Monday, March 16, 2009

From the Heartland to the Border

An older Ludwig von Mises Institute article by Jim Fedako

My family recently traveled to Texas to relax and camp. I returned with a few observations.

Because They Can

Camping? Alright, we pull a travel trailer, with hot water, A/C, etc. We're not roughing it, but our SUV is relatively cramped when you consider the empty space being towed behind us. One of my daughters asked, "Why did the state make it illegal to ride in the trailer?" Questions like these always give me pause.

There is the party line: "Well, state officials feel that riding in the trailer can be dangerous. They are only protecting us." But, wait. Since not all states ban such travel, the party line is not valid — it never is.

The true response is this: "The state officials ban activities because they can. Regardless of the reason, regardless of their belief in an individual's ability to act in his or her best interest, they ban it because they can. Plain and simple."

Division of the Consumer

Sure, we give labor its due, but what about the consumer? While traveling and camping, we end up at a different campground every night. Since we were in areas new to us, we had no real action-knowledge of possible campgrounds, their cost, or condition.[1] Sure, there is the occasional KOA, but for the most part, campgrounds are independently owned and locally operated.

All that we had to guide us was our Garmin and campground guide. Yet, every campground we stayed at was just what we desired: clean and cheap.

Even though each owner can be almost certain that we are never going to return to their campground, they were pleasant and helpful. So, why are these campgrounds such joys? Simple: the division of the consumer.

You see, it is the locals and the regulars who demand quality at a reasonable price. In addition, it is these very same folks — and their preferences — that drive the market for local campgrounds. Through this process, my family benefits.

Of course, the same is true for most hotels, stores, restaurants, etc., across the United States; the locals and regulars guide the entrepreneur and his investments.

When these folks visit my slice of Ohio, I will repay them. They will benefit from my buying and abstaining from buying. Each day, my neighbors and I direct local entrepreneurs to produce desired products and services. In the end, everyone benefits from individuals acting in their own best interests, acting without outside — or centralized — influence.

Public Schools

Regardless of the socioeconomics of an area, and in spite of any drought or water shortage, every public school that we encountered was the best-looking building in sight, surrounded by the greenest grass. This is the result of the false belief that government spending drives improvements and leads to positive results, and the belief that tax dollars spent by public schools benefit children and society, both locally and throughout the nation — as if impoverishing the nation for new bricks and green grass will bring about utopia.

In reality, these expensive, well-kept edifices are simply the tokens that government provides for confiscated income and indoctrinated children. Not a fair trade in my eyes.

Route 66: Capital, Value, and Taxation

I-44 through Oklahoma parallels the famed Route 66. For a stretch, we ventured off the highway and back in time.

Route 66 is still strewn with small towns, motels, garages, etc., all suffering from the lack of consumers and dollars. We spent one night camping at an RV park that has seen wealthier days. The campground's facilities and bathrooms were clean and functional, with the exception of the pool and bathhouse. From all appearances, the owner abandoned the pool years ago, probably not too long after I-44 replaced Route 66 as the road west.

Now, the going rate for campgrounds in that area is $18 per night for water, electricity, and sewer hookup. The owner obviously recognizes that money spent on the pool does not lead to more guests or more profit. Moreover, the guests — all overnighters — have little value for a pool. Therefore, capital reinvestment was reduced from that which sustained a prized Route 66 campground to that which sustains one that now exists off the main road — and the pool is gone.

Likely, the market value of the campground fell the moment I-44 was first proposed. The value of the campground has nothing to do with the amount of labor and resources that went into its production. No, its value is purely driven by the ability of an entrepreneur to obtain profits from his investment.

This is important to note: Since taxation on capital goods reduces the ability of entrepreneurs to obtain a profit, taxation reduces the value of commercial property and the amount of capital reinvestment. Taxation moves the capital good from the main road of consumer preference to the slow, back roads of misallocation — and the pool is gone, so to speak.

Taxation does not create value. Instead, it leads to higher current consumption over capital investments, steadily robbing our future, and our children's future.

The Border

We spent four nights in Big Bend National Park, alongside the Rio Grande, with Mexico literally a stone-skip away. If it wasn't for the green swath of vegetation that accompanies the Rio, you likely wouldn't even notice the river. And yet this is the evil border, and we were about to meet its residents.[2]

Criminalizing Trade

Boquillas is a small village just south of the Big Bend in the Rio. This village used to be the home of 200 people who made a living trading with park visitors. Just a handful of years ago, the border in this area was relatively open, and park visitors and village residents could cross at will. That all changed with 9-11 and the fear subsidized by government and prodded by politicians. Now, it is illegal to cross the border. But the traders to the south still venture across the knee-high waters in order to sell their wares: walking sticks, painted rocks, etc.

The park newsletter notes that items purchased from these Mexicans are considered contraband and will be confiscated by officers. In addition, US citizens who cross the Rio and attempt to reenter the US are liable for a "fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment for up to one year or both."

With a stroke of the pen, the United States criminalized free trade, and Boquillas is now a dying village. Are we safer? Absolutely not. Criminalizing activities does nothing more than create criminals on both sides of the border.

The "illegals" we encountered were very friendly, just business folks looking to put food on the table. Regardless, someone under threat of government will react differently than the storekeeper in some situations. In the end, it is the park visitor who likely ends up the criminal, simply by crossing a river to make an exchange that benefits both parties, and harms neither.

The Function of Government

What is the role of government, if any? One can only justify government as the force that protects property. Of course, the extension of this argument quickly becomes contradictory, but we live in a world where government is reality.

The park newsletter notes that visitors who purchase a walking stick from Mexicans are subject to confiscation, etc., while also noting that visitors need to be on the lookout for drug runners and similar activities. On top of that, most parking spots had warnings noting frequent break-ins of unattended vehicles.

So there you have it: government writ large. The only entity that can legally carry a weapon in the park is not willing or able to protect my property. This very same entity will quickly fine, arrest, etc., anyone caught purchasing an untaxed, $5 painted walking stick. Government security is nothing less than a sham.

In the end, government exists solely to protect itself from my activities. It does not exist to protect my property.

Postscript: Presumed Guilt

On the trip home from the border, with the Rio some 100 miles behind us, we were forced to pull into a border patrol station along with everyone else on the road. Here, the rule is presumed guilt. And, in a scene from a cheap war movie, a man with a sidearm asked me where we were from and where we were going. Milling about were five other holstered agents with a guard dog, deciding whether my story met with their approval.

The officer at my window, with his challenging mannerisms, listened to my story and made his decision, all the while holding my life and liberty in the balance. It was then that I realized that it wasn't just my family that was on vacation — we have allowed liberty to go on vacation as well.

Thinking back to my response to my daughter's question, I realized that it was time to extend my words: They do it because they can. We fight for liberty because we must. No one else will do it for us.

Jim Fedako, a homeschooling father of five who lives in Lewis Center, OH, maintains a blog: Anti-Positivist. Send him mail. See his archive. Comment on the blog.

[1] See "Symposium on Information and Knowledge in Economics," Econ Journal Watch, Volume 2, Number 1, April 2005, pp. 75–81.
[2] In a nation turned upside down, the closer we got to the Rio, the lower the fear of open borders. No one we met in the park had anything good to say about restricted border crossings. Yet, here in the heartland, the fear of the border is still a powerful political weapon.


Anonymous said...


Good post. I especially like the last part about presumed guilt. There seems to be a lot of that to go around in this country.

DUI checkpoints (good intentions taken into account) presume guilt. Potential goat farmers at gitmo are presumed guilty without opportunity to argue otherwise.

When did we abandon the concept of innocent until PROVEN guilty?

Paul said...


Many good thoughts here.

I took a cross-country motorcycle trip last year with a couple of buddies. On the return leg, we ran the Mexican border from San Diego all the way across Arizona.

Interesting that out there in the desert, the border is marked by nothing but white and orange painted sections of steel tube psuedo fences along the highway that look like a radio tower had toppled onto on the ground and broken into pieces.

We were stopped at a number of Border Patrol sections. Being on motorcycles, there isn't much to hide or search. In fact, I discovered that I could cut the whole stop to a few seconds by raising the visor on my full-face helmet, pulling off my sunglasses, and showing the officers my blue eyes...


Anonymous said...

I found some informative articles about our police state at the blog of SALTY PIG. He had links to another blogger who writes about his horrible experiences with the gestapo many miles inside the border.

Re: pools and arbitrary rules because they can. I visited a relative at her Columbus condo yesterday. Their pool is being torn out and made smaller. That's so they can use the pool without hiring a lifeguard. After the condo and pool were built the law was changed requiring a lifeguard anytime the pool was open. By decreasing the size of the pool the lifeguard is not required. I pointed out that she could drown in the smaller pool as well as the larger pool. It went right over her head.