Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Dependence (page 1 / 1)

Subject or Citizen?

I was struck by this bit from Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, as soon as I read it. A bit of background. Tesh Vorpatril is visiting the planet of Barrayar and is introduced to its ruler, Emperor Gregor. They are both at Vorkosigan House, the home of Lady Ekaterin Vorkosigan.

[Emperor Gregor said] “How do you do, Lady Vorpatril, Mademoiselle Rish. Welcome to Barrayar.”

He said this in the exact same way that Lady Vorkosigan had said, Welcome to Vorkosigan House. It came to Tej that he was the one man here who was not a subject.

Every Barrayaran is a subject of Emperor Gregor, pledged to obey him. With their lives, if necessary. Emperor Gregor was the only Barrayaran "who was not a subject". When I read that, it spent me down a trail of thought. What does it mean to not be a subject? What does it mean to be a citizen, instead?

An emperor is sovereign over many people. Gregor has the power of life and death over his subjects. He can order summary executions at will. A subject holds his own life only at the sufferance of his liege lord.

Gregor is responsible for his subjects. He must protect them, provide for them, care for them. Subjects are dependent on their rulers.

An emperor can seize whatever he wants: property, possessions, or people. Subjects have no legal recourse against this seizure. Subjects enjoy prosperity only at the whim of their sovereigns.

A citizen is sovereign over himself. He holds his life in his own hands. No one has the authority to order his execution. Citizens are independent. A citizen is responsible for himself. He must provide for himself, care for himself, and look out for his own interests. A citizen is entitled to keep what is his. His property is his own and cannot be taken. His possessions are his own and cannot be taken. His family is his own and cannot be taken.

Citizens are not, however, forced to stand alone, live alone, and die alone. A citizen can freely surrender a portion of his sovereignty to another. He can allow another to act as his agent, in all matters. He can allow another to provide for him, defend him, guard his interests, and more. But he retains sovereignty in all things. He can, at any time, fire his agent and either resume excercising sovereignty himself or choose a new agent to act on his behalf.

This is what it means to be an American. We are a nation of 300 million sovereigns. We have delegated a portion of authority to our elected representatives. We allow them to negotiate treaties in our names, to make and conclude war, to levy taxes and spend from the public fisc. But the President is not our ruler. Neither is Congress or the courts. They are merely our delegated agents. We are the rulers.

That is the difference between subjects and citizens. Subjects are ruled by someone else. Citizens rule themselves. Are you a subject? Or a citizen?

Baldwin Blames the Feds

As you may have heard on the news, Wisconsin experienced some pretty severe flooding last month. Shortly after the rains subsided, I received Congresswoman Baldwin's monthly e-mail update. She included this quote:

Our entire state Congressional delegation sent a letter to President Bush last Friday asking him to respond quickly to any requests Governor Doyle makes for federal aid for flood relief.

In this type of crisis, the federal government takes guidance from local authorities as to where help is most needed. Our municipal, county, and state agencies are responding magnificently to this wide-spread disaster.

(Emphasis added by the editor).

It's gratifying to see that Congresswoman Baldwin recognizes that state and local governments have a role to play in disaster relief. Nearly three years ago, she blamed the slow response to Hurricane Katrina exclusively on the the President.

I have heard from dozens of you who are outraged, as I am, by the slow response of the federal government and there will be questions raised and answers demanded of those ostensibly in charge of our homeland security and federal emergency management, but first we must focus on the crisis at hand.

Somewhat surprisingly, I don't recall hearing Congresswoman Baldwin lament any of the many mistakes that Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco made.

In summary then: when a state's government is on top of diaster relief, she calls on the President to respond to their magnificent efforts. When a state's government is lost, confused, and unprepared, she berates the President for not overriding their efforts. According to Congresswoman Baldwin, although "the federal government takes guidance from local authorities", ultimately only the federal government bears any responsibility at all. Thus, the federal government becomes a convenient whipping boy and the states are encouraged to minimize preparedness.

How Much Do You Need to Spend on Groceries?

How much do you need to spend on groceries? It depends. If you're talking about whether or not we give out enough food stamps, then $21 a week is far too little. If you're talking about the value of a good, wholesome Cuban diet, then $17 a week is just about right. So say America's liberals. (And, yes, they were talking about buying food in America for both amounts.)

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself. Don Surber » Blog Archive » Name that party: Alms for the poor edition.

You Cannot Cut Out Part of My Life

The Wisconsin State Journal published a few local reactions to the Wisconsin's ongoing budget debates. One reaction caught my eye.

Christa Decker of Madison said she depends on Medicaid programs for everything from her wheelchair to doctor's visits to long-term care. Decker, 51, who has both physical and cognitive disabilities, said that cuts to those services would have a direct impact on her life.

"You cannot cut out part of my life. This is too important to me," Decker said.

I'd like to pick on Ms. Decker just a little bit, on my way to illustrating a point. Ms. Decker is supported by money that comes from every taxpayer in Wisconsin and taxpayers from around the nation. Ms. Decker's life is sustained by the work of everyone around her. She's making a fairly common blanket statement: "If you cut taxes, you'll cut the money I depend on and throw my life into chaos."

That is a legitimate worry. Many people have come to depend on the money and services they receive from local, state, and federal governments. But there is another worry too, one that's expressed far less often. "What is the real cost of giving all of this money away?" Let me give you an example, straight out of my own budget. First, here's a breakdown of where our income goes.







Student Loans






The remaining 30% goes into a large variety of small expenses and savings. Notice that $1 out of every $5 dollars we earn, goes straight into taxes. $0.20 out of every $1.00. $21 out of every $100. Gone. Straight off the top. That's a significant fraction of our income. We're a young married couple, just 2 years out of college. There are a lot of things we could be spending that money on. Here's a short list.

  • Paying down student loans
  • Paying down our mortgage
  • Replacing the old roof on our house
  • Replacing the ancient windows in our house
  • Finishing our basement to increase the living space in our house
  • Saving for a new laptop, to replace my wife's rapidly aging one
  • Saving for a new car, so we won't have to take out a car loan next time around
  • Saving for retirement
  • Saving for our children's college education
  • Saving to visit my parents, in Papua New Guinea

As you can see, paying down loans and increasing savings is a large part of our financial goals. We'd love to be free of our debt. There are times that it seems almost achievable. For instance, if we weren't paying taxes the past three months we could have either paid of 68% of one of our student loans or 20% of our home equity loan. And that's just in a three month period.

That's the cost of those "free" government services that so many people enjoy. Ms. Decker's life is financed by my family's increased debt and decreased savings. Oddly enough, those are the costs that are most likely to make me need a government handout later in life. Ironic, isn't it?

I don't know where the dividing line between necessary and unnecessary taxes is. And I don't have a plan for weaning the public off of the dole. I'm still thinking about that. But just remember that government services aren't free. And that the money I'm spending on taxes is money that I'm not spending on goods and services -- money that could be used to create jobs and wealth.