans,” and it was supposed to serve as a rough outline for the tenure of newly installed Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen. Essentially, it consisted of two basic parts: Raise interest rates and shrink the central bank’s massive balance sheet.  

But now, both of those steps are being called into question as Fed officials grapple with an economy that appears to be stuck in first gear. Instead of executing its exit strategy, the Fed is confronting the possibility that the dramatic measures it took to safeguard the recovery will remain in place indefinitely.

When your plan consists entirely of backstopping and saturating the fortunes of financially powerful interests, you shouldn’t be surprised when those interests use their leverage to make it extremely difficult to turn off the spigot.  Once such a policy has been implemented, in the absence of a courageous will that central planners inevitably lack, it cannot be stopped, and it will not be stopped until the whole scheme collapses.

That collapse will take a huge amount of the wealth from these powerful interests, but it will most hurt everybody else, living much closer to the margin of survival.  Then, those in government and central banks will have another opportunity to decide whether to allow us to work out the economy’s problems through our individual decisions or to protect their wealthy friends again, as after the last crash.

I know which way I’ll continue to bet until America decides to decrease the power of the federal government and cut the strings that are pulling us toward central plans.


Social Services & Negotiating How Much to Take from Others

Sometimes it’s helpful to put stories in chronological order, rather than news-report order, as with this one, from today’s Providence Journal, concerning panhandling and homelessness in Providence:

Complaints about vagrancy, open drug-dealing and drinking exploded after Mayor Jorge O. Elorza decided months ago to stop enforcing ordinances against aggressive panhandling and loitering.

And now the news is that we’ve got Democrat Joseph Paolino getting the heartless 1% treatment because he’s only looking to get $100,000 from the Downtown Improvement District for social workers, along with jobs for two panhandlers, a free apartment for use of a homeless shelter, and up to $5 million in state taxpayer money, in combination with a whole new ordinance that would be even broader than the ones the mayor isn’t enforcing (stopping all transactions through a car window).  The activists protesting Paolino’s PR event have a more comprehensive list:

Less enforcement of minor criminal offenses against people who are poor; more jobs for panhandlers; funding for 150 housing vouchers; drug and alcohol treatment; and amenities such as a day center, public bathrooms and free food distribution. They want the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority bus terminal to remain.

The core of this proposal is to double down on the policy approach that created the controversy (non-enforcement) and to add into the mix amenities that will draw even more vagrants, dealers, and loiterers to the area.  The protesters chanted, “Whose city? Our city!,” and they sure want it to be evident in the public square each and every day.

In short, the only solutions on the table, apparently, involve a negotiation over how much taxpayers have to pay for how much additional imposition.  Both parts of the plan are sure to exacerbate the underlying problem: namely, a domineering government that strangles the private sector and creates incentives not to work or bring behavior within a tolerable range.

We need another approach that doesn’t treat people as categories or as social-workers’ statistics, but as free individuals (from independent families) who can determine their own destinies in a community of mutual respect and charity.  The longer we deny this necessary change of perspective, the more the government plaque will build up in society’s arteries, making it more and more difficult to clear them.


Start the Clock on UHIP Consequences

As Ted Nesi reports, the state’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) goes live, today.  Much of the focus has been the cost overruns to get the new software system active — nearing a half-billion dollars if the state gets approval from the federal government for some final additions.  But Rhode Islanders should be disconcerted by the vagueness of the talk:

But in an interview last week, EOHHS Deputy Secretary Jennifer Wood was adamant that the next year of UHIP spending will come nowhere near $124 million. She described the amount as an opening bid in months of discussions with federal and state officials over how many additional tools should be added to the system. …

“This is an all-in, integrated system,” [Deputy Secretary of Administration Wayne] Hannon said. “It includes basically one-stop shopping for anybody who could be eligible for these services in the state of Rhode Island. I believe it’s the first … fully integrated system [in the country].”

That’s Rhode Island: first in the nation for cutting-edge government, even though our experience had been that it mainly cuts into the private sector, families’ independence, and our quality of life.  What we should be asking is what kind of “tools” we’re talking about, here, especially since that cost is nearly what the state initially estimated for the entire project.

The bureaucrats are touting an expected reduction of improper payments, as the state is better able to determine actual eligibility, but the effect is likely to be opposite.  There’s a reason they call it “one-stop shopping.”  The idea is to ensure that nobody misses any benefits for which they’re eligible, even if they don’t know they need them.  It’s part of the “company state” push by governments in blue states to make public services the central industry bolstering an area that has lost its ability to compete in the global market, for whatever reason.

Of course, being on the cutting edge of the next step in government domination means Rhode Islanders will have the privilege of providing data for other states in the future.  So, we’ll have to wait and see whether the welfare roles decrease or increase, just as Medicaid enrollment shot up with the implementation of the health benefits exchange (HealthSource RI).  Naturally, the disclaimer is that the state government will have a variety of methods (and a whole lot of incentive) to obscure the reason for any budget-busting increases.


Two Steps Down Our Health Care Road

It sure was good of the British to embark on socialized medicine some decades ago.  If Americans were inclined to learn lessons from failed left-wing experiments, then this would be a great one:

Hospital leaders in North Yorkshire said that patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above – as well as smokers – will be barred from most surgery for up to a year amid increasingly desperate measures to plug a funding black hole. The restrictions will apply to standard hip and knee operations. …

Under the latest restrictions, patients in the catchment area who have a BMI of 30 or more will be barred from routine surgery for non-life-threatening conditions for a year, although they may secure a referral sooner if they shed 10 per cent of their weight. …

Smokers who refuse to quit will have planned operations postponed for six months, but may be included on surgeons’ waiting lists earlier by proving they have given up for at least eight weeks.

From this point, the argument could go in multiple ways.  “Why should we all finance the bad behavior of some people?” To which others might respond, “Who gets to pick these particular bad behaviors rather than, say, promiscuous sex?”  Alternately, “Are you saying that wealthy obese people should be able to buy knee operations while poorer people can’t get life-saving treatments at the same cost?”  To which the response might be, “Doesn’t this zero-sum game only arise because government has taken over the industry?”

The more immediate observation, though, is that progressives never seem to want us to get to these central questions until they’ve changed the system in their favor.  Prior to passage of ObamaCare, they proclaimed it a lie that the law might lead to panels that choose who gets operations and who doesn’t.  It will only be after the system is such that almost everybody is dependent on government for health care (or at least believes as much) that we’ll be permitted to have the discussion of whether government control is worthwhile with this as one of its consequences.

But that’s what puts the “progress” in “progressive”: One suspects they know what the end game looks like, but they want to ensure that the rest of us “progress” along convenient stages of finding out.


“Affordable” Farmland Means You Pay for Government Grabs

Naturally — no doubt in harmony with the philosophies of its core reader base — a Providence Journal article about the state government’s new program to buy farmland and sell it to beginner farmers at “a steep discount” is celebratory.  What’s not to love about a program that takes money away from people in order to heavily subsidize a space-intensive occupation to support businesses that may simply not make sense in this state while giving the government a new pretense for buying up land and even leasing it out as if to sharecroppers?

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago on this issue, I love the idea of nearby farms and local produce, but subsidizing them benefits the aesthetics and consumer choices of relatively wealthy people.  The way to preserve farmland would be to allow Rhode Islanders to keep more of their money and to lighten regulations so the economy could boom, thus leaving more room in household budgets for the experiential and quality benefits of buying local.

The cost isn’t the only red flag about such programs, though.  Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit insists that this program will be voluntary both for the farmer looking to sell his land and the farmer wishing to buy or lease it, but a “for now” is implied.  The 2010 document I cite at the link above, which further research has shown to be a starting point for much of this conversation, includes proposals for making “affordability permanent.”

The document doesn’t explain what that means, although a reader can reasonably infer the drafters were contemplating possibilities should state and federal budgets become too tight for tax-money handouts.  The first suggestion is to put language in “conservation easements” that would “give conservation organizations the right of first refusal to purchase the land at agricultural value.”  An FAQ from the state Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission defines “agricultural value” as the value of land after it has been reduced to account for the restriction that owners can only use it for farming.

As the Providence Journal article points out, that could be an 80% discount off the fair market value.  So, before a farmer could sell his land, a non-profit, a land trust, or even the state government would have to be given the option of buying it for 20% of its value.  As for the ultimate buyers, they’ll surely be restricted in what they can do, probably with requirements to follow government preferences, with allowance for bureaucrats to change the deal with the political winds.

Whether such additions to the program are currently on somebody’s secret to-do list or not, the example should remind us of the danger of taking such steps for feel-good government programs.  Once government is entrenched in the process of buying, selling, and operating farmland, government effectively controls the industry, and once we’ve decided this is a legitimate activity, we can be sure government will look to apply it to other industries, as well.

After all, what’s not to love?


Every Event Comes with Opportunity

A key question I’ve asked myself as I’ve tried to work through the appropriate response to our awful choices for the upcoming presidential election is what position each candidate would put the conservative movement in as president.  Even if we could count on them both to behave in exactly the same fashion, how they got to the presidency and how they are perceived could have a dramatic effect on the ability of people with a conservative view of policy to advance their beliefs.

In that regard, Ian Tuttle gives an important admonition that we ought to be prepared in the event of a Hillary Clinton victory:

Four years of Hillary Clinton will be enormously painful for conservatives. But millions of non-ideological Americans are going to be pained by it, too, and looking for an alternative. When 2020 rolls around, conservatives should have one to offer.

It has become clear beyond denial that mal-education means we can no longer count on the lessons of tradition, patriotism, and common sense to provide the answer for the second part of “not x, therefore y.”  It isn’t enough for us to say that things have gone wrong; we need to tell people how to set them right.  The hard part is that people won’t change their minds about the narrative with which they’ve been indoctrinated until we find that remnant of common sense that must exist by virtue of their being human beings.