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Pennsylvania School Bus Waste Story Nothing New

in Economic Liberty, Education, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Taxes by Advocates HQ Comments are off

Pennsylvania School Bus Waste Story Nothing New

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Another day, another story of government waste.

School BusEach year, Watchdog.org reports, Pennsylvania school districts spend over $54 million of taxpayer money on transportation services provided by contractors who do not have to compete for exclusive contracts with the state and local education agencies. Due to the state’s lack of rules regarding competitive bids, many are calling for an audit and a change of rules.

But would opening up the districts to a competitive bidding process alone do the trick?

According to late free market economist Milton Friedman, there are at least 4 ways money can be spent. “You can spend your own money” on things and services you consider important to yourself, trying to “get the most for your money.” You may also spend your money on somebody else, forcing yourself to look for something that will be meaningful or useful to the recipient while remaining mindful “about the cost.” Or you can either spend somebody else’s money on yourself or others.

According to Friedman, when you spend money earned by somebody else on other people, you’re not “concerned about how much it is,” and that, he concluded, is what government does.

While the waste promoted by Pennsylvania school districts is nothing unheard of, media outlets seldom discuss the lack of incentives in keeping a budget among government officials, whether they are local, state, or federal employees.

If bureaucrats are not concerned about the source of resources, they won’t be concerned with how much they spend. Opening the state’s districts to a competitive process might be of help, but it still won’t solve the government’s money spending problem.

In an article for the Mises Institute, Ryan McMaken makes the case that government is never able to allocate tax money efficiently.

He justifies his argument by claiming that once money is taken from an owner through taxation, the coercive nature of the transaction keeps those allocating it from learning just how valuable roads, law enforcement, and even public education truly are to those paying for them. He also argues that, when government spending is not limited by tax revenues alone, government officials have an endless source of revenue, either in the form of cheap money coming from a central bank or a federal government grant. And that alone is enough incentive to keep government employees from acting responsibly.

Without a free and unrestricted market in business transactions between service providers and consumers, transactions are imposed by the government, not sought after by the individual. Therefore, government cannot assess just how much those services are worth if they do not have a way to gauge demand.

If lawmakers and officials want what’s best for Pennsylvania’s children and their taxpaying parents, the only way to give them what they need—and want—is to remove perverse incentives from the equation, allowing parents to act on their ability to choose what’s best, and most valuable, to their children.

Would You Double Down on Big Government?

in Liberator Online, Libertarianism, Walk the Walk by Brett Bittner Comments are off

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Last month, after serving mid to low-income neighborhoods for nearly 60 years, Double 8 Foods made the decision to close all five of their Indianapolis locations following many years of declining revenues. Immediately, community leaders turned to city government for an answer, asking the Mayor to find a workable solution. The “food desert” in areas that could not support the chain’s five locations quickly became an issue for candidates in this fall’s mayoral election.

double downRather than waiting the couple weeks it took to begin “talks” with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, one prominent community leader took only a few days to mobilize a shuttle service to minimize the impact of the stores’ closures in the short-term. That leader is Senior Pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church on Indianapolis’ westside Charles R. Harrison.

Waiting for Big Government to come along to solve this problem is not an option for Harrison and the area churches in the communities that these stores served. They jumped into action by providing transportation with their church vans from the now-closed Double 8 stores to other grocery stores unreachable by foot and cumbersome to navigate by IndyGo, Indianapolis’ mass transit bus system.

Reverend Harrison also led by example, driving the shuttle himself while recruitment efforts for volunteers to handle the thrice-daily trips for the neighborhood bore fruit. Churches in the affected areas quickly followed suit, shuttling dozens of former Double 8 shoppers to Aldis, Safeways, and Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets just a few miles away.

One candidate for Indianapolis mayor identified it as a problem, pledging “to work with state, federal and local leaders to explore bringing more food options to the city,” while the other wants to use “economic incentives” to attract grocery retailers to these areas and use the tax dollars collected to fund neighborhood improvements. Both mayoral candidates clearly favor a slow-moving Big Government solution, while residents seek to meet the immediate need of stocking their pantries and refrigerators.

While Harrison’s efforts are clearly an interim measure to minimize the pain felt by area residents, it provides a bridge to what happens next in the city, in a peaceful and voluntary way. This week, donations to defray the costs of the shuttle service began to appear at the church and at the shuttle stops, so it’s possible this initiative may become a full-fledged program until new or existing grocers, co-ops, or community gardens fill the void.

Isn’t it awesome when people come together without coercion or force to do some good?

Now that you see how immediately someone can act to help the most vulnerable among us without outsourcing responsibility to Big Government, what can you do in your neighborhood or city to address an issue before government can step in and likely make things worse, like they did recently?

Just two years ago, Midwest retailer Meijer showed interest in building a superstore that included full grocery options just a mile and a half south of the closed Double 8 where Reverend Harrison’s shuttle meets riders daily. The store’s planned footprint would have required Meijer to purchase 35 area homes for demolition, many of which were already abandoned by their owners, but “not in my backyard activists” swarmed to have the city stop the proposed build, pushing Meijer out of the project and across town by almost six miles or nearly an hour by city bus.

In past messages I’ve asked that you no longer outsource responsibility to government to help those in need. In just over a week, there is an example that I can reference that is local.

Can you imagine the positive response you could elicit if you took on the challenge of solving an issue in your neighborhood or city?

As a former school board member, I can tell you that access to books is an issue in many neighborhoods, and a small book drive for families in your area or a Little Free Library would make a world of difference.

As someone who lives in an urban area, I can attest to the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in the “food deserts.” Some urban gardeners could teach valuable skills, while providing some fresh food alternatives to the processed and pre-packaged junk available in convenience stores and drive thrus.

As a firm believer in being a positive example for someone, I cannot begin to tell you how much just a couple hours a month as a mentor can change the life of someone who needs to know that there is more in their future than what they may have today.

Will you take a look and see how you can be a shining libertarian example and solve a problem without Big Government?

Supposedly Sick Coast Guard Members Took Taxpayer-Funded Trips to Vacation Hot Spots

in Economic Liberty, Issues, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Taxes by Jackson Jones Comments are off

Supposedly Sick Coast Guard Members Took Taxpayer-Funded Trips to Vacation Hot Spots

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Every fall, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) publishes an annual report, known as the Wastebook, highlighting dozens of the worst examples of wasteful spending by federal agencies.

Some of the items in the report may sound unbelievable, but this is the federal government, and one should never underestimate bureaucrats with tax dollars at their disposal. More ridiculous examples from the 2014 version of the report include the $387,000 the National Institutes of Health spent on Swedish massages for rabbits (yes, seriously) and the $200,000 the Department of Agriculture spent to help a New York-based brewer build a beer farm.

Coburn, who earned a reputation as a hardcore fiscal hawk, resigned from Congress last year after a second cancer diagnosis, leaving a need for transparency in federal spending. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is stepping up to fill the void left by Coburn’s departure.

On Wednesday, Paul rolled out a new feature on his official Senate homepage, dubbed The Waste Report. According to a press statement, the periodical report “will identify egregious examples of wasteful spending throughout the U.S. government.”

The inaugural edition of The Waste Report focuses on medical waste, specifically a little-known U.S. Coast Guard program that costs taxpayers $1.2 million each year. The Travel to Obtain Health Care Program pays for Coast Guard members stationed in locations where there are no providers to seek medical care elsewhere. The program is available to members in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, though the latter two account for 7 percent of cases.

The Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security released an audit in February detailing the inefficiency and lack of oversight in the Travel to Obtain Health Care Program, which costs taxpayers $1.2 million annually.

“[T]he IG uncovered trips from Alaska to Vail, Colorado; Orlando, FL; Scottsdale, AZ; and Savannah, GA,” Paul’s report notes.

“Though a doctor’s referral is supposed to be required before travel is approved, only twelve percent of records had such notes. “

“In total, 94 percent of all records were missing key elements including travel requests, approval forms, cost estimates, and/or doctor’s notes,” the report continues. “This lack of basic documentation prevented the IG from substantiating whistleblower claims that trips – even to Anchorage – were more for shopping than medical care, while also preventing the IG from affirming the need for accompanying spouses (who also traveled at taxpayer expense) to assist patients.”

The Inspector General made three recommendations aimed at improving accountability and oversight in the program, including greater documentation requirements and training. But as The Waste Report explains, “one should not need special training to know that taxpayer funded medical travel should not be approved without a doctor’s note, especially if that travel is for couples’ trips to vacation hot spots.”

Your Tax Dollars Paid for Swedish Massages for Rabbits

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 19 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Politicians are warning us that the government is broke. It’s time for higher taxes and belt-tightening. Citizens need to pay more and expect less.

But still, our leaders heroically scraped together funding for the most important, the most fundamental, the most essential government functions.

Like providing Swedish massages to rabbits.

Yep. The National Institutes of Health spent $387,000 on this project. Yes, that’s the same NIH whose director says they “probably” would have come up with a vaccine for Ebola by now, if it wasn’t for low funding (they only get $30 billion a year).

And that’s just the beginning. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has released his annual Wastebook report.

Wastebook 2014: What Washington Doesn’t Want You To Read“ identifies “100 silly, unnecessary, and low priority projects” that lay bare Washington’s loony spending priorities. Wastebook

Total bill for these one hundred projects? A whopping $25 billion. And, Sen. Coburn warns, this is “just a fraction of the countless frivolous projects the government funded in the past twelve months — with borrowed money and your tax dollars.”

Sen. Coburn further notes: “Despite all of this obvious waste, Washington politicians celebrated ending the fiscal year with a deficit under half-a-trillion dollars for the first time since 2008 — as if adding $486 billion to a national debt quickly approaching $18 trillion is an actual accomplishment deserving praise.”

Here are a few more choice items from Coburn’s Wastebook 2014:

  • $856,000 to teach mountain lions to use treadmills.
  • $307,524 to study whether sea monkeys can be trained to swim. 
  • $371,026 to study whether mothers love their dogs as much as their own children.
  • $804,254 for a video game to empower parents to persuade their kids to eat vegetables.

Just skimming the table of contents rewards you with items like these below. And each one is accompanied by a jaw-dropping description that will have you thinking you’re reading the humorous parody site The Onion:

  • Roosevelt and Elvis Make a Hallucinatory Pilgrimage to Graceland
  • NASA Wonders How Humans Will React to Meeting Space Aliens
  • Anti-Terror Grant Buys State-of-the-Art SWAT Equipment for Safest Small Town in America
  • Spouses Stab Voodoo Dolls More Often When “Hangry,” Study Reveals
  • Scientists Hope Gambling Monkeys Unlock Secrets of Free Will
  • Paid Vacations for Bureaucrats Gone Wild 
  • Taxpayers Help NY Brewery Build Beer Farm
  • Free “High-End” Gym Memberships for DHS Bureaucrats
  • USDA’s “Perfect Poop Pak” Smells Like Government Waste

Page after page, the idiocy and waste goes on and on. Read the whole thing here.

How Effective is Government Welfare Compared to Private Charity?

in Ask Dr. Ruwart, Liberator Online by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

Dr. Mary Ruwart is a leading expert in libertarian communication. In this column she offers short answers to real questions about libertarianism. To submit questions to Dr. Ruwart, see end of column.

QUESTION: Recently in the Liberator Online you answered a question with the following supporting argument:

“For example, about 75% of the tax dollars that are targeted to welfare programs actually go to the middle-class administrators rather than the needy. In contrast, private programs give about 75% of donated dollars to the poor. Thus, the poor get more when charitable giving is private.”

I am interested in where you got your statistics. I want to share this argument with friends, but I like to provide references. Could you do so?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Gladly! These are the references that I’m currently citing in the latest version of my book Short Answers To The Tough Questions:

Welfare and Poverty,” NCPA Policy Report #107 (Dallas, TX.: National Center for Policy Analysis, 1983), p. 1.

“Breaking the Poverty Cycle: Private Sector Alternatives to the Welfare State,” a book by Robert L. Woodson. (Harrisburg, PA.: The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, 1988), p. 63.

The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity“ by JR Edwards, Journal of Libertarian Studies 21: 3-20, 2007.

The last reference is the most comprehensive. On pages one and two, Edwards cites two studies, over a seven year period. He writes:

“[Government] income redistribution agencies are estimated to absorb about two-thirds of each dollar budgeted to them in overhead costs, and in some cases as much as three-quarters of each dollar. Using government data, Robert L. Woodson (1989, p. 63) calculated that, on average, 70 cents of each dollar budgeted for government assistance goes not to the poor, but to the members of the welfare bureaucracy and others serving the poor. Michael Tanner (1996, p. 136 n. 18) cites regional studies supporting this 70/30 split.

“In contrast, administrative and other operating costs in private charities absorb, on average, only one-third or less of each dollar donated, leaving the other two-thirds (or more) to be delivered to recipients. Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org the newest of several private sector organizations that rate charities by various criteria and supply that information to the public on their web sites, found that, as of 2004, 70 percent of charities they rated spent at least 75 percent of their budgets on the programs and services they exist to provide, and 90 percent spent at least 65 percent. The median administrative expense among all charities in their sample was only 10.3 percent.”

Later on Edwards adds: “In fact, the average cost of private charity generally is almost certainly lower than the one-quarter to one-third estimated by Charity Navigator and other private sector charity rating services…” and tells why.

The bottom line: Government spends about 70% of tax dollars to get 30% of tax dollars to the poor. The private sector does the opposite, spending about 30% or less to get 70% of aid to the poor.

Note: I used “about 75%” from memory, which is getting a little less accurate these days. :)   In the future, using the “about 70%” figure would probably be better.

Edwards also makes this key observation:

“[R]aising only half as much money through voluntary donations, the private agencies (and families) could deliver the same amount as the government, saving, in the process, all the costs the government imposes on the public through the compulsory taxation. Given that aiding the poor must have large support among the public for coercive government redistribution to be policy, couldn’t the supporters raise, through voluntary donations from among themselves, half the amount that would have to be raised through taxation, and avoid coercing the rest of the nonpoor public?”

That’s the hope the libertarian vision offers: more effective aid for the poor and needy than ever before, delivered voluntarily by the private sector at a far smaller cost than today’s welfare state.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris for further reading and viewing on this topic:

The End of WelfareFree ebook: The End of Welfare: Fighting Poverty in the Civil Society by Michael D. Tanner.

In this 1996 Cato Institute book — now available as a free download — Cato’s Michael Tanner traces the growth of the welfare state in America. He argues that government welfare programs have failed to accomplish their ostensible goal of alleviating poverty. Moreover, they have undermined the traditional American principle of voluntarism. The interventionist welfare state has replaced civil society with political society — and the results have been disastrous for taxpayers, community, liberty and, most especially, the poor themselves.

Tanner argues persuasively that government welfare has failed by every measure, and that private charity can and should replace coercive bureaucratic government welfare. This will not only be more cost-effective, it will provide the poor with more effective and humane care.

* * * * * * * * * *
Got questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR “tough questions” on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s brand new book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.