Monday, April 24, 2017

Private vs. Government Unemployment Insurance

Early in 2016, Verizon’s union workers went on strike over terms of a new contract. During the strike, the New Jersey Legislature tried to pass a bill to allow the strikers from the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to collect unemployment benefits from the state fund.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

Government officials, especially elected officials, have a constitutional and moral responsibility to represent all people equally and without bias. It’s called equal protection of the law. This means the officials should not take sides in private contractual disputes unless fraud or physical coercion (rights violations) are evident. It’s bad enough to consider allowing striking workers to collect even though they are off the job voluntarily (Vitale’s embarrassingly rationalistic “really almost (been) forced to be off the job” comment notwithstanding). It is vulgar for the legislature to use taxpayer money to dish out special favors to one politically connected union, which is explicitly the reason for this bill. It is blatant cronyism that could enable the union to extract concessions from Verizon by legal coercion rather than legitimate voluntary agreement.

As a lifelong union member, I oppose this bill. I once participated in a 6-week strike. It’s hard. But I never considered that the taxpayers should subsidize me during the time I was out of work while we voluntarily exercised our right to strike for personal gain.

Shame on this committee. If it passes the legislature, I hope Christie vetoes it. No wonder New Jersey is considered the corruption capitol of the nation.

I got this angry reply from words4free:

What about the substantial weekly contributions these employees have made to this fund?  Does that not count?  Are they not entitled to collect that which they put in.  We can say the same about SS--those collecting today, did not put in the amount they are taking out--I along with every other working person, are paying for them to take out more then they put it--but I'm o.k. with that because they need to live to.  You, as a Union member, should be ashamed of yourself.

I guess being a union member means blindly following the Marxist line. I left this reply, edited for clarity:

Yes, it is unfair to have to contribute to the state unemployment fund and not have any control over how that money is distributed. That's how government programs work, which is why I oppose all of them, including Social Security. When you are forced to turn your money over to the government, the government sets the rules. I retired after 46 years in the plumbing and pneumatic controls trades. During my career, I collected only about half a year's worth of unemployment compensation. Surely, I "contributed" way more than I collected in benefits. Should I now be able to demand unemployment benefits in retirement, up to what I “put in?” Morally, yes. But, unlike private savings, the money I “put in” is long gone into unemployed workers’ pockets. So the only way I can collect what I “put in” is to demand that the government pick other workers’ pockets.
That’s the corrupt nature of the system.

Contrarily, during much of my working life I regularly set aside small amounts of money in a “rainy day fund” to supplement unemployment should I ever be out of work, as financial planners routinely advise. Since I rarely needed to tap it, I now can use that money for other purposes [as I choose]. Likewise, if the union set up its own unemployment fund, it could tap it any way it wished. That’s the difference between a one-size-fits-all forced government scheme and private planning. When you plan with your own money, whether individually or as a group, you set the rules.

Bottom line: The government set the rule that benefits go only to involuntarily unemployed people, and shouldn’t be altering or rigging the rules for the purpose of pure cronyism and political opportunism. The union has no right to arbitrarily change the state unemployment fund into a strike, with the politicians as its hired guns.

As to getting more out of SS than put in, that’s no longer true. I calculated how much of a nest egg I’d have if I set aside that money in my own account (or if it was set aside in a SS personal account in my name that no politician can seize and funnel into someone else’s pocket), and had it grow at a modest 6% annual rate, and compared it to the benefits I’m collecting now out of other workers’ paychecks. There’s no way I’ll ever get back what I was forced to “contribute.”

That you’re OK with your money being redistributed in this way, leaving you no way to collect your promised benefits except in the same way, is morally reprehensible, in my view. Shame on you for implying that, as a union member, I must blindly follow union dogma like a mindless sheep to the detriment of my conscientious convictions. Overall, my union membership has been a net positive for me, for which I paid heftily in dues and assessments. But the union doesn’t own me and my convictions.

I am a union man, not a union movement man.

Related reading:

Did Unions Create the Middle Class?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow”. - Ayn Rand

One such uncontested (except by Rand) absurdity was inaugurated on April 22, 1970…the first Earth Day. The inability or unwillingness of Americans to understand and appreciate the actual meaning behind that concept has allowed Earth Day to evolve into a powerful symbol of an ideology that is anti-human life.

Ayn Rand coined the term “anti-industrial revolution” to describe the “ecology” movement of the 1960s and 1970s. That movement was the precursor to the modern environmentalist movement.

The basic premise of Environmentalism is that “nature” in its raw state—which means unaltered by human intervention—has intrinsic value. But the concept "value" cannot be divorced from the concept valuer. Nothing can have intrinsic value ... i.e., value in and of itself. But that is exactly how environmentalism sees nature. The consequences to human freedom and well-being by the acceptance of that doctrine are horrendous. Mark Levine puts it thus:

  If nature has "intrinsic value" then nature exists for its own sake. Consequently, man is not to be preferred over any aspect of his natural surroundings. He is no better than any other organism and much worse because of his destructive existence.
  Is not man, therefore, expendable? And if he is, is not the suppression of his liberty, the confiscation of his property, and the blunting of his progress at all times warranted where the purpose is to save the planet - or any part of it - from man himself? After all, it would seem that there can be no end to man's offenses against nature if he is not checked at every turn. (Liberty and Tyranny, pages 121-122)

Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, puts it another way—in terms of a moral standard of value. The environmentalists' standard of moral value is unaltered nature, not human flourishing. Since man's means of survival is to apply productive—i.e., reason-guided—work to the task of transforming the raw materials provided by nature into life-enhancing material values, everything man does above the level of the higher animals is immoral. Man is not to improve his natural surroundings; not to maximize his well-being while minimizing the negative consequences of his industrial development. He is to minimize his impact on the Earth, regardless of the consequences to his life. This is the underlying meaning of Earth Day, of "going green"—deindustrialization, not as a means to a better environment for humans, but for deindustrialization’s sake. Earth Day stands for anti-humanism.

Think of what it means if unaltered nature is the moral standard; if nature has intrinsic value. It means that whatever nature "does"—raw nature—is valuable and not to be altered. A volcano erupting and destroying Mount St. Helens, taking with it millions of trees and wild animals, is raw nature, and thus good. Man clearing a forest and “destroying” an ecosystem to build a housing development is not "natural," and thus bad. Animals devouring one another to survive is raw nature. Man using animals for the purpose of testing (human) life-saving medicines is not. Crop-destroying insects or plant diseases is raw nature. Insecticides and bio-engineered pest- and disease-resistant crops is not. A black primordial goo lying underground is raw nature. Gasoline and heating oil is not. Natural climate change is acceptable. Human-caused climate change is not. A natural 400 foot rise in sea levels is not bad. Let human activity contribute a couple of inches in the last century of the 20,000 year trend, and its a catastrophe. Modern agriculture, transportation, health care, buildings, amusement parks, even household appliances—everything manmade—results from altering raw nature in some way, which destroys intrinsic value and is thus immoral and needs to be minimized and ultimately stopped and reversed.

The common denominator of that which is not “raw” nature is that it represents the application of human intelligence to the advance of man’s well-being and survival. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. Every living species, from the lowest bacteria to the most advanced mammals, must act according to its nature to sustain its life. In other words, every living species is provided by nature with some means of survival, which it must rely on and exercise.

There is one crucial fact of nature that sets man apart from every other living species. Every other species must essentially adapt itself to its natural environmental background. It has no choice in the matter, since it basically has no way of altering that environment. It is thus equipped with the basic means of survival determined by its nature to survive in that manner. Any species that lacks or loses the means to adapt perishes. Man, however, is not equipped to adapt to raw nature. He must, if he is to survive and thrive, adapt his environmental background to his own needs ... by building homes, inventing medical treatments, developing advanced agriculture, producing fuel for transportation and heating ... all produced from exploiting the materials found in raw nature.

Environmentalism’s elevating of nature to the absurd and logically indefensible status of having intrinsic value is a direct assault on, and denial of, man’s method of survival; his need to transform raw nature as dictated by his very nature. That man is himself a product of nature does not daunt the environmentalist mindset. They champion nature, except the one creation of nature that sets man apart. Since man’s primary, basic means of achieving this is his rational mind, the anti-science of environmentalism is thus anti-mind, which means anti-man.

Environmentalism should not be confused with the idea of developing cleaner methods of producing and consuming that which we need to survive and thrive. That is not what the leaders of the environmental movement have in mind. It is human production and technology that is the enemy. Following are some quotes from some of those leaders:

The collective needs of non-human species must take precedence over the needs and desires of humans.

—Dr. Reed F. Noss, The Wildlands Project

Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, is not as important as a wild and healthy planet ... Some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.

—David Graber, biologist, National Park Service

The extinction of the human species may not only be inevitable but a good thing....This is not to say that the rise of human civilization is insignificant, but there is no way of showing that it will be much help to the world in the long run.

—Economist editorial

I suspect that eradicating smallpox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems.

—John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal

We, in the green movement, aspire to a cultural model in which killing a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of 6-year-old children to Asian brothels.

—Carl Amery

We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into Stone Age, where we might live like Indians in our valley, with our localism, our appropriate technology, our gardens, our homemade religion—guilt-free at last!

—Stewart Brand (writing in the Whole Earth Catalogue).

This last is the ideal that drives environmentalism…the return of mankind to a pre-industrial age when man lived “in harmony” with nature. A time when nature was worshipped, rather than exploited for human gain. Rather than a warm winter home, they long for an existence of savages cowering in fear of natural forces. The name itself, “Environmentalism”, captures the very essence of its meaning, just as Communism or Nazism captures the essence of those systems. In fact, statists of every stripe have latched on to the environmental movement to further their anti-capitalist agendas.

But make no mistake. The agenda of the environmentalists is to thwart, roll back, and destroy the life-giving technology and industrialization of the modern age. This is not to say that I believe that they will succeed. Most people don’t equate environmentalism with an anti-man’s-life agenda. There is a real danger, though, that they will succeed at advancing a statist agenda under cover of environmentalism, leading to a deteriorating economy, rising impoverishment, and possible dictatorship. I submit in evidence the two news items cited in my 2010 Earth Day post.

By celebrating “Earth Day”, we should be aware of the enemies of man that we are helping to bring to power in America and around the world.

Rather than celebrate raw nature, as embodied in “Earth Day”, we should instead look around at all of the life-giving benefits we enjoy as a result of industrialization.

Earth Day is the “holiday” of the anti-industrial revolution. Instead, we should celebrate the wonderful job humans have done in improving the planet through science, technology, industry, entrepreneurship, and hard work. We should celebrate the holiday of the Industrial Revolution, Exploit The Earth Day!

Related Reading:


The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein (Chapter 1, The Secret History of Fossil Fuels, available free.)

Related Viewing:

Related Listening:

The Anti-Industrial Revolution—Ayn Rand Lecture
“The environmental movement is often seen as a campaign to clean up man’s environment so that we can lead healthy and happy lives. But in early 1971, less than a year after the movement kicked off its first Earth Day celebration, Ayn Rand argued that this was a façade to cover the actual ideology animating the movement.”—ARI

Thursday, April 20, 2017

From Human Rights to Animal 'Rights' to Plant 'Rights' to the Obliteration of Human Rights

In reaction to a Spanish Parliament environmental committee’s resolution consideration of ‘a resolution to grant certain human rights to "our nonhuman brothers’ – great apes, gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans,” Russell Paul La Valle, a freelance writer in New Paltz, New.York, argued forcibly Why animals shouldn't have human rights.

It’s a great article overall, especially this section:

Should animals have rights? The quick and only logical answer is no. A "right" is a moral principle that governs one's freedom of action in society. This concept is uniquely, and exclusively, human — man is the only being capable of grasping such an abstraction, understanding his actions within a principled framework and adjusting his behavior so as not to violate the rights of others. The source of rights is man himself, his nature and his capacity for rational thought. To give rights to creatures that are irrational, amoral and incapable of living in a rights-based environment makes a mockery of the very concept of rights and, ultimately, threatens man.

Unlike most mammals or other types of creatures, humans are not born with instinctual, inherited knowledge of how to survive. Rather, man's survival is achieved through reason, which allows him to integrate the facts of his surroundings and apply this knowledge to use and shape the natural world for his preservation and advancement.

This includes the use of animals, whether for food, shelter or other necessities.

I left these comments (no longer available):

There is a crucial difference between man and all other living species. As Mr. La Valle points out, man is the only species whose means of survival (reason) requires that he adapt his background to his needs.

The same dangerous logic that leads to “rights” for apes will be the precedent that leads to “rights” for all species. He is correct that this is a threat to man. If animals have “rights” equivalent to man, then man’s very means of survival is negated. It reduces man to existence on the same level as animals, depriving him of exploiting nature through reason and productive work, for that would violate the “rights” of other species.

That’s the real purpose of the animal rights movement, which recognizes the legitimacy of the means of survival of every living species but man. It’s not love of animals, but hatred of man, that motivates this movement. There’s no conflict between protecting animals from malicious cruelty and recognition of rights as the exclusive domain of man.

At the time I wrote those comments in 2008, I didn't envision "all species"—by which I meant animal species—could actually extend to all species, including plants. Yes, plants! But, in retrospect, it makes sense if you accept the premise that rights are not the exclusive domain of humans. A logical next step in the animal "rights" crusade is to ascribe "rights" to plants. That's exactly what's happening. Check out Rooting Out the Motive of “Plant Rights” Advocates in The Objective Standard. As Ross England writes:

Now, most readers of this argument will think that the idea of plant rights is silly—indeed, many responders to his article said so. But while Marder’s argument is ridiculous, his goal is serious, dangerous, and not to be ignored. Here we should take the advice of Ellsworth Toohey, villain of The Fountainhead: “Don’t bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes.”

England observes that the not-so-veiled motive of plant "rights" advocates is to stop agricultural biotechnology, also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But he also recognizes that plant "rights" is part of a broader threat:

Though agricultural biotechnology companies such as Monsanto have enabled the vital production of greater yields of high-quality crops, allowing for cheaper and more widely available food, Marder seeks to curtail these life-promoting values through a sophistical argument for “plant rights.” In so doing, he reveals himself to be no different from scores of other environmentalists who, though they hide behind a veneer of concern for “the environment,” are actually anti-industry and, therefore, are anti-man.

Animal "rights" and Plant "rights" are tools for obfuscating the concept of rights for the purpose of obliterating human rights.

Related Reading:

Man’s Rights—Ayn Rand

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

'Affordable' McMansions in NJ?

Like many states, New Jersey has an “affordable housing problem." And like other states, the problem is largely caused by government interference.

In NJ, the state requires local municipal zoning boards to “provide” for affordable housing within their borders. Not surprisingly, some towns may be gaming the system. That is the subject of a New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial. In How can some N.J. towns call McMansions affordable housing?, the Star-Ledger observed that some towns are classifying $500,000 and up homes as “affordable.” But as the Star-Ledger wryly asks, “What real estate agent is going to show a hairdresser a half million-dollar home?”

I left these comments, slightly edited for clarity:

We in New Jersey are all familiar with the Mount Laurel case. In 1070, Jacob’s Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopalian congregation in Mount Laurel, sought approvals to build 36 low income housing units on its own land. The town turned it down, highlighting the fundamental problem: It’s the zoning, stupid! The Mount Laurel episode led to lawsuits that resulted not in invalidating the zoning powers, but to the court ruling establishing the convoluted “affordable housing doctrine,” which requires towns to “provide ‘reasonable opportunity’ for the creation of affordable housing.” This,  in turn, led to 1985 legislation creating the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).

How’d that work out?

In the 1980s, in my Hunterdon County hometown, a developer submitted plans to build a 2200 home project on three farms totalling over 500 acres. I thought it was a pretty darn good proposal. The homes spanned the entire price range from low income to McMansion. The main access road came off of a major highway, route 202, minimizing impact on local roads. The project was surrounded by natural buffers to soften the effect for the existing houses (mine included) bordering and facing the project. The developer even included building a school and giving it to the town, along with some open space.

The town turned it down, claiming that it had already met the COAH’s “affordable housing quotas.” The developer sued under what was then called the “builder's remedy.” The town won, and the three farms are now “preserved” at taxpayer expense. 2200 homes not built. Again, COAH and all, It’s the zoning, stupid!

Zoning is the major culprit, followed by regulations. Turn the page of this same Perspective edition of the Star-Ledger and you’ll find a Bloomberg article, What Makes Housing Too Expensive? Bloomberg reports, “The main barrier to housing construction in [coastal metropolitan areas like NJ] is local regulation -- zoning ordinances, environmental requirements, even affordable-housing rules.” These restrictions limit not only affordable home building, but all home building, driving up the cost of all housing, including older housing on the low price end.

Zoning is not the only cause of high housing costs. But it is an elephant in the room. Until local zoning power is vastly reigned in—I think zoning should be eliminated—so market forces can be allowed to work and property rights are protected as Jacob’s Chapel’s should have been, the problem can not begin to go away.

In reply to one correspondent who challenged me on my opposition to zoning, I answered:

No zoning doesn’t have to mean no protection for existing property owners from disruptive new development. I lived in Cranford, in a residential zone sandwiched between two commercial zones. The commercial zones came after we moved in. On one side, the boundary cut my block in half, so that my backyard bordered on factories. Two blocks the other way was a long-existing city dump, which was converted into a commercial/industrial park. Guess what? No problem coexisting with industry. The test should be whether new development violates existing property owners’ rights by physically disruptive consequences, not central planners’ trying to mold the “character” of the town to existing residents’ liking. Neither of the developments I cited above should have been blocked unless it could be proven that neighbor’s property rights would have been violated, which was definitely not the case. The burden of proof should be on those who want to block the developments.

Related Reading:

More Freedom, not More Government, Will Solve New Jersey's "Housing Crisis"

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The NJ Star-Ledger's Barbaric Smear of Charles Koch

Charles G. Koch’s early 2016 ABC interview statement that Hillary Clinton may make a better president than Donald Trump—and that he may actually vote for her—triggered a vicious smear editorial by the New Jersey Star-Ledger. I won’t address all of the falsehoods in the editorial, which are really just rehashed Leftist sound bites. But here are a few excerpts from Billionaires Behaving Badly: Trump has Koch flummoxed:

Charles Koch symbolizes the vulgar power of money in the post-Citizens United world, where he advances the careers of candidates who protect his interests with legislation and misinformation. But he seems to have arrived at two gut-seizing conclusions that must feel like the branch is creaking.

First, Donald Trump – closer than ever to the Republican nomination after his five-state sweep Tuesday - has blowtorched the ideological purity of Koch's GOP and turned it into something unrecognizable to many conservatives.

And second, Trump makes the conservative establishment almost as irrelevant as Koch's wallet now seems to be.

Koch is hairless-cat-stroking ogre out of central casting, a former John Bircher who believes that minimum wage creates a "culture of dependency," whose legislative arm (ALEC) that has crafted thousands of corporate-friendly bills, who has waged perpetual war on solar energy, unions, voting rights and entitlements, and whose toxic empire is among the country's top polluters of water, air, and land.

He wanted a candidate who can help him shape the world to suit his agenda, but he has learned something unsettling: Conservatism isn't as important to the GOP base that has made Trump a dominant frontrunner.

Generally, conservatism is about free trade, limited government and budget discipline.

And Republican voters care less about conservative orthodoxy than Trump does: Nearly two-thirds of them want to preserve Social Security and Medicare at its current levels; more than half are bothered "a lot" that corporations don't pay their fare share of taxes.
The result is a fractured party, an opportunist who has turned hucksterism into a political movement, and a billionaire on the verge of surrender.

Apparently, the Star-Ledger is too blinded by its hateful rage to notice the contradiction: How can Koch simultaneously symbolize the vulgar power of money in the post-Citizens United world, and be irrelevant to the political direction of the party?

I left these comments, slightly edited:

There is something barbaric and evil about demonizing true American heroes like Charles Koch. Koch, like most American billionaires, is not a saint. Saints are lauded for their sacrifices for the poor. Billionaires like Koch—the kind that build market fortunes—are infinitely better than saints: They are creators of life-lifting wealth.

Charles Koch (along with his brother David) inherited a company worth $21 million—a successful company in its own right—and grew it into a $100 billion plus company, a growth rate 27 times the S&P 500. Along the way, Koch created tens of thousands of remunerative jobs and millions upon millions of satisfied polluters ......, oops, excuse me, consumers (If Koch Industries is a “toxic empire,” then every consumer that uses its products is a polluter—no escaping personal responsibility here). Best of all, Koch earned a well-deserved fortune worth $billions—a noble achievement because built on trade, the win-win voluntary exchange of value for value that benefits all and harms none. Yet the Koch fortune, like all capitalist fortunes, pales in comparison to the economic value and activity spread around in the process of building that fortune.

Worst of all for the poverty worshipping, achievement-suppressing statist Left, Koch is willing to spend some of his fortune on the battleground of ideas. In advocating for liberty and rights-protecting government, against cronyism, for freedom of production and trade, for a just society where people are free to rise as far as their ability, ambition, and personal circumstances will carry them, Koch speaks not just for himself—He speaks for millions who share his vision. The Left wants to smear, and ultimately legally silence, Charles Koch because it wants to silence the millions of ordinary people who don’t share in its state-supremacist designs.

Much of what the Star-Ledger says about Koch’s advocacy is true, and much is false. And yes, the Republican Party is intellectually comatose: It is not fascist. It certainly isn't capitalist. It is nothing. The Democrats, at least, are passionately open fascists, demagogues, and nationalist socialists. But the smear on Koch for his achievements just because he is an industrialist who is also an intellectual activist—”behaving badly”—is quite simply beneath anyone who values life and prosperity.


And, I would add to the last sentence, freedom of speech.

As an aside, a correspondent replied to my comments with a quote that dates back at least to the early 19th Century and attributed to the Frenchman Honore de Balzac, "Behind every great fortune is a great crime." It has been repeated by many to this day. I answered, “Until the rise of Capitalist fortunes by entrepreneurship, production, and trade—about which there is still a lot of superstition and ignorance.”

Related Reading:

Good Profit—Charles G. Koch

Citizens United and the Battle for Free Speech in America—Steve Simpson