Friday, April 28, 2017

Right to Abortion vs. the "Right" to Abortion Services

A major gimmick statists use to push their policies is to equate rights with material entitlements.  


On the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, a lot of commentary came out reminding us to support that decision. But most of the Left gets it wrong. For example, in a 1/15/16 letter published in the New Jersey Star-Ledger titled N.J. delegation should vote to protect women’s choices, Paula Green, Vice president for Advocacy, National Council of Jewish Women/Essex, writes:


Jan. 22 marks the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and yet politicians continue to interfere with women’s ability to access reproductive health care. In 2015 alone, nearly 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced in legislative efforts to infringe on the reproductive rights of women.


For those who respect a woman’s right to govern her body and her destiny, we must work to ensure that the lawful right to abortion related care exists for all women.


Accordingly, we call on New Jersey’s elected federal representatives to support HR2972 — Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act of 2015. This legislation would ensure coverage for pregnancy-related care, including abortion, for every woman regardless of income level, state of residence, or insurance coverage. A right that exists only for some is not a right at all.


Note the switch. The “reproductive rights of women” becomes a “right to abortion related care.” The freedom “to access reproductive health care” becomes a government mandate for women to access other people’s wallets to pay for her abortion services.


I shot off a rebuttal letter to the Star-Ledger, which was not published. But here it is:


To the editor,


Many supporters of Roe v. Wade equate a woman’s right to abortion with the right to force others to provide and pay for her “abortion related services” through government mandates, as a Jan. 15 [2016] letter recently did. In the name of respecting “a woman’s right to govern her body and her destiny,” the letter advocates denying to others the right to choose how to spend their own money.


But Roe v. Wade merely recognized a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, not a handout. Rights are guarantees to freedom of action to pursue one’s values, not an automatic claim on goods and services that others must be forced to provide. Just as there is a right to freedom of religion, not a right to be provided with a church, synagogue, or mosque; a right to gay marriage, not a right to be provided with a gay wedding cake; a right to freedom of speech, not a right to force the Star-Ledger to print your letter; there is a right to abortion, not a right to be provided with the means to pay for it.


Michael A. LaFerrara


Related Reading:



Defending Reproductive Rights Depends Upon Upholding All Rights

HHS Secretary Nominee Tom Price Whiffs in Confrontation With Bernie Sanders Over a ‘Right’ to Healthcare

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Leaf Blowers, Rights, and Freedom

The New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Paul Mulshine has an interesting article on individual rights and libertarianism. The discussion centers around a ban on leaf blowers enacted in the NJ town of Maplewood. In Liberty and leaf-blowers; Your right to use one ends where my property begins, Mulshine writes:

Libertarianism is not so much a system of governing as it is a system of analyzing government - one that most libertarians are notoriously bad at.

Nothing proves that better than the "dust-up" over a summertime ban on leaf blowers in Maplewood.

I use that term advisedly. Leaf blowers kick a lot of dust up. Often, after I've just washed my car I will drive past some lout who is blowing crud directly at my passenger door.

But that's just a small aspect of the problem with leaf blowers. The big problem is they make a racket that intrudes on the right of those living nearby to enjoy their own property in peace.

Which right wins out?

This the sort of decision a politician must make.

And it's the sort of decision that most people who consider themselves libertarians are incapable of making - at least if the internet comments on the dispute are any indication.

Understanding rights is one of the defining challenges of our time.

I left these comments:

“Libertarian” is a good word to describe we advocates of political and economic freedom. Unfortunately, many modern libertarians don’t seem to understand freedom or rights’ role in protecting freedom. That’s why I don’t consider myself a libertarian. The term has been distorted beyond recognition.

The thing about individual rights is that it is a dual-purpose principle. First, rights sanction freedom of action in a social context. But freedom cannot mean doing whatever one feels like regardless of consequences—not if the goal is a civil society. That’s where the second function of rights comes in: Rights also define the limits of the individual’s actions. This can best be summed up as, “your right to swing your arms ends where my nose begins.” You have right to act in pursuit of your values, so long as your actions don’t violate the same rights of others.

Like with all principles, it’s often easier said than done. The boundary between where your rights end and others’ rights begin is not always easy to figure out. The leaf blower issue is one of those difficult areas, in my view. Leaf blowers are not a big deal to me. I own a leaf blower and use it for my own landscape maintenance. But I live in a large lot, semi-rural area. My lot is 2 acres, and it’s one of the smaller lots around. Even with all of the landscape maintenance companies operating all over the place, people live far enough apart so that it’s distant background noise. So in my view restrictions on leaf blowers doesn’t make sense in my area. On the other hand, maybe in a place like Maplewood, where many people live in close proximity, it is a big enough nuisance to at least warrant legal restrictions without violating the principle of individual rights. Context is important.

Once you understand the purpose of rights, and objectively establish rights’ boundaries, rights need not ever conflict. The best book on freedom and rights I have ever read—not that I claim to be a scholar or anything—is University of Texas professor Tara Smith’s “Moral Rights and Political Freedom.” Smith deals in depth with this and other aspects of freedom and rights (such as why we need rights in the first place). I found the book very helpful.

Related Reading:




Choice vs. Liberty in Education

Monday, April 24, 2017

Private vs. Government Unemployment Insurance

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


I left these comments, edited for clarity:


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


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


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


I got this angry reply from words4free:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Related reading:









Did Unions Create the Middle Class?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


—Dr. Reed F. Noss, The Wildlands Project


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


—David Graber, biologist, National Park Service


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


—Economist editorial


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


—John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal


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


—Carl Amery


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Related Reading:

THIS EARTH DAY, SHRUG OFF ENVIRONMENTALIST FEAR AND GUILT—Amanda Maxham for The Ayn Rand Institute


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


Related Viewing:



Related Listening:

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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

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


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


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


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


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


I left these comments (no longer available):


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Related Reading:





Man’s Rights—Ayn Rand

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

'Affordable' McMansions in NJ?

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


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


I left these comments, slightly edited for clarity:


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


How’d that work out?


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


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


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


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


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


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


Related Reading:







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