Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sunday Alcohol Sales Laws In Indiana

 It's been a while since I wrote an opinion column but I read something  over the holidays about the Indiana law banning some alcohol sales on Sundays that spurred me to write the following response.

HARBESON: How do you wish to spend your Sundays?
— I really got a buzz reading the recent column in the News and Tribune by Steve Kohrman as he downed the first shot in the repetitive drinking game going on in Indiana concerning retailers selling alcohol on Sundays.

Mr. Kohrman is chairman of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers, a group of people better known to you and me as package liquor store owners. The association is a lobbying group and like all other lobbying groups, it is interested in promoting laws that benefit its members.

This association has given more than $264,000 to Indiana politicians since 2004. They pour their funds into both parties’ mugs, but the Republicans get their glasses filled a bit more, receiving 56.9 to 43.1 percent for Democrats.

Now all that said, the fact that Mr. Kohrman represents a lobbying group does not automatically invalidate any points he makes in defense of continuing government restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana. So let’s take a look at the points made.

Mr. Kohrman frames this issue as small local businesses fighting big out-of-state corporations in the form of “massive retailers” and “big box chains.” I am certainly no fan of corporate abuse of power through legislation but they are not asking for special circumstances that apply only to them, the point is to simply open up a trade opportunity, one that would include package liquor stores.

(Kohrman does mention some differences in state laws concerning package liquor stores and other retailers and if there are unfair regulations in this area, I encourage him to work on complete repeal of those laws.)

So if this would open up trade for all, then what’s the problem? Well the package liquor stores like the benefits they have been receiving from the current government imposed ban. I suppose they like being off on Sundays and not having to pay employees to work on Sundays. If they want to operate their business in this manner, I fully support them. What I do not support, however, is using the government to tell their competitors what to do.

Kohrman claims that people want regulations on alcohol and lists results from a recent study to back up his point, implying that the survey’s results prove Indiana residents do not want alcohol to be sold on Sunday.

He is correct that many people do want regulations on alcohol but I would challenge him to prove that this desire for regulation amounts to no more than setting a legal drinking age in the illusion that this keeps alcohol out of the hands of minors.

Sunday alcohol sales have nothing to do with the age limits on alcohol sales so there is clearly no need to interfere with voluntary trade between businesses and customers who are willing to accept the arbitrary government-imposed age controls.

In addition, this survey was nationwide. How can a phone survey of 1,000 people nationwide tell us anything about what Indiana residents think about selling alcohol on Sunday?

Mr. Kohrman’s worst point is when he attempts to apply the slippery slope argument by claiming that opening alcohol sales on Sunday could mean that Indiana might end up saying we can legally serve our kids alcohol like those apparently backward people of Missouri do already.

I hate to tell him this but it’s pretty darn easy right now for any parent to give their kid alcohol in the privacy of their own homes with or without any stupid state law. So if he is truly concerned about this issue he would immediately close up his second-generation package store because he cannot know if he has already been contributing to this apparently horrid problem.

The package liquor store owners need to stop fighting the release of restrictions that are clearly now only serving as protectionist policy and figure out how to make themselves relevant in the modern marketplace.

— Indiana resident Debbie Harbeson can be reached anytime at Even on Sundays.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why Government Gun Control Debates Never End

In gun control debates, it appears that many gun control advocates are saying that they don't want to ban guns, they just want to use the government to enact specific limits/regulations.

But this is where we encounter a major problem. When government enacts gun laws, then those people inside government, in order to get others to comply with those gun laws, ultimately have to force this compliance by doing what? Well, by threatening peaceful people with guns.

Threatening peaceful people with guns is exactly what everyone claims they don't want though, isn't it?

Whether we like it or not, we must admit that in order to control/regulate guns, ultimately guns must be used.

Therefore, the main reason why government gun control debates never end is that the debate itself contains an inherent logical contradiction.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Time to Move Forward

HARBESON: That's all I have to say about that

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I have important news to share with you this week. It’s either good news or bad news, depending on your perspective. As of today, I will no longer be writing a weekly column for this paper.

No, I did not have an affair. I don’t even have a biographer. I’ve simply decided I’m ready to move on.

For some time now, I’ve been writing with a very specific underlying theme in mind. Ever since I reached the conclusion that following the non-aggression principle, respecting private property and engaging in voluntary interactions are preferable to government force, I have been attempting to analyze local issues and conflicts from this voluntaryist perspective.

We will never be able to create ideas that will help us lessen conflicts with each other as long as people continue to accept the legitimacy of pointing the government gun at each other to get what we want. That’s simply not going to work in the long run.

So from the standpoint of that philosophy, I have tried my best to critically analyze and question everything surrounding government, especially the messages put forth by politicians who have been pushing this propaganda in an attempt to maintain their power for far too long.

I’m at the point now where I have said all I can say about these ideas.

In addition, I’m just worn out. I don’t know how other writers do it, but for me, it takes a very long time to produce a column. Perhaps I’m a perfectionist and tend to over-analyze, but I find I must spend lots of time, an embarrassing amount of time actually, crafting each column to my satisfaction. Even after all the time spent, I still think I could have done better.

I don’t know why but I’m just not a very efficient writer. I need time to let an idea brew in my mind and a weekly deadline means that I sometimes find myself not fully present in my actual life. I am getting to the point where it’s too much of a chore to put the effort to produce a product I am proud of and respect my readers too much to just “phone it in.”

Ending my current relationship with this paper does not mean I will stop writing though, particularly since writing helps me learn and grow. I will probably be writing for more specific audiences — people who already understand and share similar underlying philosophies.

This will likely happen in the area of education, mostly because that’s where I have the personal experience. As a matter of fact, our family’s experience of really living outside of government control by deciding to home educate is what started me down the path of understanding the benefits that can accrue when individuals, even young children, are given lots of freedom to learn and grow.

I would like to thank News and Tribune Editor Shea Van Hoy for giving me the opportunity to take up space here every Thursday and for granting me the freedom to say the things I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say them. I know he’s caught hell more than once after publishing my opinions.

I also want to thank the readers. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing all of your responses, both positive and negative, and I appreciate everyone who took the time and energy to send comments and reactions to the opinions I’ve shared on this page.

One final point for those who may be glad to see me go: I wouldn’t celebrate too hard because who knows, I may return sometime in the future with a guest column if something happens to rile me up enough.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson took an embarrassingly long time to write this final signature line. You can take an embarrassingly long time to write her at

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pondering A Serious Family Issue

HARBESON: Play the name game

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Let’s face it. Even if you feel like there is a candidate worth voting for, the final week leading up to a presidential election is annoying. Newspapers, electronic media, direct mail, phone calls and yard signs blast political messages constantly. The only way to even come close to avoiding the bombardment is to leave the country — which is exactly what I did this year.

It was an excellent plan. I thoroughly enjoyed not having to hear the politician’s distortions, outright lies and promises that can’t possibly be kept. Once we were out of the country, the air was clear, crisp and almost devoid of election pollution. I could finally take deep breaths without gagging and my sinuses even cleared up.

The trip wasn’t all fun and games though. I did have a particularly serious family issue to think about while on this trip. Apparently, I am going to be a grandma, whether I want to or not. Don’t get me wrong, I want my daughter and son-in-law to have a baby, really I do. I am very excited and happy about it. I just don’t want to be a grandma.

Well, to be more precise, it’s not that I don’t want to be a grandma. I do. It’s just that I don’t want to be called by that name. I’m sorry but no matter how much I think about it, the name just doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Instead, every time I say the word, another joint starts aching, cracking and popping.

There are those who say I can’t control this anyway and the kid will figure out for him or herself what he or she will call me. But I’m telling you now if the kid tries to call me grandma, I’m just not going to answer.

Yes, I realize that might backfire because he or she will just assume I’ve lost my hearing but I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway. Maybe I can’t control getting older but by golly, I will have some control over my name.

Yeah, yeah I know what you’re thinking. I’ve heard it before — you think that when the little tyke begins to talk, I just won’t care anymore. But you’re wrong. Despite Shakespeare’s beautiful poetic prose about the sweetness of that rose, grandma as a name simply stinks as far as I’m concerned.

Look, I don’t mean to insult those of you who really like to be called grandma. If you love it, that’s great, grandma.

When my daughter, son-in-law and husband realized how strongly I felt about this, they started throwing out lots of alternative suggestions, all of which I rejected because they were just more euphemisms which said to me, “Look old lady, you are a grandma so just shut up and deal with it.”

So after they finished with their barrage of mi-mi’s, gi-gi’s and lady ga-ga’s, I said, “Can’t the kid just call me Debbie?”

In reply my daughter said, “Well, why don’t you poll the readers of your column and see what they think?”

What a great idea, an actual poll about something important for a change!

So, what do you think? Shall the name Debbie be retained by, well, Debbie to be used even by her grandchildr ... I mean, her children’s children?

If you do not think they should call me Debbie then feel free to offer alternative write-in candidates. Send your vote to the email listed below.

Oh and maybe it goes without saying but any write-ins for “grandma” will be thrown out immediately so don’t even try to stuff the ballot box. However, I will not be checking IDs so go ahead and vote as many times as you like.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is now accepting all votes and suggestions for alternatives to the name grandma at

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: John Goodman's "Priceless"

HARBESON: Learning more about health care

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — A couple of months ago, a reader contacted me and suggested I review a book that he thought more people should know about. I had previously read a few articles from the author which intrigued me so I agreed. The book’s topic covers what is arguably the most important service/product everyone purchases at some point — health care.

Everyone has at least one personal story about health care that left them feeling frustrated. Medical professionals and patients feel trapped by the current system. Various third parties (government, huge insurance corporations and employers) are so deeply involved in the process that normal market forces don’t even come into play. As my friend noted in his initial email, “What other service or product do we engage the services of without knowing what the price is?”

This book, titled “Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis,” was written by John Goodman, an economist who is sometimes referred to as the “father of Health Savings Accounts.” Goodman has been deeply involved in the study of the health care system and has spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve it. After reading this book, which is loaded with footnotes and references, I can’t say I have a complete handle on this complex topic but I’m certainly more informed.

One aspect of health care that has always puzzled me is how health insurance developed in a way that it often isn’t insurance at all, at least in the traditional sense of being a product offered to protect against a possible and unpredictable catastrophic event.

Goodman writes: “Most people in health policy view health insurance as just a way to pay medical bills. This book is one of the very few places in all of the health policy literature where you will find a defense of the idea that there is a social need for real health insurance. It is also one of the few places you will find an argument that we need a real market for health risks to determine the best way to insure against them and to determine what is the best way to partition insurance products between self-insurance and third-party insurance.”

Goodman’s book examines how interference in the health market has created perverse incentives as patients, doctors, insurers and other third parties try to make it all work. Professional licensing laws, tax laws, labor laws and employee benefit laws have created unintended consequences which have played a large part in creating the health care system we see today.

These artificial laws create an atmosphere that attempts to defy and ignore economic laws. No matter how much we may want to, we simply can’t avoid basic economics. One of the best examples of this is the problem of pre-existing conditions. Goodman points out that “Most of the time, the problem of pre-existing conditions arises precisely because health insurance isn’t portable.”

The reason it’s not portable is because of laws interfering with market forces.

Interference in the market has changed the very idea of insurance in regards to health.

Goodman explains: “The casualty insurance market is a real market in which real insurance is bought and sold. The health insurance market, by contrast, is an artificial market in which the product being exchanged is not real insurance at all. To a large extent, it is prepayment for the consumption of health care.”

He goes on to explain how this has created many problems leading to the huge increases we have seen in health care costs. One of the most interesting statistics Goodman notes is that spending on health care has much less effect on mortality than we think: “Studies show almost no relationship between aggregate spending on health and population mortality. Lifestyle, environment and genes have far more influence on life expectancy than anything doctors and hospitals are doing.”

He also talks about equality in health care and mentions many studies done in Britain and Canada that show the poor still do not get the access and quality of care that everyone hoped. Britain even has a term for one aspect of the inequality that comes from location: “postcode lottery.”

My favorite chapter in this book was “Designing Ideal Health Insurance.” Starting from scratch and taking all the interference out, he asks the reader to think through the process of how 1,000 people might set up a health care plan that works. In addition, when discussing problems to consider he adds this point: “Since all agreements are voluntary in this imagined scenario, coercion is not an option.”

Although he doesn’t really take this idea through to the end (he appears to be more focused on reforming the current system) anyone who tries to help people think about social issues from a voluntary standpoint is certainly on a better track than most.

So if you are interested in learning more about health care, including how you will be affected by the Affordable Care Act, you may want to read this book.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would love to see a health care plan where coercion is not a pre-existing condition.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cast of Characters in Clark County Government

This week's column:

 HARBESON: M*A*S*H, Clark County style

I have to admit that I’m having trouble following the latest episode in the ongoing saga that is Clark County government. Was property improperly sold to a commissioner’s daughter? Did her father know about it? Did Erika’s long lost twin-sister’s deceased ex-husband come back from the dead?

Oh sorry, I think that one is from another soap opera. Maybe what I should do for now is see if I can just sort out the cast of characters.

To help put all of this together, I’m going to match them to characters in the television show M*A*S*H. The inspiration for this idea came from Clark County Commissioner Les “Col. Potter” Young. When asked about details surrounding his signing over deeds to a fellow commissioner’s daughter, he introduced M*A*S*H into this controversy by claiming that he may be the victim of the “Radar Treatment.”

He was apparently referring to County Attorney Greg “Radar” Fifer, since he was the person who presented the deeds to Young for his signature. “Radar” Fifer agrees that “Col. Potter” Young may not have completely understood the “significance of the deeds he was signing.”

Fifer has an even bigger part to play in this particular episode. The commissioners say they were following his specific recommendation to handle the sale of some of the private properties that did not receive bids during a 2010 tax sale.

According to the News and Tribune report, there were a total of 182 properties left over and Fifer recommended that the commissioners use a company called SRI Inc. which specializes in tax sales. However for some as of yet unknown reason, Fifer recommended they use this option for 130 of the properties. For the other properties, he recommended using a local law firm, one where he just happens to be a partner.

In addition, he may have made mistakes in following government regulations for advertising the properties. In the article, Fifer said, “I’m not perfect. Maybe I made a mistake, I don’t know.”

This is not a problem though because if he did make any mistakes that may end up costing the county money, surely he’ll step up, say he’s accountable for his actions, and take responsibility. After all, that’s exactly what he thinks Attorney Jack Vissing should do in regards to mistakes Fifer says Vissing made concerning the fiasco over property purchased for the Clark County airport.

But enough about “Radar,” next up in our cast of Clark County characters is Commissioner Ed “Maj. Frank Burns” Meyer. On the television show, Maj. Burns often hurled confusing comments at people who confronted him with questions about his actions. Similarly, when Meyer was asked to give his daughter’s contact information during a commissioner’s meeting, he said, “Don’t mess with my family.”

Meyer certainly is under no obligation to give out anyone’s contact information, but what is that comment supposed to mean? How is asking for contact information messing with someone’s family?

Meyer says that his daughter has the same right as any other adult citizen to bid on property. That’s true, and just like any other individual who wants to try to make a buck by taking advantage of tax sales on property claimed by government, she moves out into the public realm. Meyer cannot possibly be surprised that there might be increased scrutiny when a government entity makes property transactions with a close relative of a county executive, particularly if regulations on handling the sale may not have been followed properly.

To complete the cast, I should mention the third county commissioner, John Perkins. However I don’t think Perkins can be thought of as a major character, considering how he got the part of county commissioner. Since he was chosen by a tiny caucus to fill a vacated seat, he may be more like one of those characters who only play bit part and then go away, never to return again.

In addition, Perkins can’t be a main character in this episode because he says he has “no specific knowledge” about this deal. I believe him. After all, he’s been pretty busy handing out his own special benefits by ordering the county highway department to do work on his neighbor’s private property.

I don’t know, maybe Perkins should get higher billing because the more I think about it, he’s right there with the rest of them playing out the consistent underlying theme of any government show: Taking advantage of the power that comes with the monopoly on force.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson has noticed that even when the cast of characters change, the government show is still predictable re-runs.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Telling Big Bird the Truth

This week's column...

 HARBESON: What would Big Bird do?

CLARK COUNTY — This column is being brought to you by the letter “V.” V is the first letter of many wonderful words, but my favorite is voluntary. It’s not used much during political election seasons and is certainly not likely to be a word you’ll hear vociferously proclaimed during a presidential candidate debate — mostly because presidential debates are for discussing eight-foot tall yellow bird puppets.

Big Bird is a perfect symbol for politicians to exploit as they try to manipulate people in their quest to gain government power. Both parties benefit from the current hyper focus on their disagreement about funding this fowl because it keeps attention away from issues they heartily agree on, like the continued use and funding of other big birds, ones that are currently terrorizing, and sometimes killing, children.

Since they both endorse drones, the parties don’t want you to think about funding those big birds. They want you to focus on fighting with your American neighbor over funding the benign Big Bird.

But even that makes no sense. Why should the politicians be the ones to make any decisions about Big Bird? We should be asking Big Bird what he thinks.

I’m sure if someone on Sesame Street actually told Big Bird the truth and took the time to explain how the Corporation for Public Broadcasting [another example of the many bipartisan efforts from the 1960s] is funded, he would be shocked. From what I’ve seen, Big Bird is a peaceful fellow so once he learned the truth he surely would not want to accept any funds that were gained through threats of force.

Big Bird would want people to fund his work voluntarily, because they saw value. He wouldn’t be too worried about whether or not people would donate because he can see that many do so already. In addition, Big Bird and his buddies know how to sell lots and lots of branded products to children.

Big Bird would understand that not everyone will want to fund his work for a variety of reasons. He’d accept that some people prefer not to fund television shows like Sesame Street because they don’t care for passive learning and would prefer not to encourage parents to sit their young children in front of a blaring, flashing screen. He’d leave those people alone.

Big Bird would be annoyed that the Democrats want him to remain at least partially dependent on government funds and don’t want him to prove he can pay his own way. He’d be mad when he realized that they only want to use him to manipulate the voters so they can have control of government.

If some people tried to convince Big Bird that he should continue accepting the coerced funds because it’s a relatively small amount that he gets, he would hang his head in disappointment. He’d tell them the specific amount is not the point. To someone like Big Bird, principles matter.

Big Bird would behave like this because he cares about how others are treated. So of course he would think that each person should decide for themselves whether or not to fund a television show.

Once he learned the truth, once his eyes were opened, Big Bird couldn’t go back. He could never feel good accepting money that was taken without consent from people on Sunflower Street so it could be redistributed to Sesame Street.

Although Big Bird would be irritated at people who are trying to keep him down, he would still understand their anxiety because his success could really change the way things are done. If Big Bird really can fly on his own, everyone would have to consider how many other full or partially tax-funded operations could also do just fine without government involvement.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is still wondering how to get to Sesame Street.