A Little Rebellion Now And Then Is A Good Thing

I often have cause to drive from Nevada to California on interstate 15 and so have been stopped innumerable times by the California Fruit Border Control, and asked where I am coming from and whether I have any fruit in my car. The ostensible purpose of these checkpoints is to protect California from exotic invasive species. While there are certainly bigger government boondoggles than this, I would be hard pressed to think of a more senseless one. It clearly has not occurred to anyone at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) that fruit flies and other pests don’t respect state borders and can fly around or above the border barriers erected on the freeway to stop traffic. Even if these pests have an attack of conscience and refuse to travel under their own steam across the border there is no obstacle to prevent fruit smugglers from taking another route into California to avoid the fruit checkpoints.

Now, while I have no intention of repeating the experience of this couple (here, here and here) everytime I go through a California fruit checkpoint, I certainly admire their efforts. Someone might argue that, by pushing back against CDFA agents, they are bringing the law into disrepute, but my rejoinder would be that the law has already been brought into disrepute by attempting to pass off this piece of CDFA scribbling as a law. For a law to be respected as a law it has to at least pass the smell test.The law has to accord with our basic moral instincts as well as being something that is likely to be effective, enforced and obeyed. The fruit border control fails the smell test on all counts. Remember, it was Prohibition that brought the law into disrepute in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, not the bootleggers. Today it is the War on Drugs and other legislation against victimless crimes, that brings the law into disrepute, and is responsible for the United States having the highest prison population rate in the world,  (most of all inmates in federal prisons are there as a result of the War on Drugs).  Despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population the U.S. has 25% percent of the world’s prisoners!

Following Shays’s Rebellion in 1786/87 Thomas Jefferson said “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” While I certainly would not go so far as Jefferson did in advocating armed rebellion, he did have a point about the need for citizens to always remain vigilant against the encroachments of officialdom.  Consequently, I believe that citizens do have a duty to push back, wherever they can, against would-be laws that fail the smell test and bureaucracies such as the CDFA and TSA when they cross the line. It is not enough to say that we have to accept their edicts because we can vote the government out at the next election. Governments may change but the bureaucracies remain. Also, why waste perfectly good fruit by giving it to the CDFA?


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill


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10 Comments on “A Little Rebellion Now And Then Is A Good Thing”

  1. Dr. Michael Edelstein Says:

    Great essay! Have you heard about the new law in four states: having a smile is prohibited when being photographed for your motor vehicle license?

    Michael R. Edelstein


  2. Jonathan Sharp Says:

    I believe the impetus for things like the CDFA checkpoints and TSA are well intentioned. The problem is that the public sector lacks the checks and balances imposed by the market on the private sector. Broader use of sunset clauses in government legislation would help whereby ineffective or over-reaching laws could be allowed to wither.




    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Jon, thank you. Your comment touches on the important classical liberal insight that all such well intentioned legislation will have harmful unintended consequences. I can think of dozens of reasons why sunset clauses are unlikely ever to be proposed or, if they are, to work as designed.


  3. matt Says:

    I know this is an older post, but I quite enjoyed the video(s) you posted. Interesting the comments from the sheep on those videos as well.
    As for a little revolution now and then, I couldn’t agree more.


  4. authorbengarrido Says:

    Very good article. I wonder if you’re familiar with the revolutions podcast series. I ask because a) I think you’d enjoy it and b) Thomas Jefferson is a character in the second (American), third (French) and forth (Haitian) revolutions in the series. His views on the virtue of revolution, to put it mildly, shifted through the three revolutions he experienced.

    Oh, also reason c) I think the series does an amazing job of demonstrating the interplay of politicians, social resentment, military men and, most importantly, chance. My biggest take aways from the series are that a good politician beats a good general most of the time, ideology is almost irrelevant to an effective politician and that allowing resentful people, particularly poor members of the dominant race, to hold power for any length of time gets everyone killed.


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thanks Ben. I was not familiar with the Revolutions podcasts but they looks interesting.

      “a good politician beats a good general most of the time”

      I can believe it. The ruthlessness of a military man combined with deep cunning and great acting skills.

      “allowing resentful people, particularly poor members of the dominant race, to hold power for any length of time gets everyone killed.”

      And if they are not killed they are bankrupt 🙂


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