Testimony for HB 1531 (NH 2012)

HB1531 – 2012

Relative to prosecution for victimless crimes.

February 9th, 2012

Written testimony of:

Bill McGonigle

251 Croydon Turnpike
Plainfield

603.448.1668

bill@mcgonigle.us

Good afternoon, Madam Chair, members of the Committee:

I’m Bill McGonigle of Plainfield, and I am here today to testify in favor of HB1531.

I’m sure you’ll hear many important points today – about how Government is instituted to protect us from each other, that Just Government arises from the concent of the governed, and how the natural right of defense enables a Just Government to provide for the mutual defense. Our Constitution has specific requirements for just incarceration, namely to reform.

These are all good points, and true, however, I wish to add a slightly different perspective, from perhaps a more pragmatic angle. I will focus on that point and try to be brief.

I would like to bring to the Committee’s attention the incarceration rate in New Hampshire and illustrate how it compares to some other States and Countries around the world.

According to the standard measure, New Hampshire imprisons 220 individuals per 100,000 residents. That number in isolation has little meaning.


For comparison, Massachusetts has an incarceration rate of 218 per 100,000 – pretty similar. Yet, who would suggest that the level of crime is Massachusetts is similar to that in New Hampshire?

Further down the list we’ll find Minnesota at 179 and Maine at 151, but not before we pass the narco states of Mexico and Columbia, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey. To be fair, in Saudi Arabia, one might think the execution rates might keep the incarceration rate down, but Turkey hasn’t executed anybody since 1984.

Next we find Australia at 133, then Canada at 117, but not before passing the repressive regime of China at 122. France at 109 marks half the incarceration rate of New Hampshire. At this point we should stop to ask if New Hampshire is a place with twice the criminal activity of France. Below the half-way point we find Italy, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and Norway, then Finland below the 1/3 mark. All of these countries have abolished capital punishment.

So, what’s going on here? To be sure, New Hampshire isn’t the worst offender among the United States, and the US rate at the Federal level is much worse. But there’s clearly a problem here – New Hampshiremen aren’t somehow more evil than their European counterparts, and these European States aren’t suffering from rampant crime waves that we’re somehow avoiding with our overflowing prisons (as an aide: this is something to consider in light of County-level controversies about having to build new, larger prisons).

But perhaps incarceration rates correlate with reduced crime, so the State has a vested interest in such high levels? Again, this can be shown to be untrue by way of comparison. For example, when comparing crime rates between New Hampshire and Switzerland, major crime indicators are very close in scale (I have a data table in my written testimony with some figures for comparison). The similarity of the crime numbers between New Hampshire and Switzerland is likely more illustrative of a universal aspect of human nature than an effect of particular legal systems.

Because other Western countries prosecute victimless crimes less, they don’t have staggeringly different crime levels than New Hampshire, and the magnitude of the incarceration rate is shown here to not significantly reduce crime, we must consider the effectiveness of our incarceration rates, and the prosecution of, and imprisonment for, victimless crimes.

Now, it’s possible that the Legislature could spend the next twenty years going through the State’s Statutes with a fine-toothed comb to find all of the offending Statutes, and that’s probably a good idea anyway. Whether that kind of long-term project can actually be accomplished in a political environment where control of the Legislature tends to flip every four years and the parties tend to abandon the projects of the other guys – I’d like to think it could happen but I’m not really sure.

But in the meantime, this Legislature has the responsibility to ensure than injustice is not being brought upon the People of New Hampshire. With our existing Statutes, over that same 20-year period it’s very likely that the State will imprison hundreds if not thousands of individuals for committing so-called ‘crimes’ that have no victim, and it won’t reduce crime rates or protect other people. HB 1531 offers a way out of this bind by allowing defendants to offer, as a defense, that the alleged crime had no victim.

Besides saving the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money by not prosecuting and incarcerating all these individuals unnecessarily, it would start us down the path of bringing New Hampshire in line with more appropriate crime-control measures, as established empirically by the example of the entirety of the rest of the Western World.

HB1531 doesn’t instantly solve all of our problems – and I like to think it would be a stop-gap measure until our Statutes can be straightened out – but it does give the People of New Hampshire a realistic chance at a fair shake at Justice in our State, and as I hope I’ve shown here today, it does so without the risk of increased levels of crime.

Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions the Committee might have.

Incarceration Rates (per 100,000)

New Hampshire

220

Massachusetts

218

Mexico

200

Colombia

181

Minnesota

179

Saudi Arabia

178

Turkey

168

Maine

151

Australia

133

China

122

Canada

117

France

109

Italy

110

Austria

104

Greece

101

Republic of Ireland

95

Germany

87

Switzerland

79

Sweden

78

Norway

73

Finland

59

Japan

58

Syria

58

Pakistan

40

India

31

Crime Rates (per 100,000)

Murder

Rape

Assault

Robbery

Burglary

New Hampshire

1.00

31.3

100.4

34.3

413.3

Switzerland

0.65

6.94

127.79

36.46

641.64

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/nhcrime.htm

http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/fr/index/themen/19/03/02/key/02/straftaten_im_einzelnen.html

 

“Right to Work” Bill is Anti-Liberty

The way the 2011 proposed NH right-to-work legislation is written, its effect is to remove from a private employer the right to exclusively contract with a union to provide employees. The employer would hereafter be forced to hire non-union workers alongside union workers, even if that’s not the employer’s decided strategy.

I think to support this you have to assume that a private worker has a right to a job at a private employer under the employee’s terms and that the State has to step in to enforce that. The State is acting like a violent union here.

I wish the legislation had been written to actually prevent unions from being able to demand donations of its members to political action committees against their interests, but as it’s written, it looks like an anti-liberty bill to me.  In essence, it’s the State interfering in the right of private contract, for what it thinks are sound social-engineering reasons.

People I respect tell me, “yeah, but it’s the best way to achieve the greater good.”  This violates my “the means are everything,” guiding principle.  Try harder next time.

Burying Utilities in New Hampshire

We had some friends who had an exchange student from Germany. One day the power went out and he went around the house flipping the light switches, tickled that nothing happened when he did so. He had never experienced a power outage before – in Germany they bury their utility lines.

The Union Leader reports that it would cost $43 billion and take 40 years to bury power lines in New Hampshire. This number doesn’t pass the smell test. The Gross State Product of New Hampshire was $60 billion in 2010, so the cost estimate is 2/3 of the GSP.

Let’s assume each ratepayer (home, business) paid for his own underground service to the next ratepayer (so, you pay for the line from your house to your next door neighbor’s). This would mean the cost-shared amount would be equivalent to 2/3 of the median household income to install a buried line from your house to your neighbor’s house (ignoring the higher incomes of businesses for the sake of easy math, so an overestimate of actual costs) . The 2009 household median income in NH was $61,000 which would put the cost of that cable pull at about $40,000. No way that’s a real number unless somebody’s uncle is getting very rich on the deal. In this kind of massive volume, this should be more like a $4000 project for an average home. Even that seems high – we could install a generator at every home in New Hampshire for that kind of money.

Of course there are corner cases – houses a miles from the road, and long stretches of house-less road, but there are also homes right next to each other in the cities, trailer parks, and dense developments (some of which already have the lines underground) for balance. But even if we ‘only’ had every residential area with buried utilities, that would be a heck of an improvement.

Especially because I’m ignoring all business income here, on an order-of-magnitude scale, $43 billion looks very wrong. If we were to assume a $4000 cost and spread it over 40 years, that could be a rate increase of around $8/mo to get the lines underground. That doesn’t seem so bad, especially since it would restore some of the charm to our idyllic New England towns that has been lost with the tapestry of wires overhead.

I’m assuming the cost of maintenance of the underground facility is no worse than the cost of trimming 2000 miles of trees, buying telephone poles, and repairing fallen wires in storms.  I think this is a reasonable to generous assumption.

As always, correct my math if I’ve erred.

The $999,999,999,999 Plan

I left this comment for the Union Leader’s editorial on Ron Paul’s Plan to Restore America:

 

Ron Paul’s plan is the only one that actually keeps Social Security afloat without borrowing more (unpayable debt) money from China – surely that has merit?  It’s the only one economists will actually score as being workable.  Others may have catchy names, but call this one the $999,999,999,999 plan if that matters more than fixing the problem.

Listening carefully, he said eliminating departments (bureaucratic organizations) doesn’t entail eliminating all of the programs within each department – some of the programs would be moved to other departments.  Nobody expects Yellowstone will be abandoned, but Ron Paul’s plan does reduce the cost of administering Yellowstone (by eliminating administrative redundancies).

Ron Paul is calling for a 10% reduction in the Federal workforce, and a return to Clinton-era spending levels – a time when the economy was in arguably better shape.  Real non-government unemployment is in the 19% range (or more for minority demographics) and the Federal government isn’t even being asked to match that level.  The key to understanding this plan is that the money used to pay those workers is drained off the productive members of society.  Government is by definition merely administrative, not productive – returning that trillion dollars per year to our economy’s productive members (and associated deficit reductions) will provide it with a jolt it desperately needs.  Getting everybody back to work is the most important goal, and those dollars in production will have a multiplicative effect (the economic ratios are documented on the US House’s website).

Pretending that we can continue all of the existing programs and spending without accumulating debt on an ever-increasing spiral isn’t a useful exercise.  Ron Paul’s plan is the only one that takes a mature, sober approach to the problem.  Given his 30 years of experience in government fiscal policy, it should hardly be surprising that he’s the right man to get this job done.  Does that mean there are some tough choices that have to be made?  Absolutely.  But there are no easy answers.  The time for fiscal games is over, and we’re all in this together.

Bill McGonigle, Plainfield

Co-Chair, Ron Paul 2012, Sullivan County

My Current Understanding of the Global Warming Arguments

The offered set point for when anthropogenic global warming (AGW) kicked in is when the climate started to warm. The actual data from the seabeds is that the CO2 emissions from human fossil fuel use started to be measurable in the 1830’s.

Why didn’t AGW start in the 1830’s? Because there wasn’t enough CO2 to cause warming until later, when the temperature records started to increase significantly.

How much CO2 emission is required to start the climate warming? “I dunno, let’s look at the charts.”

What do the models tell us? “That this much CO2 will cause AGW.” How were those models developed? “Based on the charts.”

See? It’s honest-to-goodness begging the question. Maybe AGW happens to be correct despite the sloppy method. One side says, “we’re all gonna burn in ‘Hell on Earth’ if we’re right.” The other side says, “I’m not spending $300T on that bet.”

As an attempt to isolate the variables people look to other planets. They see warming there. That’s a reasonable indication that there’s a common cause, though no proof that AGW isn’t happening too.

In the end it’s a business decision, but one that affects everybody, one way or the other. We can’t predict the future with confidence, but we can control our behavior in the present. Making moral decisions now is the best we can do.

Organic and Industrial Economics

As much as I enjoy a good rap throw-down between the ghosts of long-dead economic theoreticians, and admire all who seek to bring economic education to wider audiences, I’ve been experimenting with a simpler approach lately – using alternate terminology. Especially when speaking with “liberals” (hereafter written without the quotes), I’ve found using the terms ‘industrial economics’ for Keynesian-derived approaches and ‘organic economics’ for Austrian School-rooted strategies, to be most effective.

The current era offers a unique opportunity for libertarian-types to forge relationships with liberals and make some progress on agenda items of common agreement. It’s been said that a liberal is a libertarian who doesn’t yet understand economics (of the sort that makes testable predictions and provides useful modeling). Something has changed when Bernie Sanders’s website looks like Ron Paul’s might have a few years ago, and we should be using this opportunity to engage and enlighten our misguided friends.

“You see, the problem you fail to grasp here is well understood by the economists of the Austrian School, but completely missed by the Keynesians.” “Wah, wah wah,” as Charlie Brown’s teacher would say. Let’s skip the history lessons and focus not on how the models came into being, but what they’re really describing. That there even are competing economic models is unknown to a large portion of the population, so what we need is a way to quickly distinguish and characterize them.

I’ve found the terms ‘organic’ and ‘industrial’ to be concise, useful, and apt. The Keynesian model, relying on government economic planners and central banks, really is the industrial model. It’s the Economy Factory, with its owners, foremen, and workers. By contrast, the Austrians tell us to distribute those decisions to the millions of capable minds in the marketplace, let the small principles of the pricing mechanism form spontaneous order and create allocation instructions, all without the participants being directly aware of their participation. That man in Lebanon, New Hampshire thinking about buying a sheet of plywood to build a dog house can be as aware of the increased need for plywood due to a hurricane in Homestead, Florida as a uracil nucleotide is of its current role in building a frog eyeball – yet the systems still work. Truly, the Austrians take the organic approach.

As a thought experiment, think of strolling around your local farmers’ market with a clipboard, asking people if they think the government should run based on organic or industrial economics. Ignoring the problem of people answering surveys rather than admitting ignorance, the terminology already has built-in positive bias for the target audience. Adding to that, it’s less likely to bring up questions about whether this has something to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger (or, yes, even Paul Hogan).

There are some liberals who really do care about increasing the size of government more than they care about the people they claim to fight for, but they’re not the voting majority. Most liberals (I’ll call them ‘values-liberals’ to distinguish from the power-mad variety) have been taught that big government is the only way to achieve what they care about, but they can be re-trained, and ultimately become allies. I have former-liberal friends who call themselves libertarians now, and their confidence is among the highest, as they’ve already tested the other hypothesis.

The organic (aka Austrian) economic model provides plenty for values-liberals to like. It focuses on production, not spending. When talking to your values-liberal friends, that means jobs (union jobs even) as widgets still need humans to make them. It demands sound money, which means helping poor people save to lift themselves out of poverty. It relies on free markets, which deliver goods to the needy at the best prices while also slashing crime (particularly interesting to our urban friends). This list can be (and surely has been) extended for volumes.

As much as we might have trouble understanding it, not everybody has spent hundreds of hours studying competing schools of economic theory, yet the fundamental concepts can be explained inside of five minutes. If they ask for the long backstory, then that’s their own fault, but to get started, just focus on the essential distinctions between organic and industrial economics.