Friday, February 16, 2007

Slashing Government

Want to reduce the state budget? Here's a half-billion dollar launch pad.


Someone recently asked me what Commonwealth of Virginia government spending is wasteful and could be eliminated.

I had to think about that for a minute, because I frankly can't see any reason to keep much of anything except a small police force to keep an eye out for local police corruption and maybe a court system of last resort.

But I digress.

Here are a few suggestions for state agencies/activities that could be rather painlessly eliminated:


1. Virginia Port Authority

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: "The mission of the ports relates to the state’s long-term strategic transportation plan as well as the state’s strategic economic development plan. The agency, through the Commonwealth, owns and operates marine terminals in Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Newport News. It also owns a truck and rail terminal in Front Royal. It markets these ports to ship lines and businesses worldwide through the headquarters in Norfolk, as well as through other offices across the United States and overseas. Overseas offices include locations in Brussels, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Cairo, and Hong Kong. Currently, the authority’s budget is from nongeneral fund sources, primarily revenues received from the Transportation Trust Fund and from fees paid by ship lines for use of the ports. The agency does not receive any federal funds."

WHY IT CAN BE ELIMINATED -- Why is the state involved in operating a freight terminal? Overnight and hundred of other companies are already in that business, they make profits, and pay taxes.

ELIMINATION WOULD SAVE: $77,947,316 in 2007.


2. Department of Aviation

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: "The department helps airport owners plan, construct, maintain, and operate their airports. The agency also plans the state’s aviation system and promotes aviation and air travel safety. These activities account for more than 90 percent of the agency’s budget. In addition, the department licenses aircraft and airports, and maintains the state government’s fleet of aircraft, which accounts for slightly less than 10 percent of the agency’s budget. The primary funding for the agency comes from nongeneral fund sources such as fuel taxes, and aircraft sales and use taxes. In 2001, 1.4 percent of the agency’s spending was from federal funds."

WHY IT CAN BE ELIMINATED -- For one thing, it's redundant. The FAA, insurance companies, and architects already do all of the above activities the agency does.

ELIMINATION WOULD SAVE: $31,864,188 in 2007.


3. Human Rights Council

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: "This agency investigates unlawful discriminatory practices under federal or state statutes. As an alternative to the investigative process, the agency has implemented a mediation program in an attempt to expedite dispute resolution. The agency serves the Commonwealth’s citizens, public and private employers, and localities. In 2001, 3.1 percent of the agency’s spending was from federal funds."

WHY IT CAN BE ELIMINATED -- Redundant. Redress is available in courts; or, better yet, in the offices of arbitrators or mediators.

ELIMINATION WOULD SAVE: $461,177 in FY 2007.


4. Charitable Gaming Commission

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: "The agency, created in 1996, is charged with the oversight of raffles, bingo, and instant bingo games permitted to raise funds for charitable purposes. The commission has the authority to issue, suspend, and revoke permits to operate these games and to certify suppliers of gaming goods and services. The agency spends about eight percent of its budget to license Virginia’s 650 charitable gaming organizations and about 30 gaming suppliers. Another 32 percent of its budget goes to inspect and audit the operations of charitable games, and just over 20 percent of the agency’s resources is allocated for activities to enforce the charitable gaming laws and regulations. The remainder of the agency’s budget is spent to conduct hearings, to educate the public and gaming organizations about charitable gaming, and to provide administrative support to the commission. The agency is fully supported by nongeneral fund sources, which consist of the license fees and audit and administration fees paid by gaming organizations and suppliers. The agency does not receive any federal funds."

WHY IT CAN BE ELIMINATED -- Redundant. Redress is available in courts; or, better yet, in the offices of arbitrators or mediators. Not only that, but reputable charities would have their accounts audited anyway by an accounting firm. If the gamer doesn't care where the money goes and chooses to play in a non-reputable charity's game, well, no harm no foul.

ELIMINATION WOULD SAVE: $2,670,827 in FY 2007.


5. Virginia's Public Broadcasting Board

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: "The Virginia Public Broadcasting Board provides state support for public television and radio in Virginia and for instructional programming (ITV) viewed by students and teachers in Virginia’s public elementary and secondary schools. Just under 31 percent of the board’s budget is allocated for ITV programming, 33 percent goes for community service grants for public television, and just under seven percent goes for community service grants for public radio. Less than two percent of the board’s funds go for contracts with private nonprofit organizations to provide radio reading services for print-handicapped Virginians. Another 27 percent of the board’s budget goes for repayment of state support for the conversion of Virginia’s public television stations to the new digital standard mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. The board receives no federal funds."

WHY IT CAN BE ELIMINATED -- Redundant. Most Virginians have access to 50 or more channels offered by the private sector. Besides, government can never resist an opportunity to propagandize a captive student audience.

ELIMINATION WOULD SAVE: $3 million / year


6. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

Also see:

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: "More than one-third of the agency’s budget is spent to promote Virginia’s agricultural and seafood products. Another 18 percent is spent to prevent and control diseases and pests affecting crops and farm animals through research, testing, grants, technical advice, and direct services to farmers. The agency spends 13 percent of its budget to ensure food safety by inspecting grocery stores, food processing plants, dairies, food storage warehouses, and meat and poultry slaughtering and processing plants. The department also spends nearly a fifth of its budget regulating business practices and investigating consumer complaints about unsafe products and fraudulent services. Nearly 44 percent of the agency’s budget comes from nongeneral fund sources, such as federal grants, user fees, registration fees, and excise taxes. In 2001, 10.5 percent of the agency’s spending was from federal funds."

WHY IT CAN BE ELIMINATED -- Redundant. There is not one single service listed in their report which is not provided by companies in the honest sector. Indeed, many of their services are paid for with user fees -- which means they can easily be privatized.

The most interesting part is where it says 1/3 or its budget is spent promoting agricultural and seafood products. In the private sector, that might be called "advertising".

ELIMINATION WOULD SAVE: $339,490,000 (general fund expenditures only; this doesn't even touch the agency's revenue from service fees) in FY 2007.


That's already over $400 million in reductions. Not reductions in the rate of increase, but REDUCTIONS. Outright elimination.

Those interested in finding out how Virginia's government spends money, and where it gets it to spend, may wish to bookmark these links:

I. The Virginia Department of Planning and Budget breaks down state spending into easy to read tables; and each main heading is a link that leads to more specific information:

II. I'm not a big fan of the U.S. Census as it is today (see the Libertarian Party's Census Articles, here and here), but they do some good data collection on state governments, including Virginia's.

By the way, this is not directly related to state budgets. But if you're interested in the federal Balanced Budget Amendment, take a look.


-- end --

Monday, February 05, 2007

Copyright is Wrong!

Copyrights (and patents) stifle creativity and efficient delivery of goods.

Copyrights and patents are a subsidy, nothing more -- a fact the Founders recognized. That's why they phrased the principle the way they did, and put it in the Articles as a power the government was authorized to enact. It is not a right, and never was -- otherwise it would be among the rights protected by the Bill of Rights.

It's also one of the few areas I disagree with the Founders. *NO* government subsidy should have been written into law, much less enshrined in the Constitution.

It is simply not the business of the FBI (or any other government agency) to assure that the makers of crass products like Mickey Mouse (or even Windows) get rich.

Copyright law stifles innovation and makes plagiarism of others (ie Disney characters mostly based on public-domain Grimm's Tales, most software being altered versions of existing code or ideas (such as the Windows GUI being inspired by the Mac GUI, etc) profitable.

Patents are no different. Had Benz succeeded in patenting the automobile as a whole in the late 1800's, automobiles would *still* be extremely costly and idiotically-designed to this very day.

I could care less if a person downloads files of any type. No one has any "right" to ideas (or electrons). Those who want to "protect their 'right' [sic] to their copyright" should be expected to sell their material only under contract -- and they should be expected to be ready to have courts enforce those contracts. Why do I as a landlord have to get my contracts enforced at my own expense while copyright holders expect the FBI to do their work for them?

I began experimenting with open-source software this year for all of the above reasons -- and when I can, I avoid purchasing copyrighted or patented items. I prefer not to deal with subsidized monopolists if I can help it.

Copyright holders should figure out how to deliver their product to willing consumers cheaply enough so that those consumers won't want to *bother* investing the time (installing a file browser, etc) or money (upgrades to hardware, and so on) required to "steal" them instead.

Apple, for all its faults, proved this concept can be profitable with its iPod and downloadable song services; but even so, it's certain late-adopters will continue to whine about how things "should be" rather than embracing new technology and getting with the times.

Another reason why copyright law is increasingly a failure at its intended purpose: It backfires right in the face of the publishers. As law-enforcement/legal interference grows, so does resistance and rebellion. Remember what Princess Leia said to Grand Moff Tarkin, in the first Star Wars ("A New Hope"): "The more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers."

The only free-market way to protect ideas is with contractual agreements -- which should be enforced in civil courts, not with criminal courts as is copyright law -- OR to maintain physical control over the medium on which ideas are stored. Then, if I steal the medium, yes, I am guilty of theft, because I have taken something tangible. And the theft of such property should extend to the fair market value of the ideas contained within the medium, using established practices for calculating such fair market value.

And yes, even though the medium itself might be a CD worth 45 cents, courts are generally smart enough to figure out that 100 lbs of fish oil is worth less than 100 pounds of gold. Therefore, if one could subtantiate a claim that the CD stolen would have netted the owner $1 million in a sale at fair market value, the court will generally back you up.

I stand by my assertion that copyright law is just another subsidy; in this case for those who have ideas. It distorts a HUGE sector of the market, enabling SOME vendors of copyright-able products to become FABULOUSLY rich. If they were in a free-for-all market, they would have to pay more attention to effective delivery & marketing to the mass market of CHEAP products. We'd get a lot more standardization, and MANY more people would be able to purchase the product.

Isn't the main raison d'etre of a free market to assure that businesses get products to consumers in the most efficient (i.e., lowest cost possible for an identical good) way? Copyrights assure that will never happen here.

Further Reading ********************************************

  • Stephan Kinsella's IP Policy Wikispace

  • Copyright and Patent in Benjamin Tucker's Periodical
  • , by Wendy McElroy

  • The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism, by Stephan Kinsella

  • Copyright Law: Standing in the Way of Progress, by the Bionic Mosquite