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Roman Government at WorkThe term Unlimited Democracies was coined by the science fiction author Robert Heinlein in the book Starship Troopers. It may have been created by somebody else before him, but we don't know. We choose to believe that good science fiction predates actual life; but we digress.

In the book, Heinlein makes the argument that democracies where people at the top are not personally responsible for their actions, do not work. They are unlimited because there is no functioning limit to what politicians may or may not do. This can be translated as money is no object (your money, of course) and politicians choose not to make economic calculations (same as communists; see Communists Can't Count). This is one of the basic reasons why we are Absolute Austro-Libertarians. There simply is no practical way to make sure politicians are personally responsible for their actions. Cast away your notions of law and order and take a look at reality. Law and order is what politicians say they are and nothing more.

An example of just how this works is provided by the German newspaper Der Spiegel in the article "The Downfall of Rome: Can a New Mayor Stop the City's Decline?"

This article highlights the decline of Rome and how its new mayor will attempt to solve the problem. The article is the typical horror story piece of journalism that is about 80% emotion and 20% raw information. And the analysis? Nowhere to be found, thank you very much.

Fair enough, we will do it then.

THE PROBLEM

Rome, as a city, is in decline. Coffers are empty. Debts are mounting. Taxes are high and getting higher. There is a fair amount of petty thieves, scammers and street vendors scrapping to make a living; yet, not an overwhelming amount.

But the contradiction that cannot be avoided is the fact that Rome is one of the tourist magnet cities in the world (12 million last year alone). The tourist industry is massive. The revenues from this industry are also massive (8 billion EUR per year in profits). By all accounts, Rome and its citizens should be living an easy life. Yet, nothing of the sorts occurs. How is this possible?

The answer? Government.

THE ISSUES

In order to fully understand why the Government of Rome is to be blamed, we will analyze a few issues contrasting their point of view with ours (and reality).

The rescuer of last resort

One of the typical characteristics of politicians (almost to the point of being a cliché) is that they always expect the government to bail them out when "everything else fails". The article stated that:

"Rome was on the verge of bankruptcy and the mayor said the only way to possibly rescue the city would be for the national government to jump in with emergency aid to the tune of €600 million ($829 million) within 24 hours"

The mayor got the money. And who will pay? All Italians; yes, mostly those who do not live in Rome and have absolutely nothing to do with Rome. Who will benefit? Romans. In other words, strangers pay, locals benefit. The Hood Robin principle at work. Why steal from locals with shallow pockets if they can steal from everybody else with shallower pockets?

And what is this "everything else fails" that politicians always talk about? On the surface it is higher taxes in combination with higher spending. But the problem is not that there aren't enough taxes being collected; the problem is that politicians are trapped. Politicians must keep spending to keep their jobs. This means prolonging the impossibility of performing any economic calculation. This means that, as usual, revenues rise to match expenditures and when this is not possible, there is always a bail out at hand.

When was the last time that you heard a politician speaking about the financial viability of a city in any context? If you know of any such occasion, please let us know. Exceptions (if they exist) are rarer than natural red diamonds.

Politicians are always looking for the "political" solution, not the financially viable one. What a surprise.

The metro

Since Rome is expecting an avalanche of tourists to attend the canonization of two popes, Romans will be "able to dream of living in a truly European city" because the metro will temporarily operate at night. So, Roman's dream is for the metro to run at night. OK. And who exactly will pay for this? Operating a metro is notoriously expensive and metros throughout the world are typically built for political, not financial reasons. Trolleys or streetcars are much, much cheaper and equally efficient, but they are uglier. This means that from the start, metros are usually not financially viable. To this, public pressure adds ludicrous demands in the form of ridiculous levels of service, making most metros money pits. This is the direct result of about two generations worth of brainwashing. People are completely disconnected from reality. The government (not us) will pay; this is so because "we deserve it". Right!

Caput mundi

Rome, the Capital of the World, has lost its splendor. It would seem that artisan shops are being replaced by fast food restaurants and bed & breakfast establishments. The airport is old, there are crooked cab drivers, swindlers and the streets are full of potholes. Rome is losing its splendor and "something must be done". Interestingly enough, all the complaining people are those with old romantic views while new shop owners, those actually making money and paying taxes, are not. And so we are again confronted with the long term effects of brainwashing. Money is no object as long as we don't have to pay. Fulfill our dream in your property and, if you refuse, we will send people with badges and guns to force you. We are doing so for everybody's benefit (just not yours). The question is always the same. Economic calculations cannot be performed based on vague and un-quantifiable properties such as splendor. What exactly is the cost of splendor and who will pay for it? Furthermore, if there is no monetary gain, why should there even be splendor in Rome? Those who speak about Rome being a world treasure that must be preserved at all costs (your cost, that is) should be prepared to do the same. Yet, we don't see droves of Romans selling their properties and donating their time to return Rome to its previous splendor. Do as I say, not as I do. Sounds familiar?

Radical reforms

Due to this critical economic emergency, "something must be done". The first thing that must happen is for people to recover "public spaces" that are now filled with homeless people and drug addicts. Then, we have all those people scraping a living through the "illegal, black economy" of posing with tourists or selling discount glasses, without paying taxes! The horror! Let's be clear. The former group is a direct consequence of the financial decline of the city and the useless ultra-expensive "war on drugs". The second group is nothing more than entrepreneurs satisfying customer's needs. What's worse, getting rid of them is costly; they need to send the police. And according to the article, who is to blame? Well those two groups for not paying taxes! So… the reason for the existence of un-desirables is because the un-desirables do not pay taxes. Got it. So, the solution is to have un-desirables so long as they are invisible and pay taxes. Fantastic!

Similarly we have the problem of a filthy Tiber River shore and a Romanian tent camp in an UNESCO World Heritage site. So… the problem is that some penniless people are filthier than the middle class and that Romanian émigrés are seeking a better life. And, of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that all of those people would rather have jobs that can't get. Of course! They are doing so because they are evil. They are doing it on purpose to create lawlessness and generally piss-off Romans.

Well… not quite. It would seem to be the root of the problem is not lack of wealth, but lack of "civil sensibility". Got it. It's not that people are dirt poor and barely scrapping to survive, it is that they are not civility-minded. Of course! How stupid of us not to realize this fact!

Unsafe

The Museum of Roman Civilization it's been closed for a while due to "security deficiencies" and there were some violent outbursts in the city's Trastevere nigh club areas.

We Half To Half Kontrol! Achtung! Send the police! Send the military! (no, we are not joking; this is a real proposal) since the situation "is out of control" and there is not enough budget (there is only funding for daycare, nursing homes and handicapped care until May).

So politicians spent money on vote purchases (daycare and nursing homes are always popular with female voters) and not enough on police. They made this choice to keep their jobs. Result? Unbalanced allocation of resources. Inefficiency. If Romans would not be paying taxes, people would automatically pay for the services they deem more necessary. Where there is violence, more money would be allocated to private security. For those in need of daycares and nursing homes, more money would be allocated to them. Each person would determine their own priorities and the whole situation would balance out automatically. People would determine how much they value their security over daycares and vice versa, not the government. But no. This is certainly not possible in the land of political well-being.

Financial debacle

The mayor also complains that the city is full of potholes, a failing school system, dramatically rising poverty and a debt of 14 billion EUR, some of it left from the 1960 Summer Olympic Games!

He declared the center of Rome a car-free zone and plans to hire homeless as unskilled workers at local libraries (we are not making this stuff up, seriously!). But that's OK, because he is free to make "unpopular decisions". One of those decisions is what to do with Atac and Arma (city-owned waste disposal and public transportation) which have 3 billion EUR in debt and an employee absenteeism of 18 %. Both companies are inefficient, ineffective and hopelessly broken. But that's OK. Help is on the way. A new tax raise looms in the horizon to the tune of 1 billion EUR.

Never mind that the most juicy food and beverage licenses go to "friends" of politicians. But that's OK. The mayor says that this has to stop.… as he discusses "smart city" ideas in Madrid and bike-sharing in Paris. Got it. But that's OK. A new tax of 10 EUR per overnight stay will be levied.

Do you notice the problem? The solutions are always the same. Eclectic (i.e. random) and irrelevant measures coupled with higher taxes and promises of better administration, while ignoring the debt. Meanwhile, the show must go on. This is indeed much ado about nothing.

The real solution

The real solution is, of course, the only solution that won't be taken. Privatize everything. Cancel all taxes. Sell everything and then declare bankruptcy. The city, having no properties, becomes judgment proof. Presto! Suddenly the standards of living of all Romans jump upwards significantly while all debt is erased. Suddenly, there is an owner for everything and they will take care of their properties. And then, declare Rome a free city, as in government-free.

But of course, this will never happen. Not even the most basic and simple steps. What will happen is more of the same with a few variations in the theme. The mayor is threatening with selling all city-owned (so-called) business and perhaps even a few metro stations. Rest assured, this will never happen; at least not at this scale. Some city properties may indeed be sold, but the money will be wasted, as usual.

It is ridiculous to pretend that one person is wiser than 2.75 million Romans, yet, this is the standard democratic assumption.

The real issue

The real problem is, again, that people have been brainwashed into believing that a government is something separated from reality holding an endless supply of wealth. They have been brainwashed into believing that governments are the sources of all solutions. They have been sold the "ethics" of paying taxes and the "justice" of the legal system. For the Romans, this is the end result of such foolish beliefs. Who promised free schools, free roads, free public properties, near-free transportation, near-free daycares and a million of other "free" or "near-free" goods and services? Politicians. Did politicians perform a real economic calculation to see if they could afford them? No. There is no free lunch. Even politicians can't escape this economic rule.

CONCLUSION

Unlimited democracies deliver as promised: unlimited chaos. This is not a surprise at all. What is a surprise is that so many people are still surprised about this fact. But that's OK, there is a bail out coming you (politician's) way.

Believe it or not but sadly enough, this is not a joke.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

 

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