Sunday, January 15, 2017

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. For His Moral Ideals Rather Than His Politics

In commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Peniel E. Joseph, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, said in a 2014 article:

King emerges as a talented individual whose rhetorical genius at the March on Washington helped elevate an entire nation through his moral power and sheer force of will.

The March on Washington was when King delivered his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Joseph goes on:

Yet missing from many of the annual King celebrations is the portrait of a political revolutionary who, over time, evolved into a radical warrior for peace, justice and the eradication of poverty. During his last three years, King the “Dreamer” turned into one of the most eloquent, powerful and scathing critics of American society. King lent his moral force and power to anti-poverty crusades that questioned the economic system of capitalism and called for an end to the Vietnam War. . . . King’s powerful rage against economic exploitation and war is often overlooked when we think of him as only a race-healer.

The "moral power" of King's famous "Dream" speech in Washington was actually the moral power of the Founding Fathers resurrected. In that speech, King reminded Americans of the ideals laid down in the Declaration of Independence—the philosophic blueprint for the constitution and the new nation—and called on Americans to fully live up to those ideals. “In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check,” King said.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Yet, King's Dream was to be corrupted by an inner contradiction. In his later years, King questioned the legitimacy of capitalism and turned to what he termed "democratic socialism," a hybrid of two evil systems (democracy and socialism) that repudiates the very ideals he espoused in his speech. Therein lies one of the great American paradoxes—the clash between King the moral force and King the political revolutionary.

When the Founders drafted the Declaration of Independence, they laid down the radical principles that would give birth to capitalism. These 55 brilliant words—the opening lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration—sum up the essence of capitalism:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .

When King reaffirmed those ideals—that all men are created equal, possessing inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected equally and at all times under a government of objective law rather than of men—he was really, though apparently unwittingly, affirming the foundational principles of capitalism.

Capitalism is the system based on individual rights, rights-protecting government and the only kind of equality consistent with justice—equality of individual rights before the law. Because of these principles, Capitalism is the only social system that banishes exploitation and war, because individual rights banishes aggressive or initiatory force from human relationships—particularly aggressive force by government against the people. Under capitalism, exploitation is replaced with voluntary trade to mutual benefit among individuals, a win-win in which individuals trade value-for-value and get better together. Capitalism liberates every individual to think and act on his own judgement and work to lift himself from poverty, and protects those who take up that life-affirming challenge from would-be exploiters who don’t. And under capitalism, war is replaced with peaceful coexistence among nations based on that principle of trade.

So why would King uphold the moral principles of capitalism in his most famous speech while repudiating it in his politics? It's obvious that King didn't understand capitalism or fully grasp the moral implications of the Declaration of Independence that he so eloquently honored.

He undoubtedly viewed the America of the 1960s as capitalist, when in fact what America had was a mixed economy; a mixture of economic freedom and government controls—that is to say, an economy corrupted by heavy political interference, which included the virulently anti-capitalist Jim Crow segrgation laws. America in the 1960s was just emerging from a time when large segments of blacks were legally oppressed and hence unable to enjoy “the riches of freedom and the security of justice” that is capitalism. Blacks, King failed to understand, were not victims of capitalism but of statism.

King’s legacy includes an end to state-sponsored segregation and oppression—a monumental achievement. But his democratic socialist political policies also “succeeded,” strengthening and entrenching the mixed economy in America, which he mistakenly perceived as capitalism—the result being, in turn, to reduce economic opportunities for many poor but ambitious people, including African-Americans.

To his credit, King explicitly opposed full-blown socialism, which he believed leads to communism, a system that he correctly understood "forgets that life is individual." But he wrongly believed that "Capitalism forgets that life is social," leading him to his hybrid democratic socialism. He failed to see that capitalism, by leaving individuals free to pursue their own values in the absence of physical coercion, provides the only proper moral foundation for both individual flourishing and robust benevolent social interaction—the moral foundation implicit in the Declaration of Independence, rational egoism.

Thus is the paradox of Martin Luther King.

Commentators like Joseph urge us to elevate his politics to at least the level of his ideals. That, of course, would be an impossible contradictions. But ideas are where the real power lies. Since ideas are the driving force of human events, Martin Luther King, despite his politics, remains one of my heroes. Standing in a line that includes John Locke, the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and Ayn Rand, among others, King reaffirmed America's Founding ideals at a crucial point in American history. That, to me, is his real legacy contribution to America. For that, I am grateful to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Related Reading:

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal—Ayn Rand

Related Viewing:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Leftist Religionists and Climate Catastrophists: Perfect Together

The confluence of climate change catastrophism and religion continues apace. And it makes sense. Climate catastrophism is itself a religion, running on a faith-based belief in a moral concern higher than human well-being. In the catastrophists’ vision, the pre-human environment replaces God as the Almighty.

So, it’s no surprise to read articles like this from Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, who urges Jewish solidarity with Pope Francis’ statist climate change agenda. In People of all faiths should follow Pope Francis in putting climate change on the agenda, Zelizer sums up the Leftist Jewish position:

Because global warming challenges the very existence of the planet, it is not simply one of many agenda items for do-good committees in our synagogues and churches. Without a planet, there will be no food to grow or poor to feed.

Zelizer laments the fact that rank-and-file Jews are relatively unconcerned about global warming, despite the alleged impending catastrophe. He attributes this “casualness regarding our susceptibility to climate change” to Jews’ relative prosperity. Zelizer cites Rabbi Lawrence Troster for the answer:

"The answer does not lie in religion but class. Most Jews are middle to upper-middle class and even higher. ... (Those) who are in the upper-class income brackets ... tend more to doubt climate change and even if they believe in the science, also believe that they will either economically benefit from climate change or will be able to weather it."

Zelizer, like Pope Francis, professes concern for the poor as moral justification for an anti-fossil fuel climate change political agenda. Both miss—or, more likely, evade, especially in the Pope’s case—the obvious lesson to draw; that prosperity, not energy poverty, is the only path to climate safety.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

There is no evidence that “global warming challenges the very existence of the planet.” Such hyperbole runs counter to the facts.

Extreme-weather and climate-related deaths have dropped 98% over the past century—the very era of global warming and increasing fossil fuel use. Far from making life on our planet harder, fossil fuel-driven industrial prosperity has made us safer than ever before. Fossil fuels have enabled us to take a dangerous environment and make it much more human life friendly.  Industrialization has made life on Earth for human life safer, healthier, better fed, more comfortable, and longer than ever before. Industrialization requires plentiful, cheap, reliable energy, which for now and the foreseeable future overwhelmingly means fossil fuels. That’s why fossils are the fuel of choice for economically rising third world nations, which have surpassed the West in carbon emissions. Fossil fuels now make up 87% of the world’s energy mix. The results have been stupendous. Everywhere fossil fuel use is on the rise, life is getting better. By every measure of human well-being—from access to clean water, to more food and better nutrition, to falling infant mortality rates, to lengthening life spans, to sharp reductions in poverty—fossil fuels have been overwhelmingly positive for human life.

The only “evidence” of catastrophic global warming (or climate change) is contained in perpetually wrong computer models. The catastrophists are stuck in Annie-land, where “tomorrow is only a day away”—and always will be. The climate catastrophe is always in the future, and the future never seems to arrive. The more their predictions fail, the more shrill the catastrophists get. Why? Because climate-related dangers, including weather extremes, are no worse than in the past.

In a sense, though, the “climate crisis” is real—and always has been. The only difference is, today we can better cope with it. The fact is, man once was susceptible to a real climate crisis: In the ages before fossil fuel-driven industrial development, people were ever at the mercy of storms, extreme heat and cold, droughts, floods, wind. Today we are better protected than ever from nature’s fury. There is no impending climate crisis. The climate crisis has always existed, and today has been mostly overcome, thanks to fossil fuels. As Rabbi Zelizer readily observes, to be wealthier is to be less concerned about global warming—for good reason; it’s less of a concern.

But not for everyone. True, the poor are more susceptible to climate dangers than wealthier people. And the same goes for nations. The climate crisis continues for poor undeveloped nations. Since wealthier nations are so much better able to cope with climate dangers, you’d think the Church would advocate for the poor the same social conditions—fossil fuel-driven industrial advancement and its cause, free market capitalism—now enjoyed by the developed world. Instead, the Church calls for restrictions on the energy source most responsible for making wealthier nations safer and less vulnerable to climate dangers. They’d rather spread the misery, rather than the safety—a “vow of poverty” for the entire world.

It’s a moral issue, alright. Rabbi Zelizer assures us that “Jews . . . eagerly accept scientific discovery.” Then why does he call for abandoning the best energy source available; the one most capable of delivering reliable, clean, cheap, industrial scale energy—fossil fuels? The moral question is, should the people of the Earth be free to use the best energy technology available today to lift themselves out of poverty and thus out of climate-related harms way? The Church says no. The Francis Church’s position is anti-human well-being and thus immoral. The moral high ground belongs to the pro-plentiful, reliable, economical energy side, which today means the pro-fossil fuel side.

Some wonder why Francis would drag the Church into the global warming quagmire. But from the standpoint of the Catholic Church’s broader worldview, Pope Francis’s jump into global warming makes sense. It’s a perfect cover for the Church’s long-standing anti-capitalist, anti-individualist, anti-liberty philosophy.

The April 2015 declaration of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,’ Climate Change and the Common Good—the preamble to the encyclical—is unequivocal: “Market forces alone . . . cannot solve the intertwined crises of poverty, exclusion, and the environment.” “Present economic systems have been accompanied by the development of unacceptable gaps between the rich and the poor, the latter still lacking access to most of the scientific and technical benefits that we have developed in the industrial world.” To solve these alleged problems, the Declaration calls for “a reallocation of the benefits and burdens that accompany humanity’s activities both within nations and between nations”; i.e., a global statist regime of economic control and redistribution of wealth. This is not a new position for the Church, but a reiteration of a long-standing goal. Half a century ago, Pope Paul VI attacked free market capitalism and its foundation of individual rights and limited rights-protecting government in calling for global collectivization:

"God intended the earth and everything in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should flow fairly to all." (20)

All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle.

It is for the public authorities to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used in fulfilling them. . .

Add in a hefty dose of climate change and a slap at income inequality—today’s hot Leftist causes—and you have warmed over Pope Paul VI. As with the Left, Global warming is just a modern tool for advancing the Church's long-standing goal of totalitarian world socialism.

Francis echoes Paul’s condemnation of “surplus goods” with his condemnation of “unsustainable consumption”; i.e., both attack prosperity by attacking the means to prosperity, free market capitalism and fossil fuels.

Why attack prosperity and its means? Poverty and misery are the foundation of modern Catholicism. “Ministering to the poor” is central to the Catholic Church’s purpose for being—and its power. Where would the Church be if poverty continues to give way to capitalistic, fossil-fueled prosperity worldwide? The Church has a vested interest in poverty. No more poverty, no more Mother Teresas. So it will fight tooth and nail to “protect” the poor—from fossil-fueled capitalist prosperity. Why would any rabbi want to hitch the Jewish community to that nihilistic bandwagon?

Related Reading:

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On the Barber/Binswanger Debate: ‘Freedom: For Whom and from What?’

The second in a series of debates between intellectuals of Demos and the Ayn Rand Institute titled "First Principles: The Moral Debates that Drive Today's Politics” is called Freedom: For Whom and from What? The debate pitted Benjamin Barber against Harry Binswanger. I will not review the debate in full here. I will just give some of my observations on it. So, before you read on, I suggest that you watch the debate or, at the very least, you read the written synopses of the debaters, from which I’ll occasionally quote.

First, I want to present a couple of Barber’s claims side-by-side with what Ayn Rand actually said, just to give you the flavor of how the debate actually went.


The debate about freedom is really a debate about how we define human nature - as individualistic or social - and how we define social relationships – as always coercive (and hence freedom-robbing), or cooperative (and hence freedom-producing).

Libertarians and anarchists and Randians (yes, I know they are not the same) all start with the abstract philosophical premise that men and women are solitary individuals defined by their separation from others in an abstract "state of nature" that is the human condition.

Rand never understood individualism as some sort of solitary confinement separate from other human beings. Individualism and cooperation are perfectly compatible, Rand believed, so long as all renounce initiatory physical force; i.e., so long as the cooperation is voluntary for all participants, rather than coercive. This view is evident throughout her novels. In the 1972 essay “A Nation’s Unity,” Rand wrote:

Man gains enormous values from dealing with other men; living in a human society is his proper way of life—but only on certain conditions. Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal. He has to plan his life long-range, make his own choices, and deal with other men by voluntary agreement (and he has to be able to rely on their observance of the agreements they entered). [emphasis added]

Rand didn’t reject social relationships. Nor did she ever consider an uncivilized, ungoverned lone wolf existence as the proper human condition. She advocated non-coercive social relationships. Barber doesn’t just misrepresent Rand’s view here; he completely ignores it.


The libertarian/Rand position sees government as contrived, coming "after" the natural state of liberty, and thus as inherently coercive. If individuals are free, a government that constrains them - even if only through laws - is coercive. More government equals less freedom, a concept neo-liberal conservatives and the Tea Party enemies of "big government" argue nowadays.

The democratic position sees no liberty in the lives of isolated individuals who live in a fictional world of natural coercion ruled by the right of the strongest. Such “free” people in practice live lives that are nasty, brutish and short.

Again, Barber ignores Rand’s view. While Rand, like the Founding Fathers, does consider rights to precede government, Rand never considered government to be a necessary evil. She considered it to be a vital component—a necessary good—of a civilized society. Barber’s second paragraph indicates clearly where Barber is coming from. Where is the third option that is neither democratic absolutism nor jungle anarchy dominated by strongmen? Apparently, there’s no room in Barber’s worldview for a constitutional republic of free people whose government protects but does not violate individual rights—the original American system. Here is Rand, again from “A Nation’s Unity” first published in The Ayn Rand Letter:

The problem of human predators is as old as recorded history, or older. When men learned to hunt or plant, some men learned to avoid that effort: to seize the products of others by force. The early forms of human associations , such as primitive tribes, were prompted in large part by the need for self-protection against the attacks of human enemies. . . How to organize protection against the use of force was – and is – man’s fundamental social problem. . .

The need for organized protection against force is the root of the need for a government.

[T]he only rule of conduct men must accept – if they wish to achieve peaceful coexistence – is the rule that none may initiate the use of physical force against others. The rest is a matter of consistent implementation – the first step of which is to delegate to the government the right to use force in retaliation, and only in retaliation. (This is necessary in order to take the homicidal power, force, out of the reach of human whims and human irrationality, and place it under the control of objective laws.)

Note the highlighted passages. Does this sound like an enemy of government and law? Or does it sound like the advocate of a government that, as the Declaration of Independence states, is “instituted among men” to “secure” man’s “unalienable [individual] rights.” Barber evades the fundamental question, “What is the proper role of government?” and merely substitutes the premise, “If you are against rights-violating government, you are against government” and thus for anarchy. This utter misrepresentation rises to the level of a complete strawman. Barber is an intellectual. His misrepresentations can’t be excused as mistaken. There is only one explanation: Barber is a liar so he can evade the necessity of answering Rand’s ideas.


Now, here are some thoughts on the debate.

Binswanger clearly defined his definition of freedom in his opening remarks. After listening for an hour and a half, I still don’t know Barber’s definition of freedom. That is, apparently, by conscious design, as Barber considers freedom to be beyond the ability of science, reason, or empirical observation to explain “in some objective fashion,” as he says in his synopsis. So, right off the bat, one wonders how there can be a debate about freedom if one side claims freedom is unexplainable—which to me implies undebatable.

Perhaps that explains why Barber, appearing at times to be animated by a seething anger, seems more interested in attacking Objectivism by erecting straw men than seriously addressing the subject at hand. For example, Barber hammered repeatedly at the false claim that rampant fraud is inherent in laissez-faire capitalism and that Objectivism upholds unfettered fraud as a valid part of freedom. There are other straw men, such as Barber’s completely unfounded assertions that Objectivism is anti-government—or at best considers government to be a necessary evil and inherently antithetical to freedom—and that Objectivism cleaves to the view of individualism as a lone wolf devoid of and incapable of social relationships. As an Objectivist for nearly half a century, I must say I barely recognize the Ayn Rand/Objectivism portrayed by Barber. Either Barber doesn’t understand Objectivism, as he claims he does, or he’s engaging in deliberate misrepresentation. Either way, it’s dishonest. One wonders why anyone would so blatantly misrepresent the views of someone whose actual views are so readily available for examination in her works, which are all still in print, and for quick reference on the free Ayn Rand Lexicon.

In place of a meaningful contribution on the title question, Freedom: For Whom and from What?, Barber lurches into the Hobbesian notion of the “social contract,” which is supposed to save us from the law of the jungle. But this social contract looks like nothing more than jungle law elevated and organized into law. It certainly is not freedom. In Barber’s social contract, democracy reigns, featuring political factions fighting for dominance over other factions, with the government as the hired gun, and the individual as the hapless subordinate to the collective will, as determined by the vote of an unconstrained majority.  

But here is the crucial question, which Binswanger repeatedly but unsuccessfully implored Barber to answer: In Barber’s democratized jungle law, if each individual is legally bound under the social contract to whatever the majority grants the government the power to do, how does one limit the power of the majority over the individual? When aggressive force is unleashed on society—Barber approves of aggressive government force as long as “the people” authorize it—what’s to prevent “the armed robber from winning over the pickpocket, and the murderer from winning over the armed robber,” as Binswanger puts it?

Barber advocates for some undefined “balance” between the collective will and individual liberty. But he never defines that balance. Where is the dividing line between the “will of the people” and individual rights? If “the people” as represented by a voting majority can establish a regulatory welfare state by force, under which the government can seize and redistribute private wealth and establish a massive administrative state with the open-ended power to dictate how we run our businesses and our lives—a state of affairs that we more or less have now—what’s to stop “the people” from ordering a minority group into overt slavery, like blacks in the antebellum South, or exterminate a minority group deemed to be a threat to the social contract, like the kulaks in Russia or the Jews in Germany? What mechanism exists in Barber’s social contract to limit the power of the majority to authorize aggressive state force? What principles? Since Barber explicitly rejects moral absolutes—which he derides as “either-or” dogmatism—he doesn’t and by definition cannot point to any limiting principles.

But without guiding principles, what mechanism can possibly exist in the social contract to stop the pickpocket; to prevent the armed robber from winning over the pickpocket; to prevent the slave owner from winning over the armed robber; and to prevent the eventual victory of the murderer over everybody else? What, in Barber’s worldview, is to prevent democracy unconstrained by the absolutism of the moral principle of individual rights—which purpose is to protect us from aggressive, or initiatory, physical force—from devolving into a totalitarian state?

The answer to these questions presupposes the answer to the question, “What is freedom?” Barber flippantly brushes aside the question: “[Freedom’s] core meaning is in dispute at a deep level that cannot be refereed by science or reason in some objective fashion. . ., [nor] can [freedom] be subjected to empirical observation.” (Emphasis added) What’s left? Whim. Whim as the absolute ruler, as embodied in the majority of the moment. Barber’s Hobbesian vision of society simply replaces the random predation of “the natural state of liberty” in a governmentless wild with organized predation of the totalitarian, democratic socialist state. There is another name for this social contract. It’s called the tyranny of the majority. Without objectively defined principles of individual freedom, only some form of tyranny is possible. And that, perhaps, is the goal of Barber, as it is of the Left.

Related Reading:

Gary Moore vs. Ayn Rand: Or, the Battle for America's Soul

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Replacing ObamaCare Should Mean Replacing Government Planning With Individual Planning

Republicans have been talking “repeal and replace” of ObamaCare since its inception. Trump included this mantra in his campaign. The question has always been, replace with what? Republicans have been vague and unsure, and thus unconvincing, about what their “replace” actually entails. This has allowed the Left to frame the debate along socialist/statist lines.

For example, the New Jersey Star-Ledger ran an op-ed a few months ago titled Obamacare lifts working poor. Would GOP cut them off? The gist of the article uses the standard statist tactic; framing of the issue in statist terms.

For example, in regard to ObamaCare’s new signups, who rely heavily on government subsidies, the article states that in repealing and replacing ObamaCare, “Republicans have no realistic plan for these people.”

Statists disingenuously frame the debate as a choice between socialized medicine GOP style and socialized medicine Democrat style. But the real alternatives are government planning of everyone's healthcare with taxpayer money, or each individual planning his own healthcare with his own money. The current GOP has no competing government plan—that’s true. And that’s precisely the point. To a statist, any “plan” that doesn’t put government in charge of “these people” is no alternative.

But thoughtful people, including some Republicans, have regularly put forth proposals to liberate the health insurance market, if not create a fully free market, so people can have more control over their own healthcare—Eliminating insurance mandates that dictate the content of health insurance policies and thus drive up costs; eliminating cost-raising state-imposed trade barriers that forbid insurers from competing across state lines; ending tax and other government policies that tie health insurance to employers and other third parties like unions, making health insurance portable like auto, home, and life insurance (which would eliminate most pre-existing conditions problems); expand tax-free health savings accounts, to name a few.

Repealing ObamaCare and replacing it with these and other free market reforms would replace much government planning with individual freedom to plan one’s own healthcare. It would also end the subsidies that back up the 20 million ObamaCare subscribers, ending the immoral government forced redistribution of some people’s money to pay for other people’s health insurance—subsidies that themselves are made “necessary” by intrusive government policies to begin with. All ObamaCare did was create a whole new class of parasites while doubling down on the policies making healthcare less and less affordable.

All of the problems that ObamaCare was allegedly created to “fix”, such as skyrocketing health insurance prices and pre-existing conditions, were caused by government policies and programs like Medicaid and Medicare to begin with. The solution is not one government plan or other—more of the same government interference poison—but no government planning of our healthcare. The choice is not, which government plan, but who plans—government or the individual. It’s a choice between the the vice of dependence vs. the virtue of self-reliance.

That said, now that 20 million more people have been thrown onto the government dole, I would grandfather their subsidies in for a period of time. Save their subsidies while repealing ObamaCare and replacing it with free market reforms, such as that offered by "PatientCare.” Once deep free market reforms bring in a wealth of choices across the income spectrum, end the subsidies. We still may not have a fully free market. But it would be a huge moral and practical step in right direction. A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone will have what they consider satisfactory healthcare. But the natural incentives of a free market—profit-motivated producers seeking customers by appealing to consumers’ inclination to get the best value for their dollars—tends to maximize quality, affordability, and innovative solutions to problems in a rights-respecting, non-predatory way.


One typical statist response to proposals for free market reforms that I have seen advanced is that without government interference, we would all “be at the mercy of insurance companies.”

But in regard to a free market versus government control, which state of affairs would we really be put at someone’s mercy—competing private companies who cannot force you at gunpoint, or monopolistic government programs that can?

Related Reading:

'I Don't Know': The Ideal Libertarian And Conservative Response To Obamacare's Failings—by John Tamny for Forbes

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Avoid ‘Majority Rule’—Keep the Electoral College in Fact and in Spirit

Majority rules? Not when the Electoral College intervenes. So argues the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

In the pantheon of American politics no one is more revered than the Founding Fathers. Over the decades we've celebrated their lives and sung their praises without much reservation. We count ourselves lucky to have had them.

But why did they leave us such a bizarre system for picking a president?

When we are kids, we are taught to resolve disputes with a simple call to fairness: Majority rules.

But Hillary Clinton just won about 2 million more votes than Donald Trump.

This, the Star-Ledger says, is unfair. Acknowledging that a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the Electoral College is not politically realistic, the Star-Ledger continues:

But there is a movement afoot to do and [sic] end run around this through a political agreement among the states. It’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The compact obliges the states that commit to it to withhold their Electoral College votes until a national popular vote winner has been decided, then give all the state’s votes to that winner. The compact does not become effective until enough states with 270 Electoral College votes have signed on.

Majority rules? The greatness of America lies in the fact that it has no rulers. Every individual is free to direct the course of his own life, not have the government—even an elected one—run it. We are not ruled by any King, Cleric, dictator, or majority. Of course, majority rule is exactly what democracy is all about. But, as Timothy Sandefur explains in in the chapter “Democracy and Freedom” of his book The Conscience of the Constitution, “[T]he most basic principle of our Constitution is . . . that each person deserves to be free, [not] that we all have a right, collectively, to govern each other.”

Democracy, properly understood, is statism. It is the majority (or influential plurality), not the individual, that rules, with elected politicians—or those, such as the regulatory agencies, that they appoint—acting as agent of the dominant popular electoral faction.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

I have disagreements with the Founding Fathers. But the Electoral College is not one of them. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is technically consistent with the Constitution. But is it a good idea to count so much on the national popular vote? I argue no. The Compact violates the spirit of the Electoral College.

The United States is a constitutionally limited democracy—a republic—not an absolute democracy. There is nothing inherently fair about “majority rules.” It depends on the context. Is it fair to execute individuals for expressing ideas that the majority doesn’t like? They did it in ancient Greece under their pure democracy. This may suit democracy fundamentalists just fine. But it is contrary to a free society. The constitution was designed to protect fundamental individual rights through a system of checks and balances, to prevent the concentration of political power (The right to vote is not one of these fundamental rights, which precede government. The vote is a secondary, civil right). The Electoral College is part of the checks and balances.

That said, the Electoral College does not sidestep “the will of the people,” to use that ridiculous catchphrase (what “will” of which “people?”). The popular vote does count. Majority rule does have a place. But there is nothing sacred about a national popular vote—not in a constitutional republic based on rule of law and a government whose powers are limited to protecting individual rights. The national popular vote is irrelevant, given the wide diversity among the people in the states. There are other, better ways to measure the popular vote—like, on the state level. That’s what the Electoral College system measures.

First of all, the state legislators that are constitutionally authorized to choose the Electors are themselves chosen by popular vote. Second, as determined by all of the states, every elector is backed by popular vote. In other words, Trump did win the popular vote—30 times; that is, in 30 states totalling 306 electoral votes. Clinton won 21 times (including the District of Columbia).

Yes, there is a fairness aspect to this. California went for Clinton by a 3.4 million vote margin. That’s a lopsided 62-33%, way out of touch with the national electoral mainstream but enough to swing the national popular vote totals to Clinton by 1.9 million votes. If you take out California, by far the biggest state, Trump won the broad popular vote in the other 49 states by 1.5 million.

America is a big and diverse nation of 50 states. What concerns citizens in one state may be different from other states. States vary widely culturally and economically. Is it fair that the economic, cultural, and issue concerns of just one big state should decide what “the will of the people” is, and trample all of the rest? I say no, it is not; not in a nation as big and diverse as America; not when California already has an outsized advantage in Electoral votes. (The same fairness premise works in reverse. Can anyone see California giving all of its Electoral Votes to Trump if he had won the national popular vote by 1%? Would that be fair to California voters?)

Keep the current setup for choosing Electors. Majority rule is precisely what the Founding Fathers feared, understanding the an elected legislature in an unconstrained democracy can violate a person’s rights as easily as a King can. The Electoral College is fair and consistent with a diverse constitutional republic based on the primacy of the unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness called the United States of America.

Related Reading:

Save the Filibuster