"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
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 13, 2003 :
Say what you will about the enslaving, predatory old bastard . . . at least his memory offers us a day of respite from the enslaving, predatory actions of the U.S. government!
OCTOBER 14, 2003 :
COAST GUARD - REGULATION OF DRAWBRIDGE OPERATIONS
Week after week, the Coast Guard publishes several regulations in regard to the operation of drawbridges. This is by no means a serious assault upon individual liberties, but as these regulations have become a regular item in the Federal Register, it merits mention, as it invites an opportunity to critique minor government intrusions upon liberty. The most serious criticism a libertarian can offer is that it is ridiculous that these sorts of things should be regulated from Washington (or the Pentagon, or whatnot), and the nonlibertarian has a relatively strong response: It's Not a Big Deal. Indeed, this is true on a case-by-case basis: a minor change in the operation of a drawbridge in Massachusetts or New Jersey doesn't affect me very much (altogether, drawbridge regulations will likely cost me one cent of taxes per year and, perhaps, one closed drawbridge per lifetime), but there is something more here. This is not just about advance notice for the lifting of a rarely-used drawbridge over the Charles River ; rather, it is about too many cooks spoiling the broth.
A drawbridge should be opened when it needs to be opened; this goes beyond common sense to being a truism. Common sense also tells us that the best arbiter of that is not some nationwide drawbridge guru, but the person who owns the bridge--"owns" being the operative word, for if the drawbridge is in the public domain, then other considerations come into play.
What considerations? Well, look at the regulations: They are required by federal law to consider "Small Entities" (and "Assistance for Small Entities"; don't get me started), the "Collection of Information" (trust me, there are copious regulations about this), "Federalism" and the "Taking of Private Property" (as if the politicians and bureaucrats care!), "Civil Justice Reform," the "Protection of Children," "Indian Tribal Governments," "Energy Effects" and the "Environment," among other things.
The absurdity of federal involvement is so obvious here that it serves as a sweeping indictment of pithy federal regulation; nonetheless, while statist thinking predominates, we shall have to settle for this show-and-tell presentation of government ineptitude to get our point across.
OCTOBER 15, 2003 :
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT - OBSERVATION OF LEIF ERIKSON DAY
Here, Bush honors Leif Erikson, who, like his forebears, was a great explorer of dubious morality. Unfortunately, while it is known that Leif discovered the New World about 500 years before Columbus , the details are long lost, and unlikely to be recovered; the only archeological remains are on the northern tip of Newfoundland , which may or may not be the southern extent of Norse exploration.
Of greater interest here, however, is the society that spurred this early exploration of North America . Medieval Iceland is a peculiar case, as it is the closest example we have to an anarchic society. While it probably was not anarchic per se (this is debatable), medieval Icelandic society was very similar to what one would see in free market anarchy, and is therefore worth examining. For 300 or 350 years, this individualist society worked quite swimmingly, until it succumbed to a civil war and domination from abroad. Two major arguments for the failure of the Icelandic Free State include the development of a nascent welfare state and the centralization of power in favor of a few families. Either way, this shows that minimal governmental power inevitably frees itself from its idealistic bonds as those who seize that modicum of power seek to increase it, and succeed.
I suggest that the history of Iceland be studied along with the Enlightenment writings that fomented the American revolution. While they may not have influenced the Founding Fathers, they should have.
OCTOBER 17, 2003 :
DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY - TERRORISM RISK INSURANCE
These regulations clarify the situations in which the taxpayers will be forced to underwrite insurance risk due to terrorist activity. What hypocritical gall! Most terrorist activity here occurs as a result of the U.S. government getting involved where it shouldn't, and now the politicians are using stolen taxpayer money to lessen the burden on their constituents (or, more likely, donors) for their meddling. They steal from us, use that money to make our lives more dangerous, and then steal more from us to make sure that we pay the price for their folly, as opposed to the insurance companies that donate so much to their campaigns.
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