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Tyranny at the State and Local Level

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Tyranny at the state and local level is out of control. In order to benefit the politically privileged, state and local governments — like their national counterpart — are using their tax and regulatory powers to plunder and loot the citizenry.

There are few better examples of this tyranny than the circumstances surrounding the selection of an airline-repair facility by United Airlines. The conduct of this company — along with that of politicians in various states across the country — rank among the most shameful in recent history.

United initially was leaning toward locating its facility in Denver. Rather than simply invest its own money in its operations, United asked Colorado politicians for a bounty in return for building the facility in Colorado. State and city politicians stumbled over themselves in an attempt to please the United officials. By the time the frenzy was over, they had voted to use about 300 million dollars in tax monies for the benefit of United Airlines.

But even this was not sufficient for the United officials. They approached politicians in other cities and opened the “bidding” to them. Matching the shameful acts of the Colorado officials, these other politicians made their own offers of tax monies to United in the hopes that their communities would be chosen instead.

The ultimate “winner” was the city of Indianapolis. The real winners were United Airlines and the officials of United Airlines. The losers were the citizens of every community in America — the people who have to live under this immoral and despicable tyranny.

Let us unravel what United Airlines has done so that its evil, immoral, and shameful conduct will be crystal-clear. Assume the following: you are a resident of one of the cities being considered by United. A United official approaches you — as a private citizen and prospective investor — and says, “Would you like to invest in our airline? We are building a new repair facility in your city.” You respond, “No, thank you for asking, but I need to spend my money on clothing and education for my children.”

But what you do not comprehend is that your children’s clothes and education are only secondarily important — that is, to the people of United Airlines. They go to your local political representatives and say in effect, “John and Mary Smith have chosen not to voluntarily invest in United Airlines. They consider their children’s clothing and education more important than our repair facility. Use your taxing power to take their money from them and give it to us.”

And since United Airlines — unlike you and I — has the political clout to bend politicians to its will, John and Mary are taught a lesson in civics by their political representatives: “You will use your money to support our friends at United, whether you like it or not.”

Of course, the politicians place their friendly “spin” on the tyranny by proclaiming that the facility will “produce jobs for the community.” What have they actually done? Taken jobs away from those who are not politically privileged and given them to those who are. As the great free-market economist Henry Hazlitt observed in his masterpiece Economics in One Lesson, the politicians and bureaucrats would have us focus on the seen consequences of political action, i.e., the jobs at United Airlines. They would not have us focus on the unseen consequences — the loss of jobs in the clothing and educational sectors where John and Mary would have spent their money had they been free to do so.

And the United Airlines situation is another example of the terrible welfare-state mentality which now infects the American people. United Airlines — like so many other Americans — is on the dole and has lost the concept of self-reliance which characterized our ancestors. And unfortunately, being on welfare is now an intergenerational problem — for each generation of United officials is more convinced than the last that it cannot survive without its welfare.

The ironic twist is that one can imagine the wives of the United officials playing bridge at the local country club as they decry the latest instance of the “woman in the grocery-store line who was using food stamps.” They block out of their minds that their country-club membership fees have been subsidized by that woman who was forced to pay the taxes that indirectly funded their husbands’ salaries.

Another example of tyranny at the local level: funding for the arts. Every time there is a political race for mayor or city council, the candidates try to outbid each other in pandering to the wealthy patrons of the arts. The politicians do not say, “Since I believe that the arts are important to the community, I will help you raise your funds.” Instead, they say, “I promise to use my tax powers to force the citizens of this community to fund the arts. Now, can I count on your money and your vote?”

And we can imagine overhearing the women at the opera, as they remove their fur coats, complaining about “those welfare mothers with all of their illegitimate children.” They block out of their minds that those welfare mothers have subsidized the artistic interests of these “well to do” (and politically influential) members of the community.

Another instance of local tyranny: government regulation of property. Here, too, government steals from some in order to benefit others. For example, look at zoning, a tyranny which came into existence in this century. Under rights of private ownership, a person is free to do whatever he wants with his land — as long as he does not interfere in some direct way with someone else’s property. Do neighboring landowners have any recourse when their neighbor decides to use his property for an auto-repair shop? Yes. They can use their own money to offer to buy either the property or a voluntarily imposed deed restriction on the property.

But since that would require them to place their money where their principles are, they instead go to their city council or their planning and zoning board and seek political privilege. The politicians and bureaucrats are persuaded to use their police powers to prohibit property owners from using their property for business purposes. The neighbors have accomplished their objective — and stolen the use of another person’s property through the coercive powers of Caesar.

A final example: health and safety regulations. Such regulations not only entail tyranny but also are a classic case of where American adults are treated like little children in a government-approved school. “How would we have safe buildings if our local dictocrats didn’t take care of us with regulations?” is the prevailing attitude among Americans grown-ups. The terrible irony is that health and safety regulations not only destroy liberty and property rights, they don’t even prevent accidents.

A Freedom Daily reader recently sent me a newspaper article detailing two separate fires. One fire had occurred several decades ago — before fire regulations — and the other just recently. People had been trapped in both fires because the emergency exit doors were locked. The author said that this showed that more stringent fire regulations were needed.

Actually, however, the article showed that fire regulations had failed! The second fire took place — and lives were lost — despite the regulations! Thus, one fire before regulations… and one fire after the regulations. The crucial difference, however, is that the regulations lulled people into believing that the second building was safe. Those people died because they believed — and had been taught to believe — that their political and bureaucratic masters were taking care of them.

Whether we like it or not, life is insecure. And the coercive power of government cannot change this aspect of the universe. Throughout history, people have believed that if they only traded their liberty for governmental “security,” the exchange would be worth it. But all of them have found, much to their dismay, that they not only had lost their liberty, they had failed to gain security as well.

Would there be unsafe buildings in the absence of governmental regulations? Of course. But there would be nothing to prevent private certifying agencies from placing “Good Housekeeping” or “Consumer Reports” seals of approval on the recommended ones. Life would continue to be hazardous … but free. For people would be able to engage in risky endeavors without government interference — whether it be bungee-jumping, skydiving, mountain-climbing, or walking into unsafe buildings.

Tyranny at the state and local level shows how pervasive has become the cancer of governmental control and regulation over people’s lives and fortunes. It must be rooted out — and constitutionally prohibited — at all levels of government before it destroys every single one of us.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.