Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ann Coulter's Insulting View of Immigrants

My latest post at The Objective Standard blog concerns one of this years hot political topics--immigration reform. Here are the opening lines:

Lately, many Republicans have become sympathetic to the idea of giving legal status to illegal immigrants. But not Ann Coulter. She labels all such plans “amnesty” and harangues Republicans who support it.

What is Coulter's problem? Find out by reading my post GOP Should Reject Ann Coulter's Collectivist Approach to Immigration Reform and Embrace Individualism.

Also, follow the comment thread, where I got engaged with a couple of correspondents.

Related Reading:

Time to Rethink Immigration

The Link Between Immigration Reform and the Welfare State

Immigration and Individual Rights by Craig Biddle

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Morality and the Minimum Wage

Minimum wage law is a hot issue in New Jersey, with Governor Chris Christie recently vetoing a minimum wage hike, saying it's to large. Business owner Carissa Borraggine weighed in with a NJ Star-Ledger guest column titled I Pay Real Wages. Shouldn't Everyone? It's an interesting column, in which she describes how paying her employees "decent wages" is actually conducive to a profitable business. Some revelation! "[T]he truth is," she writes, 

...providing decent pay does wonders for my bottom line.  
Workers at Harvest Table are happier to come to work, so they actually show up. I deal with very few unexpected and unexplained last-minute absences, and less turnover than many other food establishments, both of which save me time, stress and, yes, money.

She also notes that "most small business owners ... already pay more than the state minimum [wage]."

Borraggine is making a good economic argument against minimum wage laws, except that she goes on to advocate for passage of a New Jersey constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage and lock in permanent cost-of-living increases. (As if minimum wage laws aren't bad enough, NJ politicians want to lock in minimum wages by constitutional amendment. As I previously explained, this is a very bad idea.)

Borraggine falls victim to a classic trap; the alleged dichotomy between the moral and the practical, fostered by the morality of altruism. Before explaining how the wages she pays is motivated by her own self-interest, she writes:

I pay all my workers much more than the state’s mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. They are real, hardworking people, after all — don’t they deserve real wages? 
Many of my employees are working to get ahead and to raise families. There is no realistic way they could do this if I paid them minimum wages of $7.25 an hour. Especially here in New Jersey, where a dollar just doesn’t go as far as it would in most other states because of the high cost of living.

Just prior to her statement that "providing decent pay does wonders for my bottom line," she writes, "But my reasons for paying them fairly go beyond morality."

Somehow, the fact that paying her employees is good business is not enough of a reason to make it a moral decision. It must be justified on altruistic grounds, which leads her to assure her readers that it's not just her own benefit that she's concerned with. After all, that wouldn't be moral. To demonstrate her moral credentials, she assures us that "Luckily, there was one choice I never had to even think about: what to pay my workers." 

If you want to see the corruption altruism wreaks in a person's mind, just look at the hoops Borraggine tries to jump through to assure us that she really, really isn't selfish.

If you ignore Borraggine's moral acrobatics, the logical economic conclusion one can draw from her article is: The demands of the market foster good wages for the most responsible and productive workers, without benefit of minimum wage laws. And the logical moral conclusion to draw is that yes, it is in a businessperson's self-interest to reward productiveness, as she makes clear. 

So, why her support for a very bad law? Draw your own conclusions about her motives. 

I left the following comments:

Morality ends where force begins, so the last argument Ms. Borraggine has the right to stand on is the moral one. When she says she wants to force on all other businesses her idea of "fair" wages, she is upending a basic principle of a free, civil society--respect for the right of every individual to act on his/her own judgment, and to associate/contract freely and voluntarily. 

Ms. Borraggine actually makes a good case for how to run a thriving business. She pays her employees no more and no less than what they are worth to her, which just happens to be above the legal minimum wage. Her employees are happy with the wage, so they are dedicated and turnover is low. Her customers are happy and her business thrives, thanks to her competent management and dedication to providing good food and service. Notice that it's all based on voluntary agreements to mutual advantage, with each acting freely in accordance with his own rational self-interest. This is not "beyond morality." This is morality.  This is the market at work.

But what if some community thugs, at the behest of some other businesswoman, demanded that she, under threat of physical force, pay more than her employees are worth to her? No one has a right to do that to her, and neither does she have a right to do that to others by using the government as her hired gun. The proper purpose of law and the constitution is to protect every individual from community thugs, not to give them cover; to protect rights, including liberty of contract, not to violate rights. 

Borraggine's vague rationalization's like "even the playing field" or an "obligation as a country" or high-and-mighty declarations of "caring about our state's lowest-wage workers" are sugar-coating  for injustice; the belief that some may force their judgment on others--or, as Ms. Borraggine arrogantly puts it: "I pay real wages, shouldn't everyone?"

Related Reading:

Minimum Wage Doesn't Belong in the Constitution--or Law

End, Don't Raise, Minimum Wage Laws

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why Dieing is So Expensive

Death and taxes, goes the old saw, are the only certainties in life. We can now add occupational licensing.

My latest post at The Objective Standard blog highlights this growing problem. Please read Institute for Justice Continues Fight against Occupational Licensure.

Occupational licensure not only hinders economic activity, it is an indirect threat to all of our rights, as I noted here.

Related Reading:

Licensure Epidemic

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Farmer Jr.'s Attack on the "Slippery Slope," "Extremists" an Attack on Principles

Rutgers Law School dean John Farmer Jr. had an interesting piece in the NJ Star-Ledger titled A Firm Stand Against the NRA's Slippery Slope. Farmer does not so much as attack the National Rifle Association as to attack the very idea of a political "slippery slope."

To illustrate what he calls "the fallacy of the so-called slippery slope," Farmer writes:

   The slippery slope has been employed in any number of contexts by law professors seeking to befuddle students, and — to tremendously destructive effect — by the NRA in opposing virtually any restriction on the types of firearms or ammunition available to the public, and the mental health advocacy community in opposing every effort to identify and intervene in cases of potential mass slaughter.
   The allure of the slippery slope in the age of the tea party is clear: It appeals because it discourages compromise in any degree or form. Thus, the argument goes, if you ban assault weapons, the next thing you know the government will be disarming you completely. If you acknowledge it might be a worthy goal to try to identify potentially violent people before children are massacred, the next thing you know thousands of innocents will be in custody. Once you have compromised the slightest bit, you have lost everything. The safest course is to refuse to start down the slope of compromise. To stick, in other words, to your guns.
   At all costs.

Farmer labels both the NRA and the mental health advocates "extremists." Notice also the straw man Farmer sets up: The slippery slope "appeals because it discourages compromise in any degree or form."

The following is an expansion of comments I made:

It's no coincidence that Farmer attacks both "extremists" and the "slippery slope" analogy in the same article; they are related.

The slippery slope analogy refers to the identification of the logical consequences of a given principle, which are universal truths that apply to an unlimited number of concrete issues. Principles enable one to predict future consequences of specific actions;i.e., to understand what kinds of actions will necessarily follow from that principle.  For example, from the first time American's accepted the principle that the government may forcibly redistribute one dollar of any person's earnings, we entered the slippery slope toward economic collapse, social upheaval, and ultimately totalitarian socialist dictatorship. Just look at the size and scope of government today, as compared to a century ago, and we can see how far along that slope we have come. To reverse the trend, we must repudiate the principle of forced redistribution (among others). Otherwise, we will ultimately reach the logical consequences that lie at the bottom of that slippery slope.

Extremist is a smear term intended to discredit and dismiss those who advance a consistent, principled argument without debate (which is not to imply that LaPierre offered one). Those who attack "extremism" aim to eliminate principles from the debate, thus stifling debate and blinding people to the consequences of what they are proposing. In other words, the extremist smear is a signal that someone is trying to put one over on someone. Many people use the extremist term without having any idea what they are talking about. They just assume it's the magic bullet that will win the argument. But an educated person like Farmer knows what he is doing. He is trying to smuggle in his own principles, which he can then draw upon whenever he chooses to take the next logical step that that principle demands. By eliminating the slippery slope from the conversation--and, thus marginalizing the role of principles and the "extremists" who uphold them--he can then start us down the slippery slope of his own choosing, without much opposition.

Farmer's piece is interesting for his conclusion. In the second-to-last paragraph, Farmer writes:

We should no longer allow extreme interest groups of any stripe to use the fallacy of the slippery slope to avoid the hard but necessary choices of our time. Otherwise, we will turn into a people disfigured by the triumph of extremists, armed to the teeth with our wadcutters and assault rifles as we eye with suspicion neighbors who may be as scary but ultimately harmless as Boo Radley from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

So, after arguing that the slippery slope analogy is a fallacy, and smearing "extremists" who attempt to stand on principle, Farmer advances the principle that extremists are bad, lest they start us down the road to an armed camp of universal suspicion. Sounds like Farmer fears a slippery slope.

Farmer’s whole premise is self-contradictory and debate-stifling, and therefor invalid. 
That said, it’s true that the pro-gun rights argument--that the banning of assault weapons is a slippery slope that will necessarily lead to the banning of all guns--is not in and of itself a valid or complete argument. The question is, why is it a slippery slope? The primary principle, as I see it, is: the individual’s right to self-defense. I don’t know of anyone of consequence who is arguing against that principle. And, as I previously argued,  if the individual has a right to defend himself in the instance where law enforcement is not there to protect him, it follows that the individual has the right to possess the means to protect himself—which means, the right to own a gun.  
As long as both sides agree on the principle of self-defense, and on the right to own guns for recreational purposes (the principle of the pursuit of personal happiness), then on that basis we can argue about which weapons should be legal, the propriety of background checks, etc. Only on the basis of common principles can we have legitimate compromise. If one side wants to ban all guns for law-abiding citizens--either overtly or covertly through draconian regulations--while the other upholds Second Amendment rights, then no compromise is proper or even possible. No person of integrity compromises his moral principles. To my knowledge, no one except the far Left seriously wants to ban guns, so as long as we firmly uphold the proper principles, the danger of a slippery slope is minimal. 

The bottom line is that Farmer's attack on the slippery slope analogy and extremism is an attack on principles-based thinking. This is not new. There is another name for Farmer's premises--pragmatism. Pragmatism is an escape hatch for those who wish to avoid the necessity of considering the consequences of their actions. This is Farmer's real goal; to preemptively open that escape hatch in a year when gun control appears ready to occupy a piece of the political center stage.

Related Reading:

Gun Control Should Focus On Principles, Not Guns

The Virtue of Extremism

Extremists vs. the Moderates: Why the Left Keeps Winning, and the Right has been Powerless to Stop It

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mandated Paid Sick Days, Too?

This letter-to-the-editor appeared in the 1/17/13 NJ Star-Ledger:

Sick days   Everyone seems to know someone who has the flu, but we all probably also know someone who has to go to work while sick.   Even worse, years ago I was forced to bring my sick 7-year-old son to work with me. When I called to ask for time off to care for him, I was told that I had to be at work on time. I had little choice, not wanting to risk my job and with no one else to look after him, I grudgingly bundled him up and took him to work.   While today I have advanced in my career, I still do not have access to paid sick days. I find it incredible there is no New Jersey or federal law that guarantees workers access to paid sick days, despite public health advisories recommending sick people stay home. It’s time for our elected officials to make paid sick days a priority in New Jersey. 
Safiyyah Muhammad, East Orange

I left the following comments:

Safiyyah Muhammad’s letter (Sick days) offers a good indication of how deeply the entitlement mentality has corrupted America.

If paid sick days are that important to her, did she ever think of voluntarily negotiating with her employer to include them in her pay package; or seeking employment that offers sick day’s and is more accommodating toward working moms? How about setting aside money in a “rainy day” fund to cover her own sick days (which is exactly what I did during my entire 45 year construction trade career, which offered no paid sick days)?

Perhaps Muhammad’s demand is, in a sense, understandable, given all of the special interest pressure groups flocking around the government honeypot, demanding this or that economic favor at others’ expense. But it is simply wrong to force others to pay for your needs and desires, using the government as your hired gun.

The entitlement mentality is killing America, infecting even otherwise hard-working people.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Three Cheers for "Trickle-Down!"

Are you tired of hearing any policy that may benefit "the rich" derided as "trickle-down?" So am I, so I responded to a NJ Star-Ledger editorial (Sticking to the Republican Playbook) criticizing Ohio Governor' John Kasich's tax program, which included this gem:

Under Kasich’s plan, the rich save $10,000 a year. The bottom 60 percent, instead, pay more. The trickle-down temptation that Republicans cannot resist, despite its failed history.

I left these comments:

I don't know much about it, but if Kasich's plan is really to cut taxes on some, and raise them on others, then I would oppose it. He should cut taxes on everyone, in proportion to taxes paid.  
That aside, I have to laugh at the characterization of "tax cuts for the rich" as "trickle-down...despite its failed history." There are none so blind as the self-blinded.  
Anti-capitalists love to ridicule free market policies as “trickle-down,” But here’s another question: How much of what you buy with your money did you produce yourself? Look around you. Everything your money can buy is provided by someone else’s productive intellectual and physical work, investments, and pursuit of money and profit. If you think that flood of wealth is a “trickle,” then try putting your money under a mattress, stop spending, and see where your life goes without it. And while you’re at it, quit that job that someone else provided, since you’ll no longer need the money.  
To make money is to provide a value to someone else in a voluntary, win-win transaction called trade. Those who are the best at it provide a lot of valuable products or services to a lot of people--and earn a lot of money in the process. The money a person makes is a measure of the extent to which he enriched others' lives. Trickle-down? It's a torrent.  
Reducing the tax burden on the most productive harms no one other than big government apologists and the sensibilities of the envious. The benefits to all levels of society provided by the fortune-builders, in contrast, are all around us. It is in every rational person's economic self-interest, especially the poor, to remove the tax disincentives and regulatory roadblocks to fortune-building. We should cheer the productive rich, and hope for many more of them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

School Choice is About Freedom, not "Union-Busting"

This letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on March 20, 2013:

Reject school vouchers 
Gov. Chris Christie, a rich and powerful white man, goes into a black neighborhood and tells them he’s the only one who cares about their children. If they don’t do what Christie says, then they don’t care. The condescension is breathtaking. He should never stop apologizing. 
The greatest difference between success and failure in education is money. This is the dirty little secret of education policy. Conservatives have decided to use the education crisis as an excuse for some good old-fashioned union-busting. Unfortunately, we are not going to bust our way to school excellence. Voucher programs’ main function is subversion of the teacher’s union. 
John L. Ard Jr., Summit 

I left these comments:

RE: Reject School Vouchers

It is clear from John Ard's letter that the primary purpose for opposing vouchers is to preserve the imperial power of the teachers union. After all, despite Ard's Orwellian inversion of the facts, Christie wants to give parents freedom of educational choice, while the teachers union--like modern-day George Wallaces in reverse--are standing in the schoolhouse door, seeking to keep students trapped in schools that, in the judgment of the parents voluntarily seeking vouchers, do not educate. It's the teachers union that wants to impose its will by denying parents their rightful choice.

While I am personally opposed to vouchers, because I don't believe taxpayers should fund private schools, I support the concept of universal school choice through tax credits. All parents should be free to opt their kids out of the government schools, with credits against their own education taxes or the taxes of any other taxpayers willing to put up the money. 

Yes, education is largely about the money; specifically, about recognizing the rights of those who earned the money to spend their education dollars as they see fit. The public schools deny this right. They are built on physical coercion--compulsory taxation and compulsory attendance laws. The teachers union feeds directly off of this coercion, making it akin to a criminal organization (unlike private sector unions, of which I am a member).

Ard is dead wrong. School choice is not about union-busting. It is about the rights of parents to direct the course of their own children's education, and about the educational excellence and affordability that flows from competition in a free (or even freer) market. It makes no difference to conscientious parents whether their children's teachers or schools are unionized or not. It only matters whether their children are getting a quality education that meets their standards. 

Related Reading:

Christie's Bewildering Race Card

Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Christie's Bewildering Race Card

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is renewing his fight for the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), a corporate tax credit-based school voucher plan for poor kids in urban school districts where the failure of government schools is most prominent. As columnist Tom Moran notes in his op-ed In Battle Between Christie and Oliver, Poor School kids Are the Losers, the bill has been stalled for more than two years by Democrat Assembly speaker Sheila Oliver, despite the fact that the act is believed to have enough support from her own party to pass.

This act is a big deal to Christie, because his education agenda is very ambitious, as noted below. But in a town hall meeting in the city of Paterson, Christie mysteriously took the moral low road. Paterson is predominantly black, and so was his audience. That wouldn't even be worth mentioning, except that Christie brought up the issue of race. As Moran notes:

It all started Tuesday at a town hall meeting at a black church. The governor was pointing to a grand irony in the fight over education reform in New Jersey. He is the one trying to fix failing urban schools, he said, and he’s a white guy from the suburbs. 
"We have an African-American female speaker of the Assembly [Oliver], who represents communities like East Orange and Orange where there are failing schools all over," he said. "And she refuses to let people vote on this bill."

As Moran notes, "There was no malice in what he said. 

In fact, his core point was undeniably true, and was embraced by the Rev. Reginald Jackson, a hero in the fight against racism in New Jersey. 
But none of that mattered. By the end of the day, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, the state’s highest-ranking African-American, was beyond furious. A NAACP leader was demanding an apology. And Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) was comparing the governor to Bull Connor, as if Christie had unleashed the dogs on peaceful demonstrators.

There undoubtedly is a double here, because Jackson, who supports the Opportunity Scholarship Act, always gets a pass. 

But, that's beside the point. As I said in my comment:

Why Christie would play the "race card" is really bewildering, since the Opportunity Scholarship Act, and the issue of education generally, has nothing to do with race. Christie himself views the act as only a first step toward the goal of ensuring school choice for every child and every parent statewide, as he told the American Federation for Children in 2010.

Rather than get bogged down in inflammatory political posturing, he should be laying the groundwork for his ambitious goal of universal school choice, the moral imperative of our time.

Very disappointing.

Very disappointing, indeed. Christie went from having the momentum in his fight for school choice to handing the moral high ground to his opponent. Oliver said, "I have never, nor will I ever, reference the governor’s ethnicity, or make a veiled reference to the color of his skin, yet that’s exactly what Gov. Christie did today when discussing me, as if it was the 19th century."

So now, "It sets us backward," Assemblyman Troy Singleton, an African-American supporter of the voucher bill, said.  "There was some movement from the Speaker, and now the governor has interjected race and gender, and that clouds it. It makes it difficult to have an earnest conversation."

Christie is viewed as a savvy politician, and a leading contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Though a very mixed bag from an individual rights perspective, his bold school choice agenda, even though a long shot, had the potential to put the whole government school establishment on trial. Now, he may not even get his OSA off the launch pad.

A sad, inexplicable spectacle indeed, considering that the moral high road is the natural property of school choice advocates, and education free market  proponents generally.

Related Reading:

The comment thread following my above remarks, where I had more to say.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Whose Money is it, Anyway?

This letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on 12/7/12:

Close the loopholes
Every year, America loses up to $150 billion to offshore tax havens — enough revenue to provide Pell grants to 10 million students for four years of college, to more than cover the Sandy reconstruction effort, even to build a manned outpost on the moon.
A large part of this revenue is lost due to corporate tax loopholes that allow many of America’s largest companies to stash money earned in the United States in overseas tax havens to avoid paying taxes. It’s time for the public to stop picking up the tab left by corporate tax dodgers. These big companies benefit from our educated workforce, infrastructure and security, yet get away scot-free. New Jerseyans should not have to make up for this lost revenue through cuts to public services, more debt or higher taxes.
Gianina Cattaneo, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, Trenton

Note the term "loophole" to denote a perfectly moral effort to manage one's own money wisely by legally avoiding unnecessary taxes. Objective Standard Editor Craig Biddle had this to say about the use of the term "loophole": 

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.

I've left the following comments:
RE: Close Those Loopholes
America doesn't "lose up to $150 billion," because it doesn't own that wealth to begin with. That money--and all money--rightfully belongs to the people who earned it. America is not a tribal society that owns all wealth. America is an enlightened country founded on the rights of the individual, which includes the right to keep, invest, and spend one's own money as one sees fit. Therefor, it is not a "loophole" when people can keep more of the money they earn.
The real loophole is the one that empowers government to confiscate and redistribute so much of our earnings, which is contrary to American principles of inalienable individual rights, which includes each individual's right to his own property. The government's only proper purpose is to secure those rights--which people should properly pay for--not to run other "public services" like social welfare, education, or infrastructure.
It is through the inverted morality of altruism that anyone can justify the first paragraph of this letter. Altruism holds that keeping what one earns is immoral, but seizing and/or receiving the unearned is moral. The glorification of the unearned is what leads to such a statement that calls for seizing $150 billion more of Americans' earnings to fund other people's schemes like Pell grants, disaster reconstruction, and moon outposts. Rather than force other taxpayers to "make up for this lost revenue," anyone truly interested in the "public interest"--which rationally means respecting the rights of the individual--should call for those programs to be privatized and funded through voluntary giving and investments, thus restoring to all taxpayers more freedom to control their own money through lower taxes without having to resort to offshore tax havens. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

John Farmer Jr.’s “Obese” Concept of Prosperity

America is headed for a downfall. What will cause this downfall? Prosperity, according the dean of Rutgers School of Law-Newark, NJ.

John Farmer Jr. doesn’t explicitly attack “prosperity." “Obesity,” Farmer says in Our Destructive Appetite: ‘Bigger is Better’ May Lead to the Downfall of America, is the problem:

When first lady Michelle Obama recently identified obesity as a threat to national security, she was only slightly exaggerating; obesity is the fitting symbol and metaphor for our age of appetites.

Climate change, confiscatory consumption patterns, deficit spending, economic bubbles, drug wars, and fossil fuels are the leading “risk factors” to America that Farmer says are caused or exacerbated by “our destructive, ‘bigger is better’ appetite.”

Leaving aside Farmer’s childishly simplistic assertions that the effects of climate change (aka global warming) are universally destructive and that “greed” caused the 2008 economic meltdown, the real target of Farmer’s piece is prosperity--i.e., capitalism.

A growing global industrial economy is raising the living standards of billions of people. Fossil fuels are the driving energy source for this prosperity. Far from being a risk, fossil fuels have been a boon to the planet, changing hostile natural environments to benevolent man-made environments featuring central heating, cooling, and plumbing, water purification and delivery systems, electrification, global agriculture, infectious disease eradication, comfortable and easy transportation modes, massive productivity increases that have drastically reduced the time and physical effort of our work, and a massive, ever-expanding array of life-enhancing products and services that our money can buy. The risk of fossil fuels is in efforts to curb their use, not in their use.

Many of the problems Farmer cites are legitimate--and, not surprisingly, caused by government.

“Confiscatory consumption patterns” are driven by confiscatory taxation, which fuels the government spending that leads to deficits. “Economic bubbles” are caused by central banks’ excessive money and credit expansion, which also fuels deficit spending through inflation (artificial money creation). The drug wars are a direct consequence of drug prohibition--the perpetually failed “War on Drugs.” All of this is caused by the “unrestrained appetite” of politicians to control our lives and our economy.

And if “We are pledged to an ideology of consumption that cannot be sustained,” it is not unsustainable because it will “despoil the planet.” Consumption presupposes production, which improves the planet by altering the environment in accordance with human needs. Over-consumption--consuming more than we produce--is certainly unsustainable. But what is it that we have been taught for decades by economists, academics, and politicians? That we can spend our way to prosperity--aka stimulus programs, or Keynesian economics.

Our appetite for consumption is not the problem. There's nothing wrong with pursuing the good life, and spending our own earnings toward that end. It’s our appetite for destructive economic ideas coupled with statism and the government interference into our economic affairs that statism spawns. Not consumption, but the belief that we can consume more than we produce is what’s threatening us. The fallacy of this belief is obvious to most of us in our personal financial lives: Most of us understand that you have to make a buck before you can go to the mall and spend it. But that common sense wisdom is somehow lost on many of us when we turn our attention to politics. In a sense, this is “our” fault: “We the people,” after all, elect the politicians that are spending us into national bankruptcy.

Farmer sees big risks ahead as we face global competition and even armed conflict over “increasingly scarce resources.” Capitalism channels that competition toward peaceful trade. Political restrictions on trade is what opens the door to armed conflict by those fearful of being shut out of the global trade that can enable them to participate in rising prosperity. 

Does Farmer advocate capitalism? No, he attacks capitalism through a back door: He attacks capitalism's consequence; prosperity. His worldview is watered-down Malthusianism; a call to reduce our standard of living, if not the population. But he ignores the one natural resource that can never run out as long as human beings inhabit the planet.

What’s the resource that Farmer, like all neo-Malthusians, fails to grasp?

The ultimate natural resource is man’s mind. It is by means of reason that men find ways to turn earth’s raw materials into the material products we consume. Oil and sand were thought useless for centuries. Today, they drive our high-tech industrial economy. Who knows what new uses for what heretofore little used raw materials will arise in the future? Whatever they may be, it is men applying reason that will do it. Man’s mind--the individual mind--applied to physical labor is the source of production.

Since the mind is the attribute of the individual, the only political requirement we need is individual liberty; that is, free market capitalism and its corollary, individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government. This combination--man’s mind coupled with political-economic freedom--has brought us a long way from the days when the barest necessities of food, clothing, and shelter consumed our daily struggles--struggles that often weren’t enough. That combination is the vital ingredient that will enable us to deal with whatever short-term climate problems or raw material scarcities that may surface in the future.

Whether Farmer is attempting to give cover to statists or not, the last thing we need is for political masterminds to get in the way of scientific and technological progress. If there is a risk to America, that is it. Quite the contrary, solving the kinds of actual problems cited by Farmer requires getting the central planners out of the way. What we need is a return to free market capitalism--in undiluted form, this time--which means to reduce the government to its proper role, as the Declaration of Independence states, of protecting individual rights.

Related Reading:

Exploit the Earth or Die, by The Objective Standard

Free Market Revolution, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Obama Should Approve the Keystone Pipeline for Economic and Environmental Reasons

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What America Does Not Need: A Me-Too GOP

There is no question that the Republican Party should have trounced Obama and the Democrats in the 2012 election. Instead, they were, if not crushed, soundly defeated. Now, as John Farmer notes in Recipe for a GOP Makeover, "The Republican Party, its heralds say, is hell-bent for reform." "We should all wish them well," he say, because...

The last thing we need is one-party dominance, which is where we’re headed for if the Grand Old Puddinheads proceed much further down the road to irrelevance.

Like many pundits are doing these days, Farmer provides some advice:

The betting here is that Republicans will, despite themselves, figure a way to offer modern and moderate answers to the challenges of a society whose swift change they have failed to grasp. 
There’s a rhythm to these things; neither party is on top for too long in modern American politics. Odds are the GOP will get it right in due time. 
But first it must deal with four basic problems: the role of the South and the tea party; its need for new leaders; its understanding of the role of the federal government; and, basic to everything else, its image of itself.

The "role of the South" refers to the Republicans' so-called "southern strategy," an electoral strategy initiated by Richard Nixon, which consists of building a conservative agenda that can lock up the electoral votes of what amounts to the former confederacy. This strategy has--with some justification, in my view--been called racist: Farmer mentions the south's tie to slavery--and in that vein it's interesting that he mentions the Tea Party in the same breath, a back-door smear that provides a clue to his political leanings, and perhaps to his fear of it's potential power. 

But, it's certainly true that the GOP needs new leaders, an understanding of the role of the federal government (or any government), and a clear image of itself (what it stands for, philosophically). This last is, certainly, "basic to everything else."

Farmer is a mixed economy, big government "liberal." His understanding of the role of government is, well, what we have now. So, his conception of what a reformed GOP should look like came as no surprise to me. The Republican Party's problem, he says, is that it was pushed "to the extreme right" by the south "with its hefty contingent of tea party loyalists " (there's that equivocation again), rather than focus on "modern and moderate answers to the challenges of a society"--in particular, he mentions immigration, global warming, and gun control.

I left these Comments:

The last thing America needs is a me-too Republican Party that meekly offers "modern and moderate answers to the challenges of a society whose swift change" has been defined and driven by Democrat socialist-collectivist premises. The last thing we need is one-ideology dominance.

Fortunately, there are better Republicans who have the right recipe for the coming GOP makeover. Margaret Hoover foresaw the Republican electoral debacle and its slide into irrelevance with her 2011 book "American Individualism." She also pointed the GOP toward the road to resurgence: to reject both the Democrats' economic authoritarianism and the GOP's social authoritarianism, and adopt a consistent platform of based on individual liberty.

Though the Democrats get some things right, like a woman's right to choose, more open immigration, and marriage equality, their fundamental statist agenda has gone mostly unchallenged for nearly a century. That needs to change. The GOP must reject the childish "extremist" smears and offer a real ideological choice. Though I don't fully agree with Hoover in every aspect, she points the GOP in the right direction. Individual rights and limited rights-protecting government needs a political voice at least as strong as the Democrats' collectivist state-supremacism.

Related Reading:

The Virtue of Extremism

Review of American Individualism--How a New Generation of Conservatives can Save the Republican Party, by Margaret Hoover

My Challenge to the GOP: A Philosophical Contract With America

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chavez the "Great Leader" was an Old-Fashioned Socialist Thug

This letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on March 12, 2013:

Chavez mourned
The nation of Venezuela and the world lost a great leader and statesman this week with the passing of President Hugo Chavez. 
Chavez’s policies helped the poor in Venezuela. He provided health care, libraries, housing and, most important, he provided them with a chance to vote for something that served their self-interest. That is why he was re-elected twice and may have been re-elected for a fourth term. 
Chavez also provided assistance to the poor in the United States. His policies, though not perfect, should serve as a model for 21st-century economies — economies whose natural resources and labor of the people benefit the people and not the 1 percent. 
Ronald Cozzi, Rahway

I left these comments:

Hugo Chavez was a thug who looted private property like Exxon's oil facilities (euphemistically called "nationalization"), crushed free speech and political dissent, and turned whatever semi-freedom existed in Venezuela into a dictatorship. And like all socialists, Chavez was a spiritual parasite who practiced "charity" with wealth forcibly confiscated from the people who earned it. He rose to, and held, power by catering to the hordes of thieving poor who see their self-interest in receiving stolen property rather than their own honest, productive work. The honorable "poor" would demand and welcome the individual liberty of free market capitalism as the path out of poverty. 

The gangster Chavez and his henchmen are the kind of "1%" created by socialism," and his supporters in America, the country of individual rights and self-supporting productive traders, should be morally ashamed of themselves.

Investors Business Daily published a nice editorial highlighting why Hugo Chavez was "no friend of the poor." 

Related Reading:

From Democracy to Dictatorship, by Roger F. Noriega

Iraqi Democracy vs. Freedom

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Challenging Lincoln, Debunking Obama

In the Rolling Stone interview with Barack Obama previously addressed on TOS blog by Ari Armstrong and Craig Biddle, the president made this comment as part of his answer to the question, "Have you ever read Ayn Rand?":

You look at Abraham Lincoln: He very much believed in self-sufficiency and self-reliance. He embodied it – that you work hard and you make it, that your efforts should take you as far as your dreams can take you. But he also understood that there's some things we do better together. That we make investments in our infrastructure and railroads and canals and land-grant colleges and the National Academy of Sciences, because that provides us all with an opportunity to fulfill our potential, and we'll all be better off as a consequence.
Lincoln was indeed a great president in many respects. He guided the nation through the Civil War. His moral opposition to slavery was deeply rooted; his belief being that slavery contradicts the Declaration of Independence's recognition of all men as equal in their rights.

But that doesn't mean that everything he did was great, or right, or consistent with America's Founding ideals, and Republicans committed to economic and political liberty and free markets should recognize that. Lincoln's "investments" required violating Americans' property rights; i.e., forcibly confiscating, through taxation, the money required to fund those "railroads and canals and land-grant colleges and the National Academy of Sciences." All of those endeavors should properly have remained private investments, if private citizens chose to make them. His granting of railroad monopolies has been wrongly blamed on capitalism, feeding the falsehood that capitalism necessarily leads to concentrations of coercive economic power.

The precedents established by Lincoln's policies have been a source of justification for government intervention into all manor of economic activity ever since. Obama has repeatedly invoked Lincoln, which is why Republicans should use the opportunity to repudiate those very Lincolnian "investments"--on principle. They should answer Obama as I did in a TOS blog post when he made similar comments about "things we do better together":

   What does Obama mean by “together”? He means via government coercion.   Notice the false alternative he offers in regard to fire fighting services. Either we have a government-funded fire department, or everybody must have their own fire service. Being “on our own,” in Obama’s worldview, precludes people from engaging in voluntary, cooperative efforts toward a common goal, such as organizing and funding a neighborhood fire company.   The not-so-subtle premise behind Obama’s remarks is that without government forcing us to pay the government to create and run such things, there would be no firefighting services, roads, bridges, dams, schools, internet, charity, space programs, or basic scientific research. Therefore, whenever a task requiring cooperative effort is deemed important by government officials, government must force us to “do things together.”

Republicans should recognize that if it is to be the party of America's Founding principles, it must take on members of its own party--whoever they may be, even the great ones--whenever they led the country astray from its ideals. It must recognize that government's sole job is--as the Declaration of Independence states--"to secure these rights"; the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Lincoln violated those principles on numerous occasions, and in the process contradicted his own belief in individual "self-sufficiency and self-reliance."

Related Reading:

Obama's Flawed Vision of Lincoln

My Challenge to the GOP: a Philosophical Contract With America

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Banning Guns Punishes the Innocent and Violates Rights

This letter-to-the-editor appeared in the 2/1/13 NJ Star-Ledger, under the heading "Ban Guns":

For an old moderate Republican (are there any of us left?), I may sound far to the left on this. I favor strict gun control laws: Ban handguns and assault weapons and give long jail sentences to those convicted of any crime with a gun. Guns, especially handguns, are for killing people. We need that to stop, and we need to stop supplying guns to the drug cartels in Mexico. 
At a minimum, we need background checks and current registrations for all gun possession, just as it is done with cars. If you own it or have possession, you must present a valid registration; liability insurance, too. States can collect much-needed revenue from registration fees. 
Currently, the political debate seems to pit rural white men against suburban soccer moms. I hope black people in the cities and all minorities in the Southwest join in the discussion and demand safety for their communities. Then, I hope liberal groups match NRA spending to level the playing field in political campaigns. 
Paul Nickerson, Morristown

I left the following rebuttal comments:

Paul Nickerson's call to Ban Guns is both immoral and impractical. 

It is immoral because a ban would punish the innocent for the wrongdoing of the few, and violate the individual's right to self-defense--which derives from his inalienable right to life. It is impractical because it ignores the many thousands of crimes thwarted and lives saved by the defensive use of guns by responsible gun owners in instances when the police are not there to protect citizens during the commission of a crime (See Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens).

Nickerson also ignores the failed history of other prohibitions, namely 1920s alcohol prohibition and today's perpetually failing drug prohibition (the so-called "War on Drugs"). A ban would simply cause the underground gun trade to expand and flourish, just as organized crime flourished in the 1920s and the drug cartels flourish today, leaving decent people defenseless against armed criminals.

The political debate does not pit groups against groups--white against black, rural against suburban, suburban against city, or otherwise. It pits individuals who would violate rights against individuals who support and protect rights. The individual's right to possess guns for purposes of self-defense is as integral to keeping communities safe as are the police and criminal law enforcement. 

Related Reading:

Armed Self-Defense Saves Lives

Gun Control Should focus on Principles, Not Guns

Thoughts on the Colorado Theater Shooting

Media Underplays Successful Defensive Gun Use, by Paul Hsieh

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Stock Market Record, Income Stagnation, and the Regulatory Welfare State

Why have the middle and lower income groups stagnated in the past decade, while the upper income groups flourished? Why this dichotomy? Is it because the Republican's policies "favor the rich," as the NJ Star-Ledger claims in its editorial Dow Has Recovered, but Most Americans Have Not? After saying that "the success of those at the top is welcome," the editors note:

But something is fundamentally wrong when most Americans are losing ground, despite their hard work and growing productivity. Worse, social mobility in America has slowed dramatically.

The editors cite several factors:

The causes of this economic failure are complex. Technology and global trade have added to the nation’s total wealth, but have undercut the position of unskilled Americans. The dramatic decline of marriage in only a few generations is a leading cause of child poverty. The withering of the labor movement has allowed business owners to reduce wages and benefits. And the uneven performance of our education system has aggravated the divide. 
Add to this the consistent push by Republicans to favor the rich over the rest, and you have a real mess. The ill-timed austerity program they have triggered by refusing to yield an inch on taxes, even to close loopholes favoring the wealthy, is the latest example. It will slow the sluggish economy and cost roughly 750,000 jobs this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

My comments:

Leaving aside the dubiousness of some of its claims, the editorial board is correct in its conclusion: "[L]et’s not mistake [the Dow's record high] as a sign of economic health. This economy is broken, even if Wall Street is not." But, we must not evade the elephant in the room. 

In the last 3 decades, government regulations have risen by 40% in terms of pages of the federal registry, 63% in terms of regulatory agency employment, and 95% in terms of regulatory agency enforcement spending. Regulations increased significantly under W. Bush, starting with Sarbanes-Oxley, reaching a peak at the very onset of the financial crises.  They have since exploded under Obama.

Small businesses create the most jobs, especially the all-important entry-level jobs. But, it's become much harder to start a business, according to Subway founder Fred Deluca, who acknowledged that he could never have started his business in today's environment. In addition to regulations, licensure cartels inhibit entry into countless fields. The number of occupations requiring a government license (i.e., government permission) rose from 80 in 1980 to 1100 in 2008--including many occupations that benefit lower-income, lower-skilled workers. These licensing boards are typically staffed by people with a vested interest in restricting the supply of workers in their fields so as to drive up prices. 

It's no surprise that compensation is stagnating at the lower and middle end. More out-of-work people competing for fewer jobs puts downward pressure on wages and salaries, as basic economics teaches. Couple the increasing difficulty in getting started because of regulations with the increasing disincentives to work created by the welfare state, not to mention the increasing government spending drain on the nation's savings (investment capital), and the growing split between those who are economically established and those struggling to get started should be no surprise. Growing government favors the first group, and hinders the second.

It's no coincidence that this editorial is written just as the regulatory welfare state reaches its highest peak ever. One should logically conclude that rolling it back is the solution. Economic freedom--lower taxes, less regulations, less government spending--favors every productive person, in particular those at the bottom of the economic ladder. People need to be free to act on their own judgment and trade freely for an economy to flourish, both as a practical matter and as a moral imperative. Instead, they have been increasingly hindered by coercive interfering government. Our economy is being trampled by the elephant that big government apologists refuse to see.

I don't think I buy the argument that the average American is not better off than they were 20 years ago. Less well off than they otherwise would have been, maybe. But worse off? Better quality cars and medical care and the internet and the technology revolution, more and better restaurants, to name a few things, have made our lives immeasurably better. Remember, it's real income--how much your money can buy--that is the true measure of income.

Related Reading:

The Evil Genius of the Welfare State

On America's "Social Contract," the Source of Individual Character, and Romney's 47% Comment