Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Wal-Mart vs. Bureaucracy

In this editorial, Sheldon Richman, of the Foundation for Economic Education, points out that bureaucracy (government) is unable to successfully provide services that can (and should) be provided by the free market simply because it is devoid of the natural feedback that the market provides...that of profit-and-loss.

In addition to this lack of performance accountability, there are other factors regarding the nature of bureaucracy that contribute to its failure. The one that strikes me as the most baffling is this:

Bureaucracy rewards failure.

Hurricane Katrina, and the resulting disaster provide an excellent example of this phenomenon. Among the various things government failed to do either in preparation for, or in response to Katrina, the most obvious was the failure to maintain the levees protecting New Orleans from flooding. The levees have been in disrepair for years, and the Army Corps of Engineers diverted tons of money from levee maintenance to other projects.

Still, the result of this failure will undoubtedly be to throw more money at the body responsible for it. Those who failed to protect New Orleans from flooding will see a salary increase next year. The power and influence of the agency that failed will grow. Taxpayers will have more of their earnings garnished to fund a continuing debacle. And this is true of any government activity.

Failed government projects do not get cancelled. They don't go away with budget cuts. They get bigger. They get fatter. Their very failure is their success. There is not a single government program that is working to make itself obsolete. The perverse incentives created by this mechanism should be obvious.

But what if government hadn't been put in charge of protecting New Orleans from flooding in the first place? What if government was powerless to protect anyone or any place from flooding? Would the need for flood protection simply vanish? No...not at all. Where, then, would flood protection come from? Quite simply, it would come from those who have a vested interest in protecting their property from flooding.

In New Orleans there are a great number of businesses, homeowners, and industries that would obviously benefit from flood protection. Oil companies, for instance, have a vested interest in protecting refineries located near seaports from being destroyed. Business owners working together to prevent loss have a much greater incentive for ensuring that efficient, effective protections were erected and consistently maintained. Government has no such incentive.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Word in Defense of "Illegal" Immigration

A few days ago, I was once again involved in a conversation in which I was the guy with the unpopular opinion. Go figure, right?

Someone made a comment about illegal immigrant workers, specifically those who migrate to Maryland during crab season to pick the meat from crabs for packaging, and how they bring their culture with them, and what a travesty this is. Many around the group agreed, and the commentor went on to say that in the areas where the migrant crab-pickers live, one can find more and more Mexican foods, imports, etc., and that they oughta damn-well learn English if they're gonna come here, earn their money, then head back to Mexico to live like kings.

My response to this (in my own inimitable fashion) was, "But I don't wanna pick crabs."

Simple, yes, but enough to light the bonfire of indignation. I was then told that they shouldn't be allowed to come over here, "getting all the benefits we get", if they're not even willing to learn English.

Again I stoked the flames by asking, "What are they getting that they aren't earning?"

I never got a clear answer to that question, but it did prompt a good deal of flapping and flailing. Then from the other end of the table came the statement, "It's fine if they want to do that, but they could certainly do it legally!"

I have to admit I was stunned. "Dumbfounded" might be a better word, actually. My face must have looked like a constipated Carol Channing, cuz at that point everyone got up from the table.

So why is everyone so bent about illegal immigrants? Why do we need to close our borders to people who are really only interested in making a living? Hell, Americans could learn a lot from the average Mexican work ethic. Maybe that's what pisses Americans off...they make us look like a bunch of lazy hypocrites. My money's on that one.

And what difference does it make whether they do it legally or illegally? "Legal" just means they've jumped through a bunch of hoops, dreamt up by some bureaucrat just to make it more difficult for immigrants to come earn a decent living. Sure, it means they then have to pay taxes, but it means a lot more cost to taxpayers and consumers, as well.

Putting aside the question of whether or not ANY of us should be paying taxes in the first place, I contend that it's actually better for us if illegal immigrants remain illegal.

"Blasphemy," you say! Well, here's why...

First, illegal immigrants are less of a drain on the "system" than taxpaying Americans. They're ineligible for public services (welfare, unemployment, etc.) because they're not citizens, so they're not using services they're not paying for. There are far more individuals living on someone else's dime amongst our own citizenry than amongst illegal immigrants.

Second, they're cheaper to employ because they're illegal. Employers aren't required to provide health insurance, pay payroll taxes, or make social security payments for illegal workers. They're also not bound by minimum wage laws. Granted, they're flying under the radar, but so what? This all results in lower prices for American consumers.

Third, much of the money they earn is spent here in the U.S. As noted above, the immigrants' presence creates a market for goods that otherwise wouldn't exist, benefitting businesses in areas where immigrants work. It works out all around.

If all illegal immigrants suddenly became "legal", the increased costs to taxpayers would indeed be noticeable. Suddenly they would be subject to all the same destructive rules that apply to the rest of us. If you really think about it, the protests start to sound like jealous whining, because in a way they're more free than the rest of us.

Why is anyone surprised?

This piece, in the Washington Post, reports on misspending of funds by the Army Corps of Engineers on non-flood-related projects in Louisiana. It's one of thousands of similar pieces that decry the failure of the federal government to do whatever in the wake of or in preparation for an event such as hurricane Katrina.

Yet nearly every single piece that I've read, rather than suggesting that we stop putting the federal government in charge of saving us from the disaster of the day, all call for MORE government involvement, greater funding, or more oversight by some lot of boobs from amongst the lot of boobs that boobed it all up in the first place!

I don't get it! Why is it that when the fed fails at something the automatic response is to give them more stuff to screw up? Or to give so-and-so more money to continue screwing it up in more expensive ways? Haven't we figured out yet that trusting the federal government to accomplish anything is like using a billy club for brain surgery? Make the club bigger or plate it with gold, and you'll still only succeed in making guacamole of the patient.

In our daily lives, when an attempt to solve a problem fails, we typically try something new. Yet when government fails, the response is to do more of the same thing. It defies logic. Which is probably why it continues to be so popular.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Are we all entitled to a boat?

A recent op-ed piece by Eugene Robinson, of The Washington Post, entitled No Longer Invisible, contains this excerpt in response to the Katrina disaster:

No one can claim that the post-Reagan orthodoxy of low taxes and
small government, which does wonders for the extremely rich, also inevitably
does wonders for the extremely poor.

What was that about a rising tide lifting all boats? What if you don't have aboat?

I have two issues with this. The first is that the "...orthodoxy of low taxes and small government" is a figment of the imagination. The GOP talks a good game when it comes to reducing taxes and the size of government, but somehow government seems to get larger and larger and spend more and more money every year. The federal government is not "small" by any stretch of the imagination. There is nary an aspect of our daily lives in which government doesn't have its grubby fingers.

The second is the implicit message that government should supply boats for those who don't have them. It shouldn't. Individuals should be left alone to make their own "boats". Certainly there are those who are incapable of doing so or who have fallen on hard times, in which case reaching out to another individual or private charity is perfectly acceptable. The more we rely on government, however, the more powerless we become to help ourselves.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Donations for victims of Katrina


I received this email today from a company whose software I've used in the past. They're a small company that creates web editing software. It arrived just as I was trying to figure out to which charity I wanted to donate to help the victims of hurricane Katrina. This is a difficult decision to make because it's hard to know for sure exactly how your money is being used when you donate to a charity. Some honestly put the funds toward legitimate uses to help others, and some do not. It's often hard to tell which is which.

At least with this approach, you can know that you're sending items that can really only be used for one purpose. It's not likely that a group would solicit donations of razors and toothpaste in order to fill their own medicine cabinets...especially at a time like this. I also support this effort because I can be reasonably certain that this is not a charity that receives public funds, putting it exactly where it the realm of people helping people.

I plan to pack a big box full of stuff to send to these folks, and I hope that you'll consider doing the same. You may not choose to send your donation to CoffeeCup, but if you do donate, I urge you to do some research and find a charity that will put your donation to the use for which you intend it.

Here's the email I received:

As many of you know CoffeeCup Software is a socially active company. In the past our users have raised over 1 million dollars for September 11th efforts and over $50,000 dollars for vistims of the Asian Tsunami.

Hurricane Katrina has given us a different challenge. We have accessed the situation and have found a way we can all help. Since CoffeeCup Software is located in Corpus Christi, Texas (a couple of hours south of Houston), we are calling upon anyone who receives this e-mail to send 'Goods' to our office. This will directly help the thousands upon thousands of American refugees that will be entering Houston, Beaumont, and througout Texas within the next days and weeks.

Our office will collect what you send and will drive these items by cargo truck to the refugees where they are located. Over 25,000 people will arrive at the Houston Astrodome tonight and we expect many waves of refugees over the next month. We will collect items for the next 60 days and will make trips once a week or more as needed.

Currently many Charitable organizations are overwhelmed and we want to make sure the Families and Children will be given what they really need without wait. Send as much as you wish, we have plenty of storage.

Some items we believe they need are:

Diapers, Baby Wipes, Infant Care Items
Personal Care Items (soap, razors, shaving cream, toothpaste, hygeine items) Clothing (socks, underwear, shirts, shoes, pants, shirts) Long Distance Calling Cards, Batteries, FM Radios, Walkie-Talkies Toys (coloring books, crayons, puzzles, any activity toy) and more....

Address is:

CoffeeCup Software
c/o Hurricane Aid
226 South Tancahua
Corpus Christi, Texas 78401

You can also order things online at places like,,, and others and have them sent directly to our offices as well.

Please do not send food, water, or money. This will be handled by Organized Charities. Send what you would personally want if you were placed in a very uncomfortbale position for a very
long time with little or no money (use your best judgement). We will be documenting our efforts by Web Cam and Pictures and these will be posted on our Website soon.

If you would like to Donate money you can do that
here: or
"We make a
living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."
- Sir Winston

Thank you so very much again,
Nick Longo
CoffeeCup Software, Inc.