August 24, 2006

Strakon Lights Up

Enemies of progress
Hair-trigger resistance in northeast Indiana

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When you hear of "citizen action" at the grass roots these days, you naturally think of local commies agitating for more and better local tyranny, but the past few months have seen an outbreak of another kind of citizen action in Allen County, Indiana, next door to the county that harbors TLD Headquarters. The seat of Allen County is Fort Wayne, which is the second-largest city in the state. In fact, after moving around in the 175,000 range for a few decades, Fort Wayne's population suddenly topped 200,000 a few years ago. And therein lies the tale — if you ask me.

All the movers and shakers, from the mandarins of the city administration to the established-media slickers to the urbane wallahs of the local NGOs, are interested now in preliminarily exploring the provisional possibility of perhaps considering some undetermined type of eventual city-county government consolidation. I'm having some fun with those qualifiers, but I'm not misleading you with respect to the tone of the discussion. There actually isn't a Plan yet — at least the elite aren't confessing to one — and moreover all the advanced thinkers agree, or pretend to agree, that in any case they'd never even look at anything as far-reaching as Unigov in Indianapolis/Marion County. That is meant to be reassuring, because Unigov isn't really very far-reaching at all; it's more like a half measure. So in other words all the properly educated progressive technocrats are assuring the ordinary people of Allen County that there's nothing in the world to worry about: We're just talkin' about talkin' about something, folks, and that something won't be anything major.

Well! From the public reaction you'd think officialdom had dictated the immediate settlement of a family of tubercular sodomite Somalian head-hunters in every household. Seriously, some old-fashioned Americanism has unexpectedly broken out, complete with its sleepless suspicion of Power and all its wiles and stratagems.

During the past several months, both the City Council and the County Commissioners held public hearings on the matter, and very few among the citizenry showed up to say they thought any form of consolidation was a good idea. Instead, plenty showed up to denounce any form of it. That was especially so in the case of the commissioners' hearings, which attracted folks from out in the county — from the farms, from unincorporated neighborhoods, and from the small incorporated towns. The commissioners held four such meetings, and they got four big earfuls from people afraid of Fort Wayne's taking over everything in the county, abolishing the small towns, taxing, taxing, taxing, and regulating, regulating, regulating. These people didn't appear too excited about the prospect of receiving New & Improved "public services," either.

I caught some TV news coverage of the commissioners' final hearing, and according to the reporter, attending were 171 people who expressed opposition to any form of consolidation and one person — a young woman — who expressed support for at least the general idea. Now here's the chortleworthy thing. The camera caught our lonely consolidation-supporter sidling up to one of the commissioners and communicating a little something sotto voce. It turned out to be a suggested observation, which the commissioner generously put on the record, complaining that "the same people" kept showing up at the hearings to express opposition, while supporters didn't show up. The idea was that this was too bad and that it made it pointless to hold further hearings. I could be wrong, but I thought I heard some blaming going on, too, as if the opponents of consolidation were somehow crowding out potential supporters. For what it was worth, the TV reporter noted that the 171 opponents who had appeared that night were the most who had appeared at any of the four hearings.

What I didn't hear was anyone speculating that supporters of government consolidation might be a rare weed indeed, out there among all those grass roots.

The goal of consolidation is supposed to be "efficiency," of course, realized by eliminating duplication of offices that have the same or similar functions, and capturing economies of scale. Technocrats love that sort of thing, but Old Americans don't accept the self-evident value of government "efficiency." Some may even remember the old, lapsed Constitution, whose writers tried, or loudly said they were trying, to invent a government that would allow Liberty to survive, and efficiency be damned. If the Founders had put efficiency in "getting things done" at the top of their list (and if the people had permitted it), they would have forgotten all that guff about checks and balances, and separation of powers, and probably would have abolished the states while they were at it. In other words, they would have achieved in one fell swoop the great triumph of consolidated government that, in fact, it has taken several generations of politicians to accomplish with the acquiescence of several generations of a heedless, amnesiac population. [*]

Of course, to move deeper into the question, it is naive in the extreme to assume that the larger and more centralized a government is, the more efficient that government will be in any important sense, even in terms of "getting things done." But that aside, what do we mean by this word efficiency when it comes to government and its characteristic action?

If the Pentagon and U.S. military-aid programs were more efficient in deploying their resources, American and Israeli criminals in uniform might be able to murder even more Arab women and children in the Middle East. Do we really want that kind of government efficiency, or would we instead welcome more "fraud, waste, and abuse" in that particular department? Do we want OSHA, the EEOC, the DEA, the EPA, the ATF, and all the rest of that horror show to be more efficient in tyrannizing over us? How about the bureaucrats, and their appointed bosses, who enjoy enormous and arbitrary power to snoop into our health, financial, communication, and employment records, as well as records concerning our children? Do we want those police-voyeurs to be more efficient?

Do we want the IRS to be more efficient in robbing us?

We do want air-traffic controllers to be efficient in preventing airplane accidents; and we want firefighters to be efficient in fighting fires. But whenever the desirability of government efficiency seems straightforward and evident, we are looking at a government activity that would find its noncoercive equivalent in a free society. It's a normal, desirable, and honorable social activity, by no means inherently coercive or unjust, that has been "confiscated" by the state as a result of historical and political contingency.

Our governors, having robbed us, pretend to be concerned lest their loot be wasted. And they want us to make that our primary concern as well. But Old Americans, faced with an entrenched government subsisting on the people by means of robbery, extortion, and fraud, as all governments must subsist, may well conclude that if they must be taxed, it would be better if all their tax money caught fire and burned to ashes before their governors had a chance to spend it.

It's even possible to argue, and I'm going to go right ahead and argue it, that all government action is inherently wasteful, even air-traffic-controlling and firefighting. Because of the inherent and inescapable difference between the political means and the economic means, the market would provide normal, desirable social services far better than any government ever could — and naturally wouldn't provide the government's criminal "services" at all.

The anti-consolidation protesters would probably find most of my explicit analysis to be strange; few if any would describe themselves as libertarians. But clearly they are familiar with the old adage about the camel's pushing its nose into the tent. And acquaintance with the persistence of camels is a sure sign of Old Americanism. The pols and bureaucrats are familiar with camelite persistence, too, of course, but they have a different opinion of it, one that they have to keep quiet about. It's not surprising that officialdom expects the people to trustfully slumber on, slumber on, and remain good manageable sheeple; the surprising thing is that this cohort, at least, of Allen County residents aren't sleeping. And that, vigilantly wakeful, they actually seem to possess historical memory.

Just what is it that they remember?

No one in the local media has admitted this in print or on the air, to my knowledge, but what the people out in the county obviously remember is the coercive annexation-in-stages of more than 20,000 Aboite Township residents, corralled into the city by the last two progressive, technocratic, forward-thinking efficiency experts to occupy the mayor's office in Fort Wayne. The first was a "moderate" totalitarian Republican (Paul Helmke — the same goblin who now heads up the Bradyite civil-disarmament conspiracy), and the other is a "moderate" totalitarian Democrat, incumbent Graham Richard. In other words, for all important purposes they're members of the same party. (With both official ruling parties always nominating mayoral candidates in favor of expanding and consolidating power, it's unclear to me why even a voting addict would bother voting for anyone on the top line of the municipal ballot, especially if the voter opposed expansion and consolidation.)

One thing the city Establishment was trying to do, along with expanding their little empire, was to drive the population of the city over the 200,000 mark, which is the dividing line between cities that can wheedle some Central Government loot and larger cities that can wheedle even more Central Government loot. But the Aboite annexees, inhabiting the county's most noted patch of White-Flight Land, were indifferent to that cornucopia. They fought the annexation in a bitter struggle that lasted for years. They never confessed this in public, but they were well aware of the tax-sucking power of colored minorities, who were and are steadily becoming more numerous in the city; and they were rightly afraid of higher taxes.

But any observer who had been around for a while just knew that they, and all their lawsuits, and all their other attempts to resist — such as the move to organize their own new incorporated suburb — were bound to fail. The thing had that quality of crushing inevitability that so many projects of local elites have, detectable over and above all the day-to-day maneuvers and disputations. I often describe such developments, once decided upon, as being as unstoppable as the movements of the planets. An old timer from Chicago might put it less astronomically: "Da t'ing is wired, dat's all."

This is why the anti-consolidation folks have immediately displayed such a hair trigger in respect to the current rumors and maneuvers over government consolidation. The dance of the pols has the familiar look of careful plotting and tricky incrementalism, leading, in time, to an inevitable result. The hair-trigger folks seem to grasp the fact that the conventional "political process" isn't going to work in their favor; they seem to be hoping, desperately, that immediate and immoderate vehemence may derail the train before it's too late. One newspaper commentator — a conservative — has already grumbled that "we" don't make policy in public hearings or even by referenda; the final decision will be made by "our elected officials."

Whatever the ultimate result is, it's that populist hair trigger that puts me in mind of Old America and the Old Americans. Among other things it reminds me of Murray Rothbard's fond description of Old Americans during the British colonial era who would fly into revolt when their governors started talking about imposing a ha'penny's worth of taxation on a cow.

Since then much has changed for the worse — Americans themselves have changed for the worse — and I'm probably making too much of this popular revolt in Allen County. The same people daring to resist now have shrugged indifferently at countless invasions of their liberties, countless subversions of justice. And from my anarchist viewpoint the only thing to be said in favor of traditional, decentralized local government is that it's within closer range of torches and pitchforks. So it's true — I'm desperately seeking a little good news. Nevertheless there is a lesson to be learned here: only a people who maintain a hair trigger in the face of advancing power have any chance of keeping or restoring their Liberty. They — we — cannot wait to fire until we see the whites of their eyes, or the blackness of their lies.


The other big idea that the Better Sort are bruiting in Fort Wayne is the construction of a minor-league baseball stadium downtown, even though there's a perfectly good ballpark only four miles away, on the near north side, and the town's pro team already plays there. This would not, of course, be an economically feasible project in itself but instead an exercise in political pyramid-building aimed at "benefiting the economy," or at least some fortunate sectors of it.

I'm happy to be able to report that ordinary folks don't seem any happier with this scheme than with the prospect of government consolidation. On August 23, for example, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel printed 54 short "rants" on the topic, and only two favored the proposal. Toting up letters to the editor is an unscientific means of gauging public opinion, of course — perhaps almost as unscientific as toting up election results — but still one has to wonder where all the letters are from supporters of the idea. (The paper itself does not oppose it, so long as tax money isn't used, somehow.)

That's not all. Many of the "rant" writers lambaste the proposal as the ambition of a grasping trickster elite, assume that ordinary folks are going to be forced to pay for it, and assume also that the only people likely to benefit from it are politically connected developers. I tell you, this shortage of sheeplehood is amazing.

August 24, 2006

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* A somewhat different line of analysis, which I have dabbled in myself, has it that the Constitution was an efficient instrumentality for letting Power unfold over time into a great consolidated Central Government, of a kind that could not have been imposed immediately. Precisely what the Founders foresaw and desired remains debatable. [Back to text]