My Favorite November Mosquito

Yes, as stated by a simple cartoon character,
“Voting is like choosing your favorite mosquito out of a swarm.”
-Maxine. quoted by: Dr Bob Griffin, http://www.grif.net/

So, I’m going to pick out mosquitoes. Here goes. This is how I would be voting in Today’s Constitutional Election. My default is “no,” since, as I’ve already written about, our constitution does not need to get any longer or less understandable. I think its insane that the most basic law of Texas needs to be changed sixteen times just over the course of one year.

Prop 1-NO I can’t understand what it’s about by reading the ballot language or even by reading the official declaration. I have no clue what change in governance is required. Since they cannot seem to make their law understandable, NO!

Prop 2-NO The government should not encourage students to get into debt, and I’ve already written on the subject.

Prop 3– NO Not readable, makes no sense.

Prop 4– NO

Prop 5– NO This one is barely understandable. Here is one part I got, though. While reading the actual contents of the S. J. R. No 44 I came across the reason for the amendment: “To aid in the elimination of slum and blighted conditions in less populated communities in this state, to promote rural economic development in this state…” Well, I don’t think either is the government’s job, so NO.

Prop 6– YEAH, why not. It gives the government less money to waist. Would be pretty good for my Dad, since it would exempt his work truck from being counted in the property (aka: ad valorem) tax. My only objection is the fact that no where is ad valorem taxation defined.

Prop 7– YES I support property rights. While this amendment is somewhat weak in that it limits the reason property can be returned to only three, it is a step in the right direction by requiring the agency to sell it at the same price it was bought at.

Prop 8– No. This doesn’t clarify anything. If you want to make it clear, shorten the crazy thing so that people can actually read it.

Prop 9-YEAH. I probably have about the same to say on this as on Prop 6 .

Prop 10-Yes. Let’s clean up the constitution by eliminating the office that hasn’t been held in forever.

Prop 11-Yes! Please require that legislators have records of their votes. See, currently, law is sometimes passed when a speaker simply says “all in favor? Aye” “All opposed? No” and decides who’s louder. Usually, its about which side is louder in his head.

Prop 12-No! I’m protesting unnecessary constitutional indecipherability! Yeah…

Prop 13-No. The wording of this provision is insanely long. I’m not voting to make our constitution less understandable.

Prop 14-No. Same problem as prop 13. Geeze… It doesn’t have to be that complicated! How can people be law-abiding citizens when they cannot understand the law.

Prop 15– No. I don’t believe Government’s job is to fund research, and the money that is supposed to help develop a cure for cancer may be used in useless, and morally questionable, stem cell research. I don’t exactly want to take the chance of playing around with innocent human life under the sanction of the state.

Prop 16-No

Final tally: Yes on 5; No on the rest (11). You may agree with me, you may not. Whatever your posision is, however, it is important that you show up and vote as an active citizen. Because Texas will fail when Texans fail to care.

Tyranny of Volume

Tyranny comes in many different forms. The founding fathers of the United States would probably look at Texas’ Constitution as one such tyranny. The author of the 62nd Federalist Paper[1] tells us of three sources of tyranny—all with the same root—that would necessitate a radical change in the Lone Star Constitution.

It was probably James Madison[2] who told us: “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws be made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read…” [1] This is the first problem with the current Lone Star Document. At ninety-thousand words of almost solid jargon, no casual or even a motivated citizen would attempt to read the whole document.

The second source of tyranny found in the Constitution, as the same author notes, is that it is “so incoherent that [it] cannot be understood.”[1] Not only is it frequented with indecipherable jargon, but the structure of the document is lacking. For example, to this day Article 3, Section 48c is left blank, [3] since it was left out after being transcribed at the original convention. As admitted by the Texas government itself: “…the 1876 [Texas] constitution… is now considered to be one of the most disorganized and confusing of all state constitutions.”[4]

The Constitution also “undergoes such incessant changes that no man… can guess what it will be tomorrow,” [1] as it was states in The Federalist No 62. In November, sixteen changes to the “foundation” of law in Texas will be put on the ballot for voter approval. [5] Indeed, Texas’ amendment rate has always been high:

“Some 615 amendments to the Texas Constitution had been proposed by 2005, only 129 years after that document was adopted. Of these, 439 had been ratified by popular vote. That averages to more than 9 amendments proposed and 6 amendments ratified for each two-year legislative session since 1876.”[6]

Some might be asking themselves: What’s so important? What is really the problem with a jargonistic document if it is read by those who understand jargon? Maybe it would have been a problem in the early 1800s, but not now. The simple impact to the argument is this: There is no way people can be law-abiding citizens if they don’t know the law. To the Texas public, though, knowing the law is like chasing the wind: It doesn’t stop long enough to give you a breath and doesn’t bother to explain what’s going on. Is it any wonder that less than 20 percent of Texans bother to show up for special elections were constitutional amendments are considered? [7]

In the end, what is needed is a Constitution that the people of Texas can actually study and understand. As Thomas Jefferson commented: “Though [the people] may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand.”[8] The citizenry must demand to be able to take an active roll in government if they feel so inclined. Texas needs both the “enlightened” citizens that a republic demands and strong political leadership in order to resist the tyrannies of volume, incoherence, and ceaseless change that are too prevalent in the Lone Star Constitution.

References

1. James Madison or Alexander Hamilton. Federalist No. 62. (February 19 1788) http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_62.html

2. The authorship of this paper is not certain. The University of Chicago Press version cites Madison as the author: http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch12s22.html The Emory Law School, however, less confidently states that it could be Madison or Hamilton. http://www.law.emory.edu/law-library/research/ready-reference/us-federal-law-and-documents/historical-documents-the-federalist-papers/the-federalist-no-62.html Finally, the Library of Congress, perhaps the best source, says that the “Author: [is] Alexander Hamilton or James Madison” http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_62.html

3. The Texas Constitution. “Article 3 – Legislative Department” http://tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/txconst/articles/cn000300.html

4. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. “The Texas Constitution of 1876” (Texas State Library, November 2005) http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/treasures/constitution/index.html

5. Texas Secretary of State. “Ballot Language For November 6, 2007 Constitutional Amendment” (n.d.) http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/2007novballotlang.shtml

6. Texas Politics. Texas Constitution. “Mode of Amendment” (University of Texas at Austin, n.d.) http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu/html/cons/0405.html

7. Micheal Hodges. “Observer’s Report for Texas: May 12, 2007 Constitutional Amendments Special Election” (Elections Advisory Committee, September 4, 2007) p 1. http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/forms/sept2007report.pdf

8. Thomas Jefferson. “Opinion on Apportionment Bill” (1792) Lipscomb and Bergh, ed. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Ed. (Washington, D.C.: 1903-04) 3, p 211. http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations/jeff1350.htm

Proposition 2

In November, Texas voters will be given sixteen amendments to approve or reject. One of these, Proposition 2[1] is about providing loans through government bonds in order to help college students, or that’s the way supporters would like to put it.

Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo published a commentary in the Austin American Statesman that explains why she supports the bill. With all due respect, her argument is a total misunderstanding of economics and will simply promote irresponsible use of credit. Senator Zaffirini, who is the chairwoman of the Texas Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, supports this bill because, according to her, it will help fund “the education of our children”[2] without increasing taxes. It sounds like a worthy goal, but there are two major economic flaws in the plan. Firstly, it produces a synthetic, artificially enticing environment for student debt to only increase. Secondly, her argument doesn’t consider any of the great opportunity costs associated with this plan. Basically, there are better things we could do with the money.

The reason that interest rates on student loans are so high is because there is a lot of demand for loans. Its the simple economic law of supply and demand. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students who have debt increased ten percent between 1996 and 2000 and the average student’s debt increased 36%.[3] This statistic reflects one of the major problems with American today; we overuse credit. Because of this, the market is making corrections by raising interest rates, which will ultimately discourage students from taking too much money in loans. However, if Zaffirini has her way, the Texas government will just encourage this debt explosion by utilizing artificial, government-stabled interest rates that do not respond to the demands of the marketplace.

This is the first and greatest reason that I believe we should vote against prop 2: The Texas Government should not encourage debt! Artificially induced market situations only treat symptoms, instead of really dealing with the root of loan indulgence!

Then the Senator, being in Texas, makes the “no more taxes” argument:

“…because the bonds used to finance these loans are repaid by those who borrow the money, Prop. 2 will have no impact on our… taxes…”[2]

While taxes will not go up what she ignores is that there are costs to this proposition; opportunity costs. As stated by Economist David R. Henderson,

“When economists refer to the “opportunity cost” of a resource, they mean the value of the next-highest-valued alternative use of that resource. If, for example, you spend time and money going to a movie… you can’t spend the money on something else.”[4]

Opportunity costs are based upon the principle that when a resource is used for one purpose, it cannot then be used for another. It’s basically what opportunities we will loose. In the case of higher education bonds, the money lent to the students is not available for four years or more. This money might have gone to a plethora of other venues such as improving roads, lowering taxes, improving policing abilities, and so forth.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: are there better things we could be doing than manipulating the student loan market? I strongly believe that there are. So, for the sake of student responsibility and for a wise, economical, investment of government resources, I strongly and respectfully urge Texans voters to vote against proposition 2.

References

[1] Approved Prop. 2 ballot language: “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of $500 million in general obligation bonds to finance educational loans to students and authorizing bond enhancement agreements with respect to general obligation bonds issued for that purpose.”

[2] Judith Zaffirini. “Keep college within Texans’ reach” Austin American Statesman (October 4 2007). http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/10/04/04/1005zaffirini_edit.html

[3] Cited in: Sandy Baum. “The Role of Student Loans in College Access” (Pathways to College, January 2003):5. p 1. http://www.pathwaystocollege.net/pdf/NDSFA_report5.pdf

[4] David R. Henderson. “Opportunity Cost” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. (Library of Economics and Liberty, 2002). http://www.econlib.org/LIBRARY/Enc/OpportunityCost.html