The paint job

MEXICO IS the perfect land for libertarians. The government pretty much leaves you alone. The photo illustrates this beautifully.

There are no safety nets, no safety harnesses, no safety helmets, no safety nada. These guys are free to plunge to their deaths, and I imagine sometimes they do.

Walking down a cobblestone street yesterday, sugar donut in hand, inhaling the cool air of late May, I happened upon this painting project, and I sighed with pleasure, knowing I would never see this above the Rio Bravo. It would be unthinkable. There are laws, you know.

And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 — the most recent numbers available — 110 million Americans, about a third of the population, live in a home that receives government handouts, and that does not include Social Security and Medicare.

Won’t be long before the most noticeable difference between the United States and bankrupt Greece is that Greeks speak Greek and Americans speak Spanish English.

These things flashed through my mind as I walked by the sky-high house painters on the cobblestone street. I smiled and took another munch of my sugar donut.

Mexico: Land of the free. Home of the brave.

31 thoughts on “The paint job”

  1. Work in Mexico gets done, on Mexican time, but it gets done; not projects bogged down by unions, and government, etc. etc. etc. I hope your sugar donut didn’t distract the workers.

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  2. We are working on our house, a nice place that our tenants – the Pig family – attempted to destroy. We cannot get anyone to paint our house, or stain the decks, or clean – so we are doing it ourselves. There are handymen in the local trade newspaper that offer to do household repair, but the job always sounds like too much work for them. So, we called a construction company, who gave us an outrageous bid on a miniscule amount of work and is now busy double billing us and calling demanding that we pay up or else – for work they did not perform. I am missing Mexico right now.

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    1. Bonnie: With every passing day, as I hear more of 21st century American life, I become more and more grateful for where I — pretty much by whim and fine fortune — have landed.

      Hurry with the repairs and get back to God’s Country.

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  3. Senor Felipe,
    My father worked at the Ford Motor Co. Rouge plant in the late 1920s. It was over 100 degrees during the day, and if you passed out welding after 14 hours they would fire you and kick you out and tell you “There’s 1000 men that want this job.” There’s a reason there are labor laws. At least back then, I’m not saying labor didn’t overstep their rights, but if you let management have free rein, you’ll have what we do now NOB. No chance of a pension and working for unlivable wages. If you’re lucky, you can work for the munitions plants, Lockheed Martin, etc. They are one of the few industries still hiring. As that is our largest export, “bombs.” It used to be cars and trucks.

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    1. Francisco: I look at the union issue this way: it is cyclical. Sometimes management gets the upper hand and abuses the privilege. Sometimes labor gets the upper hand and abuses the privilege just as much. Seems that a happy medium is rare. Both sides are prone to violence. Union power is, as you note, on a downswing in the United States. Bless Scott Walker in part for that. Public-sector unions should be totally outlawed. Even FDR was against them.

      I read recently that federal regulations — maybe it was a combo of federal, state and local — have mushroomed hugely since the 1980s. Currently, the government’s regulatory hands are entirely too intrusive in the lives of citizens. You may disagree.

      I like it that these painters can throw up a rickety scaffold, climb it as they see fit, paint as many hours as they wish, and get paid for it in cash with no government withholding. And they like it too.

      As for bombs, they have their place. A good place right now is Syria and Iran. Ka-boom!

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    1. Ms. Shoes: It would not surprise me to learn that you are correct.

      We do, however, have a higher injury rate from fireworks factories. But I just put those cases into the file labeled Social Darwinism.

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  4. The unions were very successful in improving the lives of their members. Unfortunately, that money had to come from somewhere. It couldn’t come out of profit because then the company would lose its financing. No, it came from cheapening the product and holding down the wages of the non union employees and increased product price.

    Make it fast, make it cheap, make it plastic.

    People will buy a bad product just once, then they move on to an imported product that will last. How cheap US manufacturers sold their reputations, it is sad.

    When unions and government make it impossible for a company to make money, the company gets sold.

    Foreign investors buy US companies to acquire technology, patents and markets. They do not want to deal with truculent unions and oppressive government regulations. They do want to provide employment for their own people.

    When people complain about jobs going overseas, they haven’t reached that Pogo moment to realize they did it themselves.

    The product looks the same, still has an American sounding name, but if you want to know who owns the company, look to see where it was made.

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    1. A couple of thoughts.
      Unions are about creating monopolies for themselves. A small number benefit but the vast majority loses. Witness the $15 minimum wage fight where Unions write exemptions for themselves into the law. Progressivism relies on lack of independent thought. In the USA, Unions are just a fundraising mechanism for the Democrat party.

      To back your Libertarian notion of Mexico, I believe that government spends only about 20% of GDP there which is quite low compared to the US where it is North of 44% and in Europe where it is over 50%. Of course Nieto is trying to make that number bigger. The average Mexican’s distrust of government may well serve as a counterfoil.

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      1. Wesmouch: Yes, distrust of government here is sky-high. There is historical justification for that. I think, however, that government is gradually improving down here. I may be mistaken, but things get done.

        As for the unions — California I believe it is — trying to wiggle out of the $15 minimum wage they supported, well, that’s downright hilarious.

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    2. Señor Gill: Public-sector unions improve the lives of their members a lot, and the money comes from the taxpayer with the permission of the unions’ employers who are politicians who want the union members’ votes. Collective bargaining where public-sector unions are concerned is essentially people “bargaining” with themselves, which is why public-sector union members, in many cases, enjoy stunning salaries and incredible benefits, and it also explains the financial red ink in which many government agencies swim.

      Public-sector unions are very bad things.

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  5. Felipe: You really need to get back NOB once in a while as you seem to have lost touch with how things are going here. House painting? Here they paint multi-story houses on ladders, much more dangerous than the scaffolding that you depict.

    I’d also like to see the precise definition of government “handouts,” and whether they are federal, state, or local.

    Lots of figures get bandied about these days, and most are quite uncritical about verifying what exactly they mean.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where our own house was painted by guys on tall, rickety ladders.

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    1. P.S. Maybe you’d be kind enough to explain to us why it’s a bad thing that people be obliged to take sensible safety precautions so that they don’t injure themselves and become a burden on others, changing status from “makers” to “takers.”

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      1. Kim: Why people should “be obliged” to take care of themselves? Right here at the get-go, we have a basic philosophical conflict.

        Years ago when I lived in Texas, and that state passed a motorcycle-helmet requirement, which I strenuously oppose (I think it’s been repealed), I wrote a letter of some length to one of my representatives in the Texas Legislature. He was so impressed with its clear logic that he photocopied it and put it on the desks of all of the other legislators.

        The standard argument for such laws is that when you are injured you become a financial burden on society, and that can be true. However, if lawmakers are going to outlaw risky behavior it logically follows they would outlaw the behaviors that cause the most damage, but they do not do that. They outlaw behaviors that they themselves do not indulge in or at least not too many of their constituents indulge in. They outlaw things that are politically popular. Cigarettes cause far more hospitalizations than do motorcycle accidents, but no one outlaws cigarettes.

        If you start down the road of outlawing risky behavior, where do you logically stop? If a motorcycle helmet makes motorcycling safer, would not full body armor make it even more safer? Wouldn’t you outlaw skydiving? Spelunking? Mind-altering drugs are now ridiculously outlawed, but anyone can buy them with ease. Booze, on the other hand, causes immense social problems, but no one advocates it be outlawed anymore, not after that mess with Prohibition back in the 1920s.

        Your “burden on society” argument is widespread and hoary. I reject it. If I want to get stoned, get drunk, ride a motorcycle or a bicycle without a helmet, skydive, whatever, I do not want the government meddling in it.

        All this is separate from a related issue, and that is if you do damage to others you need to be held accountable. If you want to get stoned on LSD, get into a car and drive into someone else, you need to be charged with the appropriate crime you committed, manslaughter, for instance, but not for using LSD. Just like if you get drunk on gin and kill someone with a gun, you get charged with murder, etc., not for being boozed up.

        In short, charge people with the criminal results of say, drinking, not for the drinking itself.

        You can make exceptions, and usually should, for minors.

        Government should stick to basic work like infrastructure, policing, national defense, etc. It should not be telling us (legally requiring us) how to live our personal lives. Leave that to Cuba, Soviet Russia and California.

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        1. So occupational safety standards should be abandoned completely? Automotive safety standards?

          I’m not hostile to your argument, in fact I believe that people should be free to take considerable personal risks. And I 100% agree with your take on the hypocrisy of tobacco non-regulation. How many people has marijuana killed? Very few compared to tobacco.

          But take something like drunk driving. History and statistics argue that people don’t take that responsibility seriously, and many choose, unwisely, and under the influence of alcohol itself, to drive inebriated. Your argument seems to suggest that that should be OK as long as no harm is caused to third parties. Yet to believe that such a regime would not cause considerable harm to innocent third parties has been empirically disproved in repeated, tragic evidence. It is a position that is defensible only in a theoretical world of ideas, but not the real world of two-ton, high-horsepower projectiles that we live in.

          I wish that everyone took personal responsibility as seriously as you and I do. But they don’t, and human nature says that they never will. You have criticized the left as a party or group which ignores human nature, yet it seems that both your post here and your response to me commits the same sin.

          And the case of workplace safety is one where people, many faced with few alternatives, will sacrifice their own well-being in order to make a living, and employers, unimpeded by law, will take advantage of that fact. Sad, but true.

          So do we address the world with policies that acknowledge human shortcomings, or do we pretend that human nature is other than what we can empirically see?

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          1. Oh, of course, there should be some occupational and auto-safety standards. But one should not need government permission to be, say, a hair stylist, which is now regulated in many zones.

            If someone drives drunk and hurts someone, they should face the judicial process. But for the damage they did, not for being drunk.

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            1. I agree with you about the ridiculousness of much of occupational licensing, which is nothing more than entrenched interests seeking to use the government to prevent legitimate competition.

              As for drunk driving, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. While one can argue about the level at which impairment occurs, the fact that at some level it does occur falls into the realm of “scientific fact,” and it slows reaction times and impedes judgment, both of which are essential to safe driving.

              Saludos.

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          2. Actually most government mandates such as seat belts, airbags etc have not had an effect on mortality but have increased the costs of vehicles and made their mileage poorer (due to increased weight). While it is true that seat belts decrease the mortality of car occupants they increase the mortality of pedestrians because the drivers are more careless because they feel safer and kill more pedestrians. Hence no basic change in mortality. Similar studies of many things show no net benefit of government intervention but much in the way of unintended consequences which tend to be deleterious. The basic idea is The Fatal Conceit outlined by Nobel prize winner FA Hayek: The economy is so complex and information is so dispersed that the idea that a bunch of bureaucrats can manage it is absurd much less the hamfisted morons you typically find in government service.

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    2. Here’s a snippet from the NPR story on skyrocketing “disabilities.”

      “In Hale County, Alabama, nearly 1 in 4 working-age adults is on disability. On the day government checks come in every month, banks stay open late, Main Street fills up with cars, and anybody looking to unload an old TV or armchair has a yard sale.

      Sonny Ryan, a retired judge in town, didn’t hear disability cases in his courtroom. But the subject came up often. He described one exchange he had with a man who was on disability but looked healthy.

      “Just out of curiosity, what is your disability?” the judge asked from the bench.
      “I have high blood pressure,” the man said.
      “So do I,” the judge said. “What else?”
      “I have diabetes.”
      “So do I.”

      There’s no diagnosis called disability. You don’t go to the doctor and the doctor says, We’ve run the tests and it looks like you have disability. It’s squishy enough that you can end up with one person with high blood pressure who is labeled disabled and another who is not.”

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      1. Again, I’m not unsympathetic to your point that people are taking advantage of a system which was never designed to do what it is now doing. But the fact that people are claiming disability where none truly exists doesn’t mean that the idea of a publicly-funded system of protecting the “truly needy” (to borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan) is a bad idea. It just means that the current system needs to be reformed so that it can provide for people who truly can no longer provide for themselves.

        As for motorcycle helmets, I can see no conceivable argument for not wearing one. Now that’s not the same as saying that I think they should be required by law, though I’m not saying that either. Here in Massachusetts, helmets are required, but a mere 50 miles north in New Hampshire they are not required. So the minute you drive over the border, you see people riding without them. Me? I wear my helmet wherever I go and I believe the helmetless are nuts.

        Legally, I could accept a system where people were permitted to ride without a helmet, but with a strict condition. They would be required to sign an affidavit in their local RMV/DMV which stated that they fully accepted the personal risk and that no public funds would be spent on their medical care or subsequent maintenance in disability in the event of injury that a helmet could have prevented. This would also be printed on their driver’s license, and a visible sticker would be affixed to the bike, and such people would then be free to truly take their own chances. But I suspect such people would also have an extremely difficult time obtaining private insurance for such lunacy either. And so only the very rich motorcycle riders would be able to afford any treatment in the event of serious injury.

        In my view, such a system would be philosphically correct, though difficult to actually implement. But it seems like a lot of trouble just so that a few people who aren’t good at evaluating risk can do something stupid.

        By the way, as a final point, helmet laws don’t seek to reduce risk to zero. Were that the case, motorcycles (and cars and many other things) would simply be banned. But helmets are extremely cost-effective, and that’s the point of requiring them, not to reduce risk to zero.

        Should we also abandon seat-belt laws? It wasn’t too long ago that car manufacturers didn’t even want to put seat belts into cars.

        One of the seldom-mentioned, but important thing to consider about regulations in general is this. The more people you have in close proximity, the higher the potential that they infringe on each others’ peace and freedoms. If a few factories a hundred miles away are belching smoke in a lightly populated area of a lightly populated globe, it’s probably not a problem. But if 20 million people are all driving cars in some place like Los Angeles or Mexico City, and those cars are all belching pollutants, then there’s a big problem. Why shouldn’t the people come together under a government to address the problem of the smog? There’s really no go answer to that, and that’s why there’s more and more regulation of various kinds.

        Personally, I think we could do well as a society to require a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of all regulations. But I don’t think the idea of regulating what economists call “negative externalities” is a bad idea at all.

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        1. P.S. I think congress itself (House + Senate) is a great example of why (aside from the fiscal imperative) that we need to raise the age of Social Security and Medicare eligibility. A good chunk of those folks are well beyond “retirement age,” proving conclusively that there’s no reason folks can’t work well into their seventies.

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        2. Society certainly should care for the truly needy. Many, likely most, getting government aid today are not truly needy.

          You believe the helmetless are nuts, and many believe anyone who rides a bike at all is nuts. Seat-belt laws should apply only to minors. That said, not wearing one is nuts, in my opinion, but the government should stay out of it.

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  6. Wow. I ‘m too late for the bar fight.

    Just let me say my take on the photograph is that the painters are not doing anything dangerous. They know their space. And they will use their own good sense to avoid danger — and death. That is something I like about Mexico. People take personal responsibility for their lives.

    An example. We have a handful of stop signs in my area. No one obeys them. But people (usually) look before they plow into traffic — because no one smashes up a car on purpose. It is not in their self-interest. The amazing thing is: it works.

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  7. I agree that the concept of personal responsibility is one of the best parts about Mexico. I have been to zoos where you could reach your hand into a cage and pet a wild animal. Unthinkable in the USA but the Mexicans have the right attitude. If you do so and are bitten it’s your fault. The trial lawyers appear to have been held at bay South of the Border.

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