I don't mean to offend. It's probably going to happen anyway.

Friday, September 27, 2013


You know, often when I get into political stuff here, I bring it back to the Constitution. While I think it a very valid way to do things (else I wouldn't do it) I think for this I'll just leave it alone.

Instead, let's go through a bit of a thought exercise. The Federal government accomplishes many of its machinations through grant-in-aid and similar means, where they will give the states a sum of money, with a series of caveats on how it is to be spent. The states then institute the various programs and regulations that the federal government wants them to.

First, let's assume that these programs have the will of the people, the state, and the federal government all in accord. Yes, I know that this is bordering on high fantasy, but bear with me for the sake of argument. The people consent to be taxed by the federal government, and then the federal government turns around and gives that money to the states, which in turn spend the money on what actually needs to happen. The question of 'why don't the people just spend the money themselves' is easily answered by organizational needs. Individual people rarely have the capital themselves to accomplish collective goals, so they pool resources as managed by the government. This is one of (if not the only) reason we have government. The state being the one to manage a public expenditure is sensible and proper.

We have an extra step in the above system though. Why is the fed involved? Getting the funds passed through the federal system causes wastage. Even if it takes one minimum wage employee half an hour to get the funds sorted and passed along (which is a hilarious figure for anyone who knows bureaucracy even remotely), that's still a few dollars spent for pretty much no reason whatsoever, as well as time delay. When you figure in actual wastage levels in bureaucracies on both the federal and state levels, this just doesn't make sense. The fed shouldn't be involved if everyone is in accord.

Now, lets see what happens when the states and people are not in agreement with the fed. (There are two other cases, where state wants and people don't, and where people want but state doesn't. I'll go through these if people really want me to, but I expect people can figure it out on their own) The federal government wants the state to produce 2.7 snarfling widgets per person in the state. Neither the people nor the state have any need nor desire for snarfling widgets, so they don't want to produce them. What does the federal government do then? They take money from the people (because that's what HAS to happen for government to spend. They don't have money of their own) and therefore from the state, and hold it up and say "You can have this back if you use some of it to do what we want you to." So the state accepts the money and churns out 2.7 snarfling widgets per capita and has a bit of money left over to do the things the people and state actually want to. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but that reeks of extortion to me, far worse considering that the carrot was taken from us to begin with. So, the government takes our carrot, dangles it over us until we perform a little dance for it, and then we get our carrot back, except that it's missing a chunk and smells vaguely manky.

The thing is, there are proper uses of extortion in government. Ending segregated schools, as a relatively uncontroversial example,* was not something that most people in Alabama wanted, nor was it something the state wanted. That doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do. We  need the federal government for things, even some that go against the will of some of the states. That's the thing that I hold as the metric. If the federal government goes against the will of all the states (cough cough Obamacare cough) then they really shouldn't be doing it, EVEN if it's the right thing to do in the moral platonic sense. If the government passes a law that is right, but unacceptable to the people, that law just won't work, and it weakens the potential for the government to do legitimately good things in future.

The concept of 'the ends justify the means' is always a sticky one. In a way, the government is already the 'means' though, so I see no reason to make it any slimier and evil than it already is. If the government wants to use that excuse, they'd better have an explanation that is so beautiful and well thought out it would make Socrates, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson cry tears of transcendent joy.

I just realized this is almost a return to my political ethics series from wayback. This may bear further scrutiny.

*Yes, I KNOW the arguments. Just bear with me, I said relatively.

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