Archive for September, 2012

We are proud to have a guest post from longtime reader and “commenter”, Ted. Enjoy!

I am very libertarian in my views toward government, having often said that I want the least amount of government possible without Anarchy. But what does this mean, and what would such a government look like?

Mark recently wrote about efficiency of government, and this is something that most Americans can agree on; we don’t want government to waste money. The philosophical conflicts arise when we ask “what should government do for us, and what should we do or ourselves?”

In order to promote honest and open discussion rather than the name calling and ad-hominem attacks commonly found in political discussions, let’s discuss the legitimate role of American government from several points of view and where each party stands on these issues, giving each side the benefit of the doubt about their motives.

First, and most important to me, is Justice. I believe that the government has a legitimate role in promoting justice, even “at the edge of a sword” as the bible says. This means that a court system, trial by jury, Miranda rights, and some form of prison system is a legitimate role of government. Those on the Right tend to favor quick, inexpensive trials, limited appeals and harsh punishment for those convicted; those on the Left generally advocate taking as much time and money and as many appeals as necessary to ensure the innocent are not wrongfully convicted, and tend to view the prison system’s purpose as rehabilitation rather than punishment. I come down at odds with both parties, believing that only felonies should go to court (misdemeanors could be handled with small fines and infractions such as parking or speeding tickets should be completely eliminated), the prosecution should have a very high bar to satisfy before a conviction, but once convicted, our prisons should look more like a scene from “Beyond Thunderdome” and less like “The Shawshank Redemption”.

Second in a free society is protection of individual liberties, including but not limited to those found in The Bill of Rights. Our Founders believed that these rights devolved from God rather than from government, and both political parties seem to have forgotten this to some extent; those on the Left believe in the freedom to marry someone of the same sex or abort an unwanted fetus, but don’t believe in the freedom to carry a loaded weapon or do what you want with your own property. Those on the Right support property and gun rights but many take a dim view of illegal drug use or expressing opinion through offensive art. I believe that the government’s legitimate role is securing individual rights, and that it may infringe on these rights only when one citizens expression directly harms another citizen- this means your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose, and that some form of police organization to protect citizens property and safety is a legitimate role of government. It does NOT support or condone generalized arguments limiting the rights of one group in favor of the rights of another. Therefore helmet laws, seatbelt laws, smoking bans, etc. are expressions of the tyranny of the masses and are illegitimate in a “free” society. Abortion is complicated, but in general I think our right to life begins at conception, and should be protected even when it inconveniences the mother to do so, but not when it threatens her right to life.

Third, and finally for this essay, is the Post Office. While this is not a concept such as liberty or justice, it is expressly mandated by the Constitution, and unquestionably a legitimate role of government. The constitution does not mandate daily mail delivery, or a vast money-squandering bureaucracy that is our modern post office however. Many on the Right have called for elimination of the post office entirely, and fulfilling the constitutional mandate via privatization of postal services with companies such as FedEx or UPS. The Left defends the status quo, largely because of the large number of unionized postal workers that form their political base and would b out of work if we had a rationally sized post office. I think that our country could survive mail delivery three days per week and with half as many post offices, which would dramatically cut the cost of this service. Further, I think that the current bulk mail rates are a form of corporate welfare subsidized by the taxpayer solely to keep postmen employed. The environmental damage of the millions of tons of paper and ink dumped on every American home far outweighs the jobs created by such a scheme. In the name of government efficiency if not any more compelling reason, the bulk mail rate should be eliminated. That the bulk rate exists is proof hat our two parties collude to the detriment of the country and it’s citizens.

There are many other areas open for discussion, such as governments role in healthcare, education, national defense, environmental protection, etc. but these will be saved for another day. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on these issues, if they can be elucidated without vitriol.

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I was recently catching up on some reading and was caught by a section in my BusinessWeek called, “What Works in the USA”.  It was compiling stories of best practice from around the nation of where governments have done innovative and thoughtful things to actually improve their communities and save money, time, or provide a needed (emphasis on needed) service.

The one that stood out to me was about Philadelphia’s Savings in Fleet Management.  This short piece documents how the fleet management department eliminated non-emergency vehicles, and instead starting renting from Zipcar.

Under an entrenched system common in many local governments, cars had been assigned to individual employees, who came to view them as their personal wheels. The vehicles often sat idle during the day, even when other workers on city business needed a ride, then went home at night and on weekends.

Faced with a citywide budget crisis in 2004, the Office of Fleet Management (OFM) set up a system under which employees reserve a rental car electronically for official business, specifying the time, date, destination, and official purpose. Cost savings have averaged $1.8 million per year, according to K Wilson of OFM’s budget office, through reduced spending on auto maintenance, fuel, and parking charges. Those costs are now the responsibility of Cambridge (Mass.)-based Zipcar, which took over the contract from a nonprofit in 2008.

I think this is an incredible move by that department.  Governmental agencies are almost always interested in how they can grow their budgets, not reduce them.  And yet, if we are ever to see our governments grow more efficient, this drive for efficiency is almost certainly what we will need to see across the board.  Saving $1.8 million a year is a fantastic start.  Granted that won’t go very far, especially in large metros like Philly.  But it hopefully will breed copycats.

The difficulty I can see similar efforts facing is from unions.  Clearly Philadelphia would have to eliminate many jobs, such as mechanics, fuel pumpers, and other position that catered to caring for that fleet of cars – most likely many of which are unionized.  But it was unnecessary and a waste of resources.

Another thing that came to mind when reading about the program is how they are electronically monitoring mileage and usage of cars still in the fleet.  I’ve read of lawsuits from employees who’s company or government vehicles tracked them at their homes when they were supposed to be working.  So even when you are breaking company policy you still try to get away with it.

We’ll see if there is a trend here – but it is certainly hopeful.  Good on ya, Philly!

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