blank.gif (51 bytes) Bureaucracy

'This Tyranny Is
Coming From Upstairs'

by Steven Miller

ormally when we hear the word “tyranny,” it refers to something far, far away—“those dirty communists,” or “that tin-pot dictator Milosevic.”

But historically, the word has a technical meaning. And increasingly that meaning applies right here in Nevada.

Aristotle classified tyranny as the form of government where a single individual has authority not limited by prescribed conditions. Under that definition, wide expanses of modern government are tyrannical, because increasingly government agencies have hidden purposes that are not officially acknowledged.

Often such large hidden agendas operate behind government licensing operations. A very common one is simply keeping whole classes of people out of business. The barely winked-at goal is to keep the market—whichever one it is—doctors, lawyers, hairdressers, you name it—restricted to “our guys,” whoever they happen at the moment to be.

Bureaucrats of course love the unfettered power they get under these arrangements. And established interests love being able to sic the bureaucrats on new competitors. Yet these “understandings” are the corruption of public life.

A classic instance is the situation many small Clark County waste-recycling companies face. Because these small firms compete with the county’s mammoth Republic Silver State Disposal monopoly for construction and other waste, they regularly find defense in depth when they go to the county’s licensing and other departments.

It’s a Catch-22 worthy of Joe Heller. If the companies operate without business licenses, they quickly receive citations and fines. But if they apply for licenses and permits, they find their path through the county agencies barricaded, detoured and sniper-equipped at every turn. Sometimes bureaucrats ignorant of constitutional freedoms lecture on how only Republic Silver State—which fights the recycling state lawmakers have asked for—is “authorized” to pick up materials at Clark County construction sites.

Perhaps because most of the construction-site clean-up companies in the Las Vegas Valley are Hispanic, no reports of their plight seem to make it into the media. Recent immigrants from Mexico—often already too-familiar with government agencies that illegally serve entrenched power—rarely make a public fuss.

NPRI tracked down the details from various sources, including the son of a family now in the valley for three decades.

“I’m going strictly by what I’ve experienced myself,” says Juan, who asked that his full name not be used.

“Each different agency—from business license, to zoning, to the health department – even public response—seems to have its own criteria to follow. There’s no standardization of ‘what means what,’” he says.

At the root of what he identifies as “a political mess” is a monopoly-granting “franchise agreement” between Clark County and the garbage monopoly—as interpreted by uneasy bureaucrats.

“That paper has muddled every aspect of trying to get a license—from zoning to business license,” says Juan. “Even the DA is hesitant to make a judgment regarding that document.”

“It’s all hearsay among all these different agencies. They interpret it the way they’ve heard it is.”

The evidence is that no bureaucrat wants to cross Republic Silver State—or its elected proxies on the commission.

Sometimes the clerks virtually admit what they’re doing is unfair, says Juan.

“When you talk to them behind closed doors, certain people, they tell you, ‘Well, this is coming from upstairs.’ I’ve had that [said] on many occasions.”

Some county departments have ticketed the small companies, only to lose when the case gets to court, said Juan. Other sources agreed. Nevertheless, the Clark County bureaucrats keep taking their lead from the self-interested garbage company.

“It’s been told to us on more than one occasion,” says Juan, “that they [county officials] want everything to go into the landfill.” Republic Silver State owns the private Apex landfill and charges a minimum of $160 per truck “tipping” there.

“They’ve got people telling us that they don’t want to stop recycling,” says Juan, “but all the same, they want to make it so unprofitable you can’t get it done. What they’re telling us is that we’d have to have a different box [at each construction site] for each type of recyclable material—one for cardboard, one for wood, one for metal, one for plastics.

“We’ve told [the county officials] it can’t happen,” says Juan, “[and] they even have said they know it can’t happen—[that] nobody can do it. Not even Silver State themselves could do it.”

Or even tries to. Instead, the garbage monopoly gets county officials to use their discretionary powers to harass the small businesses, simply because they recycle, rather than truck everything to the monopoly’s landfill.

Whenever individuals exercise authority unlimited by Aristotle’s “prescribed conditions”—read, constitutional limits—government degenerates quickly into a tool of the powerful. NJ

Steven Miller is the managing editor of Nevada Journal. He can be contacted at sm@npri.org.


Join NPRI

Journal front | Search | Comment | Sponsors