Friday, January 30, 2015

The Not-So-Subtle ObamaCare Extortion

As ObamaCare gets more entrenched, some previously recalcitrant governors are, as a New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial trumpeted, rethinking their “stiff-arm of ObamaCare.” The Star-Ledger writes:

Tennessee, like most states led by Republican governors, was so adamantly opposed to Obamacare that it rejected the money Washington offered to expand Medicaid coverage.

Now Gov. Bill Haslam is having second thoughts. He has watched several hospitals in his state close down because they could not afford the care they provided to the poor and uninsured.

Even the hospitals that survived are taking a hit.
So now the governor is calling a special session of the state’s Legislature in January to reverse course.

. . . Republican governors in several other states that rejected Medicaid expansion are reconsidering as well . . . . They include Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, North Carolina and Alabama.

The Star-Ledger notes that “Obamacare covers all costs [for Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare] through 2016, and at least 90 percent of the costs after that.” But that money is only available if states sign on to ObamaCare.

I left these comments:

What the S-L just described is extortion. The Federal government gets its money from the taxpayers of the states, then returns it with strings attached. It’s a form of tyranny. There are no Federal dollars. There are only dollars earned and owned by individuals and businesses, forcibly seized by government, then laundered into “government money”—and “returned” on condition of adopting ObamaCare, or Common Core, or some such Federal scheme.

What should be done now is what should have been done instead of ObamaCare’s power grab over health insurance: Eliminate the government policies that created all of the problems ObamaCare was fraudulently sold as a fix for, like pre-existing conditions and spiralling costs. E.G.—eliminate the policies that tie insurance to employment; repeal the thousands of crippling insurance mandates; end policies that forbid insurance competition, especially across state lines. These are not new ideas. But they’re the right ones.

It’s past time to outright repeal ObamaCare, now that it has been implemented. It’s time now to phase it out. Canada’s immoral, doctor-enslavement system is not the answer. (Never mind polls. Polls only tell what healthy people think. The real problem is getting sick under socialized medicine. As the saying goes, there are no victims of socialized medicine to complain, because the victims are all dead.)

The government can make healthcare and health insurance easier to get and more affordable by repealing bad government policies. But it has no legitimate business providing healthcare for all. In order to do that, it must control healthcare. To control healthcare, it must massively violate the rights of healthcare consumers and producers to manage their own healthcare affairs, and to  contract voluntarily with each other. That is immoral, whether disguised as single-payer, socialized, or Medicare-for all.

We are not our brothers’ keepers, and government should not force us to be. We, as individuals, are morally responsible for our own lives. A free market, not Medicare-for all, is the only moral, rights-respecting solution. And by its nature—consumers seeking the best care at the best price, producers competing for consumers’ business, and voluntary private charity—a free market is the best way to “control” costs, maximize quality, and expand access, without trampling rights under a government bureaucracy. The moral and the practical—perfect together.

Related Reading:

Government Intervention, not the Health Insurance Industry, "Ruined the System"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Jersey Advances Toward ‘Right to Die’ Justice

The New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized that New Jersey is the next platform for the right-to-die debate:

After observing that:

The decision by Brittany Maynard to legally end her own life in Oregon Saturday was the latest cause célèbre for the majority of Americans who assert the right to self-determination.

The Star-Ledger wrote that:

The New Jersey Death with Dignity Act “would sanction an act of humanity, because the state’s only role should be to allow people their profoundly personal choices, especially the choice to die with dignity.

I left these comments:

“. . . the state’s only role should be to allow people their profoundly personal choices . . .”

I’m going to remember that sweeping statement for future reference. Though I believe the wording should be , “. . . the state’s only role should be to protect people’s inalienable right to their profoundly personal choices . . .” I profoundly agree.

As regards this issue, I fully agree with the The New Jersey Death with Dignity Act, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough, being restricted as it is only to terminally ill people with six months to live. What about people existing in a state of living death? This very newspaper published a story by NJ Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun about Christina Symanski. Symanski wasn’t terminally ill. After years of living in what she herself rationally judged to be an intolerable life, she wanted to end it. But she could find no legal professional help—not even if she moved to Oregon. So she was left with starving herself to death over several agonizing weeks.

As for myself, although 65 and currently healthy, the possibility of a horrendous end-of-life scenario is very real. I am going to die. We all are. We can’t always control how and when we die. But to the extent that I can, who has the right to stop me? Whether I have only months left due to a terminal illness, or years of living death, who has the right to take away what control I have? It’s my life, and my death.

Assisted suicide should not only be legal for people with a terminal illness, but for anyone who judges his life to be no longer worth living.

In answer to correspondent NJ Conservative, who posted comments against the bill, I asked:

And by what right does the state forbid any adult of sound mind from making his own choices regarding how and when to die, by his own rational judgement, by his own hand, with his own money, in cooperation with willing doctors and pharmacists?

No answer. There really isn’t any.

Both the NJ Senate and the NJ Assembly advanced the bill out of committee. As of this writing, we await the vote of the full legislature.

Related Reading:

Denying Assisted Suicide Rights Based on Potential “Abuse” is Immoral

Monday, January 26, 2015

Time for Some Humanity on Doctor-Assisted Suicide

In December, the Objective Standard published my article The Inhumanity of Laws Against Doctor-Assisted Suicide.

Here is an excerpt:

Currently, assisted suicide is unequivocally legal in only three states—Oregon, Washington, and Vermont—where it is allowed in cases of terminal illness in which doctors estimate that the person in question will die of his illness within six months. In Montana and New Mexico, although courts have ruled in favor of physicians assisting in the suicide of terminally ill patients, the legal situation appears unsettled. But even in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, the laws do not fully recognize and protect an individual’s right to take his own life or to contract with a medical professional for assistance in this regard.

In addition to these states, in November the New Jersey state assembly passed a bill, “The New Jersey Death With Dignity Act,” that would legalize doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients diagnosed with less that six months to live. Please read my whole article as this controversial issue cuts to the heart of what it means to be free.

Related Reading:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

ARI's Watkins Sums Up Obama's State of the Union Message: More Central Planning

ARI's Watkins Sums Up Obama's State of the Union Message: More Central Planning

The Ayn Rand Institute’s Don Watkins nicely summed up President Obama’s State of the Union address:

“My fellow Americans,” Obama said at the close of last night’s State of the Union, “we too are a strong, tight-knit family,” It’s not unusual for politicians to invoke folksy metaphors of this kind, but in this case it just about sums up Obama’s worldview.

According to the president, Americans are not independent individuals who should be free to pursue their own diverse goals and values. Instead “we are one people” who should rally around a “sense of common purpose.” What purpose? No answer. Who should decide that purpose? That much was abundantly clear.
For Obama, the government’s role is to set our goals, determine our priorities, and centrally plan our lives so that we achieve these priorities.

You can read the whole essay here.

Related Reading:

Obama's Sugar-Coated Poison

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Free Market is the Only ‘Natural Order of Things’

Continuing my critique of the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s editorial regarding Obama’s State of the Union address,  Obama's Robin Hood plan is overdue, I addressed a tactic that proponents of liberty are often accused of; that if you oppose the latest statist proposal, you’re for the status quo. Tom Moran, for the Star-Ledger editorial board, wrote in the comments:

I don't regard the current distribution of wealth as given from God, or even the free market. The government makes choices that influence it now. It makes the rules on minimum wage, on organizing unions, on trade agreements, on preferential treatment for income coming from capital over labor, on education.

Even subsidizing home mortgages, which is a giant benefit to the rich.

So those who say this natural order of things should be left alone are missing that. Obama would bring some measure of justice to this

I left this reply:

“So those who say this natural order of things should be left alone are missing that.”

The current status quo is not the “natural order of things.” We don’t have a free market. We have a mixed economy; an economy corrupted by government controls and political favor peddling. In today’s system, some of the wealth of the rich comes from cashing in on government favors or asset prices inflated by the Federal Reserve’s inflationary easy money policies. But that is a consequence of our mixed economy, regulatory welfare state and the Federal Reserve. In our politically corrupted system, the coercive power of government undermines the justice of the free market elements. Notice that the stagnant wages since the late 1990s alluded to above coincides with a huge expansion in government spending, debt, and regulations under Bush/Obama. Obama’s policies don’t fix anything. They only double down on the status quo. The cure is not more redistributive taxes, which doesn’t distinguish between fortunes by favor and fortunes by productive work—between the unearned and the earned. We should instead roll back the government’s power over our economic affairs, institute a non-discriminatory low-rate flat income tax after a single personal exemption for each individual, and abolish the Federal Reserve.

The justice of the free market derives from the fact that people’s wealth is determined not only by the individual’s own efforts but by the voluntary choices of those he trades with. Government is force, and when the government interferes in the economy, it brings the power of aggressive force (the power of a gun) to bear against private decision-making. A free market is the absence of aggressive government force. That fact makes free market capitalism the only system of economic justice because it is based on voluntary, mutually beneficial association and contract.

Of course, property rights—the essence of economic justice—requires a government to protect those rights. That government has to be paid for. That’s where taxes come in. Ideally, taxes should be voluntary. But that’s obviously not possible today, given the widespread entitlement mentality. The next best thing; a flat tax. Steve Forbes suggested a good one. His plan would have only a healthy personal exemption for every individual, which would exempt roughly the first $46,000 of income for a family of 4. After that, a non-discriminatory 17% tax on all income. That’s fairness. That’s real economic justice.

Related Reading:

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal—Ayn Rand

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Starnes Heirs and the Left’s Tribal View of Wealth

In its editorial on the eve of President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, Obama's Robin Hood plan is overdue, the New Jersey Star-Ledger wrote this gem: “We are all working to build the nation’s wealth, but the elites are capturing virtually all the gains.” In response to readers’ comments, Tom Moran, the author of the editorial, said: “I don't regard the current distribution of wealth as given from God, or even the free market.”

Behind every statist, you will find collectivist rationalizations. How many people do you know of who start out for work with “the nation’s wealth” in mind? How many people do you know of who think of their property as a “capture” rather than their earnings? But that line of mental garbage serves a very sinister purpose.

I left this reply:

“I don't regard the current distribution of wealth as given from God, or even the free market.”

A nation’s wealth is not a collective tribal product. A nation’s wealth is the sum of the wealth created by productive individuals working, contracting, and trading freely in the market. To speak in terms of the proper “distribution” of wealth is to deny individual ability, effort, ambition, and ingenuity, and encourage a sense of entitlement. The tribal view of wealth is merely a rationalization for takers to get a “fair share” of the fruits of other people’s intellectual and physical labor; for prestige-seeking phonies to pose as champions of “economic justice” through redistribution of other people’s wealth; and for power-lusters to gain the power to do the distributing.

I wrote that last sentence with Atlas Shrugged’s Twentieth Century Motor Company saga in mind. The decline and collapse of that fictional, once-great company was driven by the Starnes heirs’ institution of the plan, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The saga was recounted in the tramp’s speech to Dagny Taggart, in which the tramp explains how the plan works to destroy human beings and who the real beneficiaries of Marx’s slogan are. Today we see real life equivalents of Gerald Starnes (the material parasite), Eric Starnes (the spiritual parasite), and Ivy Starnes (the power-luster) all around us.

The tramp’s speech is the best dramatization of Marx’s "From Each According to His Ability, To Each According to His Need" I have ever read.

Related Reading:

Atlas Shrugged—Ayn Rand

Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice—Craig Biddle

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Obamanomics vs. Robin Hood

Hours before President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, the New Jersey Star-Ledger posted an editorial titled Obama's Robin Hood plan is overdue.

After an opening diatribe about the unfairness of the system—it paraphrases Elizabeth Warren regarding how “the game today is rigged”—the Star-Ledger wrote:

President Obama’s tax plan, which will be the centerpiece of his State of the Union address Tuesday night, has to be viewed through this lens. Pared down to its basics, it is a Robin Hood plan that raises taxes on the top 1 percent, while cutting taxes for the middle-class and below.

I left these comments:

Keep in mind that the real Robin Hood took wealth back from the thieving aristocratic rulers and returned it to the poor commoners who actually earned the wealth.

Today, the Robin Hood legend has been corrupted into something morally sinister; that it’s OK to take from others, as long as those others have more than you. That is not economic justice. That is theft.

“Economic justice” as the Left uses the term is a means of empowering government to favor some economic groups over others; i.e., to take from those who earned it and give it to those who didn’t. It is a reverse Robin Hood ideology that sides with the very people who were the targets of the real Robin Hood’s crusade for justice—looting rulers and their favored constituents. Case in point: Obama’s “Free” Community College Scheme, which would award handouts to select community college students paid for by looting the people who choose a different path.

What is real economic justice? Simply this: Whatever the economic level, if you earned it, it’s yours by right, and you are free to spend it, invest it, save it, or give it away according to your own judgement.

Obama is no Robin Hood. He’s the thieving aristocratic ruler, with a twist: He takes from the productive rich, not to enrich himself monetarily but to empower the new aristocratic rulers through vote buying.

Related Reading:

The Left’s Pragmatic Shift in Marketing is a Good Sign

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Are Pipelines a Threat to Water?

Propose a pipeline to carry energy-producing petroleum or natural gas anywhere in the U.S.A. today, and you can expect instantaneous opposition from environmentalist activists. One reason often cited by activists is that the possibility of a leak would harm ground water.

Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings is seeking permits to build a liquid petroleum pipeline through Northern New Jersey, part of which will pass through what is considered a “watershed” region. A letter published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger by Anne C. Powley (“Don’t gamble with our water”) opposes the pipeline based on the assertion that it would be a threat to drinking water in the region.

I left these comments:

This is a hollow objection. There are 305,000 miles of existing nat-gas pipelines in the U.S. as of 2007-08. These do not even include local connecting street mains and lines to buildings and homes. In addition, there are 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines. Yet, there is no clean water problem in America.

Clearly, pipelines and clean water can and do coexist. More to the point, these pipelines deliver the vital energy that powers our water purification and delivery systems. Without this energy, our “watersheds” would remain just so much inaccessible ground water rather than turned into the clean water conveniently available at the twist of a knob in our homes.

While many older pipelines are vulnerable to breakdowns, new pipelines represent state-of-the-art technologies, making them safer than ever. But if it’s 100% safety guarantees you’re demanding, you’re demanding omniscience and infallibility, two attributes impossible to man. On that premise, man’s first advance from the cave—the harnessing of fire—would never have happened.

According to the website Pipeline 101:

America depends on a network of more than 185,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines, nearly 320,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines, and more than 2 million miles of gas distribution pipelines to safely and efficiently move energy and raw materials to fuel our nation's economic engine. This system of pipelines serves as a national network to move the energy resources we need from production areas or ports of entry throughout North America to consumers, airports, military bases, population centers and industry every day.

Energy is the industry of industries. Energy powers virtually every aspect of our economic well-being, and fossil fuels provide 86% of the energy. But all of that fossil fuel energy depends on infrastructure to move it, and pipelines play a critical role in that task. Many fossil fuel energy enemies know this. For example, Brendan McGrath, reporting for the Times of Trenton on the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline through a portion of West-Central New Jersey, cited this argument against the project from Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ branch of the Sierra Club:

Tittel said the pipeline will hurt the environment by promoting fracking in Pennsylvania, promoting the use of fossil fuels and discouraging the transition to renewable energies.

Stop the ability to transport fossil fuel product from the drilling fields to refineries and then to “consumers, airports, military bases, population centers and industry,”—and, I would add, water treatment and delivery systems—and you effectively shut the industry down.

Related Reading:

Human Life would be Impossible Without Accepting Dangers that ‘Could’ Happen

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Don’t Most Americans Get that Government Wealth Redistribution is Theft?

If you assault your neighbor with a gun, take his wealth, and put it in your own pocket, it is theft. That’s uncontroversial. So why do most Americans not understand that when government officials pass laws to assault your neighbor with a gun, take his wealth, and “redistribute” it into someone else’s (even your) pocket, it is not the same thing—theft.

Don Watkins provides an answer over at the Ayn Rand Institute blog, Voices for Reason:

Economically, we are taught to view wealth as a social product, not an individual creation, and the person from whom wealth is “redistributed” is thus one who got an unequal share of “society’s” resources. Morally, we are taught that a person’s need entitles him to support by others and so, as Saint Ambrose put it, “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.”

So is wealth redistribution stealing? You bet it is. But to see that is not easy. It requires grasping that wealth is created by individuals and morally belongs to those individuals, regardless of who claims to need it more — and that requires the willingness to examine (or reexamine) some of the deepest issues in economics and philosophy.

The economic explanation is a manifestation of collectivism, the view that the focus of moral concern is the group, not the individual. The moral explanation is a manifestation of altruism, the ethical theory that holds that self-sacrifice for the unearned benefit of others is the essence of moral action, and the underlying cause of collectivism.

Ayn Rand observed that “America’s inner contradiction was the altruist-collectivist ethics.” Americans’ private/public forced wealth redistribution dichotomy is another manifestation of that inner contradiction. If America is to be restored to its original conception embodied in the Declaration of Independence—which enabled America to almost reach the status of a fully free, moral society—her people will have to rectify that contradiction. As Rand observed:

Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal.

Related Reading:

Atlas Shrugged—Ayn Rand

Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice—Craig Biddle

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Memo to Jersey City Mayor Fulop: The Federal Reserve, Not Supermarkets, is to Blame for 'Hidden Food Inflation'

Jersey City, New Jersey mayor Steve Fulop is a statist. For example, he recently imposed mandatory paid sick leave on Jersey City businesses. So it’s no surprise that he pins the blame for rising food prices on business.

In Food cost inflation now on special at some supermarkets, Fulop tackles the practice of food merchants’ raising prices by reducing packaging quantities while keeping posted prices steady:

Food inflation is real and expensive, especially for those who can least afford it. Just visit your local supermarket. What was a five-pound bag of sugar is now four pounds, but at the five-pound bag price. In effect, this is inflating the price by 20 percent. Soup cans have gone from 16 ounces to 14.5 ounces or an effective inflation rate of more than 9 percent; orange juice containers have decreased from 64 ounces to 59 ounces (also a cost inflation of more than 9 percent); the volume inside a cereal box has shrunk by about 20 percent; and the list goes on. Inflation like this is rarely discussed yet impacts working families every day. Unfortunately, these changes – paying the same amount for less -- are visible only to the most attentive supermarket shoppers.

He calls it “hidden inflation.” To “combat” this, Mayor Fulop’s administration “partnered” with “Share Our Strength” to feature “supermarket tours for seniors and low-income residents . . . highlighting smart purchasing that is both healthy and will stretch their dollars to the maximum. They also get a $10 credit toward their next purchase at the supermarket.” (How much of this, I wonder, is coercively funded by taxpayers. More on that below.)

In classic statist fashion, Fulop implicitly blames the merchants, and strongly hints that the law—the government’s guns—should be aggressively brought to bear on food producers and marketers:

Keep in mind, the U.S. inflation rate is running under 2 percent. Think about someone whose wages haven’t budged in several years facing hidden double-digit inflation costs for basic foods. It’s not illegal, but it’s devastating to those who can least afford it.
In Jersey City we are making a difference. Hidden food inflation is insidious. If it can’t be stopped it must at least be known. That’s what we’re trying to do and hope that until Trenton acts more responsibly, other cities will join our effort.

What’s really “hidden” is the real cause of inflation. I left these comments:

Consumer education. Great. But there’s some knowledge consumers need much more—like a little economic education.

First, as any semi-observant consumer is aware, food and other bills have been rising much faster than the official inflation rate of 0-2%. For whatever reason, the official rate is grossly understated. But keep in mind that the government has a vested interest in keeping official inflation artificially low, because so much is tied to that rate. For example, yearly Social Security inflation adjustments are tied to the official inflation statistics. A realistic official rate would cost the government a fortune in cost-of-living benefit increases.

Second and more importantly, the food price increases, whether manifested in higher sticker prices or smaller packaging, do not represent inflation. Inflation is the artificial expansion of the money supply—money creation not backed by production of goods and services. Inflation is engineered by the Federal Reserve to finance the government’s deficit spending. The result is a falling value of the dollar—essentially a tax on purchasing power. Rising prices, in this case at the supermarket, is a consequence of inflation. It is not actual inflation.

This isn’t complicated. The meaning of the monetary term “inflation” has been flipped so as to protect the guilty and switch the blame for rising prices onto the victims. Don’t blame the merchants and food manufacturers. They’re just trying to cope with inflation as best they can, like everybody else. Blame your central bank, which has been manufacturing counterfeit money faster than in the 1970s, when consumer prices were rising at double digit rates. These days, the Fed calls it “quantitative easing.” The rest of us should recognize it as a confiscation of our money purchasing power by our government, and demand that it stop.

I didn’t want my opening words, “Consumer education. Great.,” to be construed as sanctioning Fulop’s program if it is tax-funded. My reason for avoiding that aspect was to keep focussed on my main topic. To avoid any misunderstanding, I left this reply as a supplement to my comments:

Aside from the misinformation peddled by Mayor Fulop in this article, let me state that “Share Our Strength” appears to be a worthy organization with a worthy goal. And there’s nothing wrong with public officials getting involved with them—as long as they do it on their own time and no part of the initiative is coercively funded by taxpayers. I suspect that both are the case, though, at least partially. To the extent that it is, it is immoral. It’s easy to be a do-gooder when you can simply force other people to pay for your “good deeds.” If so, I wonder if the touring folks are informed on the fact that their “consumer education” as well as those $10.00 credits are funded by picking the pockets of their neighbors.

Related Reading:

Economics in One Lesson—Henry Hazlitt

Senator Menendez Dishonestly Equates Private Food Bank with SNAP