Don’t Track Me, Bro


On Gas Taxes And Big Brother

Americans are burning less gas.  This presents a terrible problem, one that demands immediate action.

At least, that’s what we’re being told by government officials who say they need more money.  While getting Americans to use less gas has been a national priority at least since the double-nickel speed limits during the era of national malaise, now that Americans are actually doing it, the government has to deal with lower gas tax revenues:  Since the tax is collected on a per-gallon basis, when people buy fewer gallons, there’s less money for the government.

The response in many places — from Oregon to New Jersey and points in between — has been to propose taxing people based on the miles that they drive rather than on the gas that they burn.  There are even test programs going on in several states in which GPS trackers are being used to collect drivers’ mileage.  Needless to say, this sort of thing has people worried about privacy, especially in the wake of the recent scandals involving government spying and abuse of data.  It also raises the question of whether, by moving to a mileage tax, we’re giving up on trying to get people to save gas.

A GPS-based tracking system appeals to the authorities for obvious reasons:  It knows exactly how much you’ve driven, and in which states, making it easy to apportion revenue.  It frightens privacy advocates and creeps out ordinary Americans for pretty much the same reason:  It knows exactly how much, and where, you’ve driven.  One of the great things about driving a car is the freedom that it involves, and part of that freedom is the ability to go anywhere without buying tickets, checking in, or otherwise operating under someone else’s nose.

Read the rest of this entry »

The All-Seeing State

The inevitable corruption of the permanent bureaucracy

By Mark Steyn

A few years ago, after one corruption scandal too many, the then Liberal government in Canada announced that, to prevent further outbreaks of malfeasance, it would be hiring 300 new federal auditors plus a bunch of ethics czars, and mandating “integrity provisions” in government contracts, including “prohibitions against paying, offering, demanding or accepting bribes.” There were already plenty of laws against bribery, but one small additional sign on the desk should do the trick: “Please do not attempt to bribe the Minister of the Crown as a refusal may offend. Also: He’s not allowed to bribe you, whatever he says.” A government that requires “integrity provisions” is by definition past the stage where they will do any good.

I thought of those Canadian Liberal “integrity provisions” passing a TV screen the other day and catching hack bureaucrats from the IRS Small Business/Self-Employed Division reassuring Congress that systems had now been put in place to prevent them succumbing to the urge to put on Spock ears and moob-hugging blue polyester for the purposes of starring in a Star Trek government training video. The Small Business/Self-Employed Division had boldly gone where no IRS man had gone before — to a conference in Anaheim, where they were put up in $3,500-a-night hotel rooms and entertained by a man who was paid $27,500 to fly in and paint on stage a portrait of Bono. Bono is the veteran Irish rocker knighted by the Queen for his tireless campaign on behalf of debt forgiveness, which doesn’t sound the IRS’s bag at all. But don’t worry, debt forgiveness-wise Bono has Africa in mind, not New Jersey. And, as Matthew Cowart tweeted me the other day, he did have a big hit with “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which I believe is now the official anthem of the IRS Cincinnati office.

It took Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina to get to the heart of the matter: “With all due respect, this is not a training issue,” he said. “This cannot be solved with another webinar. . . . We can adopt all the recommendations you can possibly conceive of. I just say it strikes me — and maybe it’s just me — but it strikes me as a cultural, systemic, character, moral issue.”

He’s right. If you don’t instinctively know it’s wrong to stay in $3,500-a-night hotel rooms at public expense, a revised conference-accommodations-guidelines manual isn’t going to fix the real problem.

Read the rest of this entry »