Bureaucrat hatching monstrosities (allegory)

  Federal rules and regulations
No more laughter left on earth
Blue Oyster Cult, "Monsters"

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The savvy salesman and the bandit

First, my apologies for the long lull without a post. I got many emails with links of stories that my readers want me to cover -- thank you, and keep them coming at FredTheGrumbler (at gmail)!

Some writers have problems finding a suitable subject to write about. I, on another hand, suffer from an abundance of riches. Trying to blog about abusive regulations in today's world is like trying to empty Lake Michigan with a thimble.

No awful regulation can be complete without suckers to pay for it, though, and that's where we come in, we taxpayers. Taxes are bad enough. Even worse is government deficit, which are in essence a promise made in the name of future taxpayers on their future payments. The biggest single governmental deficit on the planet is in the US Federal budget, of course. America is still number 1 somewhere.

I am keen observer of Washington DC: Joe at the office buys a paper every day and leaves it in the cafeteria, and when the comics and movie pages are missing, I read about the gummint, 'cuz nobody ever steals that page. So naturally, I followed the recent deficit and debt ceiling show with the attention it deserves: loud howls when the matter came up on TV, followed by face palms when the budget dance of the day was announced.

The outcome of this sorry spectacle was revealed tonight. Regardless of your political inclinations, you have to tip your hat to President Obama. He won that one handsomely. If you were unable to stomach the sight of grinning politicians, let me summarize it for you. Both parties agreed to raise the debt ceiling, which is to say, to let the US government borrow more money once again. In exchange, the budget will be amended to cut, they say, "one trillion over ten years". Which means they might cut 100 billion this year, but since one Congress cannot bind a future Congress, the rest is purely hypothetical.

And so, the deficit will be 1400 billion instead of 1500. Quite a saving, right? But admire the modesty of House Speaker John Boehner, who commented: "This isn't the greatest deal in the world." Shucks, John, you did great. Look at it this way: The take of personal income tax is about 1400 billion a year, the same amount as the deficit. So if they simply doubled our income taxes, this will neatly cover the deficit for this year! Good job, John.

For some reason, this incites me to share a little story I heard when I was living in the deep South. It's called "The savvy salesman and the bandit".

(Credit: Mel Brown, TexasEscapes.com)

Back in the 19th century, a traveling salesman and his wife are riding their mule wagon from village to village. They eke a living out of selling odds and ends. Call them Zak and Sara in honor of Ben Folds. Today, like every year, their sales route brings them to the toll bridge over the Potomac. They stop at the booth guarding the bridge entrance and grudgingly pay the stiff toll. Then they engage their wagon on the bridge spanning the rolling, muddy Potomac waters.

Suddenly, a man jumps from behind a pillar and points a blunderbuss at them.

SARA: Oh no, it's the infamous Potomac bandit!
BANDIT: Stick 'em up!
ZAK: Don't worry, dear, I am a good negotiator. I'll talk to him.
BANDIT: There is no discussion. I want $1500. Every year.
SARA: What? On top of the toll? But...
BANDIT: It's for my farm. I grow economies. You wouldn't understand. Pay up.
ZAK: My good sir, I demand a lesser payment.
BANDIT: No. You pay the fifteen hundred or I push you over the rail.
ZAK: No! Think of my poor old mules!
BANDIT: You are quite convincing. Very well. You will save $1000 over the next ten years.
ZAK: Oh joy!
BANDIT: So instead of $1500, just give me $1400.
ZAK: Here you are.
BANDIT: Fine. Get out of here before I change my mind.
ZAK: Thank you!
BANDIT: See you next year.
ZAK (whipping the mules): I told you I am a shrewd negotiator.
SARA (slapping him behind the ear): You got fleeced like a rube at the carnival, you moron!
The morale of the story is that even astute businessmen are routinely robbed blind in DC. Yet, for some reason, campaigning politicians keep touting their honesty (or at least, their lack of criminal indictment). When you deal with robbers and whores, honesty is a liability, not a virtue. We desperately need a good desperado to  deal with the Potomac Posse and lower our taxes -- including our future taxes, which means the deficit.

(Source: Cossack II
Napoleonic Wars by
GSC Game World)
Is it so bad, you ask? It is. Taxes and waste of tax money are always a bad thing when they get out of hand. King George's excessive taxes brought the American Revolution, which started a war. The Independence War could have ended up very badly -- see what happened to the Boers who were exterminated by the Brits a century later. The French Navy, gunpowder, cannons, supplies and troops helped tilt the balance in favor of the Continentals, but the expenses of this war forced French King Louis to raise taxes, which brought the French Revolution. This, in turn, brought up Bonaparte and 20 years of wars.

There is no telling what today's waste in Washington will bring up tomorrow. I can safely predict it will not be good. Ask France's neighbors what they think of Napoleon.

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