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Archive for November, 2010

Management of roads used to be the business of local governments – that is, until the federal government dangled its grant money over the states as leverage.  Now, thanks to this usurpation of authority, we have stories like this:

…[T]he Federal Highway Administration is ordering all local governments — from the tiniest towns to the largest cities — to go out and buy new street signs that federal bureaucrats say are easier to read.

The rules are part of a tangle of regulations included in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The 800-plus page book tells local governments they:

— Should increase the size of the letters on street signs from the current 4 inches to 6 inches on all roads with speed limits over 25 miles per hour. The target date for this to be completed is January 2012.

— Install signs with new reflective letters more visible at night by January 2018.

— And whenever street name signs are changed for any reason, they can no longer be in ALL CAPS.

Why is the federal government ordering local governments, already strapped for cash, to waste millions on unnecessary sign changes? This might have something to do with it:

Whether or not requiring cities and towns to replace all their street signs improves safety, it would undoubtedly be a windfall for the multi-billion-dollar-a-year sign industry.

The American Traffic Safety Services Association — which represents companies that make signs and the reflective material used on them — lobbied hard for the new rules.  And at least one key study used to justify the changes was funded by the 3M Corporation, one of the few companies that make the reflective material now required on street signs.

Contrary to the claims of statists, it is big government, and not free markets, which favor big business. Without a centralized authority capable of making such dictates, rent seeking sign makers would have had to successfully lobby every local government in the nation to achieve this same payout, a feat they would not have been able to accomplish.

Hat-tip: Open Market

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I was on Fox News last week and unloaded on the General Motors bailout.

I’m surprised I wasn’t foaming at the mouth.

My conclusion is that people with honor and integrity should refuse to buy cars from companies that stole money from taxpayers.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Switzerland. The nation’s decentralized structure shows the value of federalism, both as a means of limiting the size of government and as a way of promoting tranquility in a nation with several languages, religions, and ethnic groups. I also admire Switzerland’s valiant attempt to preserve financial privacy in a world dominated by greedy, high-tax governments.

I now have another reason to admire the Swiss. Voters yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a class-warfare proposal to impose higher tax rates on the income and wealth of rich residents. The Social Democrats did their best to make the hate-and-envy scheme palatable. Only the very richest taxpayers would have been affected. But Swiss voters, like voters in Washington state earlier this month, understood that giving politicians more money is never a solution for any problem.

Here’s an excerpt from Bloomberg’s report on the vote.

In a referendum today, 59 percent of voters turned down the proposal by the Social Democrats to enact minimum taxes on income and wealth. Residents would have paid taxes of at least 22 percent on annual income above 250,000 francs ($249,000), according to the proposed changes. Switzerland’s executive and parliamentary branches had rejected the proposal, saying it would interfere with the cantons’ tax-autonomy regulations. The changes would also damage the nation’s attractiveness, the government, led by President Doris Leuthard, said before the vote. The Alpine country’s reputation as a low-tax refuge has attracted bankers and entrepreneurs such as Ingvar Kamprad, the Swedish founder of Ikea AB furniture stores, and members of the Brenninkmeijer family, who owns retailer C&A Group.

It’s never wise to draw too many conclusions from one vote, but it certainly seems that voters usually reject higher taxes when they get a chance to cast votes. Even tax increases targeting a tiny minority of the population generally get rejected. The only exception that comes to mind is the unfortunate decision by Oregon voters earlier this year to raise tax rates.

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I’m understandably fond of my video exposing the flaws of Keynesian stimulus theory, but I think my former intern has a great contribution to the debate with this new 5-minute mini-documentary.

You may recognize Hiwa. She narrated a very popular video earlier this year on the nightmare of income-tax complexity.

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I hate writing about the TSA and airport security, especially since I fly frequently and despise the pointless “security theater” of the whole process. I keep doing posts about the issue, though, because it seems a day doesn’t go by without some new revelation about foolish government action.

Here’s a video (courtesy of Pejman Yousefzadeh and Megan McArdle) indicating that TSA bureaucrats violated federal law and deliberately hassled a woman for not surrendering to their petty demands.



A couple of quick thoughts…

1. If the statements in this video about the treatment of breast milk are true, the manager and screeners involved should be fired. And if they’re not fired, that tells us things will get even worse.

2. The passenger being harassed may be an activist who deliberately wanted to provoke this reaction, but even if she was the world’s biggest b*tch, that does not justify the TSA’s behavior.

3. What did the TSA accomplish by making the woman pour the breast milk into smaller containers? Let’s assume the liquid actually was some sort of compound that becomes dangerous in amounts greater than 3 ounces. Couldn’t the woman just pour the little bottles back into the big bottle once she got on the plane?

4. Having said all this, we do have real security concerns. I have no doubt that there are people in the world (and even in America, as shown by the recent Portland bombing plot) who gladly would like to blow up a plane using fake breast milk. Heck, some of these nut-jobs would probably be willing to smuggle explosives onto a plane in the diaper of one of their own children (though I’m not sure what an infant will do with 72 virgins if such a bomb plot succeeded).

5. When all is said and done, I’m amazed that these fanatic morons haven’t blown up a plane since 9-11. In part, this may be because they actually are morons. But I suspect a lot of the credit goes to our intelligence services, so kudos to the FBI, CIA, et al, but continued jeers for the TSA’s empty security theater.

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Here’s a passage from a speech by a well-known political figure, but it wasn’t Ronald Reagan, Ron Paul, or Milton Friedman.

The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. …The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief.

Interestingly, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his 1935 State of the Union address. FDR recognized that welfare was akin to a drug that sapped people’s independence. (Or he at least was politically astute enough to realize he should pretend to be concerned about the impact of government-induced dependency.)

Here’s a more recent example, which was cited in a National Review Online column by my Cato colleague Mike Tanner. A prominent politician in DC said that welfare leads to “a cycle of generational poverty, government dependency, and economic disparity.”

But the person who said this wasn’t Jim DeMint, Barry Goldwater, or Friedrich Hayek. It was the former Mayor of Washington, DC, Marion Barry.

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Freedom, liberty, and common sense are all good things, which explains why I criticize the TSA’s bureaucratic approach to airport safety.

But I’m a glass-half-full guy, so here’s one good argument for the TSA’s new guidelines.

And since we’re having some fun at TSA’s expense, here’s how the Taiwanese interpret our policy.

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