Thursday, March 17, 2016

What Should Be Done about Puerto Rico's Debt?

Puerto Rico's debt ( provides an opportunity for looking at the concept of division of responsibility.

The President of the USA cannot, by fiat, do much about it. That would be a lot of power. The Constitution specifically gets in the way of fiat powers, to keep the President from abusing power.

Presidents do, you know, abuse power. So do Congresscritters. All politicians end up doing things they shouldn't, and the average politician will tend to try to gain power, assuming that he has to have power to do good. So, even though your heart is bleeding for this cause or that, you have to be patient and let the processes work by the rules.

Otherwise, politicians welcome every crisis as a way to expand their powers, as they think.

And, once they have new powers to do good things, somebody comes along with deals they can't refuse, hiding bad stuff behind good.

We have to regularly remind ourselves of these facts.

As I mentioned in the previous rant, President Obama has requested Congress to act on Puerto Rico's application for statehood. Congress has not acted.

Well, they seem to have acted half-heartedly.

The Huffington Post is not my favorite news source, but they have a few articles on the subject showing some of the arguments that people are having: (

Another example of the boondoggling going on is this post on the radical pro-English site/ (

You can find more through your favorite search engine: "Puerto Rico application for statehood", etc.

Language is not a problem. Contrary to certain idealists' assertions, the USA does not have a national language. If we were to choose a national language, right now, the reality is that we would have to choose English and Spanish both. Too many residents of the mainland do not speak English well enough. We already provide services in both, and the necessity of that in Puerto Rico has nothing to do with statehood.

Citizenship is not a problem. The USA already recognizes dual citizenship in practice. If Puerto Rico goes fully independent, Puerto Ricans before that date could claim dual citizenship and after that date would be only Puerto Ricans unless born to US citizens (most of them). In the latter case they could claim both still when they get old enough, etc. It would keep the US Consulate there in business for quite a while, I'd say, registering foreign births.

Tax has to be made a non-problem, but that is a subject for a different rant. The "Federal" income tax is, indeed, tightly bound to the causes of most of the current ills of US society and government. When we solve that, the solution for the Puerto Ricans should naturally be part of the general solution, and if it isn't, we should talk about charging someone with treason.

Until the national problem with internal revenue is solved, Puerto Rico should be required to implement a territory-run equivalent of a state income tax, from which they can pay an assessment to the national government. Taxes, they must pay, as long as they are part of the current USA. How they implement those taxes should be their own choosing, within the constraints of the Constitution.

(This is the fundamental nature of the solution to the national budget problems, by the way -- Amendment 16 was an exercise in treachery. Income taxes should never be adminstrated higher than state level, and mostly not that high. I'll rant more on that eventually.)

Lots of people in this world are plenty happy to tell others what they should do, and this is no exception. We can't tell them they can do just anything and everything they want, but we have to get our paws off of their decisions.

The problem is specifically that Puerto Rico was allowed, for a long time, special privileges in exchange for yielding their self-determination to the US national govnernment. This is very commonly recognized.

Why this was allowed to proceed for so long is fodder for conspiracy theories. 

Self-determination is precisely the core of this problem.

Not just Puerto Rican self-determination. Those whom we have elected to our government have stood, halt between two opinions, for too long.

Are we going to rally around the flag of freedom and responsibility by relearning to make choices and to accept the consequences of those choices?

Or is this USA, this glorious experiment in a government based on the fact of individual freedom, going to be allowed to go the way of all previous such experiments known to history? Is it going to be allowed to continue to slide into feudalism, ignobility, and tyranny?

Is the God who created this world and put us on it to learn how to act for ourselves and for others God? Or are we going to build to ourselves gods of gold and silver, money, and power, of immediate satisfaction, of incoherent competition, and of trying to control others while we let others decide who and what we are and what we will do?

Are we going to stand up and be men and women? Or are we going to follow the crowd, whatever is popular and "winning", unable to even behave with as much intelligence as a herd of sheep or a pack of coyotes?

If we, the citizens of the USA, won't set the example of responsible free individuals for the residents of our "territories", how do we expect them to understand how to pursue the road of self-government, whether statehood or national independence?

I can't do much here except preach.

But there are people who "own" the Puerto Rican debt, who irresponsibly encouraged them to get further in debt, who somehow believe that having a lot of money under their control makes them "right".

If they really want the problems to be solved, they are going to have to quit lobbying Congress to avoid letting Puerto Rico move ahead. I don't think they want the problems to be solved, because they think that the existence of the problems gives them power. These people seem to want to keep a tight grip on the resources of Puerto Rico, to the point of not letting anyone use them, in the illusion that they thereby have "control".

If I had fiat powers, I'd be more than happy to declare people who claim to own too much of other people's money and resources traitors to the cause of freedom and the Constitution. It's a good thing I don't have fiat powers, and it's a good thing the Constitution disallows fiat powers.

But it is time for somewhat drastic action for Puerto Rico, kept within the bounds of the Constitution, and keeping reasonable paths open for a self-determined path forward for Puerto Rico.

The first step is to explain the options to the Puerto Ricans through the internet and through their media, and to let them decide what they want to do. The plebiscite from four years ago is a little stale now, so they probably need to do it again.

The options in Puerto Rico are
  1. Maintain the status quo, probably letting debt-holders continue to control more and more of their day-to-day living, and probably becoming less and less able to borrow more money or make money, less able to keep Puerto Rico from becoming one large ghetto;
  2. Pursue statehood, under which they will have to write a state Constitution and set up the state government by themselves, which means they need to start working on the legal and social framework themselves;
  3. Pursue national independence, under which they will have to write a better national Constitution and set up a national government by themselves, which means they need to start working on the legal and social framework themselves.

Last time, they were asked to approve or disapprove each path individually. I can't tell if the options were fully explained to the citizens. This time, they should be asked the same, and then be asked to choose one path as their preferred path. And the options should be more carefully explained.

And, while they are organizing the plebiscite, they should start getting to work on the legal and social framework for self-determination. The plebiscite is not supposed to happen ex nihilo and then disappear back to the vacuum. Whether statehood or national independence, it requires leaving dependence behind.

Whatever they have been doing, it hasn't been working. They need to start looking for things they can do now that will work. The US Congress may be able to make the path forward more workable, but they have to walk the path themselves.

And it would be a lot easier for them to see a good example of what to do if the people of the US in general would quit setting the bad example and go back to setting a good example of walking the path of independence and responsibility.

This is where the second step comes. If you know someone who owns part of Puerto Rico's debt, ask them whether they are helping get the debts resolved, or whether they are engaging in petty efforts to control what others are doing.

And this is where the rest of us ordinary individuals can help. Check yourself. Are you setting a good example of what Puerto Ricans should do as they pursue independence either as a state or as an independent nation?

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