Changes in Latitude

I’ve run away. I never understood folks who kept more than one home until I’d spent the last 20 years in Wisconsin, then my Oklahoma DNA kicked in and demanded to be warm more than two months a year. Now that the children are out of the nest and the spouse is still attached to his career, I’ve come to the realization that waking up to temperatures above 50 degrees is not a sin, and that the world, at least in the Northern hemisphere below about the latitude of Dallas, Texas can be mine.

So I’m in Antigua, Guatemala. It’s my fourth year visiting here for a few weeks. To my surprise, even though I speak very little Spanish, it’s become a grounding point for me. It’s crazy here. I fit right in.

One of the more interesting components to this community are the roaming expats, from kids not yet 20 to those older than I, who wander through once or twice a year. Nomads who feel the draw. Mostly dreamers. A few do-gooders. Some rich; some poor and living as much by their wits as the natives. But the one thing this crowd all seems to have in common is how they understand the nuances of human survival as a community. Politics are discussed not in terms of which candidate is the bigger jerk, but in the context of how will you find breakfast in the morning. As a political scientist it feels a bit like Lord of the Flies meets A Tale of Two Cities. There is always a need for the next meal, and revolution is about two beers away. It’s hard to have an idea without immediately finding the contrast.

For example, this was the view from the ride to Antigua from Guatemala City a couple of days ago. It’s not every day a guy gets to hang his hammock over the livestock on the way to market.

hammock with the cows

And here’s a public works project in the the city of Antigua. Rows of men with shovels and pick axes. The girls stop to flirt. The men take a couple of stabs at the cobblestones and then talk for a few minutes. Then two more swings before they crawl out of the ditch to admire their work. It’s a rhythm that would send even a laid-back American foreman to drink. But that’s ok. They’d fit in down here, too.

public works project

Now to the political thought of the day:

In America we can expect to see the gap between the rich and the poor increase as long as we grow the political class.

I’m going to go a little beyond that statement and speculate that America is in decline because the political class continues to grow. So while those on the left lament that the rich get richer, President Obama, El Señor Leftador, just signed more dictates that the rich political class shouldn’t be working so hard.

In pointed vernacular, he’s saying, “If you work for the government, then your life will be growing easier. If you are unemployed, suck it. We’re too busy taking care of our own to care about your needs.” It’s really nothing more that graft wrapped into a nice little speech on the importance of families. Those employed for the political class, from a Chief of Staff to a janitor for the Internal Revenue Service, will be taking more of the U.S. gross national product to gain more leisure time, and those unemployed will be further removed from the chance of employment because higher taxes to pay for political class perks mean fewer dollars available for the average business to spend on hiring a new worker.

I came to the idea when visiting with a Guatemalan organic coffee farmer. The crop is nothing this year because of the rain came at the wrong time. It wasn’t so good last year, either. He was upset that he had not been able to hire the people he usually employed to harvest. This year, he said, the communities would start to feel the pain. Children wouldn’t be enrolled in the local schools because families would not be able to afford it. Food would be more scarce. Another bad harvest and it wouldn’t really hurt him, but it would decimate the local economy.

Then he went on to explain the difficulty in managing his business through the government corruption. To talk to a Minister you needed to walk in with a million Quetzales. That’s around $130,000 U.S. To get what you needed, you need to double it. The corruption is so rampant that it continues to keep a foot to the neck of the indigenous because the landowners can not afford to hire the people and pay the bribes. The government class grows richer through graft and overt bribery. The poor starve.

Remove your political prejudice and consider for a moment if that is the very thing taking place in the United States. Even in my small suburb of Brookfield, you can bet the mayor is well fed by the developer wanting subsidies for his next project. (And yes, I’d take that bet.) While we like to pride ourselves that we don’t have the corruption of other countries, we fail to realize that we’ve built that corruption into political finance laws that allow an incumbent candidate the ability to raise funds in his own name.

Even a spiffy up-and-comer like Republican Assemblyman Dale Kooyenga spends his campaign finance stash for lots of coffee, part of his home internet connection, and 1/3 of his personal cellphone. Of course, that would demand the assumption that Mr. Kooyenga admits to spending 1/3 of his time campaigning. Mind you it’s all perfectly legal, but it’s graft. They simply wrote themselves a law to make it palatable.

As always, I don’t want to pick a fight, but darn it, I’d love for you to think this through. We’ve legalized graft. It’s costing our economy. It is, above all, creating a wider gap between the haves and the have nots as the haves are or are connected to the political class, and the have nots – well, they rely on that same political class for their survival through government subsidies of their own.

Close your eyes and ride that merry-go-round as you process this idea.

By the way, here’s a decent article from The Weekly Standard on The New Political Class. And if you are trying to argue that the political class does not harbor that much of our economy, just try to come up with one person or business not touched by someone considered the political class.

Ok, there a warm, soft breeze demanding my attention. I’ll go for now. Here are a few things I’d like to address. Let me know if you have a preference in order.

–The Milwaukee Streetcar
–The (in)complete Scott Walker
–Beating the cost of higher education in Wisconsin.
–WI accountability in schools starts with parents.



  1. Would love some sentiments on the Trolley Folly.