Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We Are Doomed Without, Not Because of, Fossil Fuel Use

House of Representatives Republicans are looking to slash the so-called "clean energy budget"—subsidies to solar and wind companies and consumers—and the Left is predictably up in arms about it. The NJ Star-Ledger wrote: 

"We are facing an epic dilemma: Our use of fossil fuels isn’t being curbed by supply or demand. Domestic natural gas supplies are growing, and prices are dropping. Yet if we burn all the fossil fuels that are accessible with modern techniques such as fracking and directional drilling, we are doomed.

"Burning coal, oil and natural gas releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. This is what causes extreme weather like blazing heat waves, prolonged droughts, storm surges and intense flooding."

The editors claim that "fossil fuel bosses" have Republicans "by the throat."

I left these comments: 

So, "blazing heat waves, prolonged droughts, storm surges and intense flooding" never happened before the industrial revolution?

Of course they have, and they historically brought widespread death and misery to human beings. The industrial revolution changed all that. Along with a rising standard of living, industrialization gave man the ability to protect himself from these natural disasters. Not to minimize the suffering that still affects some people struck by weather extremes, we no longer have famines from droughts, mass death from drownings during storm surges or river flooding, or mass suffering from heat waves; all owing to irrigation systems, modern mechanized global agriculture, the transport of mass quantities of food to drought-stricken areas from other areas with plentiful rainfall and mass evacuation techniques facilitated by modern transportation, central air conditioning, and levies and other flood control projects. 

And what powers our industrialization? Primarily fossil fuels. 
Who still suffers from natural calamities?—non-industrialized, backward regions.

The "fossil fuel bosses" should be lauded as the heroes that they are. This industry provides the fuel 
for the industrialization that has transformed earth's hostile natural environment into one hospitable to human life and flourishing. The "power" of the fossil fuel industry comes directly from our willingness to buy their products because they improve our lives and, whether we care to admit it or not, vastly improve the earth's environment. And if weather extremes really are getting a little more extreme—a dubious assumption—then the most insane thing we can do is hamper and demonize the production of reliable sources of energy like fossil fuels, and thus hamper our ability to cope. 

We will be doomed if environment totalitarians succeed in crushing the fossil fuel industry.

Enemies of fossil fuels typically ignore the benefits of fossil fuels. The rest of us do at our peril.

Related Reading:

Why I Don't Trust the "Climate Consensus"

Attack on "Carbon Pollution" an Attack on Human Life

Related Viewing:

How Coal Improves Our Environment

McKibben vs. Epstein Debate on Fossil Fuels

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Cash-Only" Medical Practices Highlight the Virtues of Free Market

CNN Money's Cash-Only Doctors Abandon Insurance System, which I was alerted to via FIRM, opens with:

Fed up with declining payments and rising red tape, a small but growing number of doctors is opting out of the insurance system completely. They're expecting patients to pony up with cash.

These doctors are also fed up with the loss of control of their practice, having to act against their own judgement to conform to insurance guidelines. Cash-only surgeon Kevin Peterson stopped taking insurance in 2005 because "'The insurance industry took over my practice,' he said. 'They were telling me what procedures I could do, who I could treat -- I basically became their employee.'"

Steve Hargreaves, the article's author, focuses on a doctors practice named AtlasMD. By cutting out the middle man, AtlasMD was able to negotiate much lower prices for medical services:

By cutting out the middleman, [Dr. Doug] Nunamaker said he can get a cholesterol test done for $3, versus the $90 the lab company he works with once billed to insurance carriers. An MRI can be had for $400, compared to a typical billed rate of $2,000 or more.

Likewise, Peterson is able to offer hernia surgeries, including anesthesiologist and the operating room, for 67% off standard rates. 

Most of AtlasMD's customers carry high-deductible, catastrophic health insurance to cover major illnesses.

The percentage of doctors who opt out of the traditional insurance system is small but growing, having risen from 4% to 6% just from 2012 to 2013, according to surveys cited by Hargreaves.

This trend irks the egalitarians. Notes Hargreaves:

Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at the consumer advocacy group Families U.S.A., fears that doctors who switch to a cash-only model will drive away the patients who can't afford a monthly membership fee or thousands of dollars for an operation." They cherry-pick among their patient population to serve only the wealthier ones," Stoll said. "It certainly creates a barrier to care." She's also concerned that the limited scope of the discounts these doctors negotiate for services outside their purview may not cut it if a patient comes down with a really serious illness.

This type of thinking is what led to the problems that these doctors seek to escape from. Stoll drops the context; the massively politically corrupted healthcare payment system that has evolved in America. The current insurance system drives a wedge between the consumer and the payer, for the altruistic purpose of redistributing wealth to pay for the healthcare of some at the expense of others. All of the problems of American healthcare stem from the altruist premise that everyone has a "right" to healthcare.

Stoll worries about "the limited scope of the discounts these doctors negotiate for services outside their purview." But if all people were personally responsible for their healthcare expenses, and all medical providers dealt with their patients on that basis, all medical products and services, including insurance, would be subject to negotiation--i.e., price competition. One cannot cherry-pick the very limited current cash-only market and conclude that that is what a fully free market would look like. AtlasMD hints at laissez-faire. It is not laissez-faire.

I left the following comment:

"They cherry-pick among their patient population to serve only the wealthier ones," Stoll said. "It certainly creates a barrier to care." 

Only the wealthy? Americans now spend over $3 trillion, or 20% of GDP, on healthcare--almost $10,000 for every man, woman, and child. Almost 90% of that money is spent by government programs or government-controlled "private" insurance (via the government-instigated third-party-payer system). Where does that money come from? All of us. The "barrier to care" is government interference, which drives up the cost of healthcare.

If we had a free market in healthcare, all of that money would be left in the hands of the people who earned it, to spend as they judge best--including on a directly-owned health insurance policy that fits his needs. Quality, affordable healthcare would be within reach of almost everyone (with ample private charity or family help an option for the few who couldn't afford it).

The current system is grounded in the morality of egalitarian altruism, which holds that no one can have anything unless all people can have it. The only way that doctrine can be made a reality is to chain everyone to state control. This is how we got to the point that doctors are looking for an escape from the chains. We must recognize that every individual has a moral right to pursue his own healthcare with his own money, and every doctor has the right to practice medicine as he judges best, and both have the right to trade voluntarily with each other  to mutual advantage. A free market, not the ObamaCare path to totalitarian socialized medicine, is the only practical and moral alternative to the status quo.

Kudos to these doctors for pointing the way toward the solution.

If the opt-out trend continues to grow, it will clash with the statists' drive for increasing government control of medicine. What will happen next year, when the ObamaCare insurance mandate kicks in. What will happen when growing numbers of insured people can't find doctors who will accept insurance? Will the government mandate doctors to take a certain percentage of insured patients as a condition of licensure? Will the government ban the cash-only practice outright? Sooner or later, an advancing dictatorship will have to face a choice; either relinquish its drive fir power, and begin to roll it back, or do whatever it takes to protect that power. Any guess as to which way the statists will go?

Related Reading:

American Healthcare's Great and Powerful Oz

Giving Sebelius a Small Piece of my Mind

Moral Health Care vs. "Universal Health Care"

Monday, July 29, 2013

The GOP Should Eliminate, not Cut, the "Clean Energy Budget"

House of Representatives Republicans are looking to slash the so-called "clean energy budget," and the Left is predictably up in arms about it. "House GOP Bows to Fossil Fuel Bosses," howls the NJ Star-Ledger:

The research money for clean energy was not enough to begin with, and nowhere near the tens of billions we give as subsidies to fossil fuel industries. And Republicans are now proposing to cut the clean energy budget by as much as half, from $1.9 billion last year to $983 million this year.

Why not just eliminate them? Republicans are going to be pilloried whether they cut them 1% or 100%, anyway. Instead, they once again me-too the Democrats, in effect saying to them: "Yes, we agree we need the subsidies, but just less expensive ones." If they're against subsidies, they should, for once, stand on principle. Eliminate the subsidies, and make a clear-cut case against them (which can't be done if you approve of any level of subsidies). If they're for them, then why go through the charade of cutting them? $1 billion is a drop in the bucket of a multi-trillion dollar federal budget.

Being against solar and wind subsidies is not the same as being against solar and wind energy. It's being against corporate welfare. And those "tens of billions we give as subsidies to fossil fuel industries" are a myth. Fossil Fuel companies get no taxpayer handouts, just tax provisions for expenditures like any other business. These tax provisions result in oil companies keeping more of what they have earned. They are not a subsidies.

The oil, natural gas, and coal industries stand on their own feet economically. Solar and Wind companies should learn to do the same, or perish. 


Energy Advances Continue

Sunday, July 28, 2013

We Don't Need a Smoking Amendment to Recognize the Right to Smoke

This letter appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on May 23, 2013:

The tobacco amendment?Imagine if the Founding Fathers had written an amendment to support the South’s important tobacco industry, providing that the right to smoke must not be infringed. Had that happened, there would be people today — though smoking is a major health issue — saying that any government regulation of tobacco would be an act of tyranny. To those people, once in the Constitution, forever frozen in the mind.
And there would be an all-powerful lobby so there would be no warning labels on cigarettes, no age limits on smoking. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration would be prevented from researching smoking’s health dangers, and smoking in schools would be encouraged.
Pete Thurlow, Bernardsville

I left these comments:

In fact, Mr. Thurlow, there is a right to smoke recognized by the constitution. Inalienable rights are not and were not intended to be limited by those listed in the amendments. The Ninth Amendment makes this clear. It states: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.[1]"

Rights are guarantees to the individual's freedom of action in a social context, so long as those actions do not infringe on the same rights of others. Smoking is as much a right as gun ownership, freedom of speech or religion, etc. Therefor, government restrictions and regulations, other than those pertaining to minors, are tyranny. Smoking is certainly a health hazard, which is why children should be legally protected from its effects. But, as to consenting adults, the government has no right to impose restrictions or discriminatory taxation. It's no one's business what an adult does with his own body. (The fact that government heathcare policy forces others to pay for smokers' health problems is the fault of those illegitimate, rights-violating policies and programs--e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Insurance mandates, etc.--which should be repealed.)

The original amendments are redundant. Rights, properly understood, are inalienable, and cover a range of actions that goes well beyond that narrow list. The purpose of the constitution is not, as you imply, to protect any particular industry or other narrow economic interests. The (long forgotten) purpose of the constitution is to restrict government to its only proper purpose; to protect individual rights, including property rights and the freedom of production and trade.

Related Reading:

Rights are Inalienable, not an Electoral Privilege

On This Constitution Day, Remember the Declaration of Independence 

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

To Liberate Science, End Government Funding of Science

Slate’s Phil Plait recently lamented Canada’s National Research Council for the government agency’s policy of funding only scientific research that has “social or economic value”:

If proposed and immediate economic benefits are the prime factors in choosing what science to fund, then the freedom of this human endeavor will be critically curtailed. It’s draining the passion and heart out of one of the best things we humans do.

By doing this, the Canadian government and the NRC have literally sold out science.

Plait argues that “Basic scientific research is a vast endeavor, and some of it will pay off economically, and some won’t. In almost every case, you cannot know in advance which will do which.” He cites the work of James Clerk Maxwell, whose pioneering 19th Century discoveries on the cutting edge of science were indispensable to the creation of modern communications and other technologies, saying that because the potential economic benefits were not clear at the time, a modern Maxwell might never get funding under Canada’s funding policies.

True enough. But he misses the fundamental issue. The question is not what science the government should fund, but whether government should fund science at all.

When the government pays for something, it will necessarily have to set conditions and standards on how that money will be spent. It will not just hand out money willy-nilly. Scientists will have to apply for funding, and satisfy government officials that their purpose meets the government’s standards (or the political agendas of politicians). As long as government pays, it will determine the direction of scientific research. Given that government bureaucrats are not omniscient—i.e., cannot “know in advance” the myriad unforeseen ways a scientist’s work might “pay off”—and must adopt some kind of basic criteria, where will that leave pioneering researchers like Maxwell; e.g., scientists who buck the “consensus” to explore non-human causes of climate change?

It’s stunning that Plait can talk about “the freedom” of science in the context of government control of science.

More fundamentally, what about the rights of taxpayers who foot the bill? Should they be denied the freedom to spend their own money as they see fit, rather than have their money seized to pay for research purposes they may or may not agree with? Why should scientific research be directed toward purposes favored by Plait? I happen to agree, in principle, with the National Research Council. If the government is going to spend taxpayer money, then the taxpayers should be able to expect some practical benefit in return, rather than have their money thrown at whatever curiosity suits the fancies of whatever scientist.

Despite Plait’s groundless assertion that “we need governments to provide . . . help” for basic research, it is morally up to private individuals to voluntarily decide how much, if any, funding to provide which scientists. The government’s only proper role is to protect individual rights, including “include the protection of intellectual property rights, such as patents for new technological innovations, and technological research insofar as it relates to military applications,” as noted by the Ayn Rand Center.

If Plait truly wants to liberate science, and stand up for freedom, he would call for an end to all tax-funding of science, and become a champion of the separation of science and state.

Related Reading:

The American Right, the Purpose of Government, and the Future of Liberty by Craig Biddle

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Spiritual Parasitism of Senator Robert Menendez

In my recent TOS Blog post, Senator Menendez Dishonestly Equates Private Food Bank with SNAP, I highlighted a moral equivocation commonly sprung on us by welfare statists. I called Menendez's actions "morally offensive."

There is more to say about this episode. 

Compounding his moral offensiveness, Menendez asserted that "the real shame is not doing all we can as a community" to help those "falling on hard times in a bad economy,"  implicitly smearing opponents of SNAP (or even SNAP supporters who merely want to reduce its scope) as uncaring scrooges. 

But in speaking of the "community,” Menendez evades the full context: The community is made up of sovereign individuals. No one has the right to declare, as Menendez does, "The community, c'est moi!" and then impose on every other community member his idea of what the “community” should do by government force.

Every person has the right to spend his money according to his own judgment, including if, when, who, and in what capacity to help others. There is certainly no shame in helping others. But there is no shame in not helping, either. There is shame in self-sacrificing for others. An individual's own life and values are—or should be—one's primary moral concern. Decisions concerning charity morally depends on one's own values and personal circumstances, like one's judgement on the worthiness of the recipient and what one can afford.

There is a more sinister shame in sacrificing others to feed your desire to help others. Such a person is not compassionate. He is not moral. He is a thug—a power-luster—masquerading as a champion for the needy. Ayn Rand identified the nature of these thugs in The Monument Builders:

“The desire for the unearned has two aspects: the unearned in matter and the unearned in spirit. The desire for the unearned in spirit is the more destructive of the two and the more corrupt. It is a desire for unearned greatness; it is expressed by the foggy murk of the term ‘prestige’.

“The seekers of unearned material benefits are merely financial parasites, moochers, looters or criminals, who are too limited in number and in mind to be a threat to civilization, until and unless they are released and legalized by the seekers of unearned greatness.

“ ‘The public’, ‘the public interest’, ‘service to the public’ are the means, the tools, the swinging pendulums of the power-luster’s self-hypnosis. Since the concept [of ‘the public’] is so conveniently undefinable, its use rests only on any given gang’s ability to proclaim that ‘The public, c’est moi’, and to maintain the claim at the point of a gun."

Or "the community, c'est moi.' 

Senator Robert Menendez (and his ilk): power-luster, spiritual parasite, seeker of unearned greatness. 

I would add another word: Show me a person who practices charity with other people's tax money, and I'll show you a phony.

Related Reading:

A Monument to Power-Lust

Senator Menendez Dishonestly Equates Private Food Bank with SNAP

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Taking vs. Earning a "Livable Wage"

This letter appeared in the 5/21/13 New Jersey Star-Ledger:

Support decent wages
I’m tired of hearing so-called free-market advocates pan a living wage for the working poor.

As long as corporations such as Wal-Mart can shunt the cost of keeping their workers fed, healthy, clothed and housed on to taxpayers, they will. It’s foolish to let such employers control their markets with low prices while making enormous profits by taking advantage of the idea that a decent society won’t let their workers starve, live in a cardboard box or succumb to illnesses our medical system can readily treat.

Adopting the minimum-wage increase, which will be on the ballot throughout New Jersey on Nov. 5, is the least we can do to even the playing field for right-minded businesses, small and large.

Michael G. Busche, Sparta

Busche is writing in support of a proposed minimum wage amendment to the NJ constitution, which will be on the November ballot and which I have argued is a very bad idea. I left these comments:

Mr. Busche, I too am tired: I'm tired of phony do-gooders forcing others to pay for their alleged concern for some needy group.

Do you know what the "free" in free market means? It means freedom from physical force; in this case, the right of an employer and employee to voluntarily agree to terms of employment, including wages. Since rights are moral principles sanctioning a person's freedom to act on his own judgement in a social context, any violation of individual rights is immoral and contrary to a basic principle of a civil society.

Since you favor legally forcing employers to pay wages above what they would voluntarily agree to, you favor armed force as a valid means of social engagement. No decent society would permit it, because a society is an association of individuals considered equal before the law. When "society" seeks to guarantee that some individuals be "fed, healthy, clothed, and housed"--whether through labor laws like minimum wages or redistributionist programs--that means the government must turn other people into slaves to provide it.

Aggressive force is wrong, and force under cover of "law" and "do-good" delusions are the worst because it is dishonest and leaves the victims legally defenseless. Your first sentence is a moral statement, and it has nothing to do with anyone's arbitrary idea of "a living wage." Either you are for a free market, and thus peaceful coexistence among individuals, or you are not. There is no other choice. You've made yours. I've made mine.

Nobody is "panning a living wage for the working poor." Free market advocates oppose immoral rights-violating state coercion to force some people to provide what those workers could not earn through civil interaction with others.

As to Wal-Mart, another letter writer set the record straight. Christopher Jones demanded an apology from the Star-Ledger editorial board for an editorial he said was  "insulting to the 17,000 people such as I who work for Wal-Mart in New Jersey":

While The Star-Ledger may think our employment choice is “dismal,” we know better. Wal-Mart promoted 165,000 people last year to positions with more responsibility and higher pay; about three-quarters of our store management teams started as hourly associates. They earn between $50,000 and $250,000 a year.I should know. I started as a cashier in Oklahoma and, 14 years and nine promotions later, I’m a market manager in northern New Jersey, overseeing store operations in Woodbridge, Linden, Union, Kearny, Bayonne and Watchung.

This, Mr. Busche, is how the working poor earn a living wage--by working their way up and out of "working poor" status. Any other way of "providing" for the working poor is immoral and un-American. 

The freer the market is, the better chance that intelligent, motivated entry-level workers can flourish economically. Minimum wage laws destroy the kind of entry-level jobs from which young workers like Christopher Jones get their chance, effectively kicking the lower rungs of the economic ladder of success out from under the feet of the ambitious poor. 

No decent society would kill jobs, which only kills self-esteem and thus hope, happiness and self-respect by turning the resulting unemployed into parasitical wards of the state. If you actually cared about improving the lot of the working poor, you would become an unabashed "so-called free market advocate." 

Related Reading:

Is Wal-Mart to Blame for the Growing Use of Food Stamps?

End, Don't Raise, Minimum Wage Laws

Monday, July 22, 2013

Making Private Donations Anonymously is a Right

In my post of May 20, 2013, Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked, I argued that financial contributors to political issue advocacy groups have an inalienable right to remain anonymous. The issue has surfaced in this year's New Jersey gubernatorial race between Republican incumbent Governor Chris Christie and Democrat State Senator Barbara Buono.

One correspondent, mpcarrollr25, asked in relation to the issue of undisclosed donations to political advocacy groups: "Does the identity of the messenger impact the merits of the message?" He then proceeded to explain why it does not:

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know who's behind the anti-Christie adds: people who favor Big Government or make their living from it. So what? The merits of the ideas they advance . . . should stand on their own.
Put simply, the message is true, or not, regardless of the identity of the financiers thereof. 

mpcarrollr25 gets to the heart of the matter, from a practical perspective. I replied, "No. You are spot-on, mp. Those who focus on who is speaking as opposed to what is being said are evading the responsibility of taking a stand on the issues."

Another correspondent, however, replied "yes," saying "It helps to identify bias and conflicts of interest. If a person is advocating for a law that will benefit the company they own or the industry they work in, wouldn't that affect your impression of what they say?"

Leaving aside his unfortunate negative reference to selfishness--a subject for another day--mpcarrollr25 responded nicely. His comments in full:

If someone is making minimum wage and wants a governmentally mandated increase, or is gay and advocates for gay marriage, he might be legitimately accused of advocating selfishly. But if one makes same arguments anonymously, the merits of the assertions cannot be so easily dismissed as the mere products of bias or self interest. Put differently if one doesn't know the messenger, one needs to address the merits of the message rather than dismiss it as the product of self interest or launch an ad hominem attack on the messenger. We would be better served if we dealt with the merits of a particular proposal rather than concerning ourselves overmuch with the identity of the messenger. (The NRA or the NJEA might, perchance, be right occasionally, and the substance of the argument rather than the identity of the advocate should be our focus.) [Note; I corrected several misspellings.]

I couldn't have explained the practical case for the right to make anonymous contributions better than mpcarrollr25. He exposes the emptiness of the argument for disclosure laws, which would violate free speech rights to no practical benefit whatsoever.

Related Reading:

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Real vs. Our Pseudo Health Insurance

Dr. Beth Haynes has a great piece over at The Huffington Post titled Almost All Americans Lack Health Insurance. Haynes addresses an often side-stepped question relating to the healthcare debate: What, exactly, is health insurance? It's an important question, and as the title states, few of us have real health insurance.

Real insurance, she notes, "is designed as a means to pay for unexpected, unpredictable, very expensive occurrences outside of the control of the policyholder." That is not what our current, government controlled health insurance does. Instead, "insurance" covers myriad routine expenses that would never be included in properly structured insurance.

This state of affairs has destructive consequences for our healthcare. Haynes explains:

Thanks to this quirk, when we are at our most vulnerable, we are less protected. The bottom line: Our premium dollars will only cover so much. Requiring first-dollar coverage for predictable, relatively affordable expenses leaves fewer funds available to cover truly catastrophic events. And that means "insurance" companies are forced into skimping on items that could and most likely would be covered by real insurance. This trend is severely eroding our ability to protect ourselves from medical disasters.

Haynes goes on to cite a specific example of this aspect in practice; premature infant care. She provides evidence to show how insurers and doctors are increasingly pressured to skimp on expensive "preemie" care in order to have the money to cover mandated routine expenses like normal births and well-child checks. 

I left these comments:

The reference to premature infants is very personal to me.

My granddaughter Madeline was born at 25 weeks. She spent the first 2-1/2 months in a hospital NICU, followed by in-home care for a period. The insurance company paid what they were contractually obligated to pay, which ran into the six figures. My daughter and son-in-law paid only about $4000 out of pocket. That's what insurance is for.

Yet, under any government controlled, central planning schemes like ObamaCare, "premies" like Madeline, now a healthy 10-year-old, will be killed off by "cost effectiveness" death panels (except for those born to the very rich); so that others can get "free" annual checkups, birth control, flu shots, or teeth cleanings.

Great article!

In answer to StillRockin77, who  wrote:

“Until we eliminate private health insurance companies from the equation, we will NEVER have an effective health care system in this country. PERIOD.”

I replied:

StillRockin77; People have a fundamental right to organize insurance companies and sell policies to willing buyers. It's called freedom of contract, a form of voluntary association. Anyone who disapproves of private insurance is free not to purchase private insurance. No one has a moral right to forbid other consumers and the company from voluntarily contracting.

When you say that "we" should "eliminate private health insurance companies," you are advocating dictatorship.

As Paul Hsieh notes over at FIRM, "Instead of genuine insurance, we are moving towards a system of bad pre-paid care."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What does it Mean to Say that Government is the Individual's "Agent of Self-defense?"

A week after the publication of my letter Gun Debate Out of Focus, a rebuttal letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger, taking me too task fo this statement:

As the people’s designated agent of self-defense, holding a legal monopoly on the use of physical force, the government has a role in overseeing the use of instruments of deadly force. Therefore, the government may properly make objective rules regarding gun ownership, much the way as it has rules regarding who may obtain a driver’s license.

Under the heading I’ll defend myself, John K. Tauscher wrote, in part: 

The term “agent of self-defense” is an oxymoron, as the definition of “self-defense” would suggest. I have not delegated my personal defense or the defense of my family to anyone, nor would I want to. In public, the police or any other government agency has neither the will, the means nor the legal obligation to provide for citizens’ personal protection. I will provide for my own protection, by using judgment and whatever physical tools are at my disposal. To whom would we turn for the defense of our liberty when the aggressor is the government itself? That is, after all, the sole reason for the existence of the Second Amendment.

My statement obviously opened a can of worms. Given that letters have strict word limits, it's impossible to not leave interpretation open to implication. I answered Tauscher's rebuttal in the comments section:


Letters are too short to deeply explore complex issues. If I had more space, I believe you would see that we are in essential agreement on this issue. Since letters are short and only one letter per person per month is allowed, let me elaborate here, and hope you read it.

“Agent of self-defense” is not an oxymoron.

The sole proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights. As the Declaration of Independence states—“To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” What does this mean, if not to be the individual’s designated agent of self-defense? 

Self-defense entails not only repelling an aggressor in the act of committing a crime, but tracking down, arresting, prosecuting, extracting restitution for his victims, and meting out appropriate penalties to the perpetrator. These functions need to be placed under objective laws and processes—meaning, a government. 

There is good reason for this. A society in which everyone acts as his own judge, jury, and executioner is not a civil society but anarchy. To live in a civilized society, an individual must be willing to place the retaliatory use of force (his personal self-defense) under objective control and oversight. This does not mean that citizens do not have the right to defend themselves when they are in imminent danger and the government is not there to protect them, such as during an armed break-in where there is no time to call 911. But even then, the government must objectively define the limits of the citizen’s defensive use of force, and the citizen must justify his actions to the government. 

But designating government as the citizen’s agent of self-defense does not mean giving up the right of self-defense. The government, at least as the Founders conceived it, is only the people’s agent or servant, after all. The right to self-defense is fundamentally an individual right, which is why I concluded my letter with “The proper purpose of gun legislation should be to protect the rights of upstanding citizens to own guns for self-defense or recreational purposes.”

“To whom would we turn for the defense of our liberty when the aggressor is the government itself?” 
The government already is the aggressor in myriad ways. Aggression is the nature of the regulatory welfare state. What do you want to do, start shooting it out with the cops?; with our nuclear and drone-armed military?  
No. We would turn first to free speech to advocate the right ideas and work to roll back government interference in our lives. We would educate people on the proper purpose of government and the moral concept of inalienable individual rights. 

Related Reading:

Reisman: We Need Gun Control--for Our Government

Gun Control Should Focus on Principles, Not Guns

The American Right, the Purpose of Government, and the Future of Liberty by Craig Biddle

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why We Need Freedom From Religion

Have you ever heard some activist say, "In America, we have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion?" My latest post at The Objective Standard is up. I ask the question, "Do we properly have freedom from religion?"

Learn why the answer is yes by reading my post Freedom Of Religion Demands Freedom From Religion.

As an afterword, I would point out that the First Amendment clearly supports this view.

The First Amendment specifically states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The principle involved has one meaning and one meaning only: No one shall be able to employ the coercive legal machinery of government in any way or form to impose his religious views on others—that is, everyone is guaranteed freedom from religion.

Freedom from religion is the first principle that makes possible the second of the First Amendment’s Separation mandates; that "congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise thereof." You can not have freedom of religion, unless your inalienable right to freedom from religion is protected. The link between the two principles was understood by the Founding Fathers, and the First Amendment is a clear statement to that effect.

Related Reading:

Jefferson and the Separation of Church and State

On Church-State Separation

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Deported Immigrant had a Right to Be Here

Attorney Elissa Steglich tells the story of a deported immigrant, who goes unnamed. This immigrant came to America legally, seeking asylum from an African country where "he was brave enough to do his part to encourage democracy. He spoke out against authoritarian rule and was persecuted." In the ten years he was here, he established a productive career and a family, including three children, all of whom are American citizens. His "crime": He overstayed his visa, and was arrested, detained, and forcibly deported.

After reading this sad story, I posted these comments:

This story is tragic, both for this man and for America's Founding ideals. America is the nation of individual rights, and this man's rights have been violated. He presumably posed no national security risk, did not have a criminal record, and carried no infectious disease. Such exceptions aside, he should have been allowed to remain here. People have a right to immigrate here whether they are seeking asylum or not. (The right to immigrate does not imply the right to citizenship. That is a separate issue and should not be included in immigration reform.)

Individual rights means that every person has an inalienable right to live and work where he pleases, so long as he poses no threat to the rights of the citizens of the country of his choice. America, in theory, stands for this principle. We should live up to it.

In answer to a reply that states that "It is a PRIVILEGE not a right," I said:

Freedom is a "privilege?" The fundamental premise that America was Founded on is that freedom means inalienable individual rights, possessed by all people at all times. A privilege is something granted by an authority like a king. A right belongs to the individual as a requirement of his nature, and can neither be granted nor rescinded by any king, theocrat, or democratic majority. Rights are either recognized and protected, or they are not. In America, rights are recognized and protected--at least, in theory--as stated in our philosophical blueprint, the Declaration of Independence.

In answer to the same respondent after he indicated he was referring to citizenship, I wrote:

To be clear, citizenship is not a right. The "path to citizenship" should be long and grueling  and granted selectively to people who pledge allegiance to the basic principles governing this country (principles that too many Americans have forgotten). If that's what you are referring to, I agree with you. My point concerns immigration only, as I made clear.

Most of our political leaders, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, profess belief on some level in free trade--the right of individuals to trade with others regardless of where they live. But the principle of trade presupposes production, because one can not trade what one has not produced. It follows that one has a right to live where he believes he can be most productive and happy, as he chooses. Freedom of trade and freedom of migration are corollaries.

Finally, some correspondents commented that immigrants soak up government benefits like free healthcare.  To one, I commented:

The "cost to taxpayers" is not a problem of immigration. It is a problem of the welfare state, which forcibly redistributes wealth to dole out "free" healthcare, "free" education, etc. There are plenty of Americans mooching off of the system while contributing little or nothing in taxes. Does it really make any difference whether the parasite is an illegal immigrant or an American citizen? If America was only a place to work, make money, and take care of yourself and you family in freedom, rather than leech and take money and benefits seized from others, then only productive people would be incentivized to come here. This would clearly be to America's economic benefit, as it was before the rise of the welfare state.

We should be focusing our energies on phasing out the welfare state, not keeping productive people out.

America is a sovereign country, which is why citizenship is not an inalienable right. But America is not a tribal nation. Americans are not a collective that owns the land mass our country is situated on. Americans as individuals (or voluntary associations of individuals) have a right only to the property they legally own. Americans have no more right to keep immigrants out than native American Indian tribes had to keep Europeans out.

Related Reading:

Time to Rethink Immigration

Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants is not Enough, They Deserve an Apology by Harry Binswanger

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dueling Letters Over Rights

The New Jersey Star-Ledger has published my letter regarding the Origin of our rights on July 10th, 2013. It was in rebuttal to a letter published on July 3rd, 2013.

Here is my letter:

A letter to the editor (“Where rights come from,” July 3) asserted that “our rights come from government, (not) God.” In fact, rights come from neither. If they did, they would be privileges, not rights.

Rights are moral principles logically derived from the factual requirements of man’s nature. Since man’s primary means of survival is his reasoning mind, man the individual must logically be free to act on his reasoned judgment, so long as his actions don’t infringe on the same rights of others.

The principle of rights sanctions every individual’s freedom, in a social context, to take such actions as he may deem necessary to live and flourish — such as choosing and pursuing his career goals; earning, keeping and disposing of property; choosing his romantic and marital partners, associating and trading with others by mutual consent, etc.

Individual rights, properly understood, are inalienable; meaning, they cannot be granted nor taken away by government officials, self-proclaimed spokesmen for “God,” or any other authority.

While rights don’t come from government, government does have a limited but vital — and, unfortunately, long-forgotten — function: to legally recognize and protect individual rights.

Michael A. LaFerrara, Flemington

Related Reading: