I’m bumping this old 4th-of-July post because of its fundamental relevancy to the Eric Garner case. Aside from the immediate questions of ascertaining blame for a man’s death, it’s worth asking why this micro-industry of selling cigarettes even exists, and the appropriateness of the regulatory structures that are backed up by police enforcement.

I don’t have a simple answer or a simple advocacy to set things right. But a man was killed as part of the process of protecting society from the scourge of tobacco, and this makes one wonder if our bureaucratic infrastructure is out of touch with reality. In a heavily regulated society, we are all in violation of some rule or other, and we all know this and all feel at risk. Human beings deserve a world in which authoritarian control is reserved for situations in which it is vitally necessary. Does the control of a cigarette merit such a degree of force? When authority overreaches, we’re all at risk of becoming Eric Garners.

For those that don’t realize this, New York State and City cigarette taxes push the price of a pack to the $10 to $14 range (!). (See article: “How New York City’s Steep Cigarette Taxes Create Crime and Grow Big Government”.) Thus the temptation to drive to another jurisdiction and load up with cheap cigarettes is a creation of the state.

Here in California, we’ve got Rob Reiner’s cig tax that funds anti-smoking campaigns. Which means, as a practical matter, that we tax the poorer segment of society (with disproportionately more smokers) and give the money to Reiner and his pals, so they can lecture us some more. Sure, tax the poor and pay off the rich and price legitimate vendors out of business and create a new class of criminals, and then pat yourself on the back for all the good you’re doing for those poor dumb slobs; isn’t liberalism grand?

P J O'RourkeBooksA post by Maynard

The Fourth of July fills my head with subversive notions. Like freedom from unnecessary government meddling and micromanagement. Not to mention taxes.

In the United States of Maynard, two books that would be taught in high school are humorist P.J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores and Holidays in Hell. The first book explains how the American government really works. The second explains how the world really works. Adults eventually learn, in consequence of painful mistakes, that reality is different from our silly theories.

A passage from “Parliament of Whores” leaps to mind. From the chapter, “Would You Kill Your Mother to Pave I-95?”:

All tax revenue is the result of holding a gun to somebody’s head. Not paying taxes is against the law. If you don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be fined. If you don’t pay the fine, you’ll be jailed. If you try to escape from jail, you’ll be shot. Thus, I — in my role as citizen and voter — am going to shoot you — in your role as taxpayer and ripe suck — if you don’t pay your share of the national tab…

Are you with him so far? O’Rourke has established a solid foundation.

…Therefore, every time the government spends money on anything, you have to ask yourself, “Would I kill my kindly, gray-haired mother for this?” In the case of defense spending, the argument is simple: “Come on, Ma, everybody’s in this together. If those Canadian hordes come down over the border, we’ll all be dead meat. Pony up.” In the case of helping cripples, orphans and blind people, the argument is almost as persuasive: “Mother, I know you don’t know these people from Adam, but we’ve got five thousand years of Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Buddhist-Hindu-Confucian-animist-jungle-God morality going here. Fork over the dough.” But day care doesn’t fly: “You’re paying for the next-door neighbor’s baby-sitter, or it’s curtains for you, Mom.”

The same logic applies to every bit of silly intrusion that our legislators impose upon us. I’m thinking of my pet-peeve-of-the-moment, the seatbelt and cell phone laws. Are they really important enough to kill me over? However benign and enlightened such policies may seem, we must never forget that all government authority ultimately boils down to a gun pointed at our heads. Ultima ratio regum.

Government is a necessary evil. Imperfect government is vastly better than anarchy. But, as our über-liberal ex-Governor Moonbeam once famously exclaimed, “Sometimes, less is more.” I wish he’d applied his fatuous wisdom to himself.

Happy Independence Day. I hope you’ve all got lots of illegal fireworks.

Update: See WaPost editorial, 12/5/14: “Don’t support laws you are not willing to kill to enforce”.

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15 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. Sean H. says:

    I recently received an E-mail listing all of the Taxes that have been imposed since FDR. The number and scope is just staggering.
    I disagree with you on the seat belt and cell phone laws, however.
    You drive the streets and freeways of L.A., as I do. How many times have you seen a driver, on his/her phone do absolutely stupid things, and not be aware of it. Happens all the time, does it not?
    As far as the seat belt law, if you have ever seen a windshield shattered and bloody aas a result of a body flying through it, you would think differently.
    We cannot assume that all drivers are intellegent enough to act on their own as far as safety is concerned. That is a given.

  2. fiona says:

    I completely agree w/Sean H about Maynard being wrong about the cell phone & seat belt laws. The cell phone law is simply forcing people to have the consideration for others that far too many people, unfortunately, don’t have. The seat belt law, as well as the helmet law, is to stop morons from being future Darwin Award candidates & to stop them from suing whoever gets into a collision w/them for injuries a simple seat belt or helmet would have prevented or greatly lessened. Our actions do affect others, especially in a crowded place like Southern California. These laws simply reflect that reality & force MalNars to behave accordingly.

    ‘Too much govt’ isn’t seat belt & cell phone laws. ‘Too much govt’ is when the govt expects ME to pay for the injuries sustained by MalNar idiots who got injured in a crash b/c they were talking on the cell phone & refusing to wear a seat belt.

  3. Floyd R. Turbo says:

    Yeah, Maynard. Don’t get us started on seat belt laws and cell phone laws. It’s simply an attempt to get us to act responsibly. Unfortunate that we have to be “required” to do that. This happens frequently: The other day locally, a guy rolled his SUV, a moderate roll over, he’d easily have survived it with minimal injury. But the jerk-moron chose to not wear his seat belt and wonder of wonders he was ejected. His faithful SUV rolled over him and crushed his brain. People scream about senseless deaths in war. And that SUV driver’s death wasn’t senseless? Jeez. Happens many times a day in many cities and towns. Tragically preventable. But we demand freedom to be stupid and the victim’s loved ones suffer without them the rest of their lives, living with the memory of what might have been if they hadn’t been so damned hard headed and stupid. Same goes for driving while talking on our cell phones. It’s being proven more and more that it draws our attention away from critical driving tasks. Again, responsibility. Too bad we have to be required to be responsible but we do. If it prevents a death, so be it. Might be yours or mine, in fact. Deal with it.

    And with regards to too much government. We have this bloated, brood sow, feed me-feed me, queen bee of a swollen bureaucracy because, well, we elected the people that created it. Hello? We got what we asked for. Bottom line, integrity, honor and character matter in elected officials. But, God forbid, that we should require that of someone running for office. That’s why we’re stuck with Teddy, Nancy, Dingey Harry, Maxine, Di-Fi, Barbara, the list is disgusting. The chickens are coming home to roost. And we’re surprised? See what you started, Maynard?

  4. Dave J says:

    Look, I love P.J. O’Rourke. But as other commenters have said, seat-belt and cell-phone laws regarding driving aren’t exactly ideal examples of crazy nanny-state regulation run amok. Maynard, you ever seen a fatal accident? How about console the family of someone killed in one?

  5. the asset says:

    same ol’ nanny staters above. “we’re all for freedom, but only the kids WE like and approve of. all others need to be restricted!!”

    ok, i’ll agree that cellphone/driving laws can be a form of public safety deal, because people can’t drive and talk at the same time. protect the public, and all that. fine. got it. not wearing a seatbelt, however, impacts only the person – presumably a full-grown adult american – who chooses not to wear it.

    you folks are insisting they be forced to wear seat belts *for their own good*. will you next tell them what to eat? where to live? how to vote?

  6. Maynard says:

    Nobody is more safety-conscious than me. I installed a 4-point harness in my car. It’s the best seatbelt on the road. But it’s none of the government’s damn business whether I wear it or not.

  7. Floyd R. Turbo says:

    Maynard, it’s your family’s business, too. They would have to live without you…they have a vote in the subject, too. Ask the families doing without a loved one that chose to not wear his/hers and didn’t survive…I think they’d wish that some government nanny had forced their loved one to wear the belt…at that critical second in their loved one’s life…

  8. Dave J says:

    In fairness, there is an argument to be made to distinguish seat belts vs. cell phones. The former is about your own life: the latter is about the safety of other people on the road. So Maynard, how about repealing laws against DUI?

  9. fiona says:

    Nobody is more safety-conscious than me. I installed a 4-point harness in my car. It’s the best seatbelt on the road. But it’s none of the government’s damn business whether I wear it or not.

    In theory, I strongly agree w/your point. But, as I mentioned in my post above, imho seatbelt laws partly came about b/c people are concerned about getting sued & held responsible for injuries that could have been lessened or even prevented by using seatbelts. We live in a ridiculously litigious society & that law, imho, came about partly b/c of that. If it weren’t for those who’d like to sue ME for THEIR advanced case of MalNar (& the MalNar attys who’d love to represent them), my general attitude towards those who would be stupid enough to go w/out seatbelts, helmets, etc is similar to what Patsy & Eddie had on AbFab in the following clip (one of my favorites-esp 2:44-3:34):

    Also, I want to compliment Floyd, Dave, & The Asset on their excellent posts. Tammy peeps have such clarity of thought…:)

  10. the asset says:

    aaaaand for REAL freedom-lovin’ fun, consider the “smith-suprynowicz freedom test”. goes something like this: would you support the right of a 9-year-old girl to walk into a hardware store and, without signing anything or producing identification of any kind, pay cash for a submachine-gun, several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a supply of morphine?”

    sad but true: if you’re not willing to support that little girl’s rights, then whatever you’re in favor of *isn’t* freedom as the founding fathers meant it for us.

    there. THAT oughta get the ball rolling.

  11. Paul From Hamburg says:

    I heartily agree that PJ O’Rourke should be required reading in US public schools. In a similar vein to Maynard’s example, the question that I would like to ask constitutional scholar Obama is: Where exactly in the US Consitution is Congress giving the authority to pay for public television and art?

  12. ericdondero says:

    And what of all the countless instances of people who have survided crashes PRECISELY because they were NOT wearing their seat belts?

    Seat belts are a mixed bag. Yeah, yeah, liberal Safety Nazis love to cite their own horribly biased statistics that show that the “few” who survive because they weren’t wearing their seat belts were statistical anomalies. But most car drivers know the real truth: Yes, seat belts save lives in some crashes. But seat belts kill in others.

  13. mrfixit says:

    Maynard, I agree with you on this. The free market will provide a much better fix than nanny law makers ever could. Got a cell phone? insurance goes up. Got an in-car hands free device?, rate goes down. I just spent the last two weeks driving 1400 miles in Florida, with my GPS system attached to the windshield via a suction cup mount. It was very nice. I could mount it low on the windshield and see everything just fine. Suction cup mounts are illegal in California. Why? The stupid “bean Bag” mount slides off the dash, distracting the driver who instinctively tries to catch it as he rounds a corner or whatever. Mythbusters did a number on the cell phone while driving myth, and my take on it is that yacking on a cell phone is no more distracting than fiddling with the radio, trying to set your clock, looking at a map, or just about any task that requires attention. I can’t do anything but drive while driving. My wife however, can simultaneously talk on a cell phone, apply make-up, find a radio station while driving, and all appearantly without breathing.

  14. CNYTammyFan says:

    I’ve read PJ’s Parliment, its excellent. My favorite passage goes something like this.
    Giving power and money to the Congress is akin
    to giving teenage boys keys to the car and the liquor cabinet. SOOOOOOOO true.

  15. Dave says:

    The real point is if you allow elected officials to do anything they please by putting them back in office for decades, they naturally with create a government that will eventually take absolute control. Once they have absolute control your vote makes no difference anymore at all. Nothing will ever change that power. As C.S.Lewis argued, when you cannot cut your own tree from your own property without a permit, cut it into lumber without a permit, build a rabbit hut with the lumber without a permit, and raise rabbits in the hut without a permit, then that kind of power is deeply Satanic. I agree.

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