Friday, June 29, 2012

After the ObamaCare Ruling; The Road Ahead

Paul Hsieh of FIRM has a new op-ed at PJ Media, What Should Americans Do After the Supreme Court ObamaCare Ruling? Hsieh warns that American healthcare will be in "deep trouble in just a few years," but also that the Court “does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Healthcare Act,” noting that “That judgment is up to the people.” 


Hsieh notes that there are plenty of good alternative replacement proposals on the table, should opponents succeed in repealing ObamaCare legislatively. On this score, Hsieh ends with a political call-to-action, noting that "The American people will have one final chance to kill ObamaCare at the ballot box this November, by electing politicians committed to repealing it."


Importantly, Hsieh highlights the philosophical nature of the battle:


Ultimately, the political fight against ObamaCare must be part of a broader fight for limited government that respects our freedoms. The proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as our rights to free speech, property, and contract. Only those who initiate physical force or fraud can violate our rights. A properly limited government protects us from criminals who steal, murder, etc., as well as from foreign aggressors. But it should otherwise leave honest people alone to live peacefully, not deprive us of our freedoms in the name of “universal health care.”


"Reversing our present course won’t be easy," Hsieh notes. He's right, but not because our adversaries are powerful. Rather, we are up against a thick collectivist fog of anti-intellectualism. Consider "Brutus" from the comment thread:


Sorry Mr. Hsieh, I’ve been reading your critiques of Obamacare for a year now. You have never offered anything more specific than “sell across state lines”, “eliminate malpractice” and “let the market work”. These are not the “replace” in “repeal and replace”. At best these solutions would cut costs by less than 5% doing nothing about the uninsured and uninsurable. If our solution is to do nothing about the uninsured and uninsurable, then we need to just say so. Otherwise we need a compelling solution that addresses the needs of the American people. Your libertarian free market fantasies are just that. Please point to a successful healthcare system anywhere in the world or anywhere in history which depended on the free market yet achieved universal coverage. If you don’t want universal coverage, then at least say so.

Brutus's entire argument rests on certain premises that, if excepted uncritically, disarms any opposition. He smuggles them into the conversation, as if they are universally accepted without question or debate. How to fight this fog--expose and reject them, then frame the debate on the proper terms. I left this rebuttal to Brutus:

   Brutus, the alternative is not universal coverage or no universal coverage. The alternative is freedom or state supremacy (statism). When you declare that “universal coverage” is the goal that “we” must “achieve,” you are declaring that everyone’s lives and earnings are yours to dispose of, through your surrogates in government, for the purpose of solving what you declare to be “our” problems. This is a totalitarian premise, and if you want totalitarianism in medicine, then at least say so.
   But the lives and earnings of your fellow Americans are not yours to dispose of, and neither are they the government’s. We who advocate free markets recognize a moral truth that you ignore; that we only have a moral claim to our own lives and property. We recognize that we have no right to assume the role of criminal; to take from some to alleviate the problems of others, while taking credit for “caring.” We are not phonies. A free market is based on the moral premise that each person owns his own life, and only his own life. A free market only “does” one thing; leaves everyone free to solve their own problems, and to pursue their values without coercive interference.
   We recognize that a free market will not guarantee that every individual will solve every one of their problems. But what YOU don’t recognize is that a free market will make it much easier for people to find solutions to their problems. Take “the uninsured and the uninsurable.” That is not a national—i.e., “our”—problem. It is a problem for “the uninsured and the uninsurable.” One obvious cause is pre-existing conditions. The free market solution is to end the third-party-payer system, enabling people to buy and own their health insurance like they do life, auto, or homeowners insurance. When the loss of a job does not result in loss of coverage, the pre-existing “crisis” vanishes, making for far fewer “uninsured and uninsurable.”
   Every free market reform advocated by Mr. Hsieh will work in the same way. You don’t want to see it, Brutus, because you’re so wedded to your totalitarian universal coverage fantasies. Your sole idea of “doing something” is simplistic governmental dictates, and your sole idea of a free market is “doing nothing.” You have no concept of the myriad ways in which free citizens can do the doing for themselves, when government roadblocks are swept away.  

If you concede the collectivist premises that "universal coverage" is the goal; that anything less is "our" problem;  that wealth is the property of government; that the individual is morally subservient to society; etc., you have conceded the philosophical battlefield to the enemy, and lost any chance of winning the fight for free markets and your own inalienable individual rights.

"We will have our work cut out for us, through November and afterwards, Hsieh notes." "But the opportunity is ours for the taking — as long as we are willing to seize it." So let's seize the moral high ground, and let the battle begin continue.


For more, see:


Initial Thoughts On Today's ObamaCare Ruling

Moral Health Care vs. "Universal Health Care"
by Paul Hsieh

Capitalism and the Moral High Ground
by Craig Biddle

My Challenge to the GOP: A Philosophical Contract with America


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Initial Thoughts On Today's ObamaCare Ruling

Today's SCOTUS ruling upholding ObamaCare is an obvious disappointment to the Right, but--at least to me--not at all a surprise. It's not that I expected it: I had no opinion as to which way the Supremes would go.

And that's the problem. It should have been a slam dunk for freedom, what with most of the nine justices being Republican nominees. Instead, we got another sad chapter in George W. Bush's horrible legacy. His own chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberals, citing the taxing powers of the federal government as constitutional grounds for upholding the individual mandate (more on that below).

Now, we have the last Republican president--through his appointment of Roberts--and the current presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney--through his Massachusetts "RomneyCare"--as the key culprits responsible for the creation and advance of ObamaCare.

There are many lessons to draw from this development. Over at The Objective Standard Blog, Ari Armstrong cites these two:

The political lesson is that “ObamaCare,” while spearheaded by the president, is not the product of “liberals” only. Conservatives played a significant role in paving the way to the legislation and in today’s court decision. The moral lesson is that altruism—the notion that individuals must self-sacrificially serve others—inexorably leads to collectivism in politics.

Another political lesson is that the Republican Party needs a thorough housecleaning--a revolution, in fact. It's time to sweep the old guard into the dustbin of history. The twin heads of the party--Bush and Romney--are part of the problem, not the solution.

Another lesson is philosophical. If the individual mandate is constitutional, then we have no constitutional constraints on federal power: The government that can force a private citizen to buy a private product can force him to do anything. And if the source of this unlimited power is the taxing powers granted by the constitution, then that very authority must be added to the list of foundational cracks that turned that document into an engine of tyranny, alongside the commerce clause, eminent domain, and a few others.

Rather than a means of funding the legitimate functions of government as envisioned by the Founders--to protect individual rights--the tax clause has now morphed into an engine of extortion: Do this, or we'll levy another tax on you. This is another vindication of Ayn Rand, the philosophical voice of America, who cited voluntary taxation as a vital ingredient of a free society:

In a fully free society, taxation—or, to be exact, payment for governmental services—would bevoluntary.The principle of voluntary government financing rests on the following premises: that the government is not the owner of the citizens’ income and, therefore, cannot hold a blank check on that income—that the nature of the proper governmental services must be constitutionally defined and delimited, leaving the government no power to enlarge the scope of its services at its own arbitrary discretion. Consequently, the principle of voluntary government financing regards the government as the servant, not the ruler, of the citizens—as an agent who must be paid for his services, not as a benefactor whose services are gratuitous, who dispenses something for nothing. [Emphasis added]

Thus, by granting coercive--i.e., forced--taxing power to the government, the Founders unwittingly granted the government the "power to enlarge the scope of its services at its own arbitrary discretion." With that door cracked open, the statists have now thrown it wide open, and walked right through it, taking America with it.

Of course, the Founders could never have envisioned these developments. They laid out the philosophical framework for the constitution in the Declaration of Independence. I have often said that the constitution can not be understood or upheld outside of that context, and if the overall philosophical context of our Founding was still respected, we wouldn't have ObamaCare or the regulatory welfare state.

Which brings me to a final lesson for this post: It's the philosophy, stupid!! The abandonment of philosophy and principles by most Americans--from presidents and Supreme Court justices to the voting man in the street; from the schools to congress--paved the way for this ruling. There is no way that the individual mandate or ObamaCare can be construed as consistent with the principle of inalienable individual rights. But understanding that requires the particular individualist philosophical perspective that relates to our Founding--a perspective all but abandoned today. The result: collectivist ideology has filled the philosophical vacuum.

To turn the tide of statism, all  who advocate a return to freedom must realize something that Objectivists have always understood--philosophy matters; principles matter; morality matters; consistency matters.

As the fight now shifts back to the political/electoral arena, it is of paramount importance to grasp that victory there depends upon victory on the much more crucial battlefield of fundamental ideas. We must grasp--as Craig Biddle explains--what it means to be on the Right, which means to be in the right.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On Freedom and Liberty

Here are a few highlights from a recent NJ Star-Ledger interview with retiring NJ ACLU head Deborah Jacobs, conducted by Linda Ocasio:


Q. But polls show the public still largely supports the extraordinary measures of surveillance granted under the Patriot Act.
A. Polls on civil liberties reflect that our schools haven’t done a good enough job explaining how our democracy functions, why we’re founded on a platform of individual freedoms, and why those freedoms are still important today. Almost no one has classes in “civics” anymore to explain who we are, and why. 
Americans know the U.S. is a great nation, but we don’t all understand what it took to get here, and what we have to do to preserve our greatness, such as letting people say things we don’t want to hear, and act in ways we might not agree with, and hold beliefs and practices of their choice. Another piece is how we absorb information as adults, the speed of news, TV, sound bites and the general lack of depth in our introspection as a nation.


Q. The ACLU famously defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill. Has the public’s understanding of your work improved since then?
A. People understand the principles of free speech so much more in last 30 years, and that the answer to speech you don’t like is to make noise with what you do like. The ACLU always stays true to free speech. 


Q. What should be on your successor’s radar?
A. Women’s rights are of particular concern and sensitivity now. I’m utterly bewildered by politicians who vote against equal pay, or talk about medical procedures like transvaginal ultrasounds that many women regard as legislated rape. 


Notice any inconsistencies here?


I left the following comments:




zemack 
June 13, 2012 at 9:16AM
The terms “freedom” and “liberty” are sprinkled liberally throughout this interview, but exactly what do those terms mean? If those words have any objective meaning, they are—Freedom: the absence of physical force or coercion from human relationships, and Liberty: the freedom to act on one’s own judgment.
Ms. Jacobs seems to be confused. She seems to understand it in regards to free speech—e.g. defending the Nazis—but not in regards to freedom of contract—e.g. imposing “equal pay” on employers by legislative fiat, i.e., by force. Though in principle no fair-minded person would oppose equal pay for equal work, the fact that some women agree to work for less than men would accept does not justify violating the liberty of employers and employees to set their own pay agreements.
Jacobs is vague on trans-vaginal ultrasounds, but she seems to imply she supports some form of compulsory restrictions on their use. But doesn’t every woman deserve freedom and liberty in regards to her own body, including the right to decide whether to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound?
To preserve “civil liberties,” we often have to accept outcomes we don’t like—e.g., Nazis’ rights to disseminate their despicable ideas. The same goes for voluntary employment agreements or medical procedures.
Indeed, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” If “eternal vigilance” has any objective meaning, it is the principle that to defend the freedom and liberty—the individual rights—of some, we must defend the freedom and liberty of all equally and at all times.


[Note: To be more exact, I should have inserted "in the political context" at the end of "exactly what do those terms mean?" in the first sentence of my comments.]

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tenure Reform that Misses the Mark

My latest post at the Objective Standard blog is sure to rankle education reformers on the Right.

To be sure, the ironclad tenure policies of the government's public school system in New Jersey is highly destructive of educational quality. It makes it almost impossible to get rid of bad teachers. This kind of "job protection" fosters mediocrity, blocks the upward career momentum of better teachers, and reduces job openings that would result from weeding out the dead wood, thus chasing would-be teachers into other fields.

However, this bill--"Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act,"--does more harm than good. My reasons are spelled out in Scrap New Teacher Tenure Policy; Erect Wall Between Government and Education.

I've already been taken to task by a fellow proponent of free market education reforms for this stance. In a forum where this tenure bill was debated, Mtown_Quaker wrote in response to my criticism of the bill:


   @Z...Let me ask this. In this instance, are you making the perfect (free market) the enemy of incremental movement in that direction (tenure reform)? Now I completely agree - in a truly free market system, education will improve because parents will vote with their dollars. I am with you there.
   That said, should we not 'take what we can get' now, and then be sure to come back for more later? I would be the first to say that it is an imperfect tradeoff of practicality and philosophy.

Here was my response:


Mtown: I’m all for incrementalism, but only if it is an unequivocal move toward a free market. What I’m saying is that tenure reform—or, preferably, elimination—must not be viewed in isolation. An arbitrary formula for evaluating teacher performance administered by central planners is not a free market reform, and could be worse than what we have now. I believe it is simply unfair to both teachers and parents.
Now is the time to take a broader view, and push for genuine market reforms such as those I laid out in this article: http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2011-spring/school-vouchers-tax-credits.asp. [Toward a Free Market in Education: School vouchers or Tax Credits]
I don’t believe there is any tradeoff between practicality and the right philosophy.


The NJ Tenure bill--if it is enacted, as seems likely--is not an incremental move toward a free market. It is a statist solution to a statist-created problem. Worse, it shifts more control of teacher credentialing from the local to the state level. If there are degrees of evil in statism, then the steady shift of education control from the local to the state--and from the state to the federal--level is a continuing ominous development.

I believe free marketeers would do better to focus their activism on education reforms that lead to a genuine free market.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Occupational Licensure Threatens Free Speech in NC


In my TOS post, It's Time to End Occupational Licensure, I cited examples of how government licensure powers not only violate every individual's right to earn a living, but potentially enables government to violate any of our inalienable rights. I wrote:

  • A Florida legislator threatens a doctor with loss of his medical license for exercising his First Amendment rights.
  • proposed Massachusetts law would force health care providers to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients as a condition of their medical licenses.
  • Beginning
  •  next year, New York lawyers will be required to perform fifty hours of free legal services as a condition of their law licenses.

Another example of this wide-ranging threat comes out of North Carolina, where the Institute for Justice has filed a lawsuit challenging the notion that occupational licensing laws trump free speech. Here is an excerpt from Caveman Blogger Fights for Free Speech and Internet Freedom:

   Can the government throw you in jail for offering advice on the Internet about what food people should buy at the grocery store?
   That is exactly the claim made by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition. In December 2011, diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his popular blog (www.diabetes-warrior.net) to answer reader questions. One month later, the State Board informed Steve that he could not give readers advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with readers and friends were illegal, as was his paid life-coaching service. The State Board went through Steve's writings with a red pen, indicating what he may and may not say without a government-issued license.

The Institute seeks "seeks to answer one of the most important unresolved questions in First Amendment law: When does the government's power to license occupations trump free speech?"

Of course, the fundamental question is: What right does the government have to demand that private individuals obtain a state license to earn a living? It's hard to see how "Caveman's" free speech rights can coexist with state licensure laws. Nonetheless, the Institute's fight to reign in government's licensure powers is most welcome.

For more, see:

Licensure Epidemic

The Coming Collision Between the Doctors and the State

The Growing Horror of Occupational Licensure

In Answer to a Reader about Licensure

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


Monday, June 18, 2012

The Social Security Injustice

I’m going to begin this essay with a math quiz.

You have recently retired, having worked 45 years in a career that provided an income that would be considered solidly “middle class” – economically speaking, of course, since there are no classes in America. Suppose you started saving 7.7% of your yearly income as a young man beginning his working career in 1966. Over the years, as your income grew, you diligently continued to save, come hell or high water, until you retired at the end of 2011. Furthermore, you gradually increased the percentage that you saved from your steadily growing annual income until it reached 12.4% for the final two decades or so of your career.

On December 31, 2011- your retirement date - approximately what would be the size of your nest egg?

Answer: $0.00. What the hell kind of a retirement plan is that? It is called Social Security.

Let’s now consider an alternative plan. Let’s also assume the savings rates described above. But instead, you put your money into an investment account holding a broad-based balanced mix of common stocks and bonds, achieving an average annual investment return of a modest 6%. On December 31, 2011, approximately what would be the size of your nest egg?

Answer: $697, 350.

I’m speaking of my own experience, of course.

I arrived at that figure through an admittedly rudimentary calculation method. I took the part of my earnings that is subject to Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) withholding for each year, starting in 1966, and multiplied that figure by the mandated FICA withholding percentage for that year to arrive at the dollar amount deducted from my earnings. I then doubled that amount to account for the matching employer’s “share” of FICA (which is money I earned, even if camouflaged as the “employer contribution” – a scheme intended to hide from the worker how much is actually taken from him).

Starting with the FICA withholding figure from 1966, I added a 6% return plus the 1967 FICA tax to arrive at the ending balance for the year 1967 ($191 + $11 + $388 = $590). I then took the 1967 ending balance, added a 6% return plus the following year’s FICA “contribution” to arrive at the ending balance for 1968 ($590 + $35 + $503 = $1128), continuing that process until December 31, 2011. I assumed income tax-deferred savings, since retirement money withdrawn from a personal account and Social Security benefits are both taxable. (With Social Security it’s even worse, actually. FICA withholding is also subject to income tax so there is double taxation going on.) All of the relevant withholding percentage information is available from the Social Security website. Your earnings record is also available from SS. Anyone so inclined can calculate the extent of the theft.

$697,350 (or there abouts: you get the picture) is the nest egg I could have had if Social Security had been established as a private account plan from the beginning. (This is not to say that it should have been established that way. It shouldn't have been established in any form. The government has no legitimate function that would allow it to establish a forced-savings plan. But just think about how much better off America – and every honest productive American - would be today if FDR had established a private account plan instead of the monstrosity we’re now saddled with?)

Under Social Security I’m left with $0.00. But the damage doesn’t end there. At a 6% annual withdrawal rate, I could realize a $3500 monthly retirement income from my hypothetical nest egg. Assuming my 6% annual investment return, I wouldn’t even have to touch the principle. On the other hand, my monthly Social Security check commencing in 2012 is just under $2000 – 3.4% of my hypothetical private account annualized. So, assuming that withdrawal rate under my private plan, my theoretical nest egg would continue to grow by $18,000 per year assuming a 6% return ($42,000 - $24,000 = $18,000). Since there is no nest egg under Social Security – it has essentially been stolen – not only am I not “getting back” what I “paid in” over all of those years: I’m actually falling further behind to the tune of $1500 with each monthly government benefit check.

That financial drain will continue for the rest of my life. Under my hypothetical private account, my nest egg could be left to my heirs. With Social Security, there is no nest egg – no “trust fund” – and thus nothing to leave to my heirs (or dip into for my own use while I’m living). You have no property right to a single dollar that was taken from you but not yet paid in benefits.

Oh, well, at least you have your monthly benefit check to count on, right? After years and hundreds of thousands of dollars confiscated, you can at least count on your meager benefit as a guaranteed “right.” Or, can you? Here, the government takes the meaning of the term “adding insult to injury” to a new level. As CATO reports:

Many people believe that Social Security is an earned right-that is, they believe they are entitled to receive Social Security benefits because they have paid Social Security taxes. However, in Flemming v. Nestor (1960), the Supreme Court ruled that workers have no legal right to Social Security: Congress can cut or eliminate Social Security benefits at any time regardless of a worker's contributions. [Emphasis added]


This is “social justice” in action.

The framers of Social Security really sprung a monumental trap on the American people. The program is structured so that by the time a worker reaches retirement age, he has no obvious choice but to support the current system, lest he lose every dime he “paid in”, because his benefits depend upon new entrants into the system, just as previous retirees depended upon his “contributions”. In classic socialist fashion, SS makes everyone dependent upon, and responsible for, everyone else, but not himself. Here is essentially how it “works”, as I stated in a recent NJ Star-Ledger forum:

A young person today starts out his working life with the forced confiscation of 12.4% of his income – half directly taken from his pay check, and the other half dishonestly camouflaged as the “employer contribution”. He has no choice in the matter: His money is taken at gunpoint. He will pay this tax all of his working life, regardless of other uses he may prefer to use his own money for. If he dies before he reaches the point that he can begin collecting promised benefits, he cannot leave it to his estate for the benefit of his children or others he values. His money is simply gone.

If he makes it to retirement, he has not a dime to show for it. Every dollar taken from him by force was cycled through the hands of the Washington money launderers, and sent into the pockets of others. He has nothing but rescindable financial promises of politicians, many long gone, and payable out of the earnings of other victims. He spent his working life as a wage slave to others, only to spend his “golden years” as a parasite on others; a horrible position to force him into.


Social Security is said to be based upon an alleged “covenant between the young and the old.” But any such covenant is morally valid only when based upon voluntary, uncoerced agreement – as with a child taking care of an elderly parent. With Social Security, it is the covenant of the chain gang – a slave covenant.

For more, see:

Social Security and the "Hypocracy" Charge

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Fathers' Day Message


Brian Campbell has an interesting Father’s Day piece in the 6/16/12 NJ Star-Ledger. It is entitled Specialize, My Boy: A Letter to my Kindergarten Graduate. It is certainly heartfelt. But I think it misses a crucial point, and contains a false choice. Read Campbell message, the read these comments I left:

As a father of two and grandfather of six, I would add: Don’t forget the most important ingredient—the vital component without which personal happiness cannot be achieved—the much misunderstood element of self-esteem. (By “happiness, I mean the a state of life that comes from achieving your values, not instant gratification).

Self-esteem does not come from how well you measure up against others; or accolades; or achieving greatness in the eyes of “society.” That is pseudo-self-esteem or, to be more exact, other-esteem. Living through the eyes and minds of others will always lead to self-doubt, second-guessing, fear of disapproval, a crippling sense of the need to please others rather than yourself. Spiritual dependence is not the path to happiness. I know. I had to overcome it.

But self-esteem is tied to accomplishment—which I would define as the successful achievement of the goals you set for yourself; goals that you love and have passion for. But it’s more than that. It comes from pride in the knowledge that you gave it you best shot, and that you will always give it your best shot, as a matter of personal character; regardless of the outcome. Self-esteem needs to be earned, because we are beings of self-made character. Self-esteem is the fuel you’ll need to endure the inevitable disappointments and then pick yourself up and go at it again. Self-esteem is the core belief that you are worthy and deserving of whatever success and happiness you do achieve.

Yes, recognition for your achievements from your fellow man is nice—important even—and winning that competition is rightfully and properly gratifying. But they are consequences, not primary goals. Nor are they the source of self-esteem.

Above all, self-esteem requires the moral certainty that it is right to do it for yourself—not your parents, or “society,” or “others,” or “a cause greater than yourself”—but for yourself. You have one life to live—the only one you’ll ever have—and you should make the most of it. Pursue your happiness with vigor. That’s what every father should want for their children—and their children.

Campbell seems to be saying that there are two choices in life; focusing all of your energy on a single goal, to the exclusion of all else, or diffusing your energy far and wide, according to whatever whim will give you immediate gratification.

But this is a false choice. I would say that choosing the course of your life requires a balance between many different considerations. But, there are three main ones.

1-       Decide what kind of a lifestyle you desire, because that will determine how much money you’ll need to make to achieve it. You need to earn a living. Being self-supporting is vital to your self-esteem and thus your happiness. To be self-supporting you need to make money, a morally noble endeavor. Money—properly understood, which means to understand its source—is the root of all good. But choosing a career path is partially determined by whether you value a "rich" lifestyle or a modest one.

2-       Then, choose your career path accordingly, as long as it is a career you can love and have passion for. Your first love may not be conducive to consideration # 1, but your chosen career must be a love, or at least something that is strongly gratifying.

3-       Whatever you choose, make yourself the best that you can be. Though this usually requires a major focus on your main task, it does not necessarily require you to give up all other interests. But if it does, and you are doing something you love, then go at it. This does not mean that you should never stop to “smell the roses.” That is how you fulfill the psychological need to recharge your mental and emotional batteries.

Now a word about winning. Yes, the world is competitive. There are often more slots than contestants. Sometimes, as in the Olympics, there is only one gold medal.

But in most fields, you do not have to be the best to succeed. You do not have to be the best engineer, or architect, or pro golfer, or teacher, or artist, or writer, or plumber. There is room enough in the world for everyone to succeed. You may have to choose between fields based upon the level of opportunity for success. You will definitely have to take into consideration your natural physical and mental endowments—the raw material from which you build your life.

But life is not primarily about beating others. It is about personal flourishing and happiness. And, as long as we remain free, we live in a world of endless opportunities to achieve it.

Related:

Pseudo-Self-Esteem vs. the Real Thing

NJ Seeks to Legalize Revolutionary "Gestational Surrogacy"

My June 14 post at The Objective Standard blogopens with:

A proposed New Jersey law would revise the state’s surrogate parenting laws to legalize a new type of surrogacy, called “gestational surrogacy.” A state senate committee report on the New Jersey Gestational Carrier Agreement Act explains:

Read the rest of New Jersey's Surrogate Motherhood Bill and its Vicious Opposition.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Trouble Brewing for Louisiana's Private Schools?

My June 12, 2012 post at the Objective Standard Blog opens with:

Louisiana has passed a bill establishing in the state the broadest school voucher system in America to date. Under the plan, all of Louisiana’s school children are eligible for full or partial state-issued private school tuition vouchers up to $8,800, the current annual per-pupil cost of the state’s government-run schools.

Read the rest of Louisiana's Voucher Plan to De-Privatize Private Schools.

For more, read:

The Voucher Trojan Horse

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

To Keep Government Out of Religion, Keep Religion Out of Government.


A recent NJ Star-Ledger letter-to-the-editor addressed the issue of Thomas Jefferson and his famous "Wall of Separation Between Church and State." In Understanding the "Wall of Separation", correspondent Ron Prykanowski wrote:


Contrary to the modern interpretation of his quotation, Jefferson’s “wall” was to keep government out of religion, not the other way around. The idea that if we allow religion in government we will become a theocracy is irrational. There are far more potent things to fear, such as the federal health care mandate that seeks to usurp our religious freedom.

Prykanowski seems to understand where Jefferson is coming from. For example he notes that "Although Jefferson had disdain for most religions, he was a champion of religious freedom." This is true, and he follows that up with this direct quote from Jefferson:

“All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
But I think Prykanowski is off base in his "understanding"--or at least his terminology--concerning exactly what Jefferson intended. I left the following comment:



Posted by zemack 
onMay 31, 2012 at 9:28AM
The statement “Jefferson’s ‘wall’ was to keep government out of religion, not the other way around” never made any sense to me.
It’s true that the separation doctrine was not intended to bar religious people from participating in the political process, or from holding an elective office or a government job. But what it does mean is that religious beliefs and dogmas must never be the basis of law and government policy. The law must be based on reason, not someone’s religious views, otherwise the law becomes a conduit for imposing religion by government fiat.
A good example is the current controversy over gay marriage. Rationally, it could be observed that same-sex couples are capable of forming the same kinds of romantic, sexual, financial, familial, and other bonds as opposite-sex couples. Constitutionally, it’s clear that same-sex couples are entitled to the same legal recognition of their marital bonds as opposite-sex couples, based on equal protection of the law. Philosophically, the principle of inalienable individual rights demands it. In reason, there is no justification for continuing the legal ban on gay marriage.
Opponents of the legalization of gay marriage have no rational, constitutional, or philosophical ground to stand on. This is why they fall back on religious—in particular Christian—concepts of marriage to maintain the ban. They attempt to bring religion into government in order to impose their religious views by law.
You cannot keep government out of religion unless you keep religion out of government.

Many religious conservatives use Prykanowski's terminology to obfuscate Jefferson's doctrine in order to advance their agenda politically. For more discussion on this subject, I recommend Ari Armstrong's   Santorum “Throws Up” on Separation of Church and State.




Tuesday, June 12, 2012

OBushonomics...and More

My latest post at The Objective Standard blog is up. Here are the opening lines:


   Marc A. Thiessen recently noted that American “liberals” strongly support President Obama’s counterterrorism policies even though his policies are almost indistinguishable from President Bush’s, which liberals hated.
   But what Thiesson dubbed the “Obama-Bush Doctrine” is just an indication of the likeness of these two presidents.

Read the rest of this interesting post titled Hey "Liberals": Obama Has Nothing On Your Should-Be Hero Bush.

For more on this subject, see:

OBushonomics vs. Gilliganomics


Monday, June 11, 2012

Great Businessmen ARE Moral Leaders

If you want a clue as to what is destroying capitalism, our freedom and prosperity, and America, consider the mentality that can produce a statement of this kind:

"If they were moral leaders they wouldn't be great businessmen."

Ari Armstrong calls that "breathtaking bigotry." Read his post Gladwell & Co.'s Monstrous Injustice Against Businessmen.

For more, see:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Why a Government Can't "Stimulate" an Economy

The economy is shaping up to be a key issue in the 2012 elections, and President Obama and his supporters are crediting his economic “stimulus” policies for "saving the economy." But the question one must ask is: Is it even possible for the government to actually stimulate the economy?

Statistically--that is to say, as measured by GDP--the economy has been growing, albeit weakly, for over two years. That the economy would eventually have "recovered" from the “Great Recession” was never in question. As long as some level of economic freedom - battered and bruised as it has been under Obama - remained, some type of recovery was inevitable. The reason is that, to the extent that the individual is free to act on his own judgement, the economy has a natural tendency to grow, because the root of economic growth is human nature itself.

As Ayn Rand has observed, "Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies...” Man cannot escape that fundamental truth. Man must engage in intelligent action in order to sustain his life. He must produce and trade for the goods and services his life depends upon, from basic necessities such as food and clothing to the products required for a flourishing happy life such as movies and golf clubs. The inescapable alternative to intelligent action is poverty and ultimately death.

But in order to act to sustain his life, man must be free to act. Since man's basic means of survival is his reasoning mind, and since the mind is an exclusive attribute of the individual, this means that individual man must be free to act. Indeed, as history has shown, economies flourish only to the extent governments refrain from hindering individual freedom of action. It logically follows that the only form of "stimulus" any government can in fact provide for the economy is to protect individual rights, including rights to property and trade. Given the necessity of the freedom man’s nature requires, the idea that government can stimulate productive action through spending financed by forced confiscation of private wealth, not to mention the ever-growing regulatory shackles on productive individuals and businesses, is absurd on its face. This is why critics of government fiscal and/or monetary “stimulus” policies such as Peter Schiff are right, despite the apparent economic recovery.

To the extent that the economy is undergoing real growth, it is in spite of, not because of, Obama’s policies. Whatever real growth we now have is a testament to the perseverance of productive people struggling against Obama’s rampaging regulatory redistributionism; and to the remnants of economic freedom America still has. Real economic stimulus is rooted in the characters of responsible people who understand, on some level, that life requires self-generated, self-chosen, self-directed action. Thus, as Yaron Brook has observed, “Production does not need stimulation from government; it needs liberation from the government.” Man’s natural stimulus, the will to live, will do the rest.

How does the "will to live" translate into what we call "the economy"?

An economy, in essence, is individuals freely and voluntarily producing and trading products and services; i.e., taking self-generated action in order to sustain one's life. In a modern money exchange economy, an individual works to produce a good or service that is of value to others, who willingly purchase it with money received from still others who trade their money for his work product, and so on in an ever-expanding universe of wealth production.

Prosperity grows whenever some individual realizes a new idea - a new product; a new service; a cheaper, more efficient way to produce an existing product or service, etc. An individual decides to strike out on his own; a business is born. He finds that his intellectual energy and ambition exceeds his own physical capacity to realize his ambitions, leading him to hire one (or more) individuals; a job is born. Factors such as the willingness to take a risk on the new; to invest time, effort, and savings; to act on one’s own judgement; to forgo immediate gratification in favor of some long-term goal; to forge ahead with no guarantee of success are all hallmarks of the most successful individual producers.

The process expands exponentially, encompassing more and more millions of people in more and more occupations – “workers”, professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, businessmen, artists, writers, inventors, et al. But beneath all of the complexities of a modern industrial economy lies the basic dynamic of individual production and trade. And underpinning that dynamic lies a basic, inescapable truth that every honorable individual, rich or poor, understands and respects: work comes before money.

But what happens when the government decides to “stimulate” the economy? Basically, there are two types of stimulus; fiscal (government spending) and monetary (inflation). Bush’s 2008 program (remember those $1200 checks?) and Obama’s signature 2009 package are examples of fiscal stimulus. The government seeks to stimulate “demand” by flooding the economy with money in one form or another. “Where does the money come from?” is the question always evaded by the stimulators. (For a good discussion of the fallacy behind stimulus economics, see George Reisman, Production versus Consumption)

Unlike the private economy--where, except for criminals, people work for their money--the government produces nothing. Instead, it takes from productive individuals – though not as honestly and openly as the criminal – in three ways: direct taxation; borrowing, which is future taxation; and the most deceitful way of all, inflation.

Inflation is the artificial expansion of the money supply; that is, money creation backed not by productive work, but by … nothing! Inflationary money is essentially counterfeit paper. An example of this type of stimulus is Bernanke’s “Quantitative Easing,” or “QE.” But this phony money creates artificial “demand” for real goods and services. Due to the inexorable law of supply and demand, inflation-created "demand" leads to rising prices in some sector of the economy, sooner or later. (For a thorough examination of the nature of inflation, see Ayn Rand, Egalitarianism and Inflation, in Philosophy, Who Needs It?)

But government cannot in fact create demand, because it produces nothing. Say’s Law is absolute: Only supply can create demand – work comes before money. The only things that inflation can in fact stimulate are temporary financial distortions, such as the recent housing bubble. There is no free lunch in nature, or in economics. (This is why bubbles always burst, with devastating consequences. You can’t have your stimulus, and eat it too.) The artificial demand created by inflation comes out of the earnings of productive individuals in the form of a reduction in the value of their money as manifested by the rising prices. Put simply, inflation is a tax, not on your dollars, but on your purchasing power.

Whether fiscal or monetary, stimulus programs are nothing more than a massive redistribution of existing demand – i.e., of wealth. The difference between government and private spending could not be more stark: Private “consumers” work for the money they spend, thus producing their own demand. Stimulus politicians – from liberals like Obama to pseudo-conservatives like Bush – do not and can not create demand. They simply steal it. The source of consumer spending is productive work. The source of government “demand-side” stimulus policies is economic plunder.

The whole idea that the government can stimulate the economy through fiscal and monetary manipulation is a monumental fraud. As history has shown, economies flourish only to the extent governments refrain from hindering economic activity. Stimulus policies, just like economic regulation, are a hindrance, and nothing more. It logically follows that the only form of "stimulus" any government can in fact provide for the economy is to protect individual rights, including rights to property, contract, and trade, which includes laws against fraud, extortion, breech-of-contract, etc. Translated into concrete terms, this means embarking on a massive, systematic reduction in government spending, taxation, and regulation, until full laissez-faire capitalism as been achieved.

The government can do nothing except to let the economy roll, or hinder it. It should let the economy roll.

For more, see:

OBushonomics vs. Gilliganomics

Time to Minimize "Macroeconomics"

Friday, June 8, 2012

NJ Researchers Achieve Cancer Breakthrough

My latest post at The Objective Standard Blog is titled Heroic Scientists Achieve Major Advancement in Battle Against Cancer.

Now, if we can only reign in the federal Food and Drug Administration's infringements on the rights of drug companies to develop and market new drugs, the path to turning these and other medical advancements into cancer-fighting medicines can be greatly accelerated.

For more, see:
Life and Liberty vs. the FDA

Close the FDA's "Loopholes" of Statism, not Freedom





Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Memo to Justice Sotomayor: Welfare Statism Threatens Children’s Welfare

Welfare statists have long smeared advocates of free markets as being indifferent to the suffering of others. Justice Sonia Sotomayor employed this tactic against attorney Michael A. Carvin during his rebuttal to the government’s Supreme Court defense of ObamaCare’s individual mandate, which held that without it, health insurance rates would rise.

As Ari Armstrong noted in his Carvin argued that congress itself created this state of affairs through ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions mandate, and cannot rightly claim the constitutional authority to impose an individual mandate based upon its own culpability. But Sotomayor, raising the specter of children of uninsured parents being turned away from an emergency room, asked:  “[D]o you think there’s a large percentage of the American population who would stand for the death of that child?”

There isn’t because, as Ari Armstrong pointed out, “Americans left free have never been so callous as to allow such a thing—which is why no one can point to an era in which Americans did.” 
The facts back this up. As Yaron Brook and Don Watkins elaborate in their Forbes column America before the Entitlement State, compassionate charity abounded in early and pre-Twentieth Century America.

Carvin bristled, calling Sotomayor’s allegation “One of the more pernicious, misleading impressions that the government has made” against ObamaCare’s opponents.

It is also pernicious to assume that proponents of rights-violating government control of healthcare in any form are champions of children’s well-being. That moral high road rightly belongs to the champions of free markets.

Historically, as Andrew Bernstein documents in The Capitalist Manifesto, poverty was so grinding and the state of medicine so primitive that child mortality often exceeded 50%.

That all changed in America (and the West) with the advent of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution it spawned. As prosperity consequently soared and the quality of healthcare improved, childhood mortality rates began a steady, dramatic long-term decline that commenced in the late 18th Century, long before the arrival of the modern entitlement welfare state. By one estimate, childhood mortality fell 50% in the 19th Century alone.

It was only the recognition of unalienable individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government--principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence--that made those events possible. Justices who uphold laws that undermine the Declaration’s principles are assaulting the very foundation of medical progress and prosperity. Every time Sotomayor and her ilk uphold statism over individual rights, America takes another regressive step toward the days when children literally died in droves. If, to paraphrase Sotomayor, the American population understood the stakes, I doubt they would stand for the death of our freedom.




Monday, June 4, 2012

From Middle Class to Welfare Class

Under the heading Threats to Safety Net Programs Must Stop, The NJ Star-Ledger published a letter-to-the-editor on 5/24/12 by Peter Mukerjee of Piscataway, NJ. Mukerjee wrote, in part:



   [T]here are bills moving through Congress for sweeping cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), the Child Tax Credit, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These affect millions of low-income and disadvantaged children and families. Nearly 16 percent of our fellow citizens are in poverty, with nearly 16 million children facing hunger. Anti-poverty safety net programs are vital to their survival. Millions could descend into poverty with the proposed cuts in the Child Tax Credit.
   The draconian measures being considered this month in the House of Representatives will be used to give wealthy Americans and large corporations massive tax cuts. Middle-class Americans, the backbone of our society, will suffer. Our representatives in Congress should support a balanced approach to the budget that protects low-income Americans, expands the middle class and makes the American dream inclusive to all citizens.

Just where the sweeping cuts to these programs are eludes me. Republican House plans do no such thing. I' left the following comments, under my S/L screen name:


Posted by zemack May 24, 2012 at 12:56PM
Peter Mukerjee’s concept of the “middle class” is more properly called the welfare class.
But in fact, the fundamental battle is not between the middle class and the rich, but between the productive and the parasitical. The productive encompasses anyone who makes money through his own thinking and work, from wealthy Americans and large corporations to the upwardly mobile poor. Their common interests are aligned behind free market policies that massively roll back taxes, spending, and regulations. Productive people don’t need government favors or to be told what to do. They need more freedom.
The parasitical encompasses any individual or corporation that seeks to thrive on government programs funded by tax money confiscated by force—i.e, theft—from the productive.
The Left has always known that they could not build a socialist state on the backs of the truly needy, because their numbers are simply too small. The real prize has always been to turn the productive middle class into a vast welfare class. Destroy the middle class by turning them into government dependents, and the dream of totalitarian socialism becomes reality.
We are on our way. Notice how so-called middle class entitlements Social Security and Medicare are structured not as private savings vehicles but as redistribution programs. Notice how “anti-poverty” programs like Medicaid and food stamps keep expanding up the income scale, and keep multiplying like cancer cells. It is no accident that the economy is struggling just as the welfare state reaches its largest bulk ever.
That litany of “safety net programs” should be phased out and privatized, not merely shaved as the House wants to do: i.e., they should be turned into private charities funded by voluntary donations, in order to lift the burden from the productive. That is the right and moral thing to do. Economic policy should be modeled on the requirements of the life-giving productive, not the greed of the parasitical.
For more, see:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Close the FDA’s “Loopholes” of Statism, not Freedom

Citing two recent faulty product cases, the FDA’s “top medical-device regulator said the agency needs more power to block unsafe products...” In typical fashion, a single instance or two is used to rationalize sweeping new industry-wide controls. House democrats obliged, introducing legislation to close a “loophole” and “let the FDA reject devices that have designs based on past products that were recalled for safety flaws.” AdvaMed, an industry trade group, objected that “the bill would add regulatory burdens for manufacturers who already struggle with long FDA reviews.”


The faulty products--hip replacements and vaginal implants--were made by Johnson & Johnson. Problems with the devices "sparked thousands of patient lawsuits," so the FDA wants to "prevent repeats" by acquiring more power to block what it judges to be "unsafe products" like these. 


But a handful of government bureaucrats have no right to block any products from entering the market, which already provides a remedy for customers who believe they have been harmed by faulty products--the civil court system. One of the government's proper roles is to mediate contractual disputes, which is exactly what is happening in the J&J cases. 


Courts are an objective venue for settling such disputes, and for establishing legal guidelines to govern future contractual arrangements, including product sales. In the meanwhile, the company should be free to decide whether to continue to market the product, and doctors and patients have a right to examine all of the available information and then decide whether they want to use the product.
The government has no right to interfere in whatever mutual contractual choices manufacturers, doctors, and patients make in the marketplace, based on its own concept of what constitute a "safe" product.


Indeed, the FDA’s  zeal for “safety” stymies medical entrepreneurship, with devastating results. Julie Crawshaw, citing Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner, reports that government overregulation causes many unnecessary deaths in America.



“As evidence,” Crawshaw writes, “Gottlieb points to a tiny catheter approved and used in Europe [since 2007] to replace a deteriorated aortic in lieu of ... open-heart surgery...” An FDA advisory panel didn’t recommended approval until July 2011, Crawshaw reports, and as of October the device was still not available in the U.S. "Tens of thousands of Americans unable to travel, and too sick to undergo open-heart surgery, have died during the intervening four years." In the name of “safety,” the FDA blocks products that might be a risk, even if the patient’s alternative is death.



This case is the tip of the iceberg. About 15 years ago, as CATO noted in a report:



By a conservative estimate, FDA delays in allowing U.S. marketing of drugs used safely and effectively elsewhere around the world have cost the lives of at least 200,000 Americans over the past 30 years. That figure does not include deaths that might have been prevented by the use of drugs such as Prozac, which is associated with the decline in suicides of individuals suffering from depression. FDA regulations denying Americans timely access to new drugs have extracted a high cost in health and lives.



That's just drugs, and only up until the mid 1990s. The toll is much higher today--and potentially vastly higher in the future. Steve Forbes notes that crushing FDA regulations are crippling the development of new antibiotics at a time when drug-resistant bacterial infection is on the rise, potentially resulting a "bacterial apocalypse" the could "kill millions of us." Forbes notes:


But this play-it-safe attitude--even at the expense of human lives--is creating a devastating and potentially far more deadly impact: The pipeline for new antibiotics is drying up. Since the 1940s the miracle of penicillin and its relatives has saved tens of millions of lives. Antibiotics easily conquered such illnesses as pneumonia and tuberculosis, which routinely killed countless numbers of people each year. Bacteria, of course, can become drug-resistant, but for decades pharmaceutical companies, especially in the U.S., routinely came up with new antibiotics to fell new killer germs. Now, however, the flow of new stuff has dried to a trickle.


Yet, politicians and government bureaucrats ignore the evidence, demanding wider powers over private industry. 


But, rather than award the FDA more power to delay or block the sale of medical devices, which violates the rights of manufacturers to freely market their products, it should be stripped of that power. In its place, as Stella Daily Zawistowski explains, “the drug-monitoring equivalent of Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in electronics or A.M. Best in insurance” would arise in the private sector, and “do the job [of evaluating product safety and efficacy] far better than the FDA.” The same would be true of medical devices.



Armed with research from such private watchdog agencies, past court findings, and in consultation with their doctors and families, patients are perfectly capable of balancing risks and rewards of medical devices, and judging accordingly. More importantly, the decision is morally and rightfully theirs. A properly restructured FDA, or one folded into another government entity, can and should provide protection against, and prosecution of, any unscrupulous manufacturer who fraudulently misrepresents its product.



The house bill should be defeated. Instead, we should demand the elimination of the loopholes of statism that empowers the FDA to violate the rights of American citizens to pursue or market medical devices or other healthcare products based upon their own rational judgements.


[Related NOTE: In "Loophole": Anti-euphemism of Statism, The Objective Standard's Craig Biddle--citing an article by Jack Shafer and the observations of philosopher Ayn Rand--explained the insidious nature of today's use of the term:


"To what facts of reality does the word “loophole” refer as used by the media in this context? It denotes various means by which people are still free to act on their own judgment; it specifies aspects of life in which individual rights are not yet being thoroughly violated by the government. In other words, it names a wonderful yet rapidly diminishing thing called freedom—which users of the term “loophole” seek to smear as corrupt."]


For more, see:

Life and Liberty vs. the FDA