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Archive for the ‘Government stupidity’ Category

Since I’m an advocate of smaller government, you might imagine I’m perpetually depressed. After all, I work in Washington where I’m vastly outnumbered by people who specialize in looting and mooching. At times, I feel like a missionary in a house of ill repute.

But I always look for the silver lining when there’s a dark cloud overhead. So while it’s true that government squanders our money and violates our rights, at least we sometimes get some semi-amusing stories about sheer incompetence and staggering stupidity.

Like Detroit spending $32 to issue $30 parking tickets.

The State Department buying friends.

Or Georgia’s drug warriors raiding a house because of okra plants.

FEMA house guidelines that make houses less safe in hurricanes.

Federal rules that prevent school bake sales.

Bureaucrats defecating in hallways.

Yes, I realize I also should be outraged about these examples. But I can’t help being amused as well.

So let’s add to our collection of bizarre, foolish, and wasteful behavior by government.

Here are some passages from a Washington Post exposé on mismanagement and waste at the federal department that is infamous for secret waiting lists that resulted in denied health care (and in some cases needless deaths) for America’s veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been spending at least $6 billion a year in violation of federal contracting rules to pay for medical care and supplies, wasting taxpayer money and putting veterans at risk, according to an internal memo written by the agency’s senior official for procurement. In a 35-page document addressed to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the official accuses other agency leaders of “gross mismanagement” and making a “mockery” of federal acquisition laws that require competitive bidding and proper contracts. Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, describes a culture of “lawlessness and chaos” at the Veterans Health Administration.

I confess that it’s hard to find anything amusing about this story, but I’m worried that I might go crazy if I simply focus on how a bureaucracy gets more and more money every year, yet also manages to waste money with no negative consequences.

Or maybe I just enjoy the fact that I have a new reason to mock a wasteful government department (sorry to be redundant).

Here’s an example of spending that is so silly that it’s okay for all of us to laugh. Enjoy this blurb on how tax dollars are being wasted by the foreign aid bureaucracy.

American taxpayers might come down with a case of the blues when they hear about how the State Department is spending their tax dollars. According to ForeignAssistance.gov, India has requested $88,439,000 in U.S. foreign aid for the year 2015, but the State Department plans to spend additional funds on diplomacy: music diplomacy. The U.S. Mission to India is offering a $100,000 grant opportunity titled “Strengthening US-India Relations Through Jazz.” Eligible applicants include public and private universities as well as non-profit organizations. …Another grant available to universities and non-profit groups is for a “Visual Exhibit on Indian Faith and Traditions in America.” For $75,000, U.S. taxpayers will fund a “photographic exhibit that showcases both the ways that Indian-Americans practice their faith traditions in the United States, and the ways that Indian faith traditions have been adopted by American communities.” According to the offering, “The images will capture the diversity of the Indian-American community, so that a broad range of religious traditions are depicted.

These numbers are small compared to, say, the malfeasance and waste at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get upset in addition to being amused.

Think about it from this perspective. The amounts being wasted in this example are equal to the entire federal tax burden for several American families.

Do any of us think it’s okay to confiscate so much of their income and then have it squandered so pointlessly and irresponsibly?

Besides, the foreign aid bureaucracy is also capable of wasting huge amounts of money.

But remember that the federal government doesn’t have a monopoly on foolish and stupid behavior.

Here’s another example of inane government behavior. And you won’t be surprised that it took place in California because, as Reason reports, it involved a raid against an establishment serving probiotic tea.

Last Friday, an undercover officer from the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) “infiltrated the temple,” Vice reports, “clearing the way for a 9 PM incursion by five officers.” What manner of crazy bootlegged hooch were the agents there to confiscate? Kombucha. Blueberry kombucha. For the uninitiated, kombucha is a type of carbonated, probiotic tea, popular among hipsters and health foodies. It’s made by mixing regular tea, sugar, and a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” known as the “mother” and letting the whole business ferment for a few days. The end result is a somewhat vinegar-like beverage that’s packed with good bacteria (à la yogurt) and ever-so-slightly alcoholic….But because the tea contains slightly above 0.5 percent alcohol, it requires a special license to sell say ABC agents, who cited a Full Circle rep for misdemeanor selling alcohol without a license.

Reminds me of the story about the federal milk police at the FDA. Or the federal bagpipe police at our borders.

Don’t these bureaucrats have anything better to do with their time (and our money)?!?

P.S. How could I forget all the examples of insane anti-gun political correctness in government schools?

P.P.S. Or the examples of unconstrained stupidity at the TSA?

P.P.P.S. And the odd collection of “human rights” that governments have created.

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Summarizing the federal government is not easy. There’s nearly $4 trillion of spending to disentangle. There’s a 75,000-page tax code to decipher. And there’s a regulatory morass that defies understanding.

So when people ask me questions about the cost of the federal government, there’s never a satisfactory answer.

I sometimes respond by pointing to sub-par growth rates during periods when the burden of government is expanding.

For what it’s worth, I think the best way of approaching such questions is to look at broad measures of statism vs. markets, such as you get with the Economic Freedom of the World rankings, and then compare nations with better scores and those with worse scores.

Though if I’m feeling snarky, I sometimes direct people to my collection of cartoons that simply portray government as a blundering, malicious, incompetent blob.

Today, though, I’m going with a different approach.

We’re going to try to capture the spirit of Washington. And we have a couple of videos, each of which deals with one tiny aspect of Leviathan, but they both do an excellent job of showing the perverse zeitgeist of this parasitical town.

Last year, I wrote about a grotesque example of waste at one of the new bureaucracies created by the Dodd-Frank bailout bill.

The head of that bureaucracy recently testified before a House Committee at was asked what steps were being taken to protect the interests of taxpayers. Here’s a video of the exchange.

Wow. Lots of taxpayer money flushed down a toilet and this Obama appointee cavalierly says “why does that matter to you?”

This is the fiscal equivalent to Hillary Clinton saying “what difference at this point does it make” about four butchered Americans.

And kudos to Congresswoman Wagner for saying it matters because it was the American people’s money (though I’ll wait to see how she votes on the Export-Import Bank to see whether she was posturing or if she actually cares about protecting other people’s money).

Now let’s look at our second video.

You probably didn’t realize that there was something called a Raisin Administrative Committee, but you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the federal government has Soviet-style rules that give this Committee cartel-like powers over raisin growers.

Check out this video from Reason TV to see an example of bizarre, stupid, and destructive government intervention.

Geesh. This re-confirms in my mind why we need to get rid of the Department of Agriculture. And it’s yet another piece of evidence that FDR was either incompetent of malicious on economic policy.

But the main lesson of this video is that it symbolizes the federal government. The well-connected insiders benefit and ordinary people suffer.

P.S. Remember the powerful graph showing that giant increases in education spending have had no positive impact on student performance?

Well, here’s the equivalent chart from the world of mass transit. Spending has skyrocketed but ridership is stagnant.

Yet another reminder that government is just a giant money pit of waste (and a reminder that we should also abolish the Department of Transportation).

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I periodically share this poster, in part because it’s funny, but mostly because it’s true.

After all, can you think of many “success stories” involving government?

When I pose this question to my statist friends, I usually get a blank stare in response. Though some of them will offer answers such as the GI Bill, interstate highways, and landing on the moon.

But even if you accept that those policies were successful, it’s rather revealing that folks on the left have a very hard time identifying any success stories from recent decades.

On the other hand, we have a never-ending and ever-growing list of government failures, boondoggles, and screw-ups.

And that’s our focus today. We’re going to look at all levels of government for new examples that confirm Bastiat was right.

Let’s start with Montgomery County in Maryland, where bureaucrats are waging a legal battle against parents who – gasp! – allow unsupervised play for their children.

Here are some troubling passages from a Washington Post report.

The Maryland parents investigated for letting their young children walk home by themselves from a park were found responsible for “unsubstantiated” child neglect…the finding of unsubstantiated child neglect means CPS will keep a file on the family for at least five years and leaves open the question of what would happen if the Meitiv children get reported again for walking without adult supervision. The parents say they will continue to allow their son, Rafi, 10, and daughter Dvora, 6, to play or walk together, and won’t be swayed by the CPS finding. …The case dates to Dec. 20, when police picked up the two Meitiv children walking in Silver Spring on a Saturday afternoon after someone reported them. …The Meitivs said they would not have allowed the one-mile outing from Woodside Park to their home if they did not feel their children were up to it. …The Meitivs, both scientists by training, embrace a “free-range” philosophy of parenting, believing that children learn self-reliance by being allowed to make choices, build independence and progressively experience the world on their own. …Danielle Meitiv said when she first read the decision, she felt numb. As she reread it, she recalled turning to her husband and saying: “Oh my God, they really believe we did something wrong.” …Danielle Meitiv said that in spite of the decision, her children played at a nearby park by themselves Monday, when schools were closed for the snow day.

I confess that I was more paranoid than the Meitivs when my kids were young, so I can’t claim to have followed the same “free-range” approach.

But I also tried to avoid being a “helicopter” parent.

Not that my decisions on child rearing matter. What’s important from the perspective of public policy is that the Montgomery County bureaucracy is trying to dictate how to raise kids. And there’s a very clear implicit threat that it will arrest the parents and/or confiscate the children if the Meitivs don’t acquiesce.

And if you think I’m exaggerating and governments don’t behave this way, check out the story of the mom who was jailed overnight because her kids played outside – while she was watching them!

All of us should be outraged, regardless of our parenting approach.

Now let’s look at an example of a state government in action.

As reported by the Washington Post, the Georgia State Patrol enjoyed a Keystone Cops moment when it raided an old man because…drum roll, please…he was growing okra.

Georgia police raided a retired Atlanta man’s garden last Wednesday after a helicopter crew with the Governor’s Task Force for Drug Suppression spotted suspicious-looking plants on the man’s property. A heavily-armed K9 unit arrived and discovered that the plants were, in fact, okra bushes. …Okra busts like these are good reason for taxpayers to be skeptical about the wisdom of sending guys up in helicopters to fly around aimlessly, looking for drugs in suburban gardens. And that’s not to mention the issue of whether we want a society where heavily-armed cops can burst into your property, with no grounds for suspicion beyond what somebody thought he saw from several hundred yards up in a helicopter.

In some sense, this is an amusing story of government incompetence.

But military-type raids, when the supposed offense involves a possible “crime” with no victims, are a recipe for disaster. Let’s be glad that the cops didn’t accidentally kill anybody in this raid.

By the way, this isn’t the first time cops have seized okra bushes. Or looked foolish because of an inability to identify marijuana leaves.

At the point, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to say that it’s time to end the foolish Drug War. People who abuse drugs may be stupid, but they’re not infringing on the rights of others. The War on Drugs, by contrast, has led to all sorts of policies that do infringe on our rights, from disgusting asset forfeiture policies to pointless snooping on our bank accounts. Or, as we just read, raids on okra growers.

Time now for a look at an example of federal government fecklessness.

But this story from the Washington Times won’t surprise anybody. Because anybody with a pulse already knows that there is a lot of waste in Washington.

Federal agencies across the board are continuing to waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on duplicative spending efforts, even after Congress‘ official watchdog has made hundreds of recommendations for cutting back. The spending issues, ranging from Medicare and Medicaid mismanagement to transportation programs to weapon systems acquisitions, cost taxpayers $125 billion in improper payments in 2014 alone, as highlighted in a new report from the Government Accountability Office. …GAO investigators noted in the report that the government can’t continue to sustain its wasteful spending habits… “The federal government faces an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Changing this path will require difficult fiscal policy decisions to alter both long-term federal spending and revenue,” the GAO analysts concluded. …The GAO report targeted both the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services for mismanaging programs that saw rampant wasteful spending. …“These programs combined account for over 76 percent of the government-wide estimate. We have made numerous recommendations that if effectively implemented, could help improve program management, reduce improper payments in these programs, and achieve cost savings.”

Notice that HHS and the IRS win the prize for wasteful incompetence.

But don’t laugh. After all, those are the two bureaucracies that got lots of new power and authority as a result of the costly Obamacare boondoggle. So the joke’s on us.

By the way, the GAO’s definition of waste is very narrow. It merely applies to funds that are improperly disbursed.

If you also include monies that are squandered, then the amount of waste includes every penny at the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, etc.

Last but not least, let’s look at a great moment in foreign government.

I’ve written about the crazy Greek government on many occasions. And given that this collection of misfits does utterly bizarre things (such as giving handouts to pedophiles and requiring stool samples when setting up online companies), I’m never surprised to learn when they adopt foolish policies.

But even I was taken aback to learn about the latest gimmick they concocted to “solve” the nation’s fiscal crisis. Here are some excerpts from a report in the U.K.-based Guardian.

The Greek government has told its eurozone creditors it has a novel way of tackling the country’s chronic tax evasion culture – wiring students, tourists, and housewives for sound and video to spy on tax dodgers while posing as shoppers and customers. …Varoufakis’s plans for a new government-sponsored amateur snoopers’ charter…attracted most attention. …He said the prospects of successfully countering tax dodging were dismal because of the demoralised and understaffed state of the tax inspection service. Instead, he proposed recruiting large numbers of “non-professional inspectors” on short-term casual contracts of no longer than two months who would be paid by the hour. They would be “wired for sound and video”, trained to pose as “customers” and “will be hard to detect by offending tax dodgers.” …Varoufakis said the launch of the amateur snoopers would act as a deterrent, “engendering a new tax compliance culture” in Greece. He added that Athens would need to ask eurozone partners for help with the equipment and the training. Germany has previously offered to send 500 tax inspectors to Athens. …In Athens, news of the undercover tax agents was quick to spark ridicule and widespread disbelief.

Hmmm….so the Germans offered to send 500 tax inspectors? Sounds like a perfect job for ex-Stasi officials.

And there are some bureaucrats in Chicago who almost surely would want to help implement this snitch-on-your-neighbor scheme. And the governor of New York has related experience, though his police-state policy focused on guns rather than tax revenue. Let’s also not overlook the U.K. politicians who have a tax-enforcement-über-alles mentality.

Never mind that all the research shows that low rates are honest government are the best ways of getting high compliance.

So I’m not holding my breath expecting success from this latest Greek scheme.

But I can say it’s a perfect example of how governments operate. Screw up, grab for more money, screw up some more. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s almost a shame that there’s no life on Mars. We could make today’s list even longer if there was another layer of government.

Now you know why it’s almost always the right time to mock politicians.

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While I normally focus on jaw-dropping examples of hypocrisy by politicians, I realize that our beloved leaders also can be absurdly brazen in their exaggerations, deceptions, and prevarications.

But sometimes you can’t help but be shocked by their chutzpah.

Sort of like the time back in 2010 that a Greek politician issued an ultimatum that his country should get a giant bailout without taking the necessary steps to rein in bureaucratic bloat.

But nothing compares with Obama’s recent claim that his opponents are trying to “bamboozle” voters.

President Obama, in a fiery speech to Democrats Friday, accused Republicans of trying to “bamboozle folks,” saying their policies on middle-class issues did not reflect their lofty talk about helping ordinary Americans. …Obama went on to lambast Republicans for their opposition to his healthcare law… “Their grand predictions of doom and gloom and death panels haven’t come true,” Obama told the roomful of Democrats. “The sky hasn’t fallen. Chicken Little is quiet.”

Given the ongoing series of Obamacare disasters, I think there’s a strong case to be made that the American people have suffered some doom and gloom.

But I’m more amazed that the President, while defending his health plan, actually had the gall to accuse others of trying to “bamboozle.”

This from the President who prevaricated when he said people could keep their doctor.

This from the President who dissembled when he said health policies would be $2500 cheaper.

This from the President who lied when he said people could keep their health plans.

This from the President who took liberties with the truth when asserting that a new entitlement would be fiscally responsible.

I could continue, but you get the point. Virtually every claim he made about Obamacare has turned out to be a falsehood, yet he wants to accuse others of bamboozling. Amazing.

Now let’s shift to another example of the Obama Administration doing something really amazing. I wouldn’t put this in the hypocrisy category of the chutzpah category.

I’m not sure if there are words that suffice, so let’s just look at this tweet from an official State Department twitter account. It’s criticizing ISIS for raising taxes on cell phone service.

I’m sure ISIS deserves lots of criticism for many things. And I certainly don’t object to nailing them for tax hikes.

But what’s astounding is that the Obama bureaucrats didn’t bother to do the slightest bit of research. Had they done their homework, they would have realized they were throwing boulders in a glass house.

As anyone with a cell phone bill knows, phone taxes in America are significantly higher than what ISIS is charging (1000 Syrian Pounds every two months breaks down to about $2.75 per month). In fact, cell phone taxes in America make up 17 percent of monthly bills on average, while in some states it totals as high as 34 percent—charges which can easily run ten times ISIS’ monthly fee.

Heck, let’s set aside the example of cell phone taxes and look at the big picture. The American people are pillaged by higher taxes over and over again and we also get crappy government in exchange.

So if paying taxes for “poor service” makes a government illegitimate, I guess that means the State Department thinks the President should resign.

Gee, who knew that there were rabid libertarians working for this Administration.

P.S. There have been other “libertarian moments from Obama and his people, however insincere.

We have a president who thinks the government shouldn’t confiscate more than 20 percent of a company’s income, but he only gives that advice when he’s in Ghana.

And the same president says it’s time to “let the market work on its own,” but he only says that when talking about China’s economy.

We have more evidence that the President understands the dangers of class-warfare taxation and burdensome government spending. At least when he’s not talking about American fiscal policy.

And the President even applauds foreign voters on occasion when they reject big government.

If only we could get him to have this attitude inside America’s borders.

 

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My Cato Institute colleague Michael Tanner has produced some first-rate substantive research on issues.

He produced a study showing that personal retirement accounts would have been a better deal than Social Security even for people who retired at the depth of the financial crisis and stock-market collapse.

He authored another study showing that overly generous welfare systems in most states make productive work relatively unattractive compared to government dependency.

And I’ve also cited his analysis and commentary on issues such as Obamacare and obesity.

Today, I want to cite him for the simple reason that I admire his cleverness.

For those of us who suffered through President Obama’s State of the Union address, you may recall that the President proposed a thawing of America’s relationship with Cuba on the basis that if something “doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.”

Since I’m not a foreign policy person, I didn’t pay close attention to that passage.

But perhaps I should have been more attentive. It turns out that Obama created a big opening.

Writing for National Review, Tanner decided to hoist Obama on his own petard.

During his State of the Union address last week, President Obama defended his Cuba policy by pointing out, “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.” As it happens, I agree with the president on Cuba. But it seems to me that his advice should be applied to a number of other issues as well

Mike starts with the ill-fated War on Poverty.

Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in January 1964, just three years after the start of the Cuban embargo. Since then we’ve spent more than $20 trillion fighting poverty. Last year alone, federal and state governments spent just under $1 trillion to fund 126 separate anti-poverty programs. Yet, using the conventional Census Bureau poverty measure, we’ve done nothing to reduce the poverty rate. …And, whatever success we’ve achieved in making material poverty less uncomfortable, we’ve done little to help the poor become independent and self-supporting.

He then points out the utter failure of the War on Drugs.

The War on Drugs has been going on even longer than the War on Poverty, with a similar lack of success. …in the last ten years alone we have spent some $500 billion fighting this “war,” and arrested more than 16 million Americans for drug offenses. The vast majority of arrests have been for simple possession, not sale or other drug crimes. While filling our prisons with nonviolent offenders, destabilizing countries like Mexico and Colombia, wrecking our own inner cities, and making the cartels rich, the drug war has failed to reduce either violence or drug use.

Mike also reminds us that we’ve had five decades-plus of government-run healthcare.

…we’ve suffered from government-run health care in this country for more than 50 years as well. Medicare and Medicaid started in 1965. Others would point out that we are still suffering the consequences of the IRS decision in 1953 to make employer-provided insurance tax-free, while individually purchased insurance has to be paid for with after-tax dollars. No matter how you want to measure the starting point, the government now pays for roughly 52 percent of U.S. health-care spending, and indirectly subsidizes another 37 percent. The result has been steadily rising health-care costs, a dysfunctional insurance market, and a growing shortage of physicians. …a study out of Oregon suggests that being on Medicaid provides no better health outcomes than being uninsured. Meanwhile, Medicare is running up more than $47.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities. And let us not forget the VA system and its problems.

And his article merely scratches the surface.

One could go on and on. Fannie and Freddie? Social Security and its almost $25 trillion in unfunded liabilities? Stimulus spending? Green energy? We won’t even mention the National Weather Service’s apparent inability to accurately predict snowstorms. If we are looking for lessons to learn from the last 50 years, here is one: Bigger government has not brought us more security, more freedom, or more prosperity. Yet, President Obama still sees the answer to every problem, no matter how small, as more government, no matter how big. …President Obama not only seems unable to learn from history, but apparently doesn’t even listen to his own speeches. If big government hasn’t worked for 50 years, 100 years, or for that matter pretty much the whole of human history, maybe it’s time to try something else.

The final sentence in that passage is not just a throw-away line.

I have my own two-question challenge for leftists, which is basically a request that they identify a nation – of any size and at any time – that has prospered with big government.

Mike does something similar. He basically points out that big government has an unbroken track record of failure, and not just for the past 50 years.

I suppose the question to ask is whether any big-government program can be considered a success? In other words, what has any government done well, once it goes beyond the provision of core public goods such as enforcing contracts, protecting property rights, and upholding the rule of law?

To be fair, there are some nations, such as Switzerland, that have enjoyed very long periods of monetary stability and peace. And jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Singapore have experienced decades of prosperity and tranquility.

In all of those jurisdictions, I think government is too big, but they are considered small-government by modern-world standards.

In any event, the point I’m making is that some governments seem semi-competent, but there also seems to be a relationship between the size and scope of government and the failure of government.

It will be interesting to read the comments.

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When people ask me why I mock government for being a slovenly, bloated, and malicious entity, I’m sometimes not sure what to say.

Do I give them examples of corrupt corporate welfare?

Do I share instances of government thuggery?

Do I direct them to preposterous examples of waste?

Do I show them details about an insanely complex tax code?

Do I enlighten them about sleazy insider behavior by the political elite?

The short answer is that I’m never sure what to say, which is why I oftentimes resort instead to utilitarian arguments in which I show that nations with smaller public sectors out-perform countries with larger levels of taxation, spending, regulation, and intervention.

I figure many people will probably never share my instinctive libertarian outrage about abusive government, but they presumably will be susceptible to the argument that it’s better to enjoy the prosperity of jurisdictions like Hong Kong and Singapore rather than suffer the stagnation of nations such as France and Greece.

And perhaps if I also share enough stories about foolish government policy, they’ll eventually realize that 2+2=4 and also decide to become libertarians (or at least small-government conservatives).

With that in mind, let’s look at three episodes of brain-addled government policy, one about taxes, one about spending, and the other about regulation.

For our tax story, let’s look at the so-called “Snooki tax.” Here are some excerpts from a column by Erik Telford published in The Hill.

…architects of the Affordable Care Act thought they found a winning funding formula. Create a “sin tax” on vanity businesses and use it to help pay for massive increase in government healthcare spending. Proposals to hit Botox sparked strong reaction from the dermatologist lobby, so legislators went to plan B–go after a weaker industry and tax tanning beds. …They called it the “Snooki Tax” after the oft-criticized reality TV star and tried to put a shallow celebrity face on a tax that would harm thousands of small businesses. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation crowed that the tax would raise $2.7 billion in nine years, all to offset the estimated $1 trillion price tag of the ACA. Each business would have to tack on a 10 percent excise tax on each tanning experience for every customer.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the JCT’s estimate was wrong and the tax isn’t collecting as much revenue as forecast.

But you might be shocked to learn that the levy is incredibly inefficient.

…roughly 19,000 “mom and pop” small businesses may have  been affected by the new tax — and those businesses likely spent an average of $74 an hour to comply with federal tax paperwork burdens… the taxes collected might not even pay for the efforts to reap them. Enforcement requires heavy investments in training and employee hours to catch businesses offering services “under the table.” An agent trying to audit a business that offers tanning must observe a business in operation, compare subjective observations about customer flow to the businesses’ bookkeeping, take into account “weak internal accounting systems,” then “request trial balance (if any), summary sheets, work papers and determine the audit trail either for manual or automated record keeping systems, for all transactions.”

I don’t know if the tanning tax is worse than the infamous German coffee tax, but it’s probably a close race.

Now let’s look at a report about wasteful government spending.

I’ve written that the federal government shouldn’t be in the disaster business since that’s a recipe for the blame-shifting, mis-management, and inefficiency we saw after Katrina.

But I realize some folks may think my approach is “too radical,” even though I think it’s common sense that affected communities are far more likely to effectively plan and respond to disasters rather than bureaucrats in Washington.

So let’s look at what happens when those bureaucrats make decisions. Here are some blurbs in a report from the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Houses that are built according to FEMA guidelines suffer more property damage during hurricanes than homes built prior to the guidelines, write Carolyn Dehring, professor at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, and Martin Halek, senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Business, for the Cato Institute. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides flood insurance to homeowners in communities participating in the program. Those communities are required to adopt the NFIP building code, which uses minimum building standards established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). …The study found that buildings in the A-Zone constructed after the NFIP code was implemented were much more likely to sustain damage, and have a greater extent of damage, than other structures in the area built prior to the NFIP code. Of buildings that were damaged, buildings constructed post-NFIP incurred 57 percent more damages than similarly situated property.

So federal regulations designed to “help” actually led to more damage. Go figure.

By the way, the costs weren’t borne by the actual property owners or even the local communities of states. Uncle Sugar (meaning you and me) picked up the tab.

NFIP has paid $3.7 billion in losses in Florida alone since 1978.

This is sort of the government’s version of biblical miracles. But instead of turning water into wine, Washington turns tax dollars into mud.

Now for our example of brainless regulation. The Hill reports that the bureaucracy is about to impose a big pile of red tape on the food industry.

The menu-labeling rule, due out any day, is expected to be one of the most expensive regulations to hit the food industry in recent years, business groups said. Not only does it take aim at restaurants, but, depending on its final language, the rule could also apply to grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and movie theaters that sell prepared food. The nation’s eateries are faced with the costly prospect of having to calculate the number of calories in the various meals they serve. “Not every steak is exactly the same,” says Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs at the National Restaurant Industry. “The slightest variation in how I cut the steak and serve it can affect the nutritional content.”

This costly and intrusive bit of red tape is “a requirement of ObamaCare.” And like many other parts of that odious law, it imposes onerous burdens on the economy’s productive sector.

…restaurants and grocery stores are concerned they’ll be required to recount the number of calories in a meal every time they tinker with a recipe, which they say would be nearly impossible to do considering the endless number of food combinations they sell. At McDonald’s, for instance, a Big Mac is usually 550 calories, but it could be more for a customer who orders extra cheese. It’s even more complicated for pizza joints. Domino’s says there are 34 million potential combinations of its pizza that go well beyond a customer deciding between toppings like pepperoni and sausage. They also must factor in whether it’s a large, medium, or small pizza, deep dish or thin crust, and any extra ingredients. …Grocery stores are experiencing the same concerns, facing what they say is $1 billion in compliance costs in the first year alone. They say 95 percent of the food they sell — like breakfast cereal, potato chips, milk — already lists nutritional information including the number of calories. But the menu labeling requirements would target their delis, bakeries and any fresh fruit they slice up and put in containers to sell. …That could push many grocery stores to close up their delis and bakeries and stop offering fresh fruit.

Amazingly, some interest groups and politicians want the proposed regulation to be even more sweeping.

Wootan would also like to see movie theaters included in the menu labeling requirements. She seems to have support from the congressional authors of the menu labeling requirements, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who not only believe restaurants and grocery stores should be covered, but also movie houses, miniature golf courses, amusement parks and any other venue that serves prepared food. The two lawmakers have written numerous letters to the FDA saying they are disappointed with how “narrow” the rule is.

Heck, maybe they can assign a bureaucrat to every household in America and require calorie counts for every home-cooked meal as well.

Though I shouldn’t joke. Some statist will think I’m being serious and run with the idea.

Meanwhile, I’ll make a very simple prediction. If this regulation is implemented, it will have zero measurable impact on American waistlines.

So even if you believe in government coercion, this won’t work. And the types of coercion that would work – such as mandatory exercise and criminalizing carbs – are incompatible with a a free (or even semi-free) society.

Remember the message of this poster: If government is the answer, you’ve asked a very silly question. Or a misguided question. Or a dangerous question.

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I’m wondering whether the Transportation Security Administration is a valuable part of government.

Not because the bureaucracy does a good job, but instead because it does so many foolish things that it helps convince more people to become libertarians.

Consider these horror stories.

Confiscating a plastic hammer from a mentally retarded man.

Detaining a woman for carrying breast milk.

Hassling a woman for the unexplained red flag of having sequentially numbered checks.

Demanding that a handicapped 4-year old boy walk through a metal detector without his leg braces.

Putting an 8-year old cub scout on the no-fly list.

o Stopping a teenager from flying because her purse had an image of a gun.

Let’s add a few more examples to this list.

Here’s a story from Reason about the Keystone Cops of the TSA, as they deal with the horrific threat of a belt buckle shaped like…(gasp)…a ray gun.

Award-winning videographer Sean Malone had a raygun belt buckle confiscated recently by the good folks at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)….Malone emails that the pinch happened at LAX: …They called it a “replica” of a weapon…. the guy said, “Yeah, there’s something in there that’s kind of shaped like a gun,” to which I replied, “Yeah. It’s a belt buckle.”… He pulled it out of the bag and looked at it. Yep. Belt buckle….he called his supervisor over, who…said, “Listen, you can either go back out of security and put this in your check luggage (which I don’t have), or we’ll confiscate it.” …I looked at her and said, “You understand that this is a belt buckle, right? It is not a danger to the safety of anyone nor is it against the law to carry….At this point, she got red in the face and loudly declared that she wasn’t going to argue with me or “have a debate about this”.

Reminds me of the time I was given a bottle of 100 percent maple syrup as my honorarium for giving a speech in New Hampshire, yet was forced to leave it at the airport because the TSA bureaucrats said my only other choice was to check my bag (which would have cost $25).

If a raygun belt buckle is scary to the TSA, you won’t be surprised to learn that kitty cat key chains also are very frightening.

Even when in the hands of famous people.

This time the victim was HBO star Lena Dunham. She was carrying a Super Scary Terroristy Kitty Cat Keychain. The TSA, ever-vigilant, pounced. But it wasn’t enough that they found the Terrorist Keychain; no, they also detained her. And called the police. Yes…, they summoned the police because of a keychain.

I’ve never understood why Lena Dunham is a star, but I certainly can sympathize with her frustration about mindless government stupidity.

Most people will agree that TSA bureaucrats can behave like empty-headed drones on occasion, but some of them simply shrug their shoulders and say that’s an inevitable part of government. In other words, we need airport security, so accept that it will be done foolishly.

That’s a semi-reasonable attitude. After all, I accept that the defense department will waste a lot of money, yet still want there to be national defense.

I only reach that conclusion, though, because even a wild-eyed libertarian like myself can’t quite see how the private sector can defend the country. But why does government need to be involved with airport security?

Let’s put the private sector in charge, as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have argued. And as Steve Chapman explains, there were lots of benefits to the pre-TSA system.

Check out this amazing picto-graph if you want more information.

P.S. I am willing to praise the TSA when it does something sensible.

P.P.S. And I’m even willing to criticize unfair government intervention at airports when I’m the beneficiary!

P.P.P.S. On a totally unrelated topic, give me some congratulations. My beautiful daughter is getting married this weekend.

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