Friday, August 31, 2012

Farmer's Anti-Intellectual "Argument from Intimidation"

I recently encountered a column by long-time NJ Star-Ledger reporter John Farmer, titled Far-Right Wing Has Taken Flight on the Republican Party. In this column, Farmer sees a "growing anti-intellectualism" inside the Republican Party. In light of Farmer's charge, this column has to be read to be believed.

Or, you can read my comments and get the gist of it:

Talk about glass houses: “Anti-intellectualism” is not an entirely false description of the Republican Party, but Mr. Farmer is the last one who should level that charge. This column is saturated with it. Derogatory terms like “crazies,” “kooks,” “odd balls,” “weird,” “scatterbrained,” “freak show,” and “wacko,” are not the stuff of a serious intellectual discussion of issues. And Farmer’s own paranoia is evidenced in his fear of “right-wing extremists who dominate the Republican Party,” without any explanation of what “right-wing” stands for (individual rights) or why extremism (consistent adherence to one’s principles) is necessarily bad (it depends on a moral evaluation of one’s principles). Where does one see a consistent defense of individual rights in the GOP today? (Ryan at least talks about rights, and for that he deserves credit. But opposition to legalized abortion and gay marriage are anti-individual rights, not right-wing, positions.) 
As a political Independent and authentic far right-winger, I have many disagreements with individual Republicans and with the Republican Party generally, and I don’t disagree with Farmer that some of the positions cited here are wrong. But this whole column is an argument from intimidation and smear tactics, not substance. The purpose of such tactics is to discredit an entire political party in order to stifle debate. It is anti-intellectualism. 

Ayn Rand identified the Argument from Intimidation thus:

There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure . . . [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. 

And "extremism" as an "anti-concept": "an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept." Extremism is taken ipso facto as a smear, without any attempt to define the term.

I also had the opportunity to point a thoughtful correspondent--a regular @ NJ.COM--to an Objectivist philosopher's lecture. He asked, in reply to my comments:

@Z...Let me ask this question, Zemack. Is this “Anti-intellectualism" you write about an established trend and here to stay, or is this an isolated phenomenon that will dissipate in time - in your estimation?

Here is my answer:

M_Town: By “anti-intellectualism,” I mean the practice of considering each issue without reference to principles of any kind, or any unifying ideology. I mean considering every issue in isolation, like a road with two dead ends, disconnected from any other roads. I mean anti-philosophical. Think of it this way. This country was founded on a set of philosophical ideas. Look at the Declaration. It’s very abstract. The Founders were true intellectuals. Where do you see their kind of intellectualism today? Mostly on the collectivist Left, to the extent that it exists at all in America. 
It’s a trend that dates back to John Dewey, among others. How long will anti-intellectualism last? Until the philosophy of pragmatism is rejected. If you are interested, I recommend taking the time for this talk; The Menace of Pragmatism: How Aversion to Principle is Destroying America, by Dr. Tara Smith. 
Thanks for the inquiry.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ryan's Budget; a "Moral Document?"

Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate has really stirred the political pot. While the moral factor has already staked a claim on the 2012 campaign, the Atlas Shrugged-admiring Ryan's entry has pushed it to center stage. Indications are everywhere, including at the NJ Star-Ledger, where the Left-leaning paper editorialized about A Moral Choice on the Ryan Budget:

Mitt Romney had a likability problem. Then he chose running mate Paul Ryan, best known for a budget plan so harsh that it became its own moral issue. Which leads you to wonder: What was Romney thinking?

The paper goes on to cite the American Catholic hierarchy's opposition to Ryan's “unjustified and wrong” budget, along with other religious critics. The paper concludes: "So if budgets are moral documents, as religious leaders say, this election will be a moral decision..."

It certainly will. When you look beyond the over-exited doomsday rhetoric, the real issue is not the actual restraint of the Ryan budget--which is quite modest--but the direction the budget would take. Ryan is taking a serious approach to the slowing the growth of welfare state spending. The Left can't countenance any such "heartlessness," because once Americans accept the notion that anything but need should be the standard by which spending is measured, an actual reversal of the welfare state may not be far behind. Add in Ryan's praise of Atlas Shrugged for its moral defense of capitalism, and the Left's uneasiness becomes more understandable.

I left the following comments:

Yes, the election is fundamentally about a moral choice—even though Ryan’s budget is merely a mild reduction in the rate of growth of the predatory welfare state—and it’s about time we had this debate. But it is not about assisting “needy” Americans. It is about who decides; between government-enforced “charity” vs. private choice, a fact that the statist Left whitewashes. 
The right moral choice is to get government out of charity. Every individual has a basic human right to think and act on his own judgment, to voluntarily trade with others, according to his own values, in pursuit of his own goals and happiness--including when, whom, and how much help to offer--and government should be protecting those rights. It is simply morally wrong to forcibly take money from one person against his will and give it to another. It is wrong to rob your neighbor at gunpoint, and it is wrong when government officials do it. Government officials should not be exempt from the moral law that applies to private citizens. 
As I’ve noted before, the Catholic Church has long been on record as advocating predatory welfare statism ( is Ryan’s dilemma. He laudably advocates individual rights, which contradicts the stand of the Catholic hierarchy. Nonetheless, despite Ryan’s timid budget plan, I’ll be voting for Romney/Ryan because they have brought the long-needed moral issue to the fore. Instead of debating how big the welfare state should be, it’s time to debate the moral justification for the welfare state as such. 

While the Romney ticket certainly won't challenge the welfare state as such, the mere fact that Ryan elevates the moral debate has motivated me to change from voting for Romney as a defensive "not Obama" vote to a qualified endorsement  of the Romney/Ryan ticket.

Related Reading:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chris Christie's Deflating Keynote Address, and the Silver Lining

I'm sorry to have to say this, but it must be said. If NJ Governor Chris Christie's Keynote Address is indicative of the coming Romney campaign message--let alone the future leadership of the GOP--the Democrats should be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Christie attacked selfishness and self-interest and lauded sacrifice, the moral prerequisites of big government statism. (To be fair, Christie's concept of selfishness, like that of most people, is muddled: "We know seniors not only want these [entitlement] programs to survive, but they just as badly want them secured for their grandchildren," he said, implying that seniors caring about their grandchildren's future is somehow unselfish. But this very muddle grants the moral high ground to the Left.)

He spoke of principles and convictions, without telling us what they are.

He spoke of the Founding Fathers without mentioning their signal achievement; a country based upon the principle of inalienable individual rights. Instead,  he sounded like Barack Obama when he attacked the idea of "every man for himself."

He spoke of education, his greatest passion. Yet he didn't even mention what he told the American Federation for Children in 2010 would be his top education goal--universal parental school choice. Instead, he lauded his "bipartisan" tenure reform bill, which puts bureaucrats, rather than parents, in charge of evaluating teacher competency.

At a time when America desperately needs a principled political voice for individualism to counter the Left's crusading collectivism, we got "our [educational] system must be reformed to put students first"--so that each student is equipped to make the most of his own life?--no, "so that America can compete."

Christie's speech was very deflating for those of us who understand that "moderate" Republicans have long been the Left's best secret weapon because of their willingness to compromise in a way that advances the Left's agenda.

The sad part is that Christie has the fortitude to push a bold agenda. He's not intimidated by the press or other detractors. Once he identifies a course of action he considers right, he's willing to go to the mat for it. His "combativeness" is well known, and he really means it when he says he's "here to govern, not worry about re-election." Wouldn't it be great if we could harness Christie's passion and energy to the right philosophy, that of egoism and capitalism?

The problem is, despite his talk of principles, ideas, and convictions, he really doesn't have a principled agenda. He spoke of "principled compromise": "We believe it is possible to forge bipartisan compromise and stand up for conservative principles."  Yet he recently made two blatantly statist executive decisions in NJ: He signed a huge expansion of the state's failing solar energy subsidy scheme, and he vetoed a gestational carrier bill. Just what are those "conservative principles?" Your guess is as good as mine.

The fact is, as genuinely sincere as he is, Christie is the quintessential pragmatist. He is about action, not principled action. "We need politicians to care more about doing something and less about being something," he preached. But what we really need is both; someone who'll be an outspoken champion for individual liberty, and whose actions and policies reflect that.

Therein lies our hope. Christie has shown that he can and will "do something." This can-do message alone may resonate with enough American voters to elect Romney/Ryan, if it attaches to their ticket, and end the Obama reign. Wouldn't it be great if he and the rest of the GOP could also "be something"--something like the Founding Fathers? Christie's pragmatism may be our opportunity: Maybe we can help them be just that.

Related Reading:

My Challenge to the GOP; a Philosophical Contract With America

An "Extremist" GOP is Just What We Need

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Epstein to Coal Industry: Claim the "Environmental High Road"

Alex Epstein has been doing great work over at his Center for Industrial Progress defending and promoting our civilization's advanced way of life. Recently, Epstein gave what he described as his "best speech to date," the keynote address before the American Coal Council conference. It's a little over a half hour long, and well work viewing. It is titled How Coal Improves Our Environment. In this speech, Epstein explains why the "environmental high road" rightfully belongs to the coal industry and the fossil fuel industry generally, and urges them to claim it.

Listen to the speech.

Monday, August 27, 2012

End the Immoral "President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief"

A decade ago, the Bush Administration initiated its “President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief”; a massive foreign “aid” program funded courtesy of the American taxpayer. Recent studies indicate that “AIDS deaths are down 20 percent throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic hit hardest,” according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. The editors of this left-leaning newspaper cited those statistics and the occasion of this year’s recently concluded “International AIDS Conference to praise President George W. Bush’s “stellar legacy on AIDS”:

And we have George W. Bush, in part, to thank. In 2003, when he occupied the White House, Bush launched the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to address the global HIV/AIDS pandemic in partnership with 80 other countries. The foreign aid supported the free distribution of antiretroviral drugs for sick adults and medications that prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to infant. From 2003 to 2010, the United States committed about $46 billion, which also helps combat malaria and tuberculosis.

Bush put together this initiative with bipartisan support. Those were the days when the opposition party that was out of power — then the Democrats — put the greater good ahead of partisan politics. We hope that tradition is once more revived as Obama seeks continued funding for this worthy program.

But the editors engage in moral and factual evasion. The money Bush spent was not his. It was taken by force from the American citizens who earned it. By the editors’ logic, criminal cartels that use their loot to build playgrounds for the children of their communities should be lauded as moral heroes, their crimes forgiven, and their victims forgotten—except that in Bush’s case the crime and the victims are not even acknowledged.

True humanitarianism is not built on legalized theft. An good moral model for would-be do-gooders is the national response to the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. That massive relief effort—recounted by Margaret Hoover in her book American Individualism—was funded entirely by private donations, not federal tax dollars.

It is morally perverse, grossly unjust, and horribly dishonest to credit welfare state politicians like Bush for leading “worthy causes” paid for out of the financial hides of people whose rights to property and personal judgement have been trampled. There is no “greater good” than the sanctity of the individual and his inalienable rights—rights protected equally for all people at all times. Those who approve of the violation of individual rights—in this case, the forced confiscation of $46 billion worth of Americans’ earnings—forfeit all claims to the moral high ground, no matter the alleged results.

Rather than continuing the program, Congress should start thinking about the taxpayers they’re supposed to represent: End Bush’s immoral program, and leave Americans free to decide for themselves what, if anything, they want to give to this cause.

Related Reading;

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Eugene Robinson's Distortion of Ayn Rand

Correcting distortions of Ayn Rand's thought is an ongoing project for Objectivists, and will continue to be; especially through this election and well beyond if Romney manages to win the election. My latest post at The Objective Standard blog is another example. Here is the opening paragraph:

In a Washington Post article, Eugene Robinson falsely asserts that Ayn Rand “equated capitalist success with moral virtue,” and he claims that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan ascribe to this allegedly Objectivist outlook. This view, according to Robinson, also entails “disdain” for “the working class,” who, not being “capitalists,” “don’t contribute and don’t count.”

Find out where Robinson is wrong by reading Eugene Robinson's Disdain for the Working Class, and Distortion of Ayn Rand.

Craig Biddle has a good follow-up to my post, titled Open Letter to Paul Krugman re Intellectual Impotence, Inflation, and Ayn Rand. He notes Krugman's employment of the argument from intimidation—the attempt to substitute psychological pressure for rational argument, among other things.

Related Reading;

On Ayn Rand's Dishonest Critics

Obama's "Argument from Intimidation"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Don't Credit Title IX for Women's Olympic Success

In a recent NJ Star-Ledger letter-to-the-editor, a correspondent lauded Title IX:

   In the 40 years since its inception, Title IX has provided concrete assistance to young female athletes; their growing participation in and enthusiasm for sports is ample evidence of this. We are seeing the amazing results in London 2012. 
   Title IX is a wonderful example of what we Americans can do when our national government works for and with all Americans, encouraging them to follow their dreams. 

Title IX is the 1972 amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It reads:

   No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...
There are two interlocking statist principles here; the outlawing of "discrimination" and federal tax funding of education. Combined, they represent a two-pronged attack on individual rights. Title IX violates the rights of educators to voluntarily contract with whom they choose, and the rights of taxpayers who are forced to finance the violation of those rights along with other people's education.

The purpose of the law is obvious; to forbid a kind of bigoted discrimination that no rational person would engage in or  support. But since the purpose of government is to protect inalienable individual rights--rights possessed equally by all people at all times--the government morally may not discriminate in its rights-protecting function. This means it must protect the most despicable practitioners of rights with impartiality. Just as a Nazi's rights to free speech must be protected, so must a bigot's rights to his First Amendment rights--freedom of association--be protected. Once the government begins selective rights protection based upon which ideas are acceptable to it, all rights cease to be inalienable, making "right" a matter of government permission.

In practice, the attempt to ban discrimination is impossible, since to find discrimination one must become a mind reader. When people think of discrimination, they might envision some overt form like the posting of a sign in a store window announcing "no [fill in the blank] allowed." But that rarely if ever happens, and if it did, the business owner would undoubtedly face boycotts, unrelenting social pressure, and other forms of activism. He likely wouldn't stay in business for long. And if he did, he wouldn't be a threat to anyone else's rights.

So does this fact mean that--despite its being a rights-violating law--Title IX is a benign statute with little practical consequence? Not at all. Title IX activists have resorted to statistics to "prove" discrimination, and to impose numerical quotas that have resulted in injustices against innocent people. For more details on the impact of Title IX in practice, see the links below. Those articles demonstrate the destructive practical effects of Title IX. But those effects alone are not the main justification for getting rid of such laws. The main reason is a moral one; they violate rights.

Government is force, and nothing more. The only proper use of that force is to protect the rights of individuals to "follow their dreams," not "encourage" them to do it. Look at where government efforts to "encourage" home ownership got us.

I left the following comments to the letter quoted above:

I share Flora Higgins’s appreciation for the achievements of the American athletes in London.  
However, while it may appear superficially true, it is simply not the case that Title IX is responsible for opening opportunities for women athletes. Programs for women would have been created without Title IX “financial incentives”—i.e., tax-backed coercion—due to growing demand and social activism. Just as Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby (and their supporters) broke the color barriers in major league baseball without government force, so the same would have happened—and was happening—regarding women in sports. 
Title IX was created by people who preferred to force others into doing what they themselves were too lazy and incompetent to do. If they thought women’s sports programs were needed and desirable, why didn’t they just start them themselves instead of forcing others to do it?  
Cultural progress against irrationality and injustice is built on reason and rational persuasion, not force. The key is the freedom to act. In a free society, who could stop women’s athletics? Title IX is a regressive tool of nihilistic egalitarians that, coupled with the tyranny of government funding, is accruing ever-increasing control over higher education governance, including now interference in math and sciences, to the federal government—a dangerous development. The law is immoral and should be repealed.  

Related Articles:

Beneath the Title IX Controversy analyzes an article by Richard A. Epstein's The Twisted Logic of Gender Equity

Why Obama Administration Shouldn't Use Title IX to Balance Math Classes, by Kyle Smith

As Colleges Cut Athletics, Title IX Creates an Injustice for Men, by H. Clay McEldowney

Title IX at 40: Looking for Another "National Crisis", by Vicki E. Alger

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Investing" In Public Education is Not Investing

In response to a recent NJ Star-Ledger letter-to-the-editor that ended with this:

We cannot allow policymakers to distract us by scapegoating educators or crying impotence over poverty. We must demand they examine poverty’s effects and invest in the public schools combating them. Our low-income students, almost half of our student population, depend upon it. 

I commented:

I hope you’re not a teacher, Kristina, considering the way you misuse language. If the term “invest” has any meaning, it refers to a private voluntary allocation of one’s savings with the expectation of earning a profit. Taking money by force of taxation to support a government education monopoly certainly doesn’t qualify as an investment. Anyone labeling that “investment” shouldn’t be teaching children. 
Your solution is just doubling down on failure. After half a century and trillions of dollars in wealth redistribution under federal “war on poverty” initiatives—and an ever-growing flood of “investment” in government schools—all we get are more demands for more tax money to fix a “poverty” problem that only grows relentlessly. To the anti-poverty warriors, poverty is an end in itself—a means of perpetuating government programs. That is the meaning of “We must demand they examine poverty’s effects and invest in the public schools combating them.” Such “education” is not the solution. Freedom is. 
I don’t support the current top-down, “teacher-accountability” craze. But bloating the government education monopoly even further is not the answer, either. Empowering parents and education entrepreneurialism by moving towards an education free market is the practical and moral solution ( Parents have a fundamental right to direct the course of their children’s education, and are, in fact, the ones best positioned to judge the quality of the teachers, and should be free to vote with their own dollars. Universal education tax credits would set us on a course towards that goal. 
To establishment defenders who find this idea horrifying, I ask: Why do you fear parental freedom and competition in a free market? Don’t you think that parents would voluntarily choose your schools, and voluntarily pay for them? If not, then what moral justification do you offer to support forced government schooling? If so, why do you need it?

Thanks to this comment from:

Zemack, here is the ACTUAL definition of the word invest (not your spin on it):  Invest Verb put (money) to use, by purchase or expenditure, in something offering potential profitable returns, as interest, income, or appreciation in value. use (money), as in accumulating something: to invest large sums in books. use, give, or devote (time, talent, etc.), as for a purpose or to achieve something  No where does it say "private voluntary allocation". So before you go all high and mighty on us, maybe you should pick up a dictionary.

I clarified my point:

nbilfan, My Webster's also includes: 
"To put (money) into business, real estate, stocks, bonds, etc., for the purpose of obtaining an income or profit."  
As I read Kristina's use of the term "invest," she implies this definition, which as it applies to tax money allocated to government schools, is an invalid use of the term. 

To equate money taken by force (government's means) with money obtained through voluntary means such as money earned from productive work, received through inheritance, etc., means every criminal is an investor. Applying the term to government obliterates any objectively usable definition of the term. As Harry Binswanger notes, "investment" is "a term properly applied only to the private sector, not to the government’s expropriation of capital from the private sector to finance boondoggles that men’s free financial decisions would not allow."

Related Articles:

Distorting Words for Political Gain

To Discredit Anti-Capitalists, Pro-Capitalists Need to Learn How to Use Words by Harry Binswanger

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Parental School Choice Expands

The opening sentences of my latest post at The Objective Standard Blog:

There is a growing effort on the part of parents of children in government-run schools to broaden the options open to them for improving their children’s education. This movement, known as the parental school choice movement, has been underway for decades. But a new effort within the movement has recently emerged.

Learn about this new effort in my article  Parent Trigger Laws Indicate Growing Strength of the Parental School Choice Movement.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Distorting Words for Political Gain

Objectivist intellectual Harry Binswanger had a great article in Forbes recently titled To Discredit Anti-Capitalists, Pro-Capitalists Need to Learn How to Use Words. In this essay, Binswanger cited examples of how the Left defines terms of the debate by twisting words into something entirely different from their proper meanings. He urged our side not to let them get away with it. The following article is a case in point.

New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D, Camden) recently penned a guest column in the NJ Star-Ledger titled Gov. Christie Should do More for NJ's Middle Class Families. Here are a few excerpts:

    Unfortunately for middle-class families, Gov. Chris Christie and his budgeting practices, modeled from former President George W. Bush’s trickle-down economics, aren’t working for New Jersey.
    Millionaires and billionaires are doing just fine these days, while middle-class and working families face ever-growing obstacles in their struggle to make ends meet.
    From pushing massive tax handouts to millionaires and billionaires to a Mission Accomplished-style declaration of a “Jersey comeback” despite a high unemployment rate in our state, it seems the governor is following in Bush’s footsteps.
   The key to New Jersey’s success has always been investing in our middle class. That’s why I and fellow Democrats led the way in passing a plan to triple funding for property tax relief, providing up to $2,000 in property tax relief to 95 percent of New Jersey’s middle-class families.

The article is saturated with appeals to envy, but I decided to focus on something else with these comments:

August 08, 2012 at 10:06AM
“It shouldn’t take an in-depth report to convince you that” Greenwald uses classic Leftist trickery; distort the language for political purposes. Today’s Left can’t be honest about their true intentions. Consider his terminology:
“Tax handouts”; Any rational person can see the logical contradiction; keeping more of what one earns is not a handout.
“Investing”; If words have meanings, to invest means a voluntary allocation of one’s savings with the expectation of getting it back plus a profit. Greenwald bastarizes the term to mean forced government redistribution of wealth.
“Middle Class”; properly defined, the middle class is a vast group of independent, productive, self-supporting people built on and requiring maximum economic freedom. Greenwald sees them as helpless candidates for handouts, which is exactly what “property tax relief” is.
Despite the bigoted Leftist assault on the “top 1%,” all productive people stand on the same common ground. The middle class has nothing to gain by looting “the rich,” because most of the rich earn their money and thus stand shoulder to shoulder with we true middle classers. An attack on the “top 1%” is an attack on the middle class.
Having expanded the ranks of the parasitical “poor” under a gargantuan welfare state, the Left is turning its sights on the middle class—the aim being, to turn it into a vast new welfare class. Why?--To grease the skids toward the acquisition of more and more power. Today’s Leftists are not liberals in the JFK sense. Kennedy cut top marginal tax rates by 22% and was virulently anti-communist. Today’s Leftist agenda is what I would characterize as a soft brand of Marxian Communism.
Count me out of your greedy, groveling “99%.”

In response to these rebuttal comments:

HurtPillow August 08, 2012 at 3:12PM

What's gargantuan is our bloated military budget of almost 57% of ALL the federal budget, eating up what they can help the states with. Then we get a governor here who subscribes to the same failed Bush type tax policies that got us in so much trouble in the first place and the same thing happens. Bleeding jobs, rich get richer, middle-class suffers and pays more, and the spiral continues downward. Yeah, that trickle-down isn't what you think it is.

I continued on the same theme:

August 08, 2012 at 4:41PM
So let’s get this straight, HurtPillow. People working and producing and then trading with one another—a win-win, people getting better together transaction—is “trickle-down.” Taking from “the rich” and handing out the loot to people who didn’t earn it is—what? Well, if words have meaning, redistribution of wealth is trickle-down, not people earning their keep in voluntary, mutually beneficial trade with others. The middle class benefits enormously from the success of the most productive—the “rich”—in many ways, but there is no trickle-down or up or sideways. Every productive person earns his money in relation to the economic value he produces as determined by supply and demand. Trickle-down is just another linguistic Leftist distortion of basic economics.
As to the tax cuts, everyone who pays income taxes benefitted at no expense to anyone else. It was one of the few things Bush did right. The cuts had no bearing on the financial crisis, which was caused by massive government intervention into the mortgage and banking industries, such as the Clinton-Bush “affordable” housing policies, the Fed, GSEs Fannie and Freddie, FDIC, CRA, FHA, HUD, etc., etc., etc. The financial industry is the most heavily regulated industry in America. It’s no coincidence we had a housing bubble and bust.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Monstrous Nature of Altruism Laid Bare

On July 15, 2012, the NJ Star-Ledger pleaded, Don't Sell Kidneys for Transplants:

   Levy Itzhak Rosenbaum was sentenced last week to 30 months in prison for his role in arranging the sale of a human kidney.
   But some say these sales should not be a crime at all. The man who supplied a kidney to Rosenbaum was paid $25,000 and emerged unharmed, if somewhat diminished. The kidney itself saved a man’s life, and his daughter says she regards Rosenbaum as a “hero” for making that happen.
   A commercial trade in organs would undoubtedly save lives. In America today, an average of 17 people die each day while waiting for organs, the bulk of them are people whose kidneys have failed. That number is growing relentlessly as kidney failure rates skyrocket, while donation rates stagnate.
   In Iran, where kidneys are bought and sold legally, this problem is a thing of the past. There is no waiting list.

Yet the editors still believe that "there are good reasons to keep the ban on organ sales in place."

If you think there must be some crucial insight to explain the editors stance, you would be wrong.

If you want to know the smallness of the alter upon which the freedom of doctors and the lives of patients must be sacrificed, read the rest of that nauseating editorial.

I left the following comments:

July 16, 2012 at 10:56PM
Ethics is the fundamental issue, and what we are seeing here is the monstrous evil of altruism laid bare. Altruism holds that self-sacrifice for the good of others is the ethical ideal. Philosopher Ayn Rand called this ethic a “morality of death.” Rarely does a real-life issue concretize an abstract idea as clearly as the organ market issue does.
The Editors readily acknowledge that a free market in organ trade would “undoubtedly” save countless lives; that it works in practice; that it benefitted both parties in the Rosenbaum transaction.
Yet the Editors dogmatically cling to their opposition to organ sales, because of the “vulgar” prospect that the organ donor may financially profit from the value he provides to the recipient.
But the real moral ideal is not one-sided self-sacrifice but the voluntary trade. A trade is a win-win; i.e., people getting better together, each getting something of greater value to him than he is giving up; the life-enhancing, mutually self-interested transaction.
Hamstrung by their ethics, the Editors would rather some people remain financially poorer and others die needlessly rather than both benefit from a non-sacrificial, mutually advantageous voluntary trade. Such is the corruptive nature of altruism, the morality of death.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Is Education Incompatible With Business?

Following up on my exchange with a correspondent regarding my recent LTE on tax credits, Lowie wrote, quoting me:

Lowie July 13, 2012 at 11:46AM
   Quote: "The public schools should deal with their excess overhead just as any private business would when faced with a loss of sales to a competitor."
   I worked in the private sector for twenty years before becoming a teacher, so I genuinely do recognize and appreciate how and why the fields of business and education differ. They are not interchangeable. It will be a dark day in America when a teacher views his role as that of a profit-generator and the education of each child as a "sale" to be made.
My response:

July 27, 2012 at 5:04PM
Why? Are quality cars more important than quality education? Profit is the reward for successfully producing a value that satisfies willing customers. How is education different than any other field of productive work? Why should it be?
Whether you choose to acknowledge the fact or not, a professional teacher is selling his services for payment—his salary. In the public sector, his salary is paid with money taken by force from taxpayers. In the private sector, the money is paid voluntarily by customers who willingly choose his (or his school’s) services. Private business depends on freedom of contract and voluntary trade. Government schools are held in place solely by force.
Government education differs from business, alright. The moral distinction could not be more black and white.
Considering the importance of a proper education, I can think of few things morally nobler than making a profit selling educational services. Why does the prospect of voluntary market exchange scare you? Don’t you think that parents would willingly pay for your services, and willingly send their children to your school?
It may be a dark day for the government education establishment when the business of education is profit-driven and privately owned. But it will be a glorious day for the most competent educators, concerned parents, and the children—i.e., for America. 

Related Reading:

Education Tax Credits vs. Government Subsidies

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The “Personal Account” Path to Ending Social Security

Social Security is unjust, immoral, and un-American. It is a violation of individual rights. It should be phased out and ended. The question is how to do it.

Ending Social Security is not the problem, legally speaking. Benefits are not guaranteed, no matter how much or for how long one has paid in to the system. Congress can simply end all SS taxes, stop paying current benefits, and rescind all future benefit promises in a simple, sweeping legislative action. Of course, this would be cruel, since Social Security is so deeply entwined in people’s financial lives. No one in his or her right mind would advocate such a draconian step. The problem is finding the most equitable plan; one that protects the promises given to those currently in the system; is politically feasible today; and spreads the cost of funding those promises fairly during the phase-out period.

While it would be best to simply let new entrants into the workforce keep their 12.4% SS “contribution” while finding other sources of revenue to make up the shortfall needed to pay promised benefits, that approach is simply not feasible. Getting the political support for ending Social Security in a single plan, it must be acknowledged, is a political pipe dream. If we who advocate individual freedom hang our hats on that all-or-nothing political approach, rejecting incrementalism, we cede control of the debate to those whose goal is to “fix” Social Security in perpetuity.

Personal accounts are a politically necessary medium-term political compromise because the country is not ready to abandon the notion that the government must ensure some level of retirement security for every worker. Personal accounts would be a much easier “sell” than complete one-step abolition, while setting us on a longer-term path toward ending Social Security. The argument is simple: The politicians have had their chance at managing our retirement money, and have failed. They’ve brought America to the brink of national bankruptcy, rather than ensure our retirements. Personal accounts give financial control to the individuals who earned the money, rather than political money launderers who didn’t.

I do not support private accounts along the lines of President Bush’s meager 2-4% of the 12.4% total SS tax. Nor do I support accounts controlled by the government. Like my plan for tax credits for education, privatization must be tailored so as to act as a transitionary vehicle toward a complete phase-out. Mandatory accounts controlled by politicians would be far worse than the current system. It would give government, as a shareholder, commensurate control over private business.

Current proposals for personal accounts that I am aware of are presented as ends in themselves, and leave government in control of the money (with very limited choice for individuals). This I reject. I advocate only a plan that unequivocally advances freedom—albeit incrementally—until the system is completely abolished. This is both a practical and a moral necessity.

For sure, private accounts within SS are government-enforced savings, and thus a violation of individual rights. But what we have today is forced redistribution backed only by hollow promises of old-age benefits, rescindable at any time by congress. My plan would redirect existing SS taxes from Congress to the individual that earned it. It would not add one dollar of additional taxation, nor would it be an added program of forced savings layered onto the status quo. Yes, the same dollars would be taken by force. But at least the taxpayer would have possession of, and a right to, his/her own money, rather than the politicians. I consider SS personal accounts to be a step toward individual rights, especially property rights - preferably without, but even with, minimal investment controls (more on that later). They can be advocated as a step in the phase-out process.

My plan would work as follows:

  1. 1.       All new entrants into the workforce would have his/her entire 12.4% payroll tax (employer “contribution” included) automatically deposited into a self-directed IRA or 401k type account in the depositor’s own name.
  2.  2.       All current workers would be given the choice of opting into the private accounts, or staying with the current system. Those who opt into the private accounts would have all of their previous SS taxes returned to them in a lump sum, and deposited into their new personal accounts.
  3.  3.       Those currently collecting benefits would see no change. The current schedule of benefits would continue until death.
  4.  4.       The shortfall in revenues created by shifting moneys previously earmarked for current benefit payouts into the personal accounts would be made up by floating government bonds, reduced spending elsewhere, a temporary across-the-board income tax surcharge, or a combination of the three.

Point one: This would be mandatory. Once again this step is a political necessity. But it would advance us toward more liberty because it would re-establish the principle of property rights. The money would be the individual’s and the individual’s alone, to draw on in retirement as he pleases. The personal accounts could be set up like Individual Retirement Accounts, including the entire range of investment options now available for such accounts.  The owner would designate beneficiaries, so that any money left in the account after his death can be passed on in the form of inheritance. Not a dollar of it would fall into the hands of politicians.

Point two: This is self-explanatory, but fair, I believe. Each worker would calculate the relative benefits of each approach as it relates to his personal circumstances. Leaving the current system would obviously benefit workers farthest from retirement, but it would be their choice.

Point three: Simple fairness requires promises to be kept. See my post, The Social Security Injustice.

Point four: One of the biggest clouds hanging over the financial future of this country is the huge unfunded liability created by Congress’s over-promising of benefits under the current set-up. This cloud would immediately begin to shrink under points one and two, coupled with the continuing die-off of current beneficiaries. The increased need for alternative revenue sources as younger workers pull out of the system would be offset by the surge in national savings as the personal accounts begin to grow.

This would also be much fairer. Simply phasing out Social security benefits and taxes would leave wage and salary workers holding a huge bag. They would have incurred the entire cost of honoring current promises through years or decades of slowly falling SS taxes, with nothing to show for it in the end. On the other hand, under my plan, the cost would be more broadly borne through income taxes. For example, retirees on Social Security would help pay the costs, since most SS benefits are subject to income tax.

Over time, the Social Security System would increasingly be made up of personal accounts, ending the sinister charade of tying current benefits to current workers’ taxes. Eventually, as personal account holders grow into a majority, it would be an easy step to make the case for making Social Security voluntary, effectively ending the program. 

To get started toward that goal, let us declare that the politicians have had their chance at managing our retirement money, and have failed. They have over-promised benefits, creating tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, putting in jeopardy the promised benefits of today’s taxpayers. This same irresponsible “generosity” threatens economically ruinous tax hikes and/or inflation. Washington has back-stabbed us with our own money. It’s time to turn management of our money back over to the people to whom it rightfully, logically, and morally belongs—the people who earned the money in the first place. Let us begin with personal accounts.

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