One sure sign of spring here in north-eastern Vermont is the frequent reminders from state and local officials to bring in your bird feeders. This is probably a common thing in any northern state at this time of year. The reason is that with the snow melting and temperatures rising, the bears are beginning to stir and will soon be out looking for food after their long winter nap. One of their favorite foods, especially this early when there isn’t a lot to eat, is black oil sunflower seeds, which bears will eat straight out of the bird feeder by shaking the feeder over their mouths. The worry, and hence the repeated warnings to bring in the feeders, is that once a bear gets used to a convenient source of food they will keep coming to your house and become a nuisance or worse as Governor Shumlin found out a few years ago.
It is not just bears that the government warns us not to feed, but all wild animals. On visits to the Grand Canyon you will see signs, like the one to the right, warning you to not feed the animals no matter how tame they might seem. While you cannot read the text from this image, the National Park Service website explains why it is a bad idea to feed the animals.
Animals that are fed by people become dependent on human food, and may lose their natural fear of humans and their ability to forage for natural foods. There is a lot of truth to the saying, “a fed animal is a dead animal.” In addition to losing their foraging ability, animals that have been fed are less likely to survive other reasons. Animals that have been fed from cars congregate near roadways and are at a high risk of being killed by vehicle collisions.
Feeding animals puts everyone in potentially hazardous situations. People who feed animals may be bitten or otherwise injured by the animal they are feeding. Other visitors are at risk as they may be harmed by aggressive animals that have previously been fed.
It struck me recently that the situation with feeding wild animals is a great analogy for the cronyism we see today. The government is essentially like Governor Shumlin and others like him who leave their feeders out too long. The government has been offering favors, subsidies and special regulations, to cronies in business for so long that we are seeing effects on many companies that are the equivalent of those described by the Park Service on wild animals. We have companies that have become dependent on government handouts, think companies like Solyndra which receive government loans and fail when those funds run out, that are unable to compete in an open market, think any industry that lobbies the government for regulations that protect them and hinder future rivals, that no longer need to fear the negative results of overly risky business decisions, think banks or other companies that the government will bail out because they are considered “too big to fail,” or that seek to use government force to violate the rights of individuals, think the recent proposed Keystone Pipeline bill with its provisions to use eminent domain on behalf of a private company.
As I have written in the past, here for example, it is the presence of these government “feeders” that leads people to act in ways that would otherwise be contrary to their interests. Individuals will often act in ways that the government subsidizes because it is often less expensive, in the short-term at least, than other options but they will have little regard for who is paying the costs that they are able to avoid. Companies will lobby the government for special favors, tax breaks or favorable regulations, because it is easier to convince a few hundred people to grant a favor than to create innovative new products but they will have little regard for the fact that a favor gained in this way can easily be taken away or turned against you.
Many people complain about what they term “big money” in politics while ignoring the context of this spending, i.e. government intervention in the marketplace. If people like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were actually serious about getting rid of it, a good first step might be for government to bring in those feeders and allow companies to live, and perhaps die, in the “wild” of the free market. This would also lead to a stronger, healthier economy–not to mention a freer country. To paraphrase the National Park Service:
By treating companies, and individuals, with respect and not regulating or subsidizing them, you are aiding their chance for survival. By keeping the free market free, you are protecting their owner’s rights – and ours.
Perhaps a few signs around the capitol building would help as well.