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Report from California   (Steve R., January 2009)

Thought you might be interested in some reports from the front lines.

First off, I have learned that the number of "extreme" poaching offenses in the state during 2008 increased over prior years. We have discussed this before in our correspondence and our prediction that the economic downturn will increase impacts on ecosystems seems to be materializing.

Regarding crime, a funny thing happened to me this past holiday weekend. As I was loading up the car to go to "grandmother's house", I needed to go back upstairs to get a few more articles for the trip. I had left the hatchback open with the exposed rear cargo area facing right on to the street. As I came back out the front door, I noticed a new Honda subcompact parked just ahead of the driveway in which I was parked. I lingered at our doorway, which is concealed from the street by a gnarly wisteria that wraps around our front porch. After getting my son on task, I proceeded down the stairs to find that the driver of the Honda had exited his vehicle, leaving his driver side door open, and come around to the edge of our driveway. His body language betrayed a sudden, but soon stifled, look of surprise when he realized I was present. A confused pause registered on his face, but he quickly converted his furtive action into a unconvincing kick of the left rear tire, as if his reason for stopping was to check for some defect. He then circled back to the driver side, climbed in and drove away.

I looked into the rear cargo section of my car and saw that I had presented the guy with a perfect crime of opportunity. Our belongings were easy pickings. I guess he could have sold the coats. There may have been some cash somewhere in the pile of stuff, for all he knew. Funny thing is, he looked very normal, well groomed, neat, casual clothes. If he slept on the street, it had not been for long. And he drove an almost new car. What possessed this guy to take the risk of being caught committing a crime?

I am certain that is what he was doing, preparing to make a grab and run. Does he always cruise around looking for "opportunities" of this type? Was the premeditation something along the lines of, " a lot of holiday travelers will be loading their cars to head for family today, lets see what is out there today..."? Maybe he is a public servant only recently layed off from his job. Maybe he is a former contractor. Maybe he is actually gainfully and securely employed but otherwise "losing it" because he is over extended with the new car payment. Maybe he is just a sociopath. Maybe he is just like 80% of the people who may find themselves acting compulsively when they think the rules have been suspended due to some upheaval that shakes up the culture. Maybe it was just one slip up and he will regain his sense of composure, self-respect and dignity before he winds up regretting future actions.

I thought a lot about what I would do if I had caught him in the act. I settled on the idea that maybe I would have had the composure to calmly ask him to return the items, inquire as to his apparent desperation and offer some sort of help or consolation. All the same I am entirely aware of the high degree of risk the situation, and others we are sure to face in the days ahead, presents.

The Chris Sullins stories you run came to mind. I hope we never get to that stage, but I can see how it starts. The pareto principle would seem to say that, absent some imposed order and enforcement, or other self organizing principle, when the social structure starts to fray, it will be the actions of the 20% of people who can keep their heads, that will maintain any semblance of order.

But what disturbs me more is the questions of whether it also follows that only 20% of that 20% will recognize that their self interest lies in balancing the needs of the whole, such that all members feel they have access to vital resources. Will, therefore, 96% of the population be a mass of marauders, tyrants, mercenaries, hapless victims and serfs in the pandemonium that results from economic contraction?

Does my community and beyond have wise leadership that recognizes the importance of preventing the emergent reality, or the perception, that access to vital resources may become exclusive and conditional? How influential will that 4% of the population be in getting everyone to realize that theft is coercion and coercion is theft. Did I hear someone say "Cooperation is the only organizing principle that creates high quality habitat for humanity"? I can barely hear over the din.

While competition is an important ingredient in biological systems, it is rare to find a modern human driven system in which a deficit of competition is limiting habitat quality-witness rate of extinctions, wars, industrial pollution. Some will say that too much cooperation/not enough competition is the driver behind inefficient government. However, that line of argument confuses the concept of biological mutualism with monetization of biological resources. In mutualism, cooperation and competition are dynamically and non-linearly balanced. Monetization of resources is an accounting strategy based upon linear supply and demand assumptions. Further, if it was supposed that monetization structures were nothing more than a means to dispose of the weaker animals in "the herd", then we should expect to see exactly the kinds of free market interdiction by government, which reassert biological mutualism via non-linear turbulence on the flow of money, imposed by egalitarian societies.

I guess I will save the incipient community garden organizing in my town for another time. I am thinking about the story of the plant thefts, in AC's commentary, that you shared on 12/30/08. And remind Freeacre that if it is only about getting a new commode in the house, no sewer hookup is required if they get one of the new composting toilets with the dehydrating heater pre-treatment, nobody has to know. If they are being hit with a jurisdictional public works connection, my sympathies.

One last thing. I think that in the rush to judge the public service system, we are all overlooking a few important points that are actually hinted at in AC comments on how the downturn in Romania played out. Yes there are redundant charges for services and infrastructure built into government fee structures. And yes unfair levees will swamp individual initiative, even to the point of stanching innovation and creative problem solving. I do not make an argument in favor of such misuse of the governments power to regulate. Neither do I believe that such misuse of power should be tolerated. Accountability should be the foundation of public service. With such accountability in place, public service can aspire to efficiencies that free markets, with their bankruptcy backstops and externalized costs, may never attain.

Aside from such conceits about private versus public sector efficiency, public service is a job like any other and is subject to the same disruptions in pay, hours, benefits and conditions. Waste is admittedly a factor, just as it is in private enterprise. You don't think you elect to pay a "tax" when you buy a Microsoft product?

Employment is a privilege in this country, not a right. Unfortunately there is little socially respected access to vital resources without employment. Frustration with public payrolls is reaching a pitchfork fever pitch on OTM and other blogs. A perhaps, counterintuitive, yet elegant solution to the problem of free market downturns, unemployment and bloated government is to simultaneously extend and enlarge the privilege of public service employment while lowering the compensation across the board. That way employment is less of a privilege, idle hands are put to use and needed resource management and infrastructure repairs can be made. The military as social service provider of first resort, is an analogous service model solution applied to the provenance of defense.

That military service, pre-Haliburton, is pure socialism did not seem to bother most free market ideologues. (In fact, the advent of the private contractors in military Ops should be troubling to all Americans in light of recent events.) Understand that I am suggesting a gradual transition of government employment towards more of a three square meals, a cot to sleep on and free health care approach. Such a model is a kind of safety net in times such as these. The same type of net has rescued many an angry, directionless youth that joined the military to "find myself" in better times. The concept is that this new model would continue to transition as the social needs and functions provided by the approach adjusted to emergent cultural commerce patterns. (I use the term commercial in its broadest sense-meaning interactions involving exchanges of currency as well as, non monetary, social and resource capital interactions)

The crux of this biscuit, like so many others, is trustworthy leadership. How can we make something like this enlargement of public service happen if it is opposed on various ideological and jurisdictional grounds? It is, on its face, a simple matter of getting every one to be honest about where we stand. There is no currency other than what is in our hearts. We are accountable only for our actions. And, from those to whom much has been given, much will be asked. This message must be delivered by a courageous, potent and respected leader, softly repeated for a number of years as all the debt slowly drains out of the system leaving only freely, enthusiastically exchanged, pure wealth-what Silvio Gessel terms "free money". The message must be uttered in shifting shades of context until every last token of exclusive access to resources has been freely relinquished to the commonwealth.

What does it mean to say there is no currency other than what is in our hearts? Simply that your worth is only realized when it is well spent. And the meaning of accountability for our actions? That, while intrinsic reward is important, your worth to the community is also held to account. And the passage from the bible that much will be asked from the fortunate? In its most basic sense, that passage means that you cannot take it with you.

Just look at the actions of the two richest individuals in the world. Prior to the economic collapse they realized their amassed fortunes were meaningless unless well spent. While their morality was somewhat in doubt when they were acquiring their wealth, we will judge their worth to society in the light of the charity that informs the dispersal of that wealth. Though they could not "take it with them" they are allowed to pass on their wealth to their children. But as anyone who has had children, or studied the effects of inherited wealth on families knows, large inheritance is a curse upon the ones you love most. Hopefully most of us are fortunate enough to appreciate that there is little satisfaction in living a life in which everything is handed to you, in which one never has to strive and feel gratified in accomplishment through personal growth.

I know how kooky some of the foregoing enlargement of government talk and "free money" (its not what you think) sounds. But it is only a little less kooky than imagining that humanity, as populous as we are today, can spontaneously abandon the unifying structures of state and expect to sustain the health of natural and social systems upon which we are as dependent as babes. (Here I have gone again and written an essay, maybe its a rant(?), after intending to only write an update.) Any way, I think that sometimes the monkeysphere gets stuck on a rail and can't get off.

Yes, I am a public servant, AND I recognize my privilege. I just think it is a good idea for everyone to challenge their ideological identity and try to see solutions that elude us when we get stuck on one view of "The Problem". Every one of us, in some measure, benefitted or contributed to building the monstrous tax structure and government bureaucracy that stands before us. Bush, following Reagan's dictum that "Government IS the problem" tried to destroy the government but ended up, you guessed it, enlarging the government role in the market place. Some will say that, had we fired all the government workers in the process of dismantling the halls of regulation and enforcement, that balance would be restored and the miracle of free markets would spontaneously manifest.

That is kooky! If we have to have kooky, can it at least involve equal protection, equal access to resources, and liberty and justice for all? How bad would it be if every one in the culture felt duty bound as a public servant?

There will always be a margin of distribution and adjudication functions that will invite, no- require, subjective resolution. Hopefully these margins, and the bargains cut there, will not be the privileged tail that wags the dog of liberty. There is a thin line between those who are anti-state and those who are anti American and anti nation. I submit that the anti statist, while possessed of the best of intentions, have it all wrong: reducing government to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub is a perfect recipe for consolidation of privilege and power. When the state is drowning, a potent compulsive someone will lay claim to the tub and give you a bath, so to speak.

The inverse of the anti-statist flavor of liberty must be achieved: we should methodically enlarge the state such that the interdependence that safeguards our life, and liberty is fully framed and acknowledged while leaving our independence, as defined by our constitutional freedoms, intact. Ultimately, the security of interdependence is the only compensation one should ever expect for participating as agents of state functions and roles. That is patriotism--acting on behalf of the common interest without expectation of rewards of privilege. No state = no patriots, no heroes. Sound familiar? Kooky, huh?

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