"A human group transforms itself into a crowd when it suddenly responds to a suggestion rather than to reasoning, to an image rather than to an idea, to an affirmation rather than to proof, to the repetition of a phrase rather than to arguments, to prestige rather than to competence." ~ Jean-Francois Revel
Federal Register Watch
What freedoms have you lost this week?
The Federal Register is the official daily publication for Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential Documents. This column attempts to summarize the highlights (or lowlights) of the Federal Register during the preceding week.
Instructions for subscribing to the Federal Register can be found at the end of the column.
OCTOBER 6, 2003:
FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE - TIBETAN ANTELOPE LISTED AS ENDANGERED
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 has been extended to the Tibetan antelope. (How magnanimous! I hope the antelope realizes how fortunate it is.) There's one problem: the Tibetan antelope does not live in the United States. It primarily lives in China, with some in India and (perhaps) Nepal. That the federal government runs around protecting various animal species in my name and on my dime is ridiculous enough, but extending these actions into foreign countries makes no sense. How is it to enforce this protection?
The Fish and Wildlife Service lists a number of environmental threats to the Tibetan antelope, and I have no doubt that such danger not only exists, but is unfortunate. Nonetheless, why is tax money going toward this protection?
(The correct answer, by the way, is "Why not? It's not our money.")
OCTOBER 7, 2003:
ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO TAX AND TRADE BUREAU - SEEDLESS GRAPES; GROUNDLESS REGULATION
This agency (formerly part of the ATF) here establishes a particular region of Oregon as an American viticultural area (AVA). The specifics are not what's interesting; rather, the concept of the AVA is a good example of the pettiness of state regulation. An AVA is a governmentally designated wine-growing region, so designated with the intention of providing accuracy in labeling. Indeed, minor geographic differences can matter for true wine connoisseurs, but there's no reason why the free market can't provide proper labeling. Instead, the federal government has set up this somewhat arbitrary system, based upon mind-numbing regulations that require the expense of a lawyer to decipher. If consumers care enough about the differences in wine from one valley to the next (as many do), then the free market will provide a system in which they will be accurately labeled (as I showed last week). That the taxpayer has to pay for an inferior system, based upon the producers' financial wherewithal and an inflexible set of regulations, is unfair.
For more information, the Wine Institute has a thorough yet interesting website on AVAs.
OCTOBER 8, 2003:
FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION (FDA) - WATCHING YOUR NEIGHBOR'S WAISTLINE
On October 23, the FDA will be holding a meeting to discuss its "role and responsibilities in addressing the major public health problem of obesity," along with any related nutritional issues.
Who gave the FDA this role? How did they become responsible for the eating habits of individuals? Why, it's an important public health issue, of course!
In fact, the concept of "public health" is a statist chimera. Health is an individual concept; the well-being of body and mind varies from person to person, and the maintenance of that well-being is the responsibility of each individual. Health is one's own burden, particularly when it is adversely affected with one's own choices (which is usually the case with obesity).
The origin of "public" health is intertwined with the origins of "public" education, "public" transportation, "public" television, "public" works, the "public" sector, etc. The positivist-progressive movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century found do-gooders seeking to fuse democracy and the scientific management of society. To that end, they plugged the concept of a unified "public," a homogenized U.S. citizenry that could more efficiently be managed by elites. However, they failed to recognize (or purposely ignored) a few points.
First of all, it is inefficient to try to organize society from the top down. Trite slogans aside, Americans do not stand united as much as they represent a mass of individuals with widely varying, arbitrary and ever-changing tastes, desires and needs. It is impossible for a public sector to gauge these needs and wants; the private sector only does so by existing in a fluid, flexible and fragmented form.
Second, the homogenization of America would inevitably result in the debasement of the masses, as they are brought down to a dull standard. (This was recognized by Rockefeller, Carnegie, and other Robber Baron-era industrial magnates who sought a docile and compliant workforce for their factories. Some "public"!) In fact, the elevation of the "public" is the degradation of the individual.
Third, tying together democracy and the public welfare as dual patriotic duties will only lead to the increased demagoguery of those re-elected by the beneficiaries of a state welfare system, leading to an increase in that system, and, as a result, an increase in the number of people who try to benefit from it. In other words, it's a never-ending cycle. Once a democratic welfare economy is created, there's no way to control it without destroying it. It grows, and stagnates, and feeds parasitically on its productive sectors to continue that growth.
Individuals should be responsible for their own eating habits, no matter how unhealthy. My neighbor's pork rind habit is no business of mine, just as my predilection for fugu is none of his.
(Of course, there is nothing progressive about the state forcibly seizing part of your property and/or income to sink into its schemes, but the conventional wisdom is that it is progressive to want to financially support the public good. You know the drill: "Ask what you can do for your country," and all that buncombe.)
On this same day, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would be giving a grant to the National Health Museum to help promote this concept of "public health." Its justification is that museums receive hundreds of millions of visitors each year, but they rarely address public health issues. Of course not: public health policy is boring!
Give schoolchildren what they want: more dinosaurs, fewer Medicaid dioramas!
NATIONAL INDIAN GAMING COMMISSION (NIGC) - FEE INCREASE FOR INDIAN CASINOS
The U.S. government makes amends for its historical wrongs against Native Americans in part by freeing it from its puritanical anti-gambling tyranny; that is, it allows Indian tribes to legally open up casinos. Of course, these casinos are regulated by the NIGC, which, until now, has collected up to a ceiling of $8 million from the casinos to fund its operations. The NIGC is changing its regulations to make this ceiling more flexible (read: higher), based on Congressional approval. Currently, legislation passed by Congress would allow the NIGC to collect up to $12 million - a 50% increase.
So, there you have it: the federal government grants the Indians the legal right to open casinos, and then takes an ever-increasing share of the profits. There's a term for this, but it's politically incorrect.
Then again, I think politics is tyranny, so why should I care about political correctness? Indian givers, Indian givers, Indian givers!
OFFICE OF THE WHITE HOUSE - VARIOUS PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATIONS
The hypocrisy continues. What cloying decrees does Bush offer this week? First of all, it's Fire Prevention Week. You only have to look to the government's mismanaged forestry policy and the firebombing deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Tokyo to understand its fire prevention policy.
Second, it's German-American Day. Another WWII firebombing, this time over Dresden, shows how much the U.S. government cares about the German people and culture. Curiously, Bush cites John D. Rockefeller as a great German-American. He is, of course, famous (or infamous) for being hounded by the federal government for being a successful entrepreneur.
Third, Bush declared this week Marriage Protection Week. This has nothing to do with protection, but rather with aggression. Marriage, like any other relationship or association between individuals, is the business only of those involved. (Nor should do-gooders try to quash the right of individuals to express their disapproval of said relationships!) Voluntary relationships are the basis of civilization, and any effort by any organization to disrupt these associations by force is immoral.
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