Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.

Government Meddling Archive



January 2015



Who Wants an Internet Running at the Speed of Government?

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Government Meddling, Liberty & Limited Government

My most recent column for EveryJoe explains why the most recent proposals in the name of “net neutrality” are a bad idea.

Most agree that it would be bad for the internet if the service providers (ISPs) that connect users to the internet arbitrarily blocked or throttled access to certain sites. The internet has thrived as a bastion of freedom, and no one who appreciates the vast economic and social benefits derived from its emergence wants that to change. Yet due to their misunderstanding of both the architecture of the internet and the government’s interest in it, it is those who claim most loudly to want to save the internet that have put it in jeopardy.

By seeking to make the government arbiter of the net, agitators for regulation to enforce net neutrality would put responsibility for the net’s protection in the hands of those least capable of dealing with its complex and continuously evolving nature. To make matters worse, they would do so to fight off a largely imagined problem…

Read the rest here. I should add, because I may not have done a good enough job of this in the piece, that specific legislative proposals are not the same thing as ideas. You can get the warm and fuzzies over net neutrality (though as I argue in the piece there’s a lot of misunderstanding over even existing internet rules), and still not believe that government regulation is the way to go.

I also want to direct anyone looking for more info to TechFreedom.



June 2014



Another Industry In the Obama Administration’s Sites

Written by , Posted in Education, Government Meddling

The private sector is under assault from the Obama administration. We’ve seen it most famously with the war on coal, but as this post from Center for Freedom & Prosperity President Andrew Quinlan demonstrates, we can add for-profit higher education to the list. And once again, it is unelected regulators usurping legislative powers in order to eradicate entire industries:

Now, the Department of Education is targeting private-sector colleges through so-called “Gainful Employment” regulations. The rules not only punish an entire business model for the wrongdoings of a small few schools, but by closing one of the best avenues for working class adults to improve their education and increase employability, they also threaten jobs and the economy.

The proposed rules would cut off federal loan and financial-aid eligibility for programs that fail to meet certain federal standards, such as graduates with high student-loan debt relative to their earnings in the first few years after graduation. This is a deeply flawed approach for reasons both practical and philosophical.

While there is a strong case to be made for ending or severely reducing government financial support for higher education, allowing government to distort the market by picking winners and losers would be even worse than the current system of heavy subsidies. The “Gainful Employment” regulations amount to a thumb on the scale, which unsurprisingly would benefit government-run institutions at the expense of the private sector.

The so-called “Gainful Employment” rule will limit loans and financial aid on the basis of high student loan debt relative to post-graduate earnings, among other things. Problems with the rule are numerous. First and foremost, if it is truly needed to protect students, why are public and private non-profit universities excluded? For-profit schools only serve about 20% of all higher education students, and yet are the exclusive target of the regulation.

Second, the rule fails to account for the market being served. For-profit schools provide opportunities for a lower economic class of students that is often closed out of the prestige-conscious university system. Any rule that punishes schools whose students have relatively lower post-graduate earnings is going to in effect punish schools that take on students who start with lower earnings potential. The rule is thus a perverse attack on economic opportunity at a time when opportunities are already few and far between.

Like much of the Obama agenda, the effort has already run into legal trouble. A prior version of the rule was thrown out by a federal judge for being “arbitrary,” but that hasn’t stopped anti-market ideologues from coming back for another bite at the apple. Quinlan quotes industry expert Donald Graham’s scathing letter in opposition to the rule, which includes an account of the true objectives of the rule’s chief architect:

Why is Mr. Shireman still relevant? Because it is he who decided there should be a gainful employment regulation in the first place.

…With his speech last week at the Center for American Progress, Mr. Shireman lets the cat out of the bag: he simply does not believe that a business should own a college or serve students. Now this is a perfectly respectable point of view. But one could ask: is a person who holds this point of view a fit regulator of a sector consisting of colleges owned by businesses? The judgment on whether businesses were fit to own colleges was made by the Congress of the United States in 1965. Mr. Shireman and now his successor regulators seek to substitute his judgment for that of Congress.

Obama administration officials substituting their lawless judgment for that of duly elected members of Congress seems par for the course these days.



March 2014



Weiner Reveals Progressivism’s Anti-Progress Economic Agenda

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Government Meddling, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

I promised myself I wouldn’t give any attention to Anthony Weiner in his new capacity as Business Insider columnist after the increasingly awful outlet’s decision to give the indelibly awful Weiner yet another public forum. But his inaugural column provides so perfect an illustration of the regressive positions of ironically so-called progressives on matters economic that I cannot resist.

Dipping his toe, and gratefully not other parts of his over documented anatomy, into the recent debate over whether Tesla motors has the right to sell their own product without first going through a government enforced middle man, Weiner comes down firmly against the interests of consumers, but not only that, against the very idea of economic progress. He says:

In Tesla’s case, some might consider bans on direct auto sales to be part of a protectionist regime set up by a powerful lobby—neighborhood car dealers—and unchallenged by a lazy industry that didn’t want to antagonize its sales force. Still, dismissing all existing regulations out of hand without recognizing them as the product of reasoning and careful consideration isn’t the answer.

Tesla and these other tech disruptors might want to put more of their energy into finding ways to fit their innovations into existing regulations.

…In situations where that’s not possible, why don’t these founders and tech executives focus on getting wider public support or convincing lawmakers their causes are just? Instead, they seem to show up expecting the world to be wowed by their shiny new companies and losing it when people don’t get out of the way. Gnashing of teeth via press release doesn’t make the case where it counts. If you want to be in the business of selling great cars, there may be more productive ways to spend your time than bitching about the laws that the majority have passed and reaffirmed from the time of the Model T.

If I didn’t know better and naively thought that political words still had meaning, I might be surprised to hear such conservative rhetoric from someone who proudly and loudly claims a progressive label. But modern progressivism is no longer about tearing down the existing order standing in the way of human progressive (well, they never truly were, but that’s another matter) because they are that order, and it is they who are standing in the way of progress. Innovations do not occur through the careful consideration of government bureaucrats and empowered regulators as Weiner fantasizes, but rather at the hands of “tech disruptors” who see the faults in the current order and move decisively to excise them.  Anthony Weiner wants Telsa to properly prostrate itself before the political elites, grease some wheels, and help keep Anthony Weiner and his friends in the social driver’s seat by working within a dysfunctional system for no other reason than that it is run by his compatriots and benefits the same.

Modern progressivism is about power and control, and modern progressives like Anthony Weiner will defend the political power to control your lives in every instance where it is threatened, because what progressives revealed once they finally had the power they long lusted for was that it was never simply sought as a means, but always as an end unto itself.



January 2014



Notable Quotations

Written by , Posted in Education, Energy and the Environment, Free Markets, Government Meddling

Anthony J. Sadar, “A libertarian’s guide to climate change hype:”

After giving some much-needed perspective on scientists, Delingpole tackles “science,” observing that political activists discovered that science could be used “as a handy excuse to advance their agenda under the guise of studied objectivity. ‘Hey, it’s not because we’re a bunch of crypto-Marxist control freaks that we’re demanding higher taxes, more regulation, and the replacement of Western industrial civilization with a Soviet-style global command economy run by leftist technocrats. It’s because the science tells us that that’s what we need to do’.”

Ira Stoll, “Tech Innovation Outstrips Government Obstructionism:”

One recurring theme in successful startups is the ability to get around the regulations created by politicians like Obama. Companies are using technology to create a free market.

The foremost example of this is Uber, with its UberX service that turns ordinary drivers in their own cars into taxi drivers. Sidecar and Lyft operate on a similar model. A Boston lawyer who represented existing taxi services challenging the new entrants, Sam Perkins, told the Boston Globe, “SideCar and UberX have targeted Boston to make the guy next door and his Prius into an unlicensed taxi driver with an uninspected taxis and no safety equipment…Their goal is to eliminate the existing taxi system and its consumer protections.”

The government-imposed licenses, medallions, inspections, minimum wages, regulated fares, and “consumer protections” turn out to be replaceable, more or less, by an Amazon-style star-rating system and the incentives of independent drivers and ride-provider networks that want repeat business.

A. Barton Hinkle, “School Choice Foes Are Wrong:”

During [Michael Bloomberg’s] term, the number of charter schools in the Big Apple soared from seven to 123.

De Blasio, a left-wing ideologue, does not approve. His “idealism,” as The New York Times explains, was shaped by his time in Nicaragua, then controlled by the Sandinista revolutionaries of whom he became an “ardent” supporter. “They gave a new definition to democracy,” de Blasio once said. That they did: Their version of it included censorship, suspending civil rights, breaking up demonstrations and imprisoning suspected political opponents without trial.

No surprise, then, that de Blasio is taking out after charter schools—an innovation that has helped poor and underprivileged students by bringing a (very) small degree of personal choice to a system controlled by the state.



July 2013



DC Council to the Poor: Screw You!

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Economics & the Economy, Government Meddling, Labor Unions

The unemployment rate in Washington DC is 8.5%, a point higher than the national average. Compared to the rest of the nation, the District is poverty and crime-ridden. Given these facts, you’d think the DC Council would welcome the nation’s largest employer to the area. But that’s failing to take into account the fact that DC politicians are reactionary economic illiterates.

D.C. lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill requiring some large retailers to pay their employees a 50 percent premium over the city’s minimum wage, a day after Wal-Mart warned that the law would jeopardize its plans in the city.

The retail giant had linked the future of at least three planned stores in the District to the proposal. But its ultimatum did not change any legislators’ minds. The 8 to 5 roll call matched the outcome of an earlier vote on the matter, taken before Wal-Mart’s warning.

The law, which unconstitutionally targets specific businesses with different rules (in a handout to Big Labor, it exempts unionized shops that would otherwise fit the criteria), amounts to a big middle finger aimed at the District’s poor.

Not only are politicians making it harder for them to find work, but in doing their best to keep Wal-Mart out they are reducing access to lower priced goods that could raise their standard of living. Even left-wing economist Jason Furman, appointed by Obama to be Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, understands the tremendous impact Wal-Mart has had in helping America’s poor:

Wal-Mart’s low prices help to increase real wages for the 120 million Americans employed in other sectors of the economy. And the company itself does not appear to pay lower wages or benefits than similar companies, or to cause substantially lower wages in the retail sector…

[T]o the degree the anti-Wal-Mart campaign slows or halts the spread of Wal-Mart to new areas, it will lead to higher prices that disproportionately harm lower-income families…

By acting in the interests of its shareholders, Wal-Mart has innovated and expanded competition, resulting in huge benefits for the American middle class and even proportionately larger benefits for moderate-income Americans.



December 2012



Overgovernment: Limiting Libations Edition

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Free Markets, Government Meddling, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

The US government poses a serious obstacle to the import and consumption of foreign liquors. Like a product made overseas? Too bad! As for as the government is concerned, you have no more right to purchase the liquor of your choice than you do to manage your own health care.

First off – the United States drinks its whiskey from 750ml bottles. The entire rest of the world (except for South Africa, I believe) does not. 700ml or 70cl is the global standard. The United States does not want its citizens to be confused between two different measurements, so they do not allow for 700ml bottles of booze to be sold domestically. That means that any liquor company that wants to sell its booze in the U.S. needs to put it in an entirely different bottle with a new label as well. All of their other booze can be shipped with ease to every other nation (except South Africa, I believe) around the world. Then a separate, special, time-consuming batch has to be made just for the Americans. That sounds annoying and it probably is annoying to many small companies in the whisky trade, so they say forget the Americans. It’s too much extra trouble.

The reason? You’re too bloody stupid, that’s why (Hat-tip: Overlawyered)!

Kevin Erskine of The Scotch Blog inquired with the Tax and Trade Bureau as to why the US has this regulation. In short, it’s because the agency transitioned in the late 1970s to metric measurements and 750 ml was very close in volume to the then standard “fifth” (referring to a fifth of a gallon). Allowing 750 ml and 700 ml bottles was deemed too confusing for consumers, and so we’re stuck with an aberrant standard and less access to rare spirits.

Big government, limiting your freedom one condescending rule at a time.



September 2012



Administration Pressures YouTube in Effort to Censor Anti-Islam Video

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Foreign Affairs & Policy, Government Meddling

Continuing to place blame in the wrong places for the latest violent outburst to sweep across the Middle East, the Obama administration has apparently asked YouTube to take down the trailer for “Innocence of Muslims,” a shoddy, amateur looking film taking aim at Islam (Hat-tip: Reason):

The trailer has been blamed for inciting violence in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Obama administration officials said Thursday that they have asked YouTube to review the video and determine whether it violates the site’s terms of service, according to people close to the situation but not authorized to comment.

Some media observers predict that the incident will prompt calls for Google Inc.’s YouTube to play a more active role in curating the billions of hours of videos found on its site. One prominent 1st Amendment lawyer even suggested that YouTube should seek a judge’s ruling about whether to remove potentially incendiary content.

Other digital media experts, however, cited the technical limitations of scouring the torrent of videos that are uploaded to the site every minute and making value judgments about those likely to incite anger, hate or murder.

YouTube is a private company, so of course has the right to accept or reject videos as they see fit. Though in turn they can be criticized for it if people perceive the process to be arbitrary or biased, which could provide an opening for a potential competitor. But for the government to make such a request is downright sinister and clearly violates the principle of free speech.

The Obama administration request may not have had an explicit or even intended threat of force behind it, but that’s largely irrelevant. The government is too big and too powerful for any request ever to just be a request. When a mafia boss asks you to do something, he doesn’t need to make a threat. Everyone will perceive it to be there just the same, even in the unlikely event that he didn’t intend any punishment for refusal. With the government antitrust goons sharpening their knives and practically drooling over the prospect of subjecting YouTube-owner Google to the same witch hunt they launched at Microsoft in the 90’s, it would be hard for YouTube  not to see the potential repercussions for refusing this “request.” That they have so far not bowed to the pressure is a point in their favor.

The quoted article goes on to cite “technological limitations” to policing user submitted content in a vain attempt to protect delicate sensibilities from any potential umbrage. But what about the philosophical limitations? Why is it Google’s responsibility to keep unwanted content from people’s eyes? If not ever being offended is so important to people, then they can go live in a cabin in the woods and hide from the outside world – as that’s the only way to accomplish it.

That the LA Times couldn’t find any potential objection, other than practical considerations, either to the administration’s behavior or the imagined “calls for Google Inc.’s YouTube to play a more active role in curating the billions of hours of videos found on its site” says as much about their quality of journalism as the whole affair says about this administration’s respect for fundamental First Amendment rights.



August 2012



Overgovernment: “You Didn’t Get There On Your Own” Edition

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Government Meddling

Commenting on a story of a type common in my Overgovernment series, Dr. Mark Perry offered this brilliant repackaging of President Obama’s now infamous collectivist screed:

Look, if you’ve been unsuccessful, you didn’t get there on your own. If you were unsuccessful at opening or operating a small business, some government official along the line probably contributed to your failure.  There was an overzealous civil servant somewhere who might have stood in your way with unreasonable regulations that are part of our American system of anti-business red tape that allowed you to not thrive.  Taxpayers invested in roads and bridges, but you might have faced city council members who wouldn’t allow you to use them.  If you’ve been forced to close a business – it’s often the case that you didn’t do that on your own.  Somebody else made that business closing happen or prevented it from opening in the first place. You can thank the bureaucratic tyrants of the nanny state.

This is one of those times when all I can think is “wow, why didn’t I think to write that?”



July 2012



We All Lie, Cheat and Steal

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Government Meddling, Liberty & Limited Government

That’s the gist of a TIME piece from last month. And I’m inclined to agree.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely, who teaches at Duke University, is known as one of the most original designers of experiments in social science. Not surprisingly, the best-selling author’s creativity is evident throughout his latest book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. A lively tour through the impulses that cause many of us to cheat, the book offers especially keen insights into the ways in which we cut corners while still thinking of ourselves as moral people.

…“A student told me a story about a locksmith he met when he locked himself out of the house. This student was amazed at how easily the locksmith picked his lock, but the locksmith explained that locks were really there to keep honest people from stealing. His view was that 1% of people would never steal, another 1% would always try to steal, and the rest of us are honest as long as we’re not easily tempted. Locks remove temptation for most people. And that’s good, because in our research over many years, we’ve found that everybody has the capacity to be dishonest and almost everybody is at some point or another.”

Human nature is what it is. Yet some of the greatest philosophical differences between the various political ideologies are rooted in differing views of human nature. Utopian ideologies tend to start from a conception of man that is either good or improvable through social tinkering. Turn of the century movements on both sides of the Atlantic, Progressivism and Fascism, shared this central idea that human nature could be corrected through government manipulation. Classical liberalism, based on Lockean theorizing (which in turn drew from the Hobbesian conception of human nature as violent and competitive) rejected this view. While Locke saw the state as necessary to protect fundamental rights, it is also posed a threat of its own. It would be, after all, run by the same flawed individuals.

Which brings me to this passage from the article:

“People are able to cheat more when they cheat for other people. In some experiments, people cheated the most when they didn’t benefit at all. This makes sense if our ability to be dishonest is increased by the ability to rationalize our behavior. If you’re cheating for the benefit of another entity, your ability to rationalize is enhanced. So yes, it’s easier for an accountant to see fudging on clients’ tax returns as something other than dishonesty. And it’s a concern within companies, since people’s altruistic tendencies allow them to cheat more when it benefits team members.”

With this understanding, is it any surprise that government’s are full of liars and cheats?

This reminded me of a quote from James Madison in Federalist #51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

It seems as if the left often stops after the first sentence. Men are bad, so we need government. But what about our government of men? The “auxiliary precautions” of which Madison speaks are exactly the restraints on political power which the left has worked so consistently to erode. In expanding the Commerce Clause into meaninglessness, and turning on its head the Constitutional idea of enumerated powers, today’s government has plenty of control of the governed, but little if anything left in place to oblige it to control itself.



January 2012



Obama: No More Bailouts (Except to My Union Buddies)

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Economics & the Economy, Government Meddling

In his antagonistic, petulant, and stale campaign speech State of the Union address, President Obama said, “It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.”

Oh, what fine rhetoric, Mr. President! Yet earlier in the very same speech, he said this: “On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen.” Just to be clear, he’s talking about his auto-industry bailout.

Beyond the fact that his premise is entirely wrong (the US auto industry as a whole was not on the verge of collapse, but a select few companies were and are still in bad shape despite what he says), it is telling that he deliberately avoided mentioning just what he did with the auto-industry: he bailed it out. More specifically, he bailed out his union buddies who were largely responsible for crippling those companies in the first place. And as for applying the same rules top to bottom, there is an exception again for his unions pals, who have been granted a majority of the waivers shielding them from the destructive impact of the government takeover of the health sector which those same unions supported.

The reason he was not open about his auto-industry bailout was because his intention was to be dishonest and give lip service to opposing bailouts. Like so much of this President’s rhetoric, you have to set aside the lies, and look at his record. Barack Obama is a statist and economic interventionist, and bailouts are an interventionists best friend.