Tuesday, May 30, 2017

S-L—'Net neutrality too valuable to lose now.': No, Internet Freedom too Valuable to Lose, Ever

The Trump FCC is taking a lot of heat for its move to repeal so-called “net neutrality” regulations on internet service providers. Typical of the heat comes from the New Jersey Star-Ledger, which editorialized Net neutrality too valuable to lose now.

[T]he web has a bedrock principle: The mighty broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon shouldn’t be allowed to selectively slow down or block websites, and all internet data must be treated equally.

“Treated equally” means content providers like Netflix, which use extraordinary amounts of broadband capacity, can’t be charged more for their usage. Net neutrality means simply that federal bureaucrats get to override private contracts between providers of service and content.
This, supposedly, is good for consumers.

I left these comments:

So let’s get this straight: ISPs catering to government bureaucrats, rather than consumers, is good for consumers? That’s the absurdity behind “net neutrality.”

It’s not the big, bad “mighty broadband providers” we should fear. They’re the producers who invested the $billions to build the physical capacity that makes the internet possible. It’s the government—the political hacks—with its legal power to compel obedience, that we should fear. A government with the power to dictate “net neutrality” regulations on these private companies has the power to regulate anything on the internet. Just the implied threat of regulation is a form of physical coercion that can be levied against the ISPs—and indirectly on content providers. Regulatory power as such is the power to compel obedience at gunpoint. Don’t forget the IRS free speech-stifling scandal. It’s bad enough that the land of the First Amendment even has a Federal Communications Commission. Don’t compound that injustice with net neutrality rules.

I, as one consumer, will not be suckered by the statists’ hollow slogans into handing over control to government bureaucrats. The big content providers like Netflix and their customers don’t deserve government-coerced handouts [full disclosure: I am a Netflix subscriber]. They can pay their fair share for the consumer-driven products they provide. Internet fees are properly the right of ISPs and content providers to contractually negotiate among themselves without government interfering on behalf of one party or another.

Market supply and demand, not crony-oriented dictates of government bureaucrats, should be the concern of the ISPs. While the computer code of the internet is open source—free for anyone to use—the physical equipment of the internet is not some public domain. It is privately built networks, and the networks belong to whoever builds them based on the principle of property rights. The ISPs built their networks. They are, despite certain government-imposed roadblocks, largely subject to competition—new ISPs are free to enter the market at any time. An ISP has a right to set the terms according to its profitability, its capital expenditure needs, and the good of its overall customer base, whether it is pricing or who to sell their capacity, so long as it doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. Charging extra for heavy users of the network it built, owns, and operates is perfectly legitimate. If an ISP overcharge, the market will force it to alter its policies.

The internet, like the printing press before it, is particularly critical to a free society because it is a direct intersection of economics and free speech. Economic freedom and intellectual freedom are corollaries. The Left has been itching to get control of the intellectual marketplace of ideas, just as it has gained immense control over the marketplace of goods. They are enemies of free speech (think campaign finance controls). Net neutrality is not only about economic control—the government running roughshod over private citizens’ private property, bad as that is: it is an opening wedge of intellectual control. The only neutrality there should be is in regard to government and its laws: Unless there is evidence of fraud or other criminal behavior, keep government out of the private internet and apply equal protection of the law without favoritism. A government-controlled, politically corrupted internet is not a “free and open internet.” Only a market-oriented internet is truly free and open.

Net neutrality was first introduced under the GW Bush FCC. Obama made it worse. It is a bipartisan atrocity. Government-enforced “net neutrality,” if not the FCC itself, should be abolished.

Related Reading:

Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet—Raymond C. Niles for The Objective Standard

Related Viewing:

NET NEUTRALITY NEUTERS THE INTERNET—Interview with Steve Simpson, the Ayn Rand Institute’s director of legal studies.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

If We’re to Have Labor Laws, Should They Work Both Ways?

We have all kinds of labor laws allegedly for the purpose of “protecting workers.” And these laws are growing like a cancer, hampering job creation and maintenance as they do. For example, the New Jersey Star-Ledger lauded a state Supreme Court ruling that upheld a man’s lawsuit against his employer for firing him because he was divorced, effectively making it illegal for “a worker [to] be fired or discriminated against because they are separated from or divorcing their spouse.” In Go N.J.: Your creepy boss can't fire you over a divorce, the Star-Ledger writes:

Divorce is bad enough all on its own. But if a creepy boss fires you for it, you ought to have a right to sue his pants off. That right is now affirmed in the Garden State.

Granted, the boss of the Millville Rescue Squad had cause for concern. The plaintiff, Robert Smith, was married to another member of the squad when the marriage hit the skids. Smith, it turns out, had an affair with another co-worker and his wife found out.

But CEO John Redden went overboard. He insisted that Smith find a way to reconcile with his wife to prevent this mess from interfering with their work. Seven months later, Smith told him that the reconciliation was hopeless, and Redden fired him.

The three people involved, it turned out, did not actually do anything that interfered with their work. “[CEO John] Redden, it seems, assumed the worst and fired Smith on the basis of a stereotype,” the Star-Ledger writes. “That amounts to firing Smith for being divorced, and that's a no-no.”

How many people are actually fired for being divorced? On the face of it, this looks like the nanny state running wild. And it is. In the future, some future boss who fears personal conflicts caused by love triangles among his workforce will have to concoct some rationalization for the firing rather than be upfront about it. But these sorts of micro-managing by “big government” requires exactly that kind of dishonesty in order for an employer to do what he has every right to do in the first place—terminate an employee for any reason he chooses. This ruling is what we get once we start down the road of outlawing private discrimination. It starts with legitimate concerns over objectively irrational and immoral discrimination, such as racial discrimination, and inevitably expands to outlaw so much discrimination that we find ourselves increasingly unable to live by our own judgement regarding our private associations.

I’ve written a lot about the unfairness of labor laws, and how it’s none of a legitimate—i.e., rights-protecting—government’s business to interfere in labor management contracts unless fraud or breach-of-contract or contractual mediation and the like is involved. I take seriously the First Amendment, which explicitly and absolutely protects freedom of association within the context of inalienable individual rights. But this case got me thinking: So-called labor laws are bad in another way; they are completely one-sided, violating the principle of equal protection of the law supposedly guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

True, if Smith’s firing went down exactly as described in this editorial, it is unfair. But, here’s my question: If the tables are turned and the worker quits because his boss got a divorce—or, for that matter, over his own divorce—should the boss be able to sue the worker? What if, rather than being fired, Smith quit because of some other employee’s divorce?

Related, an employer can be sued (or worse) if he fires a worker because of gender or race. What if the worker quits because he doesn’t like his new boss’s race or gender?

The problem with all of these so-called “workers rights” laws is that they contain an embedded double-standard. Take minimum wage laws. If an employer hires a worker for less that minimum wage, only the employer gets punished. The worker not only gets off scot-free. Worse, the worker is often rewarded monetarily with back wages and the like, even though he agreed to work for the lower wage; i.e., he is as much of a lawbreaker for accepting the job for an outlawed wage as the employer is for creating it. Same with government-mandated overtime pay rules. Since no worker is ever forced to fill a job position, isn’t the worker equally guilty of breaking the law if a wage law is broken?

The government shouldn’t be involved in dictating terms of agreement between employers and employees. Employers and job-seekers should be free to make their own terms of employment without government interference. And the employer should be able to fire a worker for any reason at any time, and the worker should be able to quit for any reason at any time—consistent with their mutual prior agreement. Yes, either should be able to sue if the other breaches contract. And the government should get involved in cases of fraud. Otherwise, government should keep its aggressive, coercive law-making hands off.

But if the government is going to impose labor laws, shouldn’t these laws at least be enforced impartially and equally? If a minimum wage or anti-discrimination law is violated, shouldn’t all guilty parties be subject to the prescribed penalties? I wonder what would become of all of these labor laws that target only employers if such laws were actually enforced impartially, as in equal protection under the law?

Related reading:

“Greed” is a Two-Way Street

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Religious Faith Behind Climate Change Fear Mongering

“Fundamentally, I’m a climate scientist and have spent much of my career with my head buried in climate-model output and observational climate data trying to tease out the signal of human-caused climate change,” Mr. [Michael] Mann told the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee at a hearing.

“What is disconcerting to me and so many of my colleagues is that these tools that we’ve spent years developing increasingly are unnecessary because we can see climate change, the impacts of climate change, now, playing out in real time, on our television screens, in the 24-hour news cycle,” he said.

Mr. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, spoke before the committee June 17 in Phoenix.

Mr. Mann told the panel that “the signal of climate change is no longer subtle, it is obvious,” citing hurricanes, flooding in Texas and South Carolina, the California drought and “record heat” in Arizona.

Humans have an unlimited capacity for self-delusion. Climate catastrophists "see" climate change in every weather extreme in the same way religionists "see" the Hand of God in whatever they choose. But wishing won't make it so. Nor is it possible to rebut wishful thinking rationally. It can as logically be claimed that floods are caused by Martians screwing with our weather in retaliation for sending robots to their planet. People in the 1950s blamed weather extremes on Sputnik. People in the 1960s blamed weather extremes on nuclear weapons testing. People in the 1970s blamed the moon landing. People have always blamed God. People have always looked for easy explanations for “this crazy weather,” even though weather has not changed much over the centuries. Climate Change is no different. When it comes to weather, most people have the memory of a goldfish: The latest of a recurring weather extreme is always something that has never happened before—except that it has and will again. This is what the Michael Mann’s of the world cash in on.

There is an unofficial taboo in our culture that religious beliefs are beyond criticism. The pronouncements of a “person of faith,” no matter how outlandish, are beyond examination. The climate catastrophists are cashing in on this taboo. A flood? It’s climate change. A heat wave? It’s climate change. A blizzard or drought or “record” this or that? It’s climate change. The climate faith seems to find its way into the most bizarre places. Buried in a recent Washington Post article about a 600 year old great white oak that appears to be dying was this gem:

No one really knows how or why trees die. Scientists know how they grow, and they know how to reconstruct their past. But they don’t know how to predict their future — except to say that the warmer the planet becomes, the more trees will die.

“Because trees live longer, we tend to view them as timeless,” U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Craig Allen told High Country News two years ago. “You can feel this sense of endurance. In human terms, we would call it wisdom.”

Such wisdom is gained by understanding the past, which trees do right down to their roots, “because they’re tuned to that historic climate window,” Allen said. “They know there are ups and downs in water and sun, and they know how to ride them out, except that it’s become vastly harder in the age of global warming.”

This tree, which according to the article has already lived more than double the 200-300 year life span of white oaks, is finally dying. Scientists don’t know why trees die. Yet they just “know” that "the warmer the planet becomes, the more trees will die"—even though a warmer planet means longer growing seasons and more plant food (co2) in the atmosphere. The most recent warming trend started 150 years ago. It's been mild—not noticable to humans without precise measuring instruments. The warming trand has even stalled out over the past 20 years. Yet this white oak's death is attributed to global warming. This is faith, not science. It seems that no matter what the issue, scientists—dependent as so many are on politicians for funding—have to pay homage to their God: Not Praise to the Lord. Now, it’s “Praise to the Climate Change.”

Hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves? They’ve always happened, and always will. Climate change? it's always been around. Trees? They've always been around. Trees can be affected by climate change? What a shock.

When it comes to weather, most people have the memory of a goldfish. People like Michael Mann play on that. They encourage people to think of every out-of-the-ordinary weather event as something that has never happened before: it must be climate change! Recognize Mann’s witch doctor assertions as the gimmick that it is, lest you become a victim of climate change fear in the same way people were victims of the Church during the Dark and Middle ages, quivering in fear of God as they endured generation after generation of stagnation in living standards. People claiming to "see climate change" must not only be rejected out-of-hand, but ridiculed for the delusionists that they are.

Related Reading:

Are Floods More Frequent, as Climate Alarmists Claim?  by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul Knappenberger

It is widely promulgated and believed that human-caused global warming comes with increases in both the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. A survey of official weather sites and the scientific literature provides strong evidence that the first half of the 20th century had more extreme weather than the second half, when anthropogenic global warming is claimed to have been mainly responsible for observed climate change. The disconnect between real-world historical data on the 100 years’ time scale and the current predictions provides a real conundrum when any engineer tries to make a professional assessment of the real future value of any infrastructure project which aims to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

Assume 6 Feet of Sea Level Rise: Predict Catastrophe—Useful science or worst case scaremongering? by Ronald Bailey

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Constitutional Republicanism: A Counter-Argument to Barbara Rank’s Ode to Democracy

In an Iowa town hall meeting defending his vote in favor of the Republican’s American Health Care Act, which would repeal or alter parts of ObamaCare, Congressman Rod Blum attempted to explain his vote before a screaming, jeering, disrespectful crowd. The Washington Post reported on this episode in A congressman said making a man get maternity insurance was ‘crazy.’ A woman’s reply went viral.

One woman, retired educator Barbara Rank, didn’t participate in the shouting. Instead, she thoughtfully composed a rebuttal letter, which was published in Iowa’s Telegraph Herald under the title Why should I pay indeed?. Someone subsequently posted the letter on line, where it was viewed by tens of thousands of people. Rank wrote:

Congressman Rod Blum in a Dubuque town hall (Monday) night asked, “Why should a 62-year-old man have to pay for maternity care?”

I ask, why should I pay for a bridge I don’t cross, a sidewalk I don’t walk on, a library book I don’t read?

Why should I pay for a flower I won’t smell, a park I don’t visit, or art I can’t appreciate?

Why should I pay the salaries of politicians I didn’t vote for, a tax cut that doesn’t affect me, or a loophole I can’t take advantage of?

It’s called democracy, a civil society, the greater good. That’s what we pay for.

Why, indeed? Why should anyone be forced to pay for bridges, sidewalks, libraries, flowers, parks, or art—or any material economic benefit one cares to add to that list—against her will? The only moral answer is, she shouldn’t. (We’ll leave aside, for now, the issue of taxes and politicians’ salaries.)

Yes, “It’s called democracy”—and Rank’s is one of the the clearest and most devastating indictments of democracy one can encounter. Political power is the power of the gun. That power can be used for the protection of liberty, or to destroy it. Democracy is the latter. Rank is right, though she doesn’t realize it. Democracy is a “cold” civil war of predatory pressure groups and electoral factions fighting for the political power—control of the government’s guns, the legislative process—to extract by force benefits and favors paid for by other factions; each faction, in turn, defining its latest scheme for “free” stuff as “the greater good.”

Rank’s viral letter begs the political philosophy question, What is America?

There is nothing civil about democracy. Democracy denies the rights of the individual, the most vulnerable in any society, to live according to her own judgement. But what greater good can there be than the liberty, inalienable rights, and dignity of the individual, living under a government that protects, equally for all and at all times, those rights? That, in fact, was the original American system—not a democracy, but a constitutional republic based on individual rights and limited, right-protecting government. Fully and consistently applied, all bridges, sidewalks, libraries, flowers, parks, art, et al, are privately owned and funded, and governed under the rule of law established according to the principles of constitutional republican government.

Democracy contradicts America. As the Chinese Communist Mao ZeDong understood, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." The American Founders well understood that as well. But the goal of the Founders and the goal of the Maoists were opposite, with opposite results. The Founders sought to establish a free constitutional republic with ironclad limits on societal and government power based on the principle of individual rights—the moral principle that subordinates society to the moral law that each individual owns his own life, and cannot be anyone’s slave. Mao established a Marxist democratic republic of unlimited, totalitarian government power, under which the individual is subordinate to society, which can do with her as it wants. Once we accept the principle that the government’s guns are the tool of predatory factions rather than a tool to protect the individual against the predatory factions, we arrive at the result achieved by Mao, ”All things grow out of the barrel of a gun.” Then we have arrived at the point of universal predation and mutual suspicion and resentment, as every election poses a threat to each other's’ lives, freedom, and property. With each election, who knows what we will be forced into in the name of “the greater good.”

In an 1864 address, Abe Lincoln sought to clarify the meaning of liberty in the American context. As Niles Anderegg observes:

Lincoln goes on to give us two basic definitions of liberty.  He notes that “with some, the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor” while with others liberty is where men are free to “do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.”  He goes on to point out that these two definitions are incompatible.  

Lincoln was applying the parable of “the Wolf and the Sheep”—first citing the sheep’s version of liberty, and second the wolf’s. Lincoln came down squarely on the side of the sheep. Democracy is, essentially, two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. It is the wolve’s version of “liberty” that democracy stands for. It is the wolf’s version of liberty that Rank is promoting. It is not the sheep's version.

Let Rank’s letter serve as a warning to all those who wish to advocate for a free society, and who seek to roll back statism in America: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say “you must pay for my library” in the same breath that you ask “Why should I have to pay for your maternity care?” Rank shows why it’s impossible to answer her viral response to Blum’s question unless we are ready to challenge her core fundamentalist democracy principles. Ayn Rand was right. The only ultimate way to save America from totalitarian socialism, democratic or otherwise, is to hold up the only opposite ideal, clearly and without reservation—a fully consistent constitutional republic of individual rights and its political/social expression, laissez-faire capitalism.

Observe that Rank never answers Congressman Blum’s question, “Why should a 62-year-old man have to pay for maternity care?” She simply rationalizes, “because I have to pay for all of that other stuff.” But where does it end? The same argument can be used to justify any grab of other people’s money for whatever we’re told is “the greater good.” As we can see with ObamaCare’s mandates, piled as they are on top of all of the other state-level mandates, it will never end. Under this thing called democracy, there is nothing any of us can’t be forced into, because democracy—ballot-box rule—is an open-ended principle. Where do you draw the line?

Far from leading to a civil society, democracy leads to a proliferation of predatory factions, as well as factions seeking to protect themselves from the predators, resulting not in social harmony but an increasingly divided and polarized citizenry where the ballot box permeates and threatens every aspect of our lives. I offer, as evidence, the intolerant behavior of the crowd at Blum’s townhall. I offer, as evidence, a sample of the comments; “calling out ignorant so-called public servants like Rod Blum of Iowa”—this smear, for merely advocating a bit of freedom of choice. I offer, as evidence, the treatment of New Jersey Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur at a similar town hall. Civil society, anyone? No, democracy in action. Democracy is mob rule—cold ballot-box civil war that sooner or later turns hot. It can be no other way—not when you accept the principle that mere numerical superiority trumps justice. Disrespect and force are built into the DNA of democracy.

We can’t do anything about "public" parks and roads, and all of the other stuff that Rank doesn’t use but is forced to pay for, at this time. That’s part of a wider battle. We can do something about the injustice of forcing 62 year old men to buy maternity insurance—or forcing women to buy prostate cancer insurance. No, Ms. Rank, two wrongs—or 10 or 100 wrongs—don’t make a right, no matter how many wolves you have in your pack. The subject on the table is health insurance. We can start righting the wrongs, and we can start with health insurance. benefit mandates are wrong. Individual consumers and insurers have a moral right to voluntarily contract to mutual benefit without government interference. They should have the legal right. It's called freedom.

In the Washington Post article, Rank is quoted as saying, “The conclusion is something I always end up saying. Every argument I've ever had with somebody, friends or relative: Don't you want to live in a civil society? Government is the structure of the country we live in. It's not as bad as people make it out to be.”

But is predatory democracy civil? Is “the structure of the country” based on predation of all against all, or peaceful, live-and-let-live coexistence? Is the government a protector of individual rights, under which each is treated equally under the law? Or is the government a tool of the wolves? Rank is an educator, who retorts “Come on. Didn't we learn this in fifth-grade social studies?” If democracy is what America’s children are learning, shame on us. What we should have learned, and what Rank and our schools should be teaching, is that America is not a nation of wolfpacks—a democracy. America is a nation of free individuals—a constitutional republic—a nation of individual, not pack, rights; of justice, not “social justice”; of the primacy of individual liberty, not the supremacy of the wolfpack’s “greater good.”

Judging by the “likes” in the comment threads, most people agree with Rank. Not good, because nothing less than the future of a free America is at stake. Democracy unconstrained by the principle of individual rights is a manifestation of totalitarianism. We’re still a considerable distance from that logical eventuality. But until and unless we recognize the predatory nature of democracy, or “democratic socialism,” it will end not in the harmony that only mutual respect for each other’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness can achieve. It will end in economic and societal collapse into dictatorship and ruin, as all socialist efforts must. That’s the road Rank endorses, whether she knows it or not; will acknowledge it or not. So much for civil society. So much for the greater good.

Related Reading:

The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty—Timothy Sandefur

The American Left Is Talking Itself Into Violence—John Daniel Davidson for The Federalist

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My [Small] Place in the Journalism World

Lewis DVorkin wrote a column for Forbes titled As Digital Journalism Evolves, The Scoop Still Defines Newsroom Values. In this column, DVorkin tackles the issue of traditional news media’s contraction in the age of the internet and social media. As he observes, “I’m watching a once monolithic news industry break into pieces.”

The journalistic establishment hates this new trend. The New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Paul Mulshine probably captures the establishment’s resentment in a 2008 article for the Wall Street Journal. In All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper, Mulshine—who, for the record, is a great reporter whom I have a lot of respect for—blasted bloggers. Here are a few excerpts:

The problem is that printing a hard copy of a publication packed with solid, interesting reporting isn't a guarantee of economic success in the age of instant news. Blogger Glenn Reynolds of "Instapundit" fame seems to be pleased at this. In his book, "An Army of Davids," Mr. Reynolds heralds an era in which "[m]illions of Americans who were in awe of the punditocracy now realize that anyone can do this stuff."

No, they can't.

The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader -- one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the "executive summary." Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.

This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren't doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they're under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.

So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don't expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won't be able to do it either.

The death of newspapers and other traditional news outlets, like magazines—not to mention investigative journalism—seems to have been greatly exaggerated. As DVorkin writes:

FORBES, soon to turn 99 years old, has both gravitas and digital scale, with 45 million domestic monthly visitors to Forbes.com, as measured by comScore. We achieved that feat with a bold concept–marrying a tradition of reporting with a now 1,800-strong network of contributors [“citizen journalists!”]. Staff writers do what they do best: report the news and ferret out information, both for FORBES magazine and for our website. Our expert contributors primarily publish online, attracting audiences with insight, context and analysis.

The FORBES model for journalism in the era of social media has disrupted time-honored thinking. Our belief in sound journalism is still very much here. [Emphasis added]

If you can’t beat them, join them—and prosper in the bargain. A “bold concept,” indeed!

Some traditional journalists may condemn the new so-called “citizen journalism”; i.e. bloggers. They may resent bloggers terribly, claiming that bloggers could never replace the hard working traditionals who actually go out in the field and do the hard work of uncovering and gathering the news and the facts. And it’s true, as Mulshine points out, that bloggers can’t replace investigative journalists. I know I can’t—and I have no inclination to devote the time and effort of doing so. Reynolds is wrong: Not just “anyone can do this stuff."

Mulshine is right. But as it turns out, Mulshine’s point is beside the point.

Forbes has proven that it doesn’t have to be either-or. Traditional journalists continue to provide the meat and backbone, the “scoop”, and thrive—at least those working for progressive news outlets.

But why should the traditional journalist be the only one to do the analysis? Isn’t the purpose of journalism, beyond earning a living, to inform the public and foster analysis and debate? Isn’t blogging just an extension of that? As long as the blogger gives due credit to his sources, citizen journalism is a big plus, in my view. I’m not on Forbes’s expert contributor list. But I do have my own blog, in which I offer my own “insight, context and analysis.” I have written articles and blog posts for The Objective Standard. It’s a fun hobby and I love having the opportunity to engage in intellectual activism, even while giving the traditional journalists I reference a little wider exposure. I think it’s win-win.

To be fair, Mulshine wrote All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper in 2008, so he may not hold the same opinions today.

Anyway, kudos to Forbes for flourishing by embracing the new realities. I’ve been a Forbes subscriber (and, for that matter, a Star-Ledger subscriber) for decades and will continue to be for as long as I can breath. Thanks, Forbes! And thanks Lewis DVorkin. You’ve identified and validated the common citizens’—and my—place in the journalism world.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Lesson in the Crucial Distinction Between Economic and Political Power

Payday lending is a form of ultra-short term, unsecured credit available, for a fee, to people who desire money before their next paycheck, at which time the loan is repaid. Some people don’t like these types of loans, and want them restricted or outlawed. Last year, Google banned advertising by any lender charging an annual percentage rate (APR) of more than 36%. Since payday loans are ultra-short term, their APRs can be astronomical, even ranging into the hundreds of a percent. Of course, since payday loans are intended to be paid back within days, no one actually pays the implied APR on any single loan. So analyzing payday loans based on APR is irrelevant.

But Beverly Brown Ruggia, the Community Reinvestment Organizer at New Jersey Citizen Action, praised Google’s new policy. In a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column, Google did the right thing to protect N.J. from predatory lenders, Ruggia wrote:

Google delivered a significant victory for consumer financial protections in New Jersey last month, when it announced it will no longer permit lenders to advertise payday loans or any loan with an APR that is more than 36 percent on its website.

Ruggia hates payday loans. She paints with a broad brush, smearing all payday lenders as “predatory,” and all of their customers as helpless incompetents incapable of using the practice responsibly. This is typical of our busy-body “consumer protectors.” But she of course is entitled to her opinion. Unfortunately, she doesn't stop at praising Google. She wants to use the government as her hired gun to impose Google-like restrictions, and then some, on us all. She praised the states that legally ban payday lenders, as well as the new Dodd-Frank Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) proposed new regulations for payday lending nationwide.

But she doesn’t think CFPB’s regulations go far enough. She claims that rates are too high, and many irresponsible payday borrowers “are caught on a hamster wheel of renewals.” She also claims that payday lenders often engage in deception. But high rates and irresponsible borrowers are entirely different from deception.

New Jersey is one of the states that bans payday loans. But residents can easily get around the ban by securing loans online. Google’s advertising ban makes that end run a little harder. But Ruggia demands new nationwide laws and regulations against the industry, not just against rights-violating practices perpetrated by specific lenders in specific instances. Like all regulatory actions, such government intrusions punish the innocent for the actions of wrong-doers, kind of like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I left these comments, slightly edited:

Google may or may not have done the “right thing.” But, as a private enterprise, it has the right to do it. But government, being a rights-protecting institution based on force, has no legitimate right to regulate or ban payday loans. The difference between economic power (Google’s voluntary action) and political power (government coercive regulation) is as different, both morally and in practice, as day versus night—or persuasion versus a gun.

Government’s job is not to restrict commerce and trade. It is to protect us against fraud, including deceptive advertising and the like. If there is any of that going on in the payday lending business, then government should step in. As long as the loans are made by voluntary agreement and mutual consent in the absence of fraud, the government has no right to interfere. The fact that some number of people act irresponsibly is no justification. Let them learn from their mistakes. Individual rights to freely engage in trade, including lending and borrowing, should never be infringed or restricted because some people use their rights irresponsibly. By that standard, no freedom can exist.

Speaking of fraud, one of the biggest frauds is the idea peddled by statists that government regulations are for so-called “consumer protection,” when in reality what they are doing is restricting we consumers’ freedom to make our own choices. Government’s only job is to protect every individuals’ rights equally and at all times. Lenders have the right to offer these short-term loans on their own terms, and obviously have uncovered a market demand for such loans. But consumers have the right to decide for themselves whether to purchase them without interference from government bureaucrats or politicians. Government regulations like these don’t protect consumers. Protection from what? From our right to act on our own judgement. They simply reduce our liberties and our opportunities.

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