Monday, February 29, 2016

Society’s ‘Lottery Winners’ and ‘Give Back’ vs. Win-Win

In May 2015, President Obama said this to a panel on poverty at Georgetown University:

The top 25 hedge fund managers made more than all of the kindergarten teachers in the country. So, when I say that, I’m not saying that because I dislike hedge fund managers, or I think they are evil, I’m saying that you’re paying a lower [tax] rate than a lot of folks who are making $300,000 a year. You pretty much have more than you’ll ever be able to use in your family will ever be able to use.

There’s a fairness issue involved here. And by the way, if we were able to close that loophole, I could now invest in early childhood education to make a difference. That’s where the rubber hits the road. That’s … where the question of compassion and ‘I’m my brother’s keeper’ comes into play. And if we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then really this conversation [on poverty] is for show.

Though Obama singled out hedge fund managers, his remark about “society’s lottery winners” clearly was meant to apply to successful achievers generally. It’s a logical followup to his “you didn’t build that” worldview.

In rebuttal, Forbes’s Rich Karlgaard has a nice column titled Society’s Lottery Winners. I recommend it, with one caveat. Early on, Karlgaard writes:

WORDS MATTER. Take the phrase “If we can’t ask from society’s winners to make [an] investment. … ” It’s a familiar plea from preachers and fundraisers, a particularly American approach. The U.S., happily, is a country that mints many winners who then traditionally give lots of money to charities, churches, schools and nonprofits.

Now change this plea by the addition of a single word: “If we can’t ask from society’s lottery winners to make [an] investment. …” Hmm–it has an altogether different ring to it, no? That one word, “lottery,” changes the entire meaning. A good-hearted plea to society’s successful to heed their better angels and give something back becomes, by inserting “lottery,” sarcastic and cutting.

I left these comments:

“A good-hearted plea to society’s successful to heed their better angels and give something back becomes, by inserting ‘lottery,’ sarcastic and cutting.”

But what does “give something back” imply? It implies that the successful got something they didn’t earn or deserve, and so have a duty to give it back.

But as Karlgaard makes plain throughout this article, successful people make their money by “meeting market needs”: i.e., by creating economic value in exchange for the money they receive from consumers who willingly buy that value. But the successful are not the only winners. Those who receive the values the successful create are also winners. I’m composing this comment on a Dell computer. Michael Dell wins, but so do I. It’s not just “win.” It’s win-win. Highly successful people, like anyone on any level who works for money, give value for value—except that the wealthy create a lot more value for a lot more people. Hence, their fortunes. I would argue that the economic value the successful give far exceeds their fortunes in most cases. How do the cumulative benefits enjoyed by Google’s millions of users and thousands of employees stack up against the monetary fortunes of [Larry] Page and [Sergey] Brin, however many $billions they may be worth? The relationship of society’s most successful achievers to society in general is not just win-win: It’s arguably win-WIN.

Political “entrepreneurs” who get rich by government favor rather than market trade aside, successful people have nothing to “give back,” because they already gave plenty in the process of becoming “society’s winners.” “Give something back” is a terrible way to counter Obama’s morally obscene derogation of success and achievement. The use of that phrase only validates Obama’s premise, because substituting “give back” for “lottery” merely says the same thing in a different way. The generosity of the wealthy is laudable, but not because they have anything to give back. The use of the term “give something back” in this article mars an otherwise powerful rebuttal to Obama.


One more point needs to be addressed regarding two above comments; one by Obama, and one by Karlgaard. Obama said:

There’s a fairness issue involved here. And by the way, if we were able to close that loophole, I could now invest in early childhood education to make a difference. That’s where the rubber hits the road. That’s … where the question of compassion and ‘I’m my brother’s keeper’ comes into play. [emphasis added]

Obama is clearly playing the altruism card. How does Karlgaard respond? Less Obama’s “lottery” insertion, Karlgaard concedes that such calls amount to “A good-hearted plea to society’s successful to heed their better angels and give something back . . .” [emphasis added]

This concession to altruism by Karlgaard amounts to, “‘Giving back’—giving away your earnings to those who didn’t earn it—is morally superior to creating wealth,” if creating wealth is given any moral credit at all. By conceding Obama’s altruist premises, Karlgaard concedes the moral high ground to Obama. Once Karlgaard concedes the moral high ground, quibbling over Obama’s “lottery” terminology is inconsequential by comparison.

This is another example of why defending free market capitalism requires challenging altruism. Capitalism, with its emphasis on individual rights to life, property, and the pursuit of personal happiness, doesn’t jive with “I’m my brother’s keeper.”

Related Reading:

How You Build That

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Democratic Socialism: If the Pigs Take Over

In my last post, I compared the Democratic Socialists to the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
At the end of my post, I wrote:

[W]e who value freedom and prosperity must not let people forget what socialism, our current mixed economy, and capitalism really are. Unfortunately, the newly emerging debate is dominated by the Democratic Socialists and defenders of the mixed economy status quo. The voices of capitalism are not engaged, at least not in the campaign arena. That must change, or the Democratic Socialists will surely win by default.

Today, this capitalist will contribute to the debate by attempting to answer the questions: What happens to capitalists if the Democratic Socialists take over, as opposed to what becomes of socialists under capitalism? (I mean “capitalist” and “capitalism” in the broad philosophical sense of embodying the principles of classical liberalism, not the narrow economic sense of someone with investment capital.)

My aim is to explain the fundamental social distinction between socialism and capitalism, as political systems, from the respective perspectives of a socialist and a capitalist. So, consider this: Under capitalism, people are free to live under socialist principles, if they choose. Under socialism, people are not free to live under capitalist principles.

In more detailed terms:

Under capitalism, any group of people is free to voluntarily establish a private collectivist commune by purchasing or renting property, pooling all of their resources, and electing a committee charged with the task of doling out the collective material goods from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Or the socialist true believers can apply their principles in more limited ways, such as pooling some of their resources to establish retirement, medical, or other forms of voluntary social security. Under capitalism, every socialist believer is free to try to persuade others to join the collective enterprise based on socialist principles. Likewise, if a socialist in a capitalist society does not approve of some people attaining more wealth than others, one is free not to contribute to that person’s fortune by buying the fortune-builder’s product or service. For example, if one does not approve of Charles Koch’s massive fortune, one is free not to patronize any of the Koch Industies companies. Who could stop them? Not the government, which exists to protect the socialist believer's right to live by his principles. Socialist true believers, like every one else, have inalienable individual rights to freedom of association, speech, and property, so they are free to pursue their socialist values with whomever agrees to join with him. The only thing they are forbidden to do is force unwilling non-socialist true believers to join him. Those who prefer to use their earned money and associations for personal rather than communal ends is also free to do so. Under capitalism, each individual is sovereign over his own life—all of it—so long as he respects every other individual's’ sovereignty by dealing with them only by voluntary consent rather than physical aggression. Under capitalism, there is no forced “social ownership of the means of production.” Each individual rightfully owns his work product, to the extent he earns it by production and voluntary trade. The nature of capitalist government is as the servant of the people; “The People” are understood as a collection of sovereign individuals, not a collective supreme over the individual.

Things work a little differently under socialism. Under socialism, capitalist true believers are forbidden to live by their principles. Unlike under capitalism, people under socialism are forbidden to choose between using their property for personal use or handing it over for communal distribution. Just let a capitalist true believer try to keep his Social Security or Medicare taxes: He’ll be assaulted by armed government agents and thrown into a cage. Unlike under capitalism, where each person is free to follow his own judgement, under socialism every aspect of a person’s economic life, including his earnings, are forcibly confiscated or controlled by government. Every individual's wealth is seized by force, dumped it into a common pot, and divided and distributed by government; whether any particular individual agrees or not is considered irrelevant selfishness. Under socialism, the individual is a rightless subject of the collective or commune, as represented by an omnipotent government. Unlike under capitalism, where the socialist true believer has a right to his values and to say no to capitalist principles, the capitalist true believer has no right to his values and no right to say no to socialist principles. Every individual is forbidden any choices the state deems its prerogative to override. It matters not whether the government is elected or not. Under socialism, the state owns every individual, since the underlying source of “the means of production” is the individual human mind. The nature of socialist government is omnipotence at the expense of individual sovereignty.

This, then, is the essential difference between socialism and capitalism: Socialism in any form—Marxist, fascist, communist, national, democratic, or whatever—is based on raw, brute, aggressive physical force, exercised on behalf of the “public interest” or “common good” by a government of unlimited power and scope. Capitalism is based on peaceful co-existence made possible by a limited individual rights-protecting government whose laws outlaw aggressive (initiatory) physical force among human relationships and uses force only to protect individuals and their rights.

The fools who go for Democratic Socialism are willing to give up their personal economic liberty in exchange for a virtually meaningless “right to vote” on how the means of production are managed;i.e., on how the government will control others, turning friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, citizen against citizen. Insofar as Democratic Socialism divides people into voting blocks, it is a regression to pre-civilized tribalism. Under capitalism, the people as individuals organize “the means of production” through their independent buying choices, employment/ business decisions, voluntary charitable giving, and other value choices—each according to his own self-interest while leaving others free to produce and trade as they see fit. Under socialism, all of that freedom is lost to government dictates; under Democratic Socialism, each of our economic rewards are determined not by our ability and the judgement of the free market, but by our needs as determined by whoever gains power by majority vote (see the fictional but all-too-real saga of the 20th Century Motor Company).

When a socialist and a capitalist stand face to face, the difference is stark. The socialist has nothing to fear from the capitalist, as the capitalist will leave the socialist unassaulted and free to pursue his values. The capitalist, though, has plenty to fear from the socialist, as the socialist is always scheming to figure out how he can coercively mold the capitalist to conform to the collective good, in complete disregard for the capitalist’s personal desires and values. As the self-proclaimed representative of the collective good, physical assault is the tool of the socialist. To the socialist, neither the capitalist or anyone else has a life worthy of moral consideration. To the capitalist, the individual life is the standard of moral consideration.

Respect for individual human dignity under live-and-let-live vs. intolerant armed aggression is the essential practical difference between capitalism and socialism. Which would you say is the moral social system? What would you like to live under—a socialist government led by a dictatorial pig named Napoleon or a constitutional government as envisioned but the Founding Fathers? I choose the Founders, aka capitalism, and in lieu of “Join the Coffee Party Movement,” freedom lovers should consider The American Capitalist Party.

Related Reading:

China’s Recovery from Socialism vs. Bernie Sanders, The Most Evil Politician in America

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Democratic Socialism: The Rise of the Pigs

There is an outfit called Join the Coffee Party Movement. The Coffee Party, probably inspired by Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy, stands for Democratic Socialism and invites people to join up. This image is displayed on its Facebook page:

Join the Coffee Party Movement's photo.

An accompanying explanatory statement, lifted from Wikipedia, reads:

Democratic socialism is a political ideology advocating a democratic political system ALONGSIDE a socialist economic system, involving a COMBINATION of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production. Although sometimes used synonymously with "socialism", the adjective "democratic" is often added to distinguish itself from the Marxist–Leninist brand of socialism, which is widely viewed as being non-democratic.

Socialism is now in full bloom in American politics. The era of Democrats pushing socialism along bit by bit while simultaneously denying they are socialists has come to an end. Thank you, Bernie Sanders. A debate involving three protagonists—defenders of socialism, of our mixed economy status quo, and of capitalism—is now part of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The definition above, I think, accurately describes the basic macro elements of Bernie Sanders-style democratic socialism. On the surface, it looks like more mixed economy, with statism increasing and liberty decreasing. But make no mistake, “a COMBINATION of political democracy with social ownership of the means of production” is a totalitarian state. Democratic socialism merely replaces single party rule with a system of rotating elected dictatorships. Either way, there’s no room for individual rights. Rather than being at the mercy of a “non-democratic” absolute state, your life will be at the mercy of majoritarian absolutism.

Anyone who has a reasonably good understanding of liberty can see through the catch phrases and recognize that democratic socialism is just another manifestation of totalitarianism. A democratic socialist is a totalitarian who sugar-coats his agenda with “democracy,” as if the right to vote is all that freedom is about. Most people wrongly associate democracy with a free society in which the political leaders are elected. But that’s really a constitutionally limited republic. Democracy unconstrained by the principle of individual rights embodied in a proper constitution is a totalitarian state. Without economic freedom, you can’t have political freedom. After all, economics—the field of production and trade—is the field in which people act to transform their values into material form. The freedom to pursue one’s happiness without having control of the productive means to achieve happiness is to leave every individual locked up inside of his own mind, which is precisely the plight of the individual in the totalitarian state. Anyone who controls the means of production, has the individual by the throat.

The Democratic Socialist movement spawned by Sanders’ candidacy reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which the humans who run the farm are thrown out and replaced with an even worse, brutal animal dictatorship. Animal Farm has been judged to have an anti-capitalist element. This is not surprising, since Orwell was a socialist. His book supposedly depicts the capitalists (the humans) thrown out and replaced by communism, which ends up to be worse than capitalism. My analogy is with the aftermath of the rebellion against the humans.

In Orwell’s saga, the pigs orchestrate a revolution among the animals to overthrow the humans, promising a better life for the formerly enslaved animals after they take control of their farm. After the revolution, it turns out that the pigs have garnered control, to the initial glee of the animals. But the animals soon begin to sense that they are worse off than under the humans, but are too clueless to understand why. Meanwhile, the pigs rewrite history over and over, while all the time blaming the increasing hardship on the humans and their corrupt animal sympathizers. The pigs promise equality, having adopted a 7-part constitution. But in the end, the constitution is eroded and ultimately revoked, and the pigs, led by Napoleon, end up as brutal tyrants who run the farm under the single slogan, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

In their real-life animal farm vision, the Democratic Socialists want to gull we the people with promises of empowerment through more democratic control of the economy, “the means of production.” Similar to the pigs of Animal Farm, the Democratic Socialists promise prosperity for all through a slew of handouts. Like Animal Farm, the Democratic Socialists tempt us with vague promises of economic “equality.” The Democratic Socialists propose to create a socialist democracy for the benefit of the people by convincing us to relinquish by vote the haggard remnants of our individual freedom embedded in the mixed economy. Under the current state of affairs, according to the Democratic Socialists, the economy is run for the benefit of “the 1%”—the Democratic Socialists’ version of Orwell’s humans—at the expense of the people (the Animal Farm inhabitants). Once “the people” gain control of the means of production, wealth will flow freely and more abundantly to the people. Similar to Orwell's farm animal population, we will wake up to realize that we have traded a semi-free mixed economy for a tyranny run by the socialists’ version of the pigs—a bunch of Ivy Starneses. And like the hapless inhabitants of Animal Farm, we will have a vague memory of better times past, without realizing why we once had it better and how we came to our new, decadent state.

That’s why we who value freedom and prosperity must not let people forget what socialism, our current mixed economy, and capitalism really are. Unfortunately, the newly emerging debate is dominated by the Democratic Socialists and defenders of the mixed economy status quo. The voices of capitalism are not engaged, at least not in the campaign arena. That must change, or the Democratic Socialists will surely win by default.

As with other forms of statism, such as fascism, communism, and any mixture of those with freedom, the opposite of Democratic Socialism is capitalism. Fascism, communism, Nazism (a form of fascism), and Democratic Socialism are all variants of socialism. Sanders and his Coffee Party offspring provides a good opportunity for capitalists to contrast their vision with the socialists. Socialism can be contrasted with capitalism on many levels, including the social, political, economic, and moral levels. All of the comparisons favor capitalism.

One way to contrast the two systems is to ask, what would it be like for socialists to live under capitalism, and vice-versa? I’ll give my thoughts on that social question in my next post.

Related Reading:

China’s Recovery from Socialism vs. Bernie Sanders, The Most Evil Politician in America

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Criminal Terror vs. Islamic Terrorism

Donald Trump said he remembered “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center.

A subsequent investigation by NJ Advance Media did turn up credible evidence to support Trump’s claim, although not on the scale he believed. As Mark Mueller reports for

[A] police officer who worked on 9/11 and residents on the outskirts of Journal Square say they witnessed small pockets of people celebrating before the groups dispersed or were broken up by authorities.

The NJ Star-Ledger editorial board commented on these findings in an editorial titled Trump's story on 9/11 Jersey City celebrations is finally put to rest. The editors condemned Trump’s comments as “offensive [for] suggesting sympathy for terrorism is broadly shared among Muslims in America when in fact it is a fringe sentiment. It is the moral equivalent of smearing all white Americans for the actions of violent white supremacists.”

Maybe. But the Star-Ledger seems to minimize the threat from Islamic Jihad. Toward the end of the article, the Star-Ledger writes, “In fact, a cold body count shows that Muslims extremists have killed 26 Americans since September 11, while non-Muslim extremists have killed 48.”

I left this comment, edited for clarity:

In fact, there is a grave danger in this equivocation.

True, people like Elliot Rodger (2014 Isla Vista killings) and Dylan Roof and people like the Tsarnaev brothers and Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook were all terrorists. That much they have in common. But this similarity is superficial and ends there.

Rodger, who was waging a “War on Women,” and Roof, a racist, were criminals motivated by personal collectivistic hatred. The Tsarnaev brothers and Malik and Farook were soldiers in a militant religious army. Rodger and Roof were crazed loners whose terrorist acts began and ended with them. The Tsarnaev brothers and Malik and Farook were part of an imperialist movement motivated by radical Islam aggressively fighting a war for totalitarian world subjugation under Sharia law. Their terrorism neither began nor ended with them. (By “radical,” I mean fundamental, as in a literal, ultra-conservative interpretation of the Quran that embraces submission and jihad.)

The Rodgers and the Roofs are dangerous thugs but don’t pose a threat to American or world civil society. Imperialist Islam is a major, broad-based threat to Western civilization. Even if it may represent only a “fringe sentiment” among American Muslims, radical Islamist jihadism has strong support among a substantial minority of the world’s Muslims. It is a dangerous force that cannot be wished away by refusing to name it or by sanitizing it as common criminality or isolated domestic terror.

The distinction between criminal terror and Islamic terrorism is the reason we have a police force to deal with crime and a military to deal with foreign enemies. This distinction cannot be whitewashed by lumping them together under the undefined term “extremist.” People who don't explicitly recognize and name the enemy can never acknowledge the long-term threat posed by the Radical Islamist movement. In turn, they needlessly put our national security at risk. The Islamic imperialist movement, left unrecognized and unchecked, could one day pose a threat greater than the Axis Powers or Soviet communism. That can never be said of “non-Muslim extremists” like the Charleston Church killer and his ilk.

Related Reading:

Winning the Unwinnable War, Elan Journo

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Voting Rights are Not the ‘Most Fundamental Right’—or Even a Fundamental Right

In 2015, the New Jersey legislature passed the Democracy Act, a bill intended to make it easier to register to vote; some would say too easy. In November, NJ Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill.  

I won’t go into the pros and cons of the bill. Instead, in my comments below the article, I focussed on  the very first sentence of a bill advocate’s NJ Star-Ledger guest column. Richard T. Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, called on Governor Christie to sign the bill because, Smith asserted, “Voting is the most fundamental right.”

Before any discussion of voting reform, we must get the hierarchy of rights correct.

The right to vote is not the most fundamental right. It is not even a fundamental right. A fundamental right is a right that precedes government, and the most fundamental right is the right to life; which means the right of each individual to chart the course of his own life in pursuit of his own goals, values, and happiness, including the right to whatever property he earns. The right to chart the course of his own life requires individual liberty. The rights to life, liberty, and property are fundamental rights. As the Declaration of Independence states, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .” Rights first. Government second.

The right to vote is therefore a derivative of the fundamental rights. The right to vote comes into being after the government is instituted to protect the fundamental rights of the people. The right to vote is fundamental to the political process, and every adult of sound mind should have that right. The right to life includes the right of the people to choose their political leaders and to decide how much power they need to perform their duty to protect individual rights. But the right to vote is a procedural right, logically derived from the need to establish a government to protect the fundamental rights. If individuals have no right to their own lives, then on what basis do they have a right to choose their political leaders? You can’t reverse cause and effect.

The distinction between fundamental and derivative rights is crucially important because it goes to the heart of how much power a government should have over our lives. Fundamental rights are rights that the political class—and thus the government—can not trespass upon. Fundamental rights are unalienable. If you have a fundamental right to your own life, then by definition the power of the government must be limited in its power. By extension, this means the power of voting blocks is limited: We the People can choose our political leaders. But We the People cannot vote away the fundamental rights of our neighbors, or of minorities, including the smallest minority, the individual. Our fundamental rights are outside the power of voting majorities to infringe.

Statists want state supremacy over our lives. Statists hold that individuals do not own their own lives. Rather, individuals are subjects of a supreme state, under which its political leaders can regulate and control, including individuals’ property, as they see fit. Turning the right to vote into “the most fundamental right” inverts the proper purpose of government, and puts all of our lives, liberties, and property at the mercy of elected officials. America is a constitutionally limited republic, not a democracy. Democracy is a form of totalitarianism. Statists want democracy, and thus sneak in the concept that “Voting is the most fundamental right.”

Voting is not the most fundamental right. Only when we grasp that principle can we talk about rules of voter registration.

Related Reading:

Farmers Understanding of Free Speech Rights as Non-Absolute is Dangerous and Wrong

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Left’s Double Standard on the Hitler Germany Analogy

In a recent Politico piece, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. In fact, she went even further, saying “It is no longer a stretch to compare Donald Trump, and some of the other current Republican candidates for president, to some of the worst dictators in history.” She goes on:

Trump especially is employing the kind of hateful rhetoric and exploiting the insecurities of this nation, in much the same way that allowed Hitler and Mussolini to rise to power in the lead-up to World War II. The parallels are chilling. In pre-WWII Germany, the economy was in ruins, people were scared, and they wanted someone to blame. Today we find ourselves with a nation of people who feel under attack both physically and economically and are fearful. The middle class has never fully recovered economically from the Great Recession. Income disparity is growing, but demonizing with a broad-brush all “immigrants,” forgetting that nearly all of our ancestors were exactly that at one point in the past 400 years, is both dangerous and contrary to all this nation stands for. After Paris and San Bernardino, attacking Muslims, the vast majority of whom are peaceful adherents to their faith, has become fashionable.

Whitman’s reference to “income disparity” is interesting, as it points to a bridge between her attack on Trump and another party and another demagogue in the presidential race. When two “1%ers” made similars analogies, the Left pounced all over them.

But not this time, at least for one “liberal.” Quoting Whitman, Left-leaning Tom Moran of the Left-leaning NJ Star-Ledger approvingly seized on Whitman’s charge in an article titled Whitman compares Trump to Hitler.

I left these comments on the Moran piece, edited for clarity:

If “It is no longer a stretch to compare Donald Trump . . . to some of the worst dictators in history,” then the same goes at least as much for the hard Democrat Left.

Every advancing dictatorship needs a scapegoat—some group upon whom all of the country’s ills came be blamed. For the Bolsheviks who created the USSR, it was the bourgeoisie. For the Nazis, it was the Jews. The Democrat Left’s demonization of “the 1%,” led today by Bernie Sanders, mirrors at least as much as Trump the Bolsheviks and the Nazis. At least there are voices on the Republican side loudly challenging and denouncing Trump. Who on the Democrat side is prominently rising to condemn the bigoted, broad-brush fear-mongering attack on “the rich,” whose only “crime,” for most of them, is to create great businesses, great products, and millions of jobs—and profit handsomely from these accomplishments?

And if it can be said of Whitman that she “rightfully draws parallels between Donald Trump and fascist dictators like Adolf Hitler,” then why can’t the same be said of venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Home Depot founder Ken Langone for drawing the same historical parallels regarding the hardcore Democrat Left? If “[Trump] and Hitler have a lot in common,” then the same goes, in the same respects, for Leftist demagogues.

I don't believe Trump is a bigot. But his call to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the country is bigoted, nonetheless. Worse, it is a dangerous precedent. Setting a religious test for who can enter and live in the U.S. is tantamount to setting an ideological test. Religion belongs to the broader category of ideas. If the government ever got the power to determine which ideas are acceptable and which aren’t, it would be the end of one of America’s Founding principles—intellectual freedom. We should not take comfort by the fact that Trump’s policy refers only to non-Americans living abroad. Once the precedent is set, can anyone confidently say that the same test would never be applied to Americans in some way by some future Congress, court, or president? The erosion of intellectual freedom, once it starts, is the path to a fascist America.

Both Langone and Perkins retracted their Hitler comparisons under withering criticism, especially from the Left. But I don’t think such analogies are always out-of-bounds. In any event, if we’re going to draw lessons from history to head off a fascist America—and it’s appropriate to do so—we should dispense with double standards.

Related Reading:

Bernie Sanders the Demagogue Enters the Democratic Presidential Race

Trump’s Ban-All-Muslims Policy Undermines the Fight Against Islamic Jihad

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Congressman Garrett’s Anti-Gay Politics Exposes Artificial Public/Private Rights Dichotomy

Recently, Politico reported that New Jersey Congressman Scott Garrett would refuse to pay his Party dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) because the NRCC recruits and supports gay Republican candidates.

Needless to say, Garrett set off a firestorm. Commenting on Garrett’s decision, the NJ Star-Ledger editorialized that Congressman Scott Garrett takes his bigotry out of the closet. After noting that “U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett signed on to a measure that would allow private firms to deny service at gay weddings if doing so would offend their religious sensibilities,” the Star-Ledger wrote:

The debate often focuses on fake cover stories, like Garrett's claim that denying services to gay wedding is about religious freedom.

The law threads that needle by making a distinction between private behavior and public. A house of worship is generally free to discriminate, as are private clubs. But when a business opens its doors to the public, the standards are different. And for good reason. Imagine an America where each merchant on a street was free to exclude his least favorite group.

I left these Comments, edited for clarity:
I agree with the Star-Ledger’s assessment of Garrett’s comments and religious discrimination against gays as bigotry. But that’s where my agreement ends.

It’s true that, as the Star-Ledger observes, “The religion card . . . is sometimes used [as] a cover for a more ugly motivation -- flat-out bigotry against gays.” But is that a reason to force a private firm to serve a gay wedding against the business owner’s convictions, however immoral? Absolutely not.

The distinction between private and public behavior is artificial and itself discriminatory. Why are the rights of members of private churches and private clubs to be free to discriminate protected, but not owners of private businesses? Are businessmen somehow morally forbidden to act on their convictions? Are businessmen second-class citizens? The right to associate or not associate is a fundamental individual right, and you don’t forfeit your rights by opening a business—not if equal protection means anything.

The last sentence in the above quote is an utterly absurd application of the principle of Reductio Ad Absurdum. The implication is that if people were “free to exclude his least favorite group,” everyone would do so. But, when does everyone think the same, especially when it comes to irrational ideas? There is no evidence of such widespread bigotry. Indeed, such widespread acceptance of bigotry implies a culture incapable of electing legislators who would enact laws against discrimination. In a culture so accepting of bigotry, we never would have had acceptance of interracial marriage; or a mixed race president; or passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other civil rights acts; or have gotten rid of Jim Crow and the Separate-but-Equal doctrine.

The truth is the opposite.

Since World War II, bigotry in American culture has steadily eroded in the face of social activism. Back then, bigotry was routine, not worthy of making news. In America today, a single bigoted statement or act routinely triggers instant, broad public denunciation from virtually all population sectors. Famous, popular celebrities lose their jobs and even careers, by such pronouncements. Recall the Indiana legislature rushing to change a “religious freedom law” appearing to target gays, under pressure of nationwide condemnation. Observe the reaction to Garrett’s bigotry, which wasn’t even a public pronouncement. Today, overt bigotry is news, because it is rare.

The logical outcome of removing anti-discrimination laws against the private sector—fully and equally protecting the right to freedom of association—would not be broad discrimination by merchants. The result would be that private enterprises that practice irrational discrimination would likely be put out of business through boycotts and/or competition. Even those that survive would be isolated and marginalized, harming no one but themselves and their reputations. Bigotry is not only irrational and immoral, it is economically stupid to send potential customers to a competitor simply because of their sexual orientation, skin color, or other economically irrelevant reasons. Advocates of anti-discrimination laws against private citizens amounts to the implication that irrationalism would win in a free society, because there are no rational arguments against bigotry. In truth, in a free society, reason will, over time, always win out against unreason. The very fact of widespread public support for anti-private discrimination laws—misguided though they are—is proof that such laws are not needed to defeat bigotry. Such laws could never get passed in a culture that didn’t already have bigotry on the run.

As I observed in a detailed post on the gay marriage/religious freedom issue, “This issue is not primarily about freedom of religion and conscience; rather, it is about freedom of association and contract.” It is just as wrong to legally force private business owners to serve gay weddings against their religious convictions as it was to impose anti-gay religious standards on America by legally banning gay marriage. This is about equal treatment under the law, nothing more.


There is another, more insidious side effect to anti-discrimination laws targeting the private sector; the effect of driving bad ideas or opinions underground, where they can fester and metastasize

Consider Prohibition, which didn’t eliminate the alcoholic beverage industry but drove it underground, where a growing underworld crime culture captured the business. It’s better to leave people free to discriminate, and then challenge the bigots openly in the public marketplace of ideas. Only intellectual opposition can expose and eliminate bad ideas through education on better ideas. That can best happen when ideas are aired openly rather than driven underground.

Better to leave private individuals free to discriminate, as is their right, thus exposing them to public scrutiny, than to force bigots to act against their convictions, allowing irrationality and bitterness to fester and grow undetected and unchallenged.

Related Reading:

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