Friday, February 26, 2010

Your 401(k) - Obama’s Next Tarket

I knew that diligent, responsible savers would eventually be in the crosshairs of government officials desperate to “save” Social Security, but I never thought the attack would be so brazen.

Americans have a lot of money invested in defined-contribution savings plans such as 401ks, IRAs, and the like. A number of years ago, in the name of making the system "solvent", the politicians began talking about “means testing” to determine Social Security benefits. What this would amount to in plain English is that if you have substantial savings and/or other sources of income such as a defined-benefit pension that the government deems sufficient for your retirement needs, your SS benefits will be adjusted – i.e., cut – accordingly. The current benefits are calculated exclusively on taxes paid in, regardless of economic standing. Under “means-testing”, to put it another way, the responsibly frugal are to be sacrificed to the immediate-gratification wastrels who are rewarded with full benefits.

That idea has yet to go anywhere, but now there has emerged a much bigger threat. This latest Obama scheme really caught me by surprise for its brazenness, even though it is consistent with the Administration’s ideology. The plan is to “annuitize” the nation’s 401(k), and by implication all defined-contribution, individual retirement savings plans. As Newt Gingrich explains it:

“In plain English, the idea is for the government to take your retirement savings in return for a promise to pay you some monthly benefit in your retirement years.

“They will tell you that you are ‘investing’ your money in U.S. Treasury bonds. But they will use your money immediately to pay for their unprecedented trillion-dollar budget deficits, leaving nothing to back up their political promises, just as they have raided the Social Security trust funds.”

Yes, the politicians want to take your self-directed, self-financed savings, put it into government bonds, and in return pay you what they want to pay you when you retire (remember “means-testing”). Mr. Gingrich’s article is aptly entitled Class Warfare’s Next Target: 401(k) Savings.

In another op-ed, Paul Hsieh discusses the impetus behind the scheme:

“As the U.S. Social Security system moves ever closer to bankruptcy, the billions of dollars Americans have saved in their private retirement accounts will become an increasingly tempting target for our politicians.

“A government raid on private retirement funds wouldn’t necessarily take the form of outright confiscation.

“But regardless of the precise method employed, the basic principle would be the same: Your money would no longer be your money. Instead, the government would claim the right to redistribute your wealth to pay for others’ retirement on the grounds that they needed it more. In essence, the government would be implementing the Marxist principle: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.’ ”

Or: From each according to his level of personal responsibility, to each according to his lack of it.

As both writers point out, Obama’s plan is promoted as voluntary. And as both writers warn, don’t believe it. The Department of Labor and the Treasury have formally called for public comments on this pending scheme, which means they are moving forward with it. Tyler Durden exposes these little gems buried in the government’s official public release:

The Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury (the "Agencies") are currently reviewing the rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the plan qualification rules under the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to determine whether, and, if so, how, the Agencies could or should enhance, by regulation or otherwise, the retirement security of participants in employer-sponsored retirement plans and in individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) by facilitating access to, and use of, lifetime income or other arrangements designed to provide a lifetime stream of income after retirement.

13. Should some form of lifetime income distribution option be required for defined contribution plans (in addition to money purchase pension plans)? If so, should that option be the default distribution option, and should it apply to the entire account balance? (Emphasis his)

“Could or should”, “regulation or otherwise”, “required”, “requirement”, “default option”? Those terms imply something entirely different from “voluntary” – and they are part of the language of the official statement!

As I pointed out above, don’t believe the political rhetoric. In classic Obama doublespeak, the plan is being trumpeted as voluntary, even as they lay the groundwork for mandatory participation (see ObamaCare).

Pay-as-you-go, government-guaranteed, government-run retirement plans, such as our own Social Security system, have been a monumental failure everywhere– a failure that is becoming ever more obvious. Now, rather than privatize and phase out the failed scheme, the politicians want to spread that failure across private savings – in the name of “social justice”. “When your in a hole, keep digging”, has never been good financial advice – but that’s your government’s plan.

If and when you lose control of your 401(k), it will be in the cause of bailing out the “needy” who were not responsible enough to plan for their own futures. That’s the classic moral rationalization. That’s not what you will be told. You will be told that the government is only trying to “enhance … the retirement security of participants … in individual retirement arrangements (IRAs)” because, by implication, you are not capable of managing your own affairs – or because someone else isn’t and thus needs your money. Another reason is our politician’s refusal to face reality, coupled with a healthy dose of power-lust. Either way, remember that the victims will be those of you who have planned, and thus already have the option and right to convert your retirement funds into private annuities. The “annuitization” scheme is solely for the benefit of those who don’t have the savings to purchase their own annuities. Those who do don’t need any government plan to “enhance” their “retirement security”.

I strongly urge you to read the referenced articles, especially the Gingrich and Hsieh pieces, as they are well worth reading in their entirety. This is a crucially important issue for all savers - and for America.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pseudo Self-Esteem vs. the Real Thing

“Every act of man’s life has to be willed; the mere act of obtaining or eating his food implies that the person he preserves is worthy of being preserved; every pleasure he seeks to enjoy implies that the person who seeks it is worthy of finding enjoyment. He has no choice about his need of self-esteem, his only choice is the standard by which to gauge it.”The Ayn Rand Lexicon

The standard by which to gauge one’s self-worth in today’s culture is a perversion, and the cause of so much self-destructive behavior. Consider this letter-to-the-editor published in an October, 2009, edition of the New Jersey Star-Ledger (Self-esteem overrated, 4th letter down). Bill Noren writes, in part:

“And what is it about self-esteem that so fascinates those in academia? How much more self-esteem, moxie, chutzpah do these kids need? They all get trophies in sports just for showing up; their MySpace and Facebook pages are monuments to self-overindulgence, and to top it off they can barely navigate though life’s trials because we keep telling them how great they are. Self-esteem is over-rated. Fact: Studies show criminals enjoy a high opinion of themselves.”

Mr. Noren attacks self-esteem on three fronts … or does he? Let’s analyze each point.

 “[The kids] all get trophies in sports just for showing up.”

This egalitarian notion is a self-esteem destroyer. Divorcing rewards from personal achievement is specifically designed to stifle the talented, the motivated, and the intelligent. It sends a signal – we’re all robotically equal, regardless of ability, character, or effort. Since the building of self-esteem is an arduous process of personal goal-setting followed by achieving and linked to pride, the child who receives the accolades of others “just for showing up” is a victim of injustice. His budding sense of self is undercut, as he is encouraged to look to others as the source of a pseudo-self esteem.

The thinking child, to the extent that he can grasp the proper concepts, even subconsciously, will recognize the phoniness of this whole charade of granting recognition for non-achievement. Undoubtedly, many well-intentioned adults buy into this preposterous notion of self-esteem. But the academic purveyors of this nonsense are not innocent. Their goal is not some twisted method of building self-esteem, but is much more insidious:

“Kill man’s sense of values”, rails Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead. “Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. … Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept – and you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection. … Enshrine mediocrity – and the shrines are razed.” (Page 665)

Such are the real motives behind what “so fascinates those in academia” – to knock down, not to build up. The end result is to discredit actual self-esteem in the minds of the Bill Noren’s of the world.

No child’s self esteem will be crippled by isolated incidents of the above example, in a household that understands proper educational and child-rearing methods. But, while Mr. Noren is rightfully appalled by this practice, his focus on self-esteem is badly misplaced.

 “[Kids] MySpace and Facebook pages are monuments to self-overindulgence…”

This is vague, but we’ll assume for argument’s sake that Mr. Noren’s “overindulgence” refers to kids trying to outdo each other in impressing others. But the show-off is not an egoist. Self-esteem is not about impressing others, which means the evaluations of other people is the yardstick by which one measures one’s own sense of self-worth. Again we see an example of the judgement’s of others taking precedence in the person’s mind over objective reality and his own assessment of it.

 “Fact:” writes Mr. Noren, “Studies show criminals enjoy a high opinion of themselves.”

Really? By what standard? Are power-lust or greed for the unearned evidence of “a high opinion of themselves” … i.e., self-esteem? Or are they symptomatic of the opposite – a profound self-loathing bred by a helpless inability to cope with reality.

In fact, the criminal is the ultimate example of the utterly selfless human being. He is the most completely dependent type of person. He exists solely by the efforts of others. His “high opinion” of himself derives through the focus on others, whom he must defraud, rob, and murder in order to survive. He is a parasite, both materially and spiritually. He does not think for himself. He thinks through others, in the form of determining what values they have produced so he can take them by force. He does not live by his own effort, but by the efforts of others. He does not live by his own thinking, but by the thinking of others (unless planning a robbery can be considered thinking for oneself). He produces nothing. He lives through and by others. This is true whether he is a petty thief burglarizing houses or the most brutal type of dictator who murders and enslaves the rest of his countrymen. The dictator doesn’t crave unearned material wealth, so much as unearned spiritual wealth – the “prestige” of being the “champion” of some utopian vision.

High opinion of themselves? Apparently no one – neither Mr. Noren nor the creators of the alleged studies – bothered to define just what “high” means. It certainly doesn’t pertain to self-esteem, which obviously isn’t possible to someone without any sense of self. The mindset of a person of self-esteem is, in fact, the opposite of a criminal:

“Self-esteem is reliance on one’s power to think. It cannot be replaced by one’s power to deceive. The self-confidence of a scientist and the self-confidence of a con man are not interchangeable states, and do not come from the same psychological universe. The success of a man who deals with reality augments his self-confidence. The success of a con man augments his panic.” (Lexicon)

Egoism (properly understood) and self-esteem are corollaries. The egoist has no need or desire to achieve his goals except by his own mind and effort, which he is confident of. Others are not objects of exploitation but equals. They are potential trading partners, whether in the material or spiritual realms. A person of self-esteem and self-respect is naturally inclined to grant to others his own esteem and respect until and unless they prove themselves unworthy in his own judgement. Can you see the criminal fitting that description?

All three examples cited by Mr. Noren do not refer to “problems” of self-esteem but rather an attempt to fill a void that real self-esteem should have filled, but didn’t. He is attacking a straw man, psuedo self-esteem. A person whose “instinct” is to live through the minds and achievements of others, as described by these three examples of Mr. Noren’s, has lost or never attained self esteem in the first place.

The person who thinks before pronouncing the words “I know because it’s the truth” is a person of self-esteem (regardless of any errors in his thinking). The person who looks over his shoulder at what others are thinking (whether consciously or not) before pronouncing those words, does not.

Of course, self-esteem does not mean the opinions of others are meaningless or unimportant. It does mean that their opinions do not supercede one’s own judgement.

Self-esteem also does not mean others’ recognition of your achievements or character strengths is unimportant. The rational esteem of people whom one respects is a human need. Loneliness need not be a corollary of self-esteem. What it does mean is that others’ praise is not treated as an automatic fact. One judges one’s own worth – or the value of one’s achievements – according to one’s own estimation relative to objective criteria. One knows one is good, regardless of others’ opinions.

But the thoughts of others can contribute to one’s understanding of reality as they pertain to one’s strengths, thus contributing to one’s own self-esteem. One can certainly argue that praise for another is a way of helping him build self-esteem, particularly where a small child is concerned. In the case of a child, who is just beginning to grasp a healthy sense of self, one can look at praise as a kind of “priming the pump” – instilling in him the sense of his own value and that he is capable of accomplishment. But one has to be very careful here. The praise must be conditional and firmly linked to the other person’s self-generated accomplishments, including and especially where a small child is concerned. At any age, praise can become a substitute for true self-esteem – a kind of drug that hooks a person on others’ approval as the source of satisfaction over his accomplishments, such as they are. Bill Noren’s three examples are not self-esteem builders or indicative of self-esteem, but in fact makes self-esteem impossible by linking the person’s sense of self-worth not to any actual accomplishment of his own but to the approval (or exploitation) of others.

Mr. Noren wonders “what is it about self-esteem that so fascinates those in academia?” Unwittingly, he centers on a key. Who is it that dominates the educational establishment? – the Leftist-Progressive-John Dewey axis.

To make events, especially unexpected events, intelligible, one needs to be able to zero in on the essentials of the concrete issues involved. People who are perplexed by the recent financial turmoil, for example, are so because of a basic lack of understanding of political, economic, and philosophical/moral principles. Such understanding derives from proper conceptual mind training – the ability to think abstractly, which is in fact the uniquely human mode of cognition – such as that provided by The Montessori Method of early childhood education. This power of abstraction is key to acquiring the self-confidence in one’s ability to cope with reality, and the sense that oneself is worth the effort. This is the essence of self-esteem. It is this self-confidence that the Progressive Educators seek to destroy (See Ayn Rand’s The Comprachicos). The person who has surrendered his own judgement to that of others and is thus mystified by the world around him, seeking self-worth through others, is perfect fodder for turning to the slogans of government know-it-alls to make things “intelligible”. How is he to know otherwise? He is ripe for any statist demagogue who rises to tell him that his self-worth is tied to the approval of the community or society or the nation by virtue of his service to it – which means, of course, the state. The person of true self-esteem – the person who thinks for and values himself – will never willingly submit to domination by others.

Mr. Noren declares that today’s kids “can barely navigate though life’s trials because we keep telling them how great they are”. There is certainly a lot of truth in that statement, and it should be the tip-off. Such a soul is the goal of today’s “academia”, which seeks to destroy self-esteem in the young. Tell them how great they are, then tell them what they must do to be great. Just listen to Barack Obama or John McCain preach some form of servitude as the path to that greatness. Once they have served others and found that it does not serve their own needs, what do they do then? Depend on the servitude of others? Who might those others be – politicians and government bureaucrats?

Self-esteem is the vital quality needed to “navigate though life’s trials” … i.e., achieve an independent state of existence. That so many can’t, is my proof of the falsehood of Bill Noren’s argument – that self-esteem is “overrated”.

In fact, the problem is that self-esteem is too poorly understood – and underrated.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Are Media Corporations Next?

My last post discussed the fallacy of separating the individual’s right to free speech from his right to cooperatively exercise those same rights in group form.

But there is a little more to be said on the subject. Star-Ledger Guest Columnist Michael Patrick Carroll has contributed some valuable insight on the subject in his op-ed Left's objections to Supreme Court are out of order. He writes:

“Consider the delicious irony of Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran, writing in a corporate publication devoted to shaping public opinion and affecting election results, complaining about . . . corporations attempting [to] shape public opinion and affect election results.

“Apparently, when The Star-Ledger writes an editorial endorsing a candidate, that’s fine. But let Exxon do that same thing and that ‘. . . inflicts wounds on our democracy.’ ”

Yes, the Left is hypocritical. But one need only look south, to Hugo Chavez’s developing dictatorship, to see the dangerous game that the Leftist corporate media is flirting with here. In Venezuela, the Chavez regime is crushing free speech on basically the same grounds as the Star-Ledger wants to crush Exxon’s. Only in Venezuela, it’s the “corporate media” that’s the enemy. Think Obama’s war on Fox. Once private associations of individuals of any kind are stripped of their “rights”, government censorship and control of the dissemination of information and ideas is only a matter of time.

When the Star-Ledger attacks the freedom of “special interests”, it promotes its own long-term destruction ... and with it our First Amendment and our freedom. The Editors should heed the lessons of Venezuela.

Another salient point that Mr. Carroll makes concerns the Left’s obsession with legal precedent. He writes:

“Allegedly lamenting the reversal of precedent, leftists object that judicial nominees, like Samuel Alito, promised to be ‘modest,’ and that upsetting statutes and rejecting precedent betrays that promise.”

But the Left’s hypocrisy knows no bounds:

“Leftists adhere to a constitutional Brezhnev doctrine: if it went our way once, it’s settled and immutable precedent. If it didn’t, the court should correct it and precedent be damned.”

Mr. Carroll cites two cases, Brown vs. Board of Education and Roe vs. Wade, in which established precedent was overturned (in these particular cases rightly, in my opinion). Each time, the Left loved it.

Of course, the phenomenon of legal precedent has been one of the most powerful instruments for bringing about in America what Glenn Beck recently referred to as “evolutionary Marxism” – the step-by-step process by which America’s constitution and Founding principles are being eroded and overturned. The Left uses the conservative obsession against the “activist judiciary” to preserve each step, by raging against conservative judges who dare make the “activist” decision of overturning any precedent. In this way, the Left can preserve the socialist ground they have captured through the courts, while disarming and usually silencing the Right as hypocrites.

To be fair, judicial activism (as I understand it) refers to judges who distort constitutional principles, such as finding justification for welfare state programs in the “general welfare” clause. Overturning a clearly unconstitutional law or legal precedent such as McCain-Feingold does not constitute activism, on my understanding, because it restores First Amendment protections that were lost by previous (activist) decisions. As Mr. Carroll puts it:

“There is nothing the least bit ‘modest’ in blindly refusing to reconsider flawed precedent or acceding to unconstitutional government policy. Indeed, doing so constitutes gross judicial malpractice.”

But all of the flawed precedents that have led to today’s rampant statism are blindly protected by Leftist voices like the Star-Ledger, even at the potential cost of their own independent ability to stand up for the Leftist causes they so cherish.

Monday, February 8, 2010

In Defense of Special Interests - and the Constitution

The recent Supreme Court decision demolishing a key provision of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform law has exposed a disturbing lack of understanding regarding the First Amendment and of the nature of rights in general. The New York Times reports:

“[A] bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections. … Though the decision does not directly address them, its logic also applies to the labor unions that are often at political odds with big business.

“President Obama called it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

The New Jersey Star-Ledger chimed in with:

“More than a century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt saw what today’s court is blind to — that unleashing corporations to drench our political campaigns in special interest money will drown out the voice of regular citizens.”

Leaving aside the ambiguity of the idea that the Court overturned TR’s Tillman Act of 1907, both the Star-Ledger and the president have struck at the very heart of America’s key Founding principle. They have done this by attempting to distinguish between voluntary economic organizations and “everyday Americans” or “regular citizens”.

The idea that the government can choose which people rights apply to and which people they don’t, and in what manner, is fundamentally at odds with our most basic ideal – the doctrine of equal, unalienable individual rights. Corporations and labor unions (including “big oil, Wall Street banks, [and] health insurance companies”) represent specific types of legal contractual arrangements under which a number of individuals agree to associate for a specific purpose[s]. But the “rights” of corporations and unions are derived from the rights of the shareholders and members, respectively. Thus, to violate the rights of corporations and unions is to violate the rights of individuals. Groups, as such, have no rights. The Majority opinion apparently grasped this principle:

“If the First Amendment has any force,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, which included the four members of the court’s conservative wing, “it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” (Emphasis added.)

It must be remembered that a crucial phrase in the First Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to form lobbies (special interests). That phrase guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” A “peaceable assembly” is a pressure group, special interest, lobby, or any group by any other name one wants to ascribe to it, including corporations and unions.

The key attribute of individual rights as understood by the Founders, and embedded in our Founding documents, is the concept of unalienability. This means that rights are inseparable from the individual – every individual. They are an endowment from the “Creator” (whether understood to be God or Nature), based on man’s nature as a rational being, and are thus held equally and at all times by each individual as an attribute of his birth. A person can forfeit his rights only as a consequence of violating the same rights of others, as in the case of a criminal. But no one, whether acting as a private citizen or as a government representative, may arbitrarily or unilaterally rescind anyone’s rights, nor grant special rights to some but not to others. When government does act in this fashion, it has obliterated the concept of rights by declaring that rights are not unalienable: which means, it has negated everyone’s individual rights.

Rights are the exclusive attribute of individual human beings, and only individual human beings. Rights do not belong to groups of any kind … not society, the tribe, the family, the corporation, nor the union. In a series of three essays, philosopher Ayn Rand lays out the nature of rights and the governments’ role in relation to those rights. In an in depth discussion of the nature of rights as they relate to groups, entitled Collectivized “Rights”, she explains:

“Any group or ‘collective,’ large or small, is only a number of individuals. A group can have no rights other than the rights of its individual members. In a free society, the ‘rights’ of any group are derived from the rights of its members through their voluntary, individual choice and contractual agreement, and are merely the application of these individual rights to a specific undertaking. Every legitimate group undertaking is based on the participants’ right of free association and free trade.

“A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations.”
(Emphasis added.)

So, when the Star-Ledger distinguishes the rights of corporations (and unions) from the rights of “regular citizens”, it must be remembered that those corporate rights derive from those very same “regular” citizens the Editors presume to champion. The Editors raise a bogus argument:

“What if members of a union, or shareholders of a company, disagree with the political cause that’s being pushed?”

Unions and corporations are voluntary associations among people. The shareholders and/or rank-and-file members elect their respective officers. They determine the by-laws. If they don’t like the political advocacy policies of their own officers, who presumably are acting in the best interests of their organization, they can agitate for change, or sell their shares or quit the union. They can also require the officers to issue a simple disclaimer, such as: “The preceding message does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the shareholders.” In any event, the government has no business interfering in the internal affairs of unions and corporations where no rights violations have taken place.

But what of the argument that unfettered political spending by special interests with plenty of cash will “corrupt democracy” or gain undue “influence” over the legislative process? The special interest, or pressure group, game is indeed a repulsive one. But the special interests are a creation of a government that has gained massive control over all aspects of our economic lives.

Former Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Gary S. Stein, offers his view of what the essential issue is in this case, called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:

“At its essence, the court’s 176 pages of opinions turned on that disagreement between the majority and the dissenters on whether unlimited corporate spending on federal elections could lead to corruption or an appearance of corruption, which was the decisive legal issue in the case. On that critical question, the argument of the court’s conservative majority appears to be untenable.

“It is a matter of common knowledge that, even without the Citizens United decision, corporations and their lobbyists have exerted an enormous and destabilizing influence over elected officials, influence clearly sufficient to qualify as corruption or its appearance.”

Notice the perverse inversion here. Elected officials, whose actions are backed by the government’s unique powers of legalized physical force, do not represent “an enormous and destabilizing influence”. The lobbyists, whose private corporate (or union or special interest) clients have no such coercive powers, are to be forbidden from using their First Amendment rights, because it does constitute “an enormous and destabilizing influence”. The political class, argues Mr. Stein, should have free reign to trample the rights of private citizens without having to answer to the people most directly affected by their exercise of the arbitrary regulatory power of the state – except where allowed by the political class. Private lobbying automatically constitutes “influence clearly sufficient to qualify as corruption or its appearance”, but not the actions of “elected officials” whose decisions coercively interfere with the private citizen’s right to act on his own judgement in his own best interest.

Notice how cheaply our free speech rights are to be abandoned - that your outspoken voice could lead to corruption or an appearance of corruption. That your voice may come in the form of a voluntary group association that the government deems inappropriate or not in its “compelling interest” does not change the basic premise. The same argument could be used to restrict any private action. Driving your car could lead to the violation of speeding laws or an appearance that you are heading for a convenience store to rob. Silly comparison, you say? Not in principle. And not when measured against the distinction lost on the entire debate – the difference between private action and government action.

To be sure, there is enormous corruption inherent in a mixed economy, where the coercive floodgates of government power are open to anyone or any group that happens to gain short-term control of the legislative apparatus. But whether established for defensive or predatory reasons, the private lobbies are the effect. The cause of the corruption is the government’s power to initiate (or threaten the use of) physical force against the private sector; i.e., to redistribute wealth, shackle some companies or industries under regulations while favoring others with subsidies and loan guarantees, establish a broad-based income tax and then use it as a tool to manipulate private behavior, etc.

Justice Stein and others who oppose the free speech rights of “special interests” have placed themselves in the position of defending the power of the state against the people it allegedly “serves”. In effect, they are advocating the establishment of an imperial ruling political class unaccountable to those whom they rule.

But it’s only the powerful big money interests that they oppose, because they “will drown out the voice of regular citizens”. The right to free speech does not mean someone else must automatically finance your speech. It simply means you are free to speak at your own expense. The fact that some group of individuals has the financial means to speak up is not an infringement upon those who don’t. Others are still free to form their own associations for that purpose, if they are so motivated. But according to the Star-Ledger’s logic, if you don’t have the resources to finance your ability to “be heard”, your rights should be protected. But if you manage to acquire a more prominent voice at your own expense, you are “corrupting democracy”. What this perverse line of thought means is if you don’t have the means or the motivation to speak out, you are free to do so. If you do, you don’t. Restricting the free speech rights of private associations of individuals amounts to penalizing those who exercise their rights because they exercise them.

Today we have a mixed economy … a mixture of freedom and government controls. That mixture is lethal to true free enterprise. Freedom means the abolition of physical force from human affairs. To be free from the use of physical force by others is what the “free” in free market means. Put another way, in the private sphere, all human associations are voluntary and thus must be based upon rational persuasion, reason and logic. Government, on the other hand, is the exclusive domain of legalized physical force. It is the only institution in any society that can legally compel conformance to its decisions and policies, unlike any private entity such as corporation and unions. It and it alone has the force of law behind its every activity. (It is for this reason that a proper constitution, based upon the right philosophical principles, is vital to protect society from government.) When government acquires powers beyond its legitimate functions, the protection of individual rights (as it does in a mixed economy), special interests will logically arise to gain access to its powers. After all, a government, like a corporation, is a legal instrument to govern the activities of the individuals who comprise it. But unlike the officers of a fully private corporation, the government official has a gun … literally. All the private corporation can do, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, is to convince the government official to make decisions that benefit (or protect) its interests. It can not act coercively on its own.

Far from “powerful private interests” corrupting government, it is exactly the other way around. Government interference is corrupting the economy. Rational persuasion, the ruling principle of free markets, cannot compete with legalized coercion, the principle of tyranny. When politicians and government bureaucrats acquired the power to control the economic affairs of private individuals and associations, the people had no choice but to get involved in the task of influencing the government officials who directly affect their economic well being. That is their unalienable right. Whether a lobby exists to aggressively seek special government favors or defend against special interest predators doesn’t really matter. Does this lead to corruption? It can and does. But that is the nature of a mixed economy, which has been defined -quite accurately, I believe - as follows:

“A mixed economy is rule by pressure groups. It is an amoral, institutionalized civil war of special interests and lobbies, all fighting to seize a momentary control of the legislative machinery, to extort some special privilege at one another’s expense by an act of government—i.e., by force.”

Special interest politics is a creation of government. Nobody likes the special interest game, but this is a consequence of the growing regulatory powers of government. Restricting in any way the unalienable rights of any of the people to influence the decisions of the politicians and bureaucrats who affect our lives is un-American and puts us on the path to creating an imperial ruling political class.

The First Amendment is a crucial and indispensable tool that a free society has to impose accountability on the government. As can be seen in this case, the First Amendment is incompatible with the regulatory welfare state. Arbitrary government power (a government of men, not of laws), to be maintained, needs protection from the people, sooner or later. And sooner or later, this country is going to have to move toward laissez-faire, or repeal the First Amendment on the way toward dictatorship. That is the ultimate choice. The only way to reduce the influence of special interests while preserving liberty is to reduce the growing regulatory state. Trashing our First Amendment free speech rights in order to protect the politicians and bureaucratic regulators from the constituents that they allegedly “serve” is the path to tyranny.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Another Anti-Democrat "Revolt"

The Massachusetts GOP Senate upset, following the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections, signaled a possible Republican electoral tsunami in November. More evidence that the anti-Democrat trend is nationwide and accelerating comes from Pennsylvania, where another Democratic incumbent is in serious trouble. In her NY Post op-ed entitled Rising revolt in Pennsylvania, Abby Wisse Schachter reports:

“Pat Toomey, the presumptive GOP nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania…now leads Sen. Arlen Specter 45 percent to 31 percent among likely voters in the latest Frank & Marshall College poll.

“Specter, who switched parties last year for fear of losing a Republican primary to Toomey, still has to finish off a challenger from the left, Rep. Joe Sestak, in the May 18 Democratic primary. Meanwhile, as the nation turns sour on the Obama agenda that Specter has helped enact, Toomey's been charging up -- six months ago, he was down eight points.”

Significantly, despite former Senator Rick Santorum’s advice to “emphasize jobs first and foremost”, “the economy and jobs actually comes in a close second behind health care as the top issue for voters in the F&M poll -- which is just fine with Toomey, because he's been railing against the Democratic approach for months.” Obama, whose approval rating in Pennsylvania has plummeted from 55% to 38% in just one year, has made healthcare his number one domestic priority. That priority is now a millstone around the necks of Democrats nationwide, where even their “safe” seats are under assault.

This piece of good GOP news must be tempered by continuing signs that the Republicans still don’t get it:

“[Toomey’s] “been railing against the Democratic approach for months.

“One of his regular lines is a question: "Why is it you can buy car insurance from a little green lizard, but you can't buy health insurance from a guy in Ohio?" He wants to see health insurers compete across state lines, along with other modest reforms to give people more options than under the current system.”

“Modest reforms” – read “unprincipled” – is exactly the wrong prescription. This is not to say that interstate competition in health insurance would not be a major step in the right direction. But the current system is riddled with government interference, which is the cause of all of the problems that the Democrats use to justify their socialist schemes. The GOP needs a comprehensive plan that explicitly proclaims the right (and personal responsibility) of each individual to take control of his healthcare needs and dollars, and rejects the notion of a government role in guaranteeing “access” to health insurance and/or healthcare to everyone.

Promoting “free market” reforms as a path to universal coverage is a socialist premise that is doomed to fail, and keep the country on the incremental path to government control of medicine. The problems cited by the Democrats are real. Soaring medical costs, the “pre-existing condition” problem, lack of competition among health insurers, and other problems can all be traced back to government policy. They can only be attacked through comprehensive reform that features a roll-back of government intervention and essentializes the principle of personal responsibility and control, the exact opposite of ObamaCare.

The 1994 Republican Revolution crashed and burned in the mountains of George W. Bush’s statist “compassionate conservatism”. The result was expanded welfare state government. Another such debacle is certain if the Republicans don’t have the courage to take a firm ideological stand for individual rights.