More Freedom, Please!
This past Sunday, Russian journalist Oleg Kashin wrote in the New York Times about just how abusive the Russian government can be. Kashin was beaten with steel rods on the night of Nov. 6, likely because of his intrepid work to uncover government wrongdoing. In his op-ed, Kashin lists several theories for why he may have been beaten. Most disturbing, he concludes, is the following:
What strikes me about the theories is that, in each case, the ultimate perpetrator is the state. And for some reason that seems acceptable to most Russians: practically no one here has questioned the right of the state to resort to extra-legal violence to maintain power, even against journalists.
What amazed me about Kashin’s story was the possibility that he had been beaten for writing something that in America seems unimportant to the point of boring: A proposed highway that city residents oppose but local authorities want. Show-Me Daily authors frequently blog about transportation boondoggles because there’s so much material. We get excited if commenters even bother to respond, and when we go home at night, we don’t bother to check under our cars for stray wires.
Chess champion Garry Kasparov, at a recent Show-Me Institute lecture, spoke about how he has spoken out strongly against government tyranny in Russia in recent years. Stories like his and Kashin’s make me thankful that, despite all of the waste and favoritism in Missouri, at least I, my coworkers, and anyone else can write about it.
But I shouldn’t get too warm and fuzzy about how great it is that bloggers and policy analysts aren’t beaten for criticizing Missouri government. There have been recent cases when the politically powerful have worked either to quash the rights of those who aren’t so well connected to government power, or simply used the system to their own benefit.
- In late November 2009, Gustavo Rendon, an anti–eminent domain activist, was arrested for distributing flyers critical of a development project heavily subsidized by the government. Perhaps it is a coincidence that he happened to be distributing those flyers outside the church of Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin, a staunch supporter of the project.
- In February 2010, the Columbia Police Department’s SWAT officers kicked down Jonathon Whitworth’s door, held him, his wife, and seven-year-old son at gunpoint, and shot two of his dogs, killing one, and leaving the other, a corgi, wounded. This was all on the suspicion (unfounded) that Whitworth “was dealing a significant amount of marijuana.” Fortunately, the incident has prompted an investigation and review of the police department’s practices.
- Because Missouri still severely limits where a child can go to school, students at failing school districts are being prohibited from transferring to better districts. As discussed in the documentary Waiting for “Superman,” some schools have student dropout rates of greater than 50 percent. It is atrocious that a lack of educational choice (charter schools, voucher programs) can limit students to these “dropout factories.”
- In September, the state auditor reported that the Department of Economic Development (DED), which awards hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits each year, was inflating estimates of the economic investment that would come about if tax credits were awarded. In one case, the DED reported a number 10 times too high.
- Occupational licensing, whereby the government limits who can do what for a living, generally allows a small group of people who stand to benefit greatly (those already in a particular industry) to limit future competition. This year, HVAC contractors were hit with increased licensing requirements.
I hope that 2011 will be a better year for Missouri government. I hope legislators will come to know that it really isn’t their job to tell people what to wear, do, say, or how to work. And if they don’t learn, I and the super-awesome champions of government restraint that are my coworkers will continue to point that out.