Friday, April 30, 2010

The Principal and the Principle

In an effort to address the city's $140 million budget deficit, Mayor Ma Parker has asked city department heads to find savings of 3 percent in their budgets. The Chronicle quotes her:
I am asking every department to examine what services they provide, the level at which they provide it and whether somebody else should be doing it. This is a great opportunity to rethink how we do things.
This is true, but will Ma and her cohorts in City Hall truly rethink how they do things? It is highly doubtful, because to date they have refused to examine the basic principles underlying their governance. Consider, for example, Ma's claim that she is looking into the possibility of privatizing the city's ambulance service.

While I would certainly applaud such a move, it does not represent a principled step towards returning government to its proper function--protection individual rights. It is a singular, pragmatic proposal, intended to address the budget deficit and nothing else.

If privatizing ambulance services will be a good thing, why isn't Ma considering privatizing every other improper government service--water, sanitation, trash collection, libraries, parks, and much more? If privatizing ambulance services will help the city save money, why isn't the same true of other privatization efforts? I can only speculate as to Ma's answer, but it would likely be something along the lines of: "The city has certain responsibilities to Houstonians."

The truth is, the city's only responsibility is to protect our moral right to act according to our own judgment, to use our property as we deem best (so long as we respect the mutual rights of others). But Ma has rejected this principle. The result is a constant stream of contradictions.

While finalizing a deal to build a new playground for the Dynamo soccer team, she raises the health insurance premiums for retired city workers. While calling for budget cuts in every city department, she presses forward with plans to build a giant boondoggle--light rail. While mouthing platitudes about job creation, she supports positions that kill jobs--for example, the anti-Ashby High Rise movement. Of course, she doesn't see these as contradictions, but as isolated, disconnected issues.

The details of balancing the budget are admittedly complex, and I wouldn't begin to claim to have all of the answers. But in principle, the solution is quite simple--begin reducing government to its proper function. If the city's principal leader grasped this fact, her job would be much easier. And Houstonians would be much better off--we could keep more of the money we earn and we would have more freedom.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 45

A Very Bad Lesson
Eleven Houston-area school districts are suing state Education Commissioner Robert Scott over his interpretation of a "truthful grading" law. Scott says that the law prohibits school districts from mandating minimal grades--typically a 50--while the districts say inflating grades is necessary or failing students “are very likely to become frustrated, give up, and quit school altogether.”

So what will these students do when they are confronted with failure in real life? Will they expect their boss to inflate their performance appraisal? Will they expect a romantic interest to inflate her feelings? Will they expect the stock market to perform as they desire?

Apparently these districts believe that misleading students will better prepare them for life. That's a very bad lesson to be teaching.

Turtle Huggers to the "Rescue"
A group of turtle huggers is seeking to halt shrimping on the upper Texas coast in order to save Kemp's ridley turtles. Alleging that the turtles get caught in shrimp nets and then drown, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project wants to deny human beings food in order to save the reptiles.

One shrimper--who owns 15 boats--says such a ban would put him out of business.  This of course, is of little concern to the turtle huggers. To them, the turtles have more value than human beings. To them, turtles must be protected, while humans are denied the right to take the actions required to sustain their lives.

Buy American may Foil Metro
Metro may be denied a $900 million federal grant for its light rail plans because it has failed to meet a "buy American" provision. Metro's rail car vendor is based in Spain, where two test cars are to be built. Federal rules require that all "rolling stock" be assembled in the United States.

Apparently the Federal Transit Administration doesn't think that it is proper to rob Americans for the benefit of Spaniards, but it is perfectly fine to do so if other Americans are the beneficiary. Here's an idea: Do away with both Metro and the FTA and return that money to the taxpayers who earned it.

500 Posts
Earlier this month I wrote my 500th post for this blog. I realize that many bloggers have posted far more than that, but 500 is a substantial number. So I'm going to pat myself on the back.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Freedom is the Answer

When presented with the idea that government should be limited to the police, the courts, and the military, it is not uncommon for an individual to question how certain services would be provided. For example, if water and sanitation were provided by private businesses, wouldn't there be an enormous duplication of pipes and infrastructure? When specific answers are not provided, many immediately reject the idea of privatizing such services.

These are certainly valid questions, and they do deserve an answer. However, the answer that I will provide is much different than might be expected or desired by such questioners.

Underlying such questions is the premise that the way these services are currently provided is the only way to provide them. For example, such questions assume that water must be delivered from a large treatment facility. Such assumptions are, in principle, false.

When individuals are free to act according to their own judgment, they often find innovative ways to provide the values that human life requires. Freed from arbitrary government restrictions, they can challenge the status quo. They can develop and implement ideas that others initially reject. We can observe this in every field, from communications to transportation, from medicine to agriculture, from athletics to literature. Freedom provides the social context in which men can think and act rationally to create the values required to sustain and enjoy our lives. And it allows individuals to benefit--to profit--when we do so successfully.

Consider mail delivery as an example. It has long been held that government must hold a monopoly on mail delivery to insure affordable service to all Americans. Private companies, it is argued, would only serve the most lucrative markets, leaving many without the mail. History however, demonstrates otherwise.

Prior to the Civil War, private mail companies flourished throughout the country. They provided more dependable and less expensive service than the Postal Service. The owners of these companies, acting on their own judgment, found innovative ways to provide the services desired by consumers. And consumers, acting on their own judgment, patronized these businesses to such an extent that the future of the Postal Service was in jeopardy. It literally took an act of Congress--prohibitions on such services--to "save" the Postal Service.

I could not begin to tell you how to efficiently operate a mail delivery service. But those who would enter such a business could. I could not begin to imagine how water service might be delivered by private companies. But those who would enter such a business could. It is not incumbent on me or any advocate of laissez-faire to know how every service would be delivered. That is a challenge for those who enter a particular field. And it is time that we let them meet that challenge by removing the arbitrary government restrictions that prohibit them from doing so.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So Be It

On Monday's program Rush Limbaugh was discussing the new law in Arizona allegedly intended to address illegal aliens in the state. The law allows the police to charge individuals with a crime if they are suspected of being in America illegally and cannot provide documentation proving their innocence. (This is my interpretation, not Rush's.)

Rush cited a poll that found 73 percent of Arizonians in favor of the law, with 53 percent stating that some civil rights violations were likely. Leftists, Rush said, found this contradictory and cited it as evidence that the poll is flawed. But there is no contradiction, as Rush pointed out--Arizonians are unconcerned with violating civil rights. And Rush concurred, saying that if we must violate some civil rights to enforce immigration laws, so be it.

So much for Rush Limbaugh as a defender of individual rights.

At the moment, the law is aimed at an unpopular group--illegals. However, many laws are initially aimed at unpopular groups, and then expanded to the rest of the citizenry. If an individual is considered guilty of a crime until he proves his innocence, that principle applies regardless of one's immigration status or anything else. For example, the police could demand that Rush prove that he didn't rob a bank last week, wasn't speeding on the way to the golf course, or any number of things. The Arizona law sets a very dangerous precedent.

Obama has promised to challenge the Arizona law, citing potential civil rights violations. Rush declared that this was simply coded language for minorities to get riled up in protest. What he, and other conservatives, fail to realize is that the individual is the smallest minority. And this law is an attack on individuals.

Underlying Rush's position is altruism--the belief that morality consists of self-sacrificial service to others. Some individuals, he declared, must give up their rights for the "greater good". Some individuals must endure unjust arrest because it will promote the "general welfare". This is the same premise embraced by the Left in promoting ObamaCare, cap and trade, and every other statist policy.

Conservatives have long embraced the same moral premises as the Left. They are powerless to stop the Left's steady push to drive us into tyranny. They bicker over details while conceding every major issue. and in the end, when the Left demand more control over our lives, all they can say is: So be it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Politics of Water Rates

In defending the highest water rate increase in the history of Houston, city officials have regularly made noises about the need to have citizens pay the full cost of delivering clean drinking water. As council member Sue Lovell said:
The core responsibility we have in this city ... is to make sure that when people turn on their faucets, we provide them with safe drinking water. It's a commodity you have to pay for. We never promised we would give it away. We've been doing that a while and we're not going to do it anymore.
I will, for now, delay commenting on the fact that the city's "core responsibility" is to protect our rights, not deliver drinking water.

From an economic perspective it certainly makes sense for the city's water rates to reflect its cost for delivering water. To do otherwise is to encourage waste and provide a subsidy to users. The city is telling us that this practice will stop. But apparently the city hasn't been entirely truthful.

The cost of producing a product or delivering a service is only a portion of the price. A business also has other costs that must be built into its price--in this context, the most significant is the cost of replacing aging equipment.

To use a simple example, Bob owns a hot dog cart. He sells 100 hot dogs a day for $3 each. All of his supplies cost him $1.50 per hot dog, so Bob is making a gross profit of $150 a day. He is able to pay his bills, enjoy an occasional treat, and save a little bit for the day when he will no longer be able to sell hot dogs. But what happens when Bob's equipment--his cart--goes off to hot dog cart heaven? He has to dip into his savings to replace his cart, or go out of business. Bob did not account for the depreciating value of his cart, nor did he build that into his price. If Bob had done so, he would have charged $3.25 per hot dog, and put aside 25 cents towards a new cart. In other words, while it costs Bob $1.50 to deliver a hot dog, his true cost of doing business is $1.75 per wiener--if he wishes to remain in business longer than his equipment lasts.

To return to the city's water system, the cost of manpower, chemicals, and operating treatment facilities might be the "cost of goods sold", but it isn't the city's only cost in regard to the water system. Replacing aging pipes and equipment must also be a part of its price. The city has been telling us that the rate increase is needed in order to update its equipment.

However, according to Brutus the city has adopted two sets of rates--one that reflects the true cost of "doing business" (including updating infrastructure) and one that reflects only "cost of goods sold". He quotes a city document:
After further review, the administration recommended adopting the Best Practices rates proposed to the committee with the exception of Multi- Family Residential and Commercial customers. Those rates would be set to equal 100% of cost of service. [emphasis added by Brutus]
In other words, single-family customers will pay a higher rate than multi-family and commercial customers. Single-family customers will foot the bill for infrastructure updates, while other customers will only pay for the "cost of goods sold". This is not what city officials have been telling us.

Brutus asserts that this deal was brokered by the politically powerful Houston Apartment Association (HAA), a claim that is very plausible.
To further address the rate burden on multi-family residences, the administration is working with the Houston Apartment Association to establish a rebate program to encourage water conservation in apartment complexes that currently use much higher than average amounts of water. The planned program would provide up to $14 million in rebates each year for two years to complexes that meet the to be determined qualifications. [emphasis added by Brutus]
In short, while city officials are telling us one thing, they are doing something quite different. And, whether or not HAA actually lobbied for lower rates and rebates, the fact remains that this politically connected group is receiving favorable treatment. Single-family customers will be forced to subsidize other customers.

Such political favoritism is the inevitable result when government expands beyond its legitimate purpose--the protection of individual rights. When government provides water, trash collection, libraries, parks, etc. political considerations will ultimately enter the discussion, and usually behind closed doors. Groups such as HAA will use their political power to influence city officials; city officials will use their coercive power to extract a pound of flesh from the unfortunate victims.

Many would argue that the solution is for city council to show some integrity and do what they claim they are doing. While this would certainly be better than the hypocrisy they are currently exhibiting, it fails to address the fundamental issue: Water and sanitation services are not a proper function of government. If we want to end the politics of water rates, then we must get government out of the water business.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Non-taxes are Taxing

Few politicians campaign on a promise to raise taxes. Indeed, they frequently state that they will not do so. For example, last fall Mayor Ma Parker said,
I have stated on a number occasions on the campaign trail that I don't plan to raise taxes in this economy — that's the wrong thing to do to struggling taxpayers and business. My pledge is not to raise the tax rate — certainly not in the near term. That's not necessary.
So far, she has "kept" this pledge--she hasn't raised the tax rate. However, Houstonians are finding that despite no tax increases, more and more of their money is going to support the city government. On Wednesday city council passed the largest water rate increase in the city's history. Retired city workers had their health insurance premiums increased nearly 50 percent. And home owners are now forced to use biodegradable lawn bags, which can cost ten times more than other bags.

While Houstonians are poised to see their water rates soar, the city's $140 million budget deficit will not be affected by the rate increase. Which means that we had better hold on to our wallets, because Ma will be coming for more money. Following the water rate increase the Chronicle reported:
The mayor compared the “tough vote” to eating “a healthy dose of vegetables,” something she promised the city has only begun to do as the budget process heats up for next year. 
Ma previously warned us that she would make us eat our vegetables. As I pointed out at the time, while her threat might have been made facetiously, the fact remains that her edicts can and will be forced upon all Houstonians. If we don't "eat our vegetables" or do anything else she demands, we risk going to jail, having our property seized, or both.

To date, Ma's non-taxes have been very taxing and she hasn't made a dent in the budget deficit. There are only two ways to balance the budget--cut spending or raise more revenues. Since politicians seem to be genetically incapable of cutting spending, my money--literally and figuratively--is on increased taxes. When that occurs Ma will once again trot out the "tough decision" line in an attempt to make us feel sorry for her.

Given Ma's track record, the only "tough decision" will be deciding which Houstonians to rob so that the city can continue its profligate spending. Cut spending and returning city government to its proper function--the protection of individual rights--would be the really tough decision, for it would require Ma and her cohorts on city council to question their most basic premises. Sadly, that isn't going to happen.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bureaucrats or Politicians?

So long as the government has the power to dispose of the property of the citizenry, lines will form in an attempt to influence legislators and bureaucrats. Individuals, special interest groups, and businesses will clamor for exemptions to existing law, controls on others, or some other form of political favoritism. As the Chronicle correctly notes, the benefits bestowed upon some can only come at the expense of others:
The politics of taxation in Texas are convoluted. No elected official in his or her right mind would openly advocate raising ad valorem taxes for overburdened homeowners, but our politicians regularly figure out back-door routes to give tax exemptions to their friends. And a break for one party usually translates to added burden for the rest of us.
In this particular case, Valero is seeking tax breaks for installing equipment required to meet EPA standards, which would save the company millions of dollars. In other words, Valero is seeking to mitigate the damage caused by the mandates of one government agency by lobbying another government agency.

As the paper properly points out, we cannot blame Valero for seeking to reduce its tax burden--the company has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders. The paper's complaint is that the decision will apparently be made by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), rather than the legislature. The paper believes that there is virtue in lobbying elected politicians, but not appointed bureaucrats.

It could be argued that politicians are answerable to "the people" while bureaucrats must answer only to the governor. But this distinction is trivial. The fate of Valero's property rests in the hands of government officials. They will decide how Valero must dispose of its property. It matters little which government entity issues the dictates.

Morally, Valero has a right to use its property as it chooses. Nobody--including government--has a moral right to force the company to act contrary to its own judgment (so long as the company does not violate the mutual rights of others). This applies not only to the tax dollars extorted by a long list of government entities, but also to the EPA mandates requiring reduced emissions.

Neither the TCEQ nor the legislature nor the EPA has a moral right to dispose of anyone's property. Government's purpose is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. Until it limits itself to that purpose, we will continue to see a parade of groups seeking government favors and exemptions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Force and Fraud

KHOU recently reported that Metro "cooked" its books in order to secure federal funds to build light rail that nobody will ride. Not surprisingly, Metro officials deny the accusation. Congressman Ted Poe worries that taxpayers may get hit with another bill when Metro can't finish the rail lines:
Down the road, Metro's gonna come and say, "Oh well, we don't have the money to finish this project. We need another penny, two cents on the sales tax to make the poor taxpayers in the Houston area pay for this project we started. We gave bad information to the federal government. We need more taxpayer money. All of that is fraud and deceit."
Apparently Poe doesn't have a problem with the use of coercive government power to fund mass transit. He just thinks that Metro should be up front about it. Metro can use force to fund its operations, but fraud is going too far.

The fact is, force and fraud are two sides to the same coin:
Fraud involves a[n]... indirect use of force: it consists of obtaining material values without their owner’s consent, under false pretenses or false promises.
While Poe is decrying Metro's alleged attempt to defraud the federal government, he ignores where that money came from and how it was obtained. The money that Metro is accused of attempting to steal was in fact stolen from taxpayers. That apparently doesn't matter to Poe.

It is acceptable for one government entity to stick a gun in our face and take our money. But if another government entity resorts to "cooking" the books to get some of that loot, it is doing something wrong. With this kind of double standard, it is little wonder that conservatives aren't being taken seriously. Until conservatives can stand on principle and oppose all forms of government initiated coercion, they will continue to present no meaningful opposition to the Leftists.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Necessary "Evil"

Yesterday I looked at the moral premise that underlies the belief that taxation is necessary. Today I will look at an implication of that view--that government is a necessary "evil".

On a daily basis we can observe individuals voluntarily purchasing the values that their life requires--such as food, cell phones, gasoline, and furniture. No government mandates are required. The self-interest of individuals--their desire to sustain and enjoy their lives--provides the only motivation necessary. Why then, is it believed that coercion is required to pay for the service provided by government?

Certainly, the fact that government has expanded far beyond its proper role of protecting our rights plays a part. Many, if not most, individuals would not voluntarily pay for welfare programs and other interventions. Coercive taxation is necessary to fund these illegitimate operations. But this is not the context to which I am speaking.

Most people believe (if they have thought about the issue) that even if the size of government was greatly reduced taxation would still be necessary. They claim that even if government was a fraction of its current size, individuals would not voluntarily provide the financial support required. Unlike bread, I-Pods, and vacations, individuals would not voluntarily pay for government. Government, they imply, is not a value--it is a necessary "evil".

Government is certainly necessary, and, while government can be evil, it is not inherently so. Government has a legitimate and proper purpose. Indeed, government is literally a matter of life and death. A proper government establishes and protects the social environment in which individuals can pursue the life-sustaining values that their life requires. An improper government turns the individual into a slave, whose life is disposed of as the state sees fit.

Absent government, individuals would have to arm themselves to protect their property and person. Each individual would be judge, jury, and executioner, with no recourse but to defend himself from criminals. The result would be gang warfare, or Somalia.

Those who claim that government is a necessary "evil" fail to identify the proper, life-sustaining purpose of government. They see the harm that government can inflict, accept this as a fact that cannot be changed, and then want to quibble over the victims of that harm. While numerous ideas contribute to this conclusion, two are worth mentioning.

The first pertains to man qua individual. Rather than view man as an independent, sovereign entity, they see the individual as a cog in the wheel, a cell in the organism of society. "No man is an island," they claim. "Each must contribute his "fair share" to society." According to this view, the individual has no right to his own life, but is subservient to the needs of "society". This flawed view of man's nature logically leads to altruism--the belief that it is proper for the individual to self-sacrificially serve others.

In one accepts these premises, one must conclude that government's purpose is to reign in man's selfish desires. The individual must be compelled to put aside his own self-interest for the good of "society" and government's role is to insure that all serve the "common good".

Consider the moral inversion that occurs: A necessary "evil"--government--is required to achieve the "good". It is hard to imagine a greater perversion, yet this is the fraud that most people accept. And it is repeated as a mantra that is above question--for to do so is to be selfish.

Flawed premises lead to flawed conclusions. Those who believe that government is a necessary "evil" have drawn an erroneous conclusion. To correct that error, they must begin by checking their premises. They must begin by correcting their view of the individual.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The "Common Good" and Taxes

A recent comment stated that, "Sadly, there are certain costs that need to be borne by society. Therefore, taxation will be a necessity." He doesn't state what costs must "be borne by society" nor does he offer an explanation as to why this might be true.

Such assertions are common, repeated as a mantra that is beyond question and regarded as self-evident. All one need do is look at the world, and the necessity of taxation is directly observable. Without taxation, the claim goes, we wouldn't have roads, schools, parks, libraries, etc. and we can observe this.

Granted, when we look at the world we will indeed see that most roads, schools, parks, and libraries are operated by government. But "most" does not mean "all", and even a casual observer can easily find examples of roads, schools, parks, or libraries that are privately owned and operated. Given that private alternatives do exist, how can one claim that without government these services would be lacking? Given that there is observable evidence to the contrary, why is it claimed that government must provide these services?

We don't have to dig very deep to find an answer. As an example, last week the Chronicle lamented a budget reduction for the city's libraries:
But Houstonians can be forgiven for questioning the city's values, especially when it comes to inflicting such painful choices on our libraries. These are the engines of our democracy, of assuring a more level playing field for all of us, enriching all our lives.
The "justification" for public libraries is the "common good". Allegedly we all benefit from public libraries, and therefore each of us must be taxed to support them. The same "justification" is offered in support of government operated roads, parks, and schools.

This alleged "common good" is as delusive as a snipe hunt. It is an undefined and undefinable term, thrown out with a righteousness intended to disarm anyone who might question a particular policy or program. We must each do "our part". We must each contribute to "society". Above all, we must not be selfish--we must think of the "general welfare" rather than our own self-interest. You may not use public libraries, but others want and need such access, and you have an obligation to fulfill that desire.

That you might prefer to use your money for other purposes, such as books for your children, or a new television, or a vacation, is irrelevant. That you must sacrifice your desires and values so that others may "attain" theirs does not matter. To the advocates of the "common good", this is your unchosen obligation--a moral duty that government may rightfully enforce.

To claim that taxation is a necessity is to declare that the individual's property may be disposed of as the government chooses. But property is the means by which we sustain and enjoy our lives. If our property is not secure, neither is our life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ma Parker's Cookbook and Home Improvement Guide

To celebrate her first 100 days in office, Mayor Ma Parker has published a unique treatise--Ma Parker's Cookbook and Home Improvement Guide. Printed on recycled grocery bags, this informative guide combines family recipes and tips on making your home more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Both the style and the content remind me of summers spend at Bible School, where I was harangued to repent my sins and eat my broccoli. For example, in the first chapter Ma writes:
Thou shalt eat thy vegetables. Thou shalt consume no dessert unless thou has eaten thine vegetables.
The recipes themselves seem rather unremarkable, but Ma's folksy writing style makes me want to boil up a big pot of "Collard Greens with Road Kill". Or perhaps a batch of "Table Scraps and Grits". And I'll be sure to throw my vegetable peels into the compost pile because it will save valuable landfill space.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the guide is the manner in which Ma intertwines penny-pinching recipes with valuable lessons on saving the environment. For example, in her recipe for "Dollar Weed Tea" she points out that spending hours on your knees pulling the mildly toxic weed and using it to brew tea will help reduce the use of herbicides. And in "Oak Leaf Muffins" she provides a method for getting more fiber and reducing the number of lawn bags we must use.

As a contractor, I find some of her home improvement tips to be dubious. For example, she suggests using toothpaste to repair small holes in drywall. While the American Dental Association also recommends this method, experience has taught me that a minty-fresh odor emanating from one's walls tends to attract ants. The trail of ants does however, make for an interesting conversation piece.

She also suggests using mistinted paint the next time you want to freshen up your home. While this can save money, she fails to caution that mixing colors often results in a putrid green color that most people find depressing. Perhaps she will correct this in future editions.

Another criticism is the sly manner in which Ma manages to inject politics into her recipes. As two examples, "Historic Avocado Preserves" and the "Tower of Traffic Brownies" reek of political pandering, not to mention the odd combination of herbs and spices she recommends--the brownies call for a cup of dill weed and a teaspoon of eye of newt. (I made numerous phone calls, and like the biodegradable lawn bags we must use, eye of newt is almost impossible to locate.)

Despite these minor complaints, I found the book entirely readable, primarily because of the 14-point font and the fact that it was written for someone with the reading comprehension of a first grader. I am looking forward to Ma's next book, rumored to be titled Ma Parker's Guide to Auto Repair and City Politics.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Fair Tax: Creating More Victims

Yesterday I looked at the flat tax, one of the proposals to make the federal tax system simpler and more equitable. Today I will look at another such proposal--the fair tax.

The fair tax is simply a national sales tax that would be collected by retailers. As with the flat tax, the fair tax would replace the income tax, estate tax, gift tax, and other taxes collected by the federal government. Proponents of the fair tax also cite numerous benefits:
  • Progressive—Since the rich spend more, and each retail purchase is subject to the tax, the rich would pay more than the poor.
  • Encourages savings—Because only consumption would be taxed, the “non-rich” would reduce consumption in order to build wealth.
  • Those in the underground economy would pay.
  • Tourists would pay.
As with the flat tax, the fair tax accepts the idea that government can properly take our money by force. Unlike the flat tax, expanding the number of victims is a central part of the argument for the fair tax:

How can the FairTax generate lower net tax rates for everyone and still pay for the same government expenditures? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, the tax base is dramatically widened by including consumer spending from the underground economy (estimated at $1.5 trillion annually), and by including illegal immigrants, that is, those who escape their fair share today through loopholes and gimmicks. In addition, 40 million foreign tourists a year will become American taxpayers as consumers here. Secondly, not everyone's average net tax burden falls.  For households whose major economic resource is accumulated wealth, the FairTax will deliver a net tax hike compared to the current system.

Rather than combat the inherent injustice in coercive taxation, the fair tax seeks to expand the reach of the taxman. And because the cause of government spending is not addressed, the fair tax, like the flat tax, will be subject to continued political pressures to increase the taxed items, create loopholes or exceptions, and otherwise modify the code.

So long as government is in the business of redistributing wealth, regulating businesses, "protecting" the environment, providing health care and education, and every other rights-violating activity the government engages is, there will be pressure to manipulate the political process. And as we have seen countless times, politicians are more than willing to cave to political pressure.

The issue is not how government gets its money. (And that is why advocates of liberty are misguided to actively call for abolishing taxes at this time.) The issue is the proper role of government, and until that--along with its moral foundation--is understood, calls for tax reform are at best premature.

The fair tax is not tax reform in any meaningful sense, for it is nothing more than a continuation of the same fundamental premises as our current system.

Every individual has a moral right to enjoy the fruits of his labor without anyone--including government--taking his property. Indeed, it is government's sole purpose to protect that right. The advocates of the flat tax and the fair tax may have their "heart" in the right place, but until they get their head--and their morality--in the right place, their efforts are wasted.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Flat Tax: A Superficial "Solution"

In recent years two proposals—the flat tax and the fair tax—have been presented to simplify the tax code and make it more "equitable". Each makes similar claims. Each is based on similar premises. And each is lacking, for neither addresses the fundamental cause of the current system’s complexity and "inequity".Today I will look at the flat tax; tomorrow I will examine the fair tax.

The flat tax proposes that income be taxed at a flat rate—less than 20 percent being the most common. All tax payers would pay this rate, regardless of income. The flat tax would eliminate all deductions, credits, and loopholes, and with it the myriad forms currently required by the Internal Revenue Service. Advocates of the flat tax generally claim five benefits to their proposal:
  • Faster economic growth
  • Simplification
  • Equity
  • Increased freedom
  • Increased economic competitiveness
On the surface, these alleged benefits certainly seem attractive. Who would be opposed to economic growth, or a simpler tax system, or increased freedom? But the flat tax will not achieve these ends, for it is founded on the same premises as the current system--your property belongs to the government.

The complexity and inequity of the tax system is not the cause of the nation’s economic ills, or the decrease in freedom, or America’s declining competitiveness in the global economy. The cause of these problems—as well as the complexity and inequity of the tax system—is the fact that government has expanded beyond its proper functions. More fundamentally, the cause is altruism--the belief that morality requires self-sacrificial service to others.

According to altruism, we have a moral duty to help others, and if we refuse to do so "voluntarily", then government may properly force us to "volunteer". Taxation is but one manifestation of altruism. Social Security, Medicare, public schools, public libraries, mass transit, and myriad other government programs are others.

When government operates on the premise of altruism--forcing individuals to sacrifice for the "public welfare"--politicians and bureaucrats become a magnet for individuals and interest groups to seeking special favors from the government. The tax code is no exception. Loopholes, special deductions, credits, and other preferential treatment in the tax code are designed to encourage/ reward certain types of behavior while discouraging/ punishing others. The result is an increasingly complex tax code that provides tax authorities with unilateral discretion to interpret and enforce that code. While removing the complexity is certainly a step in the right direction, it does not begin to address the underlying cause.

Consider a paper backing the flat tax published by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, which stated:
There will never be a tax that is good for the economy, but the flat tax mores the system much closer to where it should be—raising the revenues that government demands, but in the least destructive and intrusive way possible.
In other words, proponents of the flat tax accept the premise that a destructive institution should be a part of society. Rather than call for its elimination, they seek to minimize its destructiveness. They cannot imagine a government support solely by voluntary contributions.

Proponents of the flat tax believe that government has a right to forcibly take our money, that everyone must pay his “fair share”. They simply want to dicker over what is “fair”. In conceding that government may take our money without our consent, proponents of the flat tax will be powerless to dispute claims that a particular percentage is not fair. They will be powerless to counter political pressures for additional credits and loopholes.

In short, by failing to address the fundamental issue, the flat tax will be left open to the same political considerations that have created our current complex and “inequitable” tax code. By failing to defend the individual's right to his property, and demanding that government be limited to the protection of that right, advocates of the flat tax have conceded morality to the statists.

Similar objections pertain to the fair tax, which I will look at tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Carry-on Bags are Now a "Right"

Senator Charles Schumer is mad, and it is generally not a good thing to make the Senator from New York angry. He is likely to use his political influence to do something about it. And that is exactly what Schumer is doing. Upset that airlines are starting to charge for carry-on bags, he has contacted the Treasury Department asking that they put an end to the practice. Last weekend he said:
Airline passengers have always had the right to bring a carry-on bag without having to worry about getting nickel and dimed by an airline company. The Treasury Department needs to close the loophole that encourages this abusive practice and rein in these fees .
This latest fee is a slap in the face to travelers and has crossed the line of acceptable practices. I will fight to see it reversed and make sure no other airlines follow suit.
Airline passengers, according to Schumer, have a right to carry a bag onto a plane, but the owner of that plane has nothing to say in the matter. Schumer's response to this "slap in the face" is to pull out a gun and shove it in the face of the airlines.

Schumer is responding to an announcement by Spirit Airlines that it will begin charging $45 for a carry-on bag. The dear Senator finds this unacceptable, because some people need to carry a bag on the plane. Never mind the fact that the same airline cut fares by $40 (a fact conveniently left out of Schumer's tyrades). In other words, all passengers will save $40 on their flight, and those who choose to carry a bag onto the plane will  wind up paying $5 more than previously. For this, Schumer literally wants to make this a federal issue. Apparently, the United States Senate doesn't have any important issues to address.

That Schumer considers this issue worthy of the attention of a United States Senator demonstrates that a firm grip on reality doesn't seem to be his strong suit. As further evidence, his announcement proclaims:
The latest fee that the airline industry is seeking to impose is pushing travelers to the tipping point.
First, at the time of his announcement only one airline had announced such a fee, so to say that it is industry wide is delusional. Second, I doubt that many businesses seek to push their customers to the "tipping point". This is generally not a good strategy for attracting or retaining customers. But for a U.S. Senator who long ago lost touch with how the real world--including the marketplace--works, this isn't surprising.

To Schumer, the only means by which men can deal with one another is force. Businesses are deceptive and conniving, seeking to manipulate consumers to purchase their products. (Not unlike the deals cut in the process of securing votes for ObamaCare.) The idea that individuals can engage in voluntary trades to mutual benefit is lost on the seemingly senile Senator.

I generally try to refrain from using terms like dickhead in reference to U.S. Senators, and I won't use it in reference to Schumer. It isn't very eloquent, and besides, it would be insulting to dickheads.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The "Community Good" and Property Rights

We are often told that property rights must occasionally be sacrificed for the "common good". One local blogger repeats this claim, noting that city officials must wage a constant balancing act between the two:
This central dilemma is the tug-of-war between the conflicting objectives of preserving individual property rights and of serving the broader community interest. There is essentially a linear “rights continuum” on which each ordinance must stake a position: with serving the community good over all other considerations on one end, and the complete preservation of individual property rights on the other.
The solution to this "dilemma", according to the blogger, is to find a middle ground. Which means, find a compromise between the "community good" and "the complete preservation of individual property rights." Such a compromise is not possible--it is either-or. Either the city pursues the alleged "community good" or it protects property rights. It cannot, and does not, do both. And the blogger admits as much:
Crafting planning legislation is simply a matter of analyzing the tradeoffs between preserving or sacrificing individual rights in pursuit of a community good, and staking a position on the rights continuum that corresponds to consensus.
In other words, the "community good" is always the deciding factor. When some crumbs can be thrown toward the protection of property rights, the city will do so. But at the end of the day, if property rights must be sacrificed, so be it. And the fact that such a "debate" even occurs demonstrates the precarious status of property rights.

The following situation concretizes this argument: You live in a neighborhood of 100 homes. Your neighbors decide that they don't like your landscaping--it isn't consistent with other homes in the neighborhood. After a debate, 51 of your neighbors reach a consensus--you must plant more azaleas. You protest that your property rights--the right to use your property as you choose, so long as you do not violate the mutual rights of others--have been violated. Your neighbors respond that the "community good" requires such a sacrifice. Besides, they will "compromise" and allow you to pick the color of the azaleas.

But this is not a compromise--you don't want any azaleas. Your judgment has been usurped by a consensus of your neighbors for the "community good", which they can define in any manner they choose.

The fact is, "community good" or "public welfare" or any similar term is undefinable. It can be anything the "community" or the "public" chooses, which means, it is nothing in particular. If, at some future point, your neighbors decide that hibiscus are more to their liking, that choice can be imposed upon you in the name of the "community good".

And while they debate how you may use your property, they evade the fact that you are a part of the community. They ignore the fact that according to your judgment, azaleas are not good. They pretend that their judgment, standards, and values may be forced upon you.

This situation may seem absurd, and it is. But this is precisely what the blogger advocates. If property rights may be sacrificed whenever a consensus can be developed, then property rights are under a perpetual attack. There is nothing to limit what a noisy gang may do.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 44

When Reality doesn't "Cooperate"
"Quality of life" advocates repeatedly tell us that Houston must tear down its billboards, shut down sexually-oriented businesses, build light rail, promote "green" industries, and engage in various other interventions if the city is to continue to grow. But apparently folks in other parts of the country aren't listening. U-Haul reports (HT: Elaine Phillips) that Houston was the number one destination for its rental trucks. In other words, individuals exercising their own judgment are picking Houston over other American cities, despite what the interventionists have been claiming for decades.

While the interventionists keep making their dire predictions, reality keeps proving them wrong.

Kiss Our Ass
The city's latest experiment in forcing environmentalism down our throats got off to a contentious start this week. On Monday, the solid waste department stopped collecting petroleum based lawn bags, forcing citizens to use biodegradable bags approved by the city. The Chronicle reports numerous complaints from citizens that the bags are too small, too thin, and too hard to find. To which the city essentially responded, "Kiss our ass and do it anyway." Or else.

When I visited my local Lowes last week the shelves were full of lawn bags, except for those mandated by the city. The owner of the company that mows my yard told me he has been unable to locate the quantity that he needs. So what are we supposed to do? The city is forcing us to use something that we can't purchase.

Our choice is to break the law and face fines of $2,000 or build a compost pile the size of a small city. Despite my love of compost, these are not attractive alternatives. To which the city has essentially responded, "Kiss our ass."

Small Thinking, Small Solutions
As one step in reducing the city's budget deficit, the budget for public libraries has been cut by $2.2 million, forcing the system to cut its hours by 28 percent. Apparently, city officials think that a paltry $2.2 million is going to make a big difference in the $100 million deficit it is facing.

Here is a thought: Sell the entire system. The city could cut the $39.8 million budgeted for the libraries, as well as pocket the money raised from selling the libraries. Depending on what kind of deal city officials could negotiate, this one simple measure would almost cut the budget in half.

But city officials won't consider such a step. They would rather whine about the need to made tough decisions rather than actually make them. They would rather argue over a million here and a million there, rather than do something that actually addresses the problem. They would rather continue to drain money from citizens (such as increasing water rates by 12%) than protect our rights. Neither libraries nor water service is a proper function of government, and the sooner city officials recognize this fact the sooner they can actually solve the budget deficit.

Small thinking leads to small solutions. Unprincipled thinking--which city officials are continually "perfecting"--only leads to more problems.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Predators" and Printing Presses

Apparently unable to go more than two days without an editorial calling for more government intervention, the Chronicle now wants more regulations on "payday lenders"--companies that offer short-term loans at high interest rates.
In recent years, the payday lending industry has done a lot of high-powered PR to clean up its image. But some things have not changed: These lenders can still be a menace, and their targets are frequently those who can least afford it — mostly poor folks and minorities with little financial sophistication. Under certain circumstances, the payday lenders can be downright predatory.
In other words, some people--those with little financial sophistication--might be taken advantage of when using this service. Therefore, concludes the paper, we should place more controls on these companies.

I could make a strong case that some people--those with little philosophical sophistication--might be taken advantage of when reading the Chronicle. For some reason I don't think that the paper would support controls on its editorial positions, and I wouldn't either. But the same argument the paper uses in calling for controls on another industry could be used to control the media.

According to the Chronicle, some individuals may take actions that aren't in their best interest. This is certainly true. But each individual has a moral right to take the actions that he deems best, for right or wrong. By what authority does the Chronicle, or the government, believe that it can force others to act contrary to their judgment?

While payday loans can certainly be financially damaging, embracing the wrong ideas is far more destructive than wasting a few dollars. Embracing the wrong ideas can lead to far worse actions than taking out a loan with high interest rates. For example, if one advocates rights-violating controls on a particular industry, one has no grounds upon which to defend one's own rights. If it is proper to dictate how payday lenders use their property (money), then it is equally proper to tell the Chronicle how it can use its property (printing presses). The fact is, such controls are never proper or morally justifiable.

What the Chronicle doesn't seem to realize is that when individuals are free, they will sometimes take actions that others find objectionable. Like take out payday loans or print editorials calling for more government control over our lives. But so long as they do not violate the rights of others--by using force or fraud--individuals have a moral right to use their property as they choose.

Of course, maybe the Chronicle does realize this and isn't concerned with individual freedom. Maybe the paper doesn't care if government officials dictate how it uses its printing presses.

In either case, the paper's endless calls for more regulations and controls have only one logical end--complete government control. And that would make the "predatory" practices of payday lenders look like a walk in the park.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Government Force vs. Personal Choice

Advocates of government regulations often argue that government intervention is necessary to protect consumers from unscrupulous businesses. They ignore the many ways that individuals can make informed decisions and protect themselves from fraud and similar practices. An interesting example comes from the paint industry and the Better Business Bureau (BBB):
The Better Business Bureau’s advertising arm has recommended that The Sherwin-Williams Company modify or discontinue certain odor-elimination claims for the company’s Dutch Boy Refresh Paint.
Sherwin-Williams (SW) joined with Arm & Hammer to create a paint that allegedly absorbs odors within a home. This claim was challenged by a competing paint manufacturer--PPG Architectural Finishes.

(I hasten to add that neither the BBB nor PPG is claiming fraud on the part of SW. The claims against SW are that its advertisements for the product are "misleading". I should also note that I am a painting contractor and use SW products almost exclusively, though I have not used the product in question.)

The BBB's advertising unit, the National Advertising Division's (NAD), reviewed information submitted by both SW and PPG and found the information inconclusive.
In the absence of reliable evidence, NAD routinely steps into the role of the consumer to determine the reasonable messages conveyed by the adverting.
In short, the NAD seeks to determine how a consumer might interpret an advertising message. The article does not state how the NAD does this, and such methods could be highly subjective. But the objectivity of the NAD isn't the point here.

As a private organization, the NAD cannot compel advertisers to abide by its findings. Nor can it force consumers to heed its warnings. Both advertisers and consumers are free to consider the NAD's conclusions, and accept or reject them based on their own individual judgment. In other words, while providing the information consumers need to make informed decisions, the NAD cannot impose decisions upon others. And this is how it should be.

There are many other organizations that provide similar resources for consumers--Consumer's Union, Underwriter Laboratories, and Angie's List are three examples. In each instance the consumer can judge the information provided within their context and on the basis of their needs and values.

In contrast are government regulatory agencies that impose their findings upon everyone. Rather than allow consumers to judge for themselves, government agencies necessarily force consumers and businesses to accept and act according to their dictates, for better or worse.

Contrary to what advocates of government regulation imply, consumers are capable of making decisions. And often they may want and need products or services that don't meet the standards imposed by regulators. That is their right--they have a moral right to act according to their own judgment, no matter what others might think (so long as they respect the mutual rights of others).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Killing Innovation in Electric Retailing

In his Sunday column, Loren Steffy does something I have yet to see an elected official do: He admits that the "deregulated" electric market in Texas is heavily regulated. And, though unintentionally, he demonstrates how regulations directly harm producers, and indirectly harm consumers.

In the summer of 2008 Marcie Zlotnik, chairman and COO of StarTex Power, a Houston-based electricity retailer, sought to differentiate her company by alerting customers when their contract would expire. The Public Utility Commission (PUC)--the state agency that regulates the "deregulated" industry--decided that this was such a good idea that it forced all retailers to do the same thing. Steffy quotes Zlotnik:
To me, that was a competitive advantage. It is now mandated. There goes my competitive advantage.
Which means, Zlotnik came up with an innovation that benefited her company and its customers. But the PUC wiped out her innovation and any rewards she might have received. Instead of allowing electric retailers to compete and innovate--and operate in a free market--the PUC stifles competition by forcing "innovations" upon everyone, whether they like it or not.

But the destructive consequences of the PUC go even further:
In an industry where the line between profit and loss is razor thin--margins for most retailers are in the low single digits--some companies worry that regulators are stifling competition by over-emphasizing consumer safeguards.

"That is a concern because it does take resources away from innovations and new products," said Catherine Webking, the executive director for the Texas Energy Association for Marketers, which represents electric retailers.
As we saw with Zlotnik, those who do innovate can have their competitive advantage wiped out by the arbitrary decree of the PUC. What incentive does any retailer have to come up with innovations in such an environment? The answer is: NONE. In fact, they have a huge disincentive because the "reward" for their thought and effort is have their creation forced upon the entire industry. Would Apple come up with new products if its competitors were forced to make the same devices? The answer is a resounding NO.

Of course, the regulations forced upon the "deregulated" electric industry are for the protection of consumers, because we are too damn stupid to make decisions for ourselves. We need the regulators at the PUC issuing mandates and dictates so that the "deregulated" electric industry doesn't take advantage of consumers. Addressing "smart meters", which retailers say will be beneficial to consumers, an attorney for the Citizens Aggregation Power Project said,
There's just as much potential that retail electric providers can create systems that will generate additional revenue.
Yes, this is a possibility. In fact, I would argue that it is a probability, because businesses tend to "create systems that will generate additional revenue." They are, after all, in business to make money. Further, I hope that electric retailers make oodles of money, because that means that they will be able to deliver the electricity that I want and need.

Electric companies have a moral right to use their property as they choose. If consumers don't like the service or products the companies offer, they can find their electricity elsewhere. That is how the free market works. But it can't work, nor do companies have an incentive to innovate, when government is regulating their affairs.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Save Property Rights, not the Alabama

For years preservationists have been trying to "save" the old Alabama Theater on Shepherd. It now appears that the interior of the building will be stripped on its funky Art Deco accoutrements and prepared for a prospective tenant (rumored to be Staples). The Chronicle, along with the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, is pushing for Alamo Drafthouse, a chain that shows movies and serves dinner and adult beverages, to open a location in the Alabama:
We'd love to see the Alabama returned to its glory as a theater.
Nobody is stopping the Chronicle from making this come true. All they have to do is negotiate a lease with the property owner and pony up the money. But putting their money where their mouth is isn't the Chronicle's style. Rather than reach for their wallet, they prefer to reach for a gun--or more accurately, they prefer to encourage the city to reach for its gun:
Most cities aggressively protect the handful of places that make them special. Houston doesn't. We offer incentives to make stadium deals work for sports teams. Why not make historic preservation more attractive to business? So far, Houston has taken only tentative steps in that direction. We need to do better. And we need to start soon, while there's something left to protect.
Consider the nifty little trick the paper plays here. Since the city is offering bribes to sports teams, the city should also offer incentives to other businesses to preserve historic buildings. And what is the nature of those "incentives"? "Aggressive" protection, which means ordinances that dictate and control how a property owner may use his property. This type of "incentive" is akin to a thug sticking a gun into your ribs to "encourage" you to hand over your money.

Once again the paper looks to other cities and cries, "We should be more like them." Other cities protect old buildings, and Houston should do the same. Other cities have mass transit, and Houston should emulate them. Other cities control land use, billboards, and myriad other activities, and if Houston wants to be a "world-class city", we must follow suit.

The Chronicle believes it proper to dictate to property owners, to mandate how they can use their property, to prohibit uses those some don't like. No matter the problem, real or imaginary, large or small, the paper's inevitable solution is more government controls.

Conveniently ignored in this endless plea for more government intervention into our lives is the fact that other cities have driven housing costs through the roof, that other cities are losing jobs and citizens, that increased government controls are destructive to individual freedom and prosperity. The paper and other advocates of government intervention evade the reasons why Houston housing is among the most affordable in the nation and why the city has been among the nation's leaders in job creation--the relative lack of government intervention.

The Alabama Theater is certainly a unique and fun building. But no building in Houston is worth saving at the expense of our property rights--the owners have a moral right to do as they choose with their property. If the paper truly wants to preserve something, property rights would be a great place to start.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fiddling While Houston Burns

While the city is struggling to find ways to close an estimated budget deficit of $110 over the next two years, city council seems poised to approve a deal with the Dynamos to build a new soccer stadium. The city will spend $10 million from property taxes to improve infrastructure around the site, on top of the $15 million the city previously spent to buy the land.

To call this irresponsible would be a gross understatement. City officials acknowledge that they are short on revenues, and their response is to spend more money that they don't have.

City officials have been pushing for this giant playground for years. Supposedly it will ultimately generate revenue for the city, which I am sure will be a great relief to the tax payers footing the bill today. While many Houstonians are struggling to pay their mortgage, the city has decided, once again, that it is a better steward of our money than we are.  While many Houstonians are tightening their belts in order to pay their bills, the city has decided that it doesn't need to do likewise.

The city has already threatened to lay off workers as one step to close the deficit. We will undoubtedly hear talk of reductions in services as time passes. And then, after city officials have allegedly cut all of the fat from the budget, the idea of raising taxes will be floated. They will whine that they have no other choice, while hoping that Houstonians forget their profligate spending.

City officials would have us believe that this atrocity is in the "public welfare" while ignoring the harm it inflicts on the individuals who actually comprise "the public". They would have us believe that they are promoting the "common good", as if robbing individuals is good for anyone. They would have us believe that the best interests of all Houstonians in mind, while ignoring the fact that they don't know all Houstonians or what our interests are.

This massive evasion is aided and abetted by Pragmatism. Having rejected principles, city officials treat each day and each event as disconnected and isolated. As an example, on the same day city council approved a deal to sell one stadium--the facility formerly known as the Summit--for a fire sale price, council considered a deal to build another boondoggle--the stadium for the Dynamos. They see no principle uniting the two. All they see is a "good" deal now. The fact that a previous "good" deal had to be disposed of at a bargain basement price is of no relevance.

That the Dynamo stadium deal will ultimately turn out bad for taxpayers is completely foreseeable--if one thinks in principles. Consider the following: the Summit was completed in 1975 at a cost of $27 million. It was sold for a paltry $7.5 million 35 years later--not exactly a very good investment. The Astrodome has been sitting vacant and rotting for years, costing taxpayers more than $1 million per year for the little maintenance that is performed. Last fall, the Chronicle reported that taxpayers may need to bailout the Harris Country-Houston Sports Authority (which helped build Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center) to the tune of $7 million per year.

Just in case you aren't keeping count, this means that the last 5 sports stadiums built in the city have all turned out to be a drain on taxpayers in one form or another, despite the promises of political leaders. What do we need to be smoking to believe that the 6th stadium is going to turn out differently?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Implications of Selling the Summit

In an effort to reduce the city's budget deficit, Mayor Ma Parker wants to sell the facility formerly known as the Summit to Lakewood Church for $7.5 million. The Chronicle has endorsed the deal, and for that reason alone I am opposed.

I am not going to bother to examine the facts of the situation. That would require some research, as well as an identification of the principles involved. And frankly, I really don't have time for that. Since I often disagree with the Chronicle's position on an issue, I will conclude that that is also the case here. Not only does this save me time to do today's crossword puzzle, it shows that I am very consistent.

Rather than sell the property, I think that the city should milk it for more revenues. Lakewood is the nation's largest church, and it seems to me that there are untapped revenue sources here. Abandoning any pretense at having given this much thought, I would suggest that the city send squads of police officers to the area each Sunday. I suspect that they would find expired automobile registrations, people who aren't wearing their seat belts, and other excuses for writing tickets. Not only would these scofflaws get their just due, the city could raise oodles of money. Praise Jesus!

The city could also send hordes of the homeless to the area and equip them with signs reading things like "Homeless, but concerned about the city's budget deficit" and "I don't want to work, but I will beg to help the city's budget deficit". The city could split any donations received with the beggars (after deducting the cost of the signs, of course). This is a complete win-win-win. The homeless get some easy beer money; the city gets some badly needed revenue; and Lakewood's parishioners get an opportunity to donate to a worthy cause. Do I hear an amen?

Some may argue that the city could sell the property and still follow my suggestions. That may be true, but so what? As I said previously, I haven't given this much thought, and I'm not about to start now.

The Chronicle argues that the city should sell the property now, rather than waiting for the current lease to expire in 23 years. This, the paper claims, is financially prudent. While I would agree, I fail to see why the city should start being concerned about sound financial decisions. To do so would require city officials to reconsider programs such as Houston Hope and improving the energy efficiency of private homes, not to mention getting out of the water and sanitation businesses. (Oops, I mentioned it.) Why bust up a streak of imprudent decisions that goes back for decades?

Selling properties that have nothing to do with the city government's only legitimate purpose--protecting individual rights--might set a dangerous precedent. If city officials began to think in principles, they might realize that the city should also sell libraries and parks, divest itself of its interest in sports stadiums, and get rid of most of the property it owns. Sure, this would raise scads of cash and allow the city to slash its budget (and therefore taxes), but that would also give Houstonians more control over their own money, and therefore their own lives. And I have reason to believe that ceding such power would be more than most city officials could bear.

And, if city officials really thought about it further and decided to be really, really principled, they would then start repealing ordinances that violate individual rights, like business regulations and controls on land-use. How could we possibly function, let alone prosper, if the city left us alone to act according to our own judgment (so long as we respect the mutual rights of others)?

Selling the facility formerly known as the Summit is a bad idea. It might lead to some crazy consequences, like individual freedom.

P.S.: This post was written on Wednesday morning, before the city agreed to sell the facility formerly known as the Summit. Hopefully, they will reconsider in light of the points made in this post.

P.S.S.: This April Fool's Day post is satirical. Selling the facility formerly known as the Summit is a good idea, and so is selling most of the city's other properties.