Sunday, February 19, 2017

Is Andrew Puzder ‘Anti-Worker’ for Opposing Labor Laws?

Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder, who recently withdrew from consideration, came under withering attack by the Left because his “far right views”—i.e., pro-free market views—don’t conform to its welfare statist agenda. Typifying the attack is a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column by Yasmeen Holmes, a member of 32BJ, a property services union. Here are some excerpts from Low-wage N.J. mom: Trump's Labor pick says he doesn't care about me:

While TV pundits debate the political and financial market implications of President Trump's pick for secretary of labor, I worry how it will impact my family and millions of other low-wage workers, who Andrew Puzder has deemed not worthy of a $15 minimum wage, overtime or sick pay.

As the CEO of CKE Restaurants, Puzder makes 294 times what an average person earning the minimum wage makes in a year.  

So how could he possibly understand my struggle? I am a single mother from Newark raising five children and one grandchild.  I work at Newark Liberty International Airport. The pay is low, but I take pride in my work.

My emphasis. Holmes, a contracted airport worker, goes on:

Puzder told the Los Angeles Times in 2016, "There's no way in the world that scooping ice cream is worth $15 an hour, and no one ever intended it would ever be something a person could raise a family on."

What he fails to realize is that these low-wage service-oriented jobs require a lot more work than JUST scooping ice cream.  And that a significant number of fast-food workers are adults with families, not teenagers who live at home and work a summer job to earn a little extra money.

Puzder is also a vocal critic of a host of other policies that low-wage workers like me deserve and need to have a decent life. Among them, the Department of Labor's new overtime rules, federal government assistance programs like SNAP or food stamps and federal housing assistance. And he has strong views against the Affordable Care Act.

Puzder's history and anti-worker beliefs should give us all pause. . .

As federal lawmakers consider whether to approve Puzder's nomination, I ask them to remember my family and the tens of millions of other Americans whose lives hang in the balance. . .

Notice how Holmes brushes off as insignificant “teenagers who live at home and work a summer job to earn a little extra money.” This line is typical for proponents of the minimum wage. But that first job for that teenager is the first rung of the economic ladder that leads to better paying jobs later. The minimum wage kicks those lower rungs out. And they accuse Puzder of “anti-worker beliefs.”

Holmes claims that low-wage service-oriented workers “deserve” higher wages and benefits. There may actually be some truth to that: The repressed economy brought on by intrusive government policies of recent years have certainly held back job creation and competition for labor, which in turn holds back workers’ compensation gains. But that shouldn’t and in fact can’t be fixed by more government interference. The path to a stronger economy is more freedom through pro-growth reductions in government controls and spending.

Also, notice Holmes’s claim of need as a justification for coercive, rights-violating government policies.

I left these comments, edited and expanded for clarity:

It is morally obscene to smear as “anti-worker” a man who runs a company that creates and maintains over 20,000 jobs, all of which are filled by people who voluntarily took their jobs based on mutually agreed, mutually advantageous terms.

A person who opposes minimum wage, overtime, sick pay, and other government labor mandates is actually taking a positive moral and practical stand.

No worker “deserves” to get by government policy—by force—what she cannot gain by voluntary agreement, no matter her level of wages or struggles. Need is not a license to steal, with or without government as your hired gun. That’s just cronyism no different from corporate cronyism. When government forces these mandates down the throats of employers, it violates the moral rights of employers and job-seekers to forge their own voluntary agreements. That is immoral, but also economically destructive. A person whose services are worth only $8.00 per hour does not miraculously become worth $15.00 simply because some politicians pass a law to mandate $15.00. He just becomes unemployable. Add to that other mandates that raise the cost of hiring, and it gets worse. Consumers of labor are no different from any other kind of consumer: Price matters.

Statements like Puzder’s claim that many low-wage workers are “not worthy of a $15 minimum wage, overtime or sick pay,” if he actually said that, is not a moral slam on workers’ work ethic or character but an objective assessment of what the market will allow. What a person is worth is not what Andrew Puzder or anyone else arbitrarily “deems.” Nor is it what Yasmeen Holmes thinks she “deserves.” A person’s economic worth is based on what she contributes to the productive mission of the business, as determined by what the employer is willing to pay based on the cost of maintaining the job (compensation, capital investment, etc.) relative to what consumers are willing to pay for the end product or service. An employer who overpays her workers—that is, pays more than consumers are willing to return in purchases—won’t be in business for long. An employer who underpays will, in a healthy economy (which we haven’t had for a long time), lose his best employees to better paying competitors. Reality, not whim, ultimately determines pay levels. Political interference can’t overcome reality.

Holmes’ claim that Puzder “could [not] possibly understand my struggle” because of his salary is irrelevant to the issue. What Holmes ignores are the many job-seekers who will never get a job because jobs conducive to their skill and experience levels have been outlawed. A worker whose productive skills fit an $8.00 job will never get or keep—and thus have no chance to advance to—a $15.00 job. I wonder if Holmes understands the struggles of being artificially unemployed by laws that outlaw jobs at the lower end of the skill and experience scale. What right does Holmes have to stop employers from offering and job-seekers from accepting that $8.00 per hour job? What right does the government have to outlaw such jobs, or any honorable jobs? One motive Holmes can’t claim is to be pro-worker.

As of this writing, I read that Puzder has withdrawn his Labor Secretary nomination due to tax issues regarding a former housekeeper. But Puzder’s tax problems are irrelevant, as is Holmes’s mention of his salary (which was a sneaky appeal to envy and resentment). The morally reprehensible attacks on Puzder in this article highlights something that is increasingly wrong in America; something that includes people up and down the income scale—the growing numbers of people who, resentful of the personal responsibility that life requires of them, believe they “deserve” to get from others by force of government’s guns—by law—what they cannot earn by merit and voluntary market agreement.  

Related Reading:

Work Is a Means of Rising From Poverty, Not an Entitlement to Rise Above Poverty

Friday, February 17, 2017

Democrat Senator Corey Booker Turns His Back on Longtime School Choice Ally DeVos: Politics or Principle?

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was interviewed for the NJ Star-Ledger on a host of issues. The question that most interested me was this one:

Q. Betsy DeVos is a big supporter of charter schools, as you are. But she's resisted the kind of oversight we have in New Jersey, and charters in her home state are not doing nearly as well. Will she help the charter movement or hurt it?

I left this comment:

This is a rigged question. The basic philosophical divide in education today is government oversight based on political control versus parental oversight based on market freedom. The question assumes the first, implying that without government oversight there is no oversight. By what standards are “charters in her home state are not doing nearly as well?” Government standards? Did anyone bother to consider the parent's’ judgement as to how their children are doing in their respective charters?

School choice is not about granting parents a choice of only government-approved schools, with government as the final arbiter of whether the school of the parent’s choice is “working” for her child. It’s about switching accountability to the parents. Charters are a positive step—but only a step. I don’t know if DeVos is the best advocate for school choice. But the more flak she gets from the Left, the more I believe she is.

For the record, here is Booker’s answer to the above question and a follow-up question:

A. I worry she'll hurt the kind of school reform I've been supporting for years, the kind that has allowed Newark to build the second-highest performing charters in the country.
I say that because the toxicity of some of her views was shocking to me, her views on carrying weapons into schools, on the federal government protecting those with disabilities, her views on civil rights and bullying. If you look at our calls, people from New Jersey are finding her the most objectionable nomination, even more than Jeff Sessions.

Q. What about charters in particular?

A. President Obama did a lot to help charters. And this would have been a great chance for Trump to appoint a Democrat. And yes, I worry she could set back charter schools by inflaming the resistance.

Booker’s vote against Devos for Education Secretary is interesting. According to Jonathan D. Salant of The Star-Ledger, Booker and Devos are longtime allies for school choice, including charter schools:

As mayor of Newark, Cory Booker joined Betsy DeVos on the board of Alliance for School Choice, which advocated using taxpayer dollars for charter, private and religious schools.

He's known her for years.

But when DeVos was nominated to be U.S. secretary of education by President Donald Trump, Booker (D-N.J.) voted no.

Booker claims his reasons for turning on Devos were that “her [Senate confirmation] hearing was rushed though [sic] so she couldn't properly be questioned, and was troubled by the answers she did give.” salant also reported that “Despite their past history of working together, DeVos refused to meet with him.”

These seem more like excuses that substantive reasons, given the importance Booker attaches to school choice. Booker, a former mayor of Newark, NJ, has no friend in the teachers union—a good indication of how strong a supporter of school choice he is. As Savant reports:

Booker's advocacy of school choice put him in conflict with the Newark Teachers Union, which opposed his 2010 re-election as mayor.

Union President John Abeigon said he was "kind of surprised" that Booker voted against DeVos.

"He's a strong advocate for school choice," Abeigon said. "We never saw him much as a supporter of traditional public schools and don't see him as one now."

School choice supporters were also surprised:

"He's turned into a partisan political player," said Peter Denton, founder and a trustee of the Clark-based school choice advocacy group, Excellent Education for Everyone, which Booker worked with. "It's extraordinarily disappointing."

Why would Booker turn on school choice allies? Politics, apparently. Said Krista Jenkins, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickenson [sic] University:

There has been some backlash against Democratic senators who have not opposed nominees in the Trump administration. I would not understand this as a wholesale rejection of his embrace of vouchers. This is a broad rejection of the Trump administration and the type of people he's trying to put together in government.
In other words, politics over principle—and an important principle at that, school choice. Booker is already considered a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination—the leading contender, according to a savvy political observer, Paul Mulshine. Is he already pandering to the fascist hard left base of the Democratic Party? Sad for education in America, if true. Booker that rare Democrat that I could actually seriously consider voting for. Now, maybe not.

Related Reading:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

After Big Gas Tax Hike, Will New Jersey Finally End the Ban on Self-Serve Gas?

Proponents of the legalization of self-serve gasoline in New Jersey are using the big 23 cent gasoline tax hike recently imposed in the state on November 1, 2016 to push for an end to the legal ban on consumers pumping their own gas into their cars rather than wait for an attendant. According the a NJ Star-Ledger editorial, Paying tax on gas is bad enough. Don't make us pump it, lifting the ban would lower the gas price by five to seven cents per gallon.

As to the editorial, the Star-Ledger claims that the ban should remain because polls say so. It can no longer justify the ban for legitimate reasons, such as safety—not since 48 of the fifty states have ended their bans without any problems. It doesn’t even justify the ban on the rationalization that mandatory full “creates jobs.” Most people understand such jobs as a kind of featherbedding; i.e., welfare jobs. So, the Star-Ledger gives ridiculous reasons for keeping the ban. E.G.:

No way are we getting out of our cars to douse our hands with gasoline, smudge our pants, or shiver wretchedly in the chilly air. That's New York stuff, and frankly, uncivilized.


All self-serve would do is add to our misery. The minority of people who want self-serve gas complain they don't have consumer choice, but think about how long the lines would become if gas stations reduced their full-service pumps.
They'd be like cash-only toll booths, forcing reluctant people into self-serve. We'd be made to feel guilty about paying the extra few cents. Then the stations might take away every full service pump, and we'd all have to stand out in the rain, in some dark and desolate area.

Uncivilized! Misery! And the idea self-serve would mean “long lines” is ridiculous. Self-serve is quicker, because you don’t have to sit around waiting for an attendant to get around to serving you. I know from experience.

This is someone who is out of ideas.

I would say that politicians dictating to gas station owners that the owners cannot decide for themselves whether to offer self-service to their customers is what’s uncivilized. If a private citizen were to march into a gas station, hold a gun to the owner’s head, and demand that he run his business as he sees fit, that citizen would be arrested and thrown in a cage. What gives Sweeney and the politicians the right to do what they as private citizens cannot do—namely, initiate force against that gas station owner? Until the government is subordinated to the same moral law as private citizens—that is, respect individual rights—we won’t have a fully decent and civilized society to live in.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

“No way are we getting out of our cars. . .”

“The people of New Jersey want to be served by attendants at gas stations. . .”

Says who? Some polls? A bunch of politicians? So what? Nobody has a right to speak for “we”—for everyone else. Not even if you’re in the majority that claims it doesn’t want to pump gas (My wife is in the majority).

There is no public safety issue here, as with traffic laws. Full- versus self-serve should be between gas station and customer. If I want to get out of my car, handle my own credit card rather than hand it to a stranger, pump my own gas, and be on my way in half the time, I’ve hurt no one else, and should be able to do it if the gas station allows it. It should not be illegal. It’s none of the majority’s business. It’s none of Sweeney’s business.

I really don’t care about the difference in cost. I like the convenience, and should be free to choose it. But if self-serve is legalized and it turns out—and it probably will—that contrary to the polls the vast majority of the people choose the cheaper, self-serve option, and gas stations start cutting back on full-serve, so be it. That’s the market—the voluntary choices of consumers. But even in regards to the market, things work out. I travel a lot in neighboring states. In most stations, an attendant is available to serve if the customer needs it. In most such cases, other customers are more than willing to help these consumers.

Of course, if self-serve is legalized, I’ll probably have to start filling up my wife’s car in addition to my own. But, then, that’s my problem. I still say, legalize self-serve gas in New Jersey. The state has no legitimate business banning it.

Related Reading:

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sanders Pitches ‘Right’ to Healthcare: Cruz Checks Swing

In his confirmation hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary, Senator Bernie Sanders asked nominee Tom Price point blank if he believed healthcare is a right. Price completely blew it. Sanders offered Senator Ted Cruz the same challenge in a "Future of ObamaCare" Debate broadcast on CNN. Here is the exchange:

SANDERS: Is every American entitled -- and I underline that word -- to health care as a right of being an American? Yes or no?

CRUZ: You know, I'm glad you asked that. You know, right is a word you use a lot. Let's talk about what rights are. Rights mean you have a right for government not to mess with you, for government not to do things with you. If you look at the Bill of Rights, the Bill of Rights, free speech means the government can't silence you when you're speaking. Religious liberty means the government can't control who you worship, what your faith is.

The Second Amendment means the government can't take away your guns. Those are rights. You know, what the Declaration of Independence said, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
So what is a right is access to health care. What is a right is choosing your own doctor. And if you believe health care is a right, why on Earth did you help write Obamacare that caused six million people to have their health insurance canceled, that had them lose their doctors, and have people like LaRonda, who can't get health insurance, can't afford premiums...

SANDERS: For a start...

CRUZ: You're denying her what you say is her right.

SANDERS: Well, two things. You didn't answer the question, although I interpret your question to be that LaRonda does not have a right.

CRUZ: No, that's not what I said.

SANDERS: Woah, woah, woah, I heard the Bill of Rights.

CRUZ: What I said is access to health care. Access to health care is a right.

SANDERS: She has access. But she doesn't have enough money.

CRUZ: And choosing your doctor is a right.

SANDERS: Look, LaRonda, you have access right now. Go out and get a really great health insurance program. Oh, you can't do it? Because you can't afford it. All right? That's what he's saying. Access to what? You want to buy one of Donald Trump's mansions? You have access to do that, as well. Oh, you can't afford $5 million for a house? Sorry. Access doesn't mean a damn thing. What it means is whether people can afford it, can get the health care that they need.

CRUZ: And they can't under Obamacare.

Whereas Price completely evaded the issue of rights, Cruz at least dealt with it. He started off good. “Let's talk about what rights are.” Great. But whereas Price struck out looking at a big fat fastball down the middle of the plate—to repeat the baseball analogy I used in my post on Price—Cruz started his swing, then “checked” it, stopping short of completing the swing.

What’s disappointing is that Cruz clearly understands rights. Why didn’t he just come out and say it?: Rights are guarantees to freedom of action to pursue your own goals and flourishing, not a automatic claim on goods and services that others must be forced to provide.

Cruz certainly implied it. But he needn’t have relied on implication. He quotes from the Declaration of Independence, which guarantees the right to the pursuit, not “access,” to happiness. Pursuit is a much clearer term: “So what is a right is the pursuit of health care” would have been a better line. Having “access” implies getting it. By fudging it, Cruz gave Sanders a great opening: “She has access. But she doesn't have enough money.” Sanders is right on Cruz’s own terms, and he took full advantage it. If you’re going to argue for a right to access, then you’re implying that there is a right to access the money to pay for it.

Cruz needn’t have set himself up this way. Right after quoting the Declaration is where Cruz “checked his swing,” rather than complete his swing and hit it out of the park. Trapped by his own rhetoric, he retreated into pointing out the failures of ObamaCare. Had he clearly and simply defined rights, explicitly drawing on the Declaration, he could have said something along these lines:

“Just as the guarantee of the right to the pursuit of happiness does not guarantee happiness, so the right to the pursuit of healthcare does not guarantee healthcare, because their is no right to access other people’s wallets against their will to pay for it. The government’s job is to protect individual rights, including rights to properly obtained property, equally and at all times. There is no right to expect the government to violate other people’s property rights by taking their money to pay for healthcare that you cannot afford, any more than you have a right to take matters into your own hands and rob your neighbor at gunpoint to pay for your healthcare. The government should not be above the same moral law that we as private citizens must abide.

“It follows that there is no right to healthcare. There is only the right to the pursuit of healthcare or health insurance through one’s own work efforts and resources, or through the voluntary charity. This is the essence of America’s unique social compact. You are both protected from human predators, and forbidden to become one. The purpose of government is to enforce that compact, not become a tool of predation. The idea that healthcare is a right turns government into that tool. It is un-American.”

Perhaps Cruz won’t be so explicit because the same principles apply to every government program that forcible redistributes wealth, from public education to Social Security. And it’s true. Sanders could have called Cruz out on all of the welfare state holy grails, and Cruz would have had to acknowledge that all of these government programs violate the principle of rights. But that’s exactly what it’s going to take to restore freedom in healthcare. And why not say it? For example, consider this hypothetical exchange:

SANDERS: The same argument about rights can be used against Social Security. Do you advocate abolishing Social Security?

CRUZ: It’s true that Social Security violates the principle of rights, because there is no right to retirement income that others must be forced to provide. However, given the program’s entrenchment in people’s lives, I would not advocate its abolition, which in any event is politically impossible at this time. I would, however, advocate reforms that make Social Security a little more rights-respecting, such as personal, privately directed accounts within Social Security.

SANDERS: Then if you can accept Social Security, why not ObamaCare?

CRUZ: Because we have to draw the line somewhere, lest we have a continued erosion of individual liberty, setting us down the road to destruction like has happened in every fully socialist country from Soviet Russia to Red China to modern day Venezuela. The issue today is ObamaCare. Let’s stick to that. ObamaCare ignored the government causes of the very problems it was allegedly designed to fix—tax policies that tie health insurance to employment; that forbid and limit competition; mandates that burden insurers and their customers with unwanted, unneeded, or unaffordable coverages. Shouldn’t we address the causes of the problems of pre-existing conditions and soaring cost, rather than further limit freedom while ignoring the causes? ObamaCare ignored real fixes, and just compounded the problems. But the main reason is that Obamacare is immoral because it violates the fundamental rights of Americans who are forced to pay for the subsidies and who are forced to choose only among government-approved health insurance policies. [In this regard, see Paul Hsieh, The Battle Of The Narrative: How Ordinary Americans Can Fight ObamaCare: “]W]e should not let the government escape responsibility for problems they’ve created,” he writes. “If we let the government shift responsibility for ObamaCare’s problems onto the residual private sector, those problems will eventually be used to justify a government-run ‘single payer’ system.”]

Sanders is making a big push for a complete government takeover of medicine based on government as the single payer (he favors Medicare for All). Central to his efforts is the demonstrably false and immoral idea that healthcare is a right. Defenders of liberty and the American principle of inalienable individual rights must confront Sanders’ challenge head on—we must and we can, not just for the sake of freedom in healthcare, but freedom in general. If we can’t refute the right to healthcare, what “right” to any good or service can we refute? If one unfilled economic need translates into a right to access others’ wallets, with the government as the hired gun, then why not any unmet economic need? Then none of us has a right to what we have earned as long as someone, somewhere needs something. End of economic freedom. End of political freedom.

Refuting Sanders’ clearly and unequivocally on his “right to healthcare” will shift the moral center of gravity toward freedom in the battle over healthcare. Political compromises will still be inevitable. But finally, it will be the Left that will be on the defensive. That’s crucial in restoring liberty in healthcare and, more broadly, in rolling back the regulatory welfare state. Price blew it on the crucial issue of individual rights. Cruz, who knows better and in fact did better, still managed to leave Sanders with the moral high ground. However well Cruz did in the rest of the debate, his collapse on the issue of rights was another lost opportunity.

The central issue in the healthcare debate is not economic. It is the moral question of whether healthcare is a right. The self-described socialist Bernie Sanders knows it. It’s about time our side knew it, too. With ObamaCare once again on the political front burner, we can’t afford many more lost opportunities to capture what naturally belongs to advocates of liberty, the moral high ground. Without the moral high ground, any successes in reducing the harmful effects of ObamaCare will be short-lived. With the moral high ground, we will have captured the momentum for liberty.

Related Reading:

Moral Health Care vs. "Universal Health Care"—Paul Hsieh for The Objective Standard

GOP Needs a Philosophically Coherent Agenda

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Is the Electoral College Un-Democratic? You Bet. Unfair? Nope.

The Electoral College was the subject of a "pro" and "con" debate between two New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnists. I will focus on the argument against by Kean University assistant professor Frank Argote-Freyre, which he titled “Outdated Institution.” Argote-Freyre writes:

[The Electoral College] is fundamentally unfair and undemocratic.
It makes a mockery of the one person, one vote principle. Under it, every vote is not equal.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

Undemocratic? If by democratic one means pure, or what I call fundamentalist, democracy, it certainly is. And that’s a good thing. Fundamentalist democracy is as un-American as communism, Nazism, and slavery—that is, it is a manifestation of totalitarianism. Fundamentalist democracy is absolute majority rule, whereby the majority can vote to execute dissenters, as in Ancient Greece, or persecute minorities, as some Muslim democracies do to non-Muslims, or enslave a minority, as in the pre-Civil War American South, or control the life of or seize the property of one’s neighbors, as in the modern regulatory welfare state.

If by democracy one means the process by which free people control their governance in a constitutional republic—a process consistent with a free nation based on fundamental individual rights—the Electoral College is in no way unfair. Every voter in every state counts toward choosing her respective state’s electors. Within the context of a constitutional republic's democratic process, there is nothing inherently unfair about the Electoral College.

There is nothing sacred about a national popular vote—not in a constitutional republic based on rule of law and limited, individual rights-protecting government; not in a United States of America. This does not mean the popular vote shouldn’t matter. But there are better ways to measure the popular vote—like, on the state level. That’s what the Electoral College system measures. Every elector is backed by popular vote at the state level.

The national popular vote is irrelevant—and logically so—given the wide diversity of interests and concerns among the people in the states. In fact, if you take out California, by far the biggest state, Trump won the national popular vote by 1.5 million (at last count). California went for Clinton by a 4.3 million vote margin. That’s a lopsided 62-32%, way out of touch with the national electoral mainstream but enough to swing the national popular vote totals to Clinton. If you take out New York, another big state with a similarly lopsided Clinton margin, Trump won the other 48 states by 3.2 million. There were no large states that went for Trump by anything close to the CA-NY margins. Even reliably Republican Texas, the second biggest state, only gave Trump a 9% point margin. I mention this only so one can easily see why the national totals are irrelevant.

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). The fact is, every voter has the same equal, albeit effectively meaningless, choice; each votes his choice as to which candidate to assign his respective state’s electoral votes. In fact, depending on state-level rather than national-level popular votes to choose a president, each individual voter has more influence because she is one part of a smaller voter pie.

Though important, the vote is secondary. The primary concern of the Founder Fathers was to protect the rights of the individual to live and work according to his own judgement and conscience without infringement by King, cleric, elected legislature, et al. The right to vote was not primary. It couldn't be, as the Founders rightly considered individual rights to precede government. Since “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men,” the issue of voting only arises with the creation of a government.

Notice the hierarchy established in the U.S. Constitution's philosophic blueprint, the Declaration of Independence. First, it is established that man has certain unalienable individual rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Then, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Only after establishing the imperative to recognize rights and the need for rights-protecting government does the issue of voting arise—the “consent of the governed” clause pertaining to the government’s “just powers.” The right to vote is a logical extension of our fundamental rights as human beings. It is not one of them.

In other words, the Founders didn’t intend to create an absolute democracy, in which the vote is the be-all and end-all of liberty (The term “democracy” doesn’t even appear in the Declaration or the Constitution). This is important when considering the process by which our votes choose our political leaders. One of the areas in which the Founders most showed their brilliance is in the area of structuring government so as to distribute political power—the power of the gun—in a way that minimizes the chance of an unhealthy concentration of power and thus the emergence of tyranny. What kind of tyranny? Not just monarchy, but all kinds of tyranny, including the tyranny of the majority. It’s called the separation (or balance) of powers, also referred to as checks and balances.

Enter the Electoral College. The Electoral College must be understood within the context of the separation of powers, a device for protecting individual rights. By giving the states, through their elected legislatures, the constitutional responsibility to pick the president through the Electors they appoint, the states can act as a check on the power of the federal executive branch, as well as a check on each other.

The state legislatures can step in and override the popular vote for a variety of reasons. For example, in the case of an inconclusive vote—e.g. voting machine breakdowns, massive fraud, terrorist attack, etc.—the state legislature can assert its authority to choose the electors and facilitate the smooth completion of the electoral process. In addition, the electors, though morally duty bound to cast their votes for whom they are pledged, can constitutionally change their votes to nullify a popular vote in the unlikely event that an irrational, emotionally charged electorate chooses a demagogue with dictatorial ambitions, or other extreme circumstance. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that the Electoral College process may someday prevent the rise to power of an elected American Hitler or Chavez.*

But the Electoral College does not sidestep “the will of the people,” to use that ridiculous catchphrase (what “will” of which “people?” “The will of the people” is in fact a myth. It rests on the collectivist premise that “the people” is an entity with a will of its own apart from the individuals that comprise it. That’s mysticism, not reality. A better term is, “the will of the victorious electoral faction”). The popular vote does count. The state legislators—to whom Article II assigns the responsibility to choose, “in such Manner as the Legislature there of may direct,” the electorsare themselves elected by popular vote.

The important point is that the Electoral College is part of the checks and balances that prevents tyranny and thus protects our freedom, while also acting as a reliable and efficient means to choose our leaders. The primacy of liberty, not democracy, is the goal of the American republic and the starting point of American politics. America is about liberating each citizen to govern his own life, not give him the power to govern others. The right to vote is not primary. It logically follows from the individual’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the peaceful, non-predatory pursuit of happiness: That is, the right to have a say in the operation of the government created to protect his fundamental rights—a government constitutionally limited to protecting individual rights.

Judged from the perspective of the primacy of democracy, the Electoral College is, if not undemocratic, certainly less democratic than a direct national popular vote. But judged from the American perspective, the primacy of liberty, there is nothing undemocratic about it. The reactionaries against Americanism have largely succeeded in convincing us that liberty is about having a tiny part of a collective voice in governing other peoples lives. But liberty is not about the vote. It is about barring the majority from interfering in the individual’s right to govern his own life. Don’t let the democracy fundamentalists get their way. They are not champions of individual liberty. Keep the Electoral College. It is, in my view, a valuable and unifying—and quintessentially American—institution. It is a valuable tool for restricting majority rule and protecting our basic freedoms.

* In the leadup to the Electoral College vote on December 19th, 2016, there was a popular campaign to convince the electors not to cast their votes for Donald Trump on the grounds that Trump is unfit to be president, such as that his “impulsive nature would lead the country into another war.” The attempt failed, as expected. In the end, seven electors voted for people other than those they were pledged to, with Trump losing two votes and Clinton losing five, leaving a final tally 304-227 for Trump. The defections went to John Kasich [1], Ron Paul [1], Bernie Sanders [1], Colin Powell [3], and Faith Spotted Eagle [1]. I don’t believe Trump is incompetent or unfit, at least not enough to warrant an electoral college upset of the voters. And he certainly doesn’t rise to the level of a Hitler or Chavez. But it is the job of the Electoral College to consider such issues before voting. While it may seem like a rubber stamp, it is not. It is a real structural bulwark against tyranny.

Related Reading:

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