January 15, 2013

"What sort of people were these? What were they talking about? What office did they belong to? K. was living in a free country, after all..."

"... everywhere was at peace, all laws were decent and were upheld, who was it who dared accost him in his own home?"

A Kafka quote begins Roger Kimball's op-ed "This Metamorphosis Will Require a Permit/Sandy wrecked our house, but bureaucrats are keeping it broken."

Kimball also quotes Hayek:
[T]he power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbor and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionnaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work.
And Tocqueville:
"[A] network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules"... reduces citizens "to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd."
Books:
Franz Kafka, "The Trial"
F.A. Hayek, "The Road to Serfdom"
Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America"
Roger Kimball, "The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia"

57 comments:

Seeing Red said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seeing Red said...

IF they're not careful, they might find their house KELO'd.

The mischief that ruling could cause after a natural disaster.

roesch/voltaire said...

Interesting that he never mentions national flood insurance that enabled him to build in a flood prone area. It is time we tax payers stop subsidizing these affluent home owners and let them try to find private insurance to build in these areas.-- and good luck with that.

Seeing Red said...

Like CA building on the side of mountains.

traditionalguy said...

Submitting to our Government as a mafia theft ring is commonly called The Chicago Way.

But its victims can rest easy in knowing that they will never be called red neck free men from those crazy Southern States.

It's a trade off.

Nonapod said...

Yet it wasn't until the workmen we hired had ripped apart most of the first floor that the phrase "building permit" first wafted past us. Turns out we needed one. "What, to repair our own house we need a building permit?"

Gotta love contractors, rip a bunch of shit apart before you inform the customer of the situation.

EDH said...

The level of government they are dealing with for zoning, especially in a densely zoned coastal area, is probably government at its most basic and necessary.

Not to say all actions are therefore rational or necessary, but there are other levels of government that are much more superfluous in their need to exist at all.

And that's the lesson. Only create as much government as absolutely necessary, because it will probably end up sucking no matter what it's intended to do.

wyo sis said...

"[A] network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules"... reduces citizens "to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd."

Don't forget to also mention that these rules never apply to the shepherd.

Bryan C said...

"The level of government they are dealing with for zoning, especially in a densely zoned coastal area, is probably government at its most basic and necessary."

That's not the point, really. The structures were already there and grandfathered in under whatever zoning was required. Now, for no reason whatsoever, they aren't. How is that either basic or necessary?

Marshal said...

roesch/voltaire said...
Interesting that he never mentions national flood insurance that enabled him to build in a flood prone area. It is time we tax payers stop subsidizing these affluent home owners and let them try to find private insurance to build in these areas.-- and good luck with that.


Cycle:

Liberal A implements feel good policy, alternative is people making different decisions and therefore cannot be tolerated.

Policy fails.

Liberal B claims policy failure proves liberalism correct.

Lather. Repeat.

SJ said...

RE: "building permits"

In most cities I've lived in, permits are needed for nearly anything that alters the structure of the home, or involves adding/removing/changing plumbing or wiring.

Not that the city has enforcement people looking for un-licensed remodeling. But insurance firms don't like homes that have non-inspected work done on them. And inspections are enforced by building-permit processes.

This is one local-government process that breaks during calamities like hurricanes. The normal flow of home remodeling in a city doesn't require many inspectors, and generates a predictable amount of paperwork.

However, when 50% of the homes in the community need to be gutted and rebuilt, the paperwork and inspections system becomes badly clogged.

And the insurance companies don't like insuring non-inspected construction, wiring, and plumbing work...

m stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
m stone said...

My brother-in-law, flooded out of his Long Island south shore home reaped a quick profit from his losses despite the inconvenience. Public FEMA payouts though will ensure that no one but the most hot-whipped panic-driver buyer will ever buy the house should he try to sell it.

bagoh20 said...

"The sobering thought is that we're all complicit in that infantilization. After all, we keep voting for the politicians who put this leviathan in place."

And if you take each and every one of those regulations up for a vote they would pass again. There is always a good reason to control other people, and we always assume it's for other people.

Libertarian principles are like trying to teach someone to walk a high wire by not looking down. Even though it's the only way to really succeed, it's just so counter-intuitive for a fearful species.

Our host is highly educated, mature and intelligent, and is starting to see the folly, but even she must constantly look down to make sure.

EMD said...

I agree with R/V, but yeah, it was a program designed by bigger government, which I thought was good.

Aridog said...

Mr Kimball: ... what makes the phenomenon so insidious is that many of the functionaries are as friendly as can be. It's just that they're cogs in a machine whose overriding purpose is not service but self-perpetuation and control.

Perfectly phrased. I'm a former military and "fed" who worked with FEMA and I can tell you that FEMA is ALL about perpetuation and control of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Obama and fat Janet made it worse than necessary, but Bush created the DHS which enhanced FEMA from fund manager to manpower and management performer. There was never a need to so enhance FEMA....dozens of other agencies already had the skills, from daily use, and proficiencies FEMA seeks now for itself for periodic use.

Between Bush 43's capture by progressive idiots in his second term and the election of Obama by similar idiots, we have no idea, yet, just how fucked we are. Well...some of us do who've worked there.

Chip Ahoy said...

Alexis can relax, the small complicated painstaking rules are not uniform. Silly Alexis.

Larry J said...

It's just that they're cogs in a machine whose overriding purpose is not service but self-perpetuation and control.

In my more cynical moments, I believe that the real governments in America are the bureaucrats. The elected politicians are the "for show" government. They come and go while the bureaucracies not only endure, they grow.

Building permits are a mechanism for the government to know that a change is being made to a building so they need to reassess the value and increase property taxes. "Being up to code" is a relatively minor aspect of it all. When all is said and done, it's about the taxes.

Aridog said...

SJ said ...

Not that the city has enforcement people looking for un-licensed remodeling...

We do where I live...they're called "Ordinance Enforcement" and drive around in vehicles clearly marked. You must be ultra sneaky to avoid their notice....e.g., Bubba and Jim-Bob bending siding on a break in your driveway will not make it, etc. :-))

Palladian said...

I don't know about Kimball, but Hayek, de Tocqueville and even Kafka are essential reading for anyone who cares about human liberty.

Instead students are assigned Howard Zinn.

Richard Dolan said...

This is the civil side of 'three felonies a day.' As the rules proliferate, you can only proceed by getting a waiver or variance. The result is that there are, effectively, no rules in the ordinary sense, but instead a system in which the regulator's exercise of discretion is what matters.

That model is most perfectly in place in the justice system, where prosecutors have unreviewable discretion to open or close investigations, bring or decline to bring charges, etc. But it exists in many other areas of the law, zoning and land use controls being a prime example.

A few terms ago, the SCOTUS considered a challenge to the California coastal permitting scheme that effectively prohibits development along the Pacific coast without a permit. The scheme makes it impossible, as a practical matter, to qualify for an 'as of right' permit, leaving an application for a variance as a developer's only means of proceeding. In order to get a variance of the ostensible rules, a developer or homeowner has to give the regulators whatever they want (often an easement or some other permanent interest in land). The challenge alleged that the California scheme amount to a taking that required compensation. As I recall (and memory may fail here), the SCOTUS ducked the fundamental issue, without doing anything to tank the constitutional 'takings' theory.

Connecticut may not be quite up to California-style coastal regulation, but (especially in the tonier sections of Fairfield County) it's full of busy-bodies eager to 'protect the environment' by making it impossible for the neighbors to build anything on their land.

Steve Koch said...

Kimball is erudite, Kafka, de Toqueville, and Hayak in one short little article.

Bryan C said...


"When all is said and done, it's about the taxes."

And the filing fees, and the licensing fees, and the penalties for non-compliance. They keep going up, and they represent real money to departments now. To the point where the revenue has become the justification for the policy.

We've had too many laws for decades. In practice people ignored them, and it wasn't worth the expense or trouble of enforcing the laws. Now random cabinet departments have private armies, and local police have shiny military hardware they need to justify.

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance."

That's all too familiar.

Steve Koch said...

In big cities, it is common that not only does the work need to be permitted but the actual work has to be done by an approved contractor, typically a union guy. So thepermitting process is often used to protect union workers.

Aridog said...

Larry J said...

In my more cynical moments, I believe that the real governments in America are the bureaucrats. The elected politicians are the "for show" government. They come and go while the bureaucracies not only endure, they grow.

You are far more accurate in your "cynical moments" than I suspect you imagine.

But that's just me from a couple decades plus of working in the military and as a fed. Nobody gives a shit who is the President or whatever...it is ALL about whether he/she will support agency initiative or whether the agency has to hide it from the honcho. Either way, the agency wins.

NitWits like Lisa Jackson, EPA, aka "Richard Windsor", protégé twit of Carole Browner (who dates back to Clinton's time) simply screw up the hiding part when the institutionalized goals (Browners) are being met.

You could outright fire 50%, maybe 75%, of senior federal management, not discharge a single soldier below the rank of General, and you would not notice an iota of performance lag...if anything it might improve on its own.

There really are very good people in the military and the civil service, highly skilled and experienced...they just don't get to run things.

cubanbob said...

Interesting that he never mentions national flood insurance that enabled him to build in a flood prone area. It is time we tax payers stop subsidizing these affluent home owners and let them try to find private insurance to build in these areas.-- and good luck with that.

RV is actually right. The government should get out of the flood insurance industry. Let private carriers determine the risk and charge accordingly like they already do so with excess flood insurance.

AprilApple said...

Democrats insist millionaires and billionaires are the problem.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

At this website, the blogger exhibits pictures of the Code of Federal Regulation on bookshelves at the Library of Congress.

"Total lineage: 304.5 inches — and that doesn’t include the index.

In each book, regulations are in small type, double column, printed on both sides of the page."


He then goes on to depict, and measure, the United States Code,

"All told, the USC of year 2000 (minus supplements) occupies 73 inches of shelf lineage."

He then continues,

When the laws of the United States were codified as the United States Code in 1925, all of the titles combined occupied a single volume.

It is within reason to suppose that each of us, every day, is in violation of some federal law or regulation. Only the whims of federal prosecutors preserve us from financial ruin or prison or both. Ask Nakoula Nakoula. This is not freedom and justice for all.

Rusty said...

Palladian said...
I don't know about Kimball, but Hayek, de Tocqueville and even Kafka are essential reading for anyone who cares about human liberty.


(sniff) I love ya, man.(wipes his eyes)

Steve Koch said...

The permit people i worked with were intelligent, knowledgeable, and very helpful, they even corrected my drawings sometimes to conform to code. The process of getting permits was fascinating (I was doing the work myself), especially watching and talking to the contractors getting their permits as we sat, waiting for our turn to get our drawings approved.

Rusty said...

roesch/voltaire said...
Interesting that he never mentions national flood insurance that enabled him to build in a flood prone area. It is time we tax payers stop subsidizing these affluent home owners and let them try to find private insurance to build in these areas.-- and good luck with that.

You forgot to mention that flood insurance has traditionally been offered to people who have already built in a flood plain. In most places it is already illegal to build in a flood plain.
Probably just overlooked that.

Aridog said...

Seeing Red said...

IF they're not careful, they might find their house KELO'd.

That's fair warning for sure. The 2005 Kelo vs City of New London ruling began the modern era (21st century) of Supreme Court acquiescence to bureaucratic malfeasance.

All you think you own are belong to us. Got it?

Revenant said...

Sounds fairly typical. I've had similar experiences with my house, although thankfully nowhere near this bad.

edutcher said...

And we're supposed to believe the people in the affected areas, who were going through this and worse before 11/6, like those in the collieries, went for Barry.

Suuure.

X said...

roesch/voltaire said...
Interesting that he never mentions national flood insurance that enabled him to build in a flood prone area. It is time we tax payers stop subsidizing these affluent home owners and let them try to find private insurance to build in these areas.-- and good luck with that.


OTOH while right about flood insurance, rv does want us subsidizing his industry and bike paths so his argument is not principled so much as self serving. he's not against subsidies, he's against subsidies that don't benefit him.

Steve Koch said...

Flood zones are not static. Every few years new hydrology reports are produced that define the various zones and your house that was not in a flood zone previously may be in a flood zone when the latest flood zones are redefined. Sometimes you are permitted to build in areas that flood infrequently but you have to raise your house up above the flood zone height (which is why you see so many houses on stilts next to rivers and the ocean).

bgates said...

Interesting that he never mentions national flood insurance that enabled him to build in a flood prone area.

Since he never mentions it, how do you know he had it? Says here that NFIP has paid out $38 billion between 1978 and 2011, of which Connecticut residents received a bit under $141 million.

Of course the libertarian objection to a federal insurance program is correct, and of course if a libertarian had made it first RV would quote the five year old girl who talked to Santa Claus to demonstrate how appalled he was at our heartlessness.

EDH said...

Bryan C,

I was only placing local zoning and FEMA along the governmental "need to exist in the first place" continuum.

As I said in my following sentences, "[n]ot to say all actions are therefore rational or necessary, but there are other levels of government that are much more superfluous in their need to exist at all.

"And that's the lesson. Only create as much government as absolutely necessary, because it will probably end up sucking no matter what it's intended to do."

Revenant said...

Of course the libertarian objection to a federal insurance program is correct, and of course if a libertarian had made it first RV would quote the five year old girl who talked to Santa Claus to demonstrate how appalled he was at our heartlessness.

Well said. :)

AprilApple said...

Dear all democrats, leftists and progs who read Ann - Please read the story at the link. This is what you have created.

Big Mike said...

Kimball's problem is that he isn't a prominent person well-connected to the Democrat party, like say David Gregory. He'd already have his permits and he'd think the process works just fine.

dreams said...

I haven't read Rand Paul's book about the government bullies but I've heard him say that there are people in prison today or have served prison time for moving dirt from one part of their land to another. The EPA answers to no one and are not our friends. We're losing our freedom because of thousands of bureaucrats who dislike our country and have a like minded champion as president.

chrisnavin.com said...

Having had to deal with the service departments of the NFIP for a while now, I can assure you it seems to operate less efficiently, which costs everyone who deals with them more time and money.

That and like the TSA, they are probably required to hire people unemployable elsewhere.

Bryan C said...

"And that's the lesson. Only create as much government as absolutely necessary, because it will probably end up sucking no matter what it's intended to do."

Understood. And that's a wise principle to govern by.

Levi Starks said...

Reading this story makes me wish I had the life of a dollar a day beggar on the streets of Mumbai.
It seems that the less you have the more free you are.
And vise versa

Crunchy Frog said...

Like CA building on the side of mountains.

If you are talking about earthquakes, it's actually better to be in the hills than it is in the valleys and flatlands. Firmer soil, not prone to liquification.

Was pretty much on top of the Northridge quake in 1994. Had neighbors whose houses became totally unliveable because the foundations they were built upon shifted 2-5 degrees off level. Nothing like having to jack a $250K home (typical for a house in the Valley in '94) off the ground while you remove and re-pour a new foundation for it, and then having to deal with 8,000 plaster craks, and windows that don't seal properly anymore...

And since earthquake insurance (that you have to get just to qualify for a mortgage) comes with a $25K deductable, you're still having to refi to pay for the repairs. No fun.

Of course, there's nothing like having the sheriff deputies cruising through your neighborhood at 11:30pm telling everyone to get the hell out of Dodge RIGHT NOW because the wildfire is in danger of coming down into the canyon and there is only one way in and one way out...

Sam L. said...

New England: Deep Blue States, deep into citizen's pockets, activities, regulatory agencies,...

wyo sis's comment: e.g.,David Gregory.

Larry J.: Not cynical; fully aware.

Larry J said...

Larry J.: Not cynical; fully aware.

The more aware I become, the more cynical I become.

mccullough said...

New England is a nanny state on steroids.

MrCharlie2 said...

Love the comments on WS about Gov. Christie.

bagoh20 said...

"... it's full of busy-bodies eager to 'protect the environment'... "

Clearly the environment can handle herself, but did Sandy have a permit do all that "remodeling"?

Kirby Olson said...

Hayek and Kafka were on the same page dealing with the bureaucratic regulations that had been insisted upon by socialists during the Bismarck era and which ended in National Socialism. Planning invites tyranny.

But Hayek also allowed that it needed to be done. Kimball skips over this aspect of Hayek's thought. Planning to a degree (to what degree I don't think he ever decided) needs to be done. In the same way, I think Kafka saw that there needs to be justice, and someone has to dispense it.

We just often have peculiar people dispensing it. Justice is usually quite peculiar. But that doesn't mean we can dispense with it.

"He [Hayek] asserted that the common perception that the extremes of Left and right were polar opposites was a misapprehension, for both, by replacing market forces with comprehensive state planning, assaulted individual liberties" (Keynes-Hayek, by Wapshott, p. 194).

kevin soy said...

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EMD said...


Kevin Soy's friends step-sister worked over nine hours a day every day to make that $20k, without a day off.

Steve Koch said...

Kirby Olson said...

"We just often have peculiar people dispensing it. Justice is usually quite peculiar. But that doesn't mean we can dispense with it."

Obviously not but as the number of laws grows, citizens are more likely to violate a law unknowingly and the laws themselves are more likely to be unjust and/or unreasonably constraining our liberty. As the volume and extent of laws grows, unelected bureaucrats tend to flesh out the details of the laws and how they will be interpreted in our daily lives.


KO said:

"He [Hayek] asserted that the common perception that the extremes of Left and right were polar opposites was a misapprehension, for both, by replacing market forces with comprehensive state planning, assaulted individual liberties"

It depends on your definition of left and right. Nowadays, in the USA, the battle is between the state-ism of the dems vs constitutionalism by the conservatives (who are 2/3 of the GOP voters). Clearly, the larger and more powerful the federal government is, the greater the danger it poses to our liberty. Conversely, if the federal government was somehow constrained to act in accordance with the constitution, it would pose much less risk to our liberty than is currently the case.

Nichevo said...

EMD 3:48, that doesn't sound so bad, if true. I just assume it is a total scam.

Aridog said...

Steve Koch said ...

... as the number of laws grows, citizens are more likely to violate a law unknowingly and the laws themselves are more likely to be unjust and/or unreasonably constraining our liberty

Vague legislation makes bad law. Senior agency wonks then interpret the vague text as they wish to see fit and make rules, with the force of law, that hold a presumption of guilt, not innocence, for violators, citizen or corporate.

Welcome to real world big government growing bigger. You recall that 305+ inches of shelf space just for the Code of Federal Regulation? (Cited recently) Just a wild guess of mine, based upon experience with sundry CFR's, but I'd say well over half of all that text never saw the light of day in any legislation. Ever.