Saturday, December 27, 2008

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 7

For the past several years the Powers family in Anchorage has built a giant snowman in their front yard. In 2005 "Snowzilla" stood sixteen foot tall, and he grew larger in succeeding years. Camera crews from Russia and Japan loved to photograph the frozen giant. Earlier this week city officials declared the snowman a public nuisance because of the traffic he created and issued a cease and desist order.

This illustrates one of the almost insolvable problems that results when government extends beyond its proper functions. If the street were privately owned, this would be a complete non-issue--the owner of the street and his contractual agreement with home owners would settle the matter.
The right to property allows one to use his property as he chooses, so long as that use does not violate the rights of others. A use that attracts excessive traffic to a residential area can certainly pose a risk to the residents and/ or interfere with their enjoyment of their property, and as such, can be a violation of their rights. (I say "can" because objective criteria would need to be established.)

It is government's responsibility to objectively define actions that constitute a nuisance. As an example--and this is purely an example--the government might define an activity that doubles (or triples) traffic on a particular street to be a nuisance.

Wikipedia describes a nuisance:

Under the common law, persons in possession of real property (either land owners
or tenants) are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their lands. If a neighbour
interferes with that quiet enjoyment, either by creating smells, sounds,
pollution or any other hazard that extends past the boundaries of the property,
the affected party may make a claim in nuisance.
As it is, it is difficult to pick a side on this particular issue. I empathize with the Powers family--Snowzilla must be fun to build and adore. I also empathize with the neighbors, who must tolerate a significant increase in traffic and all that that brings. I do not know enough details to say who is right and who is wrong, but this is not a clear cut case of excessive government intervention.

Suggestions for Obama
Thomas Cooley offers some suggestions to Obama on creative ways to stimulate the economy at Among his ideas are:
Preach for America. Unemployed bankers will be hired at minimum wage to preach in churches and temples about the virtues of unfettered capitalism and take up the collections.

Parades for Progress. Modeled after the Doo Dah Parade this will be a permanent parade corps of military bands, precision lawnmower marching teams (unemployed real estate agents), precision pin-striped briefcase marching teams (bankers) and so on.

Bailout Bake sales. This program will train former auto executives and autoworkers to bake cookies and pastries and sell them door to door. Profits will go to fund the bailout.
I have to assume that Mr. Cooley has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. But some of his ideas are no sillier than those coming from Washington.

Let's Just Try Something
New Jersey Jon Corzine thinks that the new administration should emulate FDR's "bold, persistent experimentation". In essence, this comes down to throwing massive amounts of money at anyone and everyone, and particularly state and local governments:

First, the states, local governments and the federal government must be full partners in the recovery process...

Second, the package should be large. Some estimates put the cost of the economic crisis next year at $700 billion, or about 4 percent of gross domestic product. To offset this, the cumulative value of the stimulus plan should be $1 trillion over two years. This is a large sum, but if the spending is executed effectively, it should be a significant investment in our country's physical and human resources that will pay long-term dividends while also creating and saving jobs. [emphasis added]
I assume that Corzine is serious, in which case his argument is extremely specious. Can we really expect the money to be spent effectively? How often has the government actually done this?
More importantly, any money the government spends is consumptive spending, and that money must necessarily come from the private sector--by its very nature this is not effective spending. But Corzine and his fellow Democrats (with a lot of Republican support) will continue to try to convince us that robbing the private sector will somehow return us to prosperity.

Becoming Numb to the Bailouts
The recent reports in the news about the bailout of the auto industry left me surprisingly numb. The intense anger and incredulity I experienced with the bailout of the financial industry has given way to passive acceptance. Perhaps more interestingly, when I heard that the auto makers wanted $15 billion (or whatever the number was), I thought, "That's all? That's not very much."

I am quite cognizant of the fact that $15 billion is a lot of money, and I quickly banished that thought from my mind. But it is interesting that it ever occurred to me at all. The massive sums being spent, and being pondered, do make $15 billion seem almost paltry in comparison.


Harold said...

How's this for small stuff?

Honestly, I don't even know what to say about something like this.

Brian Phillips said...

I can think of a number of possible points to address-- the Arabic treatment of women, the irresponsibility of the parents, the remarkable progress of the little girl/ young woman.