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Emmer column: Take measure of the power in your life

Can it be? The impact of the power to impose an arranged marriage is the same as extracting a lifetime of Social Security and school taxes?

The Koba scale — my creation — says yes. It is an attempt to measure the power imposed on individuals.

Microsoft’s Windows market power imposes a cost that the Koba score estimates at 0.7 for a typical American. A seven-year jail term might wallop that same person enough to crank the Koba needle up to 56.

A Koba score of zero is the absence of outside power … complete freedom. A Koba score of 100 indicates no freedom. Someone else has complete power over one’s entire life.

Buying lunch is as free of coercion as any tangible decision. Choice is limited only by the many sellers’ competitive offerings. Bring a lunch or buy one, or go without. Low prices or high, casual atmosphere or luxury, etc. So the Koba score for lunch is 0.

On the other hand, being locked in an iron cage in some Syrian hamlet as a guest of ISIS leaves one with as little freedom as possible. The Koba score reads 100.

People might submit to power easily. Like children in their parent’s arms, some people feel secure in the embrace of power they trust.

Or they might be suspicious of power. They see it as a license to be unreasonable and meddlesome. It is both a tool and a source of selfish ambition.

When I asked David G. Winter, author of the “Power Motive” book, whether it was true that power triggers a desire for more power, he responded, “it is certainly true that power has an addictive quality,” but “not everyone succumbs.”

“The Roman general Cincinnatus was twice given dictatorial powers in order to save Rome, and each time he went back to his farm when the fighting was over,” Winter noted.

However, examples of power desiring more power are as normal as an NFL offensive linemen with thick necks.

There is commercial power. Amazon is an updated edition of Standard Oil’s century-old, classic strategy of squeezing competitors out of business to crown one’s self as a commercial king. It’s ultimate goal is to charge consumers higher prices. Yet all commercial power has proven temporary.

There is government power, too. It is harder to dislodge and reproduces quickly. As measured by budgets, it has grown three times faster than private power for a century.

For example, zoning laws started as a way to impose an orderly, quilt-like pattern on land use. Fast as a brook trout on a bug, the power of zoning laws expanded to regulate the number of cats Grandma can have and how long her grass can grow.

Both the mail service and public schools were started to provide services to citizens. Now, the money flow is so attractive that both use their power to block citizens from providing those services for themselves.

Traffic laws, too. As soon as the opportunity arose, public power used traffic cameras and shortened yellow lights to increase fines and rake in more money for itself.

Public power is usually justified to increase the public good. It often does. Fighting crime, judging disputes, defense, basic regulation and basic charity are almost universally embraced as doing legitimate public good.

Beyond that, the concept of public good quickly becomes more debatable.

Taking money away from local people, including the poor, then subsidizing potato chips for heavy people, rec centers for fit people, hourly wages for teenage people and many more bureaucratic schemes are all debatable.

Done wrong, it all ends in the smoldering national bankruptcy foreseeable in official government projections.

Without a Cincinnatus ethic, power expands until it meets resistance. Knowledge is not just power, but also power to resist power. The Koba score is a beginning, a doorstep, a lobby, a mezzanine to measure the impact of power on individuals.

The Koba for a single traffic ticket barely registers at 0.0018, but for a lifetime of federal state and local taxes, it hits an oppressive 17.

That’s triple the Koba score of 6 for a typical parent-arranged marriage in middle-class India.

However, the Koba score that applies to an unwitting child bride pledged to a callous husband in the Sudanese countryside might tip the needle at 37. That is close to a prison score. Total taxes score half that.

The Koba is a long-neglected beginning point to measure the impact of the power imposed on citizens. It is loose but useful. It is individual. It is traction to understanding the fundamental relationship between citizen and government.

It’s also election time. People like to arrange marriages because they think they can do it better. Elected officials are the same. Protect your Koba score. Live your own life.

Vince Emmer is a financial analyst who runs Citizens Due Diligence off hours. Reach him at vince.emmer@cdudil.com.