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January - March 2014

A Weak Will

A Cry for Help?


Monday, March 3, 2014

   A Weak Will -  The big hullaballoo recently was Arizona’s SB 1062, passed by the state legislature, that affirmed a business owner’s right to refuse anyone service based on their “sincerely held” religious belief.  The issue is yet another example of our inability to see first principles and our willingness to live with contradictory beliefs.  Of course, anyone should be able to decide with whom and how to associate.  We do this all the time with regard to our friends and lovers.  Yet, there is this view that somehow that doesn't apply to business owners, and it just doesn't make any sense.

     Presumably we have private property rights.  If I don't want to work for you, I don't have to.  If I don't want to let you into my house, I don't have to.  If I don't want to stand beside you in line at the McDonald's, then I don't have to.  But, when it comes to business, the state compels me to serve you.  Is there any greater example today of how tenuous our property rights are?

     Now, that's not to say that smart business owners do discriminate, nor that they would in the absence of the law.  It's just bad business to turn away any potential customers, and it seems to me that most businesses - large and small - can ill afford to do this.  Indeed, when people jump up and down and claim that SB 1062 harkens back to the days of Jim Crow, they must certainly be joking.  Jim Crow is the term that applied to state-required discrimination.  But, the state shouldn't do either - require discrimination nor prohibit it.

     I first encountered the notion that the state shouldn't interfere in these matters when I read Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.  He noted that "the development of capitalism has been accompanied by a major reduction in the extent to which particular religious, racial, or social groups have operated under special handicaps in respect of their economic activities."  The person who engages in discrimination pays a price - a real price.  They pay more for the goods and services they acquire and receive less for what they sell.  In a free society, "the appropriate recourse is for me to seek to persuade them that their tastes are bad and that they should change their views and their behavior, not to use coercive power to enforce my tastes and my attitudes on others."  For example, the famous sit-ins at a segregated Woolworth lunch counter in 1960 showed the power of peaceful protest.  The chain (and others) bowed to the pressure of the protests and boycotts and ended their policies of discrimination.  It didn't take a law.

     This issue came up due to a recent case in New Mexico where a photographer refused to take on a job of photographing a same-sex marriage ceremony.  The potential client sued and the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against the photographer.  And, so the Arizona legislature sought to prevent a similar case from occurring here with the passage of SB 1062.  And, then it was a national discussion, or, rather, a national outrage.

     Which finally brings me to the point of my story.  This past Sunday, George Will was talking about this issue and, rightly, lambasted the LGBT community as "sore winners."  That is, they are winning the PR campaign, so what is the point of suing the photographer.  Just go and find someone else.  But, then he said, "fifty years ago this year, in one of surely the great legislative achievements in American history, we passed the 'public accommodations' section of the Civil Rights Act, saying, 'If you open your doors to do business in the United States, you open it to everybody."  In other words, your right to free association ends when you take steps to earn a living, feed your family and provide for your children.

     He just doesn't get it.  We can all agree that discrimination is bad, but why use the power of the state to impinge on private property rights?  Indeed, Will's attitude is akin to saying that it is the state that has granted us the right to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness and to run a business.  It's not a god-given right, nor a natural right, although that is my understanding of what Jefferson meant when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I have my students take a look at the Arizona sales tax law to see that it is actually called the "Transaction Privilege Tax."  How does it make any sense that if one does business in the state of Arizona (or, any state) it is a privilege?  Why isn't it a natural right to produce goods and services and trade them with others?  Of course, it is.  But, the state has usurped these natural rights and made them their own.  In the bad old days you could only do business at the sufferance of the king.  Now it is at the pleasure of the state.  So, how far have we come, really?  To further the cause of liberty, we need people with strong backbones, not ones with weak wills.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

   A Cry for Help? -  Earlier this month the National Park Service released a "study" detailing the adverse economic impacts the government shutdown last October had on "gateway communities" near federal parklands.  Really?  Thank goodness they were able to go back to work and expend time, energy, effort and money on this project.  The "study" was widely circulated and picked up all across the country showing these effects in Utah, Maine, Colorado, Montana, and in the areas around Yellowstone and the Great Smokies.  Of course, the Grand Canyon figured prominently in this issue and the local paper ran a story put out by the AP.  [I haven't seen it posted on the Daily Sun web site, but here is essentially the same story from the AZ Republic.]  So, I penned a letter to the editor, and they ran it on March 19:

   The government’s closure of the Grand Canyon this past October was costly?  Didn’t we already know that?  Of course the need to “close” public lands was nonsensical and I think most of us realized that at the time.  So I was puzzled about why the Park Service would take the time to calculate the actual dollar value of the harm they caused and issue a report.

   But, now I get it.  This report is really a desperate cry for help.  Officials at the Park Service must feel tormented by the pain and suffering they have caused.  In their typically awkward way, they are asking for our forgiveness.  Upon reading this report I think any reasonable person would come away recognizing that the NPS is also asking us to find ways to insure that visitor services are beyond the reach of park officials so that we can avoid this problem in the future.  Indeed, this report reads like a subtle request for the crafting of a new compact between the NPS and the public.  I think we can all agree that the park service’s mission begins below the rim.  I think that the NPS might even embrace a proposal to restore all the land on the rim to state control.  Or, dare we dream, even to private control.  That would be the truly sustainable option.

     As it happened, I was on the North Rim at the time the park was shut down.  The morning of the 1st (of October) I sat on the balcony of the Grand Canyon Lodge and watched the sunrise, along with a few other visitors.  We pondered what it really meant to "close" the park.  After all, the park isn't going anywhere.  The views are still here, and that's what most people come for.  Additionally, the services are mostly provided by private companies (lodging, meals, grocery, gas, showers), and they were unaffected by government budget problems.  Someone did post a sign in the window of the Visitor's Center announcing that it was closed (see photo above).  That makes sense - close the government offices, but why would you close the park?

     Well, we all know why.  It was to make a political point.  The GOP took a hit in this, but the blame lies squarely on the President and the Secretary of the Interior.  They didn't need to literally close access to the park.  Indeed, the NPS let lodge guests stay for many more days, and they didn't pull hikers out of the canyon, nor rafters off the river.  But, they wouldn't let anyone else start those activities.  [Including me, as I had a hiking permit for the first week in October that got scrubbed.]  When I left the park at about noon it was eerie to see the increasingly empty facilities.

     And, so, we have this report from the park service showing how much damage closing the parks did to the local economy.  That wasn't news.  And, the point of the report seems to be to further a partisan agenda against the GOP.  Sadly, nobody is holding the NPS to blame for this.  So, as I ask in the letter, why not just pull these places out of the park?  Make the South Rim Village, Desert View and the North Rim lodge areas subject to state/county jurisdiction.  Then, when the feds squabble, any shutdown wouldn't affect them - visitors could still come and see the Grand Canyon.  My letter got a number of comments on-line and I wrote replies that may help keep this issue alive.  [Or, not!]

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