Thursday, July 31, 2014

Loren Clark-Moe Should Demand that Government Stop Restricting Women’s Reproductive Financing Choices

Loren Clark-Moe, a former analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, complained recently in a Washington Post op-ed that her former employer’s health insurance didn’t cover a $480.00 abortion she had while employed there, because the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program is legally barred by Congress from covering abortions except in the case of rape or incest.

Citing “increasing attempts across the United States to limit women’s access to reproductive health care,” including the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, Clark-Moe railed against “special laws that restricted my reproductive choices.”

But exactly how are women’s reproductive choices restricted if their employers, whether government or private, don’t cover abortions? Their choices—i.e., their reproductive rights—are not restricted, of course. There is no right to “choose” to make others pay for one’s reproductive choices. An employee is free to pay out-of-pocket for uncovered procedures, as Clark-Moe did with her abortion.

Having said that, Clark-Moe is right that laws restrict her choices, but not in the sense she means. The question to ask is: How in the world did employers come to have so much control over employees’ health insurance to begin with? The answer is simple; government interference into the health insurance market, without which the whole issue surrounding the Hobby Lobby case would be moot.

The government interferes in health insurance in numerous ways. Employer-based, or third-party-payer, health insurance is one consequence of this interference that directly impacts the issue Clark-Moe raises. Decades ago, the government tied health insurance to employment through discriminatory tax policies that favor employer-provided over individually owned insurance, in effect giving employers inordinate control over employees’ health insurance—and restricting women’s reproductive financing choices.

So ingrained is third-party-payer that most Americans take it as axiomatic that someone else must provide health insurance. We then ressent and complain when something we expect not to have to pay for isn’t covered. So, like Clark-Moe, we target our resentment at the employer. But, rather than direct her ire at employers, her beef should be with the government.

Actually, the government restricts our health insurance choices in two major ways; employer-based health insurance, also known as third-party-payer, and benefit mandates.

Eliminating the tax discrimination favoring employer-based insurance by extending equal tax treatment to individuals would incentivize employers to establish tax-free individual employee health savings accounts (HSAs), funded by money the employer now spends on company health coverage—an incentive most employers would probably welcome. (Remember that employer health insurance is part of the employee’s compensation, which makes the money the employer spends the employee’s. HSAs simply gives employees control over their own money.)

Through HSAs, our ability to own and control our own health insurance could be restored. A similar phenomenon occurred when Congress expanded individuals’ pre-tax retirement options like Individual Retirement accounts (IRAs) and 401ks. Employers began phasing out defined-benefit pensions controlled by employers, and began contributions to the individual accounts owned and controlled (to the extent the law allows) by employees.

Absent discriminatory tax policies, Clark-Moe and Hobby Lobby’s employees would own their health insurance, as they do their life, homeowners, and auto insurance, and be free to purchase abortifacient coverage without worrying about Supreme Court rulings or Congressional political maneuverings. (Of course, an employer may still choose to offer company group plans. But such plans would likely go the way of the defined-benefit pension. What employer really wants to have the responsibility of managing employees’ health insurance.) HSAs would also solve a serious, related third-party-payer problem—pre-existing conditions.

Third-party-payer is not the only problem with health insurance; e.g., benefit mandates force us to buy coverage we may not need, want, or can afford, and drive up insurance premiums. This, too, restricts our health insurance choices. (For an in-depth examination of the problems caused by government interference in the health insurance market, and some moral, rights-respecting, free-market solutions, see Paul Hsieh’s call to Legalize Real Health Insurance in Forbes.)

Employers that provide health insurance have a right to decide what health expenses to cover. But, rather than violate employers’ rights, we should demand that government stop restricting our individual health insurance choices. We should demand that legislators enact whatever tax law and other legal changes are required to eliminate government-instigated third-party-payer insurance, eliminate all insurance mandates, and put healthcare consumers in charge of their own insurance. These simple reforms would protect employer and employee rights alike, start America on the road to free market health insurance, and make Hobby Lobby-like conflicts between employers and employees wholly unnecessary.


Moral Health Care vs. “Universal Health Care”—Paul Hsieh

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Call for "Carbon Fee" is a Call for a Tax on Human Well-Being

A recent NJ Star-Ledger letter, Carbon fee should be enacted to fight climate change by Tony Giordano, opens with this paragraph:

    Recent extreme weather events represent a telling example of how the use of carbon-based fuels (e.g. oil, natural gas, coal) that release greenhouse gases create adverse impacts for millions of people. Climate change, rising seas and increasing illness are examples of social costs because they are paid by society overall, not by producers of carbon fuels.

The writer goes on to say that the energy companies are getting "a free ride" because of the alleged "costs" that they impose on society. This is an "unfair" state of affairs, because, in "a free market," "all costs should be paid by the businesses generating them." The solution, then, is for "Policymakers [to] enact . . . a carbon fee [tax] . . . now, with a dividend returning the revenue to consumers."

I left these comments:

"Recent extreme weather events represent a telling example of how the use of carbon-based fuels (e.g. oil, natural gas, coal) that release greenhouse gases create adverse impacts for millions of people."

This is an arbitrary assertion with no connection to reality.

When has there ever NOT been extreme weather? The only difference is that today, human beings can cope with, rather than be at the mercy of, extremes because of the clean, affordable, reliable, and abundant industrial scale energy provided primarily by fossil fuels, and to a lesser extent nuclear and hydroelectric. If you're going to talk about "unpaid" costs—negative externalities—then you'll have to include unrequited benefits—positive externalities—which far exceed the "adverse impacts" of minor increases in co2 levels—if you can call co2, without which life as we know could not exist, "adverse."

Since the adoption of fossil fuel use, our environment has gotten cleaner, safer, and much more livable than it ever was. And as a consequence, the length and quality of our lives has soared to unprecedented heights. At the same time, climate-related deaths in industrialized countries have fallen 98%. A carbon tax is a tax on human well-being, a handout to greedy consumers, and another corporate welfare scheme for so-called "clean energy" producers, who will never be competitive and never, by the nature of wind and solar, be able to provide reliable, cheap, plentiful industrial-scale energy. If the "clean energy" industry is capable of being competitive on price and reliability, then let them prove it [in] a truly free market—that is, free of subsidies and unfair tax burdens on fossil fuel companies and their customers.

Typically, statists cherry-pick "externalities"—secondary effects of economic activity—to suit their own purposes, and ignore the rest. In fact, it is impossible to accurately measure "externality" effects as they relate to individual human beings. For example, I heat with oil. Considering the misery of getting through the brutally cold 2013-14 Northeast U.S. winter without central heat, I would say my wife and I were far better off with than without the oil. In a winter that often featured temperatures well below zero F., the value of that oil far exceeded the cost of a few dollars a gallon price—an excess value for which the fossil fuel companies weren't paid. The value to us of having a warm home far exceeded the cost, in terms of extra oil, of living through a possibly climate change-induced extreme cold (just to accept Giordano's premise for the sake of an argument). So in the context of the externalities argument, social benefit for us far exceeded the social cost of fossil fuels. (For a rational and balanced investigation into the issue of "externalities," I recommend Chapter 4 of Brian P. Simpson's book Markets Don't Fail.)

Giordano falls back on the old collectivist substitute for actual reality, "society," as if we are all one organic entity—apart from fossil fuel energy producers, who apparently don't rate as part of society—with no individuality. But, clearly, as a part of "society," we enjoy a large net gain, rather a loss, thanks to fossil fuels. So how do we rate a subsidy from the fossil fuel companies? Furthermore, how do you even put a dollar value on the value we gained, vs. the cost of not having, the oil? Would we have been better off having frozen to death in exchange for the oceans not rising an extra inch or two over the past century?

But, in fact, even accepting Giordano's "cost to society" argument, the consumers who buy fossil fuel energy—whether to power their cars, clean water, heat, electricity, lighting, or whatever—are not victims of that cost; they are contributors. "It takes two to tango," as the idiom goes. Consumers voluntarily purchase and benefit from fossil fuel energy. Therefor, consumers should be considered part of the "problem," not victims who should be compensated for alleged costs imposed on them (which, in any event, would be funded by them through higher prices).

Giordano's whole premise is bogus. In a free market, division of labor, money exchange economy, there is no way of calculating the dollar value of "externalities." Any attempt to impose financial "solutions" to externalities only creates victims  and freeloaders, and empowers government to violate individual rights. In fact, externalities are irrelevant. The only just and rational way to balance costs and benefits is through the pricing mechanism of the free market; the "free" signifying the cumulative voluntary choices of free individuals trading for mutual benefit and self-interest. Anyone who demands government action to override the market is merely trying to impose his choices over the choices of others.

Related Reading:

"Market Failure" to Blame for Invasion of the Polar Vortex?

Markets Don't Fail—Brian P. Simpson

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Now, as Then, Immigrants are Individuals With Inalienable Rights

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger letter published July 25, 2014, Diane B. Barry argued that US immigration today cannot be compared to the past. Responding to a Star-Ledger column by Tom Moran, Barry wrote:

In 1886, America needed immigrants. In 2014, the situation has changed.

. . . Absorbing 55,000 children, adults, pregnant women and teens today presents a financial burden and potential health crisis. Who will pay for the education, food, clothing, medical care and judicial hearings Moran says these people are “entitled” to?

I left these comments:

“In 1886, America needed immigrants. In 2014, the situation has changed.”

Translation: America is a tribal collective that decides which individuals are “needed” and which are not.

Nothing could be further from the truth. America is just the opposite; a country of individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government in which the value and sovereignty of the individual is the ruling principle. Immigrants came to America in the 19th Century because they had a right to come and make a life for themselves in freedom, not to be fodder for other people’s purposes. The same is true today.

However, today as then, Americans should not be taxed to support immigrants, violating American taxpayers’ rights to use their own money as they judge best. Any immigrant who is not self-supporting, or who does not have a U.S sponsor willing to voluntarily take them in at his or her own expense, should be deported [or not allowed in]. Otherwise, in the absence of a threat to Americans’ rights and safety—such as a violent criminal history, infectious disease or similar health risk, or national security risk—the Land of Liberty has a moral obligation to let immigrants stay and make a life for themselves and their families.

As to today’s child immigrant crisis, some 90% of the children have relatives or family friends already living in the U.S. who were willing to and have taken them in. It is also important to keep in mind that most of these children are trying to escape drug-related gang violence, which America is indirectly responsible for. The emergence and growth of these Latin American gangs is fueled by drug prohibition in the U.S., just as America’s alcohol prohibition in the 1920s fueled domestic organized crime.

Slamming the door on legitimate immigration—i.e., rights-respecting, self-supporting individuals, whatever their numbers—is immoral and un-American.

Related Reading:

Immigration and Individual Rights—Craig Biddle

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Constitutional Amendment to "Limit" Campaign Spending Would Neuter the First Amendment

One of the most dangerous ideas to come along relating to the campaign finance issue is the call for a constitutional amendment limiting and regulating political expenditures.

In a New Jersey Star-Ledger letter (Disclose donors), Meg Kimberland asserts that "outside money" (private campaign spending) is "distort[ing] our democracy" and asks, “Who is driving democracy?” She concludes:

We need stronger disclosure laws at the state level and a federal constitutional amendment stating that governments have the right and the responsibility to regulate campaign finance. Otherwise, the answer to the question is, “Only those with the big bucks get to drive.”

Kimberland's is not an isolated voice. President Obama himself has called for such an amendment. In the heat of the 2012 presidential race, Obama said the unrestricted flow of money into campaigns "fundamentally threaten[s] to overwhelm the political process over the long run," to which I responded in The Objective Standard, "Translation, 'We politicians don’t like answering to our constituents, so we would love to insulate ourselves from the voices of the citizens we represent.'"

I left these comments to Kimberland's letter:

Meg Kimberland's "federal constitutional amendment stating that governments have the right and the responsibility to regulate campaign finance" is a proposal to invert America's concept of government of, for, and by the people. Such an amendment would essentially give the politicians the power to insulate themselves from the people, and stifle or silence dissent.

People who want to stop "big bucks" from "driving democracy" will not get to be the driver. They will simply put the politicians in the drivers seat. The idea that "outside money"—meaning, private expenditures outside the control of the politicians—should be banned is an egregious and dangerous offense to the concept of a constitutional republic based on individual rights, especially free speech rights. "Moneyed interests" are not a threat, since they are merely individuals voluntarily spending their own money advocating for their own ideas and candidates. We should fear the political class controlling what private citizens can spend on their own advocacy.

It's bad enough that campaign finance laws even exist. But a constitutional amendment institutionalizing the power to regulate private campaign spending would nullify the whole purpose of a constitution, which is to define and delimit the power of the government to interfere in private lives. The purpose of the constitution is to protect the people from the politicians, not the other way around. Such a constitutional amendment would hamper challengers to incumbents, and instill fear of reprisals based on trumped-up campaign finance "violations." It is a proposal for state supremacy.

It is not just how much can be spent, but how it is spend that politicians will get the power to control. As Steve Simpson points out in his article on Dave Brat's victory over Eric Cantor:

    [C]ampaign finance laws will destroy freedom of speech if we let them. There are many ways to see this point. One is to pay attention to what supporters of the laws actually say [addressed earlier in the article]. Another is to look at how the laws operate in practice. I give examples of both in my Breitbart op-ed, but here’s another. According to news reports, while Brat didn’t raise much money, he did get a lot of help from key conservatives like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, and from many groups who supported him on talk radio, Facebook, and Twitter. All of this support could be limited under campaign finance laws, because it is all valuable to candidates. And the proposed constitutional amendment the Judiciary Committee considered last week makes clear that it would cover such “in-kind” contributions and expenditures as well as cash outlays.
    That’s standard for campaign finance laws. They have to apply to anything of value that a person might give to a candidate or spend on his behalf, because if they were limited to cash, people could evade them by contributing goods or services instead. And such laws have to apply to all forms of speech, because any form can be used to benefit a candidate or get him elected. That’s why the law in Citizens United applied to a film and why the government’s lawyer admitted during oral argument it would apply to books as well. Applied logically, the laws would have to extend to the media as well.

Simpson also points out that politicians in power will always seek to limit "excessive" campaign spending of their ideological opponents, and give a pass to supporters. 

The power to limit equals the power to decide how much, how, and whom to limit. The First Amendment would be neutered.

Related Reading:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Family Leave Insurance No “Success” for Those Who Don’t Want It

New Jersey instituted Family Leave Insurance (FLI) five years ago. The program provides monetary benefits for up to six weeks for workers to “bond with a newborn or newly adopted child” or to “care for a family member with a serious health condition.” The “insurance” program is paid for through a payroll tax on employees, and works similar to unemployment “insurance.”

Now proponents of the program want FLI to go national, and the Obama Administration is apparently considering it. Economist Eileen Appelbaum notes that NJ’s program was “a topic of discussion” at President Obama’s recent White House Summit on Working Families. In support of FLI, Appelbaum notes that the program costs NJ workers a “small” amount—”no more than 60 cents a week”—and cites surveys of employers “proving” that the program is not economically damaging.

I left these comments:

The fundamental question is: Is the Family Leave Insurance (FLI) program moral?

Morality is a code of principles to guide a person’s choices and actions. By taking $0.60 a week from the worker’s paycheck, the government is depriving that worker of deciding for himself how best to spend that 60 cents. FLI is immoral.

It’s only 60 cents a week? Morality is not measured in dollars and cents. Polls and statistics “prove” that FLI works? It doesn’t work for the people who responsibly follow the age-old investment advice to set aside money for personal emergencies, and thus may not want to pay that 60 cents. FLI may “work” for those who don’t or can’t save. But that’s only because they receive the unearned from other people who don’t need FLI to cover emergencies.

Every individual has a moral right to manage his financial affairs according to his own judgment. FLI is a forced redistribution program; i.e., a form of theft. Regardless of the amount—and leaving aside that government programs, once established, tend to grow like malignant cancers—it’s simply wrong to forcibly take money from those who earned it and hand it over to those who didn’t, whether it’s done by private individuals or government officials.

If FLI proponents want to create a true insurance program—meaning, a private program based on voluntary contributions from willing workers—it is their right and the right of workers who want to pay for the insurance. But the social do-gooders behind schemes like FLI have no right to pick the pockets of unwilling workers to make it “work.”

Appelbaum rationalizes FLI based on America being a “wealthy nation,” as if that wealth is hers to distribute. It is not. Wealth doesn’t belong to the nation, as if America is a primitive tribe whose members wait for its political tribal chiefs to dole it out. Wealth belongs to individuals who earn it. The government should never be the hired gun of any covetous group that would plunder their fellow man.

I mentioned that people should save for emergencies. This raises the objection: It’s so hard for people to make ends meet these days, many people can’t save. Don Watkins at Voices for Reason raises an interesting point regarding making ends meet. In answer to the question, Why are so many twenty-somethings still living at home?, Watkins replies:

[There is] a direct and enormous redistribution of income from the young to the old. I refer to the old-age welfare programs, Social Security and Medicare.

The biggest tax young Americans pay is their payroll tax, which amounts to 15.3% for both Social Security and Medicare.

Then there is Medicaid, food stamps, college grants, etc. On the NJ state level, we have aid to local school districts, funded by the income tax, property tax “rebates” for poor and elderly homeowners, and sundry other subsidies for the needy.

When you add that $0.60 to all of the other government programs designed to “help” pay for others’ needs—all funded by taxes—is it any wonder why it just keeps getting harder and harder to make ends meet, which then leads to more people with needs to fill, which leads to the next government program, which makes it harder to make ends meet, leading to the next needy group to emerge? It’s a vicious cycle of widening poverty and government dependency.

Welcome to the Welfare State.

Related Reading:


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Interlocking Web of Rights-violating Laws that Gave Rise to the Hobby Lobby Controversy

The Hobby Lobby SCOTUS ruling has the Left fearing a “slippery slope” that can upset a lot of statist laws forbidding individuals and businesses from acting on their convictions, as I noted here and here. In More Hobby Lobby Fallout, the New Jersey Star-Ledger observed:

When five male justices on the U.S. Supreme Court decided that any business owner with a religious qualm about birth control can refuse to cover it in the health plans of all his female employees, they assured us that this was a very limited ruling. It would apply to lady pills and unchaste women, only.

But in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, she argued that in fact, this slippery slope is steep. And she was immediately proved right. On the very first day after the Hobby Lobby decision was handed down, religious leaders sent a letter to President Obama, doubling down on their right to discriminate not just against women, but against gay people, too.

The letter demanded that “religious groups . . . be excluded from [Obama’s] long-promised executive order that would bar discrimination against gay men and lesbians by companies that do government work.” The Star-Ledger went on to discuss:

  • That the religionists, notably Catholics, are pro-Obama
  • Public Funding of private organizations like Catholic Charities (which receive taxpayer money under Obama’s Faith-Based Initiatives, which he inherited from G.W. Bush).
  • Anti-discrimination laws

Yes, “any business owner with a religious qualm about birth control [definitely has a right to] refuse to cover it in the health plans of all his female employees.” But the issue is much wider than religious rights. It encompasses a whole tangled constellation of rights-violating government policies, which lead to these conflicts. Here are the core rights-violating issues covered or implied in the Star-Ledger editorial:

  • ObamaCare: Yes, many Christians, especially Catholics, are hypocritical. They enthusiastically supported ObamaCare, with no consideration for those whose rights are violated by ObamaCare’s mandates and subsidies, which those others would be forced to obey and pay for through taxes. Now that these Christians’ face the religious rights-violating contraception mandate, they object. What about the rights of non-Christian people, or non-religious people, who object to or don’t need the myriad other ObamaCare mandates?—e.g., why should women be forced to pay for men’s prostate screening and cancer treatment? Don’t they have a right to be freed from them, and live by their own “deeply held convictions”?

  • “Public Funding”: And yes, these Christians love “public funding”—redistributionist government subsidies. But that funding is itself rights-violating, because funded by taxes coercively seized from taxpayers—many of whom are themselves Christians—who may disagree with the purpose of the taxes. What about their right to spend their own money as they judge best? But the taxes aren’t the only way in which government funding violates rights. The grants come with strings that may conflict with the recipient’s convictions or goals. To access the funding means to follow government dictates, despite the fact that the recipients are themselves taxpayers. The rights-violating source of government funding is followed by right-violating conditions set on the funds.

  • Insurance Mandates violate the rights of healthcare consumers to buy, and insurers to offer, policies tailored to the personal needs and values of individuals. Every individual, including business owners—not just people with “religious qualms”—should be free to opt out of these mandates.

  • The third-party-payer system was created through government intervention into the health insurance market by, primarily, discriminatory tax advantages for employer health coverage. Without that tax discrimination, we wouldn’t be talking about Hobby Lobby. Individuals would pay directly for, and own, their own health insurance policies, as they do with life, auto, and homeowners policies. That can be accomplished by equalizing tax policy for individuals by creating tax-free health savings accounts for every employee covered by an employer health plan, and giving the employee the option of depositing the money now spent by the employer for employee health coverage into the HRAs. Employees then can opt out of employer plans that don’t work for them, and buy mandate-free policies that meet their own personal needs from insurers competing for their individual business on the resulting robust individual market. Freed from employer control of their health insurance, women wouldn’t be threatened by a Hobby Lobby’s “religious qualms” over birth control.

  • Anti-discrimination laws levied against private individuals and their property. The right to live by one's own beliefs, even if those beliefs are irrational and immoral, is fundamental to liberty. So long as one’s actions do not violate the rights of others, as when Muslims stone women to death or force non-Muslims to convert to Islam, private individuals have a right to discriminate regarding who they associate and contract with. There is no “civil right” to force others to contract or associate with you. Without the right to disagree—which means the right to act on that disagreement—there is no liberty. That’s the meaning of the wisdom, attributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” The Star-Ledger once defended, correctly, a Nazi’s right to free speech, without which there would be no right to free speech. The same principle applies to the right to freedom of contract and association—including a bigot’s right to freedom of contract and association, without which there are no such rights. Hobby Lobby's "discrimination" against women's reproductive rights may not be moral or rational, but such discrimination is the corporate owners' right.

When rights are properly understood and properly protected by government, there are no conflicts of rights. People can live by their own beliefs, whether faith-based or rational, so long as they don’t violate others rights. People who disagree can simply go their separate ways, but may not force their way of life on others.

But when conflicts like the Hobby Lobby case arises—which pits religious rights against a “right” to birth control—you will always find prior rights-violating laws below the surface. Eliminate the rights-violating laws, and the conflict evaporates.

Ginsburg is right that we’re on a “slippery slope,” but not in the way she means. And it didn’t start with Hobby Lobby. It started decades ago. It’s a slope littered with one rights violation piled onto another; a slope that leads to the end of all liberty and to rule by all-powerful government officials. What is exposed in the Hobby Lobby case is the inherent contradictions of the regulatory welfare state; that you can’t have basic inalienable rights to speech, conscience (religious or secular), contract, association, or property without protecting those rights for everyone, equally, at all times. These chickens are increasingly coming home to roost. When you start violating rights, which usually starts with well-meaning laws targeting irrationalists like religious bigots and Nazis, the rights violations spread ever-wider. Statism feeds on statism.

We face a basic choice going forward; continue on the path to ever-greater loss of individual rights, or reverse course toward a fully free society. By all means, let’s make the Hobby Lobby decision the beginning of a “slippery slope”—a counter-statist trend. Rather than exempt only religious objectors from the contraception mandate—which probably violates the Establishment Clause, anyway—let’s end all government insurance mandates, for everyone; end the third-party-payer health insurance system; repeal anti-discrimination laws aimed at the private sector; end government subsidies and the redistributionist taxes that support it. Protect rather than violate rights across the board, consistently and fairly, and SCOTUS cases like Hobby Lobby and other conflicts would not arise, and editorials like More Hobby Lobby Fallout would not get written.

Related Reading:

More on the Left's Fear of a Hobby Lobby "Slippery Slope" to More Liberty

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Armstrong on Myths and Facts about a Rights-Respecting Immigration Policy

Ari Armstrong has a very good post on The Objective Standard Blog titled Myths and Facts about a Rights-Respecting Immigration Policy.

Armstrong answers these myths:

  • “A rights-respecting immigration policy permits criminals and terrorists to enter the country.”
  • “A rights-respecting immigration policy entails government provision of welfare to immigrants and permits them to squat on public or private lands.”
  • “A rights-respecting immigration policy requires government to grant citizenship to immigrants.”
  • “Support for a rights-respecting immigration policy entails support for any and all proposals claiming to offer immigrants ‘amnesty.’”
  • “A rights-respecting immigration policy requires open immigration during wartime emergencies, regardless of the context.”

Related Reading:

Immigration and Individual Rights—Craig Biddle

Monday, July 21, 2014

If Removing Cop Killer’s Memorial Violates Free Speech, What About Dem’s Amendment?

After Jersey City, NJ police officer Melvin Santiago was brutally shot and killed in the line of duty, his killer was himself shot and killed by fellow police officers. Shockingly, amidst a sea of grief and anger in the city, a memorial to the killer, Lawrence Campbell, was erected on a Jersey City sidewalk.

Public outrage followed, and an irate Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop ordered the memorial taken down, citing “public safety” concerns. The New Jersey Star-Ledger, while sympathizing with Fulop, called the Mayor’s action an infringement on First Amendment free speech rights:

No doubt most people in Jersey City will side with Fulop on removing the memorial. The line between a good guy and a bad guy is rarely so bright as the one separating Santiago from Campbell.

But removing the memorial is not the right response. The government has no business making itself the referee of the public dialogue, no matter how hideous the content.

Ask yourself this: Once the government starts regulating speech, where does it stop? Should memorials to any violent criminal be taken down? How about corrupt politicians? Or maybe even Muslims who worship at the wrong mosque?

You can begin to understand why the Founders drafted the First Amendment. And why we should honor it, even when it hurts.

In light of the Star-Ledger’s long-standing support for campaign spending limits, I left these comments here and here:

“The government has no business making itself the referee of the public dialogue, no matter how hideous the content.”

This is so true. A much bigger threat to the “public dialogue”—free speech—comes from Senate Democrats’ proposal, supported by Obama, to alter the First Amendment to allow Congress to control political speech by controlling political spending.

Money is property, and property is one’s means of implementing one’s values. Without property rights, no other rights are practicable. Try exercising your speech in the public square without spending money. The Federalist Papers would not have been possible without spending money. This editorial and related comments would not be possible without spending money.

If politicians ever got the constitutional power to control private citizens’ ability to spend their own money on their own speech, we will have tipped over into full tyranny. Politicians will be in the position to criminalize and silence their own critics, the very hallmark of statist systems like communism, theocracy, and fascism. And it will be the most effective voices—those groups and individuals in the best financial position to spread ideas, “be heard,” and foster public dialogue and debate—who will be the ones silenced. And to the extent these individuals and groups are prevented from advocating ideas other citizens agree with, to that extent will all of our free speech rights be abridged.

Politicians work for “the people,” not the other way around. Politicians should never be given the power to insulate themselves from their own constituents. “The government has no business making itself the referee of the public dialogue, no matter how hideous, [in their minds], the content.” Nor should they be allowed to restrict it.

Harry Reid justified the amendment as follows:

"Amending our Constitution is not something any of us should take lightly, but the flood of special interest money in our American democracy is one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced," Reid said on the Senate floor. "Let's keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy."

Remember, Reid is talking about private American citizens spending their own money on their own speech, but who otherwise have no power to force their values on anyone. Compare them to politicians, who literally have the power of the gun; i.e., law-making power to force us to do, or refrain from doing, that which is prescribed or proscribed by the laws they pass. Considering the extent to which our government today tramples our rights under the regulatory welfare state, Reid’s ridiculous smearing of “the wealthy” as “one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced” is outrageous.

HuffPost reporter Paul Blumenthal wrote in April:

The amendment would roll back the 2010 Citizens United and 2014 McCutcheon rulings by re-instituting the power of Congress to pass legislation limiting campaign contributions and expenditures.

But Congress never had the power to limit expenditures, regardless of recent court decisions. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech. . .” No where does the constitution authorize such power. And remember, our government is one of enumerated powers. The fact that the constitution doesn’t authorize Congress to abridge free speech is our only chance to fight back against Congressional abridgment. It’s one thing to fight a law. It’s quite another to fight the constitution, which is why we’ve had a string of SCOTUS victories restoring free speech. If the constitution is amended granting Congress an enumerated power to abridge free speech at the politicians’ whims, free speech is over.

Related Reading:

Are Media Corporations Next?