Observations by a Citizen
Do you appreciate your right to vote for those who will represent you when our governments - local, state and federal - make and execute the laws?
Despite hearing of “democracy” all the time, that is not what we really have. America’s founders, better educated than we regarding history, saw the danger: As James Madison pointed out, in Federalist #10, “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” He explained that the Constitution invented a republic, “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place … it varies from pure democracy … [by refining and enlarging] the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country…”
Your vote is the power you have - and the duty - to study and select the “citizens” with the “wisdom” to temper passions and choose the best path to preserve your liberties first, and avoid the hazards of emotions that lead to hasty, inadequately considered, actions. From our beginning, voting has been designed to enable us to choose without undue pressure, and to assure us that what we have chosen is fairly counted. We must rely on those who manage our voting system to do it right.
That is why the voting booth has so many precautions - advocates who wave signs and call out to support their candidate are kept 100 feet away from the polling place. No signs are inside to pressure you when you vote. You must bring your I.D., which is compared with the voter rolls, to insure that the person voting really is you, that you do live in the district where you are voting, and that you are actually alive. Then you get to be alone, and have a shroud around you, as you vote. Poll workers to keep others away from you so your vote can be free of prying eyes. Your ballot - electronic or real - is immediately secured and kept from anyone but those who run the counting process. No system is perfect - but these things are designed to protect you from those who want to make you vote their way instead of your own.
There is, however, another way to beat your vote - fraudulent voting. Some jurisdictions keep voters on their rolls long after they have moved - or died. There are federal laws that require updating such negligence, but, as of January this year, Judicial Watch, has identified this abuse in California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia, where there are 2.5 million more voters registered than there are people of voting age. For example, San Diego has 117 registered voters for every 100 actual citizens of voting age. There is also the practice of “granny farming”; where activists collect old folks in assisted living centers, get them to the polls, and “help” them with the voting machines.
How could it get worse? “Mail-in voting.” Imagine a system that sends a ballot to every “registered” voter, and counts it, when returned, as a legitimate vote. Where is the privacy, the freedom from pressure in making your decision, the security between filling out your ballot and having it counted - after passing through the postal system with an obvious identifying address showing that it is a ballot? What happens to ballots sent to addresses where the once-registered voter no longer lives?
The pressure to convert to mail-in voting has revived lately. States where Democrats prevail have been demanding it. Then, in the glow of attention they are getting in the “coronavirus” age, the Center for Disease Control has recommended that we all stay home, and do mail-in voting. For our “safety.”
There was a postal service from the beginning of our country - but they did not do mail-in ballots. Have we forgotten why?
Observations By A Citizen
The “Unprecedented” Pandemic
One of the main purposes of education is to inform our children of the things we in earlier generations have learned, so they can absorb and benefit from our successes and avoid repeating our mistakes. We don’t do that well, because we don’t really pay attention to our own history. Today, much schooling is a denial of what has worked, inventing supposedly new “rigorous” methods, like “Common Core.” How surprising that they have not worked?
Our history teaching presents a disparaging view of our ancestors and the lessons we could learn from them. The media and politicians repeat this pattern as they “inform” us about the perils of this supposedly “unprecedented” coronavirus pandemic. Physicians and politicians clamor for emergency supplies, demand powers to shut businesses and control the daily activities of healthy citizens: Their message is that this kind of thing never happened before, and they alone can protect us.
Really? Let’s take a look back. I offer the example below, from the April 1743 edition of "Gentleman’s Magazine.". ("Gentleman" in that age of enlightenment signified a person of honor, refinement, and intelligence; the magazine presented news, politics, science and the arts.) Here is their report:
“… Rome informs us that a sort of plague has broke out there, which destroys abundance of their people, and they call it the Influenza. As this Distemper has almost infected every individual, the holy Pontiffe has determined to cause a Land Quarantine to be proclaimed to prevent its progress: they cannot find any Specifick against this malady, and therefore leave it to wear away of itself. In another article from Paris they tell us, that a Distemper rages there, somewhat of the same sort as the Roman Influenza, as it appears by the symptoms, and they call it the Grippings which makes dreadful Havock too: Those who, in both countries, are touch’d with this Contagion, tho’ immediately before in full and florid Health, fall into a ling’ring Hectic, and are emaciated by Degrees: They have sent, it seems, from Rome and Paris to every Court in Europe, and particularly to England, for the Advice and Assistance of the learned Leeches; but it is not a little surprising that the People of Rome or Paris should be so ignorant of our Affairs as to send to us for a Cure of the Distemper called the Influenza in particular; Have they not heard that this very distemper has raged here, almost epidemically, for many Years, and no Specifick has yet been found to cure it? Almost every human Creature here has more or less been tainted with it … There were lately among us a set of bold Doctors, who declared they would eradicate this Poison: They watched the Symptoms, prescribed a low Diet, and took great Pains to make their Patients, the People, believe they were their Friends, and would free them from this devouring Evil: but alas, when the grand Crisis came, these Doctors proved errant Charletans, the Disease gained upon them, and the People to their Amazement and Confusion, saw the Leeches themselves were more violently, than any, infected with the Influenza …”
The May edition offers an update:
“… we find, that the late epidemical Distemper, which had in the last two Months visited almost every Family in this City; so that the Surgeons had full Employment … was also felt in most other places of this Island, generally carrying off old People.… It is said to have begun so long ago as September … thence made its progress to … Venice (where a land quarantine was ordered)… to Rome… and in February, no less than 80,000 were sick of it and 500 buried in one day…”
Uncanny, right? Not only did a flu rage 277 years ago, but it started before they were aware of it, it became a disaster after the first of the year, it had a concentration point in Italy, it hit old folks hardest, and many got sick, while a much smaller, but still tragic, number died. Quarantines were employed, but no cure was successful. And they came to the English, who were also afflicted, for help. So, when we are told something is "unprecedented," be wary. The only thing new is that we have tried to stop normal life, because we accept the physicians’ - and politicians’ - concern for our “safety.”
Observations by a Citizen
“Waters of The United States”
When I was a student at the University of California, in Santa Barbara (“UCSB”), with 2 miles of beach on campus, it was inviting to start your tan as early as possible each spring. One sunny day in March, 1964, I headed to the beach. It was abandoned, except for me, and I soon realized why - the crisp sea breeze was way too cold for comfort. But, while I was making up my mind to leave, I noticed an unusual vessel a few miles off shore. What caught my attention was that every so often, as it cruised slowly along, big spouts of water would jump out of the ocean closely behind this vessel, clearly blasted out of the sea by big explosions.
5 years later, in 1969, my brother was a student at UCSB. He had probably the best dormitory room on campus, with a window that looked out on the beach. Such a good view - he had a telescope to check out girls in the sun. But on a late January morning, as he prepared for class, he saw something wrong. A few Grebes (aquatic birds with long necks) struggled on the shore. He hurried down for a closer look. The beach was coated with thick oil, and the black mess had covered the Grebes as well. He grabbed four of them by the neck and hurried back to the dorm, trying to figure out how to save them. Late, out of ideas, and in a hurry to get to class, he closed them into his closet. When he returned, he found the dormitory maid had been shocked when she opened his closet. Then he found a way to get them to one of the hastily set up bird rescue stations.
It was the day of the immediately sensational “Santa Barbara Oil Spill,” the largest that had ever happened in the USA at that time. Miles of beach and wildlife were mired in the deadly goo.
The vessel I’d watched that morning in 1964 was a scientific exploration vessel. The explosions were part of a seismic survey that used the blast echoes to map the underwater geology - and find oil. They did, and, in early 1969, one of the offshore platforms that was setting up pierced a reservoir that was under intense pressure. It blew out, gushing 80,000 or more barrels of thick black crude oil across the waters, the nearby beaches - and the wildlife.
Everyone knew the California coast was rich in oil. Often, when we left after a day on the beach, we’d have to clean our feet. Using gasoline, we dissolved and scrubbed off wads of black tar - small globs of it hid in the beach sand. The oiliness was first recorded around 1600, when Spanish sailors explored the California coast and noticed thin blotches of rainbow colors on the ocean surface.
Coastal oil production began way before 1969. A Japanese submarine surfaced in February, 1942, making the first World War II attack on our west coast, just two months after Pearl Harbor, using its deck gun to shell the important Ellwood oil field facilities along the beach near where UCSB would open 2 years later.
As the protests raged against our defense of Viet Nam in 1969, the oil spill became another opportunity to oppose what was going on in America. Congress reacted, passing new laws regulating oil and drilling, and set up the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
The EPA is the agency that, late in the Obama administration, stretched its authority to regulate under the “Clean Water Act”, redefining “Waters of the United States.” Now, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the EPA’s regulations have stretched the “WOTUS” to include “federal government regulatory control over virtually any waters – and many land areas that only temporarily hold water … in ways that make it impossible for farmers and ranchers to know whether the specific ditches, ephemeral drains or low areas on their land will be deemed “waters of the U.S.”
Today, the UCSB beaches are as clean and inviting as ever. But America bends under a much bigger government. As Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Will we ever really learn what that means?
Observations by a Citizen
Chicken Little May Be Right
Remember the story about the little chicken who, snoozing beneath a tree, was hit on her head by a falling acorn? She rushed to warn the king, gathering increasingly concerned neighbors on the way, that the sky was falling. It’s a story intended to warn children about the foolishness of panicky thinking.
But - what if the acorn is not the only thing that is soon to come falling out of the sky?
Well, stay tuned, folks. Have you ever stood outside just after sunset to look for the International Space Station (ISS)? It’s kind of neat to watch, a tiny speck of light that moves pretty quickly through the sunlight up there, 250 miles high, until it suddenly disappears when it passes into the dark of the earth’s shadow. The ISS is in “Low Earth Orbit” (LEO.)
There are three levels of well-used earth orbit: Your GPS uses a “constellation” of 31 satellites that orbit about 12,600 miles up, so they can circle the earth exactly twice per day. They are in “Medium Earth Orbit,” which includes a wide range of altitudes. Then there is “Geostationary Orbit.” This is 23,000 miles up, which keeps each geostationary satellite exactly above one location along the equator. This is where your satellite TV and other communications satellites stay. “Stay” is relative - they are actually moving around the earth at about 6,800 miles per hour (MPH). They orbit the earth once every 24 hours; this matches the spinning earth, so you don’t have to adjust your satellite dish from moment to moment. This is slow compared to the Medium Earth Orbit satellites, like the GPS ones that are going about 8,700 MPH. These orbits are fairly busy. For example, the GPS constellation of the U.S. shares the medium orbit range with similar systems of Russia, China, the European Union and others.
But there is a really big problem growing in the LEO range.
This is where there are hundreds of active and dead satellites, and thousands of pieces of junk cast off after satellites are launched into orbit. LEO touches the thin upper layers of our atmosphere, so that puts a tiny drag on those satellites that eventually - after many years - pulls them into the thicker atmosphere, where they mostly burn up on their way to crashing into earth.
That is a problem, but it gets worse: Satellites in the now crowded low orbit range are increasingly in danger of collisions. Their speeds, in the 17,000 MPH range, rush them around earth every 90 minutes, and these orbits often cross. Collisions are increasing. In 1997, the Hubble Space Telescope was hit by a tiny piece of debris. It made a hole about the size of a bullet in the antenna dish. In 2009 a shut down Russian spy satellite hit an active communications satellite as they crossed paths over Siberia. The violent smash scattered over 2,000 pieces of debris into the LEO highways. This January, two big defunct U.S. satellites passed within 60 feet of each other (at 17,000 MPH each, remember) 560 miles above Pittsburgh.
These were all accidents. But satellites have important military roles, so they have to be considered as targets. Target-shooting takes practice. In 2007 China began by shooting a missile and destroying one of its defunct satellites. The U.S. did one in 2008, and India shot down one of its old satellites last year. Well, “shot,” but not “down.”
At the present time, ground radar systems are tracking 23,000 orbiting objects larger than 4 inches in size. Estimates calculate that there are over a half million man-made objects the size of a bullet or larger zooming around, at 17,000 MPH, a few hundred miles above our heads.
There are plans for far more: Amazon, for instance, has applied for licenses to put its new constellation of over 6,000 satellites in various LEOs.
As the collisions multiply, the concern is that each crash creates even more debris, and LEO becomes ever more dangerous.
So - should we still laugh at Chicken Little?
Observations by a Citizen
Makin Ships Names
There is a formal Navy procedure for naming ships. Each class – aircraft carrier, cruiser, destroyer, submarine, etc. – gets some class of sources for naming the ships. For example, Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are named after states. Our greatest combat ships now entering service are the large aircraft carriers. They are supposed to be named after presidents. The first ship in the current class is the U.S.S. Gerald Ford.
Why Ford? He was the only President never elected to a nationwide office. A Congressman routinely re-elected to represent his district in Michigan, he was, for the final 9 of his 25 years in Congress, the House Minority Leader. When Richard Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, resigned in fall of 1973 in a corruption scandal, Nixon appointed Ford to be Vice President. Months later, Nixon resigned and, like the proverbial “deer in the headlights,” Ford found himself the unelected President of the leading nation in the world. He probably did the best he could, but it was not a successful presidency, and Carter defeated Ford in the 1976 election.
To be fair, Ford had, in fact, served honorably in the Navy in World War II. He was a junior officer serving on an aircraft carrier. One of the actions Ford saw was the re-taking of Makin Island from the Japanese in November, 1943.
There was another sailor serving on another small aircraft carrier off the shore of tiny Makin in that 4-day battle. And the next “Gerald Ford” aircraft carrier to be built is to be named after this sailor: Doris Miller.
Doris Miller?? Who’s that, we can expect most folks to ask. Well, Doris Miller obviously wasn’t a president. Just an African American cook who served in our Navy. Well, not “just.”
Doris Miller was a guy – the midwife at his birth in Waco, Texas in 1919 predicted that this child would be a girl, and they chose the name, before birth proved her error. He grew up in an ordinary life for the next 20 years, playing football, squirrel hunting, and such normal activities. He joined the Navy in 1939, becoming a cook.
2 years later, Dorie (his nickname) was assigned to the battleship West Virginia. He was collecting laundry after having helped serve breakfast one morning, when fate changed the rules. It was December 7, 1941, and the West Virginia, at anchor in Pearl Harbor, was slammed by torpedoes from Japanese attack planes. Suddenly, and without warning, Dorie, like the rest of America, was in World War II.
He rushed to his assigned combat position to man a gun – but the position had already been destroyed. Then he went to help remove the dying captain from the command bridge. Dorie, at 6 foot 3, was the right choice for that. The attack continued, the West Virginia, shuddered with more hits. Another sailor led Dorie to a machine gun position that needed someone to load the ammunition. He left Dorie to load it and went to get an adjoining gun manned. Behind him, Dorie, the cook, finished loading, and began to shoot at the attacking Japanese planes.
And, in one of those odd moments that happen in battle, there was total silence from all the guns, it seemed, in Pearl Harbor. Except the gun Dorie was firing - and everyone could see the practice Dorie had from his childhood squirrel hunts paid off. The plane he targeted went down, the tracers he was firing clearly penetrating the doomed Japanese attacker.
For his heroic actions that day, Seaman Doris Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, pinned on his chest just a few months later by the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.
Nearly two years later, Dorie was serving on the small aircraft carrier Liscome Bay, not far from Ford’s ship, on the final day of our attack on Makin Island. A Japanese submarine torpedoed the Liscome Bay, which exploded and sank in minutes. Doris Miller was one of over 600 sailors killed.
Two of the most powerful warships ever to sail are being named after a pair of Americans who battled off the shores of Makin, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. One gave all. I’d say Doris Miller is a good choice for naming one of our grand carriers.
Observations by a Citizen
One of my ancestors, William Depriest, was a counterfeiter. Living in Virginia, in 1767, acquaintances living not far away in Maryland were working to disrupt the British rule. This was soon after the Stamp Act that had outraged the American colonies. They came to Depriest, who had printing equipment, proposing to print hundreds of Maryland 8-dollar bills, thus watering down the paper currency that Maryland was using as Parliament had been taking all the gold possible back to England, to manage the debts that had come from the 7-year’s war.
Depriest was arrested by the sheriff of Frederick, Maryland. Soon the sheriff was concerned that the “Depriest gang” would break Depriest loose. He petitioned the governor, and Depriest was moved to the jail in Annapolis. Not long after that, William Depriest died mysteriously in jail.
Only four crimes are expressly assigned to federal enforcement in our Constitution – one is counterfeiting. Why is it so important to prevent printing fake paper money?
Paper money is, in itself, as worthless as can be. It only has value when the people trust that it can be exchanged for things of value. Real money – traditionally gold or silver – has always had that value. Paper money is a “stand-in.” When the Founders wrote the Constitution, they authorized only that Congress had the authority “To coin money.” They went even further, restricting states by requiring that “No state shall … make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts…”
It was only after the Civil War, when the debts run up by the Union had to be paid off, that the federal government made paper money legal tender. But paper money has always been a temptation when governments spend more than their economies can support. It was just a hundred years ago when Germany, crushed by the debts imposed on them by the victorious allies, tried to encourage economic activity by printing more “Papiermark.” It was only supposed to be a temporary “fix,” but that never seems to come out as planned.
It’s kind of like trying to make more tea by pouring water into the pitcher. It doesn’t really make more tea, it just dilutes what you have. When people start seeing more money, without more goods and services, they sense that the money is worth less. But the goods have an intrinsic value, and the money is just a means to purchase that value. So, whoever is selling is going to demand more money for their goods. Why exchange what you value for something that has a diminishing value, because of its increasing availability? Once the people sense this, they hurry to get rid of their money before it loses the value it has now – they spend, and they do so with increasingly frenzied acceptance that they must pay more. This spiral, once it starts, accelerates. In Germany it was horrid - there is a picture of someone pushing wheelbarrow stacked with bills just to go to the grocery. People never seem to learn. In 2007 Zimbabwe, having made numerous foolish economic decisions, began to print more of its money, and the inflation became a disaster, exceeding 66 thousand percent in just that year. 2008 was over 2 million percent. Individual sheets of toilet paper had a greater value than their paper money, and that became a plumbing problem.
Now, we are promised that people unemployed by the coronavirus – and, heck, most anyone else – is going to get money to carry them through the crisis. Less stuff being produced … more money being printed… What could possibly go wrong?
William Depriest had sons, one of whom was also named William. This child, by the time of the Revolution, had become a patriot soldier serving in east Tennessee. In 1780 he marched with Colonel Sevier to fight at King’s Mountain, a vicious patriot victory, that helped us win our Revolution and throw off the British crown.
Observations by a Citizen
Where Do Orders Come From?
We pride ourselves, and seek justice by using John Adams’ phrase that “we are a government of laws, not of men.” So, let’s check: Federal, state and local governments have begun making rules for “social distancing” due to the Corona Virus “pandemic.” Are we just a bit too anxious about this flu to protect our legal foundations? Are our governments just enforcing properly legislated laws, that were made carefully, or are we accepting rules made in the spur of the moment, accepting the judgment of men (however well-intentioned) rather than the law?
Our Constitution authorizes just a few powers to the federal government. They are listed, and the 10th amendment specifically reserves all powers not on that list to the states or us, the People. So states are given the power – and perhaps the responsibility – to prepare for other dangers, like an epidemic, themselves.
There are only a couple of circumstances when the federal government can assist – or interfere – in a state. Insuring a republican form of government and defending against invasions are prominent. Things that most closely affect the people of each state are left to the states. Crimes are state and local problems, so there is no federal power regarding theft, homicide, etc. Health care regulation was a state responsibility until federal overreach came in to “help.”
What if a state has some kind of emergency? A state may apply to the federal government for protection – but only “against domestic violence.”
Trump is aggressively marshalling federal resources in a massive campaign to stop the Corona Virus; but there is really no Constitutional authority to do that. For such a universal problem, maybe we should consider altering that plan – but, for now, it is not a Constitutional power, just a political necessity for governing a population that doesn’t know it’s Constitution.
States can work together to create a state-based emergency system. What powers or laws can Tennessee authorities use to respond as is happening now, like ordering businesses closed, “social distancing,” and such? There is no reference to a health or similar emergency in the state Constitution – but the powers there are vague and broad.
The Governor, and our county and town mayors have referred to parts of the Tennessee Code: TCA 58-2-110, 58-2-105, 38-9-101 et seq.
What do these sections actually say? 58-2-110 is part of “Title 58 - Military Affairs, Emergencies and Civil Defense; Chapter 2 - Disasters, Emergencies and Civil Defense.” It uses terms related to war or civil disturbance “emergencies.” There is no mention of epidemics, but “each political subdivision” has authority to “provide for the health and safety of persons and property…” It does not mention a power to restrict the activities of the population at large, although such power must be part of handling actual emergency locations. And there is this: “The duration of each state of emergency declared locally is limited to seven (7) days; it may be extended, as necessary, in seven-day increments…”
Title 38 make rules for “Prevention and Detection of Crime.” In it we find that “Civil emergency means… riot or unlawful assembly characterized by actual force or violence” and “natural disaster” is floods, earthquake explosions, and such. Only here do we find references to curfews, and that a “curfew shall have the force and effect of law and shall continue … not to exceed fifteen (15) days.” The only kinds of business closures specified are liquor, gun and gasoline sales – the kind of things that can contribute to riots. The authority in Title 38 is limited to 15 days.
So, we are accepting clear stretching of our existing laws. I’m sure it is well-intentioned – but the stretching rarely contracts back to the intended purpose when the excitement subsides. It is up to the people – us – to protect government by law, rather than by “men.”
Observations by a Citizen
Do All People Really Want Liberty? In a Corona Outbreak?
I think not. America is kind of a rogue civilization. It is the only one committed to actual Liberty. To clarify my thinking on the question, I like to make a distinction between “liberty” and “freedom.” The people in other nations want freedom – to some extent. But they don’t really want liberty.
The difference I draw is that “freedom” is the power to choose and act on the choices that are left for you after your master has made his own choices to control you. The worst tyrants of history, from Stalin back to Tamerlane, have cut huge swaths of choice from their subjects and exercised their power to make all the decisions – and enforce all the obedience - themselves. But there has always been a residual span of choices for every individual (as long as they have survived the abuses.)
“Liberty” is the condition where each individual is free to choose and do everything on their own. But being on your own is scary. You get your choices – but you have to deal with the consequences yourself.
So, people like to be protected. If a threat looms, we look for help to solve or defend against it. That’s what societies are for. One aspect of liberty is that we each can make the choice to join or remain in a society. That choice offsets liberty a bit, because our power to choose is offset to a degree when we commit to what we’ve chosen. Even if we voluntarily choose to be a slave, that is a free choice. It’s the commitment that gets you.
When we join or create a society, we agree to some scheme of governing it. We surrender some set of choices to the government we’ve committed ourselves to. The society is committed too; there is an exchange - we trust that we will get some list of protections.
This was a critical element in the founding of the United States. Our fight for independence was a rejection of the grasp of centralized control the King and Parliament of Britain had increasingly forced us to accept. Samuel Johnson, a leading British thinker at that time, put it like this: “He who accepts protection stipulates obedience.” Which makes sense: How can you protect your child if you cannot physically restrain him from running into traffic?
But the People of America decided the point had come where the benefit of our government protections had ceased to justify the obedience demanded of us.
We chose liberty over a shrinking set of freedoms. We wrote our rejection in blood. What made us unique in human history was, when we got rid of one tyrant, we finally replaced him with not another tyrant, but with a world’s-first system of governing that entrusted only a particular, enumerated (“listed”), set of powers to the new government. We chose liberty in a form we took the authority to define.
The immediate success of our system was mimicked by other nations – partially. They formed democratic plans for choosing leaders. But they missed the crucial point – their leaders never had a genuinely limited list of powers, and restraints. Our liberty consisted in the free choice to entrust those powers – and only those powers – and to give our obedience only as long as those powers remained within the limits we defined.
But we’ve been negligent in tracking and rejecting transgressions of those limits. We are submitting to unlisted powers like what other nations do. The Corona Virus hysteria (yes, the problem is real – but the reaction is hysteria) drives us to panic rather than resolve.
The whole virus-handling demonstration by Trump shows what a "good king" can do. Such events lure nations to favor monarchy – or socialist democracy. The marvelous management of the crisis by Trump is a problem, because it can persuade some Americans that entrusting an unlimited power to a benevolent "king" – or elected tyrant- is the way to solve our problems. The Constitution was drafted to protect us from that fantasy because it is fatal to liberty. Trump is great at handling problems, but, like a businessman who has grown up in the era that tells us to "think outside the box," he doesn't realize that the Constitution, in order to protect our liberty, was designed to be a "box" that constrains his federal powers. Our liberty is in danger because Trump is so good, and we are so forgetful of how we got this great.
When governors and mayors decide they can show leadership by imposing “lockdowns,” we see how quickly excesses of power turn to tyranny.
Observations of a Citizen
Corona Virus and Economic Foolishness
This morning’s TV news showed an aerial view of a line of customers in a Los Angeles Costco parking lot, each with a shopping cart, winding among the lanes of parked cars. Why this line? The commentary blamed the Corona Virus’ impact on supplies of necessities like toilet paper.
Another clip showed the Governor of Tennessee announcing various actions the State would take to respond to the “pandemic.” Among these was a warning against “price gouging.”
And, once again, the popular view of “fairness” rises to block the economically rational policy choice.
I suppose this is partially due to bad education that has been misleading us for decades. For example, in the McGraw Hill text “Discovering Our Past, A History of The World, Modern Times” (Tennessee Edition of 2014) a passage in the introductory subjects states:
“… scarcity, or lack of a resource. When not much of a needed resource is available then the demand for it will grow.”
This is incorrect. I agree that economics is generally a boring subject. But failure to understand the principles of economics, and how they control the impact of policies, leads to choosing policies that are doomed to fail. Long lines are a clue that some policy has failed. So are stern warnings against “price gouging.”
The actual lesson should be that demand for goods or services is controlled by the price. The higher the price, the fewer units will be “demanded” in the marketplace. Some goods are absolutely necessary – but only in fixed amounts. Their demand is inflexible – price changes don’t much affect the demand. Other goods are more flexible, as they are more a matter of choice than necessity. Contrary to the text, scarcity is when the supply of something at a particular price is less than the demand for it at that low price. Raising the price will reduce the demand. In a free market, there will be a price where the supply is increased and the demand reduced until they meet – eliminating the “scarcity.” Demand, though, is also affected by popular perceptions.
Fear that some necessary good will soon be unavailable is such a perception, and that is what we are seeing today. So, the short term demand has jumped a bit.
But supply is the other side of the economic picture. Supply, too, is mostly controlled by price. When the price rises, suppliers are motivated to speed production and distribution.
This underlying force cannot be eliminated by governmental force. Such attempts to control production and price by government was prevalent in the socialist economics of the Soviet Union. The result was evident in the common joke: “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” Prices were low – but the shelves of stores were empty.
So, absent a power for the store to adjust prices upward - reducing the demand while stimulating more effort to speed production and distribution – we see lines in parking lots, and the shelves quickly go empty.
Does that make it more “fair?” Not really – “scalpers” take advantage of low store prices, and buy all they can. If stores attempt to ration sales, some buyers will bring the whole family, each one making separate purchases. Then, when the shelves are empty, the scalpers offer their own stash – at whatever higher price they can negotiate. So, when supply is short, prices will go up, whether the profits go to producers or to speculators. But producers aren’t motivated to produce when the profits go to that secondary “marketplace.”
Like the Libertarian Party relentlessly reminds us: “You can’t get any if there ain’t none.”