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August 09, 2005


Dan Trabue

You state on your personal info:
"I believe very much that the government that governs best, governs least; and that people are and ought to be responsible for themselves, their own lives, and their own future."

Would it surprise you to know that I often agree with this statement?

Which is why I find it difficult to understand why you want us to have a large enough military/industrial complex (the largest in the history of the world) to be able to go around the world taking down and setting up governments willy nilly.

And at a HUGE cost. In other words, WHOPPING BIG government. This is not government governing least.

And, do you really mean that people ought to be responsible for themselves? Pay their own way as they go?

Then surely you would be in favor of increasing our gas tax so that the environmental and social costs of driving are recouped and not passed on to others?

Before reacting instinctively to that comment, think about it. IF our driving habits have a societal cost of billions of dollars (in lost wages, illness, devastation of families) and environmental costs that are hard to even estimate (How does one pay for a stream too polluted to fish from? How does one pay for the pollution of our common air?), THEN shouldn't motorists pay for the costs as much as possible as we go?

In agreement with your philosophy,



I want us to have a large military for the security of the United States. Si vis pacem, para bellum. As far as going around setting up governments willy-nilly, I'm not much in favor of that. I don't see why we ought to interfere in the internal affairs of another country UNLESS events there begin to threaten our security. Thus, while I think that regime change in Syria is a worthwhile US policy, I don't think the same way about (for example) Thailand. Syria exports terrorism and is making our life difficult in Iraq. Thailand isn't bothering us.*

In my mind, a large military is not 'big government' any more than the interstate highway system is 'big government'. Now, if Uncle Sam used the military to police the United States, I'd have a problem with it just as our ancestors had a problem with being policed by redcoats. Happily, the Posse Comitatus Act makes such a thing very unlikely, and so our military confines its ass-kicking to foreign lands and bars around military posts.

Probably a better term than 'big government' would be 'intrusive government'. British government in the colonies prior to 1775 was not 'big' in that there were not thousands of Crown officers and bureaucrats. However, Americans felt that the Crown was exceeding its authority and making a burden of itself by imposing taxes that were not only irritating but also illegitimate because there was no elected colonial representation in London.

The Crown, for its part, felt perfectly justified in these measures: if Americans were taxed without representation, they were taxed far less than Britons, and the Crown was spending a tremendous amount of money on the defense of the American colonies. This really sounds familiar: Washington will take our money in taxes and feel perfectly justified in doing so because we aren't as heavily taxed as many foreign countries, and anyway, think of all the GOOD DC does with our money!

I'd rather keep more of my money and do the good for myself...

Your point about environmental issues is a good one, and it isn't easy to answer. On the one hand, we all have a stake in clean air and water, and preserving at least some of the natural beauty of the United States. On the other, people have to have places to work and live, and producing the goods we need to live often produces harmful waste and other byproducts, or requires that natural resources be mined or otherwise extracted from the earth and seas. The question is how to balance these competing needs? We all want children to be able to play and fish and swim in the local stream, but is this worth closing a factory and putting 1000 people out of work, or saddling farmers with so many regulations regarding animal waste and runoff that they can't run their farms profitably?

There's no easy answer, but I'm quite sure that having a bloated bureaucracy in Washington isn't the best way to find it.

(*) The regrettable thing about such a selfish policy is that it precludes peacekeeping and many types of humanitarian work. I was against our intervention in Bosnia because I felt that it was none of our business. My brother was a peacekeeper there, however, and based on what he told me about his experiences, we did the right thing to go in.

Dan Trabue

Thank you for your very well-reasoned, sincere and honest reply, sir. At least we can see that we're both desiring the same things, if differing on how to get there.

Still, our huge military and huge roadways budget both are indicative of a vastly porcine government. And "intrusive" is exactly how I would describe both our military and our infrastructure (roadways), taking over more and more of our country.

And while I sympathize with your answer to my environmental posit, I'd suggest your "on the one hand...on the other hand" thoughts are a false dichotomy.

I'd suggest it's not either/or - not either a clean environment or plentiful jobs. It's not even a matter of balancing the two.

In an environmentally more sound system, there will be jobs, just different ones. Yes, the gas stations may close and car manufacturers may disappear, but solar panel companies and bicycle companies need workers, too. An increased mass transit system would need workers.

Even gov't jobs such as stream reclamation would be appropriate use of our money because it was our policy that got them in the state they're in. More of that good ol' personal responsibility.

I do really appreciate your manner in your responses. Thanks for letting me come over and play.


Thank you. I try (not always with success) to be polite. I also appreciate the thought and time you've put into your comments.

Comments on different topics -

Military - our military budget as a percent on GNP is a good deal lower now than it was during the Cold War, and with all the base closings, the military is taking up much less ground than it used to. While Bush is expanding it to some degree, I don't think he's doing enough. If the balloon goes up in South Korea or Taiwan, I worry that we haven't got the forces to defeat the threat.

Roads - Article I, sect. 8 of the Constitution gives the Congress the authority to build post roads. Building roads has long been a duty of government, because roads (and navigable waterways) enhance trade which improves the lives of the citizens. Given how many Americans and how many goods travel by road, we simply must have a good road network. I'm not happy with how the federal government regulates the road system, or with how it uses highway money to get the states to do its bidding, however.

Mass trans would be a good thing, but Americans don't really seem ready for it. Despite the high cost of fuel, Americans like their cars. Our cities are designed around them. Except in isolated areas (like NYC), Americans don't seem to find mass trans to be especially convenient or cheap and therefore don't use it.

For example, I used to commute about 75 miles to another city to work (boy, did it suck!). The state was considering a light rail system that would have taken me from my city to the city where I worked. Sounds great, right? Well...

1. How do I get to the train station in the morning?

2. What if I miss the train? Will the state run them so frequently that I could still make it to work on time?

3. When I get to the other station, how do I get from there to my workplace?

4. How much will the train, parking, buses, etc. cost? Will it be cheap enough to be more attractive than taking my car?

5. What if I have to work late, or need to go home in the middle of the day for some reason? What do I do if I want to go out for lunch?

In Manhattan and places like it, these are sort of moot points. But North Carolina is MUCH more suburban / rural, making mass trans much more problematic.

Now, if I was dictator (BWAH-HAH-HAH-HAH!), there would be some pretty significant changes in 'urban planning'. Our local cities sprawl like nobody's business, making for traffic congestion, overcrowded and distant schools, water shortages, and destruction of woods and other 'natural' areas. It's ridiculous. With more intelligent planning, it seems to me that we could design urban areas that would be more amenable to mass trans, and also less destructive of the environment.

Either / or - Unfortunately, the question often IS 'either / or'. Ask the loggers in the Pacific Northwest who've been put out of jobs by environmental regulations. Yes, they will eventually find other jobs, just as did all the horse-and-buggy workers when the automobile made their industry obsolete, but it's kind of tough on them in the short term.

Tax money for environmental reclamation - I am not opposed to this. Areas blighted by pollution tend to be so large that Uncle Sugar is all but required to take care of the problem.

How do you get people to WANT to use solar power, bike to work, use more fuel-efficient cars or mass trans? This is the key. Government can't effectively mandate these things, and even if it could, it really shouldn't. This is a free country, after all. People have to see the advantage to themselves of changing their lifestyles. Once they do, demand for the new products will pick up, and some smart entrepeneur will start to meet the demand. I saw this when I was a kid in the 1970s: people wanted cars that got more than 12 mpg. Honda and Toyota met the demand. Government didn't mandate it.

Glad you came by. Feel free to stop in whenever you want.

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