Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Governor or Godfather? A Vital Distinction

I have a local heroine (well, an in-state heroine, anyway) in Debbie Harbeson, who lives down Sellersburg way, which is pretty much on the mighty Ohio River, and thus not especially local, as seen from Allen County. She writes a monthly column for her newspaper, which she also publishes at her blog, which usually makes good reading. The current one is outstanding. It concerns Our Dynamic Governor's proposal to "privatize" the state lottery. Debbie writes:
First, Daniels does not say government should get out of the lottery business altogether; he only wants to grant monopoly control to a single private business. The company that buys this privatization deal essentially wins a prize better than most lottery winnings. How lucky the company will be to sell lottery tickets in convenience stores without the hassle of other pesky businesses doing the same thing.

Mitch and his crew act like they believe in the power of private business, yet still don’t propose selling the lottery outright and opening it up to competition. In the end, they want the same thing all politicians want: forced control over as much money as possible.
I've always found this state lottery business fascinating, albeit morbidly so. One can make a libertarian case that gambling of every sort -- every sort not involving force or fraud, at least -- must obviously be legal: how is it anyone else's business if I conclude that some kind of card game or slot machine or horse race or dog race or what-have-you represents a better entertainment value for my dollar than going to the movies or the mammary bar or the minor-league hockey game? I find that case convincing, even though I have not the slightest personal interest in gambling -- if offered my choice of a week in Las Vegas, or having my wisdom teeth extracted, I'd have to think it over a while.

A coherent case might also be made that all gambling is a grievous moral evil and ought to be illegal. And I would agree that gambling for significant money is immoral, although I would still insist that the immorality shouldn't make it illegal, absent the force-or-fraud element. I can think of a whole ton of things that are wrong, but are still none of the state's business. But, although I would disagree with the criminalizer's argument, it is still at least coherent.

But see what we get instead. In general, gambling's illegal, which presumably means that it must also be thought immoral. But it's OK if the state runs it -- in fact, it's more than OK -- the state buys advertising all over the radio and TV which tells me that all attractive, fun-loving people gamble with the state. It's also OK if it takes place on "boats," or at least floating structures of some sort, and is run by those who've bought the favor of our supervisors. It's also sometimes OK if it involves horse races at designated places, again operated by favor-buyers. And it's OK under "privatization," as long as you patronize the selected monopolist.

Otherwise, it's bad. It's very, very bad.

All right, I'm confused. Governor Bitch Daniels isn't a crime family head, is he? Why, no, he can't be. Bad men can't be governor, and the government can't be a gang. So, there has to be some difference. So, what is the difference between the state government and an organized crime family?

Oh, yes, that's right. Gov. Daniels' button men wear snappy uniforms. And they have flashy lights on the tops of their cars. I feel much better now. I'll just have to keep this crucial distinction in mind.


Debbie said...

Hey Bartleby, I spent the last week checking out the government operations on a carribean island so I'm just now seeing your response to my column.

There were sure a lot of casinos down there. It's interesting because they are surrounded by so much water, yet have all their casinos on the land and up here we have so much land yet put our casinos on our patches of water. I spent a lot of time on the beach pondering this.

I came to no real conclusions but by not going into the casinos I did end up with more money which was a good thing when happy hour came around.


Bartleby said...

Debbie: About that land/water, water/land thing ... maybe that's one of those imponderable symmetries that's just built into the universe somehow. Or maybe not. I'm fairly sure I could do a much better job of puzzling that out if I were to do my puzzling on one of those sunbaked Caribbean beaches, with the occasional happy-hour break.

I'll push my envy aside to say that I'm happy for you and how you spent your week. Welcome back!