“In the unlikely event of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device.”
Archive for March 2005
I couldn’t remember my name. So, I called a psychic hotline to find out. While I was on hold, however, my memory returned. The psychic got on the line soon after, and I sheepishly hung up on her. She still charged me nine dollars and twenty-three cents.
One day, I received a chain letter – I mean, petition – asking me to support NPR. Well, this isn’t quite true. It asked me to ask the government to keep funding NPR. Then, my mind had a chain reaction of its own:
(1) The government makes money from taxes.
(2) If you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail.
(3) If you don’t pay for NPR, you go to jail.
Let’s be honest. A very small minority of Americans listen to NPR. The rest of the nation may linger there for a second while looking for the nearest oldies stations, but I don’t think there are a lot of cases where public radio made someone fall in love with classical music or national politics. If you love either of these things, you did so before you encountered NPR.
This is when I had a revelation, my first principle of government: a person uses government to make other people pay for something he wants. That’s why there are so many interest groups in Washington. That’s why college students, most of whom don’t pay for much of anything, are the most liberal group of people in the nation. That’s why the people who send petitions to keep NPR on the public trough usually don’t donate to NPR pledge drives. That’s why millions of dollars of government money go to polar bears, the Rice Museum, the Olympic Games, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
January and February are prime basketball months here at Duke. Hence, I spent about a month living in a tent while we were waiting in line for our home games against North Carolina and Wake Forest. It was pretty cold at times, but I managed. One thing that really helped me and my tent-mates was a huge tarp we’d set up to protect our tents from wind and rain. This device allowed us to sit outside the tent (avoiding the smell) while still avoiding the elements.
Alas, this perfect situation was not to be. In the state of North Carolina, it is illegal to put a tarp over two or more structures at the same time. So, to avoid the $50 ticket, we took the tarp down, and tenting wasn’t as fun anymore.
This law really made me wonder. Why should the government care how I set up my tent? Aren’t I capable of taking risks, even small ones like this? What kind of tent is going to catch on fire when it’s 40 degrees and damp? If this were really a problem, wouldn’t the tarp instructions tell me so? It just didn’t make sense. I then started to understand the furor over seatbelt and helmet laws. I also realized my second principle of government: government makes intrusive laws to protect people from themselves.
Now, it’s time for full disclosure. I have never liked government. Neither the students nor the teachers elected me to the junior high “Leadership Team,” which is just as well because the only thing they did was go to Pacers games. I never ran for office in high school, and I never lifted a finger to help build a Homecoming float. It’s going to be the same thing with Duke Student Government, though I do enjoy my monthly dose of government-subsidized pizza. I like the people in student government. They’re friendly and driven. I’ve just always found better things to do.
Thinking about better things to do, by the way, is something I always find myself doing in meetings. I loathe meetings. Every one I attend seems to include a 20-minute discussion on what the exact wording of our mission statement should be. Every minute of talking about doing something is a minute spent not doing it. The bigger the group gets, the less gets done because everyone has to say something, just to show he’s listening. Ask twenty people for three bullet points, and you’ll get twenty bullet points. If the group gets around a hundred, then nothing will even be said. Someone will start a side conversation, thinking no one can hear him, and five other people will have the same idea, and suddenly there’s a bunch of noise, and it’s no one’s fault. That’s teamwork.
Here’s another thing about bureaucracies. If you work in one, one of your goals, invariably, is to expand your department. If you have a temporary job, you want to make it permanent. If you have two people working under you, you want to make it five. Once you have ten or eleven people under you, you try to split them into different branches so you can climb higher up on the management tree. This goes on and on until, presumably, the entire world is part of your organization.
This, I believe, is the logical end of the U. S. government. In the 1930s, government spending accounted for 10% of our country’s gross national product. Now, it’s 30%. The budget gets larger every year. All government programs automatically receive raises with respect to the inflation rate; if a program gets a spending “freeze,” it will still get at least that. The government is also our largest employer. Every year, the best young minds go to Washington and work 12-hour days for next to nothing in the bureaucracy instead of going to the private sector. They probably also participated in student government.
Now, the government does some good things with our money. If you give something 2.5 trillion dollars, it had better get something done. Yet, I can’t help thinking there’s a better way to spend that sum, one that doesn’t involve coercion. If you throw out enough laws, you’re bound to save someone’s life, but that person could presumably achieve the same result by thinking for himself. There are a lot of brilliant people working in government. Don’t any of them have something better to do with their time? The whole situation makes me very uncomfortable.
So, there you go. That’s why I’m a conservative. I’m a lonely harpooner, roaming the Seven Seas, hoping my blow will be the one to take down Leviathan. I do not expect many to join me on this vessel of yet, but assistance of any kind, on any issue, would bring a smile to my face.
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