Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Question for NJ State Senator Tom Kean Jr.: Why Not Universal School Choice Now?

In what is becoming an annual ritual in New Jersey, the Opportunity Scholarship Act is once again introduced into the state's legislature. The act is a limited, tax credit-based plan to offer school choice to select parents in "failing" districts. Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R), the prime sponsor, penned an op-ed in support of the bill.

As in the past, and as is typical of conservative school choice activists, Kean couched his plan not as a step away from "public" education, but under political cover of support for them:

Opportunity scholarships are not an abandonment of public education. We will continue to invest in any and all means of improving chronically failing school districts so that they, too, can offer the children in their communities a quality education. But until that day comes, we must take extraordinary measures to ensure another generation of children are not shuffled through a school system that isn’t meeting their needs.

I left the following comments:

In his 2010 AFC Summit Keynote Address, [NJ] Governor [Chris] Christie called the OSA [Opportunity Scholarship Act] a "first step" that would lead to the day when "choice is available to every parent and every child... across the state of NJ." 

Why wait? Who's to say there aren't children in "good" school districts whose parents don't believe their child's needs are being met. I put forward a robust tax credit plan, published in The Objective Standard, that would allow all tax payers to sponsor the education of any child anywhere. 

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

Not only do all parents have a right to pick their child's school. Every taxpayer has a right to choice over how his education dollars are spent. Why not allow taxpayers to apply tax credits to the education of his grandchild, nephew, friend, or specialized scholarship funds for children of poor parents, active servicemen, the gifted, special needs, or other educational missions?

Christie said the OSA "is not the final solution" to our educational problems. He did not call it a temporary stop-gap measure to be employed only "until that day comes [when] chronically failing school districts  can offer the children in their communities a quality education.Christie's heroic ideal would make choice a permanent, integral part of NJ education.

School choicers are going to get beaten up by the establishment reactionaries no matter what. Why spend another year on fractional measures like OSA? Why not put our energy toward fighting for school choice for everyone, not just as a practical matter, but as a moral imperative?

Related Reading:

NJ State Senator Tom Kean Jr. and the Opportunity Scholarship Act

Louisiana's Voucher Plan to De-Privatize Private Schools

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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Memo to the S-L: Gun Makers' Profits are Not the Issue

Two recent NJ Star-Ledger editorials, Obama's Real Problem isn't Gun Owners. It's Gun Makers, and Their Lobby and Public Opinion is on Obama's Side, but Gun Owners Must Speak Up, made a big deal out of what it says is the main motivation of the NRA; to protect gun-makers' sales and profits.

Leaving aside the question of the validity of the Editors' claims, I left the following comments here and here. You may want to check out the replies to my comments, as well:

The Editors’ NRA-is-motivated-by-an-agenda-to-protect-gun-sales focus is an argument from non-essentials; a means of sidestepping the important considerations. 
The basic issue in the “gun control” debate is the individual’s right to self-defense, the first derivative of his inalienable right to life. The right to self-defense, it follows, means the right to possess the means with which to defend oneself against objectively credible threats he may face from his fellow man.

Protection against foreign enemies is the government’s job. As long as America maintains overwhelming military superiority over its foreign enemies, and the willingness to use it, the threat of foreign invasion is nil. Therefore, the government may properly ban private ownership of certain military-utility weapons, such as rocket launchers, tanks, portable WMDs, etc.

Protection against domestic criminals is also the government’s job. However, since the police cannot offer 24/7 protection, and generally reacts only when called after a crime has been initiated and/or committed, the civilian must have the right to possess the means—including guns—required for his self-defense. Thus, the right to bear arms at least equivalent to the domestic threats present—the arms possessed by domestic criminals—is an inalienable right (subject, of course, to criminal and mental background checks, and proper training).

The “gun control” issue is more accurately called a “crime control” issue. While I’m not a possessor of or expert on guns, I’m not convinced that certain types of “assault weapons” have no utility in defending against or controlling domestic crime. What I do believe is that a law banning “assault weapons”—which seems so broadly defined as to be dangerously meaningless—will be no more successful at keeping them out of the hands of criminals than Prohibition could banish alcohol or the “war on drugs” could banish drugs.

Though it is the government’s proper job to protect individual rights, delegated to it by the people, it must never be forgotten that the right to self-defense (like all rights) is fundamentally an individual right (the only kind of rights there are).

Related Reading:

Gun Control Should Focus On Principles, Not Guns

Human Volition, Not Guns, is the Source of Gun Aggression

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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Would Martin Luther King Support Gun Control?

In a recent editorial, the NJ Star-Ledger cited Martin Luther King's "vital legacy of non-violence" as proof that he would have sided with gun control advocates.

I left the following remarks:

Though MLK’s political policy leaned socialist, his fundamental political principles were unabashedly pro-liberty, pro inalienable individual rights. MLK revered the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Founding Fathers who penned those “magnificent words.” To surmise King’s likely position on today’s issues, one must consult his principles, because only principles provide a guide to future actions.  

King’s non-violent counseling referred to his rejection of the initiation of physical force as a form of protest related to the Civil Rights Movement. It does not follow, given his unabashed reverence for the constitution, that he would oppose the individual’s right of self-defense against armed domestic criminals. Given his stated principles, King would likely have supported gun rights for self-defense or the pursuit of happiness (collecting, hunting, sports), albeit with certain rational restrictions. If not, then his most famous speech was just empty rhetoric. 

My tribute to MLK:

Another correspondent added:

Ricky Lee wrote:
This editorial has ignored a number of relevant historical facts. First, Dr. King was a supporter of gun ownership for the purposes of self defense. He was a gun owner who kept "an arsenal" in his home to protect his family against the constant threats presented by the KKK. Armed supporters, not the police, took turns protecting King and his family. He even applied for a permit to carry a concealed weapon but was rejected likely because of his race.

Lee had other interesting things to say. With the caveat that I'm not sure of the accuracy of Lee's facts, his whole commentary is worth reading.

Related Reading:

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Fundamental Principle of America

Armed Self-Defense Saves Lives

Gun Control Should Focus on Principles, Not Guns

Friday, January 25, 2013

Obama's Second Term: "A Brighter Dawn," or Ancient Evil?

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. penned an accoladal hymn to President Barack Obama, saying that his second inauguration speech “invoked an inclusive new American dawn, with its implied farewell to an exclusionary American yesterday.” Pitt was referring, specifically, to three areas of conflict in American history. In A Brighter Dawn, Pitt wrote:

Indeed, a collective shiver climbed through some of us when the president invoked places made sacred by the freedom crusades they saw.

“We, the people,” he said, “declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Pitts called this “a needed statement of principle at a time when some of us seem determined to repeal progress.” Pitts continues:

There was more to that passage than sibilant alliteration. There was also a reminder that there was nothing predestined about this American dawn, that we come to it by way of struggle and blood, courage and vision. Yesterday, 1848, at Seneca Falls in New York, 300 people convened to advance the radical idea that women are fully equal human beings. Yesterday, 1965, at Selma, in Alabama, African Americans had their bones broken and bodies bloodied to put forward the radical idea that they were American citizens who deserved the right to vote. Yesterday, 1969, at The Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village, gay people rioted and protested to drive home the radical idea that they had the right to be left the hell alone.

What do the examples of Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall have in common? They symbolized fights for legal equality; for an equal recognition of their rights, not a plea for special government favors at others’ expense.

[T]he radical idea that they had the right to be left the hell alone” is another way of saying they have an “unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; a principle that applies to all people in all areas of their lives. It is the principle that separates America, in its Founding ideals, from every other culture past or present. It is the principle that underpins capitalism.

Funny thing about principles: Once you espouse one, it becomes a yardstick by means of which to judge all of a person’s actions, including actions concretely unconnected to the specific subjects at hand. I left the following comments:

The self-evident truth, “that all men are created equal,” is so new in human history that it is not fully understood to this day. It means equal individual sovereignty and rights; rights being guarantees to freedom of action in pursuit of life’s goals and happiness, not an automatic claim on the services or wealth of others. It means equal before the law; to equal protection of one’s rights and property. This principle properly brought America universal voting rights, reproductive rights, an end to legalized racial segregation, marriage equality for interracial couples and--soon--for gay couples. These advances are properly lauded.

But, if Obama’s social policies derive from this revolutionary idea, his economic policies derive from the ancient evil of tribal collectivism--a turning back to a yesterday that the Declaration of Independence was thrown up to reverse. The inalienable rights Obama also cited inextricably implies the right to property; to earn, keep, and dispose of property, to voluntarily produce and trade with others, by one’s own rational independent judgement. On this, Obama is firmly ensconced in a decades old trend of growing economic authoritarianism; an explicit “pledge to restore yesterday.”

We desperately need a party that rejects the Dem’s economic authoritarianism and the GOP’s social authoritarianism, and lays down a coherent platform of economic and social freedom. Along with political freedom, that would be the full realization of the New Dawn envisioned by the Founders.

As Yaron Brook notes in this interview, America’s Declaration of Independence is the secret weapon in our arsenal. The Declaration contains the basic principles--the basic building blocks--for a freedom agenda. When those hostile to freedom in any area of our lives invoke those principles, as Obama did and as Martin Luther King Jr. did in his I Have a Dream speech, pro-freedom forces should seize on them to hold our opponents’ “feet to the fire”; to show how those principles contradict their rights-violating policies.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Obama's "Bridge": 21st Century Tyranny Cloaked in America's Founding Ideals

President Obama laid out his vision for a second term in his January 21, 2013 inaugural address. It is a collectivist vision, cloaked in our individualist Founding ideals:
What makes us exceptional, what makes us America is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. 
That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today we continue a never ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.

The "realities of our time," in Obama's interpretation, requires expanded government and solidification of the welfare state, as he makes clear throughout his speech. It means transferring more of our wealth to government; of giving government ever more authority over ever more areas of our lives.  "We the people" is a phrase repeated over and over, and it's clear what Obama means. He means we the government, turning on its head the exact meaning of those words. 

For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. 
For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores 
Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

This is a common theme running through Obama's ideology; the false choice between either submitting to government control or "acting alone." Voluntary private cooperation toward a common goal doesn't enter into Obama's equation. The Founding ideals now mean, not the sovereignty of the individual, but the supremacy of the collective, because putting government in charge is the only way for things that require cooperative action to get done. "Times change," indeed!

What about those unalienable rights, by which the Founders meant individual rights held equally and at all times by all people? What about equality, by which the Founders meant; equality before the law; the equal legal protection of those rights?

Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. 
Progress does not compel us to settle century’s long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.
For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. 

After paying homage to the principles upon which this nation was founded, he declares that they are not absolute. What, exactly, is a non-absolute principle? Thus does Obama clear the way to make an end run around what this nation stands for. If principles are malleable, then anything goes.

We cannot afford to waste time objectively defining liberty and rights, he declares. We cannot waste time debating the proper role of government, which the document he so eloquently quotes from clearly articulates, and which he conveniently neglects to cite: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." 

What if one person believes he has a right to keep and spend his own money as he sees fit, under the protection of government and law; and another believes he has a right to healthcare and a college education, paid for by somebody else, and the government's job is to seize that money on his behalf?

Those are moral questions requiring answers grounded in moral principles, which by definition are moral absolutes. But we must not "mistake absolutism for principle." We cannot "agree on every contour of life." We don't all "follow the same precise path to happiness." Some of us want to be free to take care of ourselves, and some of us want to force others to take care of ourselves. Who's to say who's right? It's not necessary to answer that question "for all time," says Obama. "Progress...requires us to act in our time." 

We must act!

We must act now! 

No time to answer the profound questions that the Founders asked--and answered--in the Declaration of Independence.

How convenient.

You oppose Obama's agenda, based on the principles of unalienable individual rights and limited government? Don't be absolute! Don't make a political spectacle of yourself. Don't call his agenda what it is--a mish-mash of fascism and socialism. That's "name-calling," not "reasoned debate." Don't discuss. Don't question. Don't identify. Don't define. Reasoned debate means not knowing what one is talking about--and evading inconvenient truths and facts.

"Reasoned debate," in Obama's world, means accepting his premises, and quibbling over the details, rather than the propriety, of government programs.

Obama, of course, clings absolutely to his ideology. In the age-old battle of the individual against the collective, Obama chooses the collective--i.e., the state. On this, Obama is absolute. Freedom and individual rights? Those are not really unalienable, but privileges courtesy of "we the people." But we can't quibble over such trivial details as the rights of the individual. Time is of the essence. "We"--Obama--has a railroad to run.

I have said that Obama is the most philosophically astute president of my lifetime. His call to disregard fundamental questions of political philosophy tells me that he fully understands that his agenda cannot withstand scrutiny under the bright lights of our Founding principles. Yet, he understands that those principles still resonate in America. So, he seeks to blur them into non-absolute incoherence; to stifle debate; to ensure that no one looks too closely at their true meaning, lest they discover that those ideals are the only antipode to his ambitious statism.

Obama's speech held no surprises, except that he believes that he can get away with cloaking his collectivist/statist vision in America's Founding ideals. Can he--will he--get away with it? 

We must not let him. Obama brought up "the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Let's hold his feet to the fire of those ideals.  

Related Reading:

Obama's Way vs. the American Way

Obama's Second Inaugural Address vs. What Made America Great, by Ari Armstrong

Obama's Pitch for Power, by Laissez-Faire

Obama's Collectivist Manifesto, Parts 12, and 3

Constitutional Distortions-the "General Welfare" Clause

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Accountability": Government School vs. a Free Market

A recent Objective Standard blog post of mine deals with a school "reform" fad sweeping the nation from the President on down, summed up in the buzzword,"Accountability." The Best Teacher Evaluation "Plan" is a Free Market in Education highlights an evaluation system offered by the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation. It opens with:

Teacher evaluation is all the rage today. The “central question” confronting the education establishment, writes Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post, is, “What’s the best way to identify an effective educator?”

After touching on the essentials of the Gates plan, I then ask, "What’s missing from this equation?" Learn the answer and the solution by reading the rest.

In a related development,  Warren Cooper of NJN Publishing reports that Accountability comes to education as two Hunterdon districts pilot new principle assessment protocols. The article prompted this comment from eastprecinctguy:

The only REAL accountability is the free market - the ability to enroll your child in the school they feel is best for their child - without a severe financial penalty.   Everything else is mindless propaganda.

My supporting comment:

I agree, eastprecinctguy

What's missing from the accountability crusade to evaluate educators is the person who knows the child best; the parents. Every child is an individual, and the only true advocate is the child's parents, who logically, morally, and rightfully deserve to direct their own child's education. Educators should be directly accountable to the parents, not the state.

The only way that can happen is when the parents can "vote with their wallets" in an education free market. We don't need another top-down scheme imposed by politicians looking to score "school reform" points. We need the free flow of innovative education ideas and philosophies that only a free market can foster.

Universal education tax credits would be a good initial step toward the goal of separating education from politics and the state. Empowering parents and educators to freely contract in a free market should be the goal. That would be real school reform.

This article states:

The new rules make it possible for a district to fire a teacher — even a tenured teacher — if his or her class doesn’t meet measurable academic goals. Similarly, if an individual school doesn’t achieve [school-wide] student test result goals, the principal’s job is likewise at risk.

The fundamental purpose of education is to train the child to use his mental tools--the powers of abstraction, conceptualization, integration--and to think objectively and independently so as to set him up for a lifetime of joy in learning and growth. 

This new evaluation craze is based on a collectivist premise: It will tell you if the student herd--whether the class or the school-wide student body--has met some state-imposed "achievement goals." But it tells you nothing of the educational development of the individual child's, only of whether he measured up to the collective yardstick. The student is a pawn in a game played by adults motivated by fear of losing their jobs or enduring salary punishment lest they pump up their students' "achievements" to satisfy the evaluators. 

It is fundamentally corrupt--just another scheme to fix the unfixable; the government school monopoly. Far from being innovative, the accountability crusade will stifle innovation. Innovation implies the possibility of failure, which is part of the learning process. What incentive will an educator have to try new ideas, when any failure can mean failing to meet some bureaucratic "achievement goal," thus putting his job at risk? It is unfair to the students, the teachers, and the administrators. 

Related Reading:

Teacher Accountability Follows from Genuine Market Activity

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

By All Means, Let Parents Lead

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Championed America's Founding Ideals

I once rejected the notion of Martin Luther King as a great American because of his politics, which leaned toward socialism. No more. Socialism is an obvious contradiction of America’s individualist ideals--the very ideals that, as it turned out, King embraced. As I came to understand, thanks to Objectivism, that fundamental philosophical principles drive politics rather than the other way around, I came to realize that King’s politics pale next to his unabashed belief in America’s Founding ideals. The right ideas--if embraced widely--will ultimately lead to the right politics. King is an ally in the battle to spread those right ideas.

My tribute to this great American, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Fundamental Principle of America, has been published at The Objective Standard Blog.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My LTE On Immigration

My latest letter-to-the-editor was published in the NJ Star-Ledger on January 16, 2013. The title, "Open Borders," is the editors' choice.

Open borders

As a staunch believer in free trade, I sympathize with The Star-Ledger’s call for immigration reform in the spirit of the DREAM Act (“Immigration reform in sight, at last,” editorial, Jan. 13). But this is only a step in the right direction.

Free trade is about more than unimpeded movement of goods and services across national boundaries. It also means freedom of migration for individuals. Put simply, every person has an inalienable right to live and work where he pleases. This is consistent with America’s pro-liberty, universal ideals; the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Aspiring immigrants should be properly screened for criminal backgrounds, infectious diseases, national security concerns, etc. But that’s it.

True free-traders support liberal, open immigration policies, on principle. (The reverse is also true: Pro-immigration advocates must also support economic free trade, for the same reasons.) Of course, the path to American citizenship should be grueling and much more selective. But as to legal immigration, the principle should be laissez-faire for all who pose no physical threat to Americans’ safety. Free trade and freedom of migration are corollary moral imperatives.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Armed Self-Defense Saves Lives

Immediately following the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings in July 2012, NJ Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun praised New Jersey U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez as "courageous" for their call for more gun control legislation.

But, there is nothing courageous about ignoring the full context concerning guns in a free society. Nowhere in the article does Braun mention the life-saving results of the defensive use of firearms. He and other "gun control" advocates should. 

According to an extensive Cato Institute study titled Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance from Citizens, many thousands of would-be innocent victims of armed criminal assailants owe their lives to private citizens legally packing guns. 

In its opening section, Cato's Clayton E. Cramer and David Burnett ask:

What would be the effect of depriving ordinary, law-abiding citizens from keeping arms for self-defense? One result seems certain: the law-abiding would be at a distinct disadvantage should criminals acquire guns from underground markets. After all, it is simply not possible for police officers to get to every scene where
they are urgently needed. 

If policymakers are truly interested in harm reduction, they should pause to consider how many crimes—murders, rapes, assaults, robberies—are thwarted each year by ordinary persons with guns. The estimates of defensive gun use range between the tens of thousands to as high as two million each year.

In its thoughtful study, Cato notes that figures on the number of defensive gun uses range all over the lot, and are thus hard to pin down. But it's clear from the study that guns in the hands of private, law-abiding, responsible citizens stop or prevent a lot of violent crimes.

It must be remembered that the Aurora theater forbade patrons from bringing guns in, leaving only the rule-breaker with guns. How many lives could have been saved in that theater if one or two or 10 of those patrons were armed and trained to bring down the evil assailant? 

There are about 12,000 gun homicides yearly in America. But one must consider the thousands of people who don’t become part of that statistic because of armed civilians acting in self-defense or defending others--a figure that may exceed the number of actual victims. It is entirely likely that gun homicides would rise, not fall, if law-abiding citizens are forbidden to own or carry guns. In fact, that's exactly what happened in Colorado. Cramer and Burnett note that

...after Colorado’s 2003 concealed carry law was enacted, Colorado State University decided to allow concealed carry, while the University of Colorado prohibited firearms. The former observed a rapid decline in reported crimes, while the latter, under the gun ban they claimed was for safety, observed a rapid increase in crime.

Braun's focus is on banning so-called "assault rifles," which he defines as "guns designed solely to kill many" people. "Weapons of war have no place on our streets," Braun says, quoting a NJ congressman. I'm not sure about assault weapons specifically, but Braun's point is reasonable in principle (See my post Gun Control Should focus on Principles, Not Guns).

But for many gun control advocates, banning "assault weapons"--if there are objectively valid reasons for doing so--is an opening wedge for much more aggressive attempts to ban all guns. 

This is where a broader context is crucial.

Whether the number of lives saved by justifiable, defensive gun use is in the thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of cases per year, gun control advocates must acknowledge this fact: If they got their way in severely restricting or effectively eliminating guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens, they will be condemning many innocents, who might otherwise survive an armed assailant, to serious injury or death.

Related Reading:

Gun Control Should focus on Principles, Not Guns

Thoughts on the Colorado Theater Shooting

Media Underplays Successful Defensive Gun Use, by Paul Hsieh

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Announcing: D'Souza/Bernstein Debate

DEBATE: Dinesh D’Souza vs. Andrew Bernstein—Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind?

"When: February 8, 2013, 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
"Where: Hogg Auditorium, University of Texas–Austin
"For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the D’Souza-Bernstein Debate Page. To spread the word about the event, use our PDF Flier and link to the event page and Facebook page.
"Brought to you by The Objective Standard and UT Objectivism Society"

Monday, January 14, 2013

End Government Intrusion into Labor-Management Contracts

My recent Objective Standard blog post attacks a sacred cow of conservatives but also many on the right; so-called "right-to-work" laws. Right-to-work laws are authorized, at the discretion of individual states, under the Taft-Hartley Act. 

Read my post, End "Collective Bargaining Rights" and "Right-to-Work" Laws.

One of the objections against my position was raised by a couple of correspondents. Bonnie Bertrand writes:

Right to work laws take the teeth out of collective bargaining laws. To regard them as "equally rights-violating" and "equally illegitimate" fails to recognize this fact.

And James Young writes:

   So, in light of the inability to repeal one set of coercive laws, libertarians shouldn't support the mitigation of their coercive effects?   Too often, libertarians make the perfect the enemy of the good. This discussion is one such instance.

I answered with the following:

"Right-to-work laws go quite a bit beyond mitigating the coercive effects of or taking the teeth out of coercive union-empowering laws: They outlaw certain perfectly legitimate union-company contractual agreements. By accepting this, one accepts as legitimate the same statist premise that underpins laws like the Wagner Act; that government may dictate labor-management contractual terms. 

"If a "right-to-work" law actually went no further than to neutralize the effects of bad labor laws, it might be worthy of support from pro-individual rights forces."

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reisman: We Need Gun Control--for Our Government

George Reisman has a good post titled Gun Control: Controlling the Government's Guns, in which he argues convincingly (as usual) that by far the biggest gun threat to the private citizenry comes not from domestic criminals but from the government's misuse of it's legal powers of physical force. Reisman's take on the Second Amendment is instructive:

   Our entire Constitution and Bill of Rights are essential measures of gun control—this time, gun control directed against the government. For example, the First Amendment prohibits the government from using its guns to abridge the freedoms of speech or press. The Second Amendment prohibits the government from using its guns to abridge the freedom of the citizen to keep and bear arms.
   Indirectly, the Second Amendment also operates to limit the government’s use of its guns to abridge freedom in general. This is because, in our system of checks and balances, an armed citizenry constitutes a check on the possibility of the government becoming tyrannical and attempting to use its power to threaten the citizens’ lives and property. It should be understood as protecting a balance between the power remaining in the hands of the people and the power they have delegated to their government. Indeed, the language of the Second Amendment¬—“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed—should be understood in this way.

Reisman explains that every "law, regulation, ruling, or whatever, would be without force or effect [without] the government’s implicit threat to use deadly force [guns] to uphold its decisions." Controlling the government's guns, therefore, is imperative because, left unchecked, government power will end in slaughter. This is historical fact. Notes Reisman: "human deaths on a scale dwarfing the deaths caused by the worst individual psychopaths" have been perpetrated by governments. Consequently, concludes Reisman, we need gun control--levied against our government:

To impose gun control on their government, the American people need in addition to arm themselves in a way that is more fundamental than merely possessing physical weapons. They need to arm themselves intellectually and morally as well, by reading and studying the works of the great modern defenders of freedom, above all, Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand. This will enable them to counter and overcome the vicious ideas that underlie the misuse of government power and its continuing growth. An armament of physical weapons combined with knowledge and moral conviction will ensure that the American people will never find themselves in the position of helpless, terrified people being led as sheep to the slaughter. They will never allow themselves to be either the victims or the perpetrators of a holocaust, for they will have regained control over their government and its use of its weapons. They will have achieved the kind of gun control that secures their lives and property and threatens the lives and property of no one else.


The Nature of Government by Ayn Rand

Gun Control Should focus On Principles, Not Guns

Thoughts on the Colorado Theater Shooting

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Human Volition, not Guns, is the Source of Gun Aggression

American Prospect editor-at-large Harold Meyerson, discussing the issue of gun control, writes in the Washington Post:

Compare the rate of murder by gun in the United States to the rate in any other advanced industrial nation, and you’re forced to draw one of two conclusions: Either there are far more homicidal people in this country than just about anyplace else on Earth, or far more guns. We must either be home to more people who succumb to murderous rage or who kill out of the coldest of calculations, or it’s easier to pick up a gun and start shooting here than in any comparable country.

Meyerson chooses the prevalence of guns, thus taking the simplistic way out by citing statistics as primary proof that "restricting" the sale of guns will make us safer.

Statistics, in and of themselves, are not proof of anything. They may be valuable as a starting point for further investigation or as supporting evidence for a rational case based on observation and logic. But they do not constitute fundamental proof that guns cause violent gun aggression.

Gun control advocates' fixation on guns misses a crucial distinction; the difference between responsible citizens and irresponsible citizens. A gun is an inanimate object. It does not have volition. It cannot make moral choices. Those are attributes of the individual human mind alone. The individual, not the gun, it logically follows, must be the focus of the debate.

Meyerson's whole case collapses when one focuses on facts of reality.

Is it possible that "restricting"--i.e., banning--guns will prevent an occasional isolated psycho from committing mass murder? Of course. But outlawing private gun ownership is much more likely to spur a thriving underworld gun market, thus shifting the prevalence of gun ownership from responsible, law-abiding citizens to criminals. Look no further than the alcohol prohibition era and the power of organized crime it spurred; or, today, the high incidence of drug-related gun violence and the power of the drug cartels.

The laws of economics can not be repealed by a legislative act. The high level of gun demand in America will not change at the whim of anti-gun legislation. Such legislation will simply shift more resources away from fighting rights-violating crime to chasing non-rights-violating gun trade and possession, creating another class of victim-less criminals much as the drug "war" has done. The result will be to violate the rights of the innocent many, for the wrongdoing of the guilty few. Even if outlawing guns could reduce gun crimes in America, a highly doubtful outcome, violating rights can never be justified.

What, then, lies behind the difference in the ratios of gun deaths between America and other countries cited by Meyerson (assuming these surveys are accurate)? That is a much more difficult question to answer than Meyerson's shallow statistical approach can answer.

I would look to the differences in educational philosophy between America and other countries. The dominance of mind-crippling progressive education is strong in America. Our failure-riddled K-12 education system, which is most strongly manifested in the same urban centers that have the highest crime rates, actively hinders children from developing the natural cognitive mental tools needed to deal with reality. Improperly educated children have varying degrees if inability to cope with life, and in the most extreme instances, could escape into criminal activity.

What about the Left's hateful campaign against "the top 1%"--i.e., the productive and successful--which could conceivably boil over into gun  aggression by those imagining themselves to be "the 99%"--i.e., the victims of that evil elite.

Meyerson's obvious political agenda--his piece degenerates into Republican-bashing--may explain why he is quick to dismiss the idea that "there are far more homicidal people in this country than just about anyplace else on Earth," and thus to evade why that isBut that is a far more logical explanation than the statistical model. The question is, why is that the case? What ideas--what mindset--motivates an individual to pick up a gun and use it to senselessly gun down innocent people? Statistics won't answer that question. They will just indicate that there is a problem.


Gun Control Should focus On Principles, Not Guns

Thoughts on the Colorado Theater Shooting

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Obama Should Approve the Keystone Pipeline for Economic and Environmental Reasons

President Obama must soon decide on whether to approve TransCanada’s controversial Keystone Pipeline that would bring crude oil from Canada to US refineries. “The pipeline requires State Department approval because it crosses an international boundary,” AP’s Josh Lederman reports.

Leaving aside the question of whether any politician should have the power to block it in the first place, Lederman notes that “On its surface, [the Keystone decision] is a choice between the promise of jobs and economic growth and environmental concerns.” More broadly, Lederman says, Obama’s decision “may signal how he will deal with climate and energy issues in the four years ahead.”

But the widely-accepted tradeoff between what’s good for the economy vs. what’s good for the “environment” is a false one; an outgrowth of the premise that nature, untouched by human alteration, has intrinsic value. On this premise, which forms the foundation of the environmentalist movement, any and all alterations to the “natural” environment at the hands of humans is destructive, and must be curbed or eliminated as much as possible. This view, however, is destructive to human well-being.

On the premise that holds human life, rather than “untouched” nature, as the standard of value, there is no inherent conflict between economic growth and a good environment. In fact, they go hand-in-hand. As energy expert Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress notes, “fossil fuels have made our environment amazingly good.”

Yes, good. Epstein, who recently debated leading environmentalist Bill McKibben on the subject of “The Ethics of Fossil Fuels,” observes that “Every region of the world, in its undeveloped state, is full of deadly environmental hazards. . . . And yet some nations, like the US, have the best . . . overall environmental quality in human history. . . . The reason for this,” observes Epstein,

is development—the improvement of nature to meet human needs. Development means water purification systems, irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically-improved crops, dams, sea walls, heating, air conditioning, sturdy homes, drained swamps, central power stations, vaccination, pharmaceuticals, and so on.

Cheap, plentiful, reliable energy drives development, Epstein notes, and coal, oil, and natural gas—the fossil fuels—provide the overwhelming quantity of that energy. While he acknowledges there are pollution risks that must be corrected, Epstein observes that “Fossil fuels have transformed hazardous natural environments the world over into healthy human environments”—and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Environmentalist zealots have for too long unjustly claimed what Epstein termed “the environmental high road.” That banner rightfully and morally belongs to the energy producers who drive our human life-enhancing industrial economy, led by the heroic fossil fuel industry.

An objective assessment of the facts supports a powerful double-barrelled argument for fossil fuels; they are economically and—on balance—environmentally beneficial to human well-being. Obama can signal his recognition of these truths by approving the Keystone Pipeline.

Related Reading:

Exploit the Earth or Die

Interview with Alex Epstein, Founder of Center for Industrial Progress

Cheers to the Heroes Driving America’s Oil and Gas Boom

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

"Fracking's" Knee-Jerk Enemies

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Federal Disaster Aid Dilemma

House Republicans were recently slammed--including by other Republicans--for delaying a vote on the $60 billion SuperStorm Sandy aid package. Two NJ Star-Ledger columnists zeroed in on this issue--Paul Mulshine and Tom Moran. Mulshine chided Republicans for their delay, singling out GOP Rep. Darrell Issa:

   Many people are under the mistaken impression that the flood insurance program is some sort of a giveaway. In fact the premiums are high and the payouts are low, capped at a mere $250,000 per homeowner. It’s true the program should be reformed, but the feds have an obligation to back the policies that they required so many people to purchase.   Much of the rest of the aid is provided under the Stafford Act, which funds disaster recovery. Again, if people like Issa wanted to repeal that act, they should have done so before their states cashed in on it.

Mulshine's point is that the disaster relief programs are in place, and New Jersey residents have been taxed for years to fund them. Overall, he says, "Many of the [NJ] counties [affected by Sandy] send more money to Washington than some entire states do. But when it comes to getting a few bucks back, the rest of country suddenly turns into tightwads." Moran made a similar point, noting that "New Jersey gets 55 cents back for every $1 paid in federal taxes."

This is another example of the insidious nature of the welfare state. It's a widening trap. People who have been forced to pay into these disaster relief programs feel justified in cashing in, which is understandable. Of course, where each person's needle points on the moral compass is determined by whether he supports or opposes such programs. 

It's a particular moral dilemma for politicians who oppose such programs on principle, but who must, as Moran puts it, not lose "sight of the fact that his job during a crisis like this is to help his constituents recover." Moran was referring to NJ Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, who must choose between the best interests of his constituents and adherence to his principles. 

Garrett voted against federal aid for Hurricane Katrina, and says he may vote against Sandy aid, based upon his belief that disaster relief charity should be a private affair. Moran, a "liberal," is particularly vicious,    labeling Garrett "nuts," and saying:

   Garrett is an ideologue in the worst sense. He is ineffective in Congress because he doesn’t make deals, and is driven wholly by his messianic drive to shrink government.
   If he were running the show, the rich would have kept all their tax breaks, but millions of unemployed people would be getting no benefits today. He voted against the extension.   The elderly would be getting no help buying prescription drugs. He opposed that, too.   The banks would have been allowed to collapse, and the recovery from the recession would be left to the magic of the market without a dime in stimulus spending.   Even disaster aid would be left to the private sector. 

These two columns by Mulshine, a conservative, and Moran--who agree about the vote on the aid package but for entirely different reasons--point up the difficulty of attacking the welfare state politically, before a proper ideological foundation has been laid.

I left these comments to the Moran column:

I agree with Garrett's goal, but not with his method. I agree with Mulshine's point from 1/3: The time to oppose federal disaster aid is not when people are suffering and counting on programs that are already in place and for which they've paid into.

But federal disaster aid like flood "insurance," Stafford, and FEMA should be phased out over time and ended in a way that honors promises already made while giving people time to adjust (or re-adjust) to a system of private insurance, self-responsibility, mutual aid, and voluntary private charity. A free, right-respecting society is one that doesn't allow phony do-gooders to use the government as a hired gun to seize and redistribute the wealth of one's fellow citizens in the name of "helping" disaster victims. The issue is not helping or not helping. The issue is moral vs. immoral means. There is nothing moral or compassionate about denying people the right to make their own choices in regard to charity. Like all welfare-state programs, Federal disaster aid is built on legalized theft.

If anyone has a "messianic drive," it is the "progressive" Left in its relentless determination over the past century to expand the government's control over Americans' lives. It is no surprise that Moran portrays Garrett as a "lone wolf." That is the way collectivists see people in a free society, where human economic and personal associations are voluntary rather than coerced by government. And that is the way the Left smears anyone who dares to stand up to their messianic big-government zeal.

Cutting off government "benefits" in mid stream will never be a winning strategy. People orient the planning of their lives around them. A thoughtful process of explicit philosophical education and advocacy coupled with concrete long-range phaseout planning for the welfare state is the way to go. Politically, it's the only way. The Left relentlessly hammered home their collectivist/altruist ideals, decade after decade, while piece-mealing us ever farther along the fascist road to socialism. To turn the country around, it will take the same kind of intestinal philosophical fortitude and determination, coupled with step-by-step advances toward individual rights and capitalism, from the Right.

Elections will be lost along the way, for sure. But a loss without philosophical compromise is a step forward--an educational process creating a chance to build for future electoral success--which, when it comes, will have been won on explicit pro-freedom ideas. The ideological foundation for substantive pro-freedom legislation will have been laid.  Elections won on pragmatic grounds are hollow victories which, when they come, will leave the winners with no grounds to advance any pro-freedom legislative agenda. Upon what will the winners justify it, after they have abandoned the principles they will need when they take office?

Until the philosophical base has been laid, the Scott Garretts of the world will continue to twist in the wind, with no practical hope of being anything but, in Moran's words, "ineffective in Congress."