Mises Daily Articles
Hank Hill vs. the Bureaucrats
Thanks to Adult Swim re-airing King of the Hill five nights a week I recently caught an old episode that has expanded my list of approved politicians to now feature two: Ron Paul and Hank Hill. The episode is "Flush with Power" from season four.
It makes sense that the only politician in American history whose integrity would rival Dr. Paul's is a fictional cartoon character.
In this episode, the Texas town of Arlen is experiencing a severe drought, and the local government has instituted water-rationing policies. Each household is permitted to use only a certain low amount of water each week until rain returns, and an army of bureaucrats has been unleashed to patrol the neighborhoods of Arlen, randomly checking meters and cracking down on those who defy the policy.
Rationing is a very typical measure imposed by central planners ignorant of economics. Much like the saying that a person who has a hammer sees everything as a nail, city managers see every societal problem as something that can only be solved by the exercise of their power. As if they are wizards holding magical wands, they believe each and every trouble in their jurisdiction can be fixed by regulations and policies.
This rationing policy is very bad news for Hank Hill. Hank has a lush lawn he proudly maintains, but this requires a lot of water. In order to stay within the restrictions of the rationing policy and still leave his family with enough water for their needs, Hank has to let his yard suffer.
If, instead of rationing, the Arlen city government allowed the price of water to freely fluctuate according to supply and demand, people like Hank would be much better off. The price of water would rise, which would result in people who don't value water as much reducing their consumption. This would leave more water left over for those who value the water more and are willing to pay the higher price. With rationing and price ceilings, yes, the price is lower, but the supply is extinguished much faster.
An even better solution would be for the city mangers of Arlen to completely demunicipalize water distribution and let the market handle it. Entrepreneurs would compete with each other over who can offer the highest-quality water services for the lowest price, and the victor would be awarded with the highest profits. This profit motive would make new innovations in water distribution much more likely. One entrepreneur might buy the rights to a water source in another well-hydrated territory and pipe it into Arlen. Another might invent a new, cheap way to desalinize the ocean water surrounding Texas.
Another, more pitiful solution the city managers of Arlen offer is the promotion of inefficient low-flow toilets being issued for "free" (at the expense of the taxpayers being forced to pay for them). This too is a typical response of the central planners: reduce your quality of life by using lower-quality products, citizens, and shut up. Rather than owning up to the problem being the result of foolish government management, the bureaucrats place the blame on the citizens for using the "wrong" toilets. We not only see this with the American government's present policy on toilets, but also with light bulbs and cars.
In the market you never hear entrepreneurs blaming their customers for problems. The customer is always right, and entrepreneurs slavishly have to find ways to continue pleasing the customer. If an entrepreneur held a press conference and told his customers that they need to quit complaining and learn to accept lower-quality products, he would go bankrupt overnight; but with government it is always about making the tax-slave citizens sacrifice and suffer, and about using violent force against those who refuse.
Hank, desperate to have water for maintaining his lawn, breaks down and gets a low-flow toilet.
The toilets are immediately revealed to be inferior products — requiring many more flushes to dispose of waste than normal toilets. This is a typical result of the government's remedies: not only are they usually unsuccessful, but they also exacerbate the problems they were allegedly intended to solve.
All the extra flushing has resulted in the Hill family using much more water than they were using with the old "eco-unfriendly" toilet. By now a significant number of Arlen residents are using these low-flow toilets: the city has a genuine decivilization crisis developing. Their standard of living is decreasing. They have less water and their waste is harder to dispose of.
Very quickly Hank expresses his desire to get his old high-flow toilet back, but he discovers the old high-flow toilets that are collected get smashed up and dumped into the ocean to aid in the development of coral reefs. When Hank stops by the hardware store to buy a new high-flow toilet he discovers that they have now been outlawed entirely in his county. This is similar to the quickly abandoned "cash-for-clunkers" program of the Obama regime that consisted of using tax dollars to buy perfectly functional but "eco-unfriendly" vehicles, destroy them beyond repair, and replace them with "eco-friendly" cars. The decivilizing effects were and remain many. There were fewer used cars available on the market, which raised the price of used vehicles and hurt the poorer people who depend on the used-car market to satisfy their transportation needs. Each and every tax dollar that was spent on this program is gone forever, leaving the economy as a whole poorer and our tax burden larger. And in the end, it turns out the "eco-friendly" cars aren't even any better for the environment.
Rightfully angry that bureaucrats have made it illegal, as Hank puts it, to "install a working toilet in your own bathroom!" Hank decides to go to the next Board of Zoning and Resources meeting and lobby against their ban on high-flows.
As Hank begins making his case to the board, the head bureaucrat, Nate Hashaway, cuts him off and announces that in order to discuss an issue at the meeting it must be formerly added to the agenda, but only a board member may add subjects to the agenda. Hank is politely told to shut up and the gang of bureaucrats moves on to a more important matter — wishing one of their members a happy birthday.
Hank's powerlessness against his local government is quite reflective of American politics. Even the smallest, pettiest bureaucrats have no concern at all for the citizens they rule over. The political class doesn't listen to reason. We're simply expected to shut up and unconditionally obey their every foolish, illogical, or immoral command. If a local zoning board doesn't care what you think, do you really believe your congressman or senator does? For every one US representative there are over 700,000 Americans. Your congressman, contrary to what he says in his campaign ads, does not care what you think. For every US senator there are over 3 million American tax slaves. How can one person possibly represent the interests of 3 million individuals? Your senator simply doesn't worry about it, that's how.
As the condition of his lawn worsens, Hank decides to run for office on a platform that consists completely of repealing the high-flow toilet ban. It turns out that a seat on the Board of Zoning and Resources has been empty for four years and Hank automatically wins the election upon submitting the paperwork.
Hank introduces a motion to repeal the ban at his first meeting with the board. He's shot down again. Nate Hashaway is a bit more defensive this time.
After the meeting is adjourned and the members are leaving, Hashaway slyly asks to speak with Hank in private. Turns out Hashaway has a secret stash of high-flow toilets. He offers to give Hank one if he agrees to shut up about the toilet situation. Hank heroically turns the offer down due to the gross immorality of a lawmaker not following the laws he himself commands others to obey. Lawmakers seldom follow their own rules the way they say we must. One example is how elite congressmen and senators are often exempt from the humiliating TSA search procedures the rest of us endure. Antigun politicians often use tax dollars to pay for armed security for themselves. Elite environmentalists seek to force us to reduce our fossil-fuel consumption as they fly around on private jets that emit more carbon emissions in a single trip than most cars emit in a year.
By now Hank's lawn is nearly dead, and Hashaway has launched a surveillance-and-blackmail operation against Hank, but Hank's son, Bobby, discovers some dirt on Hashaway just in time: Hashaway is the exclusive seller of the low-flow toilets.
Corporatism, also known as fascism, is collusion between businesses and the state. Examples include businesses lobbying for tariffs to protect them from foreign competition (at the cost of domestic consumers having to pay more for goods), businesses lobbying for competitor's products to be banned entirely (as with hemp and marijuana), businesses lobbying for monopoly privileges where the government outlaws their competition by instituting barriers to entry in the market, or any other scenario where private interests use the government to gain advantages at the expense of consumers.
Corporations often fear a free market, because in this scenario there is no government there to protect them from new innovators and young entrepreneurs. In a free market, all businesses must be on their toes, constantly innovating and willing to evolve. Corporations instead frequently favor a vast regulatory state that they can use to beat up their smaller competitors. (For a good example of Walmart doing this with minimum-wage laws, see Lew Rockwell here.)
This political thug Hashaway is using his government power to make people pay for his inferior toilets, and then he bans the competing toilets. This is similar to the case of Michael "Skeletor" Chertoff promoting the installation of naked body scanners in airports during his time as the secretary of Homeland Security and then immediately going on to work as a well-paid consultant for the primary company that makes them.
Not backing down, Hank reveals Hashaway's conflict of interest at the second meeting with the board and again introduces a motion to repeal the high-flow ban, but this time he begins a filibuster before the voting finishes.
As Hank reads his wife's very boring columns from the local newspaper, the members of the board eventually start needing to use the restrooms. One by one they go and come back, obviously frustrated by the poor performance of Hashaway's low-flow toilets. All the other board members can clearly hear each restroom occupant having to flush multiple times. After several hours, both the men's and ladies' rooms are out of order with broken toilets.
All the board members, except Hashaway, vote for the repeal, and toilet freedom is restored in Arlen.
Hank immediately resigns from the board.