Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Terrorist Aggression vs. National Self-Defense

My latest post at The Objective Standard Blog asks:

Is there a moral difference between a terrorist attack on a tourist bus and a nation acting in self defense?

Yes, there is. Read Obama's Hideous Moral Equivalence Toward Israel.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Brief Comment on "Income Inequality"

The NJ Star-Ledger ran an article entitled "Study: N.J. wealthy flourishing, gap between rich and poor is largest since Great Depression."

You could imagine the kinds of correspondence such as article would generate. I was reluctant to jump in. But alas, I couldn't help myself. You never know when you might reach a rational mind that's "on the fence."

So, I left these quickly cobbled-together comments:

Posted by

July 29, 2012 at 5:00PM

The bigotry against the productive and successful is a symptom of pure envy. The real problem is not income inequality as such which—in the context of a free society—is a natural and morally virtuous result of human nature; i.e., individual differences in ability, intelligence, interests, ambition, values, goals, etc.

The real issue is the growing burden on upward economic mobility. The question we should be asking is: Why is the number of economically successful people falling (or at least stagnating)? A good clue; look at the past decade that is the focus of the study.

Since 2001, we have seen a massive expansion of entitlements (e.g. Bush’s prescription drug benefit), a massive expansion of economic regulation (e.g., Bush’s Sarbanes-Oxley and the EPA’s regulation of CO2; Obama’s  ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank), a colossal drain on private wealth ($10 trillion in federal deficit spending), the collapse of the politically engineered “affordable housing crusade” (housing boom and bust, and related recession), massive inflation (the fed’s easy money policies), and so on.

It takes a massive act of mental evasion to avoid the fact that the economic troubles of the past decade coincides perfectly with the massive growth of the regulatory welfare state to unprecedented proportions. If government coercion and intervention is the answer, we should have economic nirvana. Instead, we have perpetual economic struggles. This is no coincidence.

The Marxist obsession with “income inequality” and the cowardly scapegoating of “the rich” will not hide this fact. Nor will it hide the fact that the answer is to reverse course; regain our reverence for economic success, and institute massive cuts in taxes, spending, redistributive theft, and regulations. Otherwise, the course we are on will lead to continuing shrinkage in individual productiveness—the only source of economic vitality—and the growing entrenchment of the entitlement mentality—the source of economic sloth. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

How the Right is Defining the Terms of Debate on Education

In How Democrats are Changing Course on School Choice, Tom Byrne, a former New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman, had this to say:

It used to be that school choice was taboo among Democrats. But many key party members have come to see school choice as a civil rights issue. If rich white kids can go to the school that best fits them, why can’t we provide the same opportunity to poor minority kids?

This is progress in the sense that the abstract concept "school choice" continues to gain traction in the culture.  Of course, freedom is not merely about government-approved choice. And now that the concept of school choice accepted, the door is open to moving the ball forward toward more and more freedom in education. I left the following comments:

zemack June 15, 2012 at 11:02AM

What about the vast majority of children between “rich white kids” and “poor minority kids?” No school—even the “best” of the public schools—is good for every child or satisfy every parent. So, how about tax credit-based school choice for everyone? Christie is already on record supporting the concept.

Give every taxpayer—corporations and individuals, with or without school-age children—optional education tax exemptions, so anyone can sponsor the education of any child anywhere in NJ, limited to the per-child cost of public schools. This would make private alternatives to government schools much more affordable for most families, and open the door to a flood of philanthropic money for the rest—including the “poor minority children” left waiting in the public system for improvements that never come. Then, let educators innovate and compete and parents decide. I proposed one such plan here [http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2011-spring/school-vouchers-tax-credits.asp] and a bill along these lines was once introduced into the NY State legislature [http://woodburygazette.com/freedom-of-education-act-p652-133.htm].

So long as the private schools can keep their autonomy by keeping them free from regulation, leaving private schools truly private, it would be the moral thing to do. Not only is this a civil rights issue, but more importantly, it is a matter of inalienable individual rights. On what basis is it fair to deny any parent or child the choice?

We arrived at the degree of statism we currently have in America by allowing the Left to define the terms of debate. The rest was a logical step-by-step regression to more and more government control. Reversing that process is the path to a fully free market. School Choice is a good concrete example of how that can happen. It is we who are defining the terms.

Not so long ago, school choice was ridiculed. Now, it's "mainstream." But it's important to understand that school choice is a start--a tactical battlefield win--not victory. To capitalize on our momentum, we must define school choice not as an end in itself, as conservatives do, but as a means to a fully free market in education. Just as the Left always wraps its politics in altruist/collectivist clothing, we on the Right must always connect our politics to our egoist/individualist fundamentals. That is how to pave the way toward the next progressive step toward full freedom.

Friday, July 27, 2012

It's Been 5 Years for Principled Perspectives!

Today is the Fifth Anniversary of this blog, which was inaugurated with this introduction.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Campaign Finance: Free Speech, Not Disclosure, is the Main Issue

Should campaign contributions be disclosed publicly as a matter of law? That was the subject of a recent NJ Star-Ledger editorial. Complaining about some Republicans' reversal on the issue, the Editors Wrote:

   The change came after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United broke the final shackles on campaign spending. Republicans no longer needed to use the disclosure argument as a shield against calls to limit spending. That battle was won. So now they defend the secrecy, knowing that most of this money will go to them and that the message would be weakened if voters knew the sources.
   How seriously would you take a claim that climate change is fiction if you knew the ads were funded by the oil industry? How about a call to repeal Dodd-Frank that is funded by Wall Street? Don’t voters have a right to see who is holding the strings that control these marionette candidates?
   But for now, secret money will continue to flood into campaigns, drowning out the voice of common people. The Republican march to the extreme continues.

I love when the Left attacks "extremism." It shows their utter fear of any kind of principled opposition from the Right--even of the generally weak Republican variety.

As to disclosure, the Editors obviously want it because they believe that most voters would shoot the messenger rather than apply reasoned analysis to the argument being presented. If the oil industry and Wall Street are funding political advertisements (or candidates) seeking repeal of the statist attacks on their businesses, that very fact ipso facto discredits the case for repeal--along with the candidates themselves. Sadly, there are many ignorant voters who would fall for this Leftist line. There is no need to think seriously on the issue. Look who's paying for it, they'll say, abandoning any pretense at becoming a serious, informed voter.

That aside, I'm undecided on the disclosure issue, but certainly not on the real issue; free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. The Editors took a slap at a significant Supreme Court victory for the First Amendment--the Citizens United case. That's what I had in mind with these brief comments:

zemack July 18, 2012 at 11:00AM

Leaving aside the disclosure issue, the real threat to “the voice of common people” are those who favor government “shackles on Campaign Spending.”

In reality, there are only individual people, not “common” vs. “uncommon.” The fact that free associations of individuals—corporations, unions, PACS, etc.—choose to voluntarily pool their money to advocate for a common cause does not and will not “drown out” anyone. They may be more effective at getting their message out, and that’s a good thing for public debate.

But it’s bad for those who desire an imperial political class that can operate without those pesky effective citizen voices. And perhaps it’s bad for old media monopolists that used to dominate. But limitless spending on political campaigns—secret or not—is great for First Amendment rights and freedom generally.

If the flood of campaign spending is bad, then work on getting rid of the cause that draws that money into politics; government meddling in the economy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It's Rationing, Whether the S-L Wants to Call It That or Not

In a recent editorial, A Dose of Medicine for Hospitals, the NJ Star-Ledger lauded one of the ObamaCare "reforms" currently being implemented:

Now, hospitals have an added incentive for making sure readmissions drop: Starting in October, a carrot and stick — courtesy of health care reform — will swing into action. Hospitals with the highest rates of patient readmission within 30 days of a discharge will forfeit 1 percent of the amount they bill Medicare. The percentage increases every year, until the readmission rate trends downward.

 The Editors claim that this is not rationing. It's all about "efficiencies in Medicare" and "guidance" and "help" and "communication" and "coordinating care" for patients--all courtesy of government officials and their "carrots and sticks."

I've left the following comments:

July 12, 2012 at 11:09AM
Government controlled and/or run medicine always leads to exploding costs and ultimately rationing. This is a piece of proof. The editors apparently think they can bend reality by simply refusing to call a spade a spade.
Healthcare decision-making morally and rightfully belongs to the patient (and, when appropriate, his family) and his doctors and other healthcare providers. Now, patients and their families will not know whether they are being turned away from a hospital based on reasoned medical judgment or because of government edicts or threatened fines. Government bureaucrats will use their “carrots and sticks” to enforce their judgment on patients and doctors. The horrific incentives created will now pit hospitals against doctors’ judgment and patient wishes. Goodbye doctor-patient relationship and Hippocratic Oath.
This is back-door rationing; but it is rationing none-the-less. “The old way of doing things” certainly had its problems, thanks to massive government interference. It was already partially socialized, with the rest heavily controlled. ObamaCare is more of the same; another huge step toward the ultimate statist goal, totalitarian socialized medicine. 

Related Reading:

ObamaCare and the Statists' False Alternative

PSA Testing: Are Death Panels Arriving Under Cover of "Scientific Evidence?"

Forbes: "Death Panels... We Already Have One"

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's the Human Choice, Stupid!--Thoughts on the Colorado Theater Shooting

In today's NJ Star-Ledger, the editors called for a legal ban on assault rifles, declaring, "It's the Guns, Stupid!". I left the following comments:

zemack July 21, 2012 at 10:18AM

And once again, the cry goes up: PUNISH THE INNOCENT! Because of the actions of one evil man, we must violate the rights of the millions of people who did not commit the crime. It is immoral to exploit these evil acts to assault the rights of law-abiding citizens.

The right to own a gun is rooted in our fundamental inalienable individual rights; the right to life, which entails the right to self-defense; and the rights-respecting pursuit of happiness, which could entail hobbies like gun collecting or recreational uses like hunting, competitions, or target practice. We all have the right to own a gun, even those of us who do not avail ourselves of gun ownership (me included). (I have no particular opinion about assault rifles. But make no mistake, the same motive that lies behind the move to ban assault rifles lies behind the move to ban all guns.)

Violating rights is immoral. It is also impractical. The simplistic notion that a law can banish assault rifles is the same mentality that lies behind 1920s-style alcohol prohibition and the modern era's perpetually failed "war on drugs." A law would merely ban legally owned assault rifles.

But the issue of assault rifle legality aside, their is something much more fundamental involved. A belief in the validity of reason and free will is fundamental to justice and a free society, including this country's Founding. The "It's the guns, stupid" mantra is a repudiation of human free will and logic, and thus--as this editorial proves--justice. It implies that we are not responsible for our actions; that an inanimate object causes human action, as if a gun can attack people of its own volition.

The issue is not guns. The issue is the initiation of physical force against others. Those who do--whether with guns or knives or fists or cars or whatever--do so of their own choice and should be punished. Those who don't should have their rights protected.

One final thought: Imagine how much carnage could have been avoided had any of those theater-goers been armed under right-to-carry laws.

Friday, July 20, 2012

President Obama: Top-Down Economist-in-Chief

President Obama recently chided Mitt Romney for wanting to “go back to the top-down economics of the last decade”--meaning; ”eliminate regulations and cut taxes, then the market will solve all of our problems.” Instead, Obama proposed “‘some bottom-up economics,’ [because] American prosperity has always come from ‘a strong and growing middle class, and all those people who are striving and working to get into the middle class.’”

He’s right, but not in the sense he means.

What we’ve actually had for the past decade (and longer) is a mixed economy increasingly tilted toward a domineering regulatory welfare state; a trend that has accelerated under Obama. If the stagnant state of today’s economy tells us anything--coinciding as it does with government reaching its most bloated state in American history--it is that “top-down economics” actually is the problem.

The term “bottom-up economics” more aptly--albeit somewhat crudely-- describes free market capitalism. Capitalism is based on the recognition of every individual’s right to work productively and trade voluntarily. Strictly speaking, the market--when left free--doesn’t “solve our problems”. Rather, the free market provides every motivated, able individual with the social environment he needs to solve his own problems and pursue success, sometimes straight to the top 1%--a politically unobstructed road for upward economic mobility. How?;  by forbidding the use of government force for purposes of economic favoritism, obstructionism, or to impose someone’s fantasy of “social” or “economic justice.” Since Capitalism strictly relegates government’s function to equally protecting everyone’s individual rights, it is the only true system of “the masses.”

If Obama were truly the champion of “equal opportunity” that he claims to be, he would embrace free markets, and begin working to systematically unwind the government’s labyrinthine regulatory regime. Economic regulations entrench established economic interests such as politically connected big businesses. Ending this protection racket would greatly expand opportunities for smaller business competitors. To expand opportunities for newcomers to the job market, he could start by eliminating minimum wage and occupational licensure laws, which raise the bottom rungs of the proverbial “economic ladder” out of the reach of many “striving...to get into the middle class.”

Of course, Obama doesn’t see an unobstructed road--freedom--as a key to the middle class and economic recovery. He alluded to “a stalemate between two fundamentally different views”--which indeed there is.

One view is captured best by Ayn Rand, who once described the middle class as “a broad reservoir of energy, ...a country’s motor and lifeblood, which feeds the rest....[The] common denominator of its members, on their various levels of ability, is: independence.”

Obama’s vision is one of dependence on government; a vast welfare class, not a middle class. Despite his rhetoric, Obama is the quintessential exponent of top-down economics.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On "Nightmare" College Debt

In a recent NJ Star-Ledger Reader Forum letter, Liana Laurenceau complained about her "Nightmare Debt"--student loan debt, that is:

Student loan debt is going to be a crisis if our politicians do not agree on a plan of action. As a student, the debt that looms over my head haunts my sleep every night — if the rate were to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The purpose of college was to have a brighter future and a more stable life. As a student, I urge Congress: Don’t double my rate.

One can sympathize with Liana. But the bottom line is, she incurred the debt to begin with. On the other hand, the cost of college is beyond reason. I left the following comments under my screen name:

June 27, 2012 at 1:46PM
RE: Nightmare Debt--
Instead of quibbling about student loan interest rates, we should be phasing out and ending all government involvement in college funding, including government-subsidized student loans. First of all, it is immoral, because it forces some people to pay for other people’s education or educational ideas that may violate their convictions.
Furthermore, student college subsidies, as is always the case when government finances things, have driven the cost of college into the stratosphere. It has created a college-craze bubble, in the form of a mindset that a college degree, rather than a marketable skill, is the path to “a brighter future and a more stable life.”
The flood of government money has created a curriculum inflation of useless courses: How much of what is “taught” in college is needed toward the career choice of the students? How many occupations really require a full college degree, as opposed to much more condensed specialized training?
The “crisis” of student loan debt is a government-created one. Students “haunted” by their debt should ask themselves: How much of what you are paying for through college debt do you really need? How much of the knowledge you do need could have been acquired much more economically, such as through a combination of part-time study and work, along the lines of apprenticeship programs, or with much less full-time college time investment?
It’s time to burst the college bubble mentality. The focus for high school grads should be on acquiring chosen career skills as economically as possible—possibly beginning in high school—rather than on chasing a college degree. That adjustment won’t begin to happen until we get government largess out of the college equation.

One of the problems that I see is that so much college loan debt is out of sync with what the graduate could earn in his/her chosen field. It's hard to imagine private lenders extending credit on this basis, because you would think they'd like to be paid back. As a matter of self-interest, lenders would have to make certain that the potential future earning power is enough to cover the loan payments, just as (until recently) home mortgage lenders tied mortgage loans to appropriate income levels. but government interference into the education loan  market greased the skids with easy money in the form of subsidies and guarantees.

But don't worry, the government fixed the problem by cutting out the bank middlemen, and taking over the student loan market directly. Yea, that'll solve it. Look for the bubble to really expand, making the bust that much bigger.

See also:

The Wasteful Destructiveness of Tax-Funded Education

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Open Letter to Katie B. On Education Funding

A recent Independence Day discussion on the social website “Pinterest” included the issue of tax funding of education. Speaking in support of taxpayer financing, Katie B  posted this:

You pay every day for someone else's education. I have no children and I pay for your children's and your grand-children's education every day and I am absolutely happy to do it. I want the children of America to grow up kind, intelligent, well informed, Non-Ethnocentric adults and when they do I want them to go on to college (which we should all want to pay for) so that we have enough doctors, dentists, nurses, school teachers, mechanics, (plus all of the artsy professions) to continue to build and support a wonderful nation. How much college will you hope your caretaker has had when you are 90, in a nursing home, and they are putting a needle in your arm?

I’m not a Pinterest member, and in any event word limits preclude a proper response on that site, so I decided to answer her through this open letter.

Dear Katie B,

There is no disputing that education is vital. I take moral issue with your means of payment.

Wouldn't you agree that every individual has a fundamental right to think and act on his/her own judgment? After all, isn’t the primary purpose of education to equip the child to do just that?  You said yourself that you want “intelligent, well-informed, Non-Ethnocentric adults.” That’s a partial description of an individualist; one capable of acting on his own judgment. Shouldn’t he be free to do so?

It logically follows—would you not agree?—that as an adult, he should be free to spend his earned money as he pleases, in pursuit of his own rational self-interest. When there is no government involvement in education—i.e., in a free market in education—you would be free to charitably pay for the education of other people’s children voluntarily. No one has ever suggested that you should be forbidden to do so.

Is it moral, then, for you to forbid others the same consideration? Is it fair to stop others from doing with their money what they choose? Another person may want to spend his money on healthcare; saving for a house or retirement; their own or their children’s needs; a vacation or hobby; other philanthropic causes; or a myriad of other things. If you believe that paying directly for other’s education is in your interest, shouldn’t others have the same freedom to advance their values and interests? What if people disagree with you: e.g., I believe it is ridiculous to say every child should go to college. Why should I be forced to foster what I believe to be such a destructive and wasteful course of action; to blindly “encourage” college upon young people? Don’t I have a right to my opinions, and the corresponding right to act on them as I see fit? It is simply immoral for you to say otherwise, if your commitment to “kindness” means anything. You should consider whether the parents and grandparents really want your kind of payment—government control of their children’s and grandchildren’s education.

Of course, educational philanthropy can be a worthy addition to your goals. In a free market, there would be more of it, because without the burden of education taxes, the private sector would have more money to spend, since private individuals are ultimately the ones that fund all of these taxes to begin with. The only difference would be that the people who earned the money would decide how it is spent, rather than government bureaucrats.

Of course, in a free market, your task would be a bit harder. You would have to take responsibility for how you spend your charitable education dollars, rather than blindly hand it over to government officials. You would need to be “well informed.” You would have to decide whose education to support, and whether they are worthy. You’d have to judge what type of educational curriculum, philosophy, methods, and teacher credentialing you approve of.

It’s easy to simply allow the state to seize your money, then sit back and pat yourself on the back for how great you are to the “children of America.” Did it ever occur to you that the government schools you support are in many respects destructive to children in the eyes of many, me included? Do you care? Maybe you don’t want to bother with such considerations. But those of us who do have a fundamental right to refuse to support schools we disapprove of. The liberty to make moral choices is an inalienable individual right. Educational philanthropy—like all charity—is properly a voluntary individual choice.

Voluntary charity aside, in a free market there is a sense in which “you pay every day for someone else’s education”: every time you buy something in the market. When you go to the doctor, you pay for his education through his fees. The same is true of any other profession or trade—including that nursing home caretaker with the needle. When you buy any product, from a computer to a car to a pencil, you are paying for the education of all of the people who made the production of those goods possible, through the price of the product. And when you receive a wage or salary, what is it your employer is paying you for?—in large part, your education.

The money a person earns is the reward for his education, to the extent that his education contributes to his skill. Why should anyone be forced to pay for any person’s education up front, rather than as and when he needs it via voluntary trade in the market? Morally, aside from your own children, you owe no one any more than voluntary market payment, and no one owes you the educational means to a livelihood; i.e., to making money.

Besides charity, there are other voluntary free market ways in which young people could be relieved of the burden of financing their own post-secondary education. Employers have a powerful incentive to build a productive workforce. In a free market, many employers undoubtedly would—and even in today’s system, often do—pay for the education and training, including college courses, of promising employees, as a matter of self-interest. And don’t forget, without education taxes, the private sector would have more money to spend, since private individuals and businesses are ultimately the ones that pay all of these taxes to begin with. The only difference would be that the people who earned the money would decide how it is spent, rather than government bureaucrats. But again, to be moral, it must be voluntary for all concerned.

There are only three moral ways to pay for education: in the market, voluntarily through philanthropy or employment agreements, or pay for it yourself. Any method that depends on force is morally corrupt. Why is it good to be forced to meet other people’s educational needs, but not be responsible for your own? Why is it better for government officials to make educational decisions with your money, but not yourself?

The basic issue of education funding is moral. It is simply wrong to inject force into human relationships. Since you do, Katie B., you forfeit any credibility regarding your professed desire for “a wonderful nation.” The only proper way for people to deal with one another—and the only basis for such a nation—is voluntary persuasion and agreement. Force is the opposite of peaceful coexistence. Each of us has a right to choose, pursue, earn, and protect our own goals and values without coercive interference by others. Tax funded education violates those most basic of individual rights and principles, because a tax is purely an act of force.

These are the moral considerations you evade, Katie B. Consequently, your “children of America” and “wonderful nation” clichés ring hollow. Bromides won’t hide your disregard for the rights of others. You should exhibit some of the “kindness” you claim to want to instill in children. If you really care about quality affordable education—which would be the result in a free market, as economics 101 demonstrates—you’d join those of us who want to get government out of education. And if you truly want to earn the moral high ground, you’ll want to renounce force as a means of dealing with your fellow man.

Mike LaFerrara

Related Reading:

Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits

Separation of Church (or Education) and State

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The 58%

Forget the 99% vs. the 1%. Advocates of a free society have a secret weapon, if they can harness it. Read my latest post at TOS Blog; Will the 58% Save America?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Giving Sebelius a Small Piece of My Mind

The NJ Star-Ledger published an op-ed by Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; N.J. has lots to lose if health reform legislation is repealed. Sebelius listed a slew of alleged benefits that many New Jerseyans would allegedly lose without ObamaCare. Here are some excerpts:

"Thanks to the law, all Americans with insurance are now protected from some of the insurance industry’s worst abuses, such as having their coverage canceled when they get sick just because they made a mistake on an application, or facing a lifetime dollar cap on their benefits.

"Under the law, 54 million people with private health insurance, including 1.7 million in New Jersey, now can get free preventive care...

"For seniors, repeal would mean they’d lose free preventive care...

"Insurance companies could once again throw children with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, off a family policy, or refuse to cover their illness."

There is more, and my comments below only scratch the surface of the issues raised, and of the broader problems with ObamaCare and it's supporters. Here are the comments I left. I think I made the broader point that ObamaCare is a power-grab, not a moral solution to anything:

zemack  [me] July 12, 2012 at 9:52AM
What Ms. Sebelius doesn’t mention is the fact that the problems in American healthcare can be fixed with free market solutions.
Some examples; a simple rider on an insurance policy to cover pre-existing conditions should a policy-holder lose or switch insurers, or an umbrella policy (similar to liability umbrella insurance) to cover overruns of lifetime caps. A big part of the pre-existing conditions problem could be solved by ending the government-imposed third-party-payer system (people don’t worry about loss of life, auto, or homeowners insurance when they switch jobs, because they own the policies). Anti-fraud laws are enough to protect against breach of contract, such as unfair cancelations of policies. Other government abuses, such as the avalanche of insurance mandates and competition-stifling interferences like bans on interstate insurance sales and CON requirements that drive up the cost of insurance are also not mentioned by Ms. Sebelius. ObamaCare’s architects and supporters are not interested in moral, rights-protecting solutions; otherwise these “reformers” would have started by examining previous government policies and programs.
As to those freebies she mentions; well, George Orwell would have been proud. Nothing is free. Those services are paid for by money immorally seized from other people by force of taxes or mandated insurance coverage. Ms. Sebelius can’t conceive of people actually paying for their own preventive care. But then this is the essence of socialism—make everyone both a slave to the needs of others, and a parasite on the wealth of others—with the government the big winner in the form of ever-increasing power over our lives and wealth.
ObamaCare is a continuation of the pattern of the past 50-75 years—a gradual government takeover of American healthcare. ObamaCare must not only be repealed, but the previous encroachments which are not only immoral but a primary cause of the problems it is alleged ObamaCare will fix must eventually be phased out. People have the right to make their own choices in life. Doctors, patients, insurers, consumers, and other medical providers have a right to contract freely and voluntarily with one another to mutual advantage, and no one has an automatic claim on the services or wallets of another. The government should protect these rights, not exploit the legitimate needs of some to continuously expand its intrusive powers.

For more, I recommend Moral Health Care vs. "Universal Health Care" by Lin Zinser and Paul Hsieh.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tenure and Self-Esteem--Part 2

The tenure debate shifted abruptly to a much more important topic. Tenure proponents claimed that without tenure, parents fretting over their children's self-esteem would come out en mass to get teachers fired for not awarding   higher grades than their children earned. Bergen32 continued on June 11. 2012 at 2:31PM:

But to me the alternative of no tenure is much, much worse. Parents all over the state will look to get teachers fired because their little Johnny or Susie (who is soooooo perfect) did not get the grade they felt they were entitled to. High school coaches will be fired if little Johnny doesn't get as much playing time as he feels he deserves (google "Dennis Rossi Old Tappan" for an example of this - Rossi is a Hall of Fame HS basketball coach who got fired because some whiny parents complained). As a result, we'll graduate a ton of A+ students who are not prepared.
BTW - this commencement address at Wellesley HS in MA is something that all of our gradutes (sic) need to hear....High School Teacher Tells Graduating Students: You're not special.

I read the article, and then--admittedly steaming that something like this speech "caught the nation's eye, in an age where many believe today's youth suffer from a sense of self-importance"--left the following comments:

Bergen32: “you’re not special” “even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you." – from your link
I can’t think of a more evil or more hateful thing for any educator to tell a child. If you believe that destroying any child’s self-esteem—the vital quality that a flourishing life depends upon—is good, then you’ve just destroyed whatever credibility your pro-tenure argument had. No parent in their right mind would sanction such collectivist rubbish--the idea that the individual is nothing in the collective scheme of things. Didn't this ideology wreak enough havic in the 20th century? This is why we need to make teachers and schools fully accountable to parents.

To be fair, the speaker, Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr., had some legitimate concerns. Meghan Neal wrote:

   The teacher warned students that Americans have come to appreciate accolades more than genuine achievement, and will compromise standards in order to secure a higher spot on the social totem pole.    "As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of the Guatemalans," he said.   In the quest for accomplishment, everything gets watered down. A 'B' is the new 'C.' Midlevel courses are the new advanced placement, the teacher said.

As we shall see, this does not detract from the hideous message he left these students. Bergen32 retorted:

June 11, 2012 at 4:44PM   Zemack - come down off the ledge, pal. How is what I said hateful? When everyone is special, no one is. Listen to the commencement address I posted and you'll see there's nothing hateful about it.
   Part of (certainly not all) the problem is the whole self-esteem" movement that basically states that under no circumstances should children have to suffer through anything that might (oh God forbid) hurt little Johnny's or Sally's self-esteem. And when little Johnny doesn't make the traveling baseball team (even though he isn't good enough) or little Susie doesn't get an A (even though she didn't deserve it), we still have to accommodate them because we can't do anything that might compromise their precious psyches. They need to realize that they can't always get what they want and that some disappointment in life is inevitable. If they learn that at a young age, they'll be well-prepared for the future....

My response:
I didn’t say what you said is hateful. I said what the commencement speaker that you laud said is.
The so-called “self-esteem movement” has no idea what self-esteem actually is. Self-esteem is the confidence to know that one is capable of dealing with reality, and that he is worthy of whatever success and happiness he achieves by his own effort. A person of true self-esteem holds pride in the fact that he gave it his best shot, even if he fails to make the travelling team. A person of self-esteem is not motivated by the desire to beat the next guy, nor concerned about his spot on the totem pole, nor does he seek the unearned or guaranteed success. Only a person of self-esteem is truly equipped to deal with disappointment. Only a person of self-esteem can respect others. A person who doesn’t think he is “special” or “important” will not think anyone else is, either.
Every individual is capable of “specialness”—the full application of his reason and his skills to the achievement of his chosen goals. But it has to be achieved, which requires self-motivation, which requires the fuel of self-esteem. The individual is a supreme value, not an inconsequential spec in a 6.8 billion cell ant colony. I would tell this year’s graduating class that each of them has something no one else in the world has—yourself. Make the most of it.

The last two statements were inspired by this post. Bergen32 continued:

Zemack - sorry, I just don't see what Mr. McCullough said in his commencement address that was hateful. Please enlighten me. What he said was a message that these students need to hear before they go out into the world.  
Regarding your definition or description of "self-esteem", I'm very much in agreement with you. A child with true self-esteem would be OK with not making the travelling team, as long as it gave it his best effort. He might be disappointed (which is OK), but he'd be OK. But additionally, his parents would be OK with it too.

I welcomed the opportunity to "enlighten" him:

Gladly, Berger32. Here is McCullough’s closing statement:
“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.”
Another word for this is altruism—the idea that moral purpose consists of living for and serving others. What is the corollary of that? That others must live for you. This vicious inversion means you (and everyone) are entitled to the unearned, but not what you have earned. It fosters envy, resentment, and the entitlement mentality, because what others have is morally yours, and if you don’t get it, then others are selfishly holding out on you. On the flip side, altruism fosters suspicion and fear of others, because there are 6.8 billion people who have a moral claim on your life, and you never know when someone will present that claim.
Selflessness is the enemy of self-esteem, and any enemy of self-esteem is pure evil. Destroy self-esteem, and you have endless guilt for any self-satisfaction and happiness you earn. Only a few minutes of thought will tell you that the ideal McCullough is preaching is predatory law-of-the-jungle viciousness. Everyone is prey and predator. To the extent that anyone accepts and tries to live by this code, they are destroyed. What would you call it? (And please don’t bring up compassion and generosity. They grow from self-esteem, not selflessness.) 

The quote above is from the full text of the speech, not Neal's article. As you read the text, there are times that McCullough seems to be on the right track. As I read, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes thought that maybe I was a bit too hard on him. For example, he said:
         The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.  You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube.
But you can only judge a philosophical speech by its essential message. McCullough's message is to hammer the students into moral submission; submission as an end in itself.  McCullough's speech could have been made by Ellsworth M. Toohey, the collectivist in The Fountainhead:

If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – and the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse – and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself. Want to know how it’s done? See if I ever lied to you. See if you haven’t heard all this for years, but didn’t want to hear, and the fault is yours, not mine.

There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an idol in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against himself. Direct it towards a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one has ever reached it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish ? Man realises that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue - and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness. Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value. He feels himself obliged to preach what he can’t practice. But one can’t be good halfway or honest approximately. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey – because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean. 

...Of course, you must dress them up. You must tell people they’ll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don't have to be too clear about it. Use big vague words. ‘Universal Harmony’ – ‘Eternal Spirit’ – ‘Divine Purpose’ – ‘Nirvana’ - ‘Paradise’ – ‘Racial Supremacy’ – ‘the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.’ [or the 6.8 billion] Internal corruption, Peter. That’s the oldest one of all. The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Indefatigable Power of Freedom and Reason

My latest post at The Objective Standard Blog is a good refutation of the need for laws that violate rights in the name of "fighting discrimination." Read Larry Doby, American Hero.

For more on this, see:

Title 2: Government vs. Private Action

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Our "Cynical" Society

In a recent letter to the NJ Star-Ledger Readers Forum titled United We Stand, a correspondent named Marvin Bograd opened with:

America is often referred to as the melting pot. Unfortunately, the melting pot has become a kettle boiling over with mistrust and cynicism.
What followed was a list of generalizations not worthy of commentary. But the point about America becoming "a kettle boiling over with mistrust and cynicism" is becoming true. I posted the following comments under my screen name:

June 27, 2012 at 12:48PM
Marvin Bograd, there is a reason America has become a pot “boiling over with mistrust and cynicism,” but it’s not bigotry.
When we created the regulatory redistributionist welfare state, we granted government unlimited, extra-constitutional powers over all areas of our lives. In a representative “democracy,” who ends up exercising that power?—the most politically powerful group-of-the-moment.
The inevitable consequence of this monstrosity we created was the rise of political special interests, each seeking to gain enough momentary control of the legislative process for the purpose of imposing some economic/political scheme on the rest of us by government force.
Look around. We are in the midst of a cold civil war of political pressure groups. We have become a nation of thieves and thugs. Where is the first place we turn to solve every perceived problem? Do we turn to our neighbors with a rational argument seeking agreement by voluntary persuasion? Not any more: Instead, we turn to the government to force our views on our neighbors by law or decree. Respect for the rights of others to disagree and act on their own judgment? Hell, we think enough votes is all we need to justify brute force against those who disagree.
It’s no wonder we’re boiling over with mistrust and suspicion. We've allowed our nation to be transformed from the servant/rights-protecting government of our Founding to an out-of-control rights-violating supreme state. Now, every man-with-a-plan is a threat to everyone else’s lives and wallets. Get a group; lobby the politicians; get a law passed. The predatory state breeds predatory interest groups.
Until we regain an understanding of the supremacy of individual rights, reign in our omnipotent government, and learn to respect the next guy on that basis, we will continue to degenerate into social Darwinism—the law of the jungle.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Education Tax Credits vs. Government Subsidies

My latest post at TOS blog begins:

In criticizing his state’s proposed tax credit-based school voucher program, called the “Opportunity Scholarship Act,” former New Jersey governor James J. Florio writes: “You don’t have to be an economist to understand that [education] tax credits are tax expenditures and, thus, revenues lost to be made up by someone else.”

Read Education Tax credits Are Not Government Subsidies to see why Florio is wrong.

Not all tax credits are created equal, however. My published letter in the NJ Star-Ledger Readers Forum explains why:

Voucher economicsIn “Vouchers loss is a gain for equality” (June 20), an op-ed critical of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, former Gov. James Florio said, “Tax credits are tax expenditures and, thus, revenues lost to be made up by someone else,” labeling those who say otherwise as “intellectually dishonest.”But it is Florio who is intellectually dishonest. Each scholarship voucher removes one child from the public schools, reducing government revenues and expenditures by relieving the government of the expense of educating that child. Since the vouchers are capped at $9,000 — well below the average per-pupil cost of public education — there are no revenues “to be made up by someone else.” If anything, the state is getting a windfall.In contrast, solar tax credits, for example, reduce government revenues without any reduction in expenditures because the government is not in the business of installing solar energy devices. If I get a credit of $100, the government is shorted $100 toward some other function that it does perform, which must then be made up by taxing others $100 more.
It's true that solar credits are not literally a subsidy, since the person claiming the credit is spending his own money, not receiving a direct payment from another taxpayer. But I would call it an indirect subsidy, because of the corresponding drop in his tax liability--a drop that amounts to a taxpayer financed discount for his purchase of the solar installation.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

There They Go Again

That didn’t take long. One heat wave, a severe thunderstorm event, and the global warming ideologists are out in force. Ok, I acknowledge Eugene Robinson’s disclaimer:no heat wave, no hurricane, no outbreak of tornadoes or freakish storms — can be definitively blamed on climate change.” But the rest of Robinson’s recent column is all about how this heat wave correlates to global warming.

Robinson starts out with a blatantly false presumption—that the issue is whether or not you “believe in climate change”—as if we’re talking about an ideology. Well, at least in regards to the Left, we are. Here Robinson goes:

Still don’t believe in climate change? Then you’re either deep in denial or delirious from the heat.

“Climate Change” is not the issue. It’s always been a fact of nature.

Yes, it’s always hot here in the summer — but not this hot. Yes, we always have thunderstorms — but never like these.

Never!?! Robinson says just 4 paragraphs later that “recordkeeping began in 1895.” That’s 117 years ago; not even a proverbial pinprick in climatological time. So, even for cities in the path of the “record setting” heat wave and/or storms, it’s at worst the strongest in 117 years, not ever—which is a hell of a lot longer than a mere century. Whenever you read “on record,” keep in mind how short a time records have been kept, and how long man has been around, let alone the Earth.

Why might this be happening? Well, the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is more than 35 percent greater than in 1880, NASA scientists report, with most of the increase coming since 1960.

Carbon dioxide levels rose from 280 parts-per-million to just under 400 PPM since the industrial revolution began. To keep it in perspective, the first figure represents .007% of the atmosphere, or ¼” on a football field. The second figure represents .01%, or 3/8”. So the entire increase in CO2 since the industrial revolution equates to a 1/8” gain on a football field. Even if you attribute the entire rise in CO2 to human activity—not at all proven—then human activity is responsible for just 1/10th of the warming over the past 150 years, because water vapor and clouds are responsible for more than 90% of the greenhouse effect.

The news gets worse for anti-carbon zealots. As Robinson points out, most of the CO2 increase has occurred since 1960, yet the current warming trend began much earlier; in the mid to late 19th century. Not only is CO2 a minor player in the greenhouse effect that keeps Earth hospitable to life, the correlation between CO2 and warming is dubious at best.

The problem for those who dismiss climate change as a figment of scientists’ imagination…,

The problem with science is that it is politicized. Most basic research has been taken over by government. This means scientists must depend on politicians for funding, and the political class is dominated by the environmental lobby and environmentalist dogma. How can their claims be considered objective? How can the science be trusted? This is not to say that all of the science is bogus. It is to ask how much of it is legitimate and how much is politically coerced.

…or even as a crypto-socialist one-worldish plot to take away our God-given SUVs…,

If that’s not the case, then why has the Left seized on “climate change” as a means of expanding government controls? E.G., the EPA has an instrument of totalitarian powers—the regulation of CO2 as a pollutant. Considering the fact that human life and well-being requires a huge process of CO2 production, from breathing—each human exhale generates 100 times as much CO2 than is inhaled—to electric power to transportation, regulating CO2 is clearly a means of controlling every aspect of our lives, right down—potentially—dictating how many children we can have. Climate change ideology is all about statism, socialist or not. That power is real: e.g., It is being used to destroy an entire American industry, coal, while climate change ideology is the excuse for creating a massive welfare industry—so-called “renewable” energy.

…is that the data are beginning to add up.

Again, data from how far back?

Which brings me to:

Critics have blasted the Obama administration’s unfruitful investment in solar energy. But if government-funded research managed to lower the price of solar panels to the point where it became economical to install them on residential roofs, all you global warming skeptics would have air conditioning right now.

Exactly what I’m talking about. Obama’s “investments,” like all government funding, are funded by money taken by force from those who earned it, laundered through political hands, and shoveled into the pockets of special interests waiting at the public trough. Regarding solar, the subsidies have been going on for decades. But if solar is potentially economically competitive, then why the subsidies? If not, then why the subsidies? Oh, that’s right. The climate change disaster scenario. Turns out thecrypto-socialist one-worldish plot” narrative is not so outlandish, after all.

To return to my first comment, let me say this. The issue is not whether or not climate change is occurring. The issue is the political agenda of the Left, which is pure statism. The dispute over climate is what to do about it, if anything, and the government’s proper role in the “doing.”

The Left wants less freedom. They concoct disaster scenarios to justify economic controls, even though global warming is on balance very good for human life. Any negative effects can easily be dealt with in a free capitalist society.

And that’s the real divide on the climate issue; statism vs. individual freedom. No matter what the consequences of climate change, or what role human activity plays in it, the broad context must not be forgotten.  When you consider the monumental advance in human living standards that fossil fuels made possible during the industrial revolution—and the vatal role of capitalistic freedom—any alteration in climate was well worth the price—if it even is a price.

We “skeptics” do not doubt the actual facts of climate change. We just don’t want to slide into totalitarian rule on the pretense of saving the planet.