Saturday, March 27, 2010

The "Violence" of the Dems' Health Care Reform

A recent phenomenon has served to concretize and clarify a fundamental issue at work in our culture. David Lightman and William Douglas of McClatchy Newspapers write:

"Law enforcement officials are investigating a series of threats against Democrats in the House of Representatives who backed the recent health care legislation, threats that have lawmakers on edge about potential violence against them both in Washington and back home."

The name of that article is "Words, and now bricks thrown at lawmakers over health care vote".

This behavior has been roundly condemned, including by the Democrats. And the Dems are right to condemn physical violence. But their angst rings hollow in the face of the passage of their health care "reform" bill. That is because ObamaCare and the violence, their words and the bricks, spring from the same root. What is that root?

In Force and Violence: How the Left Blurs Terms, Amit Ghate answers by exposing a common fallacy:

"The fallacy is the equation of violence with force. The error and its consequences are manifest in what the left condemns and condones.

"...under the left’s influence and urging, government now exerts force against its own citizens in myriad and ubiquitous ways. It forcibly takes our tax dollars to fund public schools — leaving us with little choice or means to give our children the education we consider best. It decides which drugs can and can’t be tested; how approved drugs are to be marketed; and which patients, no matter how willing they are to take a risk, qualify for experimental drugs, etc. It regulates commerce and trade in issues ranging from trivial to critical. Just ask any businessman how many arbitrary rules he must heed every single day — under punishment of fine, closure or even jail. Everything from the placement of signs, to interview questions, to campaign contribution limits — even pricing! — is dictated to businessmen.

"So while leftists may recognize the evil of a thug shooting an innocent victim dead, they simultaneously champion laws that prevent a person from buying the life-saving medicine she needs. The pain and suffering leftists cause by unleashing governmental force leaves them unfazed. As long as their victims remain nameless, and the proceedings are carried out behind closed doors (preferably by some bureaucracy or committee to give them 'legitimacy'), the left is happy to use force to advance its agenda.

"Yes it is proper to condemn the initiators of violence. In fact it is morally mandatory because such action represents a tremendous evil. But violence is wrong precisely because it is a species of force. For the left to oppose open violence while promoting every other form of force is more than hypocritical — it’s an unconscionable intellectual crime.

"Whatever its form or specific target, force is evil because it impedes or defeats man’s use of his mind and its products."

The common root shared by ObamaCare and the violence aimed at lawmakers is that they both represent the exercise of force. The equivocation of force solely with its physical manifestation - violence - allows statism to grow unchecked. But you can have force without violence, though not the other way around. The threat of physical violence lies behind the entire edifice of the welfare state and is its hallmark. But the statists don't acknowledge the threat as equivalent to the actual. But the threat of force entails its logical end result - actual physical force. Ultimately, those who break the law will face the physical confiscation of their property and/or physical arrest and incarceration.

The use of force is right and proper in regards to criminals who initiate force against their fellow citizens - either directly as in the case of rape or armed robbery, or indirectly as in the case of financial fraud. The retaliatory use of force is what government's are for, and it is right that the government must have a legal monopoly on the use of such force. It is, in fact, the only reason to have a government.

But what about the case of government-initiated force? That is why we need a constitution: to limit the government from initiating physical force in any of its manifestations. When it does, it is stepping outside of its proper bounds. It is no longer protecting individual rights, but violating them, just as any common criminal does. The difference is, the citizen can fight back against the common criminal, in the form of a government that will arrest and prosecute the perpetrator, and force him to pay restitution to the victim.

But when the citizen's protector, the government, becomes the criminal, the citizen is left legally disarmed. Ultimately, this leaves him no choice but to step outside of the law to seek restitution. Of course, today the citizen is not totally disarmed ... yet. In America, we still have the powerful weapon of free speech, coupled with the right to elect our political leaders. Violence, or rebellion against the government, is not yet the answer.

But never forget that our Founding philosophical document, the Declaration of Independence, sanctions rebellion as a fundamental human right and as a last resort:

"That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security." (Emphasis added)

The welfare statists want to pretend that they are somehow different from the perpetrators of violence. But they are not different, in the essential respect. Their violence is hidden, but nonetheless real. The physical violence should be condemned, for the same reason that ObamaCare should be condemned: Both entail the violation of individual rights. The difference is, the legislative victims of threats have the law to protect them, while the victims of ObamaCare are themselves victims of the law. They are legally disarmed, with no one to protect their rights.

The actions of anti-ObamaCare thugs is a precursor and a glimpse at what the ultimate end of America's current statist direction will look like - violent rebellion. It doesn't have to happen, and it's way too soon to justify this kind of behavior against our politicians. I join in in condemning the violence. But one must be consistent. One must condemn all forms of the initiation of physical force. The Democrats do not, and that is their weakness and their hypocrisy.

Amit Ghate calls for the right approach to the problem cited in the McClatchy article:

"It’s time to reject the notion that only 'violence' is objectionable. Instead, let’s focus on eliminating the initiation of force, whatever its manifestation. Since the principle of individual rights is the principle which banishes force from human relations — let’s reestablish it. In so doing we’ll undo decades of leftist malfeasance."

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Monument to Power-Lust

The passage of ObamaCare by the House of Representatives has all but assured that it will become law. It establishes not only the theoretical framework for totalitarian control of American medicine, but also for federal control of higher education through a last minute amendment nationalizing the government’s student loan program. It is a massive violation of individual rights, including property rights. As a bonus, an attack on academic freedom is thrown in. It has been justified on the altruistic-collectivistic grounds that, as the Star-Ledger puts it, “all Americans have a right to decent health care [because] a great nation cannot leave 47 million of its people out in the cold”.

A “right” to a manmade product such as healthcare means that someone must be forced to pay for it and/or forced to provide it. It establishes the principle of the master/slave relationship enforced by government. The slave is anyone who has achieved financial self-sufficiency or who has acquired the skills and ability to deliver healthcare services. The master is anyone who claims a “need’ for healthcare that he can not or will not pay for. A “right” to healthcare means legalized plunder, enforced at the point of a governmental gun. This is the nature of socialism in all of its incarnations. The historical record on this is unequivocal. Socialism means slavery and the totalitarian state. The degree of a nation’s enslavement is equal to the degree of its socialization. ObamaCare has slid the dial a long way toward totalitarian socialism on America’s steady slide down the slavery meter.

This is what ObamaCare’s supportors are endorsing. Whatever their motives, and in view of socialism’s barbaric historical record, compassion is not one of them.

But under the philosophical nihilism of the Left’s Postmodernism, such concerns as history, facts, cause-and-effect, and logical consequences don’t matter. Reason is impotent and logic is unnecessary. Reality is whatever we wish it to be. What matters is “compassion” for the people left “out in the cold”. But though they may believe their altruistic rhetoric, there's more than meets the eye for the architects of ObamaCare. Altruism, the ethical doctrine that holds that virtue consists of living for others, is window dressing to cover up the deeper motives of those who preach the sacrifice of all to the needs of all. What are the underlying motives? A 1962 essay by America’s philosopher and moral defender, Ayn Rand, offers an answer. In a piece called The Monument Builders published in The Virtue of Selfishness, she writes that power-lust is the motive and is manifested [largely] in “the desire for the unearned”. But, she writes:

“The desire for the unearned has two aspects: the unearned in matter and the unearned in spirit. The desire for the unearned in spirit is the more destructive of the two and the more corrupt. It is a desire for unearned greatness; it is expressed by the foggy murk of the term ‘prestige’.

“The seekers of unearned material benefits are merely financial parasites, moochers, looters or criminals, who are too limited in number and in mind to be a threat to civilization, until and unless they are released and legalized by the seekers of unearned greatness.

“ ‘The public’, ‘the public interest’, ‘service to the public’ are the means, the tools, the swinging pendulums of the power-luster’s self-hypnosis. Since the concept [of ‘the public’] is so conveniently undefinable, its use rests only on any given gang’s ability to proclaim that ‘The public, c’est moi’, and to maintain the claim at the point of a gun.

“There are two ways of claiming that ‘The public, c’est moi’: one is practiced by the crude material parasite who clamors for government handouts in the name of a ‘public’ need and pockets what he has not earned; the other is practiced by his leader, the spiritual parasite, who derives his illusion of ‘greatness’ – like a fence receiving stolen goods – from the power to dispose of that which he has not earned and from the mystic view of himself as the embodied voice of ‘the public’ ”.

“Of the two, the material parasite is psychologically healthier and closer to reality: at least, he eats or wears his loot. But the only source of satisfaction open to the spiritual parasite, his only means to gain ‘prestige’ (apart from giving orders and spreading terror), is … the building of public monuments.”

ObamaCare is the public monument of the spiritual parasites of the Democratic Party.

President Obama and his ObamaCare political sponsors have no material desires. They are the latest batch of a breed that has been the bane of mankind: They are seekers of unearned greatness. They will trample over anyone’s rights and lives, as they proclaim themselves the champions of “the people”.

In the coming months, the Democrats will viciously defend their monument by declaring anyone calling for repeal as a callous enemy of the sick. They will say that a return to the failed “free market” system will mean a return to the days of “discrimination against the sick”, without even defining what that means. They will beat their chests as champions of the helpless little people, who will never again be victimized by insurance industry “abuses” that, whatever its sins, is nonetheless a creature of government.

The shameless exploitation of people with medical problems used as props for the plunder of the wealth of Americans and the enslavement of the medical profession in the run-up to passage will increase exponentially as Democrats seek to defend their monument.

But ObamaCare is not about the sick who can’t afford treatment or the uninsured or insurance industry abuses or the runaway costs or “compassion” or any of the rationalizations of the day offered by the Democrats. It never was.

ObamaCare is about the power and the prestige of Obama and Pelosi and Reid, et-al. If ObamaCare is not repealed and replaced with free market … which means individual rights … reforms, our healthcare freedom will erode at an accelerating pace. But, as Ayn Rand observes, our freedom will be sacrificed “not for ‘the good of mankind’ nor for any ‘noble ideal,’ but for the festering vanity of some sacred brute or some pretentious mediocrity who craved a mantle of unearned ‘greatness’ ”.

ObamaCare is a monument to power-lust.

Remember that as you try to stomach the rhetoric of the Democrats’ defense of their “noble ideal”.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Firefighter, the Arsonist

As we await the outcome of the ObamaCare vote in the House of Representatives, which now appears to have come back from the dead, I thought I might post an update on some of my recent activism in the health care debate.

I posted rebuttal comments on three recent op-eds. My responses are
published below following a brief description of the articles. The responses have some redundancies, but the right arguments can not be made often enough.

The first article is by the NJ Star-Ledger’s aging columnist and former editor John Farmer.

He claims that “Employer-based health care is a thing of the past”.
The only other choice, he claims, is government-based health care:

“In one sense, the question for voters is this: Who can we best trust
to oversee health insurance? The federal government, with its spotty
record for efficiency but whose leaders face the wrath of the voters
if they get it wrong? Or the private insurance bigwigs whose chief
incentive is to increase profits in their own and their shareholders’

The second article is a Star-Ledger editorial entitled “ ‘Takeover’
claim is GOP’s Big Lie”.

“But no one remotely connected with the Obama administration is
suggesting anything like a government takeover of medical care in
America. Yet the defenders of the status quo conjure up a dystopian
nightmare of ‘Obamacare’ with Soviet-style hospitals and drone-like
doctors and with faceless bureaucrats deciding who gets care and who
does not. (How they would be different from insurance company
bureaucrats is a mystery.)”

The third article is by Froma Harrop at RealClearPolitics.

She writes:

"The lights must dim around Google's data-storage centers every time
someone does a search for "government bureaucrat coming between you
and your doctor." Foes of the Democrats' health-reform proposals have
been chanting this on the hour for a year..."

After claiming, with some truth, that private insurance company
bureaucrats already do the same thing, she asks:

"But why has the idea of letting the government do what private
insurers do to save taxpayers money become such a hysterical hot

All three articles have a common denominator. They are examples of
ObamaCare proponents taking the status quo as the given, thus avoiding
the necessity of any analysis of how the government's policies have
created the very problems their "reform" is supposedly designed to
fix. This tactic is vital to their case, because any honest look at
cause and effect would lead to a greatly diminished government role
and more freedom as the logical solution.

Here are my posted comments on each.

To John Farmer

Posted by zemack
March 02, 2010, 8:33PM

We’ve all heard the story of the fireman who starts fires, so that he
can be the first on the scene to “save” lives and property. (We had a
real live one of those living in my neighborhood, some years ago.)
Well, in regard to American health care, the government is that
fireman. All of the problems that ObamaCare allegedly addresses are
government created. And like that fireman, the politicians - Democrats
and many Republicans alike – now rush to fix the problems they created
with massive new government interference into healthcare. The health
insurance market is at the top of the list of government-created

Today’s health insurance industry is a government created monstrosity.
The “power” of the insurance companies derives directly from
government interference into the market. Thanks to the tax and
regulation-imposed employer-based, or third-party-payer, system, the
insurance company works not for the consumer of healthcare, but for
some third party. In other words, the consumer is not the customer.
But that’s not the only problem. Thousands of state-imposed insurance
mandates across the nation– from community rating to guaranteed issue
to benefits – force insurers to tailor their policies to the demands
of political pressure groups rather than market realities, and force
coverages on consumers that they may not want or can afford. These
mandates are nothing more than wealth redistribution masquerading as
“insurance”. The insurance companies are then protected from
competition through interstate trade barriers - imposed by government.

The health insurance industry that ObamaCare supporters love to
demonize is a scapegoat and a straw man, because it is in fact a
political creation. Our fireman proposes to save us from its own
creation! Our “private” health insurance industry is a government
controlled and protected series of state-based cartels operating in a
government-crippled insurance market. Our employer-based system that
Mr. Farmer laments is in the nature of fascism, or back-door
socialism, in which the private ownership is more of a mirage than a

The only practical and moral solution is a free market in health
insurance. Our current system is as far from a free market as one can
imagine short of overt socialized medicine.

A free market is one based on the recognition of individual rights,
which means the sanction of freedom of action. This freedom includes
the rights of patients, insurers, their customers, doctors, medical
products producers, and other healthcare professionals to freely
contract with each other through voluntary trade to mutual advantage.
The government’s role in a free market is limited but vital – to
protect the rights of all concerned, including enforcement of
contracts and prosecution of fraud and breech of contract. Otherwise,
people should be free of governmental coercion, which is what the
“free” in free market means.

Mr. Farmer is right that the employer-based - i.e., third-party-payer
- system of health insurance is unraveling. It was inevitable, and a
bad idea to begin with. But he misses the obvious: Our deteriorating
employer-based health insurance system is a failure of statism, not
freedom. Instead, he simply lauds supporters of totalitarian
healthcare, - excuse me, ObamaCare in all of its guises – as “those
who know something” and writes off opponents as ignorant. But this is
only a evasion, and sets the stage for his monumental booby trap –
that our only choice is between socialism and fascism:

“Who can we best trust to oversee health insurance? The federal
government, with its spotty record for efficiency but whose leaders
face the wrath of the voters if they get it wrong? Or the private
insurance bigwigs whose chief incentive is to increase profits in
their own and their shareholders’ interest?”

The individual citizen who is free to “oversee” his own healthcare and
health insurance needs doesn’t even warrant token consideration!
Interesting, eh?

Mr. Farmer is dead wrong. The choice is not between government-run
healthcare (socialized medicine) and the status quo (quasi government-
run healthcare). The choice is between government-run medicine (in all
of its incarnations) and a free market.

To the Star-Ledger (go to page 3 of the comments section) –

Posted by zemack
March 09, 2010, 10:03PM

The “Big Lie” is an appropriate topic for the Star-Ledger to
editorialize on in regard to healthcare. But it’s not the Republicans
that are employing it. It is the ObamaCare minions, including the
Editors here, who are employing that tactic to its fullest. The real
Big Lie is the claim that the only choice we have is between Obama’s
“reform” scheme and the status quo. But “the defenders of the status
quo” are not entirely accurate either. ObamaCare, the logical
consequence of which really will eventually be “Soviet-style hospitals
and drone-like doctors and with faceless bureaucrats deciding who gets
care and who does not”, is not an outright takeover of healthcare. It
is rather
another step in the decades-long, slow-motion advance toward an
eventual full takeover.

As I’ve been arguing here and elsewhere, the missing ingredients in
the entire Left-framed debate is an examination of the role that the
government has played in creating the problems healthcare “reform” is
supposed to correct, and the third alternative – reinstitution of a
free market in healthcare. Despite its strengths made possible by the
remaining free market fragments, all of the problems attributed to
American healthcare are consequences of prior government policies. The
runaway costs and the problem of pre-existing conditions are
government creations. Thanks to our government-imposed third-party-
payer (employer-based) system, thousands of state-imposed community
rating, guaranteed issue and benefits mandates, and legal trade
barriers barring interstate competition, our “private” health
insurance industry is actually a government controlled and protected
series of state-based cartels which is more in the nature of fascism
(back-door socialism) rather than any semblance of a market-based

The health insurance industry that ObamaCare supporters love to
demonize is a scapegoat and a straw man, because it is in fact a
political creation. The alleged power of the insurance companies is an
extension of government power and would not be possible in a free

Of course, making a government takeover of American healthcare
inevitable is what ObamaReform is all about, the Editors’
protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. But the Dems have
cleverly avoided concrete specifics in their plan, giving cover for
the Editors’ outrageously false claim that “no one remotely connected
with the Obama administration is suggesting anything like a government
takeover of medical care in America”. No. Instead, their plan contains
the theoretical blueprint for future totalitarian control of every
aspect of healthcare. What does anyone think a 2000 page document is
full of? The trick is that the specifics will come later under powers
granted to government officials, in the form of an unending tidal wave
of coercive rules and regulations.

In an analysis of only a small part of one version of ObamaCare, the
House’s HR3962, Professor John David Lewis cites numerous examples of
this in his Objective Standard essay, which can be read in full in the
Winter 2009/2010 issue (
affordable-health-care-america-hr-3962.asp). His conclusion:

“[The plan] will reach deeply into federal and state regulations and
laws, on a scale that will require years for experts to interpret. It
will establish institutions that will be effectively irreversible. It
will grant arbitrary powers to bureaucrats, who will have to interpret
and enforce its dictates.

“This legislation empowers the executive branch, namely the Secretary
of Health and Human Services and a ‘Health Choices Commissioner,’ to
write thousands of pages of regulations, and to force Americans to
comply with them. For every line in this bill, many pages of
regulations will be written.

“The central meaning of both is the repudiation of individual rights.
No longer will Americans have the liberty to preserve their own lives
in the way they judge best—from now on, they will have to conform to
government controls on the most intimate details of their lives.”

The Big Lie is alive and well, and firmly ensconced in the Obama
Whitehouse … and in the offices of the Star-Ledger Editorial Board.

And to Froma Harrop

Posted by: Mike Zemack
Mar 12, 07:26 PM

“The powers in Washington have clearly decided to keep most working
Americans in the hands of private insurance companies.”

So laments Ms. Harrop. The statement is true, but off by about seventy
years. Decades ago, the Federal government established the third-party-
payer, or employer-based, system of health insurance. This created an
artificial middleman that disconnected the consumer of healthcare from
the provider. Then came thousands of state-imposed insurance mandates
across the nation– from community rating to guaranteed issue to
benefits – that force insurers to tailor their policies to the demands
of political pressure groups rather than market realities … i.e., to
the desires and pocketbooks of the consumer, who is perversely not the
customer. These same insurers are protected from interstate
competition via interstate trade barriers imposed by government.

We’ve all heard the story of the fireman who starts fires, so that he
can rush to the scene to “save” lives and property. (We had a real
live one of those living in my neighborhood, some years ago.) Well, in
regard to America’s health insurance system, the government is that

The health insurance industry that ObamaCare supporters love to
demonize is a scapegoat and a straw man, because it is in fact a
political creation. The alleged power of the insurance companies is an
extension of government power and would not be possible in a free
market. Our fireman now proposes to save us from its own creation! Our
“private” health insurance industry is a government controlled and
protected series of state-based cartels operating in a government-
crippled insurance market. Our “private” health insurance system is in
the nature of fascism, or back-door socialism, and is not indicative
of a free market.

“Those who care to move this conversation to a more grownup level”
start by examining the role that government intervention has played in
placing the healthcare of Americans “in the hands of private insurance
companies.” They will find that it was the government itself.

The argument for “letting the government do what private insurers do”
is a red herring. It is a call for totalitarian centralized control of
medicine by government bureaucrats unconstrained by the need to earn a
profit … i.e., to satisfy their customers. Insurance company
bureaucrats empowered by our government-imposed third-party-payer
system are bad enough. Government bureaucrats possessing the legalized
power of physical force - i.e., a gun - would end the remaining
fragments of freedom to make our own healthcare decisions that we
still possess.

The Supreme Court legalized abortion in Rowe v. Wade based on the
argument that abortion is a health matter that should be decided
solely between a woman and her doctor. Fair enough. The solution to
the problems of health insurance rests with the same logic. Remove all
government restrictions in the national health insurance market.
Restrict government instead – to its proper role of enforcing laws
against fraud and breech of contract, mediating legitimate contractual
disputes between insurers and insured, and enforcing and protecting
contracts and contractual freedom … i.e., to protecting everyone’s
individual rights.

Health insurance is solely a matter between the individual and his
insurer, and their rights to contract freely to mutual advantage
should be protected. The natural incentives of the free market – the
consumer seeking the best value for his money from profit-seeking
providers seeking to expand sales in an environment of real
competition – is the only moral way to “control costs” because people
must consume in accordance with what they have earned and providers
must price their products to their customers’ budgets. A government
that “controls costs” ends up controlling people … i.e., ends up as a

In a free market “no one is going to come between patients and their
doctors” because no one can come between patients and their insurers …
or their healthcare dollars.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Regulating" Business - the Good and the Bad

Laissez-faire capitalism is hardly understood today. At its mention, a usual response centers on the sentiment that you’ve got to have government. You’ve got to have rules and laws, otherwise you’ll have chaos and anarchy. You can’t just let people, especially business people, “run wild” and do whatever they feel like doing. “Running wild” sums up what “laissez-faire” means to most people. This is a thoroughly false understanding of it. (For a primer on the basics of laissez-faire capitalism, I refer you to The Capitalism Site. For a moral defense, I refer you to the works of Ayn Rand, especially Atlas Shrugged, and to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.)

Of course you have to have rules of conduct and laws. No civil society can exist for long without a government. The confusion arises not on the question of whether or not you need government, but on what political principles should govern the conduct of a government, its laws, and its enforcement of those laws.

The confusion is exemplified in an op-ed by a professional arbitrator, Barry Goldman, published in the Los Angeles Times. In this article, Mr. Goldman asserts that the interests of the seller of a product or service necessarily conflict with that of the buyer, leading to the end result of a fraudulent or at least less than optimum outcome for the buyer. “You are not their friend;” says Mr. Goldman, “you are their customer. They are not the same.”

He then goes on to cite three ways to protect yourself against what he seems to be claiming is rampant unscrupulous behavior on the part of producers. The first is not worth commenting on. The second exposes the source of the confusion. Mr. Goldman encourages us to support government regulation of business. But, since he never defines just what he means by “regulation”, he conflates two separate and distinct issues – the prosecution of people who violate the rights of others, and the bureaucratic shackling of people who did not.

Let me start with an analogy.

Suppose that as a person of Italian decent, I relayed the following story to you:

I was sitting in the living room of my home with my wife, when there came a knock on my front door. When I opened it, I was confronted with two officials from the district attorney’s office, who declared that they would search my premises and inspect my personal files and belongings. This will, I am informed, become a regular occurrence with which I must legally comply, or face the penalties of fines or jail.

Further, they declared that from here on new regulations required that I submit periodic documentation, including documentation that can be “requested” on demand by government bureaucrats. This documentation must contain information as to my whereabouts, my personal associations, my career contacts, etc. I am also told that I am hereby forbidden to act in ways not allowed by government bureaucrats, or be required to act according to their rules, regardless of my own wishes or judgements. Their edicts carry the force of law.

When I ask what this is all about, I am told that because of recent illegal Mafia activity, I was to submit to extensive new government regulations for the purpose of monitoring the activities of all Italians. When I protest that I am a law-abiding citizen who has nothing to do with the Mafia and have done nothing wrong – I have violated no one’s rights and have initiated force against no one – I am told that this doesn’t matter, because I am held to a standard of presumption of guilt by virtue of my being Italian. This is necessary, I am told, because if Italians remain “deregulated” – to paraphrase Barry Goldman - you get Al Capone or Joe Gotti, the Genevese crime family, dead bodies swimming with the fishies, and worse.

Would you be outraged? I used this analogy because I am Italian. What if I substituted Italian with blacks, Jews, Orientals, or some other ethnic group. Would you also be outraged? Or how about some other group such as teachers, Protestants, or people with red curly hair? Still outraged?

How about businessmen? They are the Italians in my story. Mr. Goldman calls for regulation of business because “That's what government is for” and “if you reduce [its] regulation you get … Bernie Madoff, Enron, E. coli and worse.” (The supreme irony here is lost on Mr. Goldman. Madoff, Enron, and the occasional food contamination instance all occurred under an already heavily regulated business environment.)

But exactly what is meant by government regulation of business? The terms must be defined. First of all, the proper function of government (“what government is for”) is to protect individual rights – which means, to protect the individual against the initiation of physical force (i.e., from criminals). This includes prosecuting crooks, including fraudsters. To commit fraud a la Bernie Madoff amounts to the seizure of another’s property under false pretenses, a form of theft not essentially different from armed robbery. His victims are physically separated from their property without receiving, in exchange, the promised benefits in what they were led to believe were honest contractual agreements. If by regulation Mr. Goldman means the prosecution of fraud under a regime of objective criminal laws, then I am in full agreement.

So, there is no argument against Mr. Goldman’s call to “punish crooks”. This type of “regulation”, which belongs to the field of criminal law, is a valid governmental function that is perfectly consistent with laissez-faire capitalism. But Mr. Goldman’s line of thinking blurs the distinction between appropriate criminal law and non-criminal regulations – i.e., restrictions on the freedom of businessmen in the absence of rights violations. There is a crucial difference between governmental regulation that monitors fraud and [that which] punishes crooks.

The government’s prosecutorial powers are governed by the principle “innocent until proven guilty”. To “punish crooks”, the state must bring charges based upon a body of evidence, then prove its case in a court of law under an extensive array of objective rules and criteria. Suspicion that a crime has actually taken place is the starting point.

But Mr. Goldman’s advocacy of regulation to “monitor fraud” is based upon the opposite principle – the principle of presumption of guilt and it’s sinister companion, preemptive law. There is no suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing, yet the business and its owners are to be shackled under coercive rules that presume that criminal activity may occur. Neither principle has any place in a free society, and neither do any regulations based upon those principles. The idea that, left free to think and act upon his own judgement in the pursuit of profits and money, businesses will defraud and loot and poison is a profoundly un-American and unjust idea. It amounts to a declaration that men are incapable of freedom – the right to think and act upon one’s own judgement in pursuit of one’s own interest, goals, and happiness. This is an attack on America’s founding principles, the views of the Founding Fathers, common sense, and experience.

(Of course, business is not the only segment of society that is under the state’s gun, although it is the foremost victim. Government regulation, which began as controls on business, has grown like a cancer and is reaching into our personal lives. So the issue is much broader than the subject here. We are told what foods to eat, which medicines to take, what schools our children must attend – the list is endless and growing. Once we accepted the precedent that government can regulate some area of our lives, we accepted the premise that government can regulate any area of our lives. One can witness the results all around us, and deduce where it is all leading us.)

Mr. Goldman seems to think that businesses thrive by doing bad things to their customers. He apparently discounts the possibility that good businessmen will arise to draw customers looking for quality, affordability, and honesty. They’re all presumed bad, and must be “monitored” to prevent what monitoring failed to prevent – “Bernie Madoff, Enron, E. coli and worse.” Well, Bernie Madoff and Enron were cozy with the regulators. And now, Bernie Madoff is in jail. Enron is no more, but we are left with the thousands of companies that didn’t cook the books burdened by Sarbanes-Oxley. SarBox, as it is called, was passed after the Enron scandals. It is an array of very costly new (and often redundant) regulations that were imposed on the innocent because of the wrongdoing of the few. Such is the nature of government business regulation.

As for his E. coli example, just ask Chi-Chi’s if poisoning your customers is a good business model for food companies.

Isolated instances of actual wrongdoing are the usual excuse for imposing on all businesses the kinds of shackles I’d had to put up with in my fictional story. Is this justice?

“Put simply,” says Mr. Goldman, “your stockbroker is not motivated by a desire to see that your kids have money for college. He is motivated by a desire to see that his kids have money for college.” Put simply, though, putting your kids through college is the path to putting his kids through college. A good businessman knows that his bread is buttered by satisfied customers. To be precise, a good businessman is not primarily motivated by money as such, but on doing the best he can at his chosen job. This is good for his customers, and leads to the attainment of his personal goals.

The third example is key, and in fact contradicts number two. In fact, the consumer “skepticism” that Mr. Goldman encourages is undercut by the false sense of security engendered by government regulators. He says, “The third way is to remember that the best defense against fraud is skepticism.” In other words, think. The thinking consumer is a key part of a free market. The idea that government bureaucrats can somehow supplant millions of thinking, discriminating, “skeptical” consumers is absurd and doesn’t work.

So, Mr. Goldman seems to be plugging two mutually exclusive ideas – that preemptive government regulation is necessary to protect us from potential fraud, because we aren’t capable of judging the products and services that business offers, and that government regulation is not our best defense against fraud, because we are.

Of course, the “consumer” is also a producer (leaving aside the issue of wealth redistribution). That stockbroker is also the consumer of bakery products, dental services, and so on. Mr. Goldman seems to be saying that the stockbroker who slyly chisels his clients becomes innocently clueless when he spends his own money.

There is an obscene assumption underlying the points Mr. Goldman is trying to make, which must be expunged if capitalism is to survive. The subtitle of Mr. Goldman’s article reads:

Businesses are in business to make money. Benevolence is not the guiding principle.

This implies a horrendous implication – that making money is dishonorable. “To make money”, properly understood, is to produce something of value to someone who is willing to pay for it with money that he made in the same fashion. The transaction is called a voluntary trade, in which each participant is left better off and no one received the unearned. An act of benevolence – if defined as the granting of the unearned by one to another – is indeed certainly not the aim of the businessman. The businessman’s aim is the mutually beneficial and enriching transaction between two producers offering value for value. Far from being a vice requiring preemptive government regulation or “monitoring for fraud”, the moneymaking aim of the businessman is the height of life-giving virtue: virtues like thinking independently, productiveness, honesty, long-term planning, and integrity. The virtues that undergird moneymaking, and give value to those pieces of paper in your wallet, are the virtues that make benevolence possible. To invert the two is a moral perversion.

Every act of material benevolence depends on and is preceded by the act of making money. To make money, in fact, is benevolence of the highest kind because it represents the product of human virtue. Until and unless we recognize that making money is the primary virtue, because it subsumes all of the virtues that make life-promoting production possible, we will continue to slide further toward the total regulatory state.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone will act rationally or honestly. What it does allow is for good behavior to be rewarded and bad to be penalized. A free market thus is a great teacher. The best way is constantly demonstrated by people who practice it. If the government sticks to its job of protecting rights by punishing fraud and enforcing contracts, and otherwise leaves people free from expensive or silly or burdensome or harassing regulations, the best companies will be free to thrive while the bad are forced to improve their ways or fall by the wayside. But all people, including businessmen, must be free to think independently, act upon their own judgement in pursuit of their own rational self-interest, and contract freely with each other to advance toward his own goals. That is how both seller and buyer can concentrate on putting his own children through college. The mutual pursuit of each participant's different self-interest does not lead to conflicts in honest and mutually beneficial trades – the very kinds that flourish in a free market in which the government properly enforces those contracts.

When left free, the market constantly weeds out irrational, short-term oriented, incompetent and dishonest economic players. This leaves the rational, long-term oriented, competent, and honest to flourish and reap their rewards. The government, a necessary good in a laissez-faire capitalist society, should stick to vigorous pursuit of fraud, breech of contract, and other rights violating behavior. All regulations that seek to preempt rights-violating behavior, before any rights-violations have occurred, are unjust and should be repealed. That would eliminate “regulations [that] are silly or pointless and … onerous, burdensome and intended solely to harass” – the very thing Barry Goldman laments.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Wreckage of the “Climate Consensus”

The Global Warming/Climate Change charade is falling apart faster than the Democrats 2010 electoral fortunes. Falsified data, omitted relevant data, unreliable sources – the most prestigious propagators of the global warming case are beset with scandal after scandal. Here are a few highlights:

 From The Crackup of the Climate Consensus, by Steven F. Hayward:

The climate-change campaign is in catastrophic free fall.

Nearly every day brings a new embarrassment or retraction for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the supposed gold standard for "consensus" science.

The anti-warming lobby long demonized skeptics as the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers while warning of climate "tipping points." Now, the "Climategate" scandal that broke in November is looking like a true tipping point: The leaked e-mails have done to the climate-change debate what the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam War debate 40 years ago -- changed the narrative decisively.

For years, skeptics have been pointing out serious defects or gross exaggerations in the climate narrative -- glaciers that weren't actually melting; weak or incomplete data in the records of surface temperature that supposedly proved unprecedented warming; a complete lack of backup for claims that storms and drought are growing more severe. Plus, global temperatures have been flat for the last decade -- increasingly falsifying the computer models that project our doom.

 From Climate Science Unraveling, by Keith Lockitch:

Following the Climategate scandal, I commented that on the climate issue “there has been a consistent pattern of exaggeration and deception, of context-dropping claims, and of distortion of the facts and the scientific process”—and that this has been driven by “a widespread commitment to environmentalist ideology.”

Well since Climategate, there have been so many other scientific scandals that have emerged it’s hard to keep up with them all.

 Mr. Lockitch cites this excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

It has been a bad—make that dreadful—few weeks for what used to be called the “settled science” of global warming, and especially for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that is supposed to be its gold standard.

First it turns out that the Himalayan glaciers are not going to melt anytime soon, notwithstanding dire U.N. predictions. Next came news that an IPCC claim that global warming could destroy 40% of the Amazon was based on a report by an environmental pressure group. Other IPCC sources of scholarly note have included a mountaineering magazine and a student paper.

 He also cites a piece from the Orange County Register, which documents the growing list of scientific distortions, now numbering 19.

 Then, From Fox

There is the fact that, contrary to the predictions of the computer models that so much of global warming “settled science” depends on, there has be no warming since 1995. While this may only be a break in the two century long gradual warming trend, it was one of “a number of eye-popping statements to the BBC's climate reporter” made by Phil Jones, former head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia. The CRU is “the research center at the heart of the Climate-gate scandal”.

 And Rich Lowry weighs in:

A funny thing happened to this "consensus" on the way to its inevitable triumph, though: Its propagators have been forced to admit fallibility.

For the cause of genuine science, this is a small step forward; for the cause of climate alarmism, it's a giant leap backward. The rush to "save the planet" can't accommodate any doubt, or it loses the panicked momentum necessary for a retooling of modern economic life.

That the global warming crusade is increasingly being exposed as the hoax that it always was doesn’t surprise me. I never bought into it, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before it would collapse. The only question was, how much damage would be done to our livelihoods and our freedoms before it was exposed. It appears that we may now have been saved from the Cap & Trade catastrophe.

For the record, let me state my position on the issue of climate change. Climate variations are natural. They occur constantly. It’s of course possible that human industrial activity contributes, but there is no evidence that man is a major factor, if at all. To the extent that he is, it is part of the natural process. Like any life form, man has a means of survival. Unlike all other life forms, man’s means is to alter, not adapt to, the environment, through his faculty of reason, to suit his needs and comfort. This is a fact of nature. As an example, and by the standard of human life as a value, the fossil fuel industry – the focus of evil for the environmentalists - has been a huge improvement to the environment. Man’s living environment, that is. Think about that the next time you leave your warm home, drive to your favorite supermarket, step out of your heated car that got you there, and then hustled across a frigid wintertime parking lot and into a toasty store – all courtesy of the oil industry.

To the extent that specific, local instances of man-made pollution occur, they can and should just be fixed through technological advancement, a by-product of human freedom. (The role of the government with regards to pollution is a complex legal question, which is properly addressed within the context of the application of individual rights to the field of law.) But broad changes in the “natural” environment that are a by-product of man’s industrial, technological activities are not a bad thing, when you consider the alternative. Humans can not live in unaltered nature, like an animal. Yes, some pollution may be unhealthy. But “we must remember”, philosopher Ayn Rand has observed, “that [for man] life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.”

This brief statement, however, doesn’t in and of itself invalidate the claims of the global warming camp.

My complete and enduring skepticism has been based on four observations.

 First, the climate issue is political. The collectivist Left has latched onto global warming as a vehicle for expanded statism. To the extent that human activity is altering the climate, a very debatable claim in light of current evidence, the “problem” is technological. Technological advancement requires individual freedom, as the whole history of the Industrial Revolution has clearly demonstrated. Yet central government planning and the consequent loss of freedom saturates every “solution” offered by the Left. The climate issue has been nothing more than a vehicle for age-old socialist goals.

 Second, the hysterical attempts to promote the ideas of a “scientific consensus”, that the science is “settled”, and that the debate is “over” is a blindingly bright red flag. Anyone who is confident that the facts support his position welcomes skepticism, because he knows he can debunk the skeptics. It bolsters his case to refute opponents’ arguments. Yet all we have gotten are vicious tactics to demonize anyone who challenges the Left’s “consensus” dogma. They will go so far as to destroy careers and reputations. These are the tactics of thugs, not self-confident advocates of a legitimate intellectual cause.

 Third, global warming has been portrayed as an unmitigated disaster. All of the consequences are portrayed as bad. But I remember how the 1970s global cooling scare was portrayed as totally catastrophic as well. Then, as now, man was "somewhat responsible". Only then, as Time reported on 6/24/74 (Another Ice Age?), the culprit wasn't CO2, but man-made dust (yes dust) caused by - are you ready? - his "fuel burning"! Fossil fuels just can't get a break. Billions would starve as farmable lands shrink. Well, you can’t have it both ways. The fact is, there is good and bad in climate change, which is attributable mainly to natural forces. Climate change is a very gradual process, encompassing decades and centuries, leaving plenty of time for free individuals to deal with the drawbacks and exploit the positives such changes will engender. If climate change is the danger portrayed by the alarmists, they would promote individual rights and capitalism, so people are free to take the actions necessary to adapt to the gradual changes. They would seek to educate, giving people the factual tools to guide them. Instead, they seek a “moratorium on brains” - to stifle the mind under government edicts. It didn’t work for the Soviets, and it won’t work for the environmentalists (if man’s well-being is really their goal).

 The fourth and final point ties all of the rest together. Scientific research has become heavily politicized. This is necessarily so because science is heavily funded by government. This means that scientists must depend on politicians for their funding, which means that they must satisfy politicians or lose their grants. The “science” behind the global warming charade, I have long believed, can not be trusted. That's because funding must be filtered through an entrenched environmentalist-dominated political establishment. The spreading scandals have vindicated my suspicions. Without the politicization of science, especially climate science, wrought by government funding, the climate change scaremongers would be relegated to the conspiracy theory fringe, where they belong.

The global warming cabal has been knocked back on its heels. But they’re not yet finished. They’ll attempt a comeback. “The climate-change circus”, warns Mr. Hayworth, “isn't yet ready to join such past enthusiasms as the ‘population bomb’ or the Club of Rome's ‘Limits to Growth’ nonsense: It has too much political and institutional momentum behind it…” But they are now up against the headwinds of declining public support. More and more people are on to them.

In the meantime, they're not giving up easily, but they’re looking more and more like kooks. Reports Mr. Lowry:

"In The Boston Globe, MIT climate scientist Kerry Emanuel marshals a new argument for fighting warming: 'We do not have the luxury of waiting for scientific certainty, which will never come.' Really? That's not what we were told even a few months ago -- before climate alarmism acknowledged doubt."

Are you ready for catastrophic energy price increases, shortages, and freedom restricted at the hands of all-powerful central planning government bureaucrats who are not bound by the “luxury” of facts, logic, reason – or scientific certainty?

This may be the beginning of the end for the latest environmental catastrophe movement. But this movement, dating back at least to Thomas Malthus, has a long history of manufacturing some new alarmist environmental concoction. The Maltusian connection, as I previously pointed out, is firmly entrenched in the Environmentalist Movement.

They’ll be back.