Liberty is the Least Restrictive Environment

When I was going through school to be a teacher, one of the key phrases that was always bandied about was Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Specifically, the language is used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As you would imagine, a child with a disability is required by law to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment, or in a classroom with their peers without disabilities, this includes giving students interpreters, aids, or other services necessary to achieve this goal. The student will be removed from the classroom of their peers without disabilities when the severity of their disability prevents the goals of IDEA and their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) from being achieved. It would seem that most educators agree with this model and state that it prepares students better for adult life and improves their socials skills, it also, more importantly, gives them a better education and presents them with higher expectations. The last two are key.

I am no longer a teacher in the traditional sense, but I do homeschool my children. Right now, we have two that are being homeschooled, but next year we will (most likely) have four, and this provides the ultimate in LREs. My wife and I are able to create IEPs for each one of our children and they are allowed to flourish. The children find topics that are exciting and important to them, and they delve into those topics on their own; my wife and I create little projects that encourage further exploration and real world application.

While I don’t always agree with the world of mainstream education, I do think this idea of LRE is a good one and should be applied generously to everyone, and by everyone, I mean every breathing being on the planet. There are a handful of reasons to employ LRE in education, but the most important are that it allows for a better education and presents students with higher expectations – the one begets the other.

How does a least restrictive environment produce higher expectations? Where do those higher expectations come from? It’s not the teacher, the teacher’s expectations for the student should remain the same regardless of the environment in which they are taught. It’s not the expectations of the other students, in fact, the other students probably have lower expectations for the disabled child. Rather, it is through self-imposed competition with their classmates. No student wants to be seen as the “dumb kid” or the “slow kid” and most students will do their best to keep up and stay within the norm.

When we apply this to the real world, it takes on a bit of the “Keeping up with the Smiths” mentality. Often we tend to live right around our means, sometimes we pull back and live a little more frugally, saving for the future, sometimes we get caught up and spend a little more than we should, but we’re often able to dial it back and get on course. There are certainly outliers – millionaires in wholly pants and stained t-shirts, and five button suit, fedora wearing, chapter 7 filing debtors – but they aren’t the norm. We all strive to fit in with those around us and adhere to the social norms in the public spheres we frequent.

The problem is, the current system of our politics is not in the vein of the Least Restrictive Environment. The State is constantly regulating everything, from how you run your business, to what shoes you have to wear on the job site, these regulations add restrictions. When we add restrictions and regulations, it makes it harder on small businesses and the individual to better their economic station.

Further, when the State hands out monies to businesses in the form of tax-breaks or assitances to the individual, we start to see restrictions being imposed. Those restrictions come in the form of a lack of competition. If I know that I can wait on the State to feed, clothe, medicate, and shelter me, I have no incentive to compete with others for a better way of life. If I know that my business is operating at a loss until the end of the year when I get a big tax-break from the State because I installed some solar panels, or I hired some minority workers, or that my business is just too big for the State to let fail, my incentive to improve starts to diminish. When I join a union, I know that every week, I will be paid a certain amount, I know that my job is fairly secure, and I am aware of the minimum amount of work I must do. I have no incentive to work harder for a raise or to work better to keep my job. I can do just enough to get by and while this may seem ideal, it lowers our expectations of ourself and with it goes some self value.

The Nanny State that is entrenched and upheld by the duopoly, the political system in the United States does not allow for the Least Restrictive Environment. There are tomes of regulations and restrictions on the individual and the business. A truly least restrictive environment in which competition can flourish and the individual can excel exist within the freemarket. If we all had to compete for jobs and paychecks we would get better at discussing contracts with bosses, we would become more efficient workers, we would have higher expectations for ourselves, because they would be attainable. We mandate teachers to teach students in the least restrictive environment so why is it any different for adults? Why do we recognize that students have higher expectations for themselves when restrictions and barriers are removed and they are forced to compete with other students? If you threw all the students into a pot, undoubtedly they would settle out and there would be striations, levels of students, some smarter, some not so smart, some would excel at auto-tech, some would excel at physical education and others at math, and it would be normal. If we threw all adults into a pot, the same striations would occur. Not every individual is cut out to be a CEO, and not every individual is cut out to be an auto-tech or a roofer, but you would have more movement. It would be easier for the roofer to go out and start his own roofing business and become a CEO, it would be easier for the beautician to start her own cosmetology school. Unfortunately, regulations create restrictions and limit this movement – usually due to licensing fees or zoning laws. In a more free world, we would all be living in our own least restrictive environments; if it’s good enough for the children, why not the adults?

 

Farming for the State

 

TL;DW

Yeah, so the audio is kind of rough. I’m working on patching that up, but if you couldn’t bear to watch and you’re curious as to what I was rambling on about, here it is in text:

I grew up in Upstate NY – four or five hours north of the city – and my wife and I lived in Vermont for a couple of years. We wanted to raise our growing family in the vicinity of our extended families, but we also wanted a little bit of land where we could raise animals and grow some vegetables. And of course we wanted one of us to stay home with the kids. Unfortunately, the high taxes and cost of land in New England made this goal all but impossible. And to be fair, we’re not the only ones feeling this pinch as many young adults are leaving the Northeast for cheaper areas around the country.

One of the issues with this high cost of living that often goes overlooked is the effect it has on farmers. Farmers may have tractors worth $100k, or expanses of rolling fields dotted with $600 milk cows, but most of what you see is leased. When the cost of living goes up, farmers, who’s products are heavily subsidized and price controlled by the State, start to feel a bit of that pinch, especially when it comes to land taxes. Yes, farmers often get a subsidy on taxes, but it still goes up. Also, consider if you’re a new farmer trying to find land to set up your operation: you don’t get a break on the price of the land, and often old tracts of land are excellent areas for development which drive the cost up. Rhode Island has been hit hard by development and has come up with a plan to combat skyrocketing land costs for future farmers, but as it turns out, it’s one of the scariest plans out there and is akin more to feudalism or communism than anything else.

In the past few years, Rhode Island’s land prices have skyrocketed. Where as farm land across the US is valued at an average of $3080 per acre, Rhode Islands are $13,800/acre: over $10k per acre. Why? Mostly just supply and demand: since 1940, Rhode Island has developed 80% of it’s farmland, so it stands to reason that as less and less developable land exists the cost will go up, no matter what it’s used for. But, what makes Rhode Island so special? Well, it’s only 37×48 miles but has 400 miles of coast line. Anywhere you live, you’re pretty close to Naragansett Bay, and anytime you’re near a desireable feature, prices go up.

Rhode Island though, ranked #7 in the country for it’s tax burden, is not cool with this influx of development and they are attempting to make an effort to encourage farmers to build new farms in the state as opposed to having them move somewhere cheaper. In fact, Rhode Island has the highest population of new farmers than any other state, but farmers can’t find affordable land. Where are all these farmers coming from? If you examine the local surroundings i.e. New England, you might get an idea: millenials throwing off the chains of the oppressive capitalist system that afforded their parents such wealth as to allow their children to purchase $150k, degrees on how to be a farmer. But I digress.

Already, the State of RI owns two farm areas – one is a 150 acre tract, the other is a 50 acre parcel. Each of these farms is divided into smaller areas and leased to local farmers who grow food for CSAs, farmers’ markets, and even community gardens. It’s not a lot of land, (Rhode Island is only about 777,000 acres) but the fact that the State is the one who owns the land and then leases it to the farmers is rather curious.

But this is where RI’s new plan comes in, and it is something we’d be better for if they just put it down. As I said, the main reason RI has become so expensive, is because it’s a great place to build a mcmansion, it’s close to the ocean and there are many old mansions from yesteryear that give the place a charming New England feel. So more often than not, when an old farm or large tract of land goes up for sale, the price tag it carries also includes the assumption that it will be developed. Well Rhode Island is going to cover the difference between the development potential value and the agricultural value for the farmers. That’s right, they’re going to buy the land for “fair market value” and then resell it to farmers for the agricultural value which is about an 80% discount. Yes, they are going to buy vacant land and then resell it at an 80% loss. A spectacular business practice only one with never ending pockets would engage in.

There is so much wrong with this. As I said, RI is already ranked #7 for tax burden, how do we all think that 80% loss is going to be covered? By taxes, and you know the State isn’t going to take it out of their existing budget, it’s going to be a new item, it’s going to cost the tax-payers even more. Congratulations Rhode Island, you’ve just made it even harder for the folks you’re trying to help.

Secondly, by removing developable land, the already high housing costs – RI’s median home cost is about $50k above average – are going to go up even more. Supply and demand, less houses means higher house prices. Again, who does this end up hurting? Not the guy who is purchasing his second home.

So all that sounds pretty stupid, but this is where it get’s really scary, the State is going to take ownership of land. They say they’re going to buy it at FMV, and sell it back to farmers as quickly as they can, but there’s no definitve timeline here, and before you know it the State will be sitting on a stockpile of vacant land that will again raise the price of land Rhode Island isn’t keen on buying.

They claim they will only buy land for sale, and never force someone to sell, but we all know how hard the state can lean on someone when they want something. And of course, we all know how well emminent domain works when it comes to compensating land owners.

They also say they’ll only hold the land as long as it takes to transfer it to another party. Again, there is no time frame! What happens when the agricultural valuation becomes too steep for farmers and the State is just sitting on land that it owns? No dobut it will create more of these land trusts in which farmers lease the land from the state. And I think we’ve all seen how that model has worked in the past.

So if you end up buying land at this discounted price, your new deed will come with a restriction that states the land must remain a farm. What does that mean? Broadly, it must continue to produce livestock or agricultural crops. So what happens if after buying land and trying this farming thing for five years, you give up and want to sell? You have to find someone who is willing to continue to produce livestock or agricultural crops, but what if you can’t? Are you stuck? Will the state step in and re-purchase the land? How easy would it be for the state to now keep this land in a continuous cycle of private individual to state ownership?

What about crony capitalism? What happens when the state starts playing favorites and decides to buy land that is garbage for development but is owned by a friend of someone in the State? Or the state decides to forgo purchasing a particular plot because a key deveoper friendly with the State wants to buy it?

Rhode Island’s plan is an absolutely, horrible idea that leaves too many questions unanswered and too much leeway for the state to accumulate land and power and favors.

If we consider this from a liberty-oriented perspective, we can see how this would work quickly and easily.

As quantity of houses declines, land prices go up and new houses are built. As prices go up, lower income households are forced out. While this may sound horrible, the fact is that as these lower income households move, job vacancies are left and eventually those low-paying jobs will demand a higher wage. Likewise, private organizations like Habitat for Humanity can step in and build houses for individuals for much lower prices (they’ve done this at least once, building a small home for a divorced single mother of two who makes ~$40k/year and selling it to her for $110k). Likewise, there may be an increase of rental units with affordable rents. The problem is when the State get’s involved and subsidizes this housing and land prices, or puts regulations on development, they create an artifical environment. The prices are controlled and as soon as you start controlling one aspect of the market, everything else follows suit.

One of the concerns cited by the state of Rhode Island is the lack of locally grown, healthy, organic produce available to it’s citizens. Once again, if this was something that was that important to the local populace, the freemarket would take care of this. Many larger farms are subsidized by the government, some farmers are paid not to produce certain crops so the crops that are produced command a particular price. There are regulations put on the way farm products can be sold. These regulations hinder the free market. A conventional dairy farmer can get about 2-3 dollars for a gallon of milk, but when they sell raw milk to locals, that price at least doubles. The same can be said of meat products, but alas, the state says no and forces farmers to demand lower prices.

And believe it or not, there are ways for individual citizens to keep undeveloped land undeveloped. My wife and I looked at purchasing some land near our family in the Great Peoples Republic of New York, and we actually found some fairly cheap land. I think it was right around 100 acres, and the list price was $110. Usually there’s something wrong with land that cheap, but I knew the area from my childhood, and there were no environmental hazards in the area that would drive the price down, and while it was a little swampy on one end, most of it was pretty nice.

So we explored further and got in touch with the real estate agent, and as it would turn out, the seller, deeming the importance of undeveloped land, put a few clauses into the deed. As it turned out there was a small public trail that cut the corner of the property and that had to be left alone, there would also be no commercial log harvesting or sale of wood products – i.e. firewood, cabinets, etc. Further, the homestead site was a designated one acre spot and this was the only area building, gardening, or animal husbandry could take place. You could still hunt and fish the land, and create small hiking trails, but there was to be no motorized traffic – atvs, tractors, snow mobiles, etc. The inability to use the trees on the lot to make cabinets for sale, or other products was a big turn off, but the real deal breaker was the one acre homestead site. In fact, I was pretty pissed. 100 acres of land, and you decide to limit the homestead area to one acre? How about five or ten acres, something a small farmer could actually utilize? I can see the desire to stop development, but these restrictions were rediculous! But guess what, it was the sellers choice. It is there property and they decided to make these covenants and the price reflected that. The seller decided that vacant, undeveloped land was of such importance they were willing to take a pay cut of epic proportions (land usually goes for $7-10k/acre in the surrounding area.) But that’s the free market. That’s a voluntarly entered contractual agreement. That’s private property rights. I may disagree with the contract, but no one is forcing me to enter into it.

Rhode Island is forcing tax payers to enter into a contract by buying land and selling it at an 80% loss to farmers with the caveat that the land will remain a farm in perpetuity. It is corrupting the free market and looking to gain the means of production. This is unacceptable.

Thanks for sticking with me. Find me on twitter @bpangie, steemit.com/@bpangie, facebook search for Liberty Minded Agrarian, or my blog www.libertymindedagrarian.com.

Now get out there and sow those seeds of liberty so we can all reap sheafs of freedom together.

Defund Gangs and Lower Gun Violence: Decriminalize Victimless Crimes

Disclaimer: It is incredibly hard to find actual statistics about gang related gun violence. This is due to the way data is collected on gang crime. From the National Gang Center: “An additional concern is the varying methods by which homicides are classified as “gang-related.” The most commonly used is the “member-based” approach, in which a homicide is classified as gang-related if the victim was and/or the perpetrator is a gang member. Some agencies also utilize a more restrictive classification method called the “motive-based” approach, which involves substantiating that the crime furthers the interests of the entire gang.” Also, consider that no politician or sheriff wants to admit they have a gang-problem, especially when it comes time for re-election.

There is no doubt gun violence in the United States is an issue. Each year tens of thousands of people are killed, wounded, or assaulted by a gun. And this number could be even higher as the number of assaults is most likely under reported. We can look at this rash of violence and say the tool is the problem or we can look at reasons why this violence happens, and try to come up with more long term solutions.

Depending on what source you use, anywhere from 13-80% of gun crime is gang related, and this number is most likely higher as gang violence is often under reported due to gang related crimes receiving “enhanced” sentences. So what does that mean? If we target gang violence, our violent gun crime stats will go down and those innocents who die in gang warfare as collateral damage will no doubt be spared. But how do we target gangs? We can continue to do as we have: create gang task forces, arrest gang members and put them in jail. The recidivism rate of gang members is around 80%, so obviously incarceration isn’t much of a deterrent, and in actuality, probably cements gang affiliation. Maybe if the task force is lucky, they will net the big fish and cut the head off of the snake. Of course, if there is anything we have learned from the drug cartels and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, it is that eliminating the leader only creates a power vacuum in which more violence occurs between members as they vie for power during restructuring and opposing groups look to capitalize on potential weaknesses. While this may be the current treatment, it probably is not the best long term option.

With “homicide associated with criminal enterprise” making up 13-80% of gun homicides, it is clear that something must be done to eradicate gangs. But what? For a minute, let us use our minds and think how else we can manage gangs. We have already seen that dismantling a gang by arresting members for the purpose of rehabilitation does not work. We have tried educating students and creating mentoring programs, and while they may have helped some teens escape gang violence, it obviously has not solved the problem.

Let’s address the risk factors. A quick google search as to the reasoning behind why children join gangs gives us a list of mostly social reasons: camaraderie, peer pressure, boredom, and poverty. The last, is where the secret ingredient to the attack on gangs lies: poverty. “But we’ve created programs to lift people out of poverty, and we still have poverty!” Yes, and they haven’t worked, at least not as well as gang revenue streams. People join gangs because they create a source of income, and often, they can be rather lucrative. Consider that as a young teen, you might get you might get paid for just putting a package behind a rock, or collecting some cash from a stranger, or maybe just hanging out on the corner, ready to sound the alarm when the authorities come rolling through.

So how do we remove the lucrativeness of gang life? Figure out how they get paid, and stop paying them. According to the FBI’s National Gang Report, “street gang activity continues to be oriented toward violent crimes, such as assault, drug trafficking, home invasions, homicide, intimidation, threats, weapons trafficking and sex trafficking.” That’s a pretty ugly list, though if we examine the categories given by the FBI, we realize that almost half of those are not actually violent in and of themselves: drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and sex trafficking. (Yes sex trafficking of those unwilling participants is violent, but the definition of sex trafficking also includes prostitution by willing participants.) And according to the FBI’s graphic of Street Gang Involvement in Criminal Activity, street level drugs sales is the runaway leader with assault a distant second. So the number one source of gang funding comes from street level drug sales, which, in reality, is a victimless crime, as is prostitution and even weapons trafficking.

Another reason law enforcement have such a hard time keeping gangs under control is due to the fact that the community often is uncooperative and this can be for a couple of factors. Certainly there is a fair bit of fear that may come from reporting on a gang that operates in your apartment building. Should it come back that you reported someone to the police, you will have just made a large number of enemies, and in some cases, maybe even signed your death warrant. There is also the fact that relationships between law enforcement officers and local minority communities is not always the best. It is no secret that the War on Drugs has been used to target minority communities; couple this with the fact that police are seen brutalizing and sometimes murdering suspects for non-violent crimes, and it is easy to see why communities become uncooperative: no one wants to be the person that makes a phone call that has an acquaintance murdered by the police, or locked in a cage for 10 years.

When we look at drugs, prostitution and illegal weapon sales, we automatically envision violence: a poorly lit, seedy hotel, with hourly rates and neon lights, a pimp forcing a woman to sell her body for money, briefcases of cash and paraphernalia. And admittedly, none of that is good. But if I were to go to the pharmacy to fill my prescription for Oxycontin, or I went down to the local sporting goods store to pick up a firearm, I am not confronted with this questionable environment, rather, this questionable environment is created out of fear and secrecy. When things are legalized there is no need for secrecy – at least not in the sense of legality – instead legalization opens these markets up to the general populace and in turn, free market regulation, driving the price down. We also must consider that when something becomes legal the risk factor that is associated with sales goes away, bringing the price of the product down even more. And with competition from providers, when John D. and the Bluebells start selling bad crank, users have the ability to go elsewhere, in turn keeping John D. honest, or driving him out of business.

If non-violent crimes are decriminalized and allowed to operate on the free market, this would have a huge impact on gang finances. It would drive the price of the service provided by a gang much lower as legal competition would arise and this would certainly make gang life less desirable. It will also cause gang related violence to drop. Gang violence almost exclusively effects members of the gangs involved, and one of the key reasons for gang violence is territory disputes – i.e. where drugs and guns can be sold, where prostitution happens, etc. When these non-violent crimes are legalized, there is essentially no need for territory: pharmacies and brothels could exist legitimately essentially anywhere. Certainly there may be some backlash from the gangs as they see their finances eroding, but this violence would not be tolerated by the communities and would eventually dissipate. Whereas before, gangs were involved in both violent and non-violent crime, now they are engaged solely in violent crime – extortion, burglary, human trafficking of the forced variety, etc. – suddenly, local communities have a reason not to tolerate gangs as they move from everyday supplier and common-man to aggressive bully.

With these non-violent crimes legalized, less individuals are separated from their families and are allowed to stay and continue to be role models for their children. 70% of gang members come from single parent households in which the father is not present. Surely, some of those father’s are absent of their own volition, but a good percentage of those fathers were likely removed by the State for a non-violent crime.

By ending the War on Drugs and other non-violent crimes, we take away a significant portion of gang income, we turn gangs from community protector and common-man to aggressive bully, and we mitigate one of the biggest gang risk factors by keeping families together. In turn, with smaller, less powerful gangs, we will see a lower level of gang violence and death.

Other References
CDC – National Vital Stastics Report
National Institute of Justice

Judges and Rights

I’m experimenting with some equipment and have been doing some vlog type stuff on dlive. (Check it out.) Anyway, I figured I’d start cross posting the videos here.

Before Trump has even nominated a Supreme Court judge, the right is saying that this individual must be pushed through at all costs while the left is claiming that this judges confirmation must be stopped at all costs. Both sides are clinging to the idea that this one person will shape the direction of this country for a generation, and while this could be problematic depending on who is actually appointed and whether or not you agree with their positions, the real issue is why does one person wield so much power? How does a panel of nine individuals have such a dramatic impact on life as we know it?

I take a look at these questions in my third vlog as I experiment with some new-ish equipment. I welcome any advice or comments be they on policy or my video speaking skills (or lack thereof.)

https://dlive.io/video/bpangie/22efe1d0-7ea5-11e8-bbe8-435b8d3c86e8

dlive won’t embed, so you have to click over.

The Urban Homesteader’s Nightmare; or How Voting is Force

Cowan Animals
Some of Lloyd Cowan’s animals. He also raises chickens for show and has had a pair of Indian Runner ducks for eight years. It is unclear what he will have to do with his animals.

Imagine you live on an urban lot just over an acre and you’ve been reading up on how to grow your own food; you’ve studied the copious numbers of urban homesteading books in your local library and joined too many online forums to remember all your login IDs. You’ve dabbled with a garden, and even raised some chickens, but want to become a little more self-sufficient. Maybe you get some bees and raise a beef cow every year for the freezer; or maybe it’s some goats or a dairy cow to make soaps and cheeses. Of course you need a small shed to house your rototiller and other garden implements, and if you live in a colder climate you are going to want a shed or small barn to house your animals in the winter months; naturally, you tuck those structures to the corners of the property, out of the way and unnoticeable. By no means are you an expert homesteader, but you are learning, so when your town votes in favor of food soverignty, you are curious at first, but when you learn that it allows farmers to sell farm products from their homes or farms without state intervention (think inspections, raw milk, etc.) you’re pretty excited.

Being allowed to sell some of your products, you decided to go in even deeper with your dairy production and start delving into meat rabbits. It is tough to turn a profit, but you are learning, and you’ve started to trade goods with the other urban homesteading ilk in town. Because you are on a smaller lot, you don’t have room to grow your own hay or other treats for your livestock, so you have built a relationship with a local farmer that get’s you a 25% discount on your hay, but you have to help on the farm two Saturday’s a month. It is work you would rather be doing on your homestead, but you have gleaned a lot of first hand knowledge and you get a monetary discount.

Now, imagine that you wake up one morning and find that 65 people in your town of 4,700 voted by raising their hands to outlaw essentially all farm animals except for hens and rabbits, and even then, you can have no more than twelve which makes keeping animals for meat a near impossibility. Your cozy barn that housed your chickens on one side and rototiller on the other that you put in the back corner has to be moved; outbuildings housing livestock or poultry within 15 feet of property lines, and 100 feet of a neighbors dwelling are now illegal. Now imagine that anyone previously homesteading on an urban lot 1.5 acres or smaller is not grandfathered into the new restrictions. All of the sudden, you have to sell your animals, the equipment you used to make cheese and yogurt has to be sold at a significantly lower price than when you first acquired it. You have lost money on equipment, you have lost income on goods you can no longer sell, and you have had to part ways with animals that you love and care for like a family pet. The farmer you were helping loses direct income and valuable labor. The local hardware store where you buy your fencing and other supplies no longer sees your business.

Now know that on June 11, 2018 this is actually what happened in the Town of Madison, Maine when the town held is annual meeting to do whatever it is that gets done at town meetings; however, at this fateful town meeting, where around 1% of the town population showed up, a vote was taken to outlaw backyard farming and a majority voted in favor by show of hands. The vote was not well publicized. There were no billboards or lawn signs sprinkled throughout the former mill town. In fact, it was not a hot topic for debate among angry neighbors caught up in farm fury. Many residents did not even know it was an issue. Resident Ann Harsh found out about the vote two days after it happened when a friend informed her of the new rules in town. Even according to the town manager, Tim Curtis the vote did not seem thought our or well planned; in fact, it is almost as if they voted on a whim. When asked how many inidividuals this new ruling would effect, he answered: “We don’t have a number. We never really went that level of detail in looking at it.”

It would seem that this new ruling counteracts the earlier decision by the town to declare itself food soverign: to allow farmers to sell goods without government meddling. Curtis, does not see it like that. In fact, he said, “We never intended to do anything anti-farming” and “It was never the Select Boards intent to hurt small farms.” It is hard to make rational sense of that statement considering that the Select Board just passed a law banning farming on lots smaller than 1.5 acres. It would seem tha the Select Board passed a rule that directly limits small farms.

At the heart of it, we have two issues, the first, private property rights. These individuals own their land, and now a publically funded government is telling them what they can and cannot do with it. If this were a private housing authority in which all memembers signed a contract before moving in, one could understand how an ordinance like this might be acceptable, but in a publically run town that is in essence owned by the tax-paying public, this is absolutely absurd, but unfortunately, not unheard of.

The second issue lies around the idea of voting. Many hardcore liberty minded folks will tell you that voting is force, and while a lot of people may scoff, this is perfect illustration of that force. A majority of 1% of the population voted in favor of something, and now a rule is being forced upon 4,700 town residents. Tell me how that is not force? On the other hand, living in the Statist Utopia that we do, this shows why voting to protect the individuals right of property and association is of great importance. The State will not dry up and go away because people don’t vote, rather they will continue to pass rulings just like this and the will of 1% will be used to dictate the lives of the other 99%.

Thanks to Lloyd Cowan for allowing me to use the picture of his animals and to Ann Harsh for giving me time out of her day to talk about the present situation in Madison.

NYS DOT: A-salting The ADKs and Its Residents

A Background On Road Maintenance and Salt

The general consensus is that the environment needs protection; that man kind, gone unchecked will destroy the natural world, use all it’s resources and be left to live on a dusty ball of rubbish. We are then led to believe that the only way to protect the environment and all it’s natural beauty – and keep humanity safe for eternity – is through regulation and laws passed down from the State. While I do think the natural world has some intrinsic value, it is not through State dictation through laws and regulations that this value be implied or protected; rather, that protection should come through private property rights.

If you are not aware, a good chunk of Northern New York is made up of the Adirondack National Park, a 6.1 million acre park that includes the Adirondack Mountain Range, over 10,000 lakes, and 30,000 miles of streams and rivers. Nearly half of the acreage is privately owned, but is under heavy restrictions placed by the Adirondack Park Agency, the other half is owned by the state. This means that there is a great infrastructure of roads running in and out of the park for both local residents and tourists looking to hike, canoe, ski, or otherwise enjoy the natural world that the park provides.

snow plow 2
A snow plow clearing roads somewhere in New York.

As you can imagine, winters in Northern New York can be rather daunting, especially the higher elevations in the mountains: there is ice, snow, steep slopes, billowing winds, curving roads, sub-zero temperatures, and, of course, people. In an attempt to melt the snow and ice and keep travelers safe, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) plasters the roads with salt. During the off seasons, the salt is stored in massive piles, most of the time in a giant dome shaped salt barn, but there are some piles that are left exposed to the elements year round.

In the 1970s, the National Wildlife Federation called out the use of salt to melt ice on roads as being potentially harmful to the environment, and as it would turn out, they were partially correct. According to Dan Kelting, an Environmental Sciences professor at Paul Smith’s College, New York State began using heavy doses of road salt in the 1980s and in the time that has passed, NYS has used over 7 million tons of salt on the road.1 The salt melts the ice, gets washed away by rain, pushed into the ditches by snow plows, and eventually finds its way into lakes, rivers, streams, and ground water, where it causes problems for both nature and humans.

Salt is a naturally occurring mineral that is often added to foods (sometimes in great quantities) to enhance flavors. It is also a necessary mineral to our basic survival as human beings; however, when too much salt is introduced to the diet, there are a number of health concerns that can rise, including: hypertension, stroke, and heart disease to name a few. Of course, no one is saying the general salt contamination in well water from salting the roads is so bad that it can cause these diseases (in some houses though, the well water is no longer potable), but individuals who suffer from hypertension – aka: high blood pressure – or who may have already suffered a heart attack or heart disease, that would need to monitor their sodium intake may unknowingly consume too much salt in their water and risk future health problems.

The Current State Monopoly Approach

The amount of salt in the ground water also causes secondary health effects. If you have lived in a place where they salt the roads, you will recall seeing a white minerally buildup on the rocker panels of your vehicle. You will also notice that once your vehicle starts to rust, it spreads quickly. This is from the salt on the roads, and why you wash your car more in the winter, than in the summer. What’s happening is that salt is a corrosive agent; it is corroding the metal parts of the vehicle and breaking them down, this same thing happens to water pipes, and unfortunately, many older pipes contain harmful substances such as lead. So when the salt water starts to corrode pipes, it also begins to release lead, and other harmful substances contained in the pipes. (This is essentially what happened in Flint, MI.) Not only does this cause secondary health effects, but it also adds undue infrastructure stress on both public and private water systems as well as any appliances that utilize the water, as parts tend to wear out sooner and need replacement earlier than expected.

While run-off may add to the salt contamination issue, the main source of salt contamination comes from the salt barns – where they store the salt. As you can imagine, a big pile of concentrated salt will slowly seep into the ground from the rain and humidity. And this is where we are today. It has happened in a few towns – notably Orleans, NY – that the salt has seeped into the ground water and has wreaked such havoc on the infrastructure that the town water systems need to be replaced.2,3 This replacing also comes with a very high price tag in the millions, sometimes exceeding $10 million.

duke
A semi exposed salt barn in Western NY, sometimes they don’t even have that plastic cover.

In a number of Northern New York towns, the state has come in and cleaned up the mess, laying down new waterlines, however, this cost is passed on to residents – both directly and indirectly – for example in Palmelia, NY, the DOT laid new pipe along route 342, but by then many homeowners had already spent thousands replacing appliances and plumbing fixtures in their own homes, and on top of that, these homeowners were required by the state to pay an additional water bill of $2500 to cover capital costs of the project.4 In the town of Orleans, where the project was estimated to cost $13 million, the town received a $100,000 grant from the state and an $11 million interest free loan, but it wasn’t enough to cover the project and residents were left with the option of covering the $1.9 million difference by adding an extra $1000 a year to their water bill. Don’t forget, the $11 million would eventually have to be paid back – by taxpayers funding the town. In the situation with Orleans, despite numerous studies tracing salt concentrations back to the salt barn, the DOT does not claim responsibility for the contamination. This is not the first, nor will it be the last time this happens, but par the course, State led pollution is usually kept quiet and the State seldom takes responsibility. In the case of many towns in Northern New York, even when officials have accepted blame for contamination, officials have gone so far as to say that the contamination of a private well is a problem for the well owner, not the State.

To make this even more disturbing, consider where the funding for the $11 million interest free loan and the $100,000 state grant came from: the tax payers of New York. And don’t forget, NYS DOT receives federal funds ear marked for particular projects, so essentially, the loan money, and the grant money are coming from every single tax payer in the country.

dot plow
Many studies claim the NYS DOT is responsible for well water contamination, not the DOT though!

It seems a bit convoluted, but broken down it goes like this:

A State run monopoly with required membership enforced by the State, and funded by tax-payers creates an environmental health problem. The State run monopoly then loans tax-payers their own money to fix the problem. It then forces residents to pay an extra fee for the new work.

There is no winning when you sue a tax-payer funded organization, you are in essence suing yourself.

A More Minarchist Approach

If we look to the free market and more liberty-centered solutions we will find that there are a few different options we can follow. The first is just smaller government. The NYS DOT is a state wide organization. They consider all state highways their jurisdiction and treat them accordingly. When we examine the facts, however, most of the small towns in the Adirondack park don’t actually use salt. Instead they use sand. Now sand doesn’t clear the roads down to pavement, but it also doesn’t effect the water table as drastically. (It may cause some siltation in rivers and streams, but that seems the lesser of two evils when compared to salinization.) Local towns also use sand instead of salt, because it is cheaper and they don’t have the massive tax base that New York State does. In fact, New York State uses 2.5 times more salt on the roads than local municipalities do.5

When a small town creates an environment of toxicity for both private individuals and businesses, it is easy enough to pick up and move locations, but remain in close proximity to jobs, family, and friends. The State has very little vested interest in where their citizens go as a move out of state is much less likely than a move from one town to another (moves within the same country are twice as likely as moves between counties, let alone States.6) Consider the economics of a person moving from a town of 200 versus a state of 20 million; just based on a percentage of tax-base alone, a person is much more valuable to a small town than the state, likewise the incentive of a small town to keep citizens is much higher than that of the state.

Snow Beet
Beet juice – the liquid left over after the sugar has been removed from beets – is one alternative to road salt. Imagine how many other alternatives might exist if there was a bit more incentive.

A Slightly More Anarchistic Approach

We can also look at this from a more drastic lens and consider that the roads be privatized. It sounds scary, but it makes sense, and it keeps everyone healthier. If the roads were privatized, and owned by a third party, it would be up to the third-party to keep the roads clean. Undoubtedly, they would want to keep their roads clean of snow and ice to ensure safe travel and happy customers. In order to do so, they could utilize the current State model and use copious amounts of salt, but as we’ve seen in many instances above, salt gets into the ground water and contaminates wells. Unlike the State, which has unlimited funds to repair damage, a third-party’s resources are limited. There are many examples of private corporations being held responsible for environmental pollution, when GE contaminated the Hudson, they were forced to pay for clean up, a third-party that owned the roads and subsequently contaminated the ground water would be held responsible for clean up and rectification. Restaurants and businesses that couldn’t afford to constantly replace appliances and in turn left towns in Northern New York, could recoup costs from the third-party responsible for the contamination, stay in their local residence and continue to build the economy. A third-party would know this and out of necessity, go out of their way not to contaminate their surroundings and would either come up with a better way to store the salt, or they would come up with another way to clean the roads.

A third-party would also be solely responsible for storing the salt. In some towns, residents did not want to build covered salt barns, surely an uncovered mound of salt will contaminate more ground water than a roofed salt barn, but as it was a publicly run entity, the residents made the choice to leave the salt uncovered. If a private entity was responsible for containing the salt, the public would have no choice in how it was stored and, in looking out for their best interest, the private entity would cover the salt.

The difference between the State and private corporation is competition. The State has no competition, and there is no limit to their funds. When they damage private property, they are seldom held accountable and when they are held accountable, the damage costs are just another line item on next years budget that every tax-payer will have to answer for, this is not the case for a private corporation. Rather, quite the opposite. Private corporations funds are limited by their resources. Imagine how shareholders would react if a company kept going over budget every year and just increased product pricing in an attempt to cover the difference. That company wouldn’t last very long. The State also has a monopoly on competition. Sure, there are elections every few years, but in 2016 “when voters cast ballots for state representatives [last fall], millions of Americans essentially had no choice: In 42 percent of all such elections, candidates faced no major party opponents.”7 This lack of competition does not exist in the private sector, as soon as another company sees an opportunity to step in and make some money, they will and the competition can drive prices down and increase quality of goods and services. It is shameful that residents of Northern New York do not have the ability to make these choices to help keep their lives safer and the environment healthier, and it is even more shameful that it seems a fairly standard practice that State level politicians would suggest contamination on their behalf is the responsibility of the private property owner.

References and Credits

1,5Study: Road salt has contaminated wells, lakes, streams in Adirondacks
2Frustrated with inaction, Orleans will try to hold DOT accountable for salt contamination
3The problem with salt: Road salt contamination a plague across the state
4Pamelia residents close to DOT salt shed experience water contamination problems like Orleans’
6Geographical Mobility: 2015 to 2016
7 Democracy With No Choices, Many Candidates Run Unopposed
Photo 1: Road salt pollutes drinking water wells in suburban New York State
Photo 2:The Duke Company
Photo 3: DOT Snow Plow
Photo 4: Experimenting With Beet Juice

Caribou Slaughter in Alaska!

No doubt by the title of this blog, you will recognize that I try to think in terms of liberty, so this next statement probably goes without saying. (The fact that I need to say it speaks volumes.) I have very little love for Trump, he has accomplished some things that have been beneficial for liberty, but he has also done his share of things that have not been so good for liberty. You also might note from the title of this blog that I am attempting to live a rural lifestyle and have a profound love and respect for the natural world. Also, my environmental studies degree indoctrinated me into believing that we need the State to protect the natural world. When this article surfaced, a part of me booed Trump and shouted, “we need the State to protect the cuddly-wuddlies!” (I mean look at those little bear cubs!) Of course, I pushed down the knee jerk reaction and started to think with my liberty-oriented brain and I asked myself the question: “How are these deregulations better for the environment than an over oppressive nanny-state dictating legislation from the other side of the country?” Well, here is my take:

The article outlines some seemingly egregious hunting laws that the new regulations would roll back, for example: you could shoot a swimming caribou from your boat, you could bait a bear with bacon or donuts, you could kill coyotes or wolves in their dens. Yes, this seems outrageous and the initial emotional reaction is “you barbarians,” but consider that much of the National Preserve land used to belong to the native inhabitants and many native tribes still use the natural resources found in the wild to provide essentials throughout the year. Well, when you start depending on the environment to provide for you, the whole “by any means necessary” idea takes on a whole new level of seriousness; food in the freezer is food in the freezer, no matter how

Alaska-national-parks-map
National Parks in Alaska

it is gotten. It may seem that these laws have been put in place to protect predators and to prevent local residents from eradicating populations of unwanted carnivores, in turn, increasing populations of omnivores and herbivores (more traditional game animals), but know that it wasn’t until 1980 that Jimmy Carter actually designated these lands as National Preserve lands, and it wasn’t until 2015 that Obama passed the laws that the Trump administration is trying to repeal. If hunting practices were so awful, populations would have died off long ago, and as far as I know, wild populations (aside from polar bears) seem to be doing well enough.

To go further, consider that you are a native Alaskan, and your family for as far back as your stories go, has harvested caribou, bears, or wolves for sustenance, clothing or preventative defense. These stories have most likely set a stage of respect and thankfulness. When you rely directly on the natural world to provide virtually every essential belonging for life, you recognize that over harvesting the caribou population is a very bad idea. You would also learn that predators cull the weak and sick members of a herd, and without those predators, the herds population will boom and along with it, sickness and disease, eventually leading to a collapse of the herd size and, in turn, a lean harvest. You would learn better than any textbook could teach how the ecosystem is related.

Essentially, this is just saying that federal laws, created some 4000 miles from a place they are specifically written for, probably aren’t necessary. In fact, Alaska has localized hunting laws based on the geographic region within the state. These localized restrictions are put into place by local biologists and local communities who have a much better understanding of the ecosystems and environmental impacts of particular animal populations than some vegan bureaucrat in Washington trying to save the environment and gain a few votes. Also, know that when you have two abutting geographic areas with distinctly different laws, but no clear demarcation, it is easy to end up on the wrong side of a border, quickly becoming an outlaw.

So Trump rolled these federal laws back. He gave the power back to the state, back to the local populations, and is allowing them to make informed decisions over something that will effect them directly, it does not seem so bad now.

Addendum: This does not attempt to discuss the issue of public land versus private land, rather I just wanted to look briefly at the direct impact of rolling back some federal regulations enforced on the local level.