Parasites

The Wall Street Journal has a nice article about the legal hassles a pipeline company encountered in building a natural gas pipeline that was really essential.

If you haven’t already, go read it now. Many of the comments on the comments tab there are also worth your time.

The article itself is pretty good, but what’s really depressing is that the problem it describes is not going to be fixed. All of those parasites El Paso had to hire and/or pay off are highly organized political blocks, and unless we elect 535 Ron Paul clones to the Congress, none of this is going to change. Even if you cut back on regulations and the number of federal regulatory employees, you still have the laws in place that give huge incentives for people to sue project developers.

Most people think the environmental movement is a good thing. They also think advocating for the disabled is a good thing. Or “protecting the children” is a good thing. And so on and so on, ad infinitum. They see nothing wrong with using the force of government to obtain things that they themselves are unwilling to pay for in a market transaction.

They’re wrong. If you want to preserve some wetlands, you should just buy them and then protect them to your heart’s content. If you need to buy up an entire river basin to do that, too bad. Maybe you can contract with all of the basin’s landowners to do something. But you’ll have to pay them enough to get their agreement, and you’ll have to spend your own money.

Unless and until the vast majority of voters begins to think this way, things will continue to get worse. If you want to see where this leads, look at India. India has had tons of educated people for most of the past century, yet only recently has the country started to lift itself out of poverty.

What held it back for decades, and is still a problem now, is huge amounts of regulations and inconsistent laws that no one could actually comply with. Instead, the accepted way of doing business was to bribe various officials to let you operate. But it was hard to know just who to bribe and how much, and there was always the danger that some official you never even heard of would pop out of the woodwork with his hand out as well. It was too much for most potential businessmen. By the time you paid off all the parasites, what was left wasn’t worth the effort. Much better to just get a government job yourself.

No matter how bad life for the average Indian was, at least he could console himself that he wasn’t Chinese. The Communist government there turned the entire country into a vast impoverished prison. Read Orwell’s Animal Farm and multiply by three. That’s what China was like.

But when Mao Tse Tung (the greatest mass murderer in history) finally croaked, China started economic reforms that set it on a growth path. Three decades later, the humiliation of falling behind the Chinese finally spurred Indian voters to start putting some nonparasites in office. But there are still a lot of them in there, and despite the advantages of an educated populace and a decent legal system left behind by the British, India is still not growing as fast as China.

India is the only case I know of where a democracy actually voted out a substantial number of parasites. By the time things get really bad, the parasites are such a large percentage of the voters that it takes a real shock to the rest of the electorate to defeat them democratically. Most countries that have gotten rid of them did so either by revolution, as in some of the eastern European countries, or military dictatorships, as in South Korea and Chile.