Cross posted to http://www.directionforamerica.com/

When I was a kid, the field across the road from my house was a cotton field tended by share croppers. Big field – big for our area, anyway. Later, it became a garden with peas and corn and such and as I became a mid-teens kinda guy, it was a wheat/rye field. See, rye can be about a foot taller than wheat. And if you do it right, you can plant both in the same field and jack up the combine to only harvest the rye heads, then come back in and harvest the wheat heads. I don’t really know, I didn’t do much with the harvests, but I got a whopping $2.00 an hour to get the straw up. This was waaaay back in the day when straw and hay were done primarily in rectangular or “square” bales. I would go out there and throw the bales up onto a trailer pulled behind a tractor or truck and another guy would stack it and we’d take the load to a barn to unload it and the guy that owned the straw would sell it to feed stores, landscapers, homeowners, etc. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

After the “Straw Days” of that field were left to grovel in the half forgotten history of area, the family that owned the field planted pine trees. This IS Georgia and at the time, I believe there was some type of really good tax break if you planted trees on land you owned.

Pines

Fast forward about seven or eight years and there are some really nice trees in that field. They’re probably about 12 to 16 foot tall and a recently un-employed fella living across the road from them (that’d be me) noticed that the pine straw that covered the ground under these trees not only looked like bare shiny copper wire, but it was also about three or four inches deep on average. It seems a couple of years before, our hero of this tale (that’d be me, again) had gotten married and built a house next to the house he grew up in and directly across from these trees. The First Gulf War (I hate to call it that because it’s inaccurate but that’s for another post) had broken out about three months after the aforementioned marriage and said hero had really gotten into AM radio to keep up with the news. (On a side note, Rush Limbaugh owes his very life and fortunes to Saddam Hussein because of that war and his timing in going into syndication, but that’s for another post)

I was raised in a conservative household. In Georgia at the time, everybody and I mean EVERYBODY was a Democrat. My mom and dad were the radicals – they were Republicans. The Southern Democrats of the day were conservative, too. They just practiced Southern Democrat conservatism. I believe that stemmed from Lincoln being a Republican and leading the forces of “evil” against the South in the “War of Northern Aggression” as it was called down here. See, in the world of the 60’s, 70’s, and into the 80’s, Democrat and Republican had more to do with South versus North than anything else – it has all just flipped over since then. Anyway, my brothers and I never got the lectures about ‘All people are the same – red and yellow, black and white” – we just picked it up through osmosis. Our parents were the original racial visionaries. We were right wing as hell and people were people. Race wasn’t a really big deal in our area. Most folks were white and there were a few black families and one Jewish one and my brothers and I grew up with these folks and made some of them our best friends. Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about so much as the point that we were conservative Republicans before being conservative Republican was cool in this area. And we liked black people. WOW! We really knew how to live on the edge, didn’t we?

So, to re-cap, I’m a right winger, unemployed, with a field of pine trees (and therefore straw) across from my house. I had a rake and I built a rectangular box out of plywood and the shipping “pallet” from a dishwasher that I had gotten when I delivered appliances for Sears. It’s 1993. I’ve been hooked on talk radio for over two years and I have a mortgage to pay. So I take to baling and selling pine straw.

pine straw bale

God, it was like money lying on the ground three or four inches thick. It was beautiful straw with hardly a stick in it and it was free for the taking. I had an old 1970 Ford pickup that had belonged to my father-in-law and I would pull it out there in the midst of the trees and rake and bale straw, load up the truck, drive it across the road, unload it and go back for more. All the time, drinking beer, and listening to talk radio. What a cool time….

I sold it for three dollars a bale and I couldn’t rake it up fast enough. I was living the good life though it was hard work and I was by myself all day while my wife worked. It got the bills paid, so it was good. I also had a lot of time to think and with my newly found political fervor, I realized that a lot of what I was raised to believe was true and fit in very well with a lot of what Rush and Boortz was talking about in the day. So I start looking around…

I see trees. Lots of trees. Some are short, not many; and some are tall, fewer still. I notice that about 95% of the pines are the same height. There were a few little hardwoods in there but not many and they were much shorter than the pines. Now, I’m a guy that likes to ponder on how things work and not just accept that they do. So I ask myself, “Why are there no hardwoods taller than the pines? Easy enough question – the field was bare when the pines were planted. The pines got a head start because the tree planters didn’t plant hardwoods. The hardwoods were “planted”, most likely, by squirrels burying seeds and birds crapping seeds while sitting on a pine limb and the pine limb was only there because the tree (along with a few thousand of its brethren) was a couple of years old, at least, in order to have a limb for the bird to sit on. I realize this means the hardwoods were late to the party and were having a hard go of it because of that. The pines created a canopy that almost completely shaded the ground. They were all competing with their neighbor for the available sunlight. But there was enough to go around so it wasn’t like they had to “take” any sunlight from their neighbor to survive, just work for what was available. And by “work for”, I mean be at the right height in the right place and everything was hunky-dory. *I CANNOT believe my spell check didn’t hit on “hunky-dory”! Cool.*

So it occurs to me that all these trees are “equal” in a way but each is an individual. If one is short, it doesn’t get enough sun which further retards it’s growth and it either dies or stays short and gnarly. If one is tall, it will catch more wind during storms and likely be damaged and have to stop growing and heal and that will delay its growth until it is about the same as the others. Then no more damage and a self-feedback loop style auto regulation of its growth. Remember, I’m listening to talk radio at the time and getting into the philosophical aspects of the differences between Socialism and Capitalism.

Socialism, it seems, requires an outside entity to attempt to ensure equality. Capitalism relies on self regulation by allowing excessive growth to have its own consequences. If the individual is strong enough to weather those consequences, it will succeed and flourish, if not, it gets knocked down a notch or two.

lottery winner

About that same time, Georgia had started up its lottery. There was a lot of talk about how bad it was. The churches were against it. The advocates for people who don’t know when to say when were against it. The advocates for the poor were against it. I voted for it. I don’t play it and don’t have any dreams of becoming rich from it but I voted for it because it looked like it was a choice between letting some people do what they wanted to do or preventing them from doing what they wanted to do – I tend to favor letting people do what they want as long as they don’t do it in my yard – figuratively speaking. Anyway, there was all this talk about how people who win huge awards in lotteries are something like 80% likely to be broke in five years. That intrigued me. Why would that be so? Well, a guy that spends $200 on lottery tickets per week is more likely to win $1M than a guy that spends nothing on them. “Can’t win if you don’t play!” or so they say. I beg to differ. But either way, a guy that spends $1 a week on tickets, theoretically, has 1/200th the chance that the big spender does.

monopoly man

But the problem is a guy that would spend half his paycheck a week on lottery tickets is demonstrating his lack of financial management skills. So lotteries are kind of set up to increase the chances of winning of the very people who are least able to handle money wisely.

So, I start putting it all together. These pine trees are, in a strained metaphorical kind of way, like people and this field of trees is the society in which they live. The only thing influencing them toward equality is the set of the laws of nature. It challenges the stronger ones and is brutal to the weaker ones. The resultant population is a general state of equality. I notice that the only way to force equality is to challenge and do harm to all that do not conform. Well, nature does that and you understand it. It’s the way things are. Life is not fair. Nature’s laws don’t change when too many trees are small or large – it is not an activist regulator. The laws are the same today as they ever were. But those trees don’t have the ability to help their weaker neighbors or to prop up and lift up their stronger ones. People do. People have to work against the challenges of their nature just like trees do but in their ability to reason; they have an ability to make choices. They can decide to remain average and have a happy balance of prosperity without undue exposure to the elements. They can choose to strive and reach high to get the most sun or prosperity with the knowledge that nature will be a bit tougher on them. Or they can choose to be short and low. Protected from the elements of responsibility because their neighbors absorb those blows collectively, yet struggling with the lack of prosperity or sun. With sun comes wind. It’s a yin and yang kinda deal.

What really sux is that man has established governments to protect their individual rights. In our metaphorical forest, government is akin to the pine straw farmer. A big tree gives more straw and should be prized. But if a few trees get too big and spawn an overlying canopy that cuts off the sun to the masses of the other trees, they may have to be pruned. A small tree may have to be moved or fertilized a little more than the others in order to get it up to speed. Maybe it’s small because of pine beetles or some other affliction and that affliction must be dealt with. But for the most part, the farmer just leaves the trees alone and lets them be trees because trees know enough about how to make straw that the farmer couldn’t possibly begin to tell them how to do it. Just let them make straw.black-and-decker-electric-pole-chain-saw

Now I said this is a strained metaphor mainly because trees cannot help each other. They cannot sell their own straw to buy their own fertilizer or beetle repellent etc. But the relationship between the farmer and government is a little less strained. The farmer can exercise force and coercion over the trees. And a busy-body government will in an increasing manner. No matter how well the stand of trees is doing, he’ll see a couple of trees braving the elements and reaching high and he will over react and cut them back because of the possibility that those trees could block just a little light from their neighbors. And if he sees a small tree, instead of promoting that tree’s growth, he cuts back all the trees in the vicinity so the sun can get lower to the weak one. In both cases, he is destroying an inordinate amount of production capacity to hopefully save a small amount of capacity.

As I thought of this, I realized I was basically a benevolent dictator in this realm. No one would stop me from pruning trees but I figured nature had made this wonderful field of money and who was I to second guess it. I will admit to certain fits of ethnic genocide as even a glimpse of a sweet gum tree would send me into a murderous mission to purify the race of trees. Now, I would never advocate the corollary in the real world but I was unencumbered by guilt or second thoughts in that there was not a market in sweet gum leaves.

Fertilizer

When I look at taxes and cumbersome regulations, I see pruning saws. When I look at free market incentives and lessening of regulation, I see fertilizer. Sure there is a place for pruning saws when nothing else will do, but I’d rather fertilize the whole forest evenly and get all the trees twice as high as they are. They’ll hold each other up and the smaller trees will benefit more from the fertilizer than the normal or higher trees. What is our government doing today – telling us how they are spreading fertilizer or sending out armies of guys with saws?

Something to ponder on…

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