Sunday, March 22, 2009

Back to American fundamentals - by Judge Jim Gray

My friend Louis E. Carabini said in his book “Inclined to Liberty” that “There are those inclined to liberty, and those inclined to mastery.” Among other things, he explains that the answer to most of our economic problems today is more freedom and liberty, instead of less. Why? Because they work, and these are the fundamentals that have helped to make our country great. And for the good of our children, and our grandchildren, we must go back to them!

Contrary to the arguments of many detractors, this does not mean that “anything goes.” Absolutely to the contrary. Instead it means that we have reasonable laws, and that we enforce those laws — for everybody. That includes anti-trust and other anti-competitive laws, as well as truth in advertising and lending, and the enforcement of contracts and warranties. And it also means that we must enforce reasonable regulations to guard against some people’s innate proclivity illegally to cut corners and even engage in fraud.

But otherwise, we simply must go back to the time when we put into practice the traditional American values of self-reliance, which meant that people had to find creative ways to support themselves.

This will be facilitated by such things as relaxing some of the regulations against street vendors, allowing people to cut hair without encumbering license requirements, allowing more competition in taxicab businesses (even at airports and other lucrative locations), and allowing parents to decide whether their neighbors or others can perform child care activities. And this should be done without undue government interference, other than requiring the purveyors to be bonded or insured.

Why would these things be helpful? For two reasons. First, many more goods and services would become available at a much lower cost, and more people would be employed in providing them.

Second, some of these goods and services are being provided now, but through the “underground” economy. This means that presently there is no insurance available when things go wrong, and no sales or income taxes being paid to the government.

This approach would also result in government being much less intrusive, and, all importantly, much less expensive. That would be a good thing, because governments do not produce wealth. Instead, governments take wealth from some people, keep a good deal of it for themselves, and then redistribute the rest to others. As a result, those from whom wealth is taken spend large resources trying to figure out a way to keep more of it, and those who receive it have more incentives to appear to be more “deserving” for a handout by being unable to take care of themselves. So overall today there are fewer incentives to produce goods and services, and fewer incentives for people to get into productive activities.

Had this suggested approach been in effect for the past decade, our country would not have our present economic difficulties. Think of it this way: Even today, our consumer prices are not that high. In the 1950s, a silver dollar that weighed one ounce purchased about 5 gallons of gasoline. And it still does today: One ounce of silver is worth about $12.80 on the open market, and will still purchase about 5 gallons of gasoline. So the price of gasoline has not increased — only the inflation that has been overseen by government intrusion and mismanagement has.

Furthermore, this ethic of being “deserving” has pitted lots of different classes of people against each other, which results in the unproductive “them” versus “us,” or “villains” versus “victims” mentality. This situation is, of course, promoted by politicians in their desire to find and use scapegoats in their appeal for votes. Start listening for this typecasting in your everyday life, such as the “poor,” on the one hand, as opposed to the “filthy rich,” “selfish rich,” or “greedy rich,” on the other. Supporting these appeals leads us down the road to large government, economic stagnation, and socialism.

Is that where we want to go? I answer that question by passing along to you two different stories. The first was from a friend of mine who experienced the Soviet Union’s brand of socialism. He said in that world it was not at all unusual to see a mile-long freight train loaded with logs passing another mile-long freight train also loaded with logs but going in the opposite direction. I suppose this also happens in a free-market as well, but certainly not as often.

The second story was told to me by one of the justices on our courts of appeal. He said that before the fall of the Soviet Union he had traveled to Moscow and stayed in the nicest hotel in the city. At that time everyone had a job; that was not a problem. And it was the job of one of the men in the hotel to plug in his vacuum cleaner and vacuum the rug in the lobby. So that is what he did, every morning. Unfortunately, the vacuum cleaner had broken down months before, and there were no spare parts. Nevertheless, he would plug it in every morning and “vacuum” the rug. In short, governments do not perform well in running an economy, and we want to stay as far away from our government running ours as we can.

In this time of economic trouble, I agree that it is important for the general population to see and believe that our federal government is doing something positive. That will help to restore confidence. But otherwise, the answer is not for the government to procure even more of a mastery over us, spend even more of our money, or take over more of our economy. Instead, we must go in the other direction and revert to the fundamentals that made us strong in the first place. This thought was well summed up by a cowboy poem that I read this past week in the Los Angeles Times, and which ends as follows:

So in essence what I’m saying, 

“I’ve a plan to bail us out,

of all the troubles we are in,” 

I hope you’ll hear me out.

When we have the next election, 

it is time to take a stand.

Let’s send Washington some leaders

who make their living off the land.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Wearing the Robe — the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts.” He can be contacted at or via his website at

1 comment:

versakay said...

I agree with you. But it is also necessary to ensure that the regulators are above board and are not manipulated by the government or vested interests . And it needs to be ensured that only the competent are selected.