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Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

An Immigration Policy All Sides Should Be Able to Get Behind

Monday, May 24th, 2010

by: Geoff Ficke

In the 1980’s the Reagan Administration supported passage of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act as a way to, once and for all, to end the vexing cauldron of problems created by illegal immigration. Obviously Simpson-Mazzoli was not successful. In fact, the law, and it’s particularly fuzzy enforcement mechanisms only served to accelerate and fuel the problem.

Today we have a mess. Rational solutions are paralyzed by our politically cancerous left versus right cat fighting. Even reasoned discussions of potential solutions to a problem that all parties agree must be settled are reduced to sloganeering and name calling. Let me propose a simple set of solutions that could, really should, settle the matter to a high degree of satisfaction benefitting all sides in this crucial, heated debate.

We really have three sets of distinct interest groups involved: the illegal immigrants (mostly Hispanic and Mexican) and the Mexican government, the American business community that requires a massive supply of labor and the citizens of the United States who are being exposed to the costs and liabilities inherent in supporting public services for millions of people that have entered the country illegally and are forced to live in the shadows.

First let’s address the business community. Any employer that needs field workers, gardeners, restaurant workers, whatever, would have to advertise the positions in local print media two times, stating pay, benefits, location of employment and a description of labor to be performed. This will also prove or disprove the theory that Americans will not perform menial jobs.

If the positions are not filled with local, legal American job seekers, then the employer would have the option to address their labor requirements through a labor co-operative. This would NOT be a new government bureaucracy, but would be under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Labor. Private staffing firms like Manpower, companies with experience in the field of matching employee and employer needs, would be contracted to act as clearing houses. They would staff offices along the Mexican border, and in countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala.

The employers would pay a small fee to the government for each person hired and to the contracted human resource, Manpower-type firms for their time, expenses, background checks and matching applicants to positions. The employer, by participating in such a labor co-operative, would no longer be committing a crime and risk serious fines and legal jeopardy that can occur when hiring illegal workers. The employer would provide the co-operative with an order for a specific number of workers, copies of the print advertisements run locally seeking American workers, clearly post pay, locations of employment, benefits, housing and the length of the work engagement. There would be time limits on service, not to exceed one year. After a minimum return period of three months to their home country, a foreign worker can re-sign for another tour of employment.

The employer would be required to handle any medical costs incurred by the co-operative provided worker and provide travel to, and from, the point of embarkation at the beginning and end of the contract. The employer would pay a significant fine if the worker does not return to the embarkation point, on time and sign-out on their way out of the country. A small tax would be withheld from the workers pay to support the program and it’s policing. A card dated and signed by the employer and the worker, and describing job particulars would be used for identification.

This would provide American farms and businesses a simple, affordable, easily negotiated system of filling labor needs.

Now let’s address the illegal immigrants and their government’s interests.
The first duty of any sovereign government is to protect their citizens. And yet, illegal immigrants are the targets of the most corrupt, dangerous and cynical forms of abuse enabled by the very governments that encourage this form of immigration from Latin America. Crooked police and border patrols shake down poor, frightened, confused travelers. Dangerously hopping trains in the night, co-mingling with drug couriers, rape, murder, robbery and kidnapping of illegal immigrants is widespread and tolerated.

Under a labor co-operative system these abuses would be virtually stopped. Job seekers could visit their town hall or a labor co-operative office and use a computer to apply and peruse job listings. They could review online, conduct a search of positions listed by job description and location and then apply. If for instance, a farmer in Earlington, KY is seeking 8 laborers for 9 months, the deal can be cut and travel organized without ever having to risk one’s life dodging snakes in Central American jungles or crossing bleak deserts and being dumped in an arroyo by extorting “coyotes”. The thousands of dollars in fees paid to the illegal human transporters would be far better utilized by the very poor who so desperately seek work in the United States.

Latin American governments, the very governments that do not recognize the rule of law, property rights and the importance of free markets, callously encourage illegal immigration. This black movement of their citizens acts as a pressure release valve on their societies. The billions of dollars in remittances that are returned to family back home by illegal immigrants to America serves as a lubricant to quieting social tensions and financially supporting populations locked in poverty and despair by the incompetence and corruption of the governments under which they must live.

Under a labor co-operative system these bureaucratic ogres would still enjoy the benefits of billions in annual remittances returning to their countries. Families could continue to subsist, albeit in grinding hopelessness and poverty. Government’s duty to protect its citizens would at least be celebrated a bit less cynically.

Finally, how would the American citizen benefit from an organized labor co-operative system? Labor would finally be organized, free to come for a set period of time, return home and pay a small tax to cover the minor cost of the services they would consume. This would over time lighten the burdens on social services, hospitals, police forces, school systems, local, state and the federal government. As long as immigrants commit a crime the first time they step foot into the country illegally there will be a parallel universe inside our society of crime, evasion and a lack of integration into society.

Cities would be safer. Businesses would be able to provide the goods and services that the society has come to expect. The millions of illegal immigrants currently here in the country would be able to participate in the labor co-operative system, but they would be granted no benefits beyond what any other applicant would receive. Anchor babies would no longer be given the rights of an American citizen.
Any employer who is caught employing illegal workers after the labor co-operative system is functional would be subject to exponentially larger fines and seizure of all business assets.

Finally, the border must be sealed. No country can survive the causal entry and exit of its border by millions of people at will. Our border is a particularly enticing target for illegal crossing because it separates a wealthy country with a too-generous welfare state, from a group of countries with dysfunctional economies where poverty is the rule, not the exception for the masses. Understandably, it is a magnet, but it is long past the time when we must close the border while responding to the needs of illegal immigrants to work, businesses to have employees to do manual labor and citizens to be relieved of the burden of supporting a stupefying drain on the public purse caused by this solvable problem.

Politicians seeking to curry favor with a new group of voters or see their populations rid of a mass of mostly young, hungry laborers seeking what they cannot provide, will not like this plan. They prefer to keep the issue and not find a solution. If the government will only allow a private enterprise solution, one where markets rule, not bureaucrats, we can finally settle these problems. It is time for a little common sense.

We Miss the Logic Of Milton Friedman Now More Than Ever

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

by: Geoff Ficke

One of the signal economic thinkers of the 20th century was the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman. His many books and papers, interviews and television specials have left us a valuable trove of thoughts and observations that should serve as guideposts during our current difficult economic times. His death has left a void that no contemporary thinker has been able to fill. That is most unfortunate, especially now.

Recently, I revisited my copy of Professor Friedman’s signature work, Free to Choose. It is still as pertinent, fresh and poignant, as it was the day it was first published. His reasoned defense of economic and personal freedom, strictly limited government and the rule of law need to be reviewed and protected fiercely by each citizen, that values these sacred rights.

“Thank heavens we do not get all of the government that we are made to pay for”, stated Professor Friedman in one of his most oft quoted observations. The simple, but powerful clarity of these 17 words serve as testament to the deep understanding and concern he possessed about the ever-expanding role of centrally planned, distant government and the excessive price we pay for it. We see the detritus of insatiable government in every aspect of our lives, and yet, we seem incapable of slowing, preferably stopping the rapid growth of this corrupt, inefficient monster.

The Federal Government is nearing a 3 trillion dollar annual budget. No one really knows the exact amount of deficit spending we incur each year, but it is massive and growing. The more revenue the government realizes, the faster spending increases. We have un-funded liabilities of somewhere around $53 trillion for Medicare and Medicaid, and $25 trillion for Social Security. These are just estimates; no one can state the absolute accurate numbers. And, remember the government refers to these obligations as “un-funded liabilities”, not debt as private citizens and industry would be required to report and account for.

In 1976, President Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education. Before then, education was largely a local affair. This boondoggle has grown massively since its inception in employees, budget, programs and un-funded mandates. Less than 7% of the $60 Billion annual budget for the DOE is returned to state and local schools as grants. The rest is consumed in “bureaucracy heaven”. Can anyone seriously argue that public school performance has improved since we were blessed with the Department of Education and the thousands of theoreticians, consultants and knowledge brokers that this cesspool supports? You can actually graph the decline of graduation rates, the increase in truancy, lowered standardized test scores and achievement tests from the date we were blessed with the DOE.

The government enjoys natural monopolies in many areas. The Postal Service, the Passport Office, AMTRACK, The FAA, and so many more government agencies provide we citizens with one stop shopping. In every case, the result is subsidy, waste, and mismanagement. Waiting up to 90 days to receive a passport is ridiculous. The Postal Service and AMTRACK require subsidies every year, while FedEx, UPS, and the railroads make billions of dollars in profit each year. Why would any thinking person believe that government should be expanded into even more areas of our lives.

Thomas Jefferson, a soul brother to Milton Friedman said, “He is governed best who is governed least”. And yet, an ever-growing segment of our citizenry constantly seeks to redress perceived grievances and personally poor decision making by petitioning politicians for outcomes favorable to their desires. We know with absolute certainty that government is too large, inefficient, duplicitous and wasteful to solve problems.

Government is not in business to solve problems: it is in business to institutionalize problems! Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Welfare, Food Stamps have all grown exponentially. The problems these programs, and many others, were supposed to address have grown even more exponentially. Bureaucracies are not in the business of solving problems and shrinking, then going out of business as they successfully complete their mission. The very core of the nature of a bureaucracy is to grow insatiably.

As more citizens abdicate their personal responsibilities and seek government support, there are all too many politicians, lobbyists, issue advocates and social engineers ready to comply and satisfy this sycophancy. We see many people campaigning for a government takeover of the health care system. When government provides free health care: that is when health care will get really expensive! How in the world can so many people, be so blind about so much.

My Company, Duquesa Marketing, provides consulting services to inventors, small businesses and entrepreneurs bootstrapping businesses. By their very nature, these people are fearless, independent, creative and driven. They seek to take advantage of the amazing opportunities available to every citizen of the United States, if only they would take advantage of these possibilities. To a person, successful entrepreneurs do not understand, and usually despise government dependency. Simply being a citizen of this great country is the equivalent of winning the geographic lottery.

President John Kennedy famously stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”? The growing sentiment today seems to infer, ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your country can do for you? John Kennedy, Milton Friedman and Thomas Jefferson are symbolic personages of a sentiment that must be revived. Every citizen must contribute to the public good, but the government must get out of the way and let the populace live and prosper by the dint of their own efforts. Downsizing this albatross is in order, and quickly!

The 4000 Year Old Egyptian Mystery We Can Learn From Today

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

by: Geoff Ficke

One of the great entertainment values available to almost anyone with a cable television service is the History Channel. The volume and quality of wonderfully instructive and entertaining programming on offer is amazing. I have never watched a reality show, or a celebrity dancing display, but I rarely miss the exciting offerings of the History Channel.

Recently the channel has been immersed in the subject of Egyptian antiquities. The pharaohs, the pyramids, the Sphinx, sun temples, the Colossus of Rhoads and the Nile are beautifully described and narrated in an exciting, easy to understand presentation. After viewing programming on each topic, I ask myself a simple question: how did the Egyptians do it?

I am not alone in asking this question. There is no agreement among archaeologists and historians on how the ancient Egyptians accomplished the grand scale of building and creativity that is still on display to this day. The pyramids are particularly vexing as a construction puzzle.

The pharaoh’s built the pyramids both as tombs for their entry into the after-life, and as visible statements of their greatness. As one pharaoh completed a pyramid and died, his successor, if young enough, immediately began to build an even larger, more visible pyramid. The placement of these massive edifices on the Giza plateau, their alignment with the sun and other monuments and the sheer scale of building that commenced almost 5000 years ago is astounding.

The pyramids were the tallest structures in the world until the birth of the modern skyscraper. For almost four thousand years nothing approaching their grand scale was built anywhere in the world. Without power tools to quarry stone, the combustion engine to move materials across the desert, cranes to leverage heavy materials to great height and electronic communications to co-ordinate logistics, these ancient builders created stunning works that stun and excite to this day. How did they do it?

There are many theories but no definitive answers to this question. Using massive manpower, primitive tools and the design techniques that were amazingly efficient and accurate, they achieved near miraculous levels of perfection. That the pyramids stand and amaze us still is testament to the genius of the ancient Egyptians. Is there a lesson here for modern man?

Let’s just discuss United States infrastructure. We have the world’s largest network of roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, waterways and ports. Most of this system was built over the last 150 years. Politicians and bureaucrats tell us that our infrastructure is failing and requires massive investments (taxes) to repair and enhance the system.

These same government types are responsible for maintaining these physical assets. They assess user fees, taxes, permits, license fees and special assessments ostensibly to cover the cost of maintenance of this invaluable infrastructure. The simple performance of regular scheduled maintenance would greatly reduce the physical decline of this plant that is so essential to commerce and transport. And yet, maintenance is deferred, supposedly dedicated infrastructure tax monies co-mingled with general revenues and we hear the constant whine that government funding is “cut to the bone”.

Any infrastructure project in 21st century America will be held hostage by bureaucrats. Impact studies, environmental impact statements, committee reviews, permits, licensing, bonding, prevailing wage laws, lawsuits from concerned citizen groups and sheer bungling will ham string building progress. The Great Northern Railway was completed with private investment in 4 ½ years, using manpower, mules and dynamite in the 19th century. In my hometown there are simple paving projects that take that long to complete, and they will need to be rebuilt in a few years. The bed and rails of the Great Northern are still in use.

The World Trade Center is the most sterling example of our inability to proceed in a timely manner on a needed, important and psychologically crucial project. Seven years after the terrorist attack that brought these towers down, and transformed lifestyles: the site is still a hole in the ground. This is a national embarrassment that is symbolic of the perception (unfounded) that we have lost our national will to take risks and explore.

The ancient Egyptians built structures that have survived for 5000 years. They used the assets on hand at that time and created works that are tribute to the human capacity for work and creativity. The 2000 year-old Roman aqueduct and the Appian Way are still in use today. There is absolutely no reason that we need to replace and rebuild roads, schools and dams every few decades.

Utilizing the best modern materials and modern technologies should enable us to build and design for the very, very long haul. We need to create with the perspective that every structure will become a statement about contemporary Americans, our spirit and our strength. We need to stop building and thinking as a throw away society. The Egyptian’s, and most ancient societies would be amazed at our attitudes about the monuments and edifices we build and do not appreciate enough to build well.

Energy Independence? Yes We Can!

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

by: Geoff Ficke

My Company routinely reviews more than 600 new product ideas, concepts, prototypes and models during most years. During a soft economy, such as today’s, we see even more as people become more desperate to chase a dream. Pursuit of the “American Dream” almost always involves entrepreneurial activity.

During this business cycle we have been inundated with a slew of energy related offerings. Fuel enhancement products, internal combustion engine accessories, a replacement for the catalytic converter, a device that guarantees 50 miles per gallon fuel efficiency for any size car, and many more equally sure to succeed products are being shopped. Of course, these types of technology enhancements are rarely successful. They are usually only reality in the mind of the beholder. The required demonstration of product performance is always near perfection, just a bit more time, money or research is required to make the contraption commercially viable.

While most of these “inventions” are of the goofy sort, we do take a good bit of satisfaction that so much creativity and effort are being thrown at what is obviously one of the world’s key issues: the future availability of energy. Despite a raft of political types whining that we can never be energy independent, the amount of industry being deployed by the average American inventor to address the problem is quite encouraging. The native optimism of Americans that any problem can be solved puts a lie to the negativity being sold by a wide swath of the political left, the environmental activists and the always present “Luddites” seeking to return us to hunter/gatherer ways.

One of our presidential aspirants loves to chant the mantra “Yes We Can!”
I agree, “Yes We Can!” We can be energy independent if the sorghum sipping, brie munching, sandal wearing, tree house living dreamers and schemers for a world without industry get out of the way. That a vocal minority of zealots, with fanatical religious zeal have bottled up the pursuit of American energy independence is amazing. Why have we allowed this to happen?

The world is full of tens of millions of cars, trucks, locomotives, boats and airplanes that ALL operate on fossil fuels. That we will simply toss all of these assets overnight and replace them with twig sipping jungle juice green machinery is ridiculous. We need all forms of energy to be developed and commercially made viable. Solar, wind, flora and fauna of all types offer great potential. However, despite years of research and subsidies they are not currently feasible for more than a tiny fraction of our energy requirements. Even then, there are unwanted by-products to their implementation (Ethanol is exhibit 1).

We need, and we have, vast stores of fossil fuels. Oil, coal, nuclear, tar shale and natural gas are known to exist in huge quantities in our offshore waters and inside our borders. Hopefully the entrepreneurial class that we work with will produce a 21st Century Thomas Edison and an alternative, clean, cheap, unlimited energy source will be discovered and exploited for the benefit of all. Until that occurs, we need to use every resource we have and be open to current geo-political realities that make energy independence so important.

We absolutely need to become more fuel-efficient. And yet, even if all cars got 60 miles per gallon of fuel, we would still need access to sources of fossil fuel. Batteries might, and almost surely will become perfected that provide the mobility, endurance and cost effectiveness that is required for modern transport. But they are not yet available! These batteries, when market ready, will require huge amounts of added supplies of electricity. This will entail more power plants. These plants run on coal—or nuclear power. They will need to be built and fueled by these sources of energy.

I live in an area of the country where wind is highly irregular and sun even more so. Wind and sun are free, but if not available on a regular basis they are not to be counted on for more that a fraction of our energy needs. In areas of the country where wind and solar are more viable they are NIMBY’ed (Not in My Back Yard), often by the same people so vocal about “living green”.

Major energy producing companies are spending billions of dollars seeking answers, alternative and enhanced reclamation techniques, to access more sources of energy. They have a vested interest to do so. That is great news. Their profit motive insures that the every stone will be overturned as they seek to solve this crucial dilemma that faces all of us.
They believe they can, that is why they put their capital and corporate resources at risk. Inventors and entrepreneurs of all stripes believe they can solve the problem as well. Many members of the public, based on readily available data, believe that we can be energy independent. They want us to pursue every avenue available to insure future generations enjoy prosperity, freedom and mobility as we have.

It is only the glass half-empty crowd, bureaucrats and politicians that never solve problems, that say we can’t become free of imported energy. It will take a coming together, a new Manhattan Project, with all sides freshly open to all sources of supply and sources that might be deemed less preferable than a utopian “Nirvana-esque” solution. Green is good. Fossil fuels are essential. New technologies are desirable and being researched. We must aggressively seek answers from all of these options, even the ones that some might deem less than desirable.

We Miss the Eloquence and Logic of Milton Friedman Now More Than Ever

Monday, October 27th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

One of the signal economic thinkers of the 20th century was the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman. His many books and papers, interviews and television specials have left us a valuable trove of thoughts and observations that should serve as guideposts during our current difficult economic times. His death has left a void that no contemporary thinker has been able to fill. That is most unfortunate, especially now.

Recently, I revisited my copy of Professor Friedman’s signature work, Free to Choose. It is still as pertinent, fresh and poignant, as it was the day it was first published. His reasoned defense of economic and personal freedom, strictly limited government and the rule of law need to be reviewed and protected fiercely by each citizen that values these sacred rights.

“Thank heavens we do not get all of the government that we are made to pay for”, stated Professor Friedman in one of his most oft quoted observations. The simple, but powerful clarity of these 17 words serve as testament to the deep understanding and concern he possessed about the ever-expanding role of centrally planned, distant government and the excessive price we pay for it. We see the detritus of insatiable government in every aspect of our lives, and yet, we seem incapable of slowing, preferably stopping the rapid growth of this corrupt, inefficient monster.

The Federal Government is nearing a 3 trillion dollar annual budget. No one really knows the exact amount of deficit spending we incur each year, but it is massive and growing. The more revenue the government realizes, the faster spending increases. We have un-funded liabilities of somewhere around $53 trillion for Medicare and Medicaid, and $25 trillion for Social Security. These are just estimates; no one can state the absolute accurate numbers. And, remember the government refers to these obligations as “un-funded liabilities”, not debt as private citizens and industry would be required to report and account for.

In 1976, President Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education. Before then, education was largely a local affair. This boondoggle has grown massively since its inception in employees, budget, programs and un-funded mandates. Less than 7% of the $60 Billion annual budget for the DOE is returned to state and local schools as grants. The rest is consumed in “bureaucracy heaven”. Can anyone seriously argue that public school performance has improved since we were blessed with the Department of Education and the thousands of theoreticians, consultants and knowledge brokers that this cesspool supports? You can actually graph the decline of graduation rates, the increase in truancy, lowered standardized test scores and achievement tests from the date we were blessed with the DOE.

The government enjoys natural monopolies in many areas. The Postal Service, the Passport Office, AMTRACK, The FAA, and so many more government agencies provide we citizens with one stop shopping. In every case, the result is subsidy, waste, and mismanagement. Waiting up to 90 days to receive a passport is ridiculous. The Postal Service and AMTRACK require subsidies every year, while FedEx, UPS, and the railroads make billions of dollars in profit each year. Why would any thinking person believe that government should be expanded into even more areas of our lives.

Thomas Jefferson, a soul brother to Milton Friedman said, “He is governed best who is governed least”. And yet, an ever-growing segment of our citizenry constantly seeks to redress perceived grievances and personally poor decision making by petitioning politicians for outcomes favorable to their desires. We know with absolute certainty that government is too large, inefficient, duplicitous and wasteful to solve problems.

Government is not in business to solve problems: it is in business to institutionalize problems! Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Welfare, Food Stamps have all grown exponentially. The problems these programs, and many others, were supposed to address have grown even more exponentially. Bureaucracies are not in the business of solving problems and shrinking, then going out of business as they successfully complete their mission. The very core of the nature of a bureaucracy is to grow insatiably.

As more citizens abdicate their personal responsibilities and seek government support, there are all too many politicians, lobbyists, issue advocates and social engineers ready to comply and satisfy this sycophancy. We see many people campaigning for a government takeover of the health care system. When government provides free health care: that is when health care will get really expensive! How in the world can so many people, be so blind about so much.

My Company provides consulting services to inventors, small businesses and entrepreneurs bootstrapping businesses. By their very nature, these people are fearless, independent, creative and driven. They seek to take advantage of the amazing opportunities available to every citizen of the United States, if only they would take advantage of these possibilities. To a person, successful entrepreneurs do not understand, and usually despise government dependency. Simply being a citizen of this great country is the equivalent of winning the geographic lottery.

President John Kennedy famously stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”? The growing sentiment today seems to infer, ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your country can do for you? John Kennedy, Milton Friedman and Thomas Jefferson are symbolic personages of a sentiment that must be revived. Every citizen must contribute to the public good, but the government must get out of the way and let the populace live and prosper by the dint of their own efforts. Downsizing this albatross is in order, and quickly!

…and We Want the Government to Do What?

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

I am always amazed when I see well educated, seemingly worldly people make themselves look and sound silly by promoting ever more aggressive expansion of government. We are currently in our national election cycle, admittedly the silly season for politicians. This year, however, the “nanny state” prescriptions on offer seem particularly vacuous.

The one absolute I KNOW about government is this: Government is not in business to solve problems, government is in business to institutionalize problems!

Bureaucracies evolve to protect and expand their turf. All start with claims of the highest purpose. The perceived need to address some element of life that has been under-regulated or policed will be assigned to a phalanx of bureaucrats and we, the public, will be able to sleep much better as a result.

Think about this fact and ask yourself: Where has a bureaucracy ever settled a problem, cured an injustice, or efficiently functioned.

Private enterprises, churches, charities and entrepreneurs live in a competitive maelstrom. They adapt to market realities or they die. Look at the original Dow Jones Industrial Average members from the early 20th century and ask, “where are they now”? General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, behemoth international concerns, are in a real struggle for survival. Their conduct of affairs and changing business models will determine if they go the way of Montgomery Ward, Sharper Image, Wang Computer, American Motors and Bell and Howell and float off into that corporate graveyard in the sky.

The reason we enjoy the most advanced economic lifestyle in history is precisely because private enterprises can, and do fail. Not, however, government agencies and bureaucracies. They simply grow, bigger, fatter, more sluggish and flaccid. This relentless growth is accompanied by the continual whaling for more. More bureaucrats, more funding, more rules; just give us more and this time we will get the job done.

The economy is currently experiencing a cyclical softening. A study of economic history indicates that we go through something akin to this every seven or eight years. When the economy slows, tax receipts logically slow as well. What we get from government at all levels is the familiar bromide: “We are cut to the bone”!

No we are not. There is no government agency that can find the bone. The waste, fraud, program duplication, over-staffing and lack of productivity endemic in government at all levels is simply stupendous.

The government enjoys a monopoly in the running of mail delivery through the Post Office. It ain’t called snail mail for no reason. The service requires a subsidy each and every fiscal year to cover losses. If it were a business, it would be gone.

Marvin Runyan was the Postmaster General for President Jimmy Carter. The business model for what would become Federal Express was in the process of raising venture capital funding during his tenure. When asked about the concept of overnight package delivery from anywhere, to anywhere, with guaranteed next day delivery, Mr. Runyan commented: “It can’t be done”.

The perfect metaphor for government bureaucracy: “It can’t be done”!

The government must subsidize billions of dollars of losses each year for Amtrak. Passport processing is a national embarrassment. Medicare fraud is reported and confirmed to the tune of tens of billions of dollars each year. IRS computer systems, after massive spending, are archaic. The list of waste, corruption and ineptitude in government, at all levels is astounding.

We have a $9 trillion national current accounts debt. Far worse, we have a debt for Social Security and Medicare of somewhere (nobody can really calculate this accurately) north of $50 trillion! For a fraction of this level of mismanagement, managers of private enterprises are put in jail.

Whenever a city announces a public investment in building sports stadiums or museums you can count on the fact that the edifice will come in late and over budget. The same with any road project. The “Big Dig” in Boston, or the Los Angeles subway, were classic examples of incompetence and mismanagement.

Recently I visited my old parochial high school. While speaking with the Principal I noticed students unloading a truck and taking used desks into the school building. I commented about the desks, “where did they come from”?

His reply: a neighboring public high school received a grant that they used to purchase new desks. “They offered them to us, or they would be thrown away. We will get another 20 years use out of them”. Maybe this is just one small anecdotal instance, but multiply this by millions of such irresponsible decisions and the harm done to our economy, and to taxpayers, is simply too stupendous to calculate.

Why is there no outrage? In fact, we experience the antithesis of outrage: we vote the bums back in, election cycle after election cycle. Each political party, all candidates, every year promise more of what any blind man can see does not work.

There is a simple cure (it will never happen, though). No person who receives a government check should be allowed to vote. Government employees, program beneficiaries, contractors or lobbyists should never be able to vote for a politician who has the ability to promise a financial benefit paid for with other peoples money. This is bribery in its simplest form.

Since it will never happen, how about this for a dose of common sense: Simply vote for the politician promising the smallest government. The idea that the government can successfully nationalize oil companies, or manage our medical system is ludicrous. There is no evidence that government operated bureaucracies at any level will be examples of good operative governance.

Proponents of these hare brained schemes are too stupid to be entrusted with such power. They, and their acolytes, should simply be asked: “What have you ever successfully managed”? Common sense is in monumentally short supply when evaluating the real performance of local, state and national government agencies. To fund evermore waste, fraud and corruption flies in the face of everything that we empirically know actually goes on in this cesspool.

It’s Time to “Just Say No More” to Intrusive Abusive Government

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

A fitting metaphor for the young 21st century, and the ever-increasing intrusiveness of government at all levels, is this weeks news stories detailing the total lack of progress in rebuilding the World Trade Center. This is the cherry on top of the proverbial bitter bureaucratic sundae. Is this the America of yore? What has happened to us?

Utilizing the relatively primitive construction techniques of the Depression era, the Empire State Building was conceived and constructed in 410 days. Men were hungry and desperate at that time. Government, pre-New Deal, was much smaller at all levels. The State of New York and government of New York City were willing partners in seeing this important symbol of progress rise as a statement against the pessimism so rampant in the early-1930’s. They both put the interest of the public ahead of entrenched bureaucratic concerns.

The Empire State Building is one of the world’s great buildings, a tourist attraction since the day it opened and a symbol of the greatness of New York City and the United States. The construction of this landmark building was so steadfast that it absorbed a direct hit from an airliner during World War 2 with virtually no damage. It remained open for business.

The building is praised in song, on stage and has been the setting for many popular films. A visit to the building today still amazes. The building is fully functional, productive and ever elegant in its timeless art deco classic styling. Unless modern bureaucracy injects it’s ugly rapacious tentacles, the Empire State Building will be used and enjoyed for many more generations.

Other massive projects of that era are equally as impressive. The Carew Tower in Cincinnati, the Hoover Dam, Boulder City, NV, the Golden Gate Bridge, hundreds of water control projects, sanitation systems, dams, airports and ports were built in blazing fashion. Essentially the infrastructure of the country was built in record time during the first 1/3 of the 20th century. By today’s standards, using relatively inferior materials and technology, the performance of our great grandfathers and grandmothers was positively scintillating. What is going on today?

During the 1950’s President Eisenhower proposed, conceived and began construction of the Interstate Highway System. Over 40,000 miles of bridges, highways, interchanges and tunnels were designed and built across this huge country. The system took about 30 years too fully complete. It was the largest road construction project in history, the largest since the Roman’s connected the vast lands of their conquered empire with their amazing road system.

Nevertheless, today we need to continually widen, expand, and redesign the Interstate Highway system to efficiently handle ever-increasing volumes of traffic. And yet we see very little progress. “Orange Barrels” are a symbol of our bureaucratic malaise. We see lots of barrels along our roadways, but we see not much movement on any public works road project for mile, after mile, after mile, year after year, after year. Sunny weather does not seem to illicit any more production that nasty weather days.

I live in the Cincinnati area. The major transportation corridor is the I-75 Brent Spence Bridge crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky. The bridge is a relic. There are no shoulders, the lanes do not meet regulation width, there are always wrecks, breakdowns and it is structurally dangerous. Every politician, bureaucrat and citizen knows and agrees it must be replaced. It is the key link between Michigan and Florida for commercial truckers and travelers.

However, there is no consensus on if, where, when and how to finance the replacement-bridge and get it built. The permit process (hello bureaucracy) is ever changing, and that has been embellished by the Environmental Protection Agency (Federal and State) demanding ever-more studies of air quality. Neighborhood groups claiming historic status for old railroad terminals and faux local lore add another layer of hurdles to jump.

All of this, and much more, mean that there is no timetable to start the construction. Three more years of study will be needed. Another 10 years of construction are anticipated, if the studies do not reveal the need for more studies. And the cost, who knows! All we really know is that the bridge will cost bunches more in the future than it would today, or better five years ago.

The World Trade Center, as noted in the recent new updates, has seen anticipated construction costs expand to $15 billion. But because of the latest delays, the cost is probably now closer to $18 billion, but as always with bureaucracy no one really knows (remember Boston’s “The Big Dig”).

Almost seven years after the horrible destruction of the twin towers it is still mostly a hole in the ground.

What does this say about us? How have we so lost our way? We need nuclear power plants, oil refineries, alternative energy sources, infrastructure replacement and enhancement and new transportation systems. We all know we need to address these things. And yet, we can’t because we largely hamstring ourselves with layer upon layer of bureaucracy, rules, regulations, licensing requirements, permit processes, etc. etc.

Our grandparents and parents have left us a bountiful lifestyle that was created by the toil and grit of their labors. The more we have the more we seem to take our plenty for granted. We don’t want a power plant anywhere near us. But, we certainly want heat in the winter, cool in the hot summer and plenty of power to ramp up our myriad appliances whenever we wish to enjoy their benefits. No drilling for oil, offshore, onshore, or in a remote mosquito infested northern bog where no animal or man goes! But, we sure want oil for our cars and natural gas for our homes in quantity and preferably cheap! We can’t have it both ways.

The Indonesians, the Chinese, Indians and eastern Europeans have not inherited our bounty. They are creating theirs as we diddle here. The are building dams, roads, power plants, harvesting minerals and building infrastructure at a record pace. Their growing middle classes realize that sacrifice, hard work and vision are needed to advance in a competitive world. They will, and are doing what it takes to succeed.

When will Americans return to the ways of thinking that made this country great? We were the world’s builders. President Kennedy said we would put a man on the moon in the 1960’s-AND WE DID! President Teddy Roosevelt said we would build the Panama Canal when the French could not—AND WE DID! President Reagan said we would end Communism—AND WE DID! Thomas Edison said he would light the world—AND HE DID! Henry Ford said every man should be able to afford and own a personal automobile—AND THEY DID!

With attitude adjustment, and realization that centrally planned government has no answers, just more self-indulgent meddling in our affairs, we can begin to right our listing ship. It is up to each of us to pull our weight. Read a little history and remember that our patrimony has gifted us with much. We have a duty to begin acting in the real spirit of America once again.

The I – 35 Bridge Collapse And a Bit of Reality

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Anyone viewing pictures of the recent Minneapolis area bridge collapse on I-35 was saddened, stunned, and probably given pause to reflect on their own daily travels. It could happen to me! My family! Here in my town! How could this happen in 21st century America? Who is to blame? There is always somebody to blame, isn’t there?

These are but a few of the comments and perspectives I have seen and heard since the tragic collapse. The immediate response from the ruling and media class was to call for more money to be invested in infrastructure. Always more money, the starving government is continually on a penurious diet forced upon them by stingy taxpayers. Give me a break.

Last night I viewed a documentary television program on the building of the Great Northern Railroad. The line was envisioned, built and funded by James J. Hill. Mr. Hill used private funds solely to construct the 1700 miles of track, bridges, stations and spur lines that became The Great Northern railroad. He was not a distant tycoon, managing the business operation from afar. Mr. Hill spent almost everyday in the field actually supervising the construction of the massive project.

The Great Northern was an engineering marvel. It was the northernmost of the main east/west lines built after the Civil War and was key to developing and populating the northern tier of the United States. The line was an engineering marvel, built through a vast wilderness and traversing the treacherous Rocky Mountains. Work was principally done by hand with dynamite and nitro-glycerine used as blasting agents. A key stretch of 670 miles of track and infrastructure was laid during a 15-month period alone.

Contrast this with public works projects we all view daily as we weave along our neighborhood streets and highways. Orange barrels line miles of highway, on each side, restricting traffic flow, and on many, many days, not a bulldozer, asphalt truck or workman is in sight. Jobs remain unfinished for many years. Mean while, usually in near proximity to this inactivity, we can watch whole subdivisions constructed, shopping venues go up and private property developed with speed, craftsmanship, on time (or early) and on (or under) budget.

Why the obvious disparity in work rate, productivity, and quite simply, bang for the buck that we view in private versus public development. My observation relies on the old saw; “it’s other peoples money”.

Jim Hill had his own money at risk in order to build the Great Northern railroad, get it operational and commence generating revenue and profit. Public projects face no such pressure. They are built with taxpayer, “other peoples money”. These projects seem abstract, faceless, and bureaucratic. The taxpayer has been numbed to the inefficiencies of government at all levels and has come to tolerate a significant amount of incompetence. This incompetence they would never tolerate in their private commercial dealings.

State and Federal Highway funds are generated each time we buy a gallon of gas, buy a license and buy a vehicle. Trucks pay heavy levies to use public right of ways. Billions of dollars are available each year. In addition Congress and State Legislatures pass highway bills and earmark funds for special and pet projects. And yet, when a bridge collapses, the first chirp we hear is a call for more tax payer monies.

Incompetence, bureaucracy, layers of red tape, endless studies and simple mismanagement result in these billions of available taxpayer dollars producing far too little in public works. Indiana recently sold the Skyway Bridge to an Australian/Spanish concern for over a billion dollars. The Skyway, from Gary to Chicago, was a constant construction snarl for years. Why would a private concern buy a supposed “white elephant” like this toll bridge? Simply because they will run it more efficiently, keep ahead of maintenance issues, eliminate bureaucracy and turn a profit.

Before 1983 100% of the gasoline taxes collected were devoted to highway maintenance and construction. Then the Congress, the same Congress now seeking more highway taxes, began to devote a significant portion of the gas tax to mass transit projects. The result of this co-mingled revenue is a distortion of the delivery of transit benefits. Formerly adequate funding for roads has been utilized to promote light rail and pet mass transit projects that cannot otherwise support themselves.

The Los Angeles subway is a perfect example. Politicians lusted for this boondoggle. It was built and nobody came! Light rail projects have worked almost nowhere they have been built, and yet, they are constantly proposed for cities as an alternative to road construction, as a means to aid the environment and lighten traffic loads. The goal is laudable, the reality and results are laughable.

The mismanagement of the “Big Dig” in Boston is another very visible example of government at work, or more accurately, not at work. This public works project was many years and billions of dollars over budget. Once finally completed, the tunnel, under the Charles River, sprung leaks. Lawsuits have been filed, fingers pointed, blame placed. I maintain that a private concern, contracted to perform the construction of the “Big Dig” tunnel in downtown Boston, given a profit incentive, would have finished on time (or sooner) and on budget (if not under). As it is, local, state and federal taxpayers have been forced to bite this smelly bullet.

The loss of life as a result of the I-35 tragedy is horrible. The failure of the span is a major commercial blow to the Twin Cities economy. The rebuilding will be a major inconvenience to commuters. However, the bridge did not fall because of a lack of public funds. The very agencies that are crying for more funds are directly responsible for the lack of maintenance, inefficiencies, bureaucratic bungling and mismanagement that results in such a debacle.

There are better ways to build and maintain infrastructure. Unfortunately, we, the taxpaying citizenry, are too complacent to demand the same level of competence and efficiency we expect when we buy a carton of milk, a sofa, or build a simple sunroom on a home. “We have seen the enemy, and he is us”.

Why Do We Accept Government Incompetence, Decade After Decade!

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

by: Geoff Ficke

Recently I visited a new car dealership, something millions of people in the United States do every month. Several weeks later I visited the Florida State Department of Motor Vehicles for a bit of license renewal. Contrasting the quality of these experiences says a lot about us as individuals, our conditioned acceptance of ineptitude and our limited appreciation for quality service.

I had done some on-line research and had identified the model and accessories I wanted in a new vehicle. I visited the store of the closest dealer of my model choice. I parked in the customer spot, right in front of the dealership’s door. I visited on a weekday evening. Upon entering, I saw a beautifully displayed array of a wide range of body styles. My target model was prominently displayed.

A nice, knowledgeable sales person approached and we discussed my needs. He answered all of my questions and handled several concerns. I was offered a leisurely test drive. My wife and I put the test model through its paces and were more than pleased with the car’s performance, handling and comfort. We returned and discussed price and terms with our sales person.

Within minutes of agreement on transaction details, we were filling out paperwork; a slew of forms (most of them government related), and finance applications.

We were offered coffee, soda, water, and snacks as we awaited the Finance Manager to complete the transaction. All the while we noticed that at least 6 other sales persons were also involved in various stages of transactions. The place was busy, productive, well organized and thriving.

The sale was soon consummated, we were given the keys and the car detailed for us by the sales person. We had arrived at the store about 7:00 PM and were out the door with a new car, a major purchase, at 8:35 PM.

Now for the opposite end of the service experience spectrum: the DMV.

Hours at the DMV are classic 1950’s bankers hours, 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

Upon entering you took a number and had a seat until called. I took a book to read, thankfully. An open office containing a sea of Steel Case desks was visible. The desks were populated by a lethargic team of seemingly disinterested bureaucrats. There was no way to quantify productivity because nothing seemed to be happening.

No concessions were in sight. I had arrived about 9:30 and there was a significant line ahead of me. I settled in for the long haul with John Grisham.

As I frequently checked the monitor to note progress toward my number being called, I noticed, with amazement, that very few of the 12 customer service windows were continually manned.

At 11:40 AM, my number was finally called. Fortunately I had learned from past DMV experience in several states to bring every record, including plenty of cash. Cashing a check can be problematic and credit cards are not accepted. Many people ahead of me were turned away, very upset at not having their full complement of documents.

I finally conducted my business with a faceless, indifferent paper pusher. I had burnt half of my day to spend several hundred dollars with the state on license fees. As I left the office, I surprisingly realized that I was not upset, disappointed of surprised. I had just encountered a government bureaucracy. They had taken my money and given me permission to drive. It was a cold, heartless, slow, necessary transaction. I didn’t expect any more or less.

Equally surprising was my lack of appreciation for my new car buying experience. An amazingly complex transaction had been handled with professional diligence. My finances had been fully vetted; financing applied for and confirmed in minutes. I was provided amenities, the opportunity to shop at my convenience at night, and a motivated, knowledgeable sales person interested in securing my business by satisfying my needs. I expected to experience all of these elements when buying a new car. I was not particularly appreciative.

Private business succeeds by providing quality goods and services at the best possible price. Surly service surely exists, but not in many successful stores. We live in a service economy; we take good service for granted and when poor service is experienced we are almost always surprised. It seems to be an aberration. Business requires happy customers.

The government, on the other hand, does not require happy, satisfied customers. The populace is a captive audience. The government employee, except military, fire and policemen, does not face the opprobrium of the public or particularly high performance expectations. Well-paid, armed with handsome benefits and no stretch performance goals, the bureaucrat lives in a cocoon of safety. Not much is expected and not much is given beyond the minimum.

Consider a visit to the Post Office, and a similar trip to FedEx. Comparison of this service experience should be an embarrassment to the government. The flexibility and service business model of FedEx is a crushing indictment of the loss making, customer unfriendly policies and personnel of the Post Office.

I am a marketing consultant by trade. If hired by the government (and that would never happen) I would never allow the public to see any of the inner-workings of any government office. This scrutiny would be evidence of damnable waste, indifference and duplication. USA Today reported that the average government worker is paid over $25,000 more (salary and benefits) than a similarly tasked private sector worker. This is an outrage and yet we have many people and politicians who adamantly believe that we need more government. More bureaucrats are not needed. We do need to introduce incentives and entrepreneurial ideas and creativity into every layer of our bloated government.

After Hurricane Katrina every layer of government was exposed as incompetent. To this day, the performance of government at all levels, state, local and federal has been abysmal. And yet, very little publicity has been directed to private sector businesses such as Fluor, WalMart, Home Depot, Lowes, FedEx and Valero that have performed heroically almost from the minute the storm passed. They are not playing with other people’s money. They have every incentive to produce positive results. Sadly, the government faces none of the same performance pressure.

It is time that we expect a contact with the IRS, the Census Bureau, the DMV or the local county court house to approximate a visit to Best Buy or Auto Nation. It is also time we appreciate the unbelievable level of service we take for granted every day. I do not expect a free latte when I visit Uncle Sam. I do expect prompt service, a smile and a thank you. After all, we are the paymasters for the bureaucratic class. They work for us. Public service employment should be a privilege that demands the highest levels of performance and zero tolerance for slackers or the attitudinally challenged.

Every bureaucrat should be tasked with a workload that puts a stretch premium on the taxpayer receiving a full compliment of benefits.