Politicians take care of their own
California Grants Privileges to Government Personae
June 1, 2008
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

In George Orwell’s classic tale Animal Farm, the slogan “all animals are equal” became amended to “but some animals are more equal than others.” The State of California has adopted the Orwellian policy of granting government officials the exalted status of immunity from some of its laws. For example, politicians who hold office are immune from photo ticketing and tolls.

California has created a state aristocracy made up of police officers, judges, district attorneys, and other officials. The state’s Confidential Records Program has granted government license plates for their vehicles that hide the identity of the owner from the state’s databases.

Cities in California and elsewhere have been installing photo ticketing. Cameras at street intersections photograph cars and their license plates when they cross an allegedly red traffic light. These red light cameras are owned and operated by private companies, which obtain a share of the loot from the accused offenders. The government hires collection agencies to collect the fines, but they can’t touch the governmental aristocracy.

The Confidential Records Program was originally created in 1978 to protect police officers from criminals who sought to retaliate. But now it is a privilege granted to state officials to avoid having to pay the fines that the proletarians have to pay when they cross a red light, and also to avoid highway tolls.

These special license plates often also enable the driver to avoid regular traffic fines. Suppose a judge is speeding down a freeway. A traffic police officer stops him. The judge points out that he is one of the privileged nomenklatura. Often, the police officer will grant the driver “professional courtesy” and not ticket him. Parking citations are also dismissed to these license holders.

The Freedom of Information laws do not apply to the state’s nobility. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has protected holders of the special license plates from public scrutiny by refusing to provide a list of plate holders to Orange County Register news reporters unless they paid thousands of dollars.

California’s titles of nobility can last a lifetime. Officials can keep the privileged license plates when they retire from government office. But there is one group of government workers who did not get this privilege: dog catchers. This omission is now being corrected, as a state assembly member has initiated legislation (AB 1958) to expand the confidential plates to dog catchers and some others, just in case some vicious dog that gets caught seeks revenge.

A major principle of the rule of law is that government officials are subject to the same laws as the rest of the people. Bad laws are prevented when they also apply to the lawmakers. By granting immunity, the state has created an aristocracy above the law. Just as the Confidential Records Program has spread from protecting the police from criminals to granting privileges from highway tolls and traffic laws, so too will this policy of granting immunity to state officials spread from traffic laws to special treatment for taxes, criminal law, and regulations, and these privileges will continue even after they leave office. Eventually we will have a society divided into the nomenklatura and the proletariat, which even democracy will not be able to dislodge.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.
Economist

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., is an economist and has been writing weekly editorials for Progress.org since 1997. Foldvary's commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and currently teaches at San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary's areas of research include public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.