"Occupants of public offices love power and are prone to abuse it." ~ George Washington
Federal Register Watch
Federal Register Watch
by Nick Ebinger
March 22 - April 2, 2004
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.
MONDAY, MARCH 22:
AGRICULTURAL MARKETING SERVICE (AMS) - UNCERTAIN OIL SUPPLIES THREATEN AMERICA
Hawks, protectionists and other statists frequently raise the alarm over the weak state of the American oil supply, and how it supposedly adversely affects the economy or national defense. Leave it to the Agricultural Marketing Service to up the absurdity ante: This time, it's spearmint oil that needs to be regulated and controlled by the federal government.
In this regulation, the AMS establishes the amount of spearmint oil that handlers in Western states may sell. To what end? According to the AMS, it's to protect domestic producers from foreign competition . . . and, in reality, it certainly does just that. Unfortunately, it comes at a greater cost to domestic consumers in terms of both prices and, to a lesser extent, taxes.
We have a choice: We can have a protected economy that favors special interests, or we can have an efficient economy that provides the most prosperity for Americans as a whole. Unfortunately, we've left the politicians and bureaucrats who benefit from the former position in charge.
TUESDAY, MARCH 23:
BUREAU OF CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION (CBP) - COLOR COPIER INVASION THREATENS AMERICA
The CBP has determined that a certain Canon color printer's country of origin is Japan . The term "country of origin" should be a red flag: It indicates an unhealthy (for the consumer) obsession with the ramifications of international trade. As trade increasingly becomes free, various aspects of the economy get distributed according to competitive advantage; as a result, both consumers and producers benefit as prices fall and production becomes more efficient, even if this means different stages of production occur in different countries.
For politicians and certain special interest groups that seek state protection (at your expense), this is a problem that can and should be combated, these days by raising the specter of "outsourcing." (You were supposed to shudder and imagine starving American children when you heard that word; if you didn't, you aren't patriotic.) Throughout the history of government, the state has presented free trade across international borders as something to be feared, regulated and taxed. Voters are duped into thinking that international trade somehow represents a threat to the U.S. economy, as if we should belong to a limited, quasi-autarkic economic area delineated by borders laid down by long-dead politicians and generals. If we are to pursue prosperity, however, we should pursue a free trade regime that divides labor in the most efficient manner possible. Free trade doesn't benefit politicians and other statist leeches, though, and will continue to be demonized by them in the most heart-wrenching terms possible.
Back to the concept of a "country of origin": these politicians who run for office (and win) based on this globophobia have established a Byzantine regulatory system that assesses tariffs and quotas based on where products come from. When businesses sensibly develop cheap products for consumers that utilize the comparative advantages of many different countries, the government is forced to artificially determine a "country of origin" in order to implement its anti-trade edicts. The private sector may be innovative, but so long as the state holds its prerogative over trade across its borders, it will always be stymied by government greed.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24:
ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION - CAN WE FIX THE U.S. GOVERNMENT?
The new Election Assistance Commission has released this set of reports on election standards throughout the United States. This attempt at election reform would be commendable if it weren't so naive.
Changing how elections function--or how they are funded--fails to address the central problem of accountability, which is supposed to be the primary feature of democracy. The state itself is an institution that is fundamentally resistant to accountability, and this resistance grows, perhaps exponentially (insofar as one can measure this), in correlation with the size of the state.
How can one expect accountability to the people from the leaders of a 300 million-person state? Without bringing in the big bucks used to lure in gullible voters who assume that problems should be solved by the state, a voter is virtually impotent, particularly if he or she seeks freedom from government, rather than its protection at the expense of others. The U.S. government may hold elections, but it is beyond the control of individuals. Those lefties who decry money in politics and spread trite slogans about reclaiming the power of the ballot box miss the point: A country the size of the United States can never work for the benefit of the people as a whole.
There is a reason that California's budget deficit dwarfs that of other states: it's much larger, making its government that much less accountable to the people. Ditto for the spendthrift, socialist, warmongering federal government, whose fiscal ineptitude is well beyond that of any single state. Did the outcome of the 2000 presidential election in Florida really have much impact? Of course not. The question for voters, then, is not "For whom should I vote?" (in reality, "Who is the lesser of two evils?"), but rather, "Why should voters in Broward County, Florida, affect who seizes and distributes one-third of my income?"
A 300-million person republic is bogus. Don't buy it.
(Note: This set of regulations is only properly accessible in PDF format.)
THURSDAY, MARCH 25:
OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY (ONDCP) - DATA COLLECTION FOR YOUR SAFETY
The Office of National Drug Control Policy is seeking to continue its policy of tracking drug control funding in detail in the U.S.'s 25 largest cities. The idea is to coordinate spending at the local, state and federal levels, and develop "National Drug Control Strategies." (That this phrase is capitalized indicates that the feds are serious about prosecuting the War on Drugs, as it's clearly a grave threat to America.)
In reality, this data coordination is indicative of the growing centralization of power in the United States, which reduces even further the accountability of the state to its citizens. There is nothing in the Constitution that allows the federal government to engage in this sort of activity, but by the time FDR and his proto-drug czar Harry "Gunslinger" Anslinger (personal motto: "I wanna play Eliot Ness!") started pursuing drug users in earnest, the Supreme Court was pliant enough to allow the executive branch to do just about anything it wanted.
The War on Drugs has frequently been cited as a dismal failure, and in terms of whether it has achieved its stated purpose, it is. As with Prohibition, this government effort has succeeded instead in creating a criminal subclass and violent drug gangs. The drug trade has flourished to a large extent as a result of the War on Drugs.
But, like most government programs, it is also a success in one major regard: It serves as a standard campaign theme for grandstanding politicians who can win votes by claiming to be "hard on drugs." Conversely, politicians who recognize the absurdity of drug prohibition find themselves unable to vote against escalating the War on Drugs for fear of being labeled as "soft on drugs." It's the classic government program: A threat to America is established, with the state recognized as the only savior, and it will keep growing as long as the state keeps it popular.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31:
EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING ADMINISTRATION - THE GREEN MOUNTAIN LEECHES SEEK STATE LARGESSE
How often are the names of those who legitimately fought for freedom evoked in the pursuit of contradictory goals? In this case, Vermont's Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc., a furniture manufacturer, is seeking "Worker Adjustment Assistance" from the American taxpayers that bear the costs of the federal government.
Every week, several companies seek financial redress from American taxpayers for losing business to competition abroad. Consumers suffer, of course, but politicians win by playing the "fear of free trade" card (see above).
Ethan Allen (the historical revolutionary, not the company) fought for freedom from all levels of government. The leader of the Green Mountain Boys, who captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British in the Revolutionary War, he sought Vermont's independence not only from the royal government of Britain, but from the state/colonial government of New York as well.
Confusing colonial-era edicts had led to claims over the area that is now Vermont by the governments of both New Hampshire and New York, which led to conflicting property titles. Eventually, New York won out, but not before many Vermonters discovered that someone else held title to their property, or that they'd have to repurchase it. Understanding that the caprices of faraway governments were the source of their discontent, they sought freedom through secession; that is, they recognized that independence from the state is pragmatically and ethically preferable to dependence to the state. Ethan Allen led them in the movement that led to Vermont's separation from New York as the fourteenth state.
If only Allen's namesake company remained true to his beliefs . . . .
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION (FRA) - WILL THE WINDOW GLAZING LOBBY APPEAL?
This proclamation from the Federal Railroad Administration demonstrates the pettiness of federal regulation.
The FRA is offering "relief" to the Nebraska Railroad Museum from onerous regulations regarding the glazing of windows. This small museum occasionally runs trains along a short track in a rural area, but it still had to appeal to a federal agency to keep from being forced to make costly changes to its train windows. This is typical state aggression: bullying small entities to do its bidding, or at least play its game to receive its approval.
FRIDAY, APRIL 2:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT - PLANET EARTH IS SAFE FROM GOVERNMENT DO-GOODERS
The Justice Department has determined that the Methamphetamine Initiative, its effort to fight the methamphetamine trade, will not harm the environment. Well, thank God!
Not only does the government bully us with its War on Drugs, it taxes us to ensure that this effort complies with its elaborate environmental regulations. Must every governmental effort undergo an "Environmental Assessment" test? Apparently, they must.
How is this Amphetamine Initiative expected to adversely affect the environment? Will the DOJ pollute the water supply by dumping seized amphetamines into our freshwater resources? (This is an important question in an election year: General consumption of amphetamines by the American workforce means increased productivity, which in turn creates a lower demand for new jobs, and continued high unemployment rates lead to angry voters dumping the incumbent. Dubya, take note!)
On an unrelated note, the Federal Register's table of contents mistakenly refers to the DOJ's "Methane Initiative," which no doubt put a good scare into America's chili manufacturers.
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