Sunday, November 28, 2010

Economic Development is the new Common Good

HARBESON: Bad can come from the common good

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Do you know what the Ohio River Bridges Project and Jeffersonville’s Vissing Park controversies have in common? They are helping citizens see, on the local level anyway, that common ownership through government force doesn’t always work out so well for the individual.

Common ownership by way of government is based on the idea of the common good, a term that could have merit in the voluntary realm but not when used to legitimize government action.

The phrase common good is not used nearly as much as it used to be by government proponents. They have discovered a better term to co-opt: economic development. This language change makes sense once you start noticing the cozy relationship between business and government that exists today.

While your Thanksgiving dinner is cooking, let’s chew on these two local examples and study the damage caused when a decent and morally neutral idea like economic development is taken over by those who think it’s proper to use government to get things done at the expense of individual rights.

The Ohio River Bridges project has been simmering for decades and the one item that has finally gotten many to lift up the pot lid is the idea of tolling all bridges to pay for it. Some are willing to accept this and others are not.

Why? Well, it’s all a matter of winners and losers.

However, this issue does not come down to the clich├ęd battles of rich vs. poor, or big business vs. independent small business. The tolling of all bridges puts the conflict into a slightly different grouping: those who could benefit from a huge long-term construction project vs. those who are more directly affected by the tolling itself.

Those who will directly benefit from the bridges project include the lower-paid laborer and administrative workers of any company, big or small, that has a part in the project. These people could be employed for a very long time if the entire project gets the go-ahead and tolls would be a minor issue next to the possibility of long term steady employment in jobs that are often susceptible to layoffs.

But others, like local retail businesses who want to draw Louisville customers, will no doubt be harmed by the same action. So will businesses that transport their product over the river. And of course all those who cross a bridge to get to work will lose if they have to pay tolls on existing bridges.

These conflicts and problems are a result of past actions built on the idea of common ownership and the common good. As a matter of fact, Spaghetti Junction mess itself is a testament to the ideas of the common good, government ownership and central planning.

Next, in Jeffersonville, we see that certain residents are angry because government officials decided to clear wooded park land to make way for ball fields. This is partly due to the planned removal of another park because of the canal project.

Of course, those who will use the ball fields like the idea but those who enjoyed the park in its more natural state do not. This is typical of problems that occur when parcels of land are supposedly held in common ownership for the common good because in the end only a select few actually make the decisions.

I’ve never heard of such conflicts and issues happening with the privately owned Perrin Park. As a matter of fact, all those who are concerned about the effects the bulldozing at Vissing Park had on bird habitat can thank the Perrin Family they didn’t just hand their land over to the government. Perhaps any birds needing new homes will find this wonderful private space and be protected from the invasive species known as overly controlling politicians.

I know this park problem has further solidified a desire for a change in mayors for some residents, so I want to issue a warning for the next election. Mike Moore is on record as saying one of the things he’d like to do in the future is to create a park for the newly annexed area. This would of course mean putting yet more land under Jeffersonville government control.

Just something to think about as you talk with this mayoral candidate about his plans.

It’s time to start thinking about what government is doing in the name of economic development and to understand that individual cases of direct harm have little weight. In the name of economic development, officials will add new taxes on existing roads. In the name of economic development, officials will grab the nearest bulldozer and start knocking stuff down. In the name of economic development, government will harm some businesses that owners spent a lifetime growing. In the name of economic development, government officials are even willing to kick people out of their homes.

The next time you listen to anyone who has an idea that requires the use of government force, pay attention to what they say when defending their plan against those who object. Do they talk about the common good and/or use the term economic development?

If so, then they’ve just told you all you need to know about their respect for the individual. Maybe this knowledge will make a difference and maybe it won’t, but at least you’ll understand the truth. And that’s a start.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is working on a spray that will halt the growth of the harmful invasive species known as overly controlling politicians.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let's Free Airline Security from TSA Control

COLUMN NOTES: There are several comments at the newspaper's link below where this was originally published if you want to go read those. I really like one person's comments about air travel options. Also, I'm always trying to really find the root causes of issues and this column at really seemed to hammer home how we are playing a part in creating this whole mess.

HARBESON: Put up a fight for flight

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I remember the first time I had to remove my shoes to get through airport security. While putting them back on, someone joked that eventually we’ll be taking off all our clothes to get through security.

I laughed. But I’m not laughing now.

If you haven’t heard already, body scanner machines, which use X-ray technology to see through your clothes, are rapidly being installed in airports around the country. (Louisville does not have scanners. Yet.)

The body scanners are the latest move in the Transportation Security Administration’s reactionary efforts to provide airline safety. Previous actions like the shoe removal and three-ounce liquid limits were met with some initial protest and derision, but in the end were grudgingly accepted.

However, these new scanners are causing a much greater negative response from varied groups. There are many concerns about these body scanners, from radiation exposure, to privacy and even effectiveness. Yet stimulus funds are pouring into the purchase of these machines sold by companies well-connected to lobbyist groups and government officials.

Currently, passengers can opt out of these “naked” body scanners and several groups are using this opt-out process to organize an educational event. “National Opt Out Day” will be Wednesday. (To learn more about this outreach, go to

Other groups say only a full boycott will do because opting out has its own problems. If you opt out of the scanners, you will be subject to an “enhanced pat down” by TSA personnel. If you’re wondering what “enhanced pat down” means, let’s just say that a rubber-gloved TSA agent will grope the areas your momma always told you never to let a stranger touch.

Worst of all, none of this will really make you safe. The inside of the body remains unseen and you can easily guess what the next step will be for the determined terrorist.

So the question then becomes, what are you willing to subject yourself to next? Will you obediently drink the radioactive Kool-Aid if the government tells you it’s the only way you can be safe?

We already know some people will submit to further intrusions on their body. These people say their safety is worth any preventive measure. And they should be free to submit if they want. But this freedom isn’t extended to everyone which is why we have a problem.

Everyone weighs potential dangers and risks differently. There’s a wide range of what people are willing to accept or not accept as they evaluate the statistical probabilities of certain actions.

But individuals are not allowed to weigh risks and benefits of security measures when it comes to flying. The government has taken complete control. Everyone has to submit to their determination, no matter how misguided, political, ineffective and equally dangerous it might be.

Do we really need and benefit from a government monopoly on airline safety? Why not let airline businesses decide what they want to do for security and then let individual customers decide who to patronize?

No one can predict what creative ideas could come from such freedom and competition. The options could be exactly the same as they are now. But it’s more likely that airline security would be very different as airlines cater to a wide variety of customers and take actions to prove they are indeed safe.

I also can’t help but wonder if the result of such competition would mean that that the airline flights I chose would be full of people who understand they must ultimately be ready to take charge of their own safety. I hope so because those are the types of people I’d want around in the unlikely event a terrorist did make it on my plane.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson does not want to opt out of flying because she still hasn’t made it into the Mile High Club.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Efficiency, Professionalism and Cooperation of Local Governments

HARBESON: Don’t pool your resources

SELLERSBURG — I can’t say much about the rest of my body, but after diving into the details of the Charlestown pool controversy, my head sure is swimming.

In case you’ve been busy with other recreational activities not run by government, let me catch you up on the basics.

Greater Clark County Schools needed land to expand Charlestown High School. The city government swimming pool happened to be on land the school corporation wanted. So, these two government entities supposedly entered into an agreement for a land swap and the new government school was built.

This is an example of the efficiency, professionalism and cooperation of local governments, right? Wrong.

No written and signed contract exists for this land swap deal, so when the time came to actually complete this transaction, government officials didn’t agree on the details and the fighting began.

Government lawyers — probably the same ones who should have made sure signed contracts were in place to begin with — now had plenty of work to do. After two years of negotiations, appraisals, threatened lawsuits and other legal wrangling, the two government entities settled and the school corporation agreed to pay the city $122,000. No land swap was included.

Now at this point you might think the city would take this money and put it toward replacing the swimming pool that was destroyed. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead the money is going into a fund for a much bigger project.

Mayor Bob Hall wants to spend money on a “total youth and family activities complex” which he says will cost more than $2.5 million. Of course, the mayor has no clear idea where this money will come from.

I don’t know what it is about mayors in Clark County, but every time plans are made that involve water, they fall off the deep end with grand visions that require spending other people’s money at exponential rates.

A group of residents who want the current pool replaced don’t really care for Mayor Hall’s plan. They just want a new pool built. This group collected signatures and showed up to share their views at a recent council meeting.

At one point during the meeting, the pool debate actually started to veer off into the area of voluntary action when a councilman asked a speaker if he would donate land for the pool. The resident said no, but offered to match any voluntary dollar contribution this councilman would donate.

In response, the councilman said something about the resident’s money being “too dirty.”

I don’t know what he meant by that. I do know that any government employee would be very wise not to ever mention the term “dirty money.” Of course, I’m assuming he actually has a real understanding of how the money is collected that pays his salary.

It’s too bad this councilman chose to muddy the conversation right at the point when the discussion was starting to move in the direction of respect for all by way of voluntary donations — particularly since neither the government nor this group of citizens pushing for the pool are considering the people who don’t care to be involved with any form of government-provided water recreation.

When you really stop and think about it, what is government, which was originally set up to protect individual rights, doing in the pool business anyway? Or to put it another way, why aren’t they also in, say, the bowling alley business?

This isn’t really about a pool. This isn’t about swimming. This isn’t even about “the children,” or sprinklers or water guns. This is about who has control of the government gun.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson says her favorite swimming stroke is the unregulated freestyle.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There Are Reasons Why I'm Not A Journalist

HARBESON: Taking attendance of the community rally

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — There’s really only one miscalculation Lindon Dodd made when preparing for last Saturday’s Community Rally event. He scheduled it so that I’d be able to write a column about it before he could.

Let me start by talking about attendance. I’ve been to at least five politically oriented events at the Clark County 4-H Fairgrounds and although this one was probably the largest, the turnout was still small.

I’ve had several years to think about why all of these events had low attendance and I think I’ve finally figured it out. Most people really only want to come to the fairgrounds so they can experience the excitement and thrill of risky behavior that can only happen at the county fair itself.

I’m sure you know the thrilling experiences I’m talking about. Activities like wearing a brand new pair of shoes just to see if you can get back home without any chicken, cow or hog excrement stuck to them. Or trying to see how many corn dogs and cotton candy swirls you can eat before puking your guts out.

How could any political rally or candidate forum ever compete with such fun?

On the other hand, I could also classify this event’s attendance as too large, at least for my purposes, because I ran out of copies of “The Law.” It’s encouraging to know there are others out there who are interested in educating themselves about political philosophy.

If you’re reading this to find out what the speakers had to say, I’m afraid I won’t be of much help. I’ve already pointed out that I have very short attention spans at these functions. As a matter of fact, at one point, when a speaker was getting way too long-winded, I started imagining how fun it would be to have one of those shepherd hooks — you know, the kind used in vaudeville times to pull bad performers off stage.

In the middle of this mind distraction, I was jerked back to reality when this same fellow apparently went too far with his comments when discussing a specific candidate, something the organizers requested speakers avoid.

I’m not surprised this happened since this speaker is a lawyer. Lawyers consistently rate second, behind only politicians, in the list of professions who often don’t know when to shut up. Of course, coming in a close third are newspaper columnists.

I do mean it though; don’t ask me what this little brouhaha was about. I truly missed most of the details because I was in the middle of that shepherd hook fantasy. This is one reason why I’m not a journalist.

Not long after this ruckus, I found myself faced with my own potential disturbance. I had two fellows come up to me at nearly the same time requesting a book. Having only one book left, I wasn’t sure what to do. Just as I was about to suggest a cage match they worked it out for themselves.

They behaved like perfect gentlemen too, politely engaging each other with phrases such as “Oh, you take it,” “No, you should have it, you were here first …” I learned a lot about these two while watching them work out the problem — neither of these guys would ever cut it as political campaign advertisement writers.

I’m glad I went because I enjoyed meeting several people I’ve only interacted with online until now. There was one downside though — by Sunday evening, I noticed the rash. My doctor warned me this could happen because I’m allergic to anything political.

He says I should engage in less risky behaviors so from now on, I might just stick to riding the Rock-O-Plane on a full stomach.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson prefers the Rock-O-Plane to politics because hanging upside down is much less disorienting.