Saturday, November 30, 2013

Now, the World's Looters Target America for "Climate Injustice"

The recently concluded United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change featured a passionate call for "climate justice," in the form of financial "compensation" to "poor" nations extracted from Western taxpayers in atonement for their "polluting," climate-changing economies. The NJ Star-Ledger editorialized

Poor nations are fed up with rich nations wreaking all kinds of havoc on our climate. Since they’re the ones suffering the most from it, they say, they should be financially compensated.

The failure of "rich" nations to atone for their guilt will have dire consequences for "poor" nations, the Star-Ledger breathlessly asserts: 

    Since the Industrial Revolution, wealthy countries have produced the vast majority of the carbon emissions causing upheaval to our climate, joined only recently by China — which just surpassed the United States as the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter — and India.
    Since scientists became aware of the effects of global warming, it’s been clear that poor countries would be the hardest hit because they have the fewest resources to protect themselves against extreme weather events. And unlike a devastating typhoon, some of the worst effects are creeping and quiet. As a result of climate change, yields from rain-fed agriculture could drop by up to half by 2020, the U.N. reports.
    As this trend advances, people in poor African countries will starve to death.
    There will be increased tension, flaring into wars over the remaining land that is fertile. Outbreaks of malaria are expected. And water will advance on coastal populations.

Leaving aside the unresolved and controversial issue of how much human activity contributes to climate change, I left these comments:

If "rich" Western countries are the big "polluters," why are "poor" countries the big victims of natural disasters? Weather disasters, after all, do not discriminate against developing countries. So why the discrepancy? Precisely because "poor" countries are not "polluters"; i.e., not adequately industrialized.

America and other advanced Western nations have the most prosperous living standards and cleanest, safest [human living] environments in world history. They have plentiful clean water, indoor plumbing, environmentally safe kitchens, clean central heating and air conditioning, advanced transportation systems that can enable mass evacuations in advance of storms, plentiful food production and distribution, and a general ability to recover rapidly from natural disasters and move on—and much more, all primarily because of fossil fuel energy-driven industrialization.

Rather than beg for international welfare at Western taxpayers's expense, the "poor" countries should emulate America and the West. Poor country's governments should pave the way for the same kind of advanced industrialization that will enable them to deal with natural disasters and simultaneously raise living standards, rather than play victims looking for a hand out. How? 

Human beings survive and thrive by applying reason-guided productive work to the task of altering the raw environment to human benefit. The only social requirement needed for that to happen is the liberty of individuals to think and act and interact on their own independent judgements. Therefore, poor countries should embrace Western ideals. Adopt a social system where the rights of individuals are recognized and legally protected—including rights to property and trade—so that each can work for his own benefit, in voluntary, mutually beneficial trade with other willing producers at home and the world over. For poor countries, capitalism and the consequent industrialization is the answer to dealing with nature's ever-ongoing brutal, hostile forces. 

If they won't adopt liberty and capitalism, then let them have their wars and starvation. It will be their choice, and the continued suffering of the poor countries will be their own doing, not the West's fault. 

The only moral responsibility the West owes poor countries is to continue to open up the world's markets so those nations' people can freely engage in trade with producers from America and elsewhere. Forget the Left's latest socialist mantra, "climate justice." We need real justice. America and company should not apologize for the achievements of its freedom and fossil fuel-driven "carbon pollution"—its citizens' earned prosperity—by hampering its own citizens' individual rights and prosperity through involuntarily forcing cut-backs on CO2 emissions. America's leaders have a moral responsibility to proudly defend our political and economic lifestyle and the life-giving fossil fuel industry that powers and enables it.

Related Reading:

Obama Should Approve the Keystone Pipeline for Economic AND Environmental Reasons

The Industrial Manifesto—Alex Epstein

Fossil Fuels improve the Planet—Alex Epstein

Friday, November 29, 2013

Obama’s Fascist “Partnership” With Big Business

As President Obama was gearing up for the budget battle with Republicans that would eventually lead to this Fall's partial government shutdown, the president issued a threat to American big businessmen that could have been uttered by any fascist dictator: “Do as we government officials say, or else.”

Of course, Obama didn't actually say that word for word. What he actually said is that he wants to "partner" with American big business to achieve his domestic policy goals:

As The Daily Caller's Neil Munro reported on September 18:

President Barack Obama told business leaders today that he wants close cooperation between his government and their companies.
“We want to be a consistent partner with you on a whole range of issues,” he told the D.C.-based Business Roundtable, an association for the CEOs of major U.S. companies. . . .    
The proposed partnership would have CEOs lobby Congress for passage of Obama’s goals, including passage of a Senate bill that triples the rate of immigration to add 33 million immigrants over the next decade, and passage of a budget that doesn’t cut Obamacare’s federally-run health-care system, Obama suggested. . . .
“It is going to be important for all of you, I think, over the next several weeks to understand what’s at stake and to make sure that you are using your influence in whatever way you can”, said Obama.

Obama was referring to the economic consequences of a government shutdown, but his words carry much broader implications than immediate economic concerns.

A partnership implies a voluntary agreement between legally equal participants geared toward a common goal.

But there is no legal equality between a government that holds prosecutorial, tax, and regulatory powers—the power of the gun—over its private business “partners.” In the kind of “partnership” Obama “proposed”, what choice do these Business Roundtable executives have but to “lobby Congress for passage of Obama’s goals?” What choice do the businessmen have but to do any of the government’s bidding—”on a whole range of issues”—when the government can hold its legal powers over the heads of the businessmen? Just look at the regulatory meat grinder that JPMorgan is being put through.

There are, to be sure, businessmen who gleefully relish into such "public-private partnerships." They are the kinds of businessmen who flourish in a mixed economy (a mixture of economic freedom and government controls)—the kind that seeks to "succeed" by government favor, rather than open competition in a free market. But that does not change the nature of the game. It is the government that always calls the shots, whether or not the government officials are doing the bidding of select businessmen or some other special interest.

Obama is, of course, not the first president to "partner" with big business. But he has been the most brazen at cashing in on the powers that government has accrued over the private economy over the last century. As Munro notes:

Obama is not a socialist, because he does not believe the government needs to own companies and factories. Instead, he’s a progressive who believes the nation’s economy and society should be managed by government experts, not by the varied preferences of individual CEOs, parents and workers.

Obama, though, is definitely a socialist in terms of deep fundamentals. He understands that there is a backdoor means of attaining socialist goals, just as certain 20th European leaders understood. As Adolph Hitler said of his brand of national socialism: "The decisive factor is that the State . . . is supreme over all, regardless of whether they are owners or workers. . . . Why need we trouble to socialize banks and factories? We socialize human beings.”

Obama, of course, is not Hitler. But can anyone honestly say that Obama would disagree with Hitler? There is a political system that features the kind of unholy alliance between government and big business Obama speaks of, although the Left is not honest enough to name it. So-called “progressives” were fascist a hundred years ago and they’re fascist under Obama.

Obama’s not-so-veiled threat to the Business Roundtable should serve as a warning to Americans: We are heading down a dangerous road. The liberty of businessmen to act on their own judgement in pursuit of their own values—and, ultimately, the liberty of the rest of us to do the same, “whether they are owners or workers”— is “what’s at stake.” If America is to reverse the trend toward its own brand of national socialist fascism, Americans must demand an end to the kinds of “close cooperation” proposed by Obama. Instead, to restore and guarantee our full liberty, we must move toward the separation of economics and state, also known as laissez-faire capitalism.

Related Reading:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Thanksgiving Message

[This year, I'm thankful for the heroic men and women who have brought us the treatments for Crohns Disease. These scientists, researchers, businessmen, and investors have made it possible for my grandson Colin to thrive despite his contracting this previously life-threatening illness. Thank you!]

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

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

Thanksgiving: A Most Selfish Holiday by Debi Ghate

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

What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debi Ghate is associated with the Ayn Rand Institute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Biddle is the Editor of The Objective Standard.

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

Have a joyous, and well earned, Thanksgiving.

-Mike "Zemack" LaFerrara

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Star-Ledger's Thanksgiving Tantrum

Macy's surrenders, will open on Thanksgiving, blared a recent NJ Star-Ledger editorial. "Thanksgiving should be left for family togetherness and gratitude, loads of food and football," declared the editors. Instead, the opening of stores on Thanksgiving Day "forces many store employees to cut their holiday short and go to work."

You can read the whole thing if you want. As for me, I had a little fun with it, with these comments:

And the Star-Ledger accuses the Tea Party of throwing a Tantrum!?!

What's so bad about commercialization (production and trade) and profit-seeking beginning late on the very day that we celebrate the fruits of commercialization, our hard work, and profit-seeking? 

Maybe some people would rather do something other than vegetate in front of the TV, watching one boring football game after another. And where did all of that food come from? The commercialized, profit-seeking food industry. And what is football, with all of those advertisements and highly-paid athletes and exorbitantly priced tickets and concessionary stands? Maybe some people would rather shop together rather than vegetate together. 

Rather than lament Macy's's decision, we should be lamenting the thugs in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island who want to legally stop people from voluntarily engaging in trade on Thanksgiving. Imagine that. Tyranny on the day we should be grateful for the fruits of liberty. What's next? Mandated football watching? Or maybe football should be banned on Thanksgiving Day. What about all of those football stadium employees who are "forced" " to cut their holiday short and go to work." There are too many busybodies in this nation trying to impose their values on everyone else—at the point of a gun. 

The editors should—how do people put it?—GET A LIFE. Leave the businesses, their employees, and their shoppers to make their own voluntary choices on Thanksgiving Day, others to enjoy their togetherness in front of a televised football game, and the rest of us to celebrate Thanksgiving as we please.

As for me, I won't be going anywhere near any of these stores, because I hate to shop, especially in a crowded store. I won't be watching football, either (as you might have guessed). I'll be eating, chatting with my family, playing games with my grandchildren, and probably finding some time to comment on another of my favorite newspaper's editorials.

Related Reading:

A Thanksgiving Message

Monday, November 25, 2013

In Gay Marriage Decision, the Court Upheld the Founders' Vision

Earlier in 2013, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson legalized gay marriage in New Jersey by overturning the state's ban on such marriages. 

In response, a letter titled Gay marriage isn't the court's issue was published in the NJ Star-Ledger in which Daniel Wicks asserted that "Same-sex marriage, without question, is a political question and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the courts." The question of whether gays should be allowed to marry belongs, he said, "in the political arena."

He went on to cite one of the Founding Fathers to support his position. "Courts do not have the authority to create rights," said Wicks, adding: 

This was made clear at our country’s founding when Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 78, observed: “The legislature not only commands the purse but prescribes the rules in which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated.”

So, is gay marriage a court or legislative (political) matter? I left these comments:

[I]t's easy to cite quotes out of context to advance one's position. Wicks does just that. In Federalist #78, Hamilton is saying the exact opposite of what Wicks contends, and what Hamilton's quote appears to say. In #78, Hamilton goes on to say:

The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex post facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing.

Hamilton viewed the courts as guardians of the constitutional protections of individual rights, not as the source of rights. Rights "would amount to nothing," he says, without the courts to strike down "all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution." What is the "manifest tenor of the constitution?" To protect the inalienable rights of individuals.

There's more, as Hamilton drives home the point: 

There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.

It's also clear that Hamilton, like all of the Founders, did not view legislatures as the source of rights. The legislators' job is to make laws consistent with the constitution; which means, consistent with the protection of individual rights. "No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid," says Hamilton. This is unequivocal. The courts not only may but are duty-bound to strike down laws that are "contrary to the constitution."

Clearly, laws forbidding gay marriage are contrary to the constitution. A marriage of a same sex couple  is a voluntary contract between two consenting adults, which does not in any way violate the rights of others. The manifest tenor of the constitution and its philosophic blueprint, the Declaration of Independence, in no way sanctions legislatures to inhibit marriage contracts. As the Ninth amendment makes clear, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." 

No, "Courts do not have the authority to create rights." Neither do legislatures. No governmental institution does. And no governmental institution has the power to rescind rights. The government, as Hamilton and the Founders believed, is the servant. The people are the masters. What Judge Jacobson did was uphold the constitutional protection of an individual right. The court did its job.

Related Reading:

New Jersey Court rightly Overturns Ban on Gay Marriage

Message to Gov. Christie and His Critics: Gay Marriage is Moral Right

Should a 'homosexual contract' be called something other than marriage?

Gay Marriage: The Right to Voluntary Contract, Not Coercive 'Contract'

Sunday, November 24, 2013

ObamaCare's NJ "Good News": More Government Dependents

New Jersey is a bright spot in the ObamaCare fiasco. Why? Because . . .

The opening of the Obamacare health exchange last month drove a 35 percent surge in new applications for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people, the state Department of Human Services confirmed today.

"The development is a bit of good news to the law's supporters after what has been an embarrassing national roll out of the Obamacare program," according to NJ Star-Ledger reporter Susan K. Livio. Yes, we have now reached the point that an increase in tax-subsidized health insurance is hailed as a success.

After one commenter said "REALLY? Almost 40K new welfare recipients is considered 'good news'!?!?!," correspondent David Spinosa responded:

    I enjoy the demonization by some in here of "tax payer funded" programs. Did you go to school? Does your garbage get collected? Did YOUR kids go to school? Having fun collecting that Social Security check?
    NJ Familycare isnt just for "freeloaders". If there is a system to be gamed it will be by the MINORITY of people. As for my family, we are currently using it yes. My wife had stage 3 cancer this past year and golly gee well I couldnt work 4000 hours a week and pay that co-insurance so guess what..we are screwed. But at least my kids have medical insurance now. the way...we PAID into just like we've PAID into the Social Security we will probably never see.
    Point pay into things you may never benefit from. That's the way this country works. Dont like it old timer? Social Security or Medicare/Cade for you. Dont like it 20 year old moron? No school aide, no GI Bill, no nothing for you. How wonderful of a country would that be?

I left these comments:


You've just put your finger on the evil genius of the welfare state. Tax-funded programs seize money by force from those who earned it, in exchange for some promised benefit in return.

But not everybody benefits in proportion to their "contribution." Some pay more than they ever receive in benefits. Some receive more in benefits than they ever contribute. These programs are all about forced redistribution of wealth—legalized theft—and nothing else.

Yet if someone collects the benefits their taxes supposedly entitled them to, they are called hypocrites for pointing out the true immoral nature of these programs. It's moral extortion designed to silence the critics, who are essentially told that the price of their benefits is not only their taxes, but their silence; i.e., their free speech right to dissent.

Worse, since productive, hard-working people are forced to "pay into things you may never benefit from," the things you do need and value are harder or impossible to afford. Is it any wonder that, with the welfare state now bigger than ever, the poverty problem is also—half a century after the "War on Poverty" began?

So, here's a proposal to all supporters of tax-funded programs: Since we all supposedly pay for the benefits these programs provide us, why have them at all? Why not end them, and leave people to take direct responsibility for their own (or their own children's) education, their own garbage collection, their own retirement, and their own healthcare, among other things? That is the way this country is supposed to work.

The welfare state divides the nation into slaves and freeloaders, with most people straddling that divide as part freeloader, part slave. This is a long way from the Founders' vision; a nation of self-supporting, productive traders.

Related Reading:

Unaffordable Healthcare Invades the Middle Class

From Middle Class to Welfare Class

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Illusion That "The Government built It"

In a recently published letter in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Birchers are back, the writer, referring to the October government shutdown, hammered the Republicans for "holding the economy hostage to achieve their goal of overturning the [Affordable Care Act], which by the way is established U.S. law." He went on to say:

As long as bypassing the Constitution is on the table, why not eliminate other established laws that their predecessors, the John Birch Society, couldn't overturn: Social Security, unemployment, welfare, NASA, federal funding for highways and bridges, civil rights and all those pesky regulations.
Fortunately, our grandparents ignored the small-government types. With the help of government investment, we went to the moon, made investments in technologies that would later lead the world and created a prosperous society where all, and not just the few, prosper.

Bob Verbeek, Leonia 

I left these comments:

"With the help of government investment, we went to the moon, made investments in technologies that would later lead the world and created a prosperous society where all, and not just the few, prosper."

Where does the government get the money it "invests?" From private productive citizens. It's not the politicians who legislate the taxes or the bureaucrats who dole out the proceeds—the government—that create the technologies "that would later lead the world." They merely leach off of private productive citizens, "investing" money as they, rather than those who earned it, see fit. The belief that "the government built it" is an illusion of the two-dimensional mindset that won't envision all of the industrial growth and innovation that would otherwise have taken place—but didn't—had government not seized the money in the first place. Big government apologists always ignore what doesn't get built had private producers been free to keep their money to spend, save, or invest as they would have chosen.

Large-scale government "investment" didn't begin until after WW II. In America’s first 150 years, when the government was mostly restricted to its proper function of protecting individual rights, we saw the advent of railroads, radio, TV, and motion pictures. America went from darkness to the electric light; from the horse and buggy to automobiles and airplanes; from word-of-mouth to the telephone; from an impoverished agrarian economy to a thriving middle class industrial dynamo. America saw enormous advances in agriculture, medicine, and energy. This is just a sampling. Did government funding drive this almost miraculous technological progress? Hardly. With virtually nil government subsidies—and no science funding—the United States overtook Britain by the end of the 19th Century as the richest country in the world.

It's interesting that Verbeek lumps "civil rights" in with his litany of rights-violating government intrusions into citizens' lives. Rights, properly understood, are guarantees to the individual's freedom to act on his own rational judgment and to earn and keep wealth in pursuit of his own purposes. What do all of these government programs like Social Security and regulatory agencies do but violate those rights?

Freedom and individual rights protected by a limited government—free market capitalism unleashed by the Founding principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence—was the liberating force that allowed the common individual to flourish and prosper. It was the old statist systems like feudalism, which capitalism replaced, under which only the few "prospered"—and then only by looting the common man. Notice that as the government relentlessly grows and freedom diminishes, we're talking not of a soaring economy but of a stagnant or shrinking middle class and more people classified as living in poverty. The correlation is impossible for any objective person to miss.

As to the congressional standoff, Bill Verbeek apparently sees "established laws" as akin to commandments from God that even elected officials are forbidden to alter or abolish. I suppose slavery, separate-but-equal, and Jim Crow laws should never have been repealed, either. Such is the quasi-religious zeal with which state supremacists view government. 

Yes, "our grandparents ignored the small-government types," to their shame. We continue to do so at our peril.

Related Reading:

About That "Government Help," Mr. Roumell

Mazzucato's Fantasy: The "Courageous, Entrepreneurial State" 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rights vs. Need: Who Determines How Much Food Aid is "Enough"?

As Congress considers some relatively minor cuts to food stamp spending, the NJ Star-Ledger editorialized that "Charity can't pick up the food stamp slack." Therefore, the editors argue,  any cuts to food stamp funding—whether the Democrats' $4 billion dollars worth of cuts or the GOP's slightly larger $40 billion cut (out of an $800 billion program)—is too much. 

The editors write:

    Charity can’t be a long-term replacement for government safety nets. . . .
    Food banks are built to help solve temporary emergency hardships such as job loss or illness. Should they be expected to fill in when the government decides to save money by letting people go hungry?

I left these comments:

The editors claim that private food banks can't provide enough aid to the hungry, so the government must step in and take over the primary role. Who's missing from the equation? The Forgotten Man of the welfare state; the self-supporting productive individual who is forced to pay for the government's largess.

Each individual has a fundamental, inalienable right to live by his own judgement, in pursuit of his own goals, values, and happiness, but only in voluntary association with others. This right includes the freedom to decide who, when, and in what capacity to help others, based on his own values, affordability, and personal circumstances.

The morals inherent in the statement that the "government safety net" supersedes and replaces private charity are inverted. Private charity is the only morally legitimate food "safety net," or safety net in general, because only charity is based on voluntary giving of time, merchandise, and money. The government's SNAP program is illegitimate because it is based on the opposite of voluntarism; forced redistribution of wealth, which is essentially a form of legalized theft. (Government food "donations" to private food banks are not morally legitimate either. Nevertheless, the essential nature of private charity is voluntarism.)

The critics of congress's meager SNAP cuts—including the GOP's mere 5% cut—have no standing to decide what is "enough" funding for food aid. Who has a right to decide for another person how much giving is "enough," and then force their values on him? Those who are "needy" have no right to decide what is "enough" to give, and then demand the productive give them more. Power-seeking politicians do not have that right. Do-gooder fellow citizens do not have that right. Only the person who earned the money in the first place has that right. What's enough? Whatever the voluntary giver, each within the context of his own life, says is enough.

There is a self-fulfilling cycle at work. As the burden of paying the bill grows, more and more people are driven into poverty. As poverty expands, need continues to expand exponentially, along with the power of the state to expropriate and redistribute wealth from a shrinking productive group to a growing needy group. The last 10 years proves the point. The same inverted morals led to the housing bubble, financial crisis, and Great Recession, which in turn ballooned the food stamp rolls.  The housing bubble has its roots in the politicians' "affordable housing"—read sub-prime lending—crusades, an altruistic attempt to get people too "poor" to afford homes into homes they couldn't afford. The resulting collapse is what fed to the surge in demand for food stamps. This is the economically downward cycle at work.

As long as need, rather than rights, continues to be the standard governing government policy, the ranks of the needy will continue to swell and the "social safety net" will continue to expand as the country moves toward the ultimate logical outcome; universal poverty governed by an authoritarian state.

Related Reading:

SNAP Ends Don't Justify the Immoral Means

Senator Menendez Dishonestly equate Private Food Bank with SNAP

GOP SNAP Cuts: Little Difference Between Democrats and Republicans

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Before ObamaCare Fiasco: Problems Caused by Government

A letter writer (Eyes on the prize) named JoAnn responded to the ObamaCare rollout fiasco by claiming that the problems should be fixed because ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act) is needed. She writes that "The old health care system was a disgrace to a country that calls itself exceptional." After noting that the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit rollout also faced problems, she said, "It is crucial that we get [coverage for] the 30 million people who suffered physically and financially from lack of health care coverage."

I left these comments:

"It is crucial that we get [coverage for] the 30 million people who suffered physically and financially from lack of health care coverage."
At whose expense? Yours, JoAnn? I didn't think so. On what moral basis do you have a right to demand that government seize other people's wealth and redistribute it to the 30 million people you claim to care so much about? 

What we had before ObamaCare had many problems, all of them caused by government; such as high healthcare and health insurance costs and pre-existing conditions problems caused by insurance mandates, legal barriers to competition, the 3rd-party-payer system, and the tort crisis. But it was better than ObamaCare, because at least we were freer to make our own healthcare and financial decisions.

ObamaCare not only criminally redistributes massive amounts of wealth through taxes and higher insurance premiums, it also creates a labyrinth of government boards and committees to dictate who gets what healthcare and when.

Rather than give the government vastly more power to "fix" the problems it caused in the first place, we should repeal ObamaCare and then repeal the government policies that afflicted the pre-ObamaCare system, and establish a free market. Then, consumers, health insurers, and medical providers would be free to contract voluntarily to mutual advantage, and consumers would be able to buy policies that best fit their needs, budgets, and other personal circumstances. With consumers in charge and the government no longer coercively breathing down insurers' and doctors' necks—but rather protecting everyone's rights to freedom of contract—costs would drop dramatically and consumers would gain control over their insurance.

The government's job is to protect the rights of people to pursue their own values, including healthcare. It has no business guaranteeing "universal coverage." It is each adult's responsibility to provide for his and his own family's healthcare, and to decide how, when, and in what capacity to aid others who he deems worthy of his help.

In a recent Forbes piece, Paul Hsieh cited several policy reforms that could alleviate the cost and pre-existing conditions problems:

1. Eliminate the tax disparity between employer-provided health insurance and individually-purchased health insurance. This would uncouple health insurance from employment and restore a level playing field to the individual insurance market. Individuals could then purchase policies that they kept even when they changed jobs (just as they already do with their car and homeowners insurance).
2. Eliminate all mandated benefits. Insurers should be free to offer to willing consumers inexpensive policies covering only catastrophic accidents and illnesses. Insurers would remain free to offer richer policies that covered varying levels of elective procedures (but cost correspondingly more). Customers could purchase whatever levels of coverage they wished from willing insurers based on their own individual needs and circumstances.
3. Allow insurers to sell policies across state lines. State mandates create 50 separate state markets rather than a single national market. A family insurance plan costing $3,000 in Wisconsin might cost $10,000 in New Jersey because of state regulatory barriers. Allowing interstate competition would quickly drive down prices and help many working families on a tight budget.
Reforms 1 and 3 are probably familiar to most people. Reform 2 is a more radical approach that one rarely hears advocated by Republicans or conservatives. Hsieh continues:
    Free-market reforms would also help handle the currently-thorny problems of pre-existing conditions. For example, University of Chicago professor John Cochrane has proposed the innovative concept of “health status insurance.” This is basically meta-insurance, where customers pay an additional small premium to protect against major changes in their health. If their health status changes significantly for the worse, this additional policy allows them to either keep the current health plan without additional penalty or gives them sufficient money to cover the increased lifetime costs of a more expensive new policy.
    In 2008, United Health began offering (where permitted by law) a “future insurability” option to customers purchasing individual insurance plans. This would allow them to retain their United plan regardless of subsequent medical problems. A free market would make such innovative options more widely available as other insurers competed to provide willing customers with comparable alternatives.

JoAnn is correct that the technical problems regarding ObamaCare are secondary to the primary issue, which in fact and as she implies are political/philosophical. Committed socialized medicine ideologues will never go for reforms that liberate the insurance market and empower consumers. But those who want real, moral, rights-respecting reforms that give individuals the tools to deal with their own healthcare and solve their own problems without burdening their fellow Americans should welcome alternatives to ObamaCare and the even more authoritarian medicine that lies beyond it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What if Someone Can't Afford Healthcare In a Free Market?

In reply to my comment calling for free market healthcare, which related to the Purple Health Plan I covered on 10/11/13, a correspondent answered:

The free market is not the solution. You want people to spend their own money on healthcare. You assume that people have money to spend. How is a person living paycheck to paycheck making less than $30000 a year afford healthcare. For that matter, how do you pay for healthcare when you're too sick to work?

Here is my reply:

If people don't spend their own money for their own healthcare, then whose money do they have a moral right to spend? Money seized at gunpoint from their fellow citizens? There is a name for a social system in which everyone is forcibly made responsible for other people's needs, but not his own. Can you guess what that system is? And who is its architect?

You're attempting to frame the issue in collectivist terms. You assume as the given that if some people can't afford to cover their own healthcare expenses, there is a problem for "society" to solve. I reject that premise outright. We are individually responsible for taking care of ourselves, and it is up to each of us to figure out how to do that. Health care cost is not a national issue. It is an individual issue, which each individual and family must deal with and plan for in his own way, through voluntary, mutually beneficial contractual relationships with providers and/or insurers. We are not our brother's keepers, and neither is our need an automatic moral claim on the property or labor of others. If a person needs help with medical expenses, his only moral recourse is to ask for voluntary help from friends, relatives, or private charity. But no one has an inherent moral obligation to help him, and neither he nor the government has any right to force others to provide for him. Need is not a license to steal. 

Each of us has his own life to live, and must take responsibility for it. More importantly, each of us has a moral right to our own lives. We need free market healthcare not because freedom magically guarantees that everyone can afford healthcare, but precisely because freedom protects individuals and their property from predators who would forcibly take earnings from those according to their ability, to give to those who did not earn it according to their needs.

Having said that, I also reject the premise that your $30,000 guy would not be able to afford healthcare in a free market. As any good economics textbook and real-life examples will tell you, healthcare (and by extension health insurance) would be dramatically more affordable—and of better quality—in a free market than under government control. And as I've argued before, Americans collectively spend nearly 20% of GDP on healthcare, nearly $10,000 for every man, woman, and child. Nearly 90 % of that spending is by 3rd parties, rather than the productive Americans who earned it. If Americans couldn't afford to pay for their own healthcare, they wouldn't be able to foot that enormous bill collectively. The truth is, in a free market, very few people would be left without adequate healthcare if they were free to spend their own money; and for those few who truly could not afford it, ample private charity would be available. 

But in the end, there are no unchosen moral obligations. The choice is fundamentally a moral one: Take control of your own healthcare, which is your moral right and responsibility, or submit to state control for the sake of people who don't.

Related Reading:

The Answer to "Our Uncontrolled Healthcare Expenditures" is Free Market, Not Single Payer, Health Care 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lincoln Understood the Indespensible Connection Between Rights and Self-Government

Today is the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. In his short but powerful 272 word speech, Lincoln drew on the heart of what Americanism is all about. 

In commemoration, New Jersey Star-Ledger deputy editor Jim Miller has a nice column on the address. Miller notes that when Lincoln opened his speech with "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," Lincoln was not engaging in mere "political posturing." Lincoln's words were drawn from his deep and long-held convictions. Miller writes in what I think is the most important passages in his article:

    The speeches that brought Lincoln to national attention in the 1850s leave no doubt of his commitment to the declaration’s claim that “all men are created equal.” When other politicians were shying away from the declaration and calling it “self-evident lies,” Lincoln took the opposite tack, urging that equality was the “central idea” in American politics. This was why slavery was the key problem.
    “If the negro is a man,” Lincoln said in 1854, “why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal;’ and there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.” He then went on to argue that slavery was incompatible with self-government, which was the basic principle of American democracy. “Allow ALL the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only is self-government.” To the objection that this was too idealistic and too remote from the prevailing circumstances, Lincoln argued that the “constant working” of American public opinion “has been a steady progress toward the practical equality of all men.”

The Founders understood equality to mean equality before the law, and that only. Lincoln undoubtedly understood that as well.

The lesson to take away from The Gettysburg Address is this: Lincoln, like the Founders, understood the indispensable connection between the inalienable rights of the individual and a workable system of self-government. Either every person's rights are recognized and protected, or there can be no self-government. How long can self-government last if the voting majority can vote away the rights of the minority, including voting them into slavery?

And it almost didn't last. The contradiction between the legalized Southern slavery and the Declaration of Independence could not hold. Either slavery had to go, or the great American achievement exalting the sovereignty and sanctity of the individual had to go. 

Self-government only works when the power of the majority, and thus the government's law-making powers, is limited. Limited by what? The inalienable rights of man. As the Declaration of Independence states, rights are liberties to pursue one's own happiness, derived from the right to life; note—the pursuit, not a government guarantee, of happiness. Philosopher Ayn Rand identified the principle most clearly: "Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

There is a lesson applicable to today's world as well. The ancient evils of statism and collectivism are on the rise in America, once again threatening and undermining the Declaration of Independence. As with the Southern slavery of old, modern American statism/collectivism is a contradiction that can not hold. Either collectivism must go, or the Declaration's promise of Individualism must go. The two cannot coexist.

It is fashionable to believe that the principles on which America was founded, and which Lincoln reaffirmed, are no longer relevant to the modern world. They are outdated, this thinking goes. Those principles were useful at the time of the rebellion against Britain, but the world has changed and moved on. 

At the same time, people lament the growing dysfunction and polarization in politics and in society at large. But the dysfunction and polarization are a direct consequence of the fact that the founding ideals are applicable, but ignored. The ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence, America's philosophic blueprint, have been largely abandoned. 

The Declaration's basic message—the message conveyed in the expression "American Exceptionalism"—is that all people have inalienable individual rights, rights which a government is created for the sole purpose of protecting equally and at all times. Today, the government has become the hired gun for the most powerful political factions of the moment to impose its values on and/or to forbid the pursuit of values of any minority, including of the smallest and only morally relevant minority—the individual. Is it any wonder that our political and economic culture is slowly but steadily breaking down into what Ayn Rand called a "cold civil war" of pressure groups?

President Lincoln reaffirmed the principles of political equality, self-government, and, by implication, of inalienable individual rights. He implored Americans to re-dedicate themselves to those ideals—"that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Americans today should do no less.

Related Reading:

General McChrystal's Un-American Call for Universal National Service

Textbook of Americanism—Ayn Rand

Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice—Craig Biddle

Monday, November 18, 2013

Letter Writer's Attack on the GOP's "Obscene" SNAP Cuts is Ill-Informed

A Hunterdon County Democrat letter condemned the House GOP's "slashing of the Food Stamp budget." "These cuts are especially obscene," writes Ron Zwizanski, "given the amount of farm subsidies that Washington pours into the agri-monopolies every year — $60 billion over the past ten years." 

Of course, the agricultural companies are not monopolies. A monopoly is a company that operates under the protection of laws forbidding competition; e.g., local electric utilities. That is not the case in the food industry.

As to the letter, I left these comments:

As I wrote in my Objective Standard article linked to below, "Currently, according to USA Today, the federal government spends about $75 billion per year on food stamps, which are doled out to about 48 million recipients. This is up dramatically from the $15 billion and 17 million recipients in 2001. The bill passed by the House would cut $39 billion and three million recipients from SNAP over the next ten years, or an annual reduction of roughly 5 percent in expenditures and 6 percent in recipients."

Cutting an average $3.9 billion from an annual $75 billion budget is hardly a "slashing of the Food Stamp budget." Ron, you should stop getting your "facts" from demagogic sound bites.

What is obscene is the food stamp program itself. It starts with theft: The government pays for the program by seizing money from people who earned it. Unless you're willing to go on moral record as supporting legalized armed robbery, you have no business calling the Republican cuts "obscene." No cuts to that program are obscene. That immoral program should be phased out and abolished. The only kind of organized food help that is moral comes from voluntarily funded food banks and the like.

Of course, the farm subsidies are just as immoral as food stamps, which brings me to this commentator's statement: "Of course, part of the trouble there is that the "subsidies" come in the form of tax credits, and not actual cash outlays."

I'm not sure why this correspondent put "subsidies" in scare quotes, but my reply distinguishing tax credits from subsidies seemed warranted:

I must correct one thing. A tax credit is NOT a subsidy. A tax credit leaves money in the hands of those who earned it, at no expense to anyone else. A subsidy is a direct payment from the government (other taxpayers). The conceptual difference is unequivocal. To equate tax credits to subsidies is to accept the premise that the government has an inherent claim on the nation's wealth, and that what is not taxed we keep only to the extent that government allows. Nothing can be more false. Logically, rightfully, and morally, all wealth belongs first and foremost to those individuals and companies that earned it. Granted, our corrupt corporate and individual income tax systems allow politicians to favor some and penalize others through various tax structures. This is certainly unfair, which is why I favor a flat tax with no deductions. But that is another issue entirely. A tax credit is not a subsidy.

Related Reading:

Senator Menendez Dishonestly Equates Private Food Bank with SNAP
Republicans Make Trivial Cuts to Food Stamp Program, Refuse to Identify Its Immorality

Do Tax Credits Equate to a Government Subsidies?