Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Licensure Epidemic

“When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion- when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing- when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors- when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you- when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice- you may know that your society is doomed.” Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged, page 413)

Those words of warning were uttered half a century ago. We’re not there yet, but today there are growing signs all around us that it is time to heed them. One such sign…in a Forbes magazine article entitled The New Unions, Suzanne Hoppough documents the out-of-control government occupational licensure epidemic sweeping the country.

What started out as a state power limited to certain occupations dealing in “public safety” such as doctors, lawyers, airline pilots, plumbers, and electricians, government licensing has exploded into an epidemic covering occupations such as hairdressers, florists, interior decorators, secretaries, and librarians. According to Ms. Hoppough, the accelerating licensure trend is being led not by power-hungry government bureaucrats and politicians, but by private citizens looking to protect their occupational turf through governmental coercion.

“Such occupations are the new unions. These modern-day guilds have replaced organized labor as the main vehicle for workers seeking to shield themselves from competition. As the economy has switched from manufacturing to services, some 28% of U.S. workers--or 43 million people--now belong to a licensed profession, according to a Princeton University/Gallup survey last year. That's up from 4.5% 50 years ago.” (emphasis added)

There is a lesson to be learned here. Government power, once granted, begets more government power. Once we granted to the state the power to require a license to earn a living in a single occupation…to require men to seek permission to produce from men who produce nothing (government bureaucrats)…there was no way to contain it. And the costs, in lost economic output and in lost freedom, are mounting;

“University of Minnesota economist Morris Kleiner recently estimated what occupational licenses cost the U.S. through higher fees and the lost output of people excluded from the roped-off professions: $100 billion a year. Some guilds are especially adept at keeping out new members even as demand balloons. The population has grown 22% since 1990, but the number of dentists and hairdressers hasn't budged. The shortage of dentists has pushed up their average real hourly pay 45% over that period.” (emphasis added)

In other words, political pull and favoritism…rather than ability or ambition or goal-oriented personal achievement…are increasingly becoming the passkey to “success”, thanks to government’s licensing powers.

In addition, it is the people who need a free market the most that are hurt the most;

“Licensing laws hit the poor particularly hard. They're often shut out of jobs that would hoist them onto the first rungs of the economic ladder--shampoo assistant, pipe layer's helper, home health aide--because they lack the time and money to take the classes and serve the apprenticeships to pass the exam.”

Senator John Edwards, oh great champion of the poor, where are you?

While “There are occasional victories for competitive markets”, the trend is disturbingly clear;

“Today there are 1,100 occupations--from secretaries and librarians in Georgia to wallpaper hangers in California--that require a license in at least one state, according to the Council of State Governments. That's up from roughly 80 in 1981. ‘These are monopolies created by the government,’ says William Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit in Arlington, Va. that litigates on behalf of property rights and other civil liberties.” (emphasis added)

Government licensing powers are a threat to our liberty, and should be repealed. The function of certifying occupational qualifications can be easily handled by private agencies without the rights-violating coercive powers of government. Private producers seeking to build public trust can apply for the “label” of one of the competing certification agencies relating to one’s particular field, if one wants. But no one should be forcibly prevented from selling his goods or services to willing consumers for failure to obtain permission from the state. (For a detailed discussion on a related topic, the FDA, check out Stella’s piece over at ReasonPharm. Many of the points expressed there are relevant to the licensing issue here.)

One final note. The government’s proper role is to protect individual rights…and that includes laws against fraud and deception. Compulsory government occupational licensing is not needed to prosecute, and indeed does not prevent, unscrupulous and unqualified charlatans from operating. All it does is trample the rights of many honest people seeking to earn a living, while awarding established players the power to coercively block competition…a bulwark of a free market.

Related Reading:

Sometimes The Best Medical Care Is Provided By Those Who Aren't M.D.s, by Amesh Adalja, M.D.

Post Reference 31

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Changing the Wind"

With my inspirational new design in place…and with the first anniversary of my introductory post approaching next month…I thought that this might be a good time to restate my purpose for launching my blog.

Recently, my wife Kathy had this conversation. An acquaintance stated that this election would be an “interesting” one. With that Kathy engaged the woman, laying out in some detail (about 10 or 15 minutes worth) her beliefs about one of the key issues in the upcoming campaign…“universal healthcare.” She argued the case against it, and the case in favor of government-run health care’s opposite…free market medicine. As Kathy spoke, the acquaintance didn’t really have much to say, mostly listening and nodding. But Kathy was given an “opening”…i.e., an opportunity to advocate for the ideas she believes in, and she seized it. During the conversation, she quoted from Dr. Paul Hsieh's letter circulated to other doctors, stating a crucial principle which sits at the heart of the debate…that “health care is a *need*, but not a right.”

This may seem like an inconsequential encounter. But, in actuality, it captures the essence of the purpose of this blog. The episode discussed above is an example of intellectual activism. Ideas are a powerful force, the force that determines the political direction of a country. By taking a stand, at an appropriate time and place, on an issue based on fundamental premises, Kathy was fighting in the only meaningful arena…the battleground of ideas.

The Objectivist Movement, of which I am a part, is not a political, but a philosophical, movement. (Kathy is not an Objectivist, but she shares many Objectivist positions.) Politics follows culture, and so the aim is to change the culture by bringing Ayn Rand’s ideas of reason, individualism, rational egoism, and laissez-faire capitalism into the mainstream of American dialogue.

Richard Ralston said it best over at Americans for Free Choice in Medicine:

"Don't worry about changing the politicians. The politicians will wear their fingers to the bone
sticking them in the air to test which way the wind is blowing.
Instead, work on CHANGING THE WIND. If you change the wind, the
politicians will follow."

This is, admittedly, no easy task. Neither will it be accomplished quickly. It took decades for the poisonous ideas that have brought us to the point of having a choice for president between two statists to penetrate the culture. But it will have to be accomplished, if America’s course toward economic and political disaster is to be turned. With the century-plus long trend toward collectivism and statism re-asserting itself with a vengeance after a brief respite following the “Reagan Revolution” and the fall of Communism, it is only Objectivism that offers a clear alternative to the bankruptcy of American liberalism and conservatism. It is only Objectivism that offers a moral defense of Americanism and capitalism. Objectivists are, in Ayn Rand’s descriptive language, radicals for capitalism.

America, I believe, is ripe for a radical alternative. A radical philosophical alternative. “A philosophical battle is a battle for men’s minds,” wrote Ayn Rand in 1972, “History is made by intellectual movements, which are created by minorities. In an intellectual battle, you do not need to convert everyone.” We will, as Kathy was attempting to do, change the culture one mind at a time.

We intend to “Change the Wind.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Actually, it’s my new Blog look, courtesy of Father’s Day. This new design is my gift from my two daughters, sons-in-law, and six grandchildren. In reality, it was my daughters Christine and Susan who collaborated and did all of the work…with a bit of help from friends.

I can’t really express how grateful and proud I am of my new blog template. In fact, my initial stunned reaction was so subdued that Christine didn’t think I even liked it! Incredibly, when the new design was first shown to me before it was actually activated, my first statement to Susan was… “I hope you don’t accidentally delete my blog.”

As to my new template, I like the color scheme much more than the old (to the extent that I can appreciate color). Also, I like using both margins for links and things. The much more prominent positioning of the Ayn Rand quote at the top, which is the theme of my blog, is something that is very pleasing to me…especially its proximity to the title and the words “We the People.”

And that brings me to perhaps my favorite feature…the United States Constitution as a backdrop. Anyone who knows me will easily recognize that feature as quintessentially ME.

This is my favorite in a long line of great, thoughtful, and much-appreciated Father’s Day gifts. My blog now means much more to me than just intellectual activism, which is itself very important. It will always offer great inspiration to me every time I access it…and will make me want to fight even harder for my, and your, individual rights.

So to my daughters Christine and Susan, my sons-in-law Jason and Jerome, and my grandchildren Zachary, Eliot, Madalyn, Alysa, Colin, and Kayla…A.K.A. Zemack…THANK YOU!

I love you all;


Commentary 35

The Dems will trample the rights of one group of people, the energy producers, in order to bestow government-enforced economic favors on another... "the families of America." Apparently, the rights of the people who produce the fuel that Americans need are not worthy of government protection, because they produce it.

Excerpt from my latest activism...Read The Rest

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Assault from Within

The extent to which Western nations are undermining its own fundamental values of press and speech freedom to appease the primitive and barbaric Islamic totalitarian movement is one of the most depressing and dangerous trends of recent years. The Danish Mohammed cartoon saga is perhaps the most infamous example of Western journalists and politicians kowtowing to Muslim demands to stifle our own free expression.

Now comes the case from France, where Brigitte Bardot was convicted for expressing a political opinion…critical of Muslims! According to an ARI press release;

“Bardot was fined $23,325 on Tuesday--barely escaping a jail sentence--for a statement made in a letter to France's interior minister, protesting Muslims' refusal to stun animals before slaughtering them during religious holidays. The fine was levied for the following statement: ‘I've had enough of being led by the nose by this whole population which is destroying us, (and) destroying our country by imposing their ways.’ (emphasis added)

And for that, a criminal conviction!

Unfortunately, these kinds of episodes are becoming all too common…especially in Europe. In a modern-day version of Communism’s 20th century subversion attempts, this may all be part of a deliberate strategy by Islamic leaders to undermine Western Culture from within. In a very disturbing article called An Anatomy of Surrender, Bruce Bawer writes;

“What has not been widely recognized is that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie introduced a new kind of jihad. Instead of assaulting Western ships or buildings, Khomeini took aim at a fundamental Western freedom: freedom of speech. In recent years, other Islamists have joined this crusade, seeking to undermine Western societies’ basic liberties and extend sharia within those societies.

“The cultural jihadists have enjoyed disturbing success. Two events in particular—the 2004 assassination in Amsterdam of Theo van Gogh in retaliation for his film about Islam’s oppression of women, and the global wave of riots, murders, and vandalism that followed a Danish newspaper’s 2005 publication of cartoons satirizing Mohammed—have had a massive ripple effect throughout the West. Motivated variously, and doubtless sometimes simultaneously, by fear, misguided sympathy, and multicultural ideology—which teaches us to belittle our freedoms and to genuflect to non-Western cultures, however repressive—people at every level of Western society, but especially elites, have allowed concerns about what fundamentalist Muslims will feel, think, or do to influence their actions and expressions. These Westerners have begun, in other words, to internalize the strictures of sharia, and thus implicitly to accept the deferential status of dhimmis—infidels living in Muslim societies.

“Call it a cultural surrender. The House of War is slowly—or not so slowly, in Europe’s case—being absorbed into the House of Submission.”
(emphasis added)

Playing right into the hands of the “cultural jihadists,” the road to destruction of our cherished free speech rights are being paved by our very own “hate speech” and "hate crimes” laws, which criminalize thought. Edward Cline writes;

“In a not so coincidental dovetailing of events, a bill to regulate “hate speech” is at present being debated in the British parliament that would make it a criminal offense to publicly disparage any creed or set of religious beliefs, in addition to “inciting” violence via words or pictures against members of any race or religious sect. Ostensively, the bill is aimed at Muslims who call for Jihad in Britain; in effect, it will silence anyone who questions or criticizes any creed or system of beliefs. The bill aims to suppress the provocation of thugs and rioters by gagging those who would call them thugs and rioters.

“It will silence everyone but the Muslims.”
(emphasis added)

America is not immune to this creeping Sharia (Islamic Law). Onkar Ghati writes;

“It appears that we should now begin to get used to a similar climate in America.

“Borders and Waldenbooks stores have just announced that they will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because the issue reprints some of the cartoons. Is the decision based on disagreement with the content of the magazine? No, not according to Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham. ‘For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority.’

“Borders Group's capitulation to Islamic thugs is understandable given the pathetic response of our and other Western governments.”

America and the West must reaffirm…indeed, rediscover…the principles of press and speech freedom, the vehicle vital to the defense of our other basic rights.

Post Reference 30

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Pope's Reaffirmation

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae ("On Human Life"), Pope Benedict XVI re-affirmed Pope Paul VI’s message laid out in that document.

While acknowledging that "The teaching laid out in the 'Humanae vitae' encyclical isn't easy," Benedict XVI went on to say;

"What was true yesterday remains true even today. 'The truth expressed in 'Humane vitae' doesn't change; on the contrary, in the light of new scientific discoveries it is ever more up to date.

"Forty years after its publication, that teaching not only shows itself to be unchanged in its truth, but it reveals the farsightedness with which the problem was tackled."

What does Humanae vitae teach?

1. Artificial birth control is banned. This means that young couples must give up all reliable methods of controlling the size of their families and thus the course of their lives. (The highly unreliable “rhythm method” is allowed, however.) I think of the constant fear of an unwanted pregnancy that was the norm for young people prior to “the pill.” The liberation from that fear and uncertainty engendered by birth control allowed young people to plan their futures with much more confidence. Think of what an end to artificial birth control would now do to young children starved for stimulative activities or teen-agers whose college plans would go up in smoke because of the financial burden forced on their parents’ by unplanned pregnancies.

2. Abortion is banned, even if the health and life of the mother is in danger. With very few exceptions, even today’s most ardent opponents of abortion make exception in this case (as well as in the cases of rape or incest). Yet, as Ayn Rand said at an address at The Ford Hall Forum in Boston in 1968, “After extolling the virtue of motherhood, as a woman’s highest duty, as her ‘eternal vocation,’ the encyclical attaches a special risk of death to the performance of that duty- an unnecessary death, in the presence of doctors forbidden to save her, as if a woman were only a screaming huddle of infected flesh who must not be permitted to imagine that she has the right to live” (From The Voice of Reason, page 58. Rand was referring to the Encyclical’s commandment that “the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded…” [emphasis added] ). And think of the victims of incest or rape who, having been violated in a most inhuman fashion, must then be denied the choice of terminating that pregnancy...their future thus being allowed to have been snatched away by a brutal act of violence.

3. Artificial conception is banned. Humanae vitae was written before such advances as invitro-fertilization became reality, but Benedict XVI has declared that the intent of Paul VI is clear…human intervention in the procreation process is forbidden even in this area. “[I]n the light of new scientific discoveries it [the encyclical] is ever more up to date," he said, referring to what he called “mechanical means”…i.e., invitro. I think of my granddaughter Kayla, a product of invitro fertilization, who would never have had a chance at life. I think of my daughter Susan and son-in-law Jerome… their dreams of having children crushed. I think of all of the other Kaylas, and of the children born to now-adult products of artificial (i.e., scientific) methods of procreation. I think of all of the humanity that would not be, courtesy of the "significant gesture of courage" of Paul VI. Invitro, you see, “offend[s] the dignity of life.”

What makes Pope Benedict’s comments significant is that these doctrines are not merely confined to the religious sphere, as the Church advocates their political (i.e., coercive) implementation on everyone, not just Catholics. States the Encyclical, “We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God.” (emphasis added)

The Catholic Church's position is brutally clear. It would force unwanted and unplanned children on some, deny children to others desperately wanting them, and sentence expectant mothers to unnecessary suffering and death. Why? No rational reason is given, just the usual cop-out that this is “God’s will.” The common denominator under attack by these three commandments is…the application of human intelligence to the problems of human procreation…the application of which the encyclical explicitly forbids. One must ask Benedict XVI; is not human intelligence part of man…the same man created by God? If so, then is it not “God’s will” for him to use it? Apparently not, in the Church’s view, which has previously opposed the advance of medical progress on many fronts, including the dissection of human corpses and the use of anesthesia.

On these and a whole host of issues, the Catholic Church is deeply split between the Vatican and the rank and file. My late uncle, for example, was threatened with ex-communication from the Church if he married my aunt, a divorcee. He married her anyway, and was indeed ex-communicated. This, despite his being a devout Catholic! The brutal doctrines of the Catholic Church are such that very few of its practitioners actually live by them…at least by my observation. Who can live by them?

Yet, the Pope speaks of defending “not only the true concept of life but above all, the dignity of the very person”!

The Catholic Church claims to be “pro-life.”

In fact, it clings to doctrines that are relics of the Dark Ages.