By Nathan Barton
(Note: This, in a shorter version, was originally a response to a comment to my commentary “The Art of the Deal – January 2018.”)
What are the priorities of government? Of government agencies? Of government employees? Of politicians in power in government?
The standard civics class speaks glowingly of “public service” and “serving and protecting” and such nonsense. Some analysts will talk of “enlightened self-interest” and people will talk about defending life and property. It’s babble. (And there is frequently VERY little “enlightened” about the self-interest that states and rulers display.)
Government is, first and foremost, a parasite. The priorities of parasites have little if any relation to the priorities of the host.
Usually, the priority of government (and government employees including politicians) goes something like this:
1. Maximize their agency/government control of people and business.
2. Maximize the employment/income security of the government employees.
3. Maximize their revenues (taxes, fees, grants from other governments, etc.).
This applies to every aspect of government, I think. But for this commentary, let us talk mostly about cannabis.
In the legalization of medical (and now recreational) cannabis, this prioritization has been at work all along. For decades, local government maximized all three (or thought so) by going along with the Feds. But then they found that revenue from taxes would not just replace but exceed revenue from “War on Drugs” grants and forfeiture. Or so it seems. As a result, suddenly, more and more states (and local governments) bow to “public pressure” and accept the “popular vote” – and voila! Cannabis becomes legal in more and more places.
In the public schools (government-run, tax-funded), we can see these priorities dominate. Whether we are talking about curriculum, or qualifications of teachers, or standards, or even guns and killings in schools, we see these priorities in action. Unlike cannabis legalization, there is not (yet) a solution in which home schooling and private schooling can help government employees (which include teachers, administrators, and staff) accomplish these priorities.
We also need to keep in mind that government, and government employees as such, are often very stupid and do not understand the consequences of their decisions. And that once in a while, by sheer accident, they have to do something (at least pretend to do something) that violates their priorities.
(Again, think about biological parasites. Viruses and bacteria are very stupid, and fail to take into account that they often weaken and kill off their host, thereby resulting in their own death. Government can be very much like that.)
An non-Drug War example I frequently use is one in which a local (city) government cuts off its nose to spite its face. It refused to issue an occupancy permit to a newly rebuilt fast food store for several months while the store jumped through convoluted bureaucratic hoops to get an alley vacated. Why? So that the store could have two more parking spaces (of the 60 or so they were required by the city code). The delay in reopening meant that the store was closed during a major tourist event. As a result the city probably lost $20K in sales tax revenues as a result. (People went to fast-food places outside their jurisdiction, and it was a big store.) Yes, the bureaucrats were exercising their control over the business. But the game did not INCREASE their power over the business (or increase their personal security). So they were stupid in not understanding they should have been maximizing revenue by granting a temporary waiver for the few weeks.
In the case of marijuana, until the state (and local) governments could find a way to preserve (or increase) their control and security while increasing their revenue, they totally prohibited sale and use. And being stupid, it took time for the governments to wake up to the fact that by applying the same regulatory scheme to pot and medical cannabis as they have for a century to tobacco and alcohol (and medicine), they could increase all three priorities.
In the case of schools, I admit I do not know how government and government employees can achieve these goals while giving up the schools – the education of almost all of us. Which does, I admit, limit the playing field somewhat. It will be tough to separate school and state, even to the limited degree we have separated pot and public agencies. It will take a revolution, just as separating church and state once did.
But we most desperately need such a separation and divorce.