Thursday, March 26, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Who needs freedom? The libertarian, or classical liberal, would say: “Everyone.”

But it is clear that not everyone “needs” freedom in the same way, or with the same urgency. There are, in fact, people who benefit from the lack of freedom. There are entire industries of people who profit from the lack of freedom.

Consider the prison guards, and their loathsome “union,” which subsidizes politicians who promise to make more and more Americans criminals through legislative fiat. The war on drugs is a profitable enterprise—for those who are paid to administer the war. According to the War on Drugs clock, as I write this, the US government has spent $12.07 billion on the war on drugs since the first of the year. In that time, those paid to enforce these laws arrested an estimated 438,326 people. Of those, 207,767 were probably arrested for smoking pot.

Twelve billion dollars is a lot of money in so short a time. That money goes to someone. The recipients of those funds are the war on drugs industry which lobbies to keep a failed program alive. It is just convenient for them that their moral outrage about drugs happens to coincide with the interests of their wallet. When we arrest 438,326 people we need lots of jail space and we need lots of guards. The prison guards union is a political force that literally buys the incarceration of people in order to line their pockets.

According to The Celling of America, in 1980 California had 22,500 prisoners and prison guards were earning $14,400 per year. By 1996 there were 140,000 prisoners and salaries had jumped to $44,000. A report in USA Today, for last year, says the prison population had then reached 170,000. The San Diego Tribune reported:
Some 2,400 rank-and-file correctional officers' pay exceeded $100,000 in 2005, compared with 557 the year before, a San Diego Union-Tribune analysis of payroll figures shows.
One guard grossed $187,000, making him the highest-paid correctional officer in California, according to data provided by the state controller's office. At the historic San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco, one out of five guards was paid more than $100,000 last year. The average base pay was $57,000 with plenty of options to increase that.

In 1980 the state of California was spending $300 million to incarcerate people. By 2008 the budget was nearly $8 billion. Eight billion dollars buys a lot of support for “being tough on crime” and “zero tolerance.”

We understand how greedy bankers and businessmen can lobby for legislation that will enrich them. But the same is equally true for police officers, firemen, schoolteachers, and prison guards. All of them have reasons to push for higher spending in their particular field. Some lobby to increase the demand for their services. Law enforcement does it by pushing for tougher laws, mandatory sentencing, and new legislation. Through the powers of legislative fiat they can create new crimes over night. And they benefit when they do. Schoolteachers are constantly looking for ways to make the demand for their services more expensive, even if educational results never improve as quickly as their paychecks do.

When millions of dollars were thrown into programs to deal with “children who abuse children” the number of so-called “child offenders” exploded. They were everywhere. Residential programs were established all across the country where therapists could “treat” these offenders. Professional abuse sniffers were trained to find abuse. And, to keep the whole thing going, actions that were once considered normal sexual curiosity among the young became heinous crimes requiring the services of the abuse industry.

Consider just one small section of the sex abuse industry: the psychiatrists and psychologist hired by the state of California to “evaluate” sex offenders. One of them, Robert Owen, was paid $1.5 million for his “services” in 2007. The Los Angeles Times notes: “That’s equivalent to working 100 hours per week for 52 weeks at nearly $300 per hour—top scale in the private sector.” Dawn Starr billed the state $1.1 million for her alleged services. Working part time Shoba Sreenivasan billed the state $900,000 for her services.

Are you starting to see why California is in a perpetual “budget” crisis?

When Obama announced he was going to waste billions on subsidizing “alternative energy” for major oil companies it was applauded. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that one industry group supported the idea “even though many of its members—such as oil giants BP and ConocoPhillips—emit large amounts of greenhouse gases.” The paper seemed to believe these guys were just altruists. Yet both these companies actually profit and receive federal money from these very programs. Instead of acting against their own “self-interest” as the Chronicle implied, they were lobbying for legislation that would line their pockets.

Of course, all this moving around of trillions of dollars must be done through the hands of the political elite. So they benefit from each transfer. The more funding they transfer, the more anxious the “special interest groups” (or what I call particular interest groups—PIGs) are to curry favor with the political elite. PIGS want to be on the good side of politicians so they can guarantee that when the money moving begins that more is moved into their pockets than out of their pockets. And they usually succeed. The one group that tends to lose out each time, is the actual taxpaying public

Moving money increases the power, prestige and influence of the political classes. It also raises their cost. Campaign contributions are, in essence, an attempt to purchase the right to distribute trillions of dollars to the groups that have purchased your services. Just before the election the Telegraph reported that Obama “has raised nearly $650 million, with $150 million in September alone.” According to Open Secrets he spent just shy of $760 million, or just over three quarters of a billion dollars—just to get elected. Of course, now that he is elected, he is moving trillions of dollars around. That is a very hefty return on the money that the PIGs invested in Obama's campaign.

A huge amount of the trillions that he is redistributing to wealthy corporations will come out the pockets of the poor suckers who sent $5 to his campaign because he offered them “Hope.” If it doesn’t come out their pockets through higher taxes it will come out when the trillions in new debt drives down the value of the dollar and drives up interest rate. Mr. Obama is the more anti-poor than any other president in history. He has done more to harm the world’s poor than the most malevolent, uncaring, selfish monster around. And the poor love him for it. That’s politics.

People wanting to keep the money they earn, to feed their own family or improve their children’s chances in life are called “greedy.” Small businesses that are pushed against the wall are called “greedy” for not surrendering even more of their thinly stretched earnings to the state. But the PIGs, those particular interest groups that lobby for a transfer of wealth to themselves are portrayed, mainly by themselves and the media, as caring, unselfish, individuals merely attempting to improve society.

The police and guards, who lobby for zero tolerance and more laws, are merely “protecting” us. The therapists, who collect millions from sex offender programs, are “saving the children.” The greedy corporatists, that push through “alternative energy” subsidies, are “saving the earth.” Apparently if you use the political process to take other people’s money you are “public spirited,” “selfless” and “compassionate.” “Greedy” and “mean-spirited” only applies to those who wish to keep the money they worked for. Spending your own money is evil; spending other people’s money is virtuous.

A cautionary tale of today's political feast comes to us from The Twilight Zone. Aired on March 2, 1962 the episode (view here) is based on the 1953 short story by Damon Knight, entitled To Serve Man. Earth is visited by a race of aliens known as the Kanamites, these giants promise to solve all Earth's problems—and they do! They end war, end famine and make life wonderful. Early in the show, one of the giants accidentally leaves a strange book behind. Cryptologists try to decipher the meaning of the Kanamite language with little luck. The best they can do is determine the title: To Serve Man. With such obviously altruistic motives the planet lines up to honor the Kanamites. Tens of thousands take up the offer to travel through space and visit the planet from which the Kanamites came. Only at the last minute, and far too late to help, does one studious cryptologist discover that To Serve Man is a cook book.

This is a fairly accurate portrayal of the political process at work. Of course, unlike the Kanamites, the political classes are not giants (more like mental midgets), nor do they actually succeed at solving very many problems. But they promise to serve man. And lo and behold, when they serve up dinner, you are on the menu and the PIGs are at the table.

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