This article was originally published on Jan. 25th, 2009 at americanchronicle.com
I am not a rich man. Those of you who read my column likely know this. It seems I have struggled my entire adult life to make ends meet. Although I have always worked hard and have always been able to hold down a job and do it well, it seems I´ve never been able to get ahead. I haven´t lived a bad life. I´ve always been able to provide for my family and we´ve lived an average middle class existence, but I built a pile of debt and I just never seemed to be able to climb out of it. I´ve been behind most of my adult life. Something always seemed to happen to demand more of my money when things started to turn around. I guess I was in actuality living beyond my means and just couldn´t figure it out, often being blinded by what I thought my kids needed or my family wanted.
There were, however, certain things I had to do without. A new car was one of them. I would buy used and keep what I had running for as long as I could. Since I had a big family, I quite often felt I needed a minivan. These were a little more expensive so what I bought usually had a few more miles on them then I would have liked and I still had to borrow to afford them.
Years ago, when I was first starting out and my family wasn´t so big, I could fix my own cars. Even as recently as the early 90s I was able to do many repairs on my cars and keep costs down. This is no longer so true. Due to the restrictive environment the United States federal government has put on automobile manufacturers in this country, there are several gadgets and devices on vehicles these days which must be operating to make the car "legal" and I have no idea what all of them are or how to fix them should they fail, so if they do go bad I am more or less forced to take it to a repair shop.
So it was a while back when I got pulled over by the police one night. I knew why I was being pulled over, but I wasn´t going to tell the officer that when he asked me. My plates had expired. Paying $85.00 for a new yearly sticker simply had not been in my budget. I figured I´d see how long I could go without paying. I had made it six months. I told the officer I had no idea why he had pulled me over and he informed me my plates had expired. He asked for proof of insurance and all I had was my old insurance card which had also expired a couple of months back. He wrote me a warning for the plates and told me to take care of that. He also wrote me a ticket for driving without insurance which I had to go to court on and show proof to the judge that I had insurance.
The court date on the ticket was set for two weeks from the night of the stop. I would have to take a day off work to go to court. Fortunately, I had a sick day left, so I wouldn´t lose a day´s pay. Since the courthouse wasn´t far from a Department of Motor Vehicles facility, I decided I would take care of the insurance ticket and then go get my plates renewed.
Getting proof of insurance was no problem, just a bit of a pain. I had to call my insurance agent and have him email me a copy, then snail mail me one just in case. The emailed copy worked just fine and I received the snail mail copy in plenty of time before I had to go to court. I went into court, showed the document to the prosecutor when my name was called, and the case was dropped. No blood, no foul. It was the other part that proved to be difficult.
I walked into the DMV expecting no problems. I had my checkbook ready and was quite willing to pay the $85.00 to renew my license rather than take the chance of having my driving rights violated. They say driving is a "privilege" in the state of Illinois, but I say we all have the right to travel and in these modern times driving is essential, but that´s a matter for another day. As I handed the nice lady at the DMV my check and expected to get a sticker for my license plate in return, I found out that there was a problem. She handed me back my check and told me she could not accept it because my vehicle had not passed the emissions test. I hadn´t even taken it to get its emissions tested as I had no idea it was due for such a test. I was speechless. The lady gave me a ten day temporary pass and told me to get my emissions tested and come back.
And so the journey began. Being that I live on the edge of nowhere the nearest testing station was miles away. In fact, had I lived about two miles more to the west, I would not have been required to have my vehicle tested at all. But, anyway, my hopes of being able to rest and relax for the rest of the day were dashed. A nice day where I had called in sick to work was going to be thrown away running around for the state. I heaved a sigh and headed back to my vehicle, hoping to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible.
When I got to the testing station, I was the only one there. I was taken care of immediately. I thought this was going to be a breeze. They hooked my car up to their computer and started the test. It only took a couple of minutes. My car failed. The man sent me to the front office with a code to decipher what was wrong with my vehicle. Now I was starting to get upset. This was going to take quite a while longer than I thought it would. In fact, I now realized this was going to be far more than a one day project.
The man in the front office had a code that told me exactly what sensor was bad. He gave me a list of local dealers that could check out my car and tell me whether it needed a new sensor or whether something else was wrong. Naturally, the test itself was going to cost money. Depending on what was wrong the fix was going to cost even more. This was money I simply did not have. I asked the man what happens to those people who have bad credit and don´t have the money and simply can´t afford to take care of these problems. He had no answers for me. I began to contemplate my options.
I´ll make a long story short. The car I was driving had 120,000 miles on it. I was planning on getting a new used car soon anyway. I decided to take it to a dealer to see what was available. As it was, the dealer had a 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe with 35,000 miles on it for $10,000 which was a pretty good deal. Gas was running about four dollars a gallon when this happened. I asked the dealer to see what he could do for me.
This is what happened next. My credit was so bad that I would have had to pay an exorbitant interest rate to get a loan and the payments would have been more than I could handle. But, I had the option of getting a cosigner for the loan and bringing the payment way down. This is what I did. In addition, the dealer let me know he couldn´t give me enough for a trade in on my old car to cover what I owed on the loan. It was worth less than I owed. He suggested I call the bank and voluntarily turn it over to them. My credit would take a hit, but it was already so bad (it was below 500) that this would hardly affect it any more. He told me to then just walk away from the loan, and that that´s what many homeowners were doing. I felt I had little choice, so I took his advice.
So, because of an $85.00 licensing fee, I ended up with another car and the bank ended up taking a loss. This whole matter revolves around the government´s tendency to be run by control freaks. It revolves around government´s desire to micromanage every aspect of our lives. It happened because the government makes laws, however well intentioned, that have no victims and creates criminals out of people who have harmed no one and damaged no property. It also insulates those who work for the government from taking responsibility for the harm they may do to an individual when enforcing these laws. And to top things off, these laws harm the poorest of our society, those who can least afford to pay the price.
I´m not proud of what I did, but I feel I had little choice. The old car I had was running fine and I probably would have kept it quite a bit longer if the state hadn´t gotten involved. To begin with, if the state didn´t require a renewal of plates once a year and instead only charged when the plate was transferred to a new vehicle, I wouldn´t have had to worry about a thing. If they hadn´t passed laws requiring auto manufacturers to adhere to their strict regulations, then cars would likely be cheaper now and consumer demand and competition would likely have made them more environmentally friendly and efficient. My car was likely operating within the polluting requirements set down by the state, yet the state even regulated how such requirements were to be monitored which also set the events into motion. If they simply took measurements and had let the manufacturers worry about any new anti pollution devices, even that small change might have meant that I would still be driving my old vehicle, the bank would still be receiving payments from me, and I wouldn´t have had to go through the hassles I went through.
All this makes me wonder how many people have been driven homeless because of the state. If I hadn´t been so lucky to have family to help me out, would I have ended up on the street? What if I had decided not to go along with the program and driven my car without a new sticker and without it being approved by the Illinois Air Team, those bureaucrats who check to make sure cars conform to their pollution standards? Would I have eventually been pulled over and arrested, my car impounded? Would I have been thrown in jail? Would I have lost my job, my livelihood, perhaps simply because I didn´t have the means to conform? Would I have lost my home, perhaps my family, because there was no one willing or able to help me? These are certainly possible scenarios if the law is taken to its logical conclusion. One can even wonder if there is a homeless person out there with such a tale to tell.
These victimless laws only serve to put financial stress on everyone, but especially on those already the most financially stressed. The state doesn´t care. The state is a thoughtless, emotionless entity that just grinds away at the life and fortunes of individuals. Sometimes I think that those operating the apparatus of the state don´t really care all that much about the money, after all the money isn´t theirs. They only seem to care that the state is obeyed, that their power is maintained, no matter how unfair the law and no matter the circumstances revolving around the individual in violation of said law. The state is only interested in increasing its power over the collective.
We as a society, as a nation, and as a collection of states, should begin to take more seriously the founding documents of those who founded this nation and fought a war to break from the tyranny of a monarchy. We would do well to ponder the spirit of those documents and the words written upon them. For far too long lawyers and politicians have twisted, perverted and interpreted those words to afford themselves, their friends and their contributors more power and advantage over those who would compete with them in a free market. The government of this country, of these great United States of America, was never meant to create such onerous regulations, and neither were the governments of the separate states. The founders instead intended our government to be quite limited in scope. It was meant to protect the freedoms and liberties of the individual, pure and simple. Today, it has become a monstrosity that is the main driving force behind the disrespect for and violations of civil liberties that we experience everyday.
It is about time we as a society started demanding such victimless laws be repealed. It is about time we started demanding of our government that it scale back. It is about time we started demanding government to get out and stay out of our personal lives and let us take personal responsibility for ourselves. It is, after all, we who should own our own lives, not the government. Until and unless this happens, the government will continue to grow until it reaches such proportions that it can no longer support its own weight, at which time it may collapse with such a resounding crash that the universe itself takes note. Such is the fate of all self aggrandizing entities, however well intentioned.