“What? You Don’t LOVE It?!”
I read in today’s Wall Street Journal that Homeland Security bought Montgomery County, Texas, a $300,000 surveillance drone. Not only does this smack of both the surveillance state and crony capitalism–the US government is promoting drone sales abroad as well–but it’s an abuse of taxpayers’ money to use federal funds to pad the policing power of municipalities. Federal funding of municipal responsibilities eliminates even the indirect possibility of connecting the costs and (alleged) benefits of government spending. (In this case in particular, the benefits themselves are clearly mixed. The title of the article tells the story: The Law’s New Eye in the Sky: Police Departments’ Use of Drones Is Raising Concerns Over Privacy and Safety.)
The Articles of Confederation and Thomas Jefferson’s own philosophy both forbade forced taxation at the federal level. American citizens were meant to have control of their government and that meant keeping taxing and spending decisions close to home. It is the disconnection of spending decisions from even the implied consent of the taxed that allows government to get out of control. Faced with the direct connection between spending and taxation, a citizenry will push back when an expense is clearly not worth the money, or worse is actually potentially harmful to the people–local governments reject such initiatives all the time. However, as taxes go underground and spending decisions become more remote, it’s harder for taxpayers to identify when enough is enough, much less to stop the madness.
The government, of course, does all it can to forestall tax resistance. Providing the mechanism to obfuscate excessive taxation and circumvent tax resistance is what makes the Federal Reserve such an insidious tool of big banksters and crony capitalists. The Fed, which is and always has been a private corporation owned by large banks, makes an agreement with the Treasury: abdicate to us your right to control the money supply, and in turn we will print money to buy the bonds that finance your profligate spending and allow you to shift the tax burden onto a future constituency.
The withholding method of taxation is similarly devious. By forcing one’s employer to make it a condition of employment that he pays your tax bill before he pays your wages, the government has eliminated its traditional stooge, the tax collector, and the natural resistance he engenders. Co-opting employers masks the use of force inherent in all taxation and emasculates a powerful tool of taxpayer resistance, the tax revolt.
In the case of Montgomery’s drone, not only is the tax side of the equation manipulated by using federal funds for a purely local purpose, but also the spending side is manipulated by masquerading cronyism and intrusiveness as a public good, i.e., defense. Nothing will push the tax resistance threshold higher than fear of physical danger. . . .Enter the Drug War and the War on Terror.
In these cases the government creates an ever-increasing demand for its own services because it is both the antagonist and the hero. The more the government spends battling reactionary and amorphous opponents such as drugs and terror, the greater the dangers become, and there can never be a definitive victory because there is no definitive enemy. The Drug War is surging in Mexico and Guatemala and at the same time heroin production in Afghanistan is going through the roof thanks to both the Great American Drug War and the Glorious War on Terror. In its own right, the War on Terror has eliminated the two most powerful opponents of radical Islam in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. (I am not defending these two murderers, just making a point.) The government gets bigger, the cronies get paid, the people acquiesce to higher and higher spending, and it can go on forever.
Well, almost forever.
The obvious underlying horror of Montgomery’s drone is not that you and I paid for it, it’s that Homeland Security didn’t donate the drone in an altruistic effort to help local law enforcement investigate accidents and keep good citizens safe. There are myriad self-serving reasons that Homeland Security would want down-home drones like this one. Among these reasons, I fear, is to monitor those same good citizens for signs they’ve had enough of spendthrift and overreaching government and might finally be mounting a resistance. When that day comes, the citizens of Montgomery County might wish they had left this particular present under the tree.