Saturday, January 29, 2011

Indiana Smoking Ban Demonstrates How Government Works

COLUMN NOTES: Quite a few comments on the newspaper's website on this one. Very entertaining. Also, I have a strange feeling I used this photo before when writing about some other government actions. I guess that shouldn't surprise me though. (Photo is from wikimedia)

HARBESON: Smoking ban is for stooges

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — In what shall forever remain an undisclosed location, except to say it was somewhere in Indiana, I had a wild experience. Upon entering my room, I heard groaning, squealing and slapping sounds coming from next door. So naturally I put my ear against the wall. What I heard shocked me.

I had apparently stumbled upon a secret legislative caucus. I heard three distinct voices and the following is my reproduction of their conversation, as best as I can recall.

Moe: OK guys, looks like we need to pass a statewide smoking ban this year.

Curly: I don’t know Moe. Why can’t nonsmokers just refuse to patronize places that allow smoking?

Moe: Why I oughta poke you in the eyes for saying that! If people took care of themselves, why would they need us?

Larry: Hey guys, look! Now that I’m a legislator, I have almost 5,000 Facebook friends. They love me!

Curly: But Moe, should we really be telling business owners how to run their business?

Moe: That’s not what this is about you numbskull. Pay attention. This is about the health of the employees that work in these places. You don’t want to force them to breathe smoke while at work do you?

Curly: Soitanly not! But why don’t they get another job?

Moe: What’s the matter with you? You want to force those people to leave their jobs?

Curly: Gee, no. But, hey, what if some people lose their jobs because of a government ban?

Moe: They’ll just have to get another job of course.

(At this point I heard a slapping sound.)

Larry: I just put up a Facebook status, “Curly is slapping himself, ha ha.” Whoa, you should see all the “likes” I’m getting!

Moe: Listen Curly, you can’t think in terms of economics. The health of the people is at stake here.

Curly: Well, it would help I guess.

Moe: Attaboy. Now you’re thinking.

Curly: OK then, let’s ban it.

Larry: You mean, let’s “mostly” ban it. We can’t ban smoking in the casinos.

Curly: We can’t?

Moe: Of course not, dimwit. We get tons of revenue from casinos and lots of smokers gamble. So we can’t create a law that could negatively affect the casino business.

Curly: But Moe, I thought it was about health, not economics. What about the employees in the casinos?

Moe: Imbecile! As legislators we have to weigh things differently when government revenue is concerned. You don’t want to be irresponsible do you Curly?

Curly: Soitanly not! But I thought we were taking responsibility for people by banning smoking everywhere.

Moe: Geez, you just don’t get it. Listen, government revenue from casinos helps provide important government services.

Curly: Like gambling boats?

Moe: Yes. Wait, no. I mean like paying us to write new laws to fix problems.

Curly: OK, I get it. We need to keep people smoking.

Moe: Yes. What? No, we need to keep people gambling. No, wait, what I mean is that we need to give people the freedom to gamble and smoke.

Curly: In government approved areas.

Moe: Now you’ve got it.

Larry: Hey guys, I just changed my status update to “about to head off to lunch.” Wow, lots of people commenting on where we should go. I didn’t even know there was a restaurant called Hell. I wonder if smoking is allowed there.

Moe: Pipe down you slug! We still have one more item on our agenda. There’s a problem with that law we passed last year that forces businesses to card 80-year-old wine drinkers.

Curly: Yeah, we better create another law to fix that or everyone’s going to think we’re just a bunch of stooges.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson swears she isn’t really in the habit of putting her ear against walls. She much prefers peepholes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mitch Daniels Fails to Acknowledge the Complete Truth about School Choice

COLUMN NOTES: After you read this column, let's have some fun and post a comment on what you think would happen if we had compulsory tire rotation laws.

HARBESON: Daniels’ education talk is tiring

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — During his State of the State address, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was bemoaning the lack of school choice and made an unusual comparison.

He pointed out to the audience that our government does not tell families where to get their tires rotated, but we do tell families which school their children must attend.

Although this is accurate as far as it goes, Daniels failed to continue traveling along this road to tell the audience the complete truth. Instead, he took a sharp turn to the right.

If Daniels had continued traveling down the road he created with his analogy, he would have also pointed out that the reason government does not mandate and assign tire rotation sites is because government does not forcibly take everyone’s money for tire rotation purposes.

This is why there are no huge government tire rotation buildings, filled with lots of useless atrium space. This is why there are no powerful and controlling tire rotation employee unions who dictate the color of their lunch lounge. This is why there are no unending conflicts, disagreements and battles about the best way to go about rotating everyone’s tires. This is why we don’t have to endure politicians telling us about their latest ideas in how to reform our failing tire rotation services or how the tire rotation service providers could do better if only the car owners were more involved.

This is what our tires would look like if we had compulsory tire rotation laws:

Daniels said his proposed reforms of our education system are a matter of justice, but this statement is as devoid of truth as bald tires are of tread.

If he believed in justice, he could never accept and support the idea of a government compelling educational funding and attendance. Justice automatically excludes aggression against peaceful people.

Daniels is only promoting his version of government control over education. He and his carload of supporters are no different than teachers unions and other government school proponents in this regard.

Both believe in educational compulsion. Both ultimately believe that education of the individual must be controlled by government. Their battle is merely over how best to centrally plan the details of this compulsion.

For example, Daniels’ favored reform for this year, vouchers, does not solve the root causes of our problems in education. The compulsion does not disappear; the coerced funding only moves from one school to another.

Ignoring the problem of compulsory funding will never create a healthy environment for learning.

As a matter of fact, not only do voucher programs continue to rely on the false notion that coercion is necessary for education, they even continue to spread many other myths out there concerning education and learning.

Vouchers support the myth that there must be specific physical locations called “schools” for education to occur. Vouchers support the myth that there is such a thing as an ideal communal curriculum that takes precedence over individualized learning and that this curriculum can reliably be tested.

Vouchers support the myth that it takes a lot of money to learn how to read, write and manipulate numbers, when in reality it takes a lot of money to maintain a system built on a foundation of compulsory funding.

If Daniels really wanted to speak the truth to his audience about government education, he would not be making speeches extolling the benefits of his particular government reforms. He would be pointing out that compulsory funding and compulsory attendance laws are the root causes of our problems in education.

Instead, Daniels — like everyone else who benefits when people believe that government compulsion is necessary for education — just continues to steer around the truth.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson believes if government interfered in the tire rotation business, everyone would end up driving in reverse every 6,000 miles.

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Newspaper Columnist Gets Tasty Letters

HARBESON: Your letters are like a box of chocolates

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I often feel like Forrest Gump when I open column e-mail responses because I never know what I’m going to get. But this week, I truly did feel like Forrest because I actually received a box of chocolates!

They came from a reader who appreciated the column titled “This is water torture,” which was about Charlestown’s water situation and the treatment some concerned citizens received from government officials.

The chocolates look delicious but I can’t figure out how to download them for eating. I’m going to have to call IT support, which means I’ll never meet my deadline. So let’s hear what some other readers have sent my way.

After writing the column titled, “Why is there Wi-Fi welfare?” about Jeffersonville’s government-funded wi-fi zone, I received a very interesting response. However, this person wishes to remain confidential, so I can’t tell you what he said. No, really I can’t.

OK, I’ll tell you one piece of information. This person signed off as Deep Throat, so you know he or she gave me some juicy information. But sorry, I can’t tell you what it was. I promised. And since I’m not a politician I keep my promises.

The column “Sex Sells, Roger Says,” was enough to actually get Roger to phone me. Sorry, I can’t tell you about that either. The paper won’t print the conversation.

The column, “Not all jobs are created equal,” responding to a remark made by economist Morton Marcus produced several responses.

John was fairly succinct, “EXCELLENT article on Job Creation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

If only jobs were as easy to create as exclamation points.

And Thomas had this to say, “Way to smack ’ol Marcus around!”

But Terry wasn’t so crazy about it, “Dear Debbie, I generally stay out of the opinion fray mediated by The Evening News. However, I do read what others are thinking — or read that they obviously are not thinking. Most often I appreciate your humor and quandary over the state of politics at all levels.

“But your article for Thursday, Oct. 28, struck a nerve with me. Now, I don’t know Morton Marcus, but the IU Kelley School of Business is one of the nation’s best. A Ph.D. economist who has been a faculty member there most likely knows his stuff. So, you had better have some real ammunition at hand before calling out someone like that. I haven’t gone back to read his latest article, but you provided the quote you assaulted.

“Here are some arguments that indicate you are wrong:”

I of course quit reading at that point. No, really we had a nice e-mail exchange and I think both of us learned a lot. For example, he learned he was wrong.

Tom was concerned about the rash I contracted after attending the local political rally and offered up his home remedy: “I sure hope your rash clears up soon. I’ve heard that a good cure for political rash is to apply liberal applications of disbelief and skepticism to the affected areas multiple times daily. [grin]”

I’ve been doing that but it’s not working. I think it’s the liberal part that’s the problem.

Another regular reader is also concerned about my welfare. Mike writes, “Hey!! I haven’t e-mailed you in a while, but rest assured I read your column every week. I had to write you today to warn you about messing with Mayor Hall and Mayor Galligan. If you persist in your actions, they are gonna come by your house and pour a bucket of Charlestown water on your car. And you know it contains manganese.”

The fact that readers are so concerned about me may be better than the box of chocolates. But I won’t really know until I can download the stuff.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson wasted her time with IT. They recommended burning to a CD and everyone knows that melts chocolates.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Do We Have a System Focused on Justice?

HARBESON: Where’s the justice?

Of all government institutions, courts and prisons are probably the ones most vehemently defended as necessary and proper government functions. This is because most people are led to believe that courts and prisons exist to administer justice.

But is this what happens in reality? Do we truly have a justice system, or is it merely another institution with the same problems as any other government monopoly?

A common problem of government monopolies is unchecked growth, and this has clearly happened in Indiana’s prison system. According to a study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the Pew Center on the States, Indiana’s prison population rose by 41 percent over the past 10 years.

One of the reasons stated for this huge growth is that Indiana’s sentencing laws for drugs and theft “do not result in sentences that are proportionate to the severity of the crime.” As a matter of fact, “the average sentence for someone selling drugs in Indiana is nearly 50 percent longer than the average sentence for sexual assault.”

So Indiana’s laws are more focused on punishing those adults who engage in mutual voluntary transactions than the most heinous act that can be done to another person outside of murder.

Is this a system focused on justice?

Another sentencing problem noted in the report concerned property crime. According to the report, “Indiana state statute defines theft, regardless of the value of the stolen material, as a felony offense. In contrast, most states define theft below a certain amount as a misdemeanor.”

As a result, we end up paying to house people in prison for stealing relatively small amounts of money. This is particularly nonsensical considering a person sitting around in prison is doing nothing to provide restitution to the actual victim.

Is this justice?

It’s easy to see how the political process helped create these situations. Everyone has heard politicians huffing and puffing about getting “tough on crime.” Maybe some of you thought this would translate into forms of true justice, but all we have to show for it is an increased prison population with a lowered crime rate not even on par with neighboring states, which had much less increase in prison population.

Is this justice?

These harsh sentencing laws have resulted in more people spending more time in prison. More people in prison means more money is taken from innocent citizens to pay for their incarceration.

Is this justice?

What’s even more horrendous is that now, as a result of those past reforms, from politicians who ignored the ideas of justice, we now have to endure more political blather telling us that more reform is needed to fix the failures of their past reforms.

Is this justice?

If the politicians involved were focused on justice, they would never have created those sentencing laws. People focused on justice understand that drug laws themselves violate basic principles of individual freedom and justice because there is no victim. People focused on justice understand that theft does have a victim, but one who deserves restitution from the criminal, not the additional abuse from government of being forced to pay for the criminal’s housing.

Reforming disproportionate sentencing laws may be helpful now that politicians have already interfered so badly by closing off options. However, I’m afraid all that’s going to happen is that we’ll be forced to endure more of the same by a new breed of reformers, who still seem to be more focused on numbers and the collective rather than the individual.

But this is just proof that government monopolies are never a good idea, especially if you value justice.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks she’s justified in valuing justice, just in case you care.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

School Vouchers: Education Stamps

HARBESON: We don’t need no education ... stamps

If you plan on following the upcoming legislative session in Indiana, I advise you to put on protective gear because it looks like school vouchers are going to be on the Republican agenda.

The idea of vouchers is not new, but has always been very controversial. To more easily understand why, we need to realize that the idea behind vouchers is no different than the idea behind food stamps.

Food stamps help the needy purchase food for their family, and vouchers, or education stamps, help the needy purchase education for their family.

Both are intended to help the needy improve their current situation, so any controversies surrounding each should be identical, but they’re not. This is because government controls education far, far more than it does food.

(This is strange for a society that says it values freedom. After all, the freedom to feed our minds is at least as important as the freedom to feed our bodies, isn’t it?)

Anyway, as it stands now, we do not have government food stores. We do, however, have government education stores; we’ve simply been trained by those in government to refer to them as “public schools.” These government education stores exist solely due to the initiation of force on others.

This is why it’s misleading when politicians like Mitch Daniels say that vouchers will introduce competition into education. To have anything close to true competition in education, all schools would operate under identical market-driven constraints. They would all use voluntary means to gain customers — just like all of our food stores do.

If all we had were privately run schools, then introducing vouchers, or education stamps, would have no more effect on the relative competitiveness of schools than food stamps do on food stores.

What’s even worse, in our current education system, it’s the people who usually express concern for the needy who end up getting in their way. Many of these people fight hard against education stamps for the needy because so many of them make their living off of the government schools.

Naturally, they don’t want to make it easier for their currently trapped customers to leave, so they want to severely constrain the use of education stamps.

We would see the same thing happening with food stamps if we had government food stores. But since we don’t, the needy can go to any store that is approved to accept food stamps.

Parents can buy grapefruit at one food store and then go to another store to purchase hamburger. They can even purchase seeds and grow their own food at home.

But no such freedom would exist with education, even if a school voucher program were passed by Mitch and his buddies because the lack of freedom in education has developed a system that, even in the private realm, is often an odd all-or-nothing venture.

For example, in our current system, a parent would never be able to take education stamps and purchase math services at one private school and go to another private school for reading.

And, of course, none of these families would be able to use vouchers to purchase items that would help them grow their own self-directed education for their individual family.

Therefore, the first step we need to take — if we truly do want to create and develop better educational opportunities for everyone — is to rid our society of these government education stores. We need a competitive private system for education just like we have a competitive private system for food.

When we’ve accomplished this separation of education and state, then we can focus on the problem of government food stamps and vouchers, which promote the myth that it’s moral to initiate force upon others to help the needy rather than using peaceful and voluntary means to do so.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson enjoys the freedom of feeding her mind, but she does try to avoid too much salty language.