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Volume 9, Issue 52: December 24, 2007

  1. Four Government Grinches Who Steal from Ordinary Citizens
  2. U.S. Congress Blocks Colombia’s Plan for Progress
  3. Child Support System Veers Off Course

1) Four Government Grinches Who Steal from Ordinary Citizens

In his 1957 classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, famed children’s author Theodor Geisel—better known as Dr. Suess—tells the tale of a compassion-deficit cave-dwelling creature who descends on the hapless residents of Whoville and steals their Christmas presents. Fortunately, all ends well because the Grinch sees the error of his ways, returns the stolen loot, and redeems himself. Real life offers a striking parallel, albeit one without a happy ending of moral redemption and victims made whole again. In his latest essay, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs discusses four real-life “grinches”: the bullies, muggers, sneak thieves, and con men who employ the coercive powers of the state to deprive you of your wealth and liberty.

Government bullies (and their supporters) combine “the worse aspects of puritanical priggishness and the invasive, pseudo-scientific, therapeutic state,” writes Higgs. They are the killjoys who agitate for, or enforce, unjust laws against victimless crimes. Government muggers are the villains who deprive people of their hard-earned wealth or property more-or-less overtly (via taxes and/or eminent domain), often to benefit powerful constitutents. Government sneak thieves are the villains who employ cunning to redistribute wealth, via “legislative riders, budgetary add-ons and earmarks, logrolling, omnibus ‘Christmas tree’ bills, and other gimmicks designed to conceal the size, the beneficiaries, and sometimes even the existence of their theft.” Finally (and Higgs notes that his list of villains is not exhaustive), Higgs describes the government con men who convince ordinary citizens that they are getting back “benefits” that compensate them for the taking of their wealth and liberty--the greatest supposed benefit being security.

“No attempt to understand government can succeed without a clear understanding of these ideal types and each one’s characteristic modus operandi,” Higgs writes. “With this understanding firmly in mind, you will remain permanently immune to the infectious swindle, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ The truth, of course, is the exact opposite: I say again, the government—this vile assemblage of bullies, muggers, sneak thieves, and con men—is not really on your side; indeed, it is out to get you.”

“Four Types of Government Operatives: Bullies, Muggers, Sneak Thieves, and Con Men,” by Robert Higgs (12/20/07)

Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government, by Robert Higgs

More by Robert Higgs


2) U.S. Congress Blocks Colombia’s Plan for Progress

Opponents of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe are pressuring the U.S. Congress to block the ratification of a free-trade agreement between the United States and that troubled country. President Uribe’s foes charge his regime with human-rights violations, but according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, who met recently with Uribe, those charges distort the facts. Uribe’s commitment to reduce human-rights violations carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups against FARC, the country’s lefist guerrilla organization, is credible, Vargas Llosa argues in his latest column.

And Uribe’s achievements are significant. Uribe claims to have demobilized 46,000 armed men and women, including 33,000 members of right-wing paramilitary groups. Whatever the number, armed violence has fallen precipitously: the number of union leaders assassinated has fallen from 256—in the year before Uribe’s policy of “democratic security”—to 17 last year (which is still 17 too many, according to Uribe), and “the overall murder rate in Colombia has dropped by almost 50 percent,” Vargas Llosa writes.

Not surprisingly, these are not the only facts underreported in the American press, notes Vargas Llosa. “Uribe is hated by the Latin American and European left, whose arguments the Democrats [in the U.S. Congress] have naively accepted,” he continues. “They [the Latin American and European left] resent the fact that Uribe has pushed back the Marxist guerrillas and created a climate in which the economy is booming, with total investment amounting to 28 percent of gross domestic product. To their dismay, he has privatized part of Ecopetrol, the oil company, giving shares directly to half a million Colombians and to another 6 million through their pension plans.”

“Uribe’s Plight,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (12/19/07) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Recommendation by Barron’s

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Center on Global Prosperity


3) Child Support System Veers Off Course

Welfare reform in the United States has shifted the role of welfare agencies from distributing money to collecting it—not from taxpayers but from divorced fathers. The vehicle for this change is the child-support system, and its driver has been, not custodial parents seeking more financial help from their former spouses, but the government itself, according to political scientist Stephen Baskerville, author of “From Welfare State to Police State,” an article published in the Winter 2008 issue of The Independent Review.

In part, this transformation has occurred because the federal government, beginning with the Reagan administration, has fostered the myth of the “deadbeat dad.” Yet, despite the stereotype of the “deadbeat dad” as a wealthy playboy squiring around his new trophy wife in a bright red Porsche, federal officials have acknowledged that most unpaid child support is uncollectible because it is owed by fathers who are as poor as or poorer than the mothers and children. But the child-support system itself has been transformed greatly. Whereas it was originally aimed at helping low-income non-custodial parents (mostly mothers) collect money from their former spouses, it now is aimed at the middle-class.

“Ironically, because low-income payers do not provide significant amounts to help states qualify for federal funds, these cases are now neglected even though they are the ones for which the system was ostensibly designed, and enforcement measures concentrate instead on the middle class,” Baskerville writes. “Federal auditors have pointed out that the program was diverted from its original purpose of serving a welfare constituency to become a collection agency for the affluent, with ‘about 45% reported incomes exceeding 200% of the poverty level and 27% reported incomes exceeding 300%.’”

“From Welfare State to Police State,” by Stephen Baskerville (The Independent Review, Winter 2008)

Table of Contents and Article Summaries

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