The Tuned Feds

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Ralph Hull,
an early 20th century Ohio magician, was able to achieve one of
the most amazing magic feats of all: He could repeat a trick to
fellow magicians, and they couldn’t guess his secret.

According to
philosopher Daniel Dennett, Hull called his trick “The Tuned Deck.”
It was a variant of the old “pick a card, any card” routine. After
you put your card back in the deck, Ralph would riffle the deck
and listen to the sound it made to figure out your card, then produce
it with a flourish. The secret, Dennett explained, is that, “The
trick, in its entirety, is in the name of the trick… and more
specifically, in one word: ‘The!'”

The audience
thought he did the trick the same way each time. A trained magician
might suspect him of doing a palm, but the next time Ralph made
it obvious he wasn’t palming. Maybe it was a false cut? But next
time, there was no cut at all. Because Ralph kept changing the method
but keeping the illusion the same, no one ever figured out his secret.

The federal
government is using the same trick. “The” federal government. As
if it was a single entity with all parts operating in unison, always
increasing its power over us in the exact same way.

Though the
size and power of the government does increase under any administration,
the mechanism changes each time. Government grew under Reagan, Bush
I, Clinton, Bush II and now Obama, but in different ways. Government
grows with any combination of Democrats and Republicans controlling
the legislative and executive branches. It grew when everything
was under Republican control, it grew when the two parties split
control, and it grows now under Democrat control.

Sometimes it
grows primarily through foreign policy, as under Bush II, and sometimes
through domestic policy, as under Obama. But previous policies of
growth are rarely reversed: Our military is still in Iraq and Afghanistan
and Germany and South Korea. We still have the Departments of Energy,
Labor and Education. We still have the Federal Reserve.

Just when the
populace figures out what tricks the current incarnation of the
federal government is pulling, the government changes the method.

So what is
a citizen to do?

Are we really
supposed to waste our time reading bills when those who vote on
them don’t bother? Must we pore over the minutiae of politics and
protest each particular attack on our freedom? Who has that kind
of time?

The lesson
from Ralph Hull is that it wouldn’t matter. Pick a politician, any
politician. Maybe one particular election swings because of a hanging
chad. Maybe another is a choice between two candidates who differ
in no substantive way. No matter who you vote for, the Patriot Act
is presented with a flourish. So is war and socialized medicine
and bailed-out banks.

No, trying
to expose the federal government’s tricks is a pointless endeavor,
because the tricks change but the performance does not.

What happened
with the magicians who kept trying to figure out Hull’s secret?
With each repetition, and each rejected hypothesis, their resolve
grew weaker and weaker until they simply stopped trying to figure
it out.

And that’s
what will happen to us too if we just keep fighting each particular
infraction on our liberty as it occurs. We’ll get tired, and they’ll
keep going. We tried protesting the war under the previous administration.
We tried Tea Party protests and Town Hall attendance under this
administration. Did it help? Are we out of Iraq or Afghanistan?
Have we stopped bailing out banks? Have we removed regulations limiting
our health care options?

If Ralph Hull's
secret had gotten out, people would simply stop watching him; when
you ignore a magician, he doesn’t get your money. But that's the
difference with government: they will take it anyway. The government
is like one of those annoying guys at parties who says, “Give me
a twenty and I’ll make it disappear.” The only solution is to not
let them take your money.

So how do we
get the federal government out of our wallets, when they can tax
us anything they choose and print however much more they want? We
need some magic of our own. We need to saw some laws in half, levitate
a couple amendments, and make many government agencies disappear.

A version
of this article originally appeared in the Fairfield

9, 2009

Dr. Phil
Maymin [send him mail] is an
Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the Polytechnic
Institute of New York University. He is the author of Free
Your Inner Yankee

and Yankee
Wake Up

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