Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Tierney Disses Bureaucrats

John Tierney, the new conservative columnist at the NYTimes, shows that he's no slouch at dissing bureaucrats in today's column. This is the second column on the West, channeling the writings of Terry Anderson (see below for links). Apparently the Indians were in good shape making treaties with civilians until 1840's, when we got a standing army after the Mexican War. (This would be news to Generals Anthony Wayne and William Harrison (who got to be President based on his fame as an Indian fighter.) Then the Bureau of Indian Affairs (their predecessor agency) came along and really put the kibosh on them. The Times requires registration but here's a quote:
"They were consigned to reservations and ostensibly given land, but it was administered by another bureaucracy, the agency that would grow into what's now the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The agency, in addition to giving some of the best land away to whites, allotted parcels to individual Indians with the goal of gradually transferring all the land and ending federal supervision. But what self-respecting bureaucrats work themselves out of a job?

As the land under their control dwindled, they presumed that Indians were not 'competent' to own land outright. It had to be placed under the agency's own enlightened trusteeship. They kept allotting parcels of this 'trust land' to individual Indians, but an Indian couldn't sell or lease his parcel without permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs."
I hold no brief for either the Indian policy of the British, the Founding Fathers, or the U.S. government nor for the BIA as an effective organization. But the BIA doesn't set policy, Congress does that based on input from citizens. The Dawes Act of 1887 was based on the best thinking of the time--make Indians property owners and good things would follow. See this PBS page. The "competence" test was not an invention of BIA--it was in the law. Granted that BIA screwed up, we can't blame the agency for the failure of the policy, nor for the failure of the libertarian/conservative economics embodied in the law.

References appended to Tierney's column.

The Wealth of Indian Nations: Economic Performance and Institutions on Reservations by Terry L. Anderson and Dominic P. Parker, June 2004, 42 pp., working paper. [Note--based on a quick skim, this paper isn't a good support for Tierney's thesis, at least as I understand it. The paper looks at recent economic performance, not history.]

The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier by Terry L. Anderson and Peter J. Hill, Stanford University Press, 256 pp., May 2004.

Property Rights: Cooperation, Conflict, and Law edited by Terry L. Anderson and Fred S. McChesney, Princeton University Press, 448 pp., 2002.

For more information, go to: www.perc.org.

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