Debt reduction via a police state

As the Federal debt started exploding a few years ago I tried to look ahead and figure out what would happen. Lots of bad things of course, but one potential outcome, as I mentioned in a blog post a few days ago, was that a new wave of politicians would get elected and scrap most or all of the nanny state agencies to cut expenses. Sort of “every cloud has a silver lining” kind of thing.

I should know better than to think any government operation could have a “silver lining”.

What I had never considered, not even in my most pessimistic moments was that the Feds would find a way to turn the crisis into a way to further expand their control. Instead of control weakening as funding became harder to get there is a path whereby funding is obtained by increasing control. Sure, I know about the war on drugs and confiscating property “involved” in a drug crime being used to fund law enforcement. But this is much, much worse.

I recently had a reliable source tell me the EPA, OSHA, and other regulatory agencies have been told to explore how they can supply their own revenue such that they become self supporting. “Run like a business” and even potentially make a profit. My source explicitly called out the EPA and OSHA but one can easily imagine how this mandate will be extended to the ATF and hundreds of other government organizations.

If the color didn’t just drain out of your face and you nearly fainted you either don’t have a very good imagination or you have a government job.

The only way these regulators can “make” money is through fines and confiscation of property. One of the examples given to me was of dust production in a particular type of facility of which there are thousands all across the country. I’ll not name them to avoid giving the Feds easy targets but these facilities have existed for many decades and are an essential part of our infrastructure. The regulations say that if more than 0.125” of dust builds up on the interior surfaces of the buildings they must be cleaned or else they can be fined. The problem is that no one knows of a fix for the problem. It would take 7 to 8 hours to clean a facility. It’s a problem similar to the classic “If one man can dig a post hole in two minutes how many minutes would it take two men to dig a post hole?” It just can’t be done in less than 7 to 8 hours. Once the facility goes back into production the dust will exceed spec in about 30 minutes. Obviously a facility that is in maintenance mode 15 times as much as it is in production mode is not viable. So maybe they could just pay the fine and figure that is “just the cost of doing business”. That doesn’t work either.

If the Feds come back a week later and they are out of spec the fine can be doubled. And doubled again the next week (or day) if they are still in production. Basically it amounts to after the first fine the operator will have to shutdown the facility or find a permanent fix to the dust problem—and no such solution exists. Dust, in many situations, cannot be significantly reduced.

Numerous other examples were given to me of extremely low-hanging fruit that the Feds can “harvest” at will if they only know where to look. This type of problem exists essentially everywhere. It’s Huffman’s rule of firearms law on a massive scale applied to nearly every industry and every person (remember Three Felonies a Day?). That is how they can generate revenue, “become profitable”, and our country becomes a police state.

14 thoughts on “Debt reduction via a police state

  1. It’s still confiscation, but I think the more likely scenario would be for these agencies to start charging for their unwanted services. Watch the price of an FFL or your explosives license to climb. See the BATFE start to charge you for their inspection visits.

    Think of how your local building department charges you for every little inspection, filing, or other service, and I think you’re likely to see a similar model coming from the feds.

  2. This is old news. Clinton issued edicts telling all his agencies that they were to become self-sufficient by collecting fines and confiscating property and the raising of all licensing fees. That’s why an FFL license that used to cost $25 jumped to $200. Lawsuits were filed and some were won, but FFL’s stayed at $200. Clinton’s administration also got the largest tax increase in our history passed. He just loved screwing everyone in every way.

  3. Historically, business have handled that situation by having the Federal Inspector disappear sometime between leaving his office to go inspect them and when he was scheduled to return, never to be heard from again. You would think that they would consider that eventuality before they implement the plan, but they take incompetence to a new level.

  4. If they do that, expect a massive, concerted mobilization from everyone to pressure their congressmen to kill them off. Unless, as may well be the case, these changes are instituted gradually.

  5. @Defens, I could see that happening but it requires legislative action. I think that is less likely because it requires buy-in from a lot of people. The fines can be imposed with virtually no debate and the victim can only fight it in court with very little chance of success. They are the low hanging fruit. They are “guilty” of being in violation.

    @Robb, IIRC the FFL license rate increase was implemented by legislative action, not regulatory agency action on their own.

  6. I occassionally wonder where the limit to this type of intrusion lies. If the government fines a company to the point where they go out of business, that’s one less company they can tax and fine. It seems to me that there’s some practical limit to how much money a government can squeeze out of its people before things start to fail and revenue starts to fall. It also seems that this administration is trying to find that limit, if not exceed it.

    Of course, the limit the government should be seeking is how little revenue they can extract from the American people and still fulfill their enumerated responsibilities.

  7. @JMD, It’s a continuum. Not a threshold.

    Things start “failing” at infinitesimally small intrusions. Demanding a minimum wage and requiring income withholding discourage businesses. Look at the economy in high intrusion states like California and New Jersey to see the effects more clearly.

  8. “I occassionally wonder where the limit to this type of intrusion lies.”

    You wonder, do you? I don’t. We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? I don’t know if you’re being intentionally coy, or if you’re forgetting all you know about world history as part of an internal self protection system you have going.

  9. I’d agree with the person who said most will start charging for services. It’s a lot easier to tack on automatic fees than it is to go out and fine someone or confiscate something of value.

    There are already special taxes on tobacco and alcohol. How hard would it be to put a special tax on bullets and gunpowder?

  10. Ubu,

    there already are. That and the taxes on new gun purchases are where most of the money for wildlife conservation comes from in this country.

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