With the Stroke of a Pen
Written by Winter Trabex.
The economic situation in Venezuela has been dire for some time now. Every day, a new report surfaces of what the country has run out of: toilet paper, tampons, gasoline, and all kinds of food. Throughout the expanding crisis, the country’s police force has largely remained stolidly on the side of the government regardless of what is actually occurring. If the government did not have a scapegoat to force all their troubles (real and perceived) onto, it is likely that this would not be the case. However, while tyrannical governments are not good at a great many things, they have always excelled at finding people to blame.
In Maduro’s Venezuela, the businessman is to blame. For a person who thinks with their emotions, this may seem like a logical conclusion. The businessman is rich. He owns more than the average person. He commands a labor force who is dependent upon his money in order to survive. Even when times are good, he is vilified even while the goods and services he brings to the marketplace are celebrated. Socialists like Maduro are incapable of understanding that without the self-interest of businessmen and day laborers, those goods and services would not be brought into the economy.
As a result, he promises that he will forcibly confiscate all the factories that have shut down during the crisis. He promises to hand those factories over to the workers. How they will know what to do with their new enterprises is not entirely clear. It as if all the baseball players in the world have gone on strike and have been replaced with golf players. The golf players might be enthusiastic enough. It may even be believed they have a right to play baseball. But without the experience, much less the internal motivation to play, it seems doubtful that golfer Tiger Woods will prove himself to be as good as Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
Something like this actually did happen once. At the height of his fame as a basketball player, Michael Jordan had done everything there was to do. He had won more championship rings than he could put on one hand. He was a perennial all star and MVP. He was the face of the NBA. But that wasn’t good enough. He wanted to try something new. He wanted to try playing baseball.
He signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox. He struggled to hit the ball consistently. He committed errors in the outfield. He didn’t hit many home runs. He didn’t do much of anything except steal bases. In part due to his own struggles and in part due to the ongoing baseball strike of 1995, Jordan returned to basketball. He would play seven more years (with another short retirement mixed in) until 2003.
Just as Michael Jordan struggled in his new job, so too will the Venezuelan workers struggle in their new jobs as factory owners. It does not matter if they were excellent workers. It does not matter if they were all-stars within the company. There is a level of difference between one job and the other. Typically, businesses like to either mold and shape new members of management or else hire someone from the outside who already has experience leading people. No successful company in the world will ever hire a manager who doesn’t know what they are doing.
If President Obama has his way, that’s exactly what will happen in America. Recently, the Department of Labor has declared that people who work overtime must be paid time and a half. It sounds simple, right? Not if you’re a salaried employee whose overtime is volunteer time (regardless of how mandatory it is). Not if you’re an employee of a startup company who has agreed to be paid less than you’re worth in exchange for getting in on the ground floor of a business that will one day be far more successful than it is today. The rules are especially complicated for freelance workers who work from a mobile office. Many of those jobs aren’t calculated on an hourly basis but rather upon how much work gets done.
The Department of Labor’s website extols these new laws as “protecting the middle class.” As is often the case with governmental policies, the opposite appears to be true. Businesses will be less inclined to give people overtime than they were before. Salaried positions will be harder to come by- if they can even be had at all. Some companies will choose to hire businesses through freelancing websites. This is already the case for most of the world’s programmers, web designers, and content creators.
For the person who works as a medical claims analyst, for example, the situation could not be more grim. Such businesses often experience an overflow of work. People have to come in on Saturdays to clear out the extra workload. Getting caught up is a dream which almost never comes to fruition. Working from behind is the normal operating procedure. This is even more true of tax officers, paralegals, EMTs, and nurses- among others.
The DOL’s new law says that if someone wants to volunteer their time in order to get ahead with a business by way of making themselves invaluable on the weekends, they can no longer do so without being paid. For all intents and purposes, Obama’s administration is saying that weekends are not meant for working professionals- despite all evidence to the contrary.
Like Maduro, Obama blames rich (and non-rich) business owners for what he describes as abuses against the American worker. Accordingly, he uses one of only two tools he has available to him: a mandate. A mandate says that someone must do something. A ban, the government’s other favorite tool, says that someone cannot something. Neither way of operating presumes that the individual is competent and capable enough to make their own decisions.
The view from the White House is a distorted one. Rather than a nation of vibrant and active citizens, Obama- and other politicians like him the world over- see only exploiters and victims. Voluntary agreements are perceived as arrangements made by compulsion. Profit for one is viewed as loss for another. There is nothing so good in this world that an executive authority cannot see it as inherently bad.
The rules and regulations that follow from such an executive develop into a pattern. Happiness is not allowed. Prosperity is objectionable. The man who thrives has a responsibility to help the man who suffers. Poverty is extolled as a virtue while independence is demonized as a vice of the selfish, arrogant people. Obedience is preferable over disobedience. In the fictional centrally-planned world the executive authority prefers to believe in, anyone other than himself is an unthinking mass of flesh, bones, and blood without a thinking mind or a beating heart. A tyrant does not perceive his subjects to be human.
Thus it occurs that every law, rule, regulation, and recommendation from the government serves to strip away a person’s individual liberties. It is impossible for an executive authority to say, “go do what you want.” That would be the opposite of his stated purpose of coming into office in the first place. The mystical change that a politician promises must be met in order for that politician to stay in office. No one running on a platform of, “let’s just sit back and see how things work out,” would ever get elected. The political arena is one in which some evil or other must always be vanquished. It is not a place where people can just sit back and watch the clock until quitting time comes around. The voting public- those few of whom actually have any influence on elections anymore- would immediately label this behavior lazy. Representation is supposed to be active and ardent. It is not supposed to be indolent.
In fact, it would be far better if all politicians everywhere in the world did nothing. If no laws were passed or amended, if no backroom deals were cut, if no handshakes were exchanged at cocktail parties, the world would be far better off. Businesses would eventually find ways around the current restrictions under which they struggle. The world’s various economies would recover in a short amount of time. Recessions and depressions would be things of the past. That we have economies collapsing and on the verge of collapse is a testament to just how insidious government regulation truly is.
For a time, it was thought that the most dangerous implement in the world was a sword. Then, in 1839, English author Edward Butler-Lytton coined the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He lived in a world in which technological advancement was making it unnecessary for nations to plunder each other under the aegis of war. Today, it appears that the pen is mightier than a nuclear warhead. In the correct hand, it can compel millions of people to act or not act in a certain manner. It can shape the fates of entire nations, for good or ill. It can strip away a lifetime’s worth of savings at a single stroke. It can send people to prison on a whim. The power of the pen in the hands of a tyrant has unlimited power- so long as people obey what is written.
The good news to be found amidst the American government’s latest anti-prosperity law is that people can choose to disobey. After all, a law is nothing more than a piece of paper and the enforcement officers who use guns to see it carried out. People can pay each other whatever they want provided that they can get around the current laws in place. This is why lobbyists exist: some businesses would like to have loopholes for themselves so that they can get around observing laws that everyone else is expected to follow. Others simply refuse. They take part in the gig economy, or they work under the table.
Once the DOL’s law comes into effect in December of 2016, there will be more of these people all across the country. Making an honest living will become slightly more dangerous than it was before. Those who can be agile and adapt will find opportunities waiting for them. Those who cannot adapt will lose business, or go out of business completely.
Through all of this, it does not yet appear that any government- whether Venezuelan or American or any other- realizes that the continued operation of government itself relies on taxable income from the very businesses they are trying to ruin in the name of the greater good. They are, by their very natures, self-destructive to the point of insanity. What is good for them is bad for everyone else. This is an axiomatic truth which can be proven time and time again, but which few actually believe.
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