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     Power to the people!
     Well, to the corporate people and their talking money anyway.
     In case you missed it, we’ve just had another fine example of how the California initiative process brings us overgrown, neglected lawn democracy. (Is a grasstop the opposite of a grassroot?)
     According to the New York Times, Amazon has spent $5.25 million on a ballot initiative campaign – “more than any company has spent in California this far from a vote in at least a decade.”
     The vote they spent the money on isn’t scheduled until next June. So there’s a lot of time for more money to say its piece.
     Most of that money, presumably, went to pay the people who, apparently pretty quickly, gathered half a million signatures on petitions to get a proposal on the ballot that would free Internet merchants from charging sales tax.
     Giving up thousands of teacher jobs and a few freeways is a small price to pay for an 8% discount on my next Xbox.
     I never noticed any of the signature gatherers – I tend to give anyone with a clipboard a wide berth – but I can imagine the pitch.
     PITCHER: Excuse me, sir. Would you like to sign a petition to reduce your unfair tax burden?
     CATCHER: I guess so. What does the petition say?
     PITCHER: It says that taxpayers can save more $200 million a year. It will keep bureaucrats from spending your money. It cuts down on government red tape.
     CATCHER: How does it cut down on red tape?
     PITCHER: Well, they won’t be able to afford red tape any more. You probably won’t see other colors either.
     CATCHER: So does this end sales tax on everything?
     PITCHER: Just Internet purchases. But that’s all that counts.
     CATCHER: It is?
     PITCHER: Look, do you want a discount on your Xbox or not?
     CATCHER: OK. Sign me up.
     And then the guy who just signed the petition will walk into a store and pay sales tax.
     By the way, the fun is far from over. The companies that own real-life, physically-present stores have lots of talking money too. Stay tuned for some serious dollar debates.
     MORE CAPITALISM. I was at the Van Nuys, California courthouse – one of the outer rings of Hell the other day when an interesting financial idea came to me.
     If you’re not familiar with that court clerk’s office, it’s run deli-style. You take a number and wait your turn while watching people who look like they’re sprinting across the bottom of a filled swimming pool.
     I pulled 72.
     I looked at the sign above the counter. They were serving number 26.
     And then it hit me: I’d be willing to pay for a lower number. Why were there no scalpers? Where was the entrepreneur running a ticket exchange?
     For that matter, why wouldn’t the court capitalize on this? They’ve institutionalized the slow-motion torture. It’s a resource waiting to be exploited.
     I recommend charging premiums for low numbers and an express window.
     Those who can’t pay should be allowed to bring a lunch.

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