Archive for the tyranny of majority Category

There are two kinds of bullies.

The kind who control the way you play a particular game.   And the kind who insist you play their game.

Most Americans reject the first kind (save for those who like to be BMOP (big man on playground).

But, if truth be told, the first kind is pretty easy to get away with.  You can just walk away.  Life isn’t grade school.  If I think Joe is a bully, I just decide to hang out where Joe isn’t.

It’s the second kind of bully that can be the problem.  The second kind of bully wants to keep you on his playground, playing his way by his rules.

And, unfortunately, our “system” encourages such bullies to get together and seek power.  They know that it’s a lot easier to keep on bullying if you’ve got a gang of bullies who stand with you.

Economics says that a cartel contains the seeds of its own destruction.  That cartel members have an incentive to cheat, since they can reap extra economic benefits from doing so.  But bullies aren’t driven by economic incentives.  They’re driven by the pursuit of power.

That’s why a Constitution of enumerated powers combined with a t Bill of Rights was such a critical thing. The founders knew their would be bullies out there.   Bullies who would see majoritarianism as a tool.

Unfortunately, “we the people” have emasculated both Constitution and Bill of Rights by converting them into a tool of utilitarianism.  And in so doing, we’ve enabled bullying on a huge scale.  Indeed, we’ve converted the greatest innovation in government ever into an unprecedented affirmation of the bullying ethos.  If we don’t like what other people want to do, the solution has become to pass a law to make what they want to do illegal.

We’ve professionalized and legitimated bullying.  Look at your typical Congressperson, your typical President, your typical bureaucrat.  They’re almost all bullies.

They’re just bullies that look good and promise better.   All at the expense of the evil on the other side of them and us.  We don’t want our bullies to be jackbooted thugs.  We want them to be expertly coiffed with business suit and nicely shined shoes.

Why is political correctness such an evil?  Because  it is nothing more than another excuse for type 2 bullying.  To convert taking offense into taking over the schoolyard.

Do I consider some speech offensive?  Sure.  Absolutely.

And as an adult, I have a pretty easy solution available to me:  I can walk away.

But political correctness doesn’t work that way.  If the PC bullies are offended, they’re solution isn’t walking away and associating elsewhere.  They’re solution is that of serfdom.   They want to build a 10,000-volt fence around the schoolyard, and then, when the offending person can’t escape, pummel him unmercifully until he speaks better.

Look at today’s newspapers.  Look at the stories and editorials where people are calling for government action.  Look carefully at what people are asking for.   Are they asking for enforcement of the Constitution and its protection.   Or are they asking for help in bullying other people?

If you have to, start with those whose causes you don’t share.  (It’s always easier to see bullying on the other side.)  But after you’ve identified the opponents’ bullying tactics, move to those who you agree with.  Look in the mirror.  Look real carefully at what is being proposed with respect to the choices of your opponents.   I hate to say this, but more often than not, you’re seeking to take advantage of the same bullying tactics and threats.

This isn’t meant as America bashing.  Bullying using state power has been the default of political action since long before our republic was founded.   Indeed, what made the American Experiment so special is that it attempted to formulate rules that prevented legitimized bullying and that discouraged just the sort of bullying we now practice.

It’s just that we no longer hear the voices of the Founders well enough.   We’re too busy trying to be bullies.


What are the differences between organized crime and a majoritarian state?  Seriously.

For the life of me, I can only think of three:

1.  Agents of the state are more likely to claim what they do is done for your benefit.

2.  Agents of organized crime resort to the use of force somewhat quicker.  (Though part of this one may simply mean differing views of how much blood is left in the turnip.)

3. The ultimate extortionists in the case of the state are “We, the People.”

There may be other differences.   Just can’t think of any right now.

Ah well.  Perhaps extortionists are the social equivalent of the hornets and cockroaches that hang out around dumpsters.  No apparent necessity for their existence.  Just there.  If you want an alley, you need dumpsters.  And if you have dumpsters, that means you get hornets and cockroaches, too.



I’m a pro football fan. It’s really the only major sport I follow at all anymore.

And the biggest story in pro football the last few days has been Plaxico Burress. It appears that Mr. Burress, a sometime star wide receiver (he caught the winning TD in the last Super Bowl), is in more than a little legal trouble. If the consensus of rumors proves correct, Mr. Burress appears to have been out at a night club in the wee hours of the morning when he accidently shot himself in the leg with a concealed handgun for which he lacked the appropriate permits. And, NY being NY, this means he’s being prosecuted for a felony that carries a mandatory prison sentence of a minimum of 3.5 years.

Now if these facts prove true, it is pretty clear that Mr. Burress is a bonehead of the first degree. Were I a NY stand-up comic, I’d be tempted to tell an X-rated joke about not being able to know which gun he was playing with in his pocket. Perhaps more likely is that he was there, there was some tension in the air, and he was simply being prepared in case that tension went too far in a certain direction. But there’s a good probability that we’re just talking about someone who doesn’t have much of command over the basics of handgun safety, just another dumb, spoiled pro athlete being just another dumb, spoiled pro athlete.

Yet, I find myself more bothered by the intrusiveness of the NY law than by the idiocy of the football player. My guess is that shooting yourself in the leg and surviving is itself a pretty darn good lesson about the virtues of paying attention to the dangers of mixing weapons and alcohol. (Especially since I’m sure doctors and everyone else is going to be telling him just how lucky he was not to have nicked a femoral artery.)

Yeah, Burress may well have been a bonehead of the first degree. But, well, putting someone in the pen for 3.5 years because they are a bonehead strikes me as a bit of overkill in the name of public safety. I mean, if we put away every bonehead out there, well, we’d need more concrete to build prisons than there is on the planet.

But my biggest problem with this isn’t even New York and its idiotic approach to concealed carry. We’re talking New York and the East Coasters after all. I don’t expect them to share my views on the Second Amendment, guns, or, for that matter, on just about anything.

What bugs me more is the deafening silence so far about that idiocy across America. I mean, sports fans, especially here in the Midwest, aren’t universally chardonnay-and-Harvard liberals. You’d think, at least among the watchers of ESPN or FoxSports, there’d be some real bitching and moaning about the non-proportionality of sentencing anyone, even a spoiled rich athlete, to three-and-a-half years of showering according to the timing of the Man and the rules of Bubba the Knife.

It’s not just that people aren’t out there quoting the Second Amendment. I understand that people differ in their opionions about what it’s protections involve. I can see where someone might argue that NY’s concealed carry law is still constitutional. I’d disagree, but never mind that.

It’s that people aren’t even out there complaining about how utterly stupid a law is that has to put a person in jail because he boneheadedly used an unregistered weapon to shoot himself in the leg.

No, it’s not the Second Amendment that’s puzzling the crap out of me today. It’s that Americans in general can’t seem to be able to see just how whacked-out our approach to laws is. How ill it reflects on *us* (not on Mr. Burress, not on Mr. Bloomberg, but on us, Joe Fan/Citizen). How stupid *we* are when we fail to see how stupid it is to put people in jail for 3.5 years because they reveal their stupidity by shooting themselves with an unlicensed weapon. How we fail to understand that jail time is how we punish people who commit real offenses against society, not for people who are offensively stupid.

Because I’ve heard virtually none of that reaction.

Perhaps the reaction has only been delayed until Mr. Burress and his lawyers start the pre-trial legal maneuvering. Maybe But given the reaction so far, my gut tells me that Joe Fan is going to be more “he’s getting what he deserves for being a bonehead.”

And, putting the whole Second Amendment thing aside, that would be just…well, even more boneheadedness.

Even more proof that the problem with America isn’t the Bushes, Obamas, or Bloomberg’s of the world.

It’s us.

If there’s a 1-10 scale for boneheadedness, Mr. Burress probably deserves an 8 or 9.

But America? We, collectively, appear to be off the scale.



Tenured faculty members enjoy one perk still very rare in the rest of the working world — sabbaticals.  And for more than one reason, none of which I’m going to go into here, I’m glad I’m one of those sabbaticals right now.

But today I find myself with an addition reason for gladness.  Were I in the classroom this fall, I’m sure I’d be getting “Well, what do you think about the situation in the financial markets, the proposed bailouts, etc, etc?”  Such questions go with the territory when you teach economics.

But, while I have opinions, I am absolutely certain that very few of my students, or my colleagues, or my superiors, or my student’s parent’s would appreciate them.    And they would appreciate very much less my explanation of them, for, even for someone as verbose as I usually am, my explanation in this case would be very, very lengthy.  It is not  a simple situation.  It doesn’t have simple answers.  And any question or answer that claims otherwise is wrong.  Including, I expect, every question and answer about it in the upcoming presidential debates which I refuse to waste my time upon.

And, were I in the position of teacher this fall, I would feel compelled to give that explanation.

Compelled in a way that I do not feel in this blog.  Here, I’m perfectly content to just blurt out my convictions without explanation, just like everyone else.  And, no, I’m not particularly interested in arguing these points right now — because it would take too much time, and, believe it or not, there are far more important things to talk about.

So here are my blurts:
1.  Why in the world does anyone think that “government” can be trusted with a bailout decision.  Has the Bush administration, or the Congress, or their respective predecessors for the last 20 years or so, together or separately, provided any evidence that they should be trusted with $700 much less $700 billion?

2.  The people of this country have become addicted to the idea that “papa government is here to help us with every travail of our lives.”  Despite that government showing, over and over and over again, that it belongs at the top of any list of delinquent and abusive dads.

We are like unlearning victims of a Ponzi scheme:  First we went to them because they promised solutions to million-dollar problems.  When, helped by their fraud and mismanagement and out-and-out “governing” stupidity, those million-dollar problems were replaced by billion-dollar problems, we went to them again.  And, now, after more fraud and stupidity and help-that-is-no-real-help-at-all, we are going to them with “You Must Do Something About” a $700 billion problem.

Yes, America may have a financial crisis right now.  And I certainly have no easy solutions, much less any painless ones to that crisis.  But for the life of me, I simply don’t understand why people think the Bushs and the Pelosis, the McCains and the Obamas, are going to be the ones with the solution.

In the days, weeks, and months ahead, I expect no shortage of bickering and finger-pointing and grandiose plans promising solution of this latest crisis.  But, frankly, I have no confidence in these people even if they do somehow manage to come together and actually embrace the true bipartisanship they all claim is essential.

Because that’s not how Ponzi schemes work.   When we trust these con men and con women — any of them — with the $700 billion, all we are assured of is that tomorrow they’ll be asking us for control over $7 trillion more.

And that’s what we do with every problem today.  We ask con men and con women to solve it for us.

Pick any major national, regional, or state newspaper.  Dig into its archives for the last, say, five years.  And I bet you will be hard pressed to find three consecutive issues of their front page that doesn’t have one or more stories reflecting a majority opinion that “the government must do something” about some problem or event or catastrophe.

Heck, I’d be surprised to find two consecutive issues.  Ours is a nation whose history and success has been built on the notion of self-reliance.  Yet that self-reliance has become too much of a myth.  Every act of God or of our fellow man now deserves government assistance and retribution.

No single Ponzi scheme, not even one of $700 billion, can threaten an economy capable of generating at least $14 trillion of new value every year.

But a cultural addiction to the lures of Ponzi-masquerading-as-Papa?  That can.


It may be the single best document ever written by the hand of man.

Marx and Engels wrote an impressive little screed that inspired millions, yet The Communist Manifesto is juvenile whining when placed against these thirteen hundred words.

Lincoln spoke well on the fields of Gettysburg, but the limits of the immediate occasion meant that he could only emphasize one part of this document. A funeral oration may speak to our greatest aspirations, but it remains constrained by the rhetorical need for honoring the past and dead.

No one since 1776 has understood economics better than Adam Smith, but much as I love An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, it has dozens of pages that could be safely ignored by everyone to whom I have recommended its reading over the years.

The Bible is more, but — at least if you share my theological belief — it wasn’t just written by the hand of men.

Oh, my calling this document from just over 232 years ago, the “best ever written” is a bit hyperbolic. I have no doubt that anyone who reads this blog entry will be able to point to other works of words that are just as “great” or even greater.

But, to be honest, I have no desire to hear that sort of argument today.

Because today is July 4th. And today we should be remembering this document more than any other.

The document which ought to more than inspire us. Which is more than just a list of complaints and aspirations and “ideals” to be shunted aside in our pursuit of fireworks, barbeque, and family fun.

2008 is an election year. As I watched the caucuses, straw polls, and primaries unfold over the last several months I found myself becoming guardedly optimistic. For the candidates rising to the top in each party were both men of ideals and ideas. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain will have a platform I have much patience for, but at least it looks like we are going to be choosing between men of principle rather than just among competing cynics, manipulators, and opportunists.

Yet on this day when every year every American becomes an optimist, I can’t help feeling depressed. And not just because I remain underwhelmed by both Obama and McCain as choices.

But because, unlike most Americans, I have read and studied and thought about the words of the Declaration of Independence.

The words that speak of what governments are for (“securing” our “unalienable” rights), and of our duties in that regard.

We — and by “we” here I’m not talking about Messrs. Obama and McCain, but about “we, the poeple” — talk about rights and duties and the role of government all the time. But we do not talk of these things as Thomas Jefferson did.

We have instead contented ourselves with being corrupted by the madness of King George. We have abused our power to give the consent of the governed. We have replaced the securing of fundamental rights with one attempt of social engineering after another. Homeland security, cradle-to-grave subsidized health care, smoking bans, hundreds of other smart ideas that demand hundreds of thousands of pages of federal, state, and local regulations to implement.

All of which are nothing less than attempts to alienate the unalienable. We have avoided some of the acts of tyranny Jefferson listed, but what is amazing is how many of them we have not. Our self-inflicted injuries, abuses, and usurpations run much longer than Jefferson’s list of twenty-seven. And I have no doubt that the convention platforms of each party will demand an extended list of new injuries, abuses, and usurpations.

Tyranny is no less because it it done “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It is only more insidious. Smart ideas aren’t always good ideas.

Obama versus McCain offers us a better choice than Clinton vs. Romney. Better than Bush vs. Gore or Bush vs. Kerrey. Hoorah.

It would be something worth celebrating. Except that once upon a time, other people called Americans decided to choose between a John Adams and a Thomas Jefferson.

The Declaration of Independence. Read it here. Really read it.

And weep.


I’ll never be asked to give a commencement addresses. Such things are for men and women of perceived great accomplishment. Accomplishments of the sort — political power, bestselling novels, great wealth accumulation — that are for some reason absent from my resume.

And don’t get me wrong. Great accomplishments are important. Without them we wouldn’t have a lot of the magical things we have in today’s world. (Or a lot of the evil things we have, but that’s a cheap shot, and one not just aimed at the Hillarys and Dubyas of the world.)

But the everyday sort of activity — the sort done by those of us among the great unmentioned — that is even more important. Of the 26 million or so businesses in the American economy, 99 % are small businesses with less than 500 employees. And most of them are of businesses with 20 or fewer. The unremarked-upon small entrepreneurs who wear ill-fitting clothes and have cheesy commercials on late night television (if they advertise at all) and remember their employees at Christmas.

Or the average teacher or the average craft worker or the average janitor.

None of these are going to get invited to give commencement speeches.

Greatness, much as you or I might dream of it, of “making it big,” is overrated.

And as an objective of public policy, its downright dangerous. Political systems naturally favor the powerful — its one of their great flaws. The more we emphasize the great among us when we are talking about institutionalizing mechanisms for social change, the more we concentrate that power. And the more likely that everyman and everyman will fail to have the quality economic impact a growing system must have from them.

Be clear: I’m not talking in favor of some feel-good socialist mentality here. De-emphasizing greatness is not the same as emphasizing mediocrity. Exactly the opposite. When a society defers its decisionmaking, its creativity, its innovation, to the experts and the celebrities who hit it big, that is when mediocrity among the great unmentioned increases.

Few ideas are as bad as “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” or “the greatest good for the greatest number.” That way lies deference to the promulgation of 70,000 pages of “helpful” federal regulations a year by the experts at the alphabet soup of agency and department following the recommendations of blue ribbon task forces and study groups.

That way leads to interference and corruption and stifling of innovation of the small, everyday, un-remarked-on sort. The great among us — the kind of people who speak at commencement addresses — tend to be distant from the concerns of the everyday innovator. They don’t have to face the choice between hiring $100/hour accountants and lawyers or trying to do their Subchapter S tax returns and trying to just figure out which of those 70,000 pages apply to them.

Celebrate not the greatest. Celebrate the everyday. And leave them the hell alone.


Okay. This blog is less than a week old and I find myself already breaking one of my personal rules. I’m going to use the blog to rant about something I don’t usually talk publicly about. I’m going to use my second post to rant about something I don’t expect to be a regular topic in this blog.

I must admit that one set of “issues” I try to avoid like the plague are those surrounding “immigration policy.”

Not because I consider these issues unimportant. Not at all.

But because the whole situation utterly disgusts me. As an avowed libertarian/anarchist, I’m going to object to most of what passes for government action anyway. But usually one can find at least a segment of the public consciousness that is worthy of positive comment, even if only on some “lunatic fringe” of right or left.

Not so when it comes to immigration, however. Here we have politicians and bureaucrats of all varieties competing for the Wile E. Coyote Lifetime Achievement Award. We have people in power — and those who support them with millions of dollars of voluntary political contributions — who seriously believe that you can keep people out of the country by building a wall. We have people in power — and those who support them with their daily populist fear-mongering rhetoric about “we can’t take them all” — who fail to be dumbfounded when the Feds decide to raid Postville, Iowa, and round up several hundred workers and their families.

If I wasn’t so skeptical of the American populace, I’d be tempted to argue that the Postville raid earlier this week was a good thing.

Oh, not because I think the INS should be rounding up illegal immigrants hundreds at a time. Frankly, I think the raid loony and unconscionable. It’s unfair to the people being rounded up, people who I can guarantee for the most part were contributing members of NE Iowa’s society and economy.

The so called “meth trafficking” rationale is absurd. I’ll take as a given that some of the people rounded up were in fact meth dealers — meth’s been a big problem here in Iowa for some time. But you don’t solve the meth problem by mass arrests of one ethnic group, by rounding up entire families. Give me an effing break.

No, I find the raid disgusting. It’s attacking families just because they happen to have been born somewhere south of the the continental 48. It’s racist nativism at its most insidious.

Insidious not because it is inspired by the evil of hatred, but because it arises out of ignorance.  Ignorance that enables the reduction of people’s humanity to their possession (or non-possession) of group characterists of ethnicity and “race.”

No, the only reason I thought — for a moment — that this raid was a good thing, is that I thought it might point out to people just how stupid those nativist sentiments really are.

Because even if one could magically put the racist component of all this aside, you’d be left with the consequences for “us” of keeping “them” out. And if you watch the fallout of Postville 2008 over the weeks and months to come, you’ll see that the consequences of immigration “control” are far bigger than the consequences of open borders. For everyone.

Most arguments about the need to control immigration tend to emphasize the economic consequences of open borders. (No one wants to admit that they have bigoted feelings about any “them”. I mean, I love a good taco, don’t you?) Open the borders and jobs are lost, welfare rolls will soar, etc, etc.

It’s the same stupid logic that says war is good for the economy.

Why is it stupid logic? Because you don’t improve the economy by getting rid of productive resources. You don’t improve the economy by blowing up buildings and killing people who have forty or more years of productive activity ahead of them. And you don’t improve the economy by taking several hundred productive people, loading them in buses, locking them up for several weeks, loading them in buses again, and shoving them back across the border.

Unfortunately, people aren’t going to see that. They didn’t see it when, a few years ago, the immigration people did a similar raid down in Marshalltown.

They’ll just point out how the immigration people are doing their job. That people were committing felonies by dealing in illegal ID documents, and that law has to be enforced.

Imagine that. You make being here illegal and there’s a trade in counterfeit IDs. Surprise, surprise. Give me an effing break.

The issue isn’t whether they were enforcing the law or not. The issue is whether the law is an ass.

I don’t consider the people who work for the state evil. I don’t generally have a problem with the border patrol or the FBI or whoever enforcing the law. I have a problem with those who make those laws.

And that doesn’t just mean Dubya and Hillary, either. It means the “American people.” Because Dubya and Hillary are just a couple of buffoons. What they do has an effect on my life only because my 300 million fellow Americans insist on letting them.

Worse. They keep egging them on for one outrage after another.

“We, the people” like to laugh at the notion of “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” But what do we do, election after election, public debate after public debate? We keep demanding that the government help protect us from our stupid fears.

I’d like to think that a round up of several hundred Mexican and Guatemalan workers in Postville, Iowa would bring forth a groundswell of outrage against the stupidity of our fears. Against the stupid laws that law enforcement agencies are asked to enforce.

I’d like to think that.

Because then at least there would be a silver lining to the storm clouds that this week dumped a load of softball-sized hail on hundreds of immigrant families and the town they lived in.

I’d like to think that.

All content of this blog, except comments added under names other than "Wade," are copyright © 2008, 2009 Wade E. Shilts