Monday, March 27, 2017

The AHCA, ObamaCare Without Obama, is Dead. Good Riddance

The AHCA is dead, at least for now—and good riddance. No bill is better this this one. Despite being sold as a “free market reform” package, it was just another statist scheme with a sprinkling of free market nuggets. It was literally ObamaCare without Obama.

Nevertheless, I used the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s reporting by Jonathan D. Salant on the failure of the American Health Care Act (Trump dealt huge loss as Republicans pull Obamacare repeal bill) to make a couple of important points. Below are a couple of excerpts from the article followed by my posted comments:

In an attempt to win the support of more conservative members, the legislation eliminated the requirement that all insurance policies cover outpatient services, emergency care, hospitalization, maternity benefits, mental health and drug treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitation, laboratory services, preventative treatment such as annual checkups, and pediatric dentistry and vision care.

I left these comments:

While I think the AHCA was a bad bill and I’m glad it was defeated, the elimination of benefit mandates was unequivocally a good feature.

The government has no right to dictate what kind of policies insurers can offer and no right to force consumers to buy coverage that they judge to be unnecessary, unneeded, or unaffordable. These kinds of decisions are morally the responsibility of insurers and individual consumers to make based on mutually voluntary contracts.

These mandates don’t only violate the rights of insurers and their customers. They drive up the cost of the policies, defeating the purpose of real health insurance, which is to protect against unforeseeable catastrophic financial calamities. The artificially inflated costs, in turn, generate increasing demands for subsidies. The mandates amount to forced redistribution of wealth through private intermediaries—the fascist approach to socialism. They turn health insurance into a pre-paid health scheme with an extra layer of bureaucracy for routine, foreseeable health expenditures, destroying market discipline on pricing. Nobody in their right mind would want to pay an inflated premium to an insurance company to pay for services he can plan for and pay directly for.

These mandates and others violate the individual’s right to act on her own judgement according to her own rational self-interest, and should be eliminated. They are immoral and impractical economically and, by favoring some at the expense of others, divide us into victims and exploiters, undermining civility and mutual respect that is the only basis for true national unity.

“Trumpcare is Robin Hood in reverse, taking benefits and financial assistance from hard-working middle-class Americans and our most vulnerable in order to give tax breaks to the wealthiest and corporations,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the leader of the floor debate on the Democratic side.

Actually, eliminating subsidies and the taxes that support them would be perfectly consistent with the legend of Robin Hood.

In Robin Hood’s day, people got rich by looting the peasants under cover of law (taxes) to pad their own and their cronies’ nests. Robin Hood was a man of justice. He took the loot from the thieving aristocrats and gave it back to the peasants who earned it.

Today, people including the rich by and large earn their wealth through productive work, enterprise, and market trade. ObamaCare taxes and subsidies, like all redistribution schemes, are no different than what Robin Hood fought against—the practice of looting the productive under cover of law and handing the loot to people who didn’t earn it. Reducing the ObamaCare taxes and subsidies effectively “takes” from the people who receive the loot and returns it to its rightful owners, the people who earned it. So that feature of the GOP bill actually is a Robin Hood feature, not “Robin Hood in reverse.”

Related Reading:

What Does It Mean to Have a 'Right' to Health Care?—Sheldon Richman for

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Who to Trust More: The GOP Deregulationists or the Statists

Statists have a God-like faith in government regulation. Let anyone propose deregulation of any kind, and they go on a rant like the New Jersey Star-Ledger recently did in These N.J. congressmen voted to cheat workers, loosen gun laws. The Star-Ledger was talking about Republican congressmen, of course. No Democrat would dare relax the government’s increasing stranglehold on Americans.

The GOP, you see, want “schizophrenics [to] purchase a gun,” “dumping [of] coal waste into our waterways,” and “tear down workplace protections, clean air regulations, and corporate transparency,” along with other “safeguards” over the next four years.

My rebuttal comments focussed on one particular sentence:

The credibility of this rant against deregulation collapses with a single statement; “Odd, we thought . . . people were learning that burning fossil fuels threatens everything we value.”

If this is the mindset of the people making environmental regulations—and there is every indication that it is—then every environmental regulation is suspect.

The fossil fuel industry is a heroic, morally virtuous industry that provides, and will be needed for the foreseeable future to provide, the vast bulk of the energy that drives our industrial economy, and thus the well-being of human beings. The benefits far outweigh the negatives, yet the environmentalist mindset is blinding hostility toward the fossil fuel industry, despite its huge value.

Just who is the fossil fuel industry? Its investors, employees, and customers—in other words, all of us. If we value our lives—and the Star-Ledger apparently believes nobody values their lives—then it is the enemies of fossil fuels who threaten everything we value.

The Left has a gimmick: It uses legitimate ends as cover to destroy that which they oppose. Just like racists who use the valid concept of voter identification to impose regulations designed to stop the black vote, so environmentalists use the valid concept of sensible environmental laws as a cover to crush fossil fuels. Why? Because environmentalism operates on the moral premise that human impact on raw nature is bad, and should be minimized at any cost, including the cost of reliable, economical energy.

However, humans survive and thrive precisely by impacting raw nature. Human progress depends on altering the environment through technology and development, so as to replace the danger-filled environment that nature gives us into a safe environment conducive to prosperity. That requires massive impact. The environmentalists are against impact on principle, and are therefore anti-human flourishing. The statement quoted above is proof if this anti-humanist premise. We need lawmakers who understand the value of human life and flourishing in charge of making environmental laws—rational laws that are based on objective cost-benefit analysis so we can minimize the pollution side effects of fossil fuels while recognizing fossil fuels’ immensely greater value as life-promoters. People who believe that “burning fossil fuels threatens everything we value” cannot be trusted to do that, because their goal is to minimize human impact rather than maximize human well-being.

It’s not a matter of “deregulate, cross their fingers and hope for the best." The government’s job is to prosecute force and fraud, not regulate the innocent many because of the wrong-doing of the few. The government should do its job of protecting individual rights by prosecuting actual wrongdoing, not merely stand back with its fingers crossed. The regulatory state has gone way beyond this role, dictating how people run their lives and businesses without any evidence of wrongdoing.

The current wave of Congressional regulation-killing, including the overturning of the regulations blindly rushed through at the end of the Obama Administration, is refreshing. I won’t blindly vouch for every act of this Congress. But I trust the GOP Congress far more on environmental regulation—and by extension gun, labor, and regulation generally—than I’ll trust anyone who believes the outrageous and factually untrue assertion that fossil fuels are a grave threat rather than a monumental benefactor.

Related Reading:

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?—My Article for The Objective Standard

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liberal vs. ‘Liberal’, or Enlightenment vs. Dis-Enlightenment

The Enlightenment ideals of reason and individualism spawned a political revolution that resulted in constitutionally limited republican government that recognized individual rights as preceding government. In theory and largely in practice, this new concept of government swept away all manner of state omnipotence and tyranny over the individual. Henceforth, the government would serve as as protector of the sovereignty and liberty of the individual. This political philosophy reached its highest and most consistent expression in the American Declaration of Independence, the philosophical framework that led to the creation of the United States of America.

But, for the last hundred years or so, reactionary political forces of omnipotent government have been steadily rolling back the Enlightenment from American society, largely in and through the field of economics. This roll-back, by and large, is not being accomplished by openly repudiating the Enlightenment. That wouldn’t fly in America, yet. So how does one roll out a statist economic agenda without openly repudiating the Enlightenment that stands in the way? One way is to simply wrap the statist/socialist/collectivist agenda in the veneer of the Enlightenment.

“If you can’t beat the Enlightenment openly, pretend to join it.”

In a piece titled The Enlightenment Keeps On Winning, James A. Haught, editor emeritus of West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail, employs a variation of this tactic.

Money laundering is defined as “The process of taking the proceeds of criminal activity and making them appear legal.” In a kind of idea laundering, Haught smuggles in modern “liberal” or “progressive” statism among a list of genuine accomplishments of Enlightenment-spawned classical liberalism, thus taking the proceeds of anti-Enlightenment political policies and making them appear enlightened. How does Haught accomplish this idea laundering?

Here are excerpts from Haught’s opening paragraphs:

If you study history, you’ll see episodes that changed civilization.

Around three centuries ago, major thinkers began advocating democracy, human rights and personal freedoms. Their period became known as the Enlightenment. It launched the long-running liberals-versus-conservatives conflict still driving much of today’s politics.

Note the absence of the term individual rights. Note the prominence of the term democracy.

Haught cites Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire and America’s Founding Fathers, whom he termed “brilliant radicals,” as leading thinkers of the Enlightenment.

I remember a kind of exercise teachers would present to young children, designed to sharpen the children’s powers of perception, that features an exercise to single out one item that doesn't belong in the picture. For example, the teacher may show a picture featuring a cow, a horse, a zebra, a deer, and a house, and ask, Which of these doesn’t belong in the picture? What if someone asked, which name doesn’t belong on Haught’s list of Enlightenment thinkers?

The first question that jumps out at me is, what is Hobbes doing among these Enlightenment luminaries? I must state at this point that I am not a philosophy expert or historian. That said, I do not consider Hobbes to be an Enlightenment thinker, if by Enlightenment we mean the political ideals of individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government (though he may be considered among Enlightenment thinkers in other respects).

Hobbes believed men are incapable of governing their own lives and, if left free, society would devolve into perpetual violent conflict. Thus, the people, or subjects, must agree—for the sake of peace and civility—to give up their right to govern themselves, and assign to the state the absolute power to act for them. Hobbes advocated a totalitarian state ruled by an “absolute sovereign” chosen by a vote of the people. Once chosen, the sovereign’s powers are irrevocable. (Somehow, Hobbes believed that people incapable of governing themselves are somehow capable of picking a ruler to run their lives. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’re surrounded by modern liberals touting essentially the same thing.) Hobbes called his state Leviathan.

Locke rejected this Hobbesian view of human nature. He believed that as long as they are protected from the occasional predators who exist among them, most people are capable, by virtue of the individual’s unique power of reason, of managing their own affairs and living peacefully among each other. So he advocated the opposite of Hobbes; a social order of individual sovereignty based on individual rights, in which the state’s only function is to protect men’s rights to govern their own lives. He also did not favor democracy understood as absolute majority rule. He believed that the vote was important but limited, being only a means of choosing the elected officials whose job it is to carry out government’s function of protecting the people’s right to govern their own lives, not to choose the omnipotent rulers to run their lives. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, referred to these rights-protecting powers as “just powers.”

Hobbes and Locke both agreed that human society needs a government. But their view of government’s responsibility couldn’t be more opposite. We’ll see Haught’s reason for Hobbes’s inclusion shortly as we continue with his article. Keep in mind, as we read on, Haught’s previous reference to the three centuries-long “liberals-versus-conservatives conflict still driving much of today’s politics”:

The Enlightenment not only produced modern democracy, it also laid the foundation of liberal political values still winning victories today. For three centuries, by fits and starts, Western progress has been mostly a chronicle of progressives defeating conservative resistance. Reformers repeatedly toppled old privileges, hierarchies and establishments. Look at the historical record:

  • Conservatives tried to retain slavery, but they lost.
  • They tried to block voting by women, but they lost.
  • The tried to prevent couples from using birth control, but they lost.
  • The tried to obstruct Social Security pensions for oldsters, but they lost.
  • They tried to outlaw labor unions, but they lost.
  • They tried to prevent unemployment compensation for the jobless, but they lost.
  • They tried to keep stores closed on the Sabbath, but they lost.
  • They banned alcohol during Prohibition, but they eventually lost.
  • They tried to sustain racial segregation, but they lost.
  • They supported government-mandated prayer in school, but they lost.
  • They tried to continue throwing gays in prison, but they lost.
  • They tried to defeat Medicare and Medicaid, but they lost.
  • They tried to halt the sexual revolution, but they lost.
  • They opposed food stamps for the poor, but they lost.
  • They fought against equal human rights laws, but they lost.
  • They tried to censor sexy magazines, books and movies, but they lost.
  • They sought to jail girls and doctors who end pregnancies, but they lost.
  • They tried to block liquor clubs and lotteries, but they lost.
  • They tried to prevent expansion of health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but they lost.
  • They tried to halt same-sex marriage, but they lost.

On and on, through recurring cultural battles, progressive principles that began in the Enlightenment have prevailed. For three centuries, liberals generally have won, conservatives lost.

What will be the next front in the culture war? Legal marijuana? Pistol registration? Free college? Whatever comes, it’s probably safe to predict the eventual winner.

Notice that Haught fails to distinguish between classical liberalism and modern liberalism. Almost to the extent of Hobbes vs. Locke, the two kinds of liberals are worlds apart regarding the role of the state. Modern liberals, or self-described “progressives,” tend to believe, like Hobbes, that the state must regulate our lives to virtually any extent it deems necessary, for our own good. The state, therefore, must possess whatever powers are necessary for it to carry out its open-ended leviathan-esque mission. Classical liberals were aligned with Locke. One might call this equivocation liberal laundering.

Keep in mind that “liberal” derives from liberty. What is liberty?

The Enlightenment represents the embodiment of reason and its political corollaries, individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government. Rights are guarantees to freedom of action in a social context, not an automatic claim to material goods that others must be forced to provide, or a license to force others to deal with you. As Locke and the Founding Fathers understood, rights supercede democracy, or the will of the majority. Enlightenment’s intellectual leaders were not primarily democrats. They were primarily republicans, because they understood that democracy unconstrained by constitutional protections of individual rights is just another form of tyranny. As Locke, the discoverer of individual rights, understood, the consent of the governed does not extend to an electoral majority granting to the government the power to violate individual rights, which are inalienable. A rights-protecting government is an instrument of liberation. True liberals support these values and would never advocate socialist or regulatory welfare state programs, which violate the rights of individuals to act on their own reasoned judgement. Rights protect liberty. Liberty means freedom from coercive interference from other humans beings, including human beings in their capacity as government officials. Liberals protect liberty.

Modern so-called “liberals” are not liberals at all in economic matters. Quite the opposite. They are anti-liberals. In an ever-expanding circle encompassing more and more of the economic sphere, modern liberals are abandoning Enlightenment principles of limited government and personal freedoms and regressing toward Leviathan.

How does one reconcile Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, the Food Stamp program, and other forced redistributionist programs with liberal Enlightenment principles? One can’t. These are not classical liberal programs, but regressions to the pre-Enlightenment statism that held the individual as the subject of the rulers. Where is the protection for the individual’s right to use his money and property as he sees fit? Where is the Enlightenment justification for forced wealth redistribution? That these programs are instituted by elected government officials? But the Enlightenment holds that voters have no more right to authorize these programs than they have to pick up a gun and rob their neighbors directly.

On unions, where is the liberalism in government-backed unionism; i.e, legally forcing companies to deal with unions against their will, or workers being forced into unions against their will? It’s not about outlawing unions. It’s about the Enlightenment principle of freedom of association. Willing workers have a right to form a union and make offers to employers. And employers have a right to decide for themselves whether to contract—i.e., associate—with the union. An enlightened government neither outlaws unions nor outlaws companies’ rights not to recognize the union. No one ever advocated outlawing voluntary unions. “They tried to outlaw labor unions” is a euphemism for “they fought against government-enforced labor unions.”

Haught correctly observes that the Enlightenment embodies the principle that rights’ purpose is to “protect each person from government and the tyranny of the majority”—and then proceeds to list government programs that contradict that principle! This contradiction is consistent with his Hobbes-Locke equivocation—and with the schizophrenic nature of today’s liberal-conservative divide.

Modern liberals are much closer to Enlightenment liberty on some social issues; e.g., gay marriage, abortion, birth control, and prayer in public school (church-state separation). Conservatives are kind of the mirror image of modern liberals. Modern liberals are primarily economic authoritarians. Conservatives are primarily social authoritarians.

From a liberty standpoint, Haught’s list makes no sense, combining as it does both victories and defeats for Enlightenment liberty. Haught’s list seems plausible, however, if you fail to distinguish between Hobbes and Locke, and between classical and modern liberals. Haught’s double equivocation is designed to smuggle in the statist economic agenda of today’s Left under cover real victories for Enlightenment liberty. Abolish slavery or recognize gay marriage? That’s Lockean Enlightenment. Institute Social Security or “free” college? That’s Hobbesian “Enlightenment,” even though the first advances individual rights and the second shreds rights. Everything modern liberals choose to do, in Haught’s fraudulent Enlightenment worldview, is a victory for Enlightenment. Any resistance to modern progressivism is reactionary conservatism. Either way, the modern Left wins. Haught both eats and has his cake. Anything in the modern liberals’ agenda, no matter how reactionary, gets laundered into a victory for the Enlightenment!

Don’t be fooled by it. Having mashed together Hobbes/modern liberalism and Locke/classical liberalism, it becomes clear why Haught snuck the unabashed authoritarian Hobbes into the Enlightenment framework:

While modern liberals can be applauded and supported in areas where they genuinely advance individual rights, such as regarding the decriminalization of abortion and defending church-state separation, it’s important to keep this in mind: Social liberty is less of a positive force for liberty than economic authoritarianism is a danger to liberty. The modern liberals’ pro-Enlightenment social strain won’t save America from tyranny. Why? Because political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom. Economics is the field of production and trade—the lifeblood of human survival. Once the government has a stranglehold on the individual’s means of supporting his life, all other freedoms become hollow.  

The list of “Enlightenment wins” conflates genuine Enlightenment principles—i.e., liberty—with anti-Enlightenment reaction—i.e., a return to government as master and oppressor. How does one reconcile first restoring liberty to slaves to run their own lives, with advocating the seizure of his money to finance other people’s retirements, healthcare, education, or unemployment compensation? Replacing one form of involuntary servitude with another does not belong on a list of Enlightenment progress.

Here’s how I would amend the list:

Enlightenment wins:

  • The abolition of slavery
  • Women’s suffrage
  • Freedom to use birth control
  • Freedom of association, including the right to form unions
  • Ending “blue” laws
  • Legalization of alcoholic beverages
  • Repeal of Jim Crow, Separate but Equal, and other government-enforced segregation
  • Banning prayer in government schools
  • Abolition of sodomy and other anti-gay laws
  • Establishing equal protection of individual rights, properly defined, under the law
  • Legalization of pornagraphic free speech
  • Legalization of abortion
  • Legalization of liquor clubs and lotteries
  • Marriage equality
  • Other genuine individual rights along with laws to protect them.

Enlightenment Retreats:

  • Establishment of Social Security
  • Establishment of “public” K-12 government schooling
  • Government-enforced unionism (e.g. the Wagner Act, collective bargaining “rights”)
  • Government-enforced unemployment compensation
  • Establishment of Medicare and Medicaid
  • Establishment of the Food Stamp and myriad other forced redistributionist “social safety net” programs
  • The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare)
  • Other “progressive/liberal” economic authoritarian initiatives like government-backed student college loans and grants, mandatory paid sick leave, minimum wage laws, et al.
  • Establishment of the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies is another major enlightenment retreat.

Don’t be fooled by the author’s co-mingled listing of pro- and anti-Enlightenment pronouncements. The Enlightenment promise of the inalienable rights to life, liberty, justice, property, and the pursuit of happiness for the individual is facing a terrible reversal at the hands of collectivism, statism, and socialism. The reversal signals the withering of a Lockean America based on respect for individual rights and peaceful coexistence through voluntary trade, and the rise of a Hobbesian America based on collectivistic state domination over the individual.

Related Reading:

Responsibility Depends on Individual Rights

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On TrumpCare’s ‘Cut’ to Medicaid

On TrumpCare’s ‘Cut’ to Medicaid

President Donald Trump and Gov. Chris Christie both promised to do absolutely everything in their power to fight the opioid epidemic.
"You cannot let people die on the street, OK?" Trump said in a February 2016 town hall. "The problem is that everybody thinks that you people, as Republicans, hate the concept of taking care of people that are really, really sick and are gonna die. We gotta take care of people that can't take care of themselves."
He repeated that promise after he was elected, as did Christie, who vowed to devote the remainder of his term as governor to the anti-opioid cause.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

So what’s the problem? Trump and Christie are a couple of welfare statists—kindred spirits of the Star-Ledger and the Democrats. They have no problem with forcing other people to pay for their idea of “taking care of people.”

They’re just not as extreme as their more Leftist comrades would like.

TrumpCare (ObamaCare without Obama) will preserve the Medicaid program in its immoral forced wealth redistribution form. The problem is, the Left welfare statists are so wedded to government handouts and hateful of productive people that they can’t stomach any suggestion of any cuts to any redistribution program. Trump merely proposes to “cut”—which usually means to reduce the growth rate of (all of these welfare state systems automatically grow each year)—Medicaid and hand the money to the states, so they can prioritize their Medicaid spending within some semblance of budgetary restraint like any productive household has to do.

What’s wrong with that? Plenty, according to those who have never given a thought to those who are forced to foot the bill. TrumpCare will simply roll back some tax and spending increases put in by ObamaCare. But increases are always good. “Cuts” are always bad. No matter what. You have no right to what you earn. But the sky’s the limit on taking others’ earnings if you “need” it. “More people on the dole—the more the better.” That’s the more consistent Left’s mantra.

Related Reading:

Don’t Blame Republicans for Failure to Repeal Obamacare—Harry Binswanger for The Objective Standard