Thursday, November 29, 2012

Valid Law vs. Government Regulation

My latest post at The Objective Standard blog opens with:

In my recent post “Don’t Regulate the Innocent, Punish the Guilty,” which concerned the proper role of government in a deadly tainted medication case, a correspondent raised the question of “where valid law ends and regulation begins.” It’s a good question.

Read the rest of Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin? for the answer.

Related Reading:

Faulty Products: What is the Government's Proper Role?

"Regulating" Business - the Good and the Bad

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Know Your Enemy

Don Watkins over at LaissezFaire has some important advice for intellectual activists. After quoting from a Politico article titled The GOPs Media Cocoon, Watkins said:

   The first piece of advice I give to anyone asking what he can do to change today’s trend is: know the opposition. Know its core ideas and values. Know its arguments and be able to state those arguments in a more compelling form than it can. Know how it will respond to your arguments.
   If you can do that, then you have a shot at convincing people of your case. But if not, then you don’t.

I have found that responding to articles promoting ideas contrary to mine is a great form of activism. 

First, you learn what the opposition is saying. 

Second, you learn how to respond to the opposition's arguments. You learn their tactics. I don't mean just debunking their case. That's important, but it's not enough. You also have to present your own positive argument. Wrapping your own vision into your rebuttal is a great way to advance your case. Most of my blog posts encompass this form of activism. 

Third, the theoretical argument is your starting point--your frame of reference. But if you want to advance your ideas, you need to become good at applying them to concrete issues. Responding to opposition articles on concrete issues is a great way to hone your skills at that. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. When you have truth, facts, morality, and logic on your side--as Objectivists do--the task is a steady progression toward stronger and stronger activism.

As Jonathan Martin notes in the Politico piece:

Facebook and Twitter feeds along with email in-boxes have taken the place of the old newspaper front page, except that the consumer is now entirely in charge of what he or she sees each day and can largely shut out dissenting voices. It’s the great irony of the Internet era: People have more access than ever to an array of viewpoints, but also the technological ability to screen out anything that doesn't reinforce their views.

Don't fall into the trap of filtering out others' viewpoints. It's hard to read the opposition, especially when they explicitly attack your philosophical ideals. It's emotionally easier to focus on like-minded people. But knowing your enemy is crucial to winning the war of ideas.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why Must Colleges be Primary Schools?

The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) president R. Barbara Gitenstein had some choice criticism for both major political parties, which “seem to agree that higher education is almost synonymous with job training.” She writes:

“Adopting a policy that views higher education solely as job training is extremely dangerous, because it disregards much of the work colleges and universities do in preparing our citizenry and it leaves graduates unprepared to adapt as economies evolve and jobs change.”

Graduates of 4-year colleges and universities should be more than employable. They should be able to progress on a career path that will sustain them for a lifetime...

A baccalaureate [bachelor’s] degree develops extensive knowledge in an area of academic focus and foundational knowledge of the basic areas of human awareness (including history, science, mathematics, economics, language, and the arts). It also develops the ability to think critically, analyze complex problems, and work within a team.

To fulfill TCNJ’s “full institutional mission,” writes Gitenstein:

All of TCNJ's students must complete learning requirements that demand intellectual and scholarly growth while exposing them to quantitative reasoning; social change in historical context; behavioral and cultural perspectives; literary, visual, or performing arts; worldviews; natural science; interdisciplinary study; and civic-engaged learning. This is what makes TCNJ graduates well-rounded and vibrant contributors within both their communities and professional fields, throughout their lives.

Gitenstein concludes:

It is absolutely necessary that, nationally, we do not lose sight of the need for colleges and universities to produce not only skilled technicians but multi-dimensional thinkers and problem solvers, as well. The mission of 4-year colleges and universities is not simply to prepare future employees. We must prepare thoughtful and engaged citizens who have broad perspectives, open minds, and diverse abilities.

Leaving aside judgement on the specifics or the ideological agenda of the TCNJ “mission,” Gitenstein is generally right that children need a strong foundation upon which to build their careers. The essential purpose of education is to prepare students to deal with reality through the use of their own minds “throughout their lives.”

But Gitenstein raises serious questions about American education. Why haven't children acquired this intellectual foundation before college age? What were they doing for the previous 13 years of K-12 education? If K-12 schools’ mission is not precisely to give children the “foundational knowledge” and “ability to think” they’ll need to flourish in their lives, then what exactly is their purpose? Have the public K-12 schools utterly failed in  their mission, leaving colleges to make up the lost ground? Or are higher education institutions merely milking the “federal student aid” gravy train by forcing college students into redundant, unnecessary curricula?  Is it some combination of both? The answer to this last question is; probably both.

There is no reason why kids should not be ready to begin occupational training by the time they reach young adulthood, not just upon entering college, but even beginning in high school. That colleges and universities must provide what is essentially primary and secondary education, for whatever reason, is an indictment of both progressive education and, more broadly, government-financed schools.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Message

[This year, I'm thankful for the heroic men and women who gave the meteorologists the technological tools, from satellites to super-computers, to enable them to give the northeast states ample warning to prepare for Hurricane Sandy's onslaught, potentially saving hundreds or even thousands of lives.]

Reprinted below is a thanksgiving message that I think captures the true essence of Thanksgiving, a holiday practiced only in America. Regardless of how one believes he came into existence (God or nature), the reality is that man is a being of self-generated wealth based on reason who requires certain social conditions for his survival. America was the first country founded explicitly on those conditions; i.e., a country where every individual owns his own life and possesses inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and to the pursuit of his own happiness, coupled inextricably with the obligation to accept the reality that all people are equally endowed and to treat them accordingly.

It is thus that America, born of the enlightenment ideas of individualism, reason, and republican government, achieved in the span of a mere two hundred-plus years (following centuries of stagnation) its spectacular standard of living. The ensuing essay correctly recognizes where the credit for America belongs: to any man or woman, on whatever level of ability or accomplishment, who contributed to American greatness by doing an honest and productive day's work in pursuit of his or her own well-being.

Thanksgiving: A Most Selfish Holiday by Debi Ghate

Ah, Thanksgiving. To most of us, the word conjures up images of turkey dinner, pumpkin pie and watching football with family and friends. It kicks off the holiday season and is the biggest shopping weekend of the year. We're taught that Thanksgiving came about when pilgrims gave thanks to God for a bountiful harvest. We vaguely mumble thanks for the food on our table, the roof over our head and the loved ones around us. We casually think about how lucky we are and how much better our lives are than, say, those in Bangladesh. But surely there is something more to celebrate, something more sacred about this holiday.

What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?

Ayn Rand described Thanksgiving as "a typically American holiday . . . its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production." She was right.

What is today's version of the "bountiful harvest"? It's the affluence and success we've gained. It's the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy. It's the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on. It's the good life.

How did we get this "bountiful harvest"? Ask any hard-working American; it sure wasn't by the "grace of God." It didn't grow on a fabled "money tree." We created it by working hard, by desiring the best money can buy and by wanting excellence for ourselves and our loved ones. What we don't create ourselves, we trade value for value with those who have the goods and services we need, such as our stockbrokers, hairdressers and doctors. We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.

So, on Thanksgiving, why don't we thank ourselves and those producers who make the good life possible?

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to recognize what we are truly grateful for, to appreciate and celebrate the fruits of our labor: our wealth, health, relationships and material things--all the values we most selfishly cherish. We should thank researchers who have made certain cancers beatable, gourmet chefs at our favorite restaurants, authors whose books made us rethink our lives, financiers who developed revolutionary investment strategies and entrepreneurs who created fabulous online stores. We should thank ourselves and those individuals who make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable--those who help us live the much-coveted American dream.

As you sit down to your sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner served on your best china, think of all the talented individuals whose innovation and inventiveness made possible the products you are enjoying. As you look around at who you've chosen to spend your day with--those you've chosen to love--thank yourself for everything you have done to make this moment possible. It's a time to selfishly and proudly say: "I earned this."

Debi Ghate is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute.

This Thanksgiving, Don't Say Grace, Say Justice by Craig Biddle

The religious tradition of saying grace before meals becomes especially popular around the holidays, when we all are reminded of how fortunate we are to have an abundance of life-sustaining goods and services at our disposal. But there is a grave injustice involved in this tradition.

Where do the ideas, principles, constitutions, governments, and laws that protect our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness come from? What is the source of the meals, medicines, homes, automobiles, and fighter jets that keep us alive and enable us to flourish? Who is responsible for our freedom, prosperity, and well-being?

Since God is responsible for none of the goods on which human life and happiness depend, why thank him for any such goods? More to the point: Why not thank those who actually are responsible for them? What would a just man do?

Justice is the virtue of judging people rationally--according to what they say, do, and produce--and treating them accordingly, granting to each man that which he deserves.

To say grace is to give credit where none is due--and, worse, it is to withhold credit where it is due. To say grace is to commit an act of injustice.

Rational, productive people--whether philosophers, scientists, inventors, artists, businessmen, military strategists, friends, family, or yourself--are who deserve to be thanked for the goods on which your life, liberty, and happiness depend. ... Thank or acknowledge the people who actually provide the goods. Some of them may be sitting right there at the table with you. And if you find yourself at a table where people insist on saying grace, politely insist on saying justice when they're through. It's the right thing to do.

Craig Biddle is the Editor of The Objective Standard.

These truths are obvious. A simple rudimentary knowledge of history, coupled with basic observation and logic, are all that's required to realize it.

Have a joyous, and well earned, Thanksgiving.

-Mike "Zemack" LaFerrara

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The GOP's Restructuring Must Begin with Fundamental Principles

Mother of Exiles identified a positive sign for the Republican Party in it's post Election Outcome Forcing GOP to Rethink its Immoral Immigration StanceSantiago and Kelly McNulty Valenzuela cited John Boehner and Sean Hannity as evidence of a growing Republican readiness to "follow through on meaningful, moral immigration reform." Hannity, in particular  has taken a significant turn in the right direction by calling for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a stance previously labeled "amnesty." "In the wake of the GOP's failure to attract the Latino vote in the 2012 election, Hannity on Thursday said the United States needs to 'get rid of the immigration issue altogether.'"

This is welcome news. But the Republican Party must do more--much more--than make opportunistic policy changes for pragmatic electoral reasons. It must restructure its ideological foundation around principles--specifically, the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence. The right principles--that is to say, the principles of individual rights--will lead to the right policies. Explicitly stated principles can unite and integrate all of the party's agenda into a coherent whole, and signal the sincerity of its commitment to its stated positions. This will gain the party the necessary credibility it needs to achieve long-term success at the ballot box.

Related Reading:

4 Books for Post-Election, Pro-Freedom Political Activism

My Challenge to the GOP: A Philosophical Contract With America

Immigration and Individual Rights by Craig Biddle

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Anti-"Price-Gouging" Laws Really Work

A recent op-ed by College of New Jersey associate professor James Stacey Taylor titled Defending Price-Gouging in the Wake of Sandy drew some heated and emotional responses. Stacey's column was the subject of a recent TOS Blog post of mine. This letter appeared in the November 14, 2012, New Jersey Star-Ledger:

In James Stacey Taylor’s Nov. 9 op-ed, "In defense of price-gouging," the professor states that price-gouging would increase resources to those in need in time of major disaster.
I take the opposing position. Victims of disaster (we can call them people, neighbors or fellow human beings) who may have lost everything they own do not need heat, lights, water or food sold to them at prices beyond the fair market price. They don’t need these resources sold to them at below market price. Victims of disaster need heat, lights, water and food given to them with an open heart.
The professor’s philosophy appears to be based on greed. Give to our neighbors. Help the poor and the needy.

I left these comments:

Two or more individuals have an inalienable right to contract voluntarily with each other, on mutually agreed terms, including price, at any time, so long as the transaction (or trade) doesn’t involve the initiation of physical force or fraud against others--i.e. doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. Trade is the moral basis of a “fair market price,” which is not some arbitrarily designated figure lifted from a particular point in time.  
Kudos to James Stacey Taylor for exposing the economically destructive nature of laws against “price-gouging,” a form of price controls. Such laws are also morally destructive because they interfere in the rights of people to mutually benefit through voluntary trade. This is not “greed,” it is justice. Greed is a lust for the unearned; a one-sided gain at the expense of another’s loss. 
This is not to disparage lending a helping hand in a time of emergency, and charity and trade are not mutually exclusive. But need is not a moral claim on another, and to attack “price-gouging” is to attack voluntary trade, the morally ultimate form of human interaction—people getting better together. 
Which drew this rebuttal followed by my response:

What absolute rubbish. Price gouging during this disaster is a form of looting from innocent victims, and to try to portray this looting as something good is complete nonsense. To attempt to justify increasing the cost of the few commodities available by saying it will actually produce more available commodities is not taught in Economics 101; it is a page torn from Evil 101. With what you suggest, only the very rich who can afford the increased prices will benefit. The victims of this storm need help, not more victimization. For God's sake, quit trying to make things worse for them.

A customer voluntarily agreeing to buy from a “price-gouger” may not be happy about the price, but he was not looted. Words have precise meanings. “Looting” is taking another’s property by force or fraud. You want looting? How about fining a pizzeria $10,000 for selling a pizza pie for $1.85 above what some government official allows—and $20,000 for each additional pie? That’s what a merchant faces for investing in a generator to stay open in a blackout, as Mueller reported in the S-L Monday. It’s state-sponsored grand larceny. The law against “price-gouging,” which no one can objectively define, is a looter’s law that turns honorable businessmen into victims. That’s Evil 101.  
And by the way, vespertilianman, the “justification” for a merchant raising his price is his moral right to act on his own judgment, which no politician has any right to interfere with. The law of supply and demand will neutralize any inordinate price increases in short order, which will speed the recovery unless government bureaucrats get in the way. That’s Economics 101. Politicians never seem to tire of the fantasy that they can suspend the laws of economics with some law. Stop cheering them on. 

The article referred to in my last comment was titled Sandy Opens the Door to Price Gouging by Karin Price Mueller. Mueller, a writer for the NJ Star-Ledger's consumer advocacy column "Bamboozled" under which her article appeared, was a customer of the pizzeria mentioned above. "I was convinced that this shop owner was overcharging at a time when a community was in need," she said. "He shouldn't give pizza away for free, but simply charge a fair price. Was I being stickler for the rules? For a law that’s meant to protect consumers? Heck, yes. That’s my job."
But after talking to the owner of the pizzeria, who explained about how his costs affected his pricing decision, she said "now I’m not sure what to think." "This," she said, "was no longer black and white, but shades of grey."
"So exactly how do the experts —Consumer Affairs’ investigators — deal with price gouging complaints that are in the questionable category?", she wondered. This very question highlights the arbitrariness of the law.  Arbitrary law, by its nature, is unjust. Mueller explains:
   "For each of our investigations, the Division is issuing a subpoena for sales receipts and records from before and after the state of emergency, as well as documentation of the costs faced by the merchant," said a spokesman from Consumer Affairs.
   The agency is directing its investigators — some of whom remain without power and face flooding in their homes — to focus on cases in which there have been numerous complaints about price gouging "that appear to be the most egregious and abusive to those in desperate need."

This means that the investigators--some emotionally distraught over their own tragic personal losses--will be going after the merchants who have had the most customers--that is, fellow citizens--ratting them out. The government investigators will go rifling through the merchants' books looking for the "most egregious and abusive to those in desperate need" based not on evidence but on the complaints of disgruntled customers. How will they distinguish "desperate need" from simple "need" or no "need" at all is a question that will have as many answers as there are investigators, but all of the answers will be subjective. 

How is any merchant to answer any charges emerging from such investigations? He can't, because there can be no rational defense against any statute that criminalizes legitimate economic activity. Such is the nature of laws that are "shades of grey"; i.e., non-objective. 

This would be funny, if these anti-gouging laws weren't so "egregious and abusive." Every customer that walks in the merchant's door could potentially be the one to sic state investigators on his tail. One wonders why any merchant would even want to bother to stay open in the next emergency. 

Yes, there are unconscionable merchants that deserve social scorn, as there are unconscionable practitioners in every field. But they are undoubtedly few and far between. After all, any reputable merchant knows that his customers are the bread and butter he'll need to stay in business long-term. How many merchants would risk destroying his reputation to make a short-term killing? How many would want to rip their customers off based on common decency?

Anti-gouging laws are a prescription for turning decent people into criminals. Unless fraud is involved, the government's job is to protect people's right to voluntary trade, not involve itself in judging the moral propriety of the choices of the traders.

Related Reading:

Banning "Price Gouging" (Or How to Hamper a Recovery)

Monday, November 19, 2012

4 Books for Post-Election, Pro-Freedom Political Activists

Regardless of who was to win the election, the work of advancing the ideas needed to change the American culture and thus the long-term political direction of our nation would continue. With Obama's narrow victory, the task is much more urgent, not different. In that vein, I offer 4 books worth reading.

American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives can Save the Republican Party

Margaret Hoover lays out a new philosophical agenda she believes vital to the Republican Party; reject the Religious Right and social conservative positions against reproductive rights, gay marriage, immigration, etc. and unite economic and social liberty under the principle of individualism. Hoover doesn't apply those principles consistently. Indeed, I don't think she herself fully grasps the wide political implications of individualism and individual rights. But the main thrust of her argument points the GOP in the right direction--one that can draw in a broad spectrum of people who still have some abstract respect for the principles of the Declaration of Independence; "the 58%," as I have identified them. Hoover's call that, without these fundamental changes, the party is headed for "irrelevance" is prescient. Her book is worth promoting by pro-capitalists as a vehicle for turning the Republican Party into a formidable ideological counterweight to the Democrats' crusading collectivism. See my Objective Standard review as well as my shorter Amazon review.

Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America

Mark R. Levin supports the kind of social conservative agenda that Hoover rightly believes must be expunged from the GOP. Nevertheless, this book is worth reading for its insightful introduction to some major historical thinkers who helped shape the statist trend of the past hundred years. The thinkers covered include Plato and Marx. The historical and philosophical context Levin provides is a welcome addition to the political debate. See my Objective Standard review.

Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas can End Big Government

Steve Forbes says of Yaron Brook and Don Watkins' book: "Free Market Revolution will raise the ire of every statist, socialist, and crony capitalist. [Ayn] Rand understood--as do the authors of this all-to-timely book--that free markets are, indeed, moral while big government is manifestly not." The moral case is indeed made flawlessly and in very readable fashion. More broadly, FMR solves the riddle of why capitalism is crumbling despite being the only social system that has proven to enable broad prosperity. It's a good companion for Hoover's main thesis while providing the antidote to her many contradictions. A must read!

Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It

A good companion to Free Market Revolution. Craig Biddle's excellent and very understandable introduction to a complex subject--Ayn Rand's ethics of rational egoism--will significantly enhance the activist's ability to promote Brook and Watkins' ideas and the moral case for capitalism.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Site; "Liberty Against Cancer"

Joshua Lipana, an Objectivist intellectual activist and member of The Objective Standard team, has established a new website called Liberty Against Cancer. Joshua, who has been battling cancer, says that his new site "provides high-priority news on health and liberty as it relates to the fight against cancer."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

In NJ, the Crusade Against "Price-gouging" Could Be Hindering Recovery

A College of New Jersey philosophy professor ignited a debate about "price-gouging" and the law with his provocatively titled op-ed "Defending Price-Gouging in Sandy’s Wake." That is the subject of my latest post at The Objective Standard blog titled Banning "Price-Gouging" (Or How to Hamper a Recovery).

I'll have more to say on this subject in a subsequent post.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Where's the Conservative "Success?"

In Don't Write Off the Right Quite Yet, Jonah Goldberg takes aim at the post-election gloom that has overtaken the conservative movement. He gives a brief recounting of conservative achievements over the past half-century or so, and concludes with:

These successes were real and important. But they were not total because times change and total victories don’t exist in politics so long as the losing side doesn't surrender. Just for the record, I see dismay, even despair, out there. But I don’t see much surrender.

Despite winning an occasional skirmish, however, it's undeniable that the conservative movement has been losing the war, big time. Since the rise of the Progressive Movement in the early 20th Century--which Goldberg documents in his book Liberal Fascism--conservatism has been utterly unable to stem the advance of statism in America. Today, the government is bigger and more tyrannical than ever, with the most statist president in our history just elected to a second term.

I have enormous respect for Jonah Goldberg, but I'm in total disagreement with him here. It's undeniable: Conservatism, if it stands for freedom and Americanism, has been an utter failure. The reasons for its failure run deep, and cannot be corrected without the movement re-thinking its fundamental premises.

But it is not the Right that has failed. The Right, properly defined, has yet to have its day.

Related Reading:

The Coming GOP Restructuring: Toward Liberty of Religious Authoritarianism

Ayn Rand Foresaw Conservatism's Second Obituary

My Challenge to the GOP...a Philosophical Contract With America

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Broader Threat of Theocracy

An interesting comment was posted to my TOS blog piece, The GOP's Religious Albatross. In that piece, I covered a Republican senate candidate's comment that a rape-induced pregnancy is "something that God intended to happen." Burgess Laughlin wrote:

   Candidate Mourdock refers, indirectly, to a rape leading to pregnancy as something God intended to happen, as a "gift from God."
   The notion that everything that happens was intended so by God is a common one among Christian, Jewish, and Islamic theologians and their followers. Especially frightening, however, is the idea that everything we have and experience is a "gift" from God. We are obligated to return the favor -- in the form of worship and obedience.
   Also, if everything we have, even our very being, comes from God, then there is no room for the secular.
   Such a claim of God's omnipotence and omnipresence is a rationale for theocracy, wherein God, through his dominions, rules life on earth. One movement that has advocated abolishing the idea of "secular" -- thus leaving the door open to theocracy -- is the Radical Orthodoxy movement: http://reasonversusmysticism.b...

The link to the Radical Orthodoxy piece addresses the inherently unstable modern Enlightenment Doctrine of the compatibility of reason and faith. Reason and faith are not compatible, and ultimately civilization will have to choose between them--and to survive, civilization must choose reason. The article highlights the Dark Age forces that are gathering behind faith. Her are the opening lines of that article:

 In 1990, British university professor and Christian theologian John Milbank published his first book, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. In it, Milbank rejects the Enlightenment idea of secularity. It is, he says, a myth produced by intellectuals who pretend to rely on religiously neutral reason but who are actually pagans. Thus the "secularists" are religious but in a way contrary to Christian teachings. Christian theologians, who have been trying to adapt their theology to the conclusions reached by supposedly neutral secular scholars, should instead, Milbank says, reject the "secular" sciences and insist that all the sciences be based on Christian theology, the queen of the sciences. (n. 1)

Milbank went further. He proposed a new Christian theology. Initially he called his views "postmodern critical Augustinianism." ([11], p. 1) His new theology is critical in the sense that it challenges traditional ideas and their underlying assumptions. Milbank's theology is largely Augustinian because Milbank thinks Augustine (354-430 CE) was a genius in developing Christian theology and philosophy; Augustine faced opponents whose religion was paganism (as Milbank believed in the 1990s he himself was doing); and Augustine believed that reason and the sciences it produces are invalid unless based on Christian theology. ([1], p. 47) Last, Milbank's views arepostmodern in using some of the terminology and methods of French postmodernist philosophers while attacking their nihilism. ([1], pp. 42-43) Milbank's antidote for nihilism? Christianity.

So the false choice; nihilism or faith. The article took a pot shot at the great Thomas Aquinas for his "steps toward a split of the sacred and the secular, thus making the secularizing Enlightenment possible ([1] p. 47 n. 56). Worse, Aquinas developed 'natural theology,' which is the 'science of God' formed through observation of and thinking about nature (the effect) rather than revelation from God (the cause)." 

This all brings to mind Leonard Peikoff's warning that, to save America, we must choose reason and reject faith:

It is time to tell people the unvarnished truth: to stand up for man's mind and this earth, and against any version of mysticism or religion. It is time to tell people: "You must choose between unreason and America. You cannot have both. Take your pick."
If there is to be any chance for the future, this is the only chance there is.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Faulty Products: What is the Government's Proper Role?

My latest blog post at The Objective Standard deals with this question. My conclusion:

If opponents of “big government” are ever to take a principled stand against government regulation of business, this case is a good place to start.

Find out why by reading Don't Regulate the Innocent, Punish the Guilty.

Be sure to read Mel_M.'s comment and my response in the comments section concerning "where valid law ends and regulation begins." In this regard, I'll quote from Harry Binswanger's essay, What is Objective Law, which I linked to in my response:

Objective law is based on the primacy of existence; it reflects not anyone's will but facts. In this sense, objective law is passive: certain definite areas are clearly marked "off limits," and unless one crosses the line, the law respects and protects one's freedom of choice. Non-objective law is active; it is a beast in motion. Its "flexibility" makes it the indispensable tool of dictatorships....

Objective law is men's protection against power-lust. Objective law does not require submitting to anyone's will; it exists to prevent others from substituting their will, their plans, their judgment for one's own....

Accordingly, all regulatory agencies---all the alphabet commissions and boards from the original ICC right through the latest "environmental" agencies---are inherently non-objective by virtue of being regulatory agencies. Regulatory agencies deal in preventive law, law that treats men as guilty in advance, requiring them to satisfy the government that they will not bring about a certain result, in the absence of any specific evidence that they will do so. Thus, businesses have to satisfy the FDA that they will not sell adulterated food and drugs, satisfy the SEC that they will not "take advantage of" investors, satisfy the FTC that they will not "attempt to monopolize," satisfy the EPA that they will not "injure the environment," satisfy the EEOC that they will not "discriminate" in hiring . . . and so on, without limit.

The premise of regulatory law is: since some individuals may act irrationally and irresponsibly, all must submit to supervision. Thus regulatory law sacrifices virtue to vice. Objective law is designed to protect the very thing regulatory law crushes: independence.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Heroes That Made Sandy a Predictable "Freak" Storm

I have always been interested in weather. For as far back into my childhood as I could remember, the first thing I'd turn to in the newspaper was the weather map. I actually had a favorite weatherman--Tex Antoine.

So I got particular enjoyment out of writing my latest Objective Standard blog post, The Heroes who Enabled Advance Warning of Sandy. It's about the scientists and inventors behind today's weathermen who gave them the greatly improved means to forecast weather.

As late as the mid-Twentieth Century, AccuWeather's Meghan Evans notes, "there were no weather satellites or radar images to give meteorologists the big picture of weather patterns across the globe."
   Meteorologists painstakingly plotted weather data from widely scattered observation sites and analyzed weather maps by hand.
   It was a labor-intensive process, according to Dr. Charlie Hosler, who first became a meteorologist while in the Navy during World War II. Since then, Hosler worked at Penn State as a professor of meteorology, the head of the meteorology department and the dean of the Earth and Mineral Science College.
   "It was really tough," Hosler said of the early days of meteorology. "You really had to understand the structure of the atmosphere and its dynamics and physics. I had a lot of imagination because you had very few data points. It was like an elephant standing behind a barn and all you can see is its tail and you've never seen an elephant before so you'd have trouble describing the elephant."
And we shouldn't short-change the weathermen who must make judgements based on all of the data modern technology makes available to them today. Steve Politi writes of the chief meteorologist who oversees the New Jersey, Delaware, and Philadelphia region, forecasting storms and their impact on the region:

   "Do I want to do this?"
   Gary Szatkowski had his finger on his mouse — the panic button, essentially, for an entire region — ready to send an emergency briefing about a storm that didn't look like much of a threat in many ways.
   This was Tuesday morning, a full six days before the newly-named Hurricane Sandy touched ground in New Jersey. It was still 300 miles south of Jamaica and drifting south. Most computer models had it moving harmlessly out to sea, and while a few had it curving into the New Jersey coast, no storm in modern history had ever done something like that.
   Still: The potential was too much to ignore. The chief meteorologist at the local National Weather service office in Mount Holly considered what might happen in a worst-case scenario — the wind, the flooding, the historic damage. How could he not put everyone on notice?
   "Our region could be close to the path of a very dangerous storm," he wrote in his briefing on the morning of Oct. 23. "This storm system will bring multiple potential threats to the region."


Gary Szatkowski
Age: 55
Town: Hainesport, Burlington County
Profession: Chief meteorologist at the Mount Holly office of the National Weather Service
Fun fact: Took an interest in weather as a first grader, reading the forecast maps in an afternoon newspaper in Chicago.
Act of heroism: His accurate forecasts, along with his strong warnings and personal pleas to evacuate the coast, likely saved lives.

   He clicked to send it, hoping he had done the right thing. And hoping the storm would prove him wrong.

Sadly, he was dead on.

Related Reading:

NY mostly ignored reports warning of superstorm--AP

Sunday, November 11, 2012

On This Veterans Day, A Word About Those Who Support the Greatest Military in History

This is the time of year that America salutes, and gives thanks to, our military veterans who have protected this nation from foreign enemies for more than two centuries. I join in that celebration. My thoughts about them are conveyed in my Memorial Day tribute, and need no restatement here, except to convey the essence of that post. I wrote:

The highest tribute I can pay to our fallen is to say that they were cut from the mold of the Founding Fathers; that they did not set out to die for their country but rather that they set out to fight for that radical set of ideals that is the United States of America.

So, I’d like to use this Veterans Day post to acknowledge the unsung heroes of America’s veterans, the productive American citizen. No military as strong and as competent as America’s can exist in a vacuum. It requires something else - something indispensable – a great economy. Rome fell, it’s welfare statism rendering its economy unable any longer to support its military defenders. Ditto, the 19th Century British Empire.

America, historically the most productive society the world has ever seen, is the foundation that supports our military personnel. American taxpayers pay trillions of dollars, American defense contractors invest in and produce the most advanced weaponry in the world, weaponry that American soldiers rely upon to do their jobs and stay alive. American technology produces the high tech means for our intelligence community to gather the information our soldiers need to keep track of the enemy.

What is the foundation of that foundation? What enabled the creation of the economic powerhouse that enabled the creation of our military powerhouse?

In 1776, the Founders of this nation signed the Declaration of Independence, which sanctioned the individual to egoistically pursue his happiness in support of his life, by guaranteeing him a government that protected his unalienable individual rights – his liberty – to act upon his own reasoning mind. That short document unleashed the power of the human mind, possessed individually by every person. The result was an unprecedented explosion of productiveness leading to exploding general prosperity and a standard of living unimaginable by the wealthiest noblemen of centuries past. The cause of that progress is simple: the unleashing of every individual to self-interestedly strive to make his own life the best it can be, by his own effort, and free from the coercive interference of his fellow man. America was built not by sacrifice, as it is fashionable to assume, but by personal achievement.

So, let’s celebrate, along with our vets, the productive American of all income levels. Let’s celebrate the individual pursuit of happiness that is the fuel for that American. Let’s celebrate his willingness to pay for and support the military whose job it is to protect his pursuit of the good life.

Today, the foundation of America’s economic and military might is under intense attack by those who would “fundamentally change America”. Let’s stand up and reject that “change” from liberty to tyranny, and instead proclaim our allegiance to the Founding Fathers, who sought a change from tyranny to liberty. The best tribute one can give to our military veterans is to vow to fight for the rediscovery and reinstitution of the ideals that this country stands for: the supreme value of the individual human being, his freedom, and a government whose sole duty is to protect his right to live and prosper for his own sake.

Because that is what American veterans fought for.

Happy Veterans Day!!

-Mike LaFerrara

Minimum Wage Doesn't Belong in the Constitution--or Law

Despite its proven economic destructiveness, the minimum wage just won't go away. In NJ, as in a few other states, the debate has been raised to the constitutional level.

On the "pro" side of the debate, Senate president Stephen Sweeney (D)--citing Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Ohio as examples--"proposed asking voters to amend the state constitution to increase the minimum wage to $8.25 and tie it to the rate of inflation." On the opposing side is Senate minority leader Tom Kean Jr., saying that "The state constitution is not designed, nor was it ever intended, to be the place where matters of public policy that must be responsive to the times are addressed."

Kean is right that Sweeney's proposal is a "profoundly bad idea." But that's where their disagreement ends. Both agree that the state must impose minimum wages. "Just as the U.S. Constitution is famously dedicated to 'promote the general welfare,' our state constitution’s overarching goal is to ensure a basic standard and quality of life for residents," said Sweeney, distorting the meaning of the "general welfare clause." "For 65 years, the people have amended it to ensure their own security. Amending it to guarantee a livable minimum wage is part of that tradition." Kean did not dispute a word of that.

The "overarching" purpose of government is to protect individual rights, including property rights. Rights are sanctions to freedom of action--specifically, the actions necessary to pursue one's chosen values--not a guarantee to products or services that must be provided by others. The purpose of the constitution--on whatever governmental level--is to restrict the power of government to that purpose, and that purpose alone. Sweeney's interpretation turns on its head the fundamental principle upon which this nation was founded. To "guarantee a livable minimum wage," the government must necessarily violate the rights of some people to their lives, liberty, and property in order to provide that Guarantee to others. 

The reason is simple: Nature provides no guarantee to any level of material prosperity. Prosperity comes about because of individuals who meet the challenges of nature through productive work; which means to apply his reason to his labor. Every individual who does so produces on some level, and the level of his material prosperity is not determined by his needs or desires, only by his productiveness. "As a man sows, so shall he reap."

The principle is obvious in the case of a person marooned alone on an uninhabited island. That person cannot wish food, clothing, or shelter into existence. He must think and act--i.e., work--to create them. Nature does not recognize the man's wishes, only the man's ability to transform raw materials into the satisfaction of his needs. The principle is less obvious, but no less true, in an industrial economy. The difference is, an industrial economy makes it much easier to deal with nature, because of the jobs created by the most productive. Who are the most productive? Anyone who's intellectual energy and ambition exceeds his physical capacity to realize his goals, but who doesn't let his physical limitations stop him. The result; he seeks help, in the form of paying others to help him meet his goals--one or more jobs are born. You have an employer. You have an employee(s). In short, you have a business.

But the factually indisputable principle that "as a man sows, so shall he reap" still holds. One cannot repeal the laws of nature. When a business hires a worker, the worker's compensation is determined by the value of his contribution to the productive process that the business is engaged in--what he sows--not to his needs, desires, or some arbitrarily determined "livable wage." The business is neither able, willing, or morally obligated to pay his employees more than they are worth to him--i.e., what they contribute to the productive goals of the enterprise. Thanks to the market laws of supply and demand, nor can he get away for long with paying less than they are objectively worth.

The moral argument is particularly pertinent here, because the job creator's side of the minimum wage debate is rarely defended on moral grounds. But it must be said: A job is a two-way street, a trade. The business has a moral right to set the terms of employment for the job positions it creates, and the employee has a moral right to agree to the terms or go on his way to seek employment elsewhere. Just as the employer's need for help does not entitle him to anyone's labor below what the worker is willing to work for, so the employee's need for work does not entitle him to a wage higher than the business is willing to pay him.

Again, nature does not guarantee any level of material prosperity. Any attempt to impose such a "guarantee" on employers by legislative or constitutional force is theft. Therefor, minimum wage laws are theft, plain and simple, and the employee receiving compensation above and beyond what his employer would otherwise be willing to pay him is receiving stolen property. Minimum wage laws are not just economically destructive. They are immoral, unjust, and a violation of the right to freedom of association, trade, and contract;  i.e., they are tyranny. It is immoral both to force a business to pay his employees more than they are worth to him. It is equally wrong to forbid a person from agreeing to work for less than some authority demands; which means, essentially, to forbid him to work, since no job that does not cover its own cost will last for long. The greatest victims of minimum wage laws are the young, whose ability to gain "access"--to use a currently fashionable term--to the first rungs of the economic ladder is destroyed because those lower rungs have been kicked out by minimum wage laws.

"It’s easy to dismiss the minimum wage as the domain of teenage burger-flippers," Sweeney says, dismissing the young as unfit for consideration. But only 20% of minimum-wage level workers are teenagers, he disingenuously claims. How many more would there be, though, without minimum wage laws already on the books.

Jobs and the businesses that create them don't grow on trees. If someone wants to reap more, let him develop the skills and ambition that will make him a more productive individual, so he can sow more. Rather than debate how or when to impose minimum wage levels, we should get the government out of the business of dictating employment contracts.

Related Reading:

"Greed" is a Two-Way Street

End, Don't Raise, Minimum Wage Laws

Constitutional Distortions: the "General Welfare" Clause

Friday, November 9, 2012

America an Energy Exporter?

My November 1, 2012 post at The Objective Standard blog opens with:

Confounding the “experts,” amazing new technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have led to an astounding surge in American production of crude oil. Jonathan Fahey reports that the United States is set to become the world’s top oil producer:

Read the rest of Cheers to the Heroes Driving the American Oil and Gas Boom.

Related Reading:

For "Earth Hour," Celebrate Human Achievement

End All Corporate Welfare

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Climate Cabal Exploits Sandy for Statist Ideological Purposes

Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, another of the inevitable "Big Ones" that periodically ravage the Jersey Shore, has predictably brought more calls to combat "climate change." The NJ Star-Ledger has run several editorials demanding draconian government policies to reign in "carbon polluters" and promote non-CO2 emitting sources of energy. Their editorials such as this one are full of vague approximations, false assumptions, semi-plausible generalizations, and so on, all leading to a call for--you guessed it--more government controls on industry and our lives.

"Something is terribly wrong with our climate, and it’s past time to face that reality," it opens breathlessly. The editors say that "Climate change deniers can still find an isolated scientist or two to challenge conventional wisdom. But every major scientific organization says climate change is a serious problem and that mankind contributes to it." Who are the "scientist or two?" How much does mankind "contribute?" Why is climate change a serious problem, and not a beneficial development? How much government funding do these "major scientific organizations" receive, and how does that funding effect their claims? And if most agree on climate change, what makes them right and the minority wrong? It was once "conventional wisdom" that the earth is the center of the universe, the earth is flat, and the human race can be perfected through eugenics.

I've left the following comments:

The "climate denier" charge is a straw man, since no one disputes climate change. It has always been, and always will be, regardless of the degree of human contribution. 

So why use it? The "climate denier" straw man serves an important intimidation purpose: It is a smear tactic to implicitly equate opponents of the Left's statist agenda with "holocaust deniers" and thus Nazi sympathizers. This is quite interesting and ironic, given the American Left's heavily fascist economic ideology.

The government-funded climate "science" establishment is shamelessly exploiting super-storm Sandy to attack the economically vital and morally heroic fossil fuel industry so vital to our industrial civilization, in order to feed more subsidies to the "alternative energy" corporate welfare scheme. The editors want to "deny" the "ideological debate about the size and role of government" even as it advocates for a monumental increase in the size and role of government--an ideological position that Hitler would have certainly embraced.

The irony doesn't end there.

In a recent editorial, the editors condemned Richard Mourdock for attempting to "use the machinery of the state to force women into compliance" with his religious views. Yet what are the editors doing, if not using "the machinery of the state to force" their quasi-religious climate views on those of us who disagree with their statist "solution" to the natural phenomenon of climate change?  

Related Reading:

There They Go Again

The Wreckage of the "Climate Consensus"

Aborting "CO2 Machines"

You Can't Fix a Hurricane With Climate policy--Holman W. Jenkins Jr.

Power Hour: Climate Science and Global Warming with Dr. William Happer

Power Hour: Questioning Climate Science with Dr. Richard Lindzen

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Coming GOP Restructuring: Toward Liberty or Religious Authoritarianism?

In August, Albert R. Hunt raised the specter of a radical restructuring of the Republican Party, noting that Romney May Signal the End of Establishment Republicans' Rule.

At that point in the presidential campaign, the Romney team appeared to be headed for defeat. Unsurprisingly, that has now become a reality. Hunt wrote:

The grass-roots, ideologically driven base typified by the Tea Party movement ... is maturing into full control.
The establishment Republicans generally hold more moderate views, some having grown up in the party, others coming from business, and with a general appreciation of an “activist, limited government.”
Movement conservatives are motivated by ideology, sometimes small-government economics, other times the religious social agenda. They range from Paul Ryan, the small-government, economic policy-savvy vice-presidential candidate, to Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate contender who last week suggested that it is rare for women to become pregnant as a result of rape, saying “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
From Washington to the state capitals to the local level, the movement conservatives are in the ascendancy. For years, the Republican base was divided; it’s now dominated by the movement types.

From the end of the Reagan Administration through the second Bush Administration, Hunt notes, the GOP was dominated by liberal or "moderate" ("Establishment") Republicans. But the Establishment Republicans' reign culminated in the surging statism of the last 12 years, and the loss of an election that should have brought them a sweeping victory. Clearly, if the Republican Party is to become relevant, it needs to radically restructure.

But the movement conservatives and the Tea Party movement are afflicted by their own great divide--between (a general appreciation of) economic liberty and social authoritarianism. Free market capitalism simply cannot coexist with the Religious Right, or religion generally. On the dark side are the likes of Akin and Richard Mourdock and their cruel comments on rape. On the bright side are the likes of Margaret Hoover, who has called on the Republican Party to repudiate the anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-same-sex marriage Religious Right and social conservative elements of its agenda and unite the party platform under the principle of "American Individualism."  (See my Objective Standard review of her book of that title.)

To become relevant, the New Republican Party will have to choose one direction or the other. To learn how to help push the GOP in the right direction--the direction of individualism and individual rights--I urge you to read Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand's Ideas can End Big Government.

Related Reading:

My Challenge to the GOP; a Philosophical Contract with America

Understanding Obama: It's Not the Economy, Stupid!

Will the 58% Save America?

Politics 2012: Can "American Individualism" Save the GOP--and America?

Election 2010: Is it 1966, or a Real Turning of the Statist Tide?

Ayn Rand Foresaw Conservatism's Second Obituary

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Were the Job Numbers Fudged?

New York Post reporter John Crudelle strongly implies that they were--in Barack Obama's favor.

In today's (Election Day's) column, The curious case of the lucky jobs numbers, Crudelle writes:

I’ll leave the conspiracy theories to Jack Welch, former head of General Electric, who thinks the labor numbers are being rigged. I will just present the facts.
Let me start with last Friday’s numbers — the crucial employment roundup for October and the last major economic figure due before today’s vote.
Labor announced that 171,000 new jobs were created in October, a figure that was better than the “experts” expected and good enough for the president to tout in his last campaign stops.
But if you looked closely enough — and knew what you were looking at — you’d see a problem with that 171,000 figure.
The better-than-expected growth was mostly caused by a dramatic change in the seasonal adjustments used on the numbers. Without that change, growth in October would have only been around 100,000.

And that’s a figure the president would not have been bragging about.

Labor swore to me that nobody could have tinkered with the seasonal adjustments.
The second instance of good luck on jobs came in the September employment figures, which were released Oct. 5.
As I mentioned back then, the unemployment rate fell an astounding 0.3 percentage points to 7.8 percent largely because of an inexplicable jump in the number of young people who allegedly got jobs.
When the Census Bureau conducted that September survey for Labor, it discovered that 368,000 people between the ages of 20 and 24 had suddenly found work that month. Labor boxed a footnote in its report about the unusual occurrence but couldn't — or didn't — explain it.
The third instance was noticed by — I think — Reuters. In the week of Oct. 6, the initial claims for unemployment insurance (which is watched closely by the financial markets) suddenly dropped by 10 percent.
If you took the figure seriously, it looked like a sudden, last-minute improvement in the job market that would certainly help Obama. But then word started filtering out that the improvement was the result of one unnamed state that didn't file its weekly paperwork on time.
California — a state that supports the president wholeheartedly — was rumored to be the lax filer. So I’m wondering: Does someone in DC deserve a kick in the teeth?
I would say, yes--President Barack Obama (metaphorically speaking, of course), though not because of the fudging of the jobs numbers.
Crudelle says he voted for Obama in 2008, but is voting for Romney today because he has promised to get rid of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose inflationary, 0% interest rate monetary policies have, as Crudelle puts it, redistributed wealth "in a direction even Obama wouldn't approve — from the poor and middle class to the rich."
That's another good reason to vote for Mitt Romney.