Thursday, September 29, 2011

How about: Hands off our money and our choice.

Inverted moral priorities lie at the base of our economic troubles, and concrete examples of it surface from time to time.

In a recent editorial, entitled Hands off the safety net, the NJ Star-Ledger reached new heights in disingenuousness. The economy is grinding through its fourth recessionary year, job creation is scarce, and record numbers of people are collecting government checks, even as tax receipts plummet. Yet, the editors point to all of this as evidence of the value of big government! “[T]here is a silver lining,” they write with a straight face, “The safety net of government programs held up.”

The safety net is "held up" by the same thing that is holding back the economy - government force. In fact, it is probably the biggest "growth industry" in America today. This brings to mind the emergency meeting of high government officials and businessmen in Atlas Shrugged, to address the dire economic situation:

“What? Again?”, yelled Mr. Weatherby, losing his primness [in response to steel magnate Orren Boyle’s request for another government subsidy]. “…with all of you boys going broke and the tax receipts crashing, where do you expect us to get the money to hand you another subsidy?”

“There are people who aren’t broke,” said Boyle, “You boys [the government] have no excuse for permitting all that need and misery to spread through the country – so long as there are people who aren’t broke.” [Page 535]

The editors write:

The recession’s toll became crystal clear this week with the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of 2010 poverty figures. Some 46.2 million are living in poverty. That’s 15.1 percent of our fellow citizens. For children, the rate is 22 percent. Also, 49.9 million, or 16.3 percent of the population under the age of 65, have no health insurance.

It’s a troubling snapshot of the upheaval American families are experiencing as incomes drop or stagnate and jobs disappear.

Leaving aside the fact that poverty today is not real, but relative, the editors reel off a litany of government programs that ignore where the money to pay for them comes from. They conclude with:

It’s important to keep these facts in mind as we approach an austerity budget. President Obama and the congressional supercommittee tasked with deficit reduction have to protect families on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. Bash big government all you want, especially when it indulges in wasteful spending and earmarks for bridges to nowhere. But this is where government gets it right, big time.

I added my emphasis to make the point. The mentality, and the inverted moral priorities, exemplified in the Atlas Shrugged passages are clearly on display in this editorial. The editors are charter members of the tax-the-people-who-aren’t-broke – “tax the rich” - club. I’ve left the following comments:

Posted on September 15, 2011 at 6:13PM

This is where government gets it right? Let’s take a look at just one program, the big daddy, Social Security. A young person starts out his working life with the forced confiscation of 12.4% of his income – half directly taken from his pay check, and the other half dishonestly camouflaged as the “employer contribution”. He has no choice in the matter: His money is taken at gunpoint. He will pay this tax all of his working life, regardless of other uses he may prefer to use his own money for. If he dies before he reaches the point that he can begin collecting promised benefits, he cannot leave it to his estate for the benefit of his children or others he values. His money is simply gone.

If he makes it to retirement, he has not a dime to show for it. Every dollar taken from him by force was cycled through the hands of the Washington money launderers, and sent into the pockets of others. He has nothing but rescindable financial promises of politicians, many long gone, and payable out of the earnings of other victims. He spent his working life as a wage slave to others, only to be made a parasite on others in old age; a horrible position to force him into. This is right?!? It’s a moral perversion.

…As is the entire “safety net”. At a time when the productive private economy desperately needs relief from big government, the welfare state’s apologists dogmatically cheer it on to greater and greater heights. They perversely measure the success of government by how many people are dependent upon it. And when you worship dependence upon government, you get more and more of it. This is the editors’ idea of what “works”!?!

So now, big government is the champion of its own victims! 80 years after the “safety net” began its cancerous growth, and the government has reached new heights in spending and interference into and control of the economy, poverty is at record levels and the economy is in shambles. The editors apparently can’t see the connection between big government and big poverty.

Like all manifestations of malignant cancer, it must be cut out or it will continue to grow and metastasize until it ultimately kills the patient. How about facing reality? After 80 years, the government has had its chance at running our retirement, our healthcare, and our charity – and it has failed. It’s time to return control to the individuals who earn the money in the first place – to plan their own retirement, manage their own healthcare needs, and choose their own charitable endeavors. How about: Hands off our money and our choice.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Obamanomics and the Ghost of Title 2

Nobody has ever been endangered by being offered poison in a bottle bearing a label with a skull-and-crossbones. Poison is usually offered in a glass of the best wine – or, modern version, in a quart of the milk of human kindness. – Ayn Rand (page 367)

Barack Obama’s newest plan for stimulating the economy is nothing new. “The President’s Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction” is a hodgepodge of massive government spending ($450 billion), central planning (an “infrastructure bank”), and a huge dose of increased taxes ($1.5 trillion). There is one particularly egregious feature of it I’d like to highlight. On page 15 of “The American Jobs Act” section, we find this:

Combat discrimination against the unemployed. Recent reports have highlighted companies that are increasingly expressing preferences for applicants who already have a job. Specifically, some companies are posting job listings that include language such as “unemployed candidates will not be considered” or “must be currently employed” or “must be employed within the last six months.” The exclusion of unemployed applicants is a troubling and arbitrary screen that is bad for the economy, bad for the unemployed, and ultimately bad for firms trying to find the best candidates. This is particularly true at a time when so many Americans have found themselves out of work through no fault of their own. New Jersey has passed legislation to address this practice, and members of the Congress also have introduced legislation. The President is calling for legislation that would make it unlawful to refuse to hire applicants solely because they are unemployed or to include in a job posting a provision that unemployed persons will not be considered.

The Obama Administration’s “jobs” scheme contains a poison pill taken from the medicine chest of a long-established precedent – a pill that has already gained a foothold, regrettably, in NJ. This new “anti-discrimination” clause is yet another assault on the right to voluntary contract and on the employers’ freedom to act upon his own judgement to the benefit of his own business – basic moral principles that are also prerequisites for a healthy job market. It would open up a whole new avenue for predatory lawsuits, empower government officials with new and still more arbitrary – i.e., tyrannical - powers, and further diminish freedom in America.

“Discrimination” has turned into a synonym for evil, even though discrimination is an indispensable corollary of free will and free choice based upon rational judgement. Discrimination is bad only in very narrow circumstances, such as judging a person based upon some personal trait over which he has no choice. Martin Luther King famously called for people “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. Not every unemployed person is of bad character, but a person’s employment record certainly goes to a person’s character, and a rational employer would certainly take that into consideration. Aside from character, there could be plenty of rational reasons why an employer may want to narrow down the field of job applicants in the manner described in the anti-discrimination clause. But, even if certain employers set objectively demonstrable irrational criteria, it is their right. They are violating no one else’s rights in doing so, since there is no such thing as a “right” to be considered for a job (See “Individual Rights”).

Illegalizing “discrimination against the unemployed” is such a broad and vague assault on an employers’ rightful prerogatives that any unemployed person turned down for a job or job interview represents the threat of a lawsuit or the bringing down of the wrath of some government bureaucrat with unaccountable, undefinable powers. If you want an example of why business is so reluctant to hire in America, look no further than this new “anti-discrimination” clause – which exemplifies the extreme anti-business hostility and the continuing assault on productive Americans that reigns in the current administration.

There’s a blatant element of hypocrisy here, too. Discrimination against job creators, which are largely clustered in the $200,000 - $250,000 and up income brackets, is just fine, apparently. Almost all of the $1.5 trillion in “revenue increases” that will allegedly be realized under Obama’s plan is targeted at this select group. The president apparently can’t see the contradiction – or perhaps that is the point. For Obama, “economic growth” has always taken a back seat to his ideological push for expanded government control and central planning. Even strictly from the perspective of the unemployed, there is nothing to be gained from outlawing “discrimination against the unemployed”, as a minute of thought would tell you. For every person who switches jobs, one job opening is filled and another is created at the employer he left, leaving the same number of job opportunities available. Unemployed job seekers gain nothing from Obama’s proposed intrusion into private hiring practices. But again, helping the unemployed is secondary to his ideological agenda. Government’s long established anti-discrimination crusade against private individuals has served as an ever-widening wedge of expanding statism.

The broader point is, we’re seeing the legal assault against voluntary private association continuing to run amuck. How and when did the government become the arbiter of good vs. bad discrimination? It all began in 1964, when the government usurped the constitution by arrogating to itself the power to prohibit discrimination it did not approve of in the private sphere. The escalating consequences followed. For a concrete example, the principle established then led to laws and regulations that contributed significantly to the chain of events that culminated in the financial crisis, as “financial institutions greatly increased their lending to targeted socio-economic groups that were less credit worthy due to fears that they might otherwise be hit with anti-discrimination law suits.” If a company sees it necessary to skew its hiring policy for the same reason, to the detriment of more qualified people, - a likely long-term consequence once the anti-discrimination police get their foot in the door – what will the consequences be? Logically, one can see a business facing the prospect of a less productive workforce, leading to an increasing reluctance to hire – i.e., to create jobs.

Obama’s latest assault on private business – an assault that is apparently bipartisan to some extent - is just another example of how bad principles metastasize. The principle established with Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act - that the government may regulate how and when private individuals may exercise discrimination - has led to ever-widening intrusions on our liberties. Since discrimination is inherent in any human choice involving two or more alternatives, the government now has the theoretical power of complete thought control over each and every one of us, particularly in the field of human associations. As I have argued before, and to once again refer to the wisdom of James Madison, the only way to avoid “the consequences in the principle [is] by denying the principle.” Title II is the birthplace of an insidious principle, which came cloaked in the righteous crusade against an evil brand of discrimination – racial discrimination. The “skull-and-crossbones” were hidden “in a quart of the milk of human kindness”, or good intentions, and the poison was swallowed. By ignoring the principle, lawmakers evaded the inevitable consequences. But as Ayn Rand has observed, "We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality."

Title II is one of the legal breeding grounds of the relentlessly growing statism in America. It must ultimately be repealed if the drift toward totalitarianism is to be reversed.

-Mike LaFerrara

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Nauseating Assault on "the Rich"

In June I discussed the rise of morality
into the political arena. More and more, political issues are being discussed in ethical terms. Since both modern liberals and modern conservatives both agree that sacrifice and service to others – i.e., altruism – is the essence of moral action, the debate over political issues has always revolved around practicality. Since all sides accepted altruism by default, the Left has always been able to advance their statist agenda over time. Since all forms of socialism are based upon altruism, the Left has merely had to tell us how some people need this or that, therefor it is the duty of the rest of us to put aside our selfishness and empower government to satisfy those needs at taxpayer expense. Since conservatives accepted the moral premise of altruistic sacrifice and service to the needs of others, they have been powerless to stop – and sometimes even helped advance – the Left’s socialist agenda.

But now the Left’s moral hegemony is being challenged. The result is that statists of all stripes find themselves in unfamiliar territory – fending off ethical arguments from the Right. This new phenomenon is increasingly evidenced in the media. For example, Onkar Ghate recently cited an article by Leftist star Paul Krugman entitled “A Tale of Two Moralities
”. Summing up Krugman’s piece, Ghate wrote:

[G]one are the days when policy disputes were about pragmatic differences in accomplishing the same goal. Today we see a difference in moral principle: one side considers the modern welfare state morally superior to capitalism and the other side considers capitalism morally superior to the welfare state.

The moral factor has surfaced in regards to an issue that figures prominently in the current debate on the Federal debt ceiling – taxing the rich. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in an article focussed on the budget and economics, included this:

Besides this economic problem, I also see a moral issue with Ayn Rand's insistence that all of us, CEOs included, should be totally free of the ties that bind. I especially disagree when it comes to CEOs. As I wrote here a few months ago, the wealthy have a special responsibility. Much will be asked of those to whom much has been given. Participating in government and civic life, serving in war, helping the less fortunate, and--yes--paying a fair share of taxes are inescapable responsibilities for all Americans, especially for those who have realized the American dream that inspires us all.

I find this issue particularly nauseating. Cutting through Townsend’s twisted logic, we find altruism: Those who earn more owe an unchosen duty to hand over their wealth to those who earn less - through the intermediary of government, of course. If you think that statement is grotesque, how about a recent study that “proves” why the rich “are such a selfish, less empathetic and less altruistic lot” than lower income people. Aside from the battery of corny tests employed, the study relies on the assumption that selfishness is evil and altruism is virtuous. The rich, you see, have an “ideology of self-interest”.

Not surprisingly, and perhaps by design, that study serves as ammunition for the tax-the-rich crowd, but not necessarily in the exact way one might imagine. The NJ Star-Ledger recently ran an editorial lauding both the poor and billionaires, while panning the moderate rich whom they call the “affluent”. In an apparent paradox, the Editors write:

[A]ffluent Americans have been found to donate a much smaller proportion of their annual income than do very poor contributors, who are strikingly generous.”

But psychologists say it makes sense. Lower-class people depend on others for survival, so they learn social behaviors like understanding and empathy, and give more to those in need, says Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley, co-author of a study published this month in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The wealthy don’t need to lean on each other so much and that causes differences that are apparent in psychological studies, Keltner says. Rich people are usually less empathetic, less altruistic and more selfish than poor people, according to numerous experiments.

“Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back,” Keltner said, because it’s “improbable, psychologically.”

The editors, relying on the conventional view of ethics, concludes that “Of course, there are plenty of exceptions — just look at [Warren] Buffett. But it’s another reason he’s right that the rich must be taxed, not trusted to tithe.”

But there is an Achilles’ Heel in this line of logic. If selfishness is so bad, and altruism is so good, why are the bad guys affluent and the good guys poor? I addressed that “paradox” in some comments I left:

Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:54PM

“Rich people are usually less empathetic, less altruistic and more selfish than poor people.”

This statement should be a tip-off to the real ideal ethical standard. Imagine if everyone were as altruistic as poor people – everyone would be poor. Altruism is the giving up of values for the unearned benefit of others. Selfishness is the pursuit, achievement, and keeping of values by one’s own efforts. The able poor should be more selfishly focussed on making the most of their own lives, rather than perpetually “depend[ing] on others for survival”. (Most low-income people, in fact, do just that – work their way out of poverty.) The rich are not selfish because they are rich, they are rich because they are selfish. And the [able] poor are not altruistic because they are poor, they are poor because they are altruistic.

The obsession with giving, especially the moral perversity of “giving back” as an act of atonement for material success, is intended to obscure the real source of human well-being and even generosity – production and trade. What is the source of production? The human intellect. The real measure of a person’s value to “society” is his money making, not money giving. Money making, as opposed to money getting at any cost, is the process of producing by work a value that can be traded for values produced by others. Generally speaking, the amount of money a person makes in this fashion is commensurate to the value he provides to others (assuming a relatively free market). Every time you buy something, you are receiving wealth produced by someone in exchange for your money. The greater a person’s monetary riches, the greater the wealth he has spread to others, and thus the greater good he has done for others – regardless of whether he ever gave away a dime.

The rich – the people the Star-Ledger’s editors and their ilk long to exploit - are so because they selfishly pursued their own chosen field of production and trade for their own benefit. In being so successful, though, what have they given? Plenty, in several ways. To the extent that their productive intellectual energy exceeds their personal physical capacity to realize their goals, they must hire people to help produce whatever value they seek to sell – they create jobs. Together with those they hire, guided by their intellectual energy, the products we all need and desire are spread throughout society in exchange for the money most of us earned in the jobs they created. The rich, which means the successful, also spread wealth more indirectly, by creating opportunities for suppliers, and other businesses that thrive from the sales they get from the holders of the jobs created. Every individual participating in this complex chain of production and trade are acting selfishly. No one in this chain gave or received anything for nothing. Everyone is enriched to some extend, without a dime of “giving back”. And the guy whose intellectual energy and ambition started it all and got rich in the process, earned every dollar of it just as did everyone else theirs . Selfishness, properly understood, is the life-giving force that keeps us all alive – especially including those who depend on the charity of others. It is the moral force that leads people up from poverty.

Yes, there are those who get rich by graft and political pull. Yes, there are the idle rich of inheritance. But remember that the income tax is aimed at the productive rich described above, not the idle fortunes of past production (which, in any event, serve as capital for growing enterprises). A Buffet should be lauded for the selfish pursuit and achievement of his fortune, the making of which in fact enriched others to a far greater extent than his giving could ever accomplish, or the size of his own fortune – rather than his small-minded call to tax the already over-taxed super-productive still more.

Why do I, a middle class tradesman soon to be retired, oppose higher taxes on the rich (or anyone else, for that matter)? It is in my own selfish interest to see a growing, productive economy to give my hard-earned dollars the growing value made possible only through the productive work of others, especially the fortune builders. And because if the property of the rich is at the pleasure of phonies who don’t believe they can be “trusted to tithe” enough of it away, then no one’s property is safe. And because it is downright immoral to glorify the unearned as a moral absolute, and to condemn the rightful owners of wealth – the earners – as “selfishly” uncaring. And because I consider selfish money-making, not altruistic giving, as the moral ideal.

Ayn Rand labeled altruism an “inverted morality”. That inversion is on display in the debate over taxing the rich. The Rich who earned the money are painted as predators who refuse to “give back” some of all that they have “been given”. But notice who the real predators are – the altruists. Who is it that is seen as the moral ones? The poor who will receive the tax money, those who will enact the taxes, and those who advocate the transfer – i.e., anyone who did not earn it.

“Why is it immoral to produce a value and keep it, but moral to give it away? And if it is not moral for you to keep a value, why is it moral for others to accept it? If you are selfless and virtuous when you give it, are they not selfish and vicious when they take it? Does virtue consist of serving vice? Is the moral purpose of those who are good, self-immolation for the sake of those who are evil?

“The answer you evade, the monstrous answer is: No, the takers are not evil, provided they did not earn the value you gave them. It is not immoral for them to accept it, provided they are unable to produce it, unable to deserve it, unable to give you any value in return. It is not immoral for them to enjoy it, provided they do not obtain it by right.”
- Atlas Shrugged

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mulshine Highlights GOP Hypocrisy

The NJ Star-Ledger’s Paul Mulshine made some good points about the Republicans’ opposition to ObamaCare. Basically, he says, their call to repeal ObamaCare on the grounds that it is socialism rings hollow in the face of their almost universal support for the even more socialistic Medicare. The title of his article, Repeal Obamacare? Why not repeal Medicare first?, says it all. After pointing out that the vast majority of the Tea Party is both strongly opposed to ObamaCare and strongly supportive of Medicare, he writes:

[M]any Republican presidential contenders … are pandering to the seniors on this, a category that includes every candidate not named Ron Paul.

Medicare is a compulsory, top-down, single-payer system, more socialistic in every respect than Obamacare.

So if the Republicans were so vehemently against socialism, Mulshine contends, they would be calling for ObamaCare to be extended to seniors as a replacement for Medicare, because at least “ObamaCare [is] relying mostly on private insurers. And virtually all conservative commentators agree such an approach is preferable to a single-payer system.”

Of course, neither is preferable, because ObamaCare simply imposes total government control through nominally private insurers. It is socialism through the back door, which is fascism. Mulshine, I’m quite sure, understands this. His point is that most of the Republicans have no principled counterpoint to ObamaCare. He points out that the individual mandate is a redistribution scheme, and cites ObamaCare sponsor NJ Rep. Frank Pallone:

The mandate was designed to get younger and healthier citizens to subsidize older and less-healthy people, he said.

But, think for a minute what repealing Medicare would mean:

Imagine a young adult working behind the counter at Taco Bell. The government now takes 2.9 percent of his salary to provide free health insurance to Warren Buffett.

Now imagine we eliminated Medicare. That kid could put the money toward his own health insurance.

But what of those senior citizens not as rich as Buffett? Now that we’ve got ObamaCare, the poor would get benefits for free. The rest of the retirees would have their premiums subsidized under a sliding scale. Buffett would have to pay his own bill, though.

It’s an interesting thought. Younger folks would have a modicum more freedom. ObamaCare unequivocally moves non-Medicare American medicine towards single-payer. But turning Medicare into ObamaCare moves the huge senior market away from single-payer. Since Democrats ultimately want universal single-payer, it would indeed be interesting if Republicans were to “throw this issue back in the Democrats’ face”. Imagine the GOP proposing this compromise: We’ll drop our plan to repeal ObamaCare, if you’ll agree to repeal Medicare.

Of course, that’s no solution. It’s not even a step in the right direction because of the Republican Party’s complete lack of any philosophical conviction. A gradual withdrawal of government interference in healthcare is of course a very viable political course of action. But that course is only viable if free market forces have a firm hold on the moral rightness of their course, and a clearly defined statement upholding the separation of medicine and state as the ultimate goal.

I’ve left the following comments, including an answer to a response to my comments:

September 13, 2011 at 4:28PM

The Republicans’ handling of the healthcare issue is just another reminder of why I switched my voter registration to Independent 5 years ago. Obama handed the GOP a philosophical challenge in the 2008 campaign, when he vowed to “fundamentally change America”. It was a direct attack on individualism, capitalism, freedom, and constitutionally limited government – the very core of what the Republicans allegedly stand for. The central front in this philosophical battle was healthcare.

The GOP had a chance to offer America “a choice, not an echo” to Obama’s “change”, by putting forth a comprehensive plan to solve the problems of our heavily regulated, semi-socialized healthcare system with an across-the-board phase-out of government-run medicine, in favor of a free market (not “free market solutions”, but a free market). Instead, we get Republicans defending outright socialism against ObamaCare fascism (backdoor socialism). Obama’s challenge met a vacuum.

When we get Democrat statements like “The mandate was designed to get younger and healthier citizens to subsidize older and less-healthy people” going unchallenged, you know that there is no real difference between the two major parties. That statement is a fastball down the middle, and a principled defender of freedom would have hit it out of the park. It’s a brazen statement that every individual’s life and property is at the disposal of the state, to be seized by any two-bit politician with enough votes and an altruistic cause.

When in his Reverend Wright speech of 3/18/08, Obama said, “Let us be our brother’s keeper, let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well,” he was laying out the basic moral premise of collectivism and despotism. His “change” was to advance the principle of the supremacy of the group, with the state as the embodiment of the will of the group – as opposed to the revolutionary American principles stated above. And whether that moral premise flies under a banner with a hammer and sickle, a swastika, a donkey or an elephant, the end result will still be totalitarian socialism.

To be relevant, the GOP must reject the “we’re all in this together” dogma and uphold the opposite moral premise – the individual’s right to his own life, liberty, property, and choices (Ron Paul came tantalizingly close in that clip). We are not our brothers’ keepers, and only on the basis of that moral conviction can the Republican’s have any relevance. Then we will have a chance to repeal both Medicare and ObamaCare, and move on from there to a freer and freer society. And then, I can return to the Republican Party.

Posted by countyhaters on September 13, 2011 at 10:09PM

That means i have the right to take your life, liberty, property, and choices away from you because i choose

September 14, 2011 at 4:56PM

No, countyhaters. It means you have a right to your own life, liberty, property, and choices. The government protects you from predators who think and act otherwise. That's what a proper government does – if it is doing its job.

What happens when everyone believes that they are their brothers’ keepers? Then, they expect everyone else to be their keeper. Then you get the mentality that says “i have the right to take your life, liberty, property, and choices away from you because i choose too.”[sic] Why not? The next guy is his brother’s keeper, which means your keeper, right? Then the government becomes the criminal. You have a welfare state. Universal predation – and universal slavery – and finally, if nothing changes, progressive economic deterioration and impoverishment.

Freedom does not mean doing whatever you choose. Freedom means freedom from forcible interference from others, including others in their capacity as government officials – and respecting the rights of others to their freedom. That’s why we need a government.

Once again we see the false premise that freedom means anything goes. Statism rests largely on ignorance of the actual nature of individual rights.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Howard Roark and the GOP

From GOP leaders must free themselves from the Tea Party’s grip by E.J. Dionne, regarding this summer's budget battles:

“The Tea Party’s followers have endangered the nation’s credit rating and the GOP by pushing both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor away from their own best instincts.”

Now, why would a liberal want the Republicans to abandon the Tea Party? Could it be because “The Tea Party’s followers [are] pushing both House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor away from their own best instincts?” Those “instincts” have usually worked to the Democrats’ advantage, so it’s no wonder the GOP gets such friendly advice from the likes of Dionne. See my Extremists vs. the Moderates: Why the Left Keeps Winning, and the Right has been Powerless to Stop It, which references another Dionne piece.

Be that as it may, it is this paragraph that got me writing:

“The Tea Party lives in an intellectual bubble where the answers to every problem lie in books by F.A. Hayek, Glenn Beck or Ayn Rand. Rand’s anti-government writings, regarded by her followers as modern-day scripture — Rand, an atheist, would have bridled at that comparison — are particularly instructive.

“When the hero of Rand’s breakthrough novel, 'The Fountainhead,' doesn’t get what he wants, he blows up a building. Rand’s followers see that as gallant. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that blowing up our government doesn’t seem to be a big deal to some of the new radical individualists in our House of Representatives.”

And, why would a liberal be against “radical individualists”? Perhaps because such folks don’t easily succumb to the predatory welfare state.

Here is a commentary I left, interspersed with additional remarks, which are italicized:

Posted on 7/21/2011 10:05:53 AM EDT

Three things stand out in this column.

Ayn Rand was (and is) anti-statist, not anti-government. Her well-reasoned case FOR a government powerful enough to protect the rights of its citizens counterbalanced through being constitutionally forbidden to turn predatory is regularly sidestepped by supporters of statism, the doctrine that holds that the lives, freedom, and property of the people are at the disposal of the government. The question is not whether or not we need a government, but whether the government’s power is limited and if so, by what principles? If Rand is anti-government, then the likes of EJ Dionne are anti-freedom.

Brushing Rand off as “anti-government” enables statists to make an end run around the necessity of defending their big government agenda against her actual philosophical validation of the limited, rights-protecting state. By lumping her in with anarchistic libertarians, Dionne exhibits the kind of intellectual cowardice typical of statist ideologues. They uphold, in essence, a false dichotomy: The choice we face is either authoritarianism or anarchy. By sidestepping Rand, they sidestep the Founding Fathers.

It is fitting that Dionne would trivialize The Fountainhead’s hero Howard Roark as a man who “blows up a building [because he] doesn’t get what he wants”. Statists disdain individual rights, especially property rights. Roark took that illegal but principled action along with the risk of a decade in jail because his property – the design of the housing complex – was stolen from him and he was left with no other legal recourse. The analogy to the Tea Party Republicans “blowing up our government” is very loose, as the GOP offers little in the way of concrete suggestions for dismantling the rights-violating welfare state that is really at the heart of our fiscal crisis. But this much is true: In a vague sort of way, the Tea Party Republicans are nobly going to bat for those of us who oppose our freedom and property being systematically drained away, leaving us no other recourse but to “blow up our government” (figuratively speaking, of course).

Of course, it is highly unlikely that the Republicans by and large have anywhere near the philosophical intransigence implied by their so far uncompromising stand against tax increases. But the Left must sense what I sense; the stirrings of a real intellectual strength emerging from the Right.

Finally, Dionne’s slap at free market economic theory (our “intellectual bubble”) is disingenuous, to put it mildly. The Left/statists have always clung to their radical collectivist ideology, the driving intellectual force behind their agenda; building a socialist America one brick at a time. American welfare statists fear a principled pro-individual rights counterweight to THEIR OWN intellectual bubble. “[T]he answers to every problem [we face today do in fact] lie in books” by free market intellectuals and philosophers who predicted long ago where our government’s interventionist policies would lead. Left/statists want us out of our “intellectual bubble” because they have no defense against the theoretical arguments that can teach us how we got here and point us toward the way out - free market capitalism, individual rights, and limited rights-protecting government. Unfortunately, the Tea Party doesn’t have anything close to that kind of philosophical clarity.

On the face of it, Dionne appears to be taking an anti-intellectual position by denying any application of broad abstractions or principles to concrete cultural and political issues. But in fact, Dionne and the left always measure issues against the related ideological yardsticks of altruism in ethics, collectivism in metaphysics, and statism in politics. The incessant admonition to abandon ideology for pragmatic practicality is a ruse to intellectually disarm the Right, an admonition that too many free market conservatives are all to quick to embrace.

In regard to Dionne's "radical individualists" remark, this angle is not new. See my E.J. Dionne Answers the Call With Assault on "Extreme Individualism". Radical. Extreme. Do you see a pattern? The strategy is to abort any possible emergence of a principled free market opposition with smear charges of extremism and radical. The GOP should take some advice from Ayn Rand, which could be found in the essay "Extremism," or the art of smearing, which is as relevant today as ever before. She wrote:

The welfare-statists need a new cover. What we are witnessing now is a desperate, last-ditch attempt to put over two “anti-concepts”: the “extremists” and the “moderates.”

The best proof of an intellectual movement’s collapse is the day when it has nothing to offer as an ultimate ideal but a plea for “moderation.” Such is the final proof of collectivism’s bankruptcy. The vision, the courage, the dedication, the moral fire are now on the barely awakening side of the crusaders for capitalism.

The Left dare not say explicitly what motivates it, because what motivates it is the same ideology that brought us all of the 20th century tyranny and bloodshed. They have rarely had to, because the compromising Republicans have been granting the Democrats steady political gains bit by compromising bit. The rise of the Tea Party threatens to upset the game, and embolden Republicans to call the Left's "moderation" bluff. So, expect a lot of charges of "extremist" and "radical" to be hurled at the GOP in 2012. Will the Republicans find the ideological spine to turn the tables?

Finally, here is a response from another corespondent, who is obviously ignorant on both Rand and political philosophy:

Posted by grantmh

Fascists used the same language as Rand (and Zemack) to describe why their idea of a government designed to rule according to what a minority believes is optimal, is something other than fascism.

And my reply:

Posted on 7/21/2011 10:26:57 AM EDT

If Rand’s philosophy is fascist, then so were the Founding Fathers. In fact, the country should not be run by any minority. The minority – i.e., the individual - should be free to run his own life, so long as he/she respects and refrains from violating the rights of others to do the same. A proper government protects the individual’s rights, rather than run his life, and employs no policies that economically favor one group over another. It is capitalism – the separation of economics and state, and which is based upon the recognition of individual rights – that Rand upheld. This is the opposite of fascist doctrine, which means socialism through the back door.

It is primarily today’s Left that is in tune with fascism – in fact, rooted in it. Jonah Goldberg’s book “Liberal Fascism” makes the case unequivocally.

Monday, September 12, 2011

America: A Nation of Sacrifice?

The New Jersey Star-Ledger’s editorial page memorial to 9/11 included a recount of some of America’s achievements:

Since the nation’s inception, we have scribbled big ideas on a blackboard and then executed them. We founded a democracy and nursed it through a bloody civil war. We overcame the Great Depression, beat the Nazis and built the middle class. We passed civil rights legislation, paved interstates and survived a corrupt presidency. We’ve been to the moon and back.

How did “we” do all of that, and all of the rest? Leaving aside the fact that this nation was not founded as a "democracy" or that "we" cannot do anything – only individuals acting independently, whether alone or in cooperation with others, are the source of human achievement – how does the Star-Ledger explain America’s past success? I’ve left the following comments:

Posted on September 11, 2011 at 9:45AM

"[W]e’ve missed the one common thread that runs through all of those historic accomplishments: personal sacrifice."

This nation was not built on “personal sacrifice”. Sacrifice is the rallying cry of the Islamic enemy that attacked this nation. They sacrifice their personal freedoms, the lives and property of others, and even their own lives, for the sake of a power higher than the individual human life – Allah, whose earthly representatives are to sit atop a worldwide theocracy. Sacrifice is the basic ingredient of every enemy of American ideals, from kings to feudal lords to tribal chiefs to Nazis to fascists to communists and – yes, it must be said - to welfare states.

America was built upon personal achievement, made possible by the celebration of the individual as the highest value. America was built by free people pursuing their own goals, purposes, values, welfare, and happiness within the framework of the protection of the individual liberties enshrined in our Founding documents. It is a nation built by individuals dedicated to doing the jobs they have freely chosen, to the best of their ability, even when that dedication means risking one’s life for others - like the first responders who died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. It is a nation defended by a courageous military whose individual members fight not for “the country” but for the ideals this country stands for, and by a citizenry that willingly supports it with its hard-earned dollars and patriotism.

The incessant demands for personal or “shared” sacrifice is killing America.

We must recognize that America was built and can only be restored by personal flourishing, not personal sacrifice. Logically, it can be no other way.

What, exactly, is a “sacrifice”? In today’s usage, it means giving up something desirable for another purpose. This vague understanding leaves out certain crucial contexts. For whose purpose? For a better purpose, or a lesser one? The vagueness leaves sacrifice to so broad a definition as to be almost meaningless. For example, a parent who forgoes spending on current luxuries in order to save for her child’s college education, or the young man who forgoes a social life to devote his time to a new business venture, or the soldier who puts his private life on hold to join the military, are commonly considered sacrifices, even though in each instance the individual is striving to make his life better by advancing a more important value or purpose that improves his life – an educated successful child, a future profit, or fight for the ideals that will later enable him to pursue his life in freedom.

These instances do not measure up to a clear, objective definition of sacrifice, such as the Objectivist definition:

“Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue.

If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is.

The second paragraph gives concrete instances of the difference between a gain and a loss, or sacrifice. The key is the relative worth one assigns to his values. As long as what is given up, no matter how valuable, is directed toward the achievement of a greater value to that individual, we are not talking sacrifice. The problem with today’s usage is that it conflates the two. This allows politicians or the Ledger to pass off and call for sacrifice as an unmitigated good, despite the fact that it could very well be evil. A true sacrifice is an act that makes one’s life worse – “the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue”. Who would advocate such a disastrous course of action on another human being, and how can anyone get away with it? Anyone attemping to advance their own agenda at someone else's expense, cashing in on the confusion surrounding the term “sacrifice”, and then switching the beneficiary of the sacrifice to the collective or some “higher” cause (In this connection, see “altruism”, the moral justification for sacrifice).

For example, the editors have been beating the drum for discriminatory tax increases on “the rich”. Will confiscating their money make them better off, as individuals”? The editors don’t care. “The country”, or “we”, will be better off. The loss is the individual’s, the gain is the collective’s, i.e., other people. Therefor, the rich must sacrifice, and be forced to do so, in order to, as the editors put it, “propel America to a new level of greatness”. “We” have a net gain. Politicians of all stripes cash in on the positive connotations of “sacrifice” in order to convince some electoral group or even the public at large to make their personal, individual lives worse; the argument being, essentially – “it’s for the better”, rather than “It’s for your betterment”, except in some vague undefinable way such as “the good of the country”.

We must come to understand the true meaning of the term “sacrifice”. It pertains only to individuals, and it means fundamentally only one thing – an individual making his own life worse. When a call is made to sacrifice, do not think of the parent, young man, or soldier I cited above. They, like most of us in the millions of choices we make individually in our private lives, are seeking to make their own lives better. When we are told that sacrifices must be made for the sake of some collective good like national greatness, a “stronger nation”, the common good, or some purpose “higher” than the individual, we are being told that America can prosper only if enough individuals’ lives can be made worse.

But a nation is made up only of individuals and it logically follows that a nation of sacrificial individuals can only lead to national disintegration. That is the process that is crippling our economy today. Sacrifice – true, objective sacrifice – is always an unmitigated evil. Always beware those peddling sacrifice – It’s your life they are after.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 - A Decade Later, the Same Solution

A proper war in self-defense is one fought without self-crippling restrictions placed on our commanders in the field. It must be fought with the most effective weapons we possess (a few weeks ago, Rumsfeld refused, correctly, to rule out nuclear weapons). And it must be fought in a manner that secures victory as quickly as possible and with the fewest U.S. casualties, regardless of the countless innocents caught in the line of fire. These innocents suffer and die because of the action of their own government in sponsoring the initiation of force against America. Their fate, therefore, is their government's moral responsibility. There is no way for our bullets to be aimed only at evil men. - Leonard Peikoff

This is a sampling of an essay by Leonard Peikoff, published on October 2, 2001. My contrbution to the commemoration of 9/11 is to highlight Peikoff's piece, entitled "End States Who Sponsor Terrorism".

This is a reminder that the "War on Terrorism" is not and never has been about terrorism. It is a War against an imperialist, aggressive, ideologically driven totalitarian movement bent on worlwide Islamic Supremacy. It is a movement that thinks in terms of decades and centuries, and believes that time is on its side.

We must Never Forget, and we must never forget the real nature of the enemy.

I'll close with the words that represent the root of the terrorists' hatred of us, and the only antidote to Islamic or any other brand of tyranny:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Related Links:

ARC on Islamic Totalitarianism

The Objective Standard, Summer 2011 Issue

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Some Recent Activism - 2

Here are some articles and my engagement in the comments section:

Rand/Jesus Flap and Glenn Beck
- This article deals with the AVN ad I wrote about back in June.

In On income taxes and job creation, history debunks GOP views, the NJ Star-Ledger makes some spurious claims.

Cost should not matter when deciding birth control concerns insurance mandates.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Warning! Dangerous Intersection

The Federal Government has filed suit against 17 major US and foreign banks. The Washington Post Business reports:

Federal regulators launched a broad legal assault on big banks Friday, claiming they sold nearly $200 billion in fraudulent mortgage investments to housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that led to massive losses during the financial crisis.

According to the court filings, those firms and others “falsely represented” the quality of the loans that were bundled into securities and sold to investors and “significantly overstated the ability of the borrower to repay their mortgage loans.” The result, the suits claim, were investments that were far riskier than the banks led taxypayer-backed [sic] Fannie and Freddie to believe, and the securities ultimately were worth a fraction of their original value.

“AHAH! We told you so. It was the free market that caused the financial meltdown, after all.” This is sure to be the rallying cry of statists from coast to coast. In fact, this case proves just the opposite. It points up the culpability of government and the dangers inherent in a mixed economy.

It’s fitting that the sub-heading of the Post website that published the aforementioned article is “Where Washington and Business Intersect”. That intersection is exactly the culprit.

Leaving aside for now the fundamental American principle of justice, “guilty until proven innocent”, let’s assume the banks did in fact fraudulently misrepresent the loans. The first question that comes to mind is; How could fraud on so massive a scale have happened in the first place? Fraudsters have always existed at the fringes of every walk of life. How did they suddenly acquire the power to bring an entire world financial system to the brink of ruin? There is only one possible answer – government interference into the market.

For an in-depth look at the financial crises, peruse the links provided below or my previous articles on the sub-prime mortgage crisis. But, here is a brief encapsulation.

Clinton/Bush/Congress affordable housing crusades “encouraged” banks to lower lending standards through regulatory pressure and mandates. The Fed provided unlimited amounts of ultra-cheap liquidity. Government Sponsored Enterprises Fannie and Freddie, at the behest of politicians, bought up as many sub-prime mortgages that banks could originate. As noted in the article, they are taxpayer-supported. The bundled securities Fannie and Freddie pioneered were given AAA ratings by S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch - the government licensed, competition-protected rating agency cartel. Taxpayer-backed government mortgage guarantees and implied government bailout promises for “too-big-to-fail” institutions bestowed by politicians blessed the whole charade. Responsible lenders were disadvantaged in a politically corrupted marketplace, in favor of the quick-buck artists. The government created a conveyor belt of bad lending.

Only government force could have spread bad loans across the entire system. Now the government is using its prosecutorial authority to cover its own butt and support the politicians’ sinister attempts to switch the primary blame to a non-existent “free market”. It is the mother of all conflicts-of-interest. Nominally private banks face a civil suit by an institution that has massive regulatory power and can thus face regulatory reprisals; that has the arbitrary, predatory power of the antitrust laws and can thus face malicious prosecution; that has taxing powers, and thus face the constant threat of vengeful IRS audits: that has congress, with its posturing politicians and their investigatory and subpoena powers. The banks don’t stand a chance of a vigorously fair fight while their officers face the threat of political imprisonment and financial ruin – especially those with the weakest political connections.

The danger should be obvious. A government’s proper role in the sphere of civil dispute is to mediate; to be an impartial, objective arbiter between private parties who battle it out on the level playing field of the court system. But what happens when that allegedly objective arbiter is deeply entangled in the private economic sphere, as it is today in the financial system (and to varying degrees in all economic sectors)? When a private party is wronged by private fraud or breech of contract, it can turn to the government, whose sole responsibility is to protect everyone’s individual rights. What happens when your protector is the violator of your rights? To whom can you then turn? You have nowhere to turn, which means you are subject to the pressure of all manner of subtle, no-so-subtle, or even implied threats of reprisals from any number of governmental sources. Whether the banks are guilty or innocent, they are on anything but a level objective playing field.

This all reminds us to consider the answer to the age-old question: “Who will protect us from our protectors?” The point is not whether or not fraud was committed. It is not a matter of letting anyone off the hook. If fraud was committed, prosecutions are in order. It’s not even whether or not fraud was committed on so massive a scale as this suit implies; a likelihood that stretches the limits of one’s imagination, to put it mildly. The point is that if your protector is also the other party in the civil dispute, it’s no different than if you are accused of theft and the accuser is also the police chief, prosecutor, and judge – and refuses to recuse himself.

Never mind that the Federal Housing Finance Agency is separate from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They are all arms of the government, in one capacity or another, as are all of the government agencies that have some kind of authority over the private sector. They all ultimately come under the purview of the same politicians. The stench of political corruption is heavy. There is no way to know what complex interactions of political influence peddling is working behind the scenes. The article itself hints at this insidious process:

FHFA is an independent regulator, theoretically insulated from political influence in much the same way as the Federal Reserve. Still, the agency has been under pressure recently from the Obama administration, which has sought new measures to boost the weak housing market. Those ideas include a generous refinancing program that lets struggling borrowers get new mortgages at existing low rates.

Can anyone really say that the Federal Reserve is anything more than theoretically independent? Can any agency that owes its very existence to congress - that depends on congressional funding, confirmation hearings of its officials, legal monopoly guarantees, or congressionally bestowed taxpayer backing - be said to be truly independent? On what basis are we to believe that FHFA was not pressured by Obama or anyone else to file this lawsuit? And even if FHFA acted honorably and objectively in filing suit, that does not preclude pressure being applied to the defendants from other political players with a vested interest in the outcome being a guilty verdict.

The answer to all of these questions is, we will never know whether everything was on the up-and-up, because the conflicts of interest inherent in the mixing of economics – the sphere of voluntary contract - and law enforcement – the sphere of legalized physical force – are irresolvable.

The saga of the housing boom and bust is still unfolding. When the final chapter is written into the history books, the result is likely to be quite different from the history of the Great Depression. For decades, the Depression was blamed on the failure of the free market, and only very recently has that myth begun to unravel. Today, free market forces are armed with 70 additional years of theory, history, and experience. The incipient and corruptive nature of government interference is much better understood. In this very article, the reference to “taxypayer-backed Fannie and Freddie” speaks volumes about the government’s role in the crisis. This suit is just further evidence that the primary cause of the financial crisis was government interference. It could never have happened under laissez-faire capitalism. We need to close down the intersection of Washington and business, and instead phase in the separation of economics and state.

Rating Agencies? Still Subprime

ARC’s Response to the Financial Crisis

The Financial Crisis: Causes and Possible Cures

The Housing Boom and Bust