Sunday, September 30, 2018

New Sneak Attack on Americanism: ‘Trumpism’

A New Jersey Star-Ledger article by John Farmer Jr. resurrected President Jimmy Carter’s so-called “malaise speech” as prophetically heralding the rise of Donald Trump. It has gotten significant national attention. And it definitely carries a warning, but not in the way Farmer intends.

Carter’s 1979 address to the nation has been dubbed his “malaise speech” because it infamously blamed the American people—their “self-indulgence,” “self-interest,” i.e., their selfishness—for the stagnant state of the U.S. economy. Farmer speaks approvingly of Carter’s premise, even to the point of regurgitating the Left’s favorite whipping boy for the 2009 financial crisis—greed, ignoring the government’s altruistic “affordable housing” crusade carried out through incentives and coercive regulations imposed on the mortgage industry.

Farmer is a former New Jersey attorney general and current Rutgers school of law professor and faculty associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. He is also the son of New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist John Farmer. His article is titled Jimmy Carter's prophetic 1979 warning of Trumpism.

In his speech, Carter maligned Americans’ “misplaced cultural values of ‘self-indulgence and consumption’." Carter attacks “self-interest” and “extreme” views. Farmer ties those Carter observations to what he calls Trumpism. He quotes from Carter’s pessimistic speech throughout the article, a speech that Ronald Reagan was able to counter with the positive vision of America that helped propel him to a landslide victory over Carter in 1980.

Put aside for a moment, however, whether the speech was wise politically; consider, in the perspective of history, whether it was right culturally.

President Carter warned the nation against following the "path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest," for "[d]own that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others."

Can there by [sic] any doubt that this "mistaken idea of freedom" as self-absorption has prevailed?

First, let me say that the attack on “self-indulgence” is a package deal lumping two opposing premises—the rational pursuit of self-interest within the context of voluntary association with and respect for the rights of others versus the predatory grabbing of immediate gratification by any means regardless of the effects on others or one’s own long-term happiness.

What’s interesting is that “the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others”—which Carter laments but is not actually a “right”—is precisely what you’d expect of the predatory view of self-interest. That’s exactly the kind of society you’d expect from the democratic, regulatory welfare state—the very goal of the policies of the Left. After all, what is democracy but controlled anarchy featuring electoral factions fighting for control of the governmental apparatus to gain legal—i.e., coercive—advantages over other factions? Welcome to the mixed economy.

Much else can be said about Carter’s speech and Farmer’s take on it. I want to focus on a dangerous premise sprung on the reader under the label of Trumpism. Buried among a seething caldron of criticism of American politics under President Trump is a dangerous sneak attack on Americanism. Drawing on Carter’s “mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others"—an observation with an element of truth, as we shall see—Farmer twists Carter’s statement to attack the opposite of Carter’s meaning, the right view of freedom.

Comments I left under Farmer’s article are embedded in the following analysis:

Beware people who attack self-interest. They’re about to take something from you. Carter was after a kind of materialism—a life full of “things” but without “confidence or purpose.” (There’s an element of truth here, although the devil is in the details, such as, how does one define “purpose.”) But Farmer is after much bigger fish. Consider how Farmer applies Carter’s message in the form of this sneak attack on the American concept of liberty:
We have lost our way, in short, because we have exalted "a mistaken idea of freedom"; our self-indulgence has led us to assert every right as absolute, every form of compromise or regulation as inimical to freedom, and to elevate the very avatar of self-absorption to the highest office in the land. [my emphasis]

The great achievement of the United States of America is that it recognized that rights are unalienable; i.e., cannot be taken arbitrarily from any individual by government. Unalienable means absolute: Rights are absolute, constitutionally protected from being compromised or regulated away. That is not "a mistaken idea of freedom." That is what unalienable means. It is the American concept of freedom. If not, then there are no restraints on government, only on the people.

Think of what a non-absolute right means. Take, for example, the right to life—which means to live and act for your own sake and benefit. The Killing Fields of Cambodia happened during Carter’s presidency. The right to Life? The Khmer Rouge would argue 1.5 million lives was the price of an egalitarian communist society. How can anyone object? On the basis that the right to life of the victims had been violated? But Farmer argues that rights are non-absolute. The Khmer Rouge would agree.

Too “extreme” an example, you say? That’s not what Farmer meant? What about the rights to property, association, and free speech?

Our equation of spending with speech, of consumption with expression, has led to a political arena in which a rich person's or corporation's "speech" is necessarily valued more highly than an average or poor person's speech.

Equal protection of the law does not distinguish between different levels of economic well-being. Farmer Jr. would disagree. The rights to spend your money as you see fit, which necessarily includes spending it on your own expression of ideas; your right to freedom of association in the expression of those ideas; your equality before the law, can be regulated away at the whim of government—the American government—according to Farmer. You’re rich? We’re going to restrict your spending on speech. You’re going to express yourself in cooperation with others—e.g., through a corporation? We’re going to restrict that expression. But all this violates your rights to property, free speech, and freedom of association, and discriminates based on economic status? Rights aren’t absolute, says Farmer. Try to defend your rights? Don’t be so self-absorbed, retorts Farmer.

To be sure, rights as absolute does not mean the “right” to do as you please, regardless of the consequences. Context is crucial to understanding the absolutism of individual rights; and that context is provided by the concept of unalienability. When the Founders described rights as “unalienable” in the Declaration of Independence, they knew what they were doing. Rights are political guarantees to freedom of action. But since rights are possessed equally and at all times by all people—that “all men are created equal”—no person’s actions in exercising his rights by definition cannot infringe on the same rights of another. Put another way, you have a right to act on your own judgement, so long as your actions don’t alienate others from their rights: “Your right to swing your arms,” so the saying goes, “ends where my nose begins.” Properly understood, the principle of rights defines both the scope and the limits of human action in a social context. Yes, rights are absolute, within the context of unalienability.

To concretize this principle, let’s turn to a classic example: You scream “FIRE” in a crowded theater. Criminalizing such “speech” is not that you said it, but that you caused physical harm to others—the theater operator, by disrupting his business, and theatergoers, by disrupting their enjoyment of the service they paid for and in a way that could result in injury and/or death resulting from the stampede to evacuate the theater. Prosecuting you the offender is not an infringement on your freedom of speech, because free speech does not extend to using your speech as a means of causing physical harm to others, which is a violation of their rights. There is no right to violate the rights of others. This is entirely different from legally restricting the rights of a rich man to spend his own money expressing himself in the political arena, which violates no one else’s rights.
But according to Farmer and his Leftist, statist cohorts, rights are not absolute and therefore are alienable. The whole purpose of his glorification of Carter’s attack on “self-indulgence” is a repudiation of America’s concept of rights. Why? Because Farmer is a statist, and if individual rights are absolute, then by logical extension the government is limited, as the Founders intended, “to secure these rights.” If individual rights are not absolute, then by logical extension the power of the state is absolute, free to violate rights at will. Historically, the concept of liberty has pitted two opposing views against one another, the wolf’s and the sheep’s. The wolf’s concept of liberty is the freedom to dominate the lives, efforts, and property of others, what Carter would call “a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others." The sheep’s concept of liberty is the freedom to control one’s own life, efforts, and property without coercive interference or impediments from others, what the Founding Fathers would call “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Either the government protects the sheep from the wolf, as the Founders intended— “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” Or the government becomes the wolf. Farmer sides with the wolfish, not limited, government. Then we no longer have a constitution that protects us from state power. We are not free to govern our own lives and make our own choices—not in the intellectual sphere, not in economics, not in personal morals, not in any matter concerning our lives and happiness, not as long as government has the power to compromise and regulate away our rights to govern our lives. We can only choose and act according to how the government permits, not by right. If rights are not absolute, there are no rights, only permissions. End of America, and regression back to obedience to authority, to the absolute state.

Constitutional republicanism, the original American system, represents the sheep’s version of freedom. It raises the protection of individual rights above democracy, thus limiting the power of factions by limiting the power of government. Another name for this is laissez-faire capitalism, the system of voluntary trade that rewards the peaceful, non-predatory pursuit of self-interest through win-win relationships--i.e., trade. This is the “unknown ideal” that the statists, particularly those on the Left like Carter and Farmer jr., doesn’t want you to know exists.

The regulatory welfare state represents the wolf’s version of freedom. It fosters predatory, greedy “self-interest”—the parasite and the power-luster, the very things Carter allegedly warns against. Notice that if we are approaching the nightmare scenario Carter warns against, it is against a backdrop of an ever-expanding welfare state—not capitalism, individual rights (including rights to property and free speech), and free unregulated markets, which have long been receding. It was the government’s regulatory apparatus and the politicians’ altruistic “affordable housing” crusade that gave us the Great Recession.

The danger should now be obvious. Freedom can only be guaranteed by the principle of individual rights. Principles, by definition, are absolute. A non-absolute principle is a fundamental contradiction. Principles can only be upheld in full—or not at all. A principle must, of necessity, be “extreme”—i.e., upheld consistently. Likewise, there is no such thing as a non-absolute right. If your “rights” can be compromised or regulated away, they are not rights, but privileges. Either the principle of rights, properly understood, is held as absolute. Or there are no rights, and there is no freedom. By failing to distinguish between proper (rights-respecting) and improper (rights-violating) actions, non-absolutes like Farmer and their political puppets undermine and ultimately destroy genuine rights, and thus freedom—not all at once, but over time, as and when they can get away with it, progressively, inexorably, compromise by compromise, regulation by regulation.

As I said at the outset, beware people who attack self-interest. They’re about to take something from you. That is the real lesson, and warning, to be drawn from this article. It is your freedom that Carter and Farmer are after. The Left has always hated that America stands for the primacy of individual freedom, guaranteed by unalienable individual rights, to pursue personal happiness. That stands in the way of their statist agenda. I’ll defend my rights selfishly, that is, rationally. Give me the Declaration of Independence and its promise of life, liberty, and the guiltless pursuit of happiness over Farmer’s mistaken idea of freedom. In other words, give me “every right as absolute,” not the state as absolute. Give me—not Trumpism; not Progressivism; not any substitute. Give me Americanism.

Related Reading:

MassMutual’s Vile Trivialization of Americanism

Democracy Fundamentalism vs. Americanism

The Declaration of Independence Is the Moral and Legal Foundation of America by Timothy Sandefur for The Objective Standard

The Choice is Clear: 'Unconstrained' Capitalism or Unconstrained Socialist Government

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Real Conflict Undergirding the Kavanaugh Fight: Democracism versus Republicanism

In answer to the QUORA question, What do you think of the Kavanaugh allegation, now that his accuser's identity has become public?, I posted this answer:

This Kavanaugh fight is not fundamentally about sexual misconduct. It’s not a referendum on the #MeToo Movement. We all know that in the reverse situation, the Democrats would be circling the wagons around their nominee, and discarding Ford as a political hack and a liar. They’ve proven that in buckets-full. Think the 1990s Clinton era.

Modern Supreme Court confirmation fights are fundamentally all about political philosophy; specifically, about how the U.S. Constitution should be construed. Is our constitution democratic or republican (speaking philosophically, not politically)? Does the constitution grant elected legislators a blank check on power over the governed, based on “the will of the people?” Or does the constitution check the power of legislators in order to protect the individual rights of the governed from legislative encroachments. Does the constitution guarantee majority rule, or individual self-governance? Is the Supreme Court a rubber stamp on political power, stepping in only when proper “democratic procedures” have not been followed? Or does the Supreme Court police legislation, overturning laws that violate the rights of individuals to life, liberty, and earned property? Are “rights” government grants of privilege? Or do rights precede government, whose job is to “secure these rights” as laid out in the Declaration of Independence? Is the ballot box a majoritarian assault weapon? Or are our individual liberties and properties safe from majoritarian tyranny?

This philosophical conflict dates back to the Founding era, and forms the basis for the two major political parties. The Democratic Party was formed to defend slavery, largely on the grounds that the U.S. Constitution authorizes voters and their representatives to decide whether to allow slavery. The Republican Party was formed to abolish slavery on the grounds that individual rights to life, liberty, and property are inalienable, apply to all, and cannot be voted or legislated away.

Viewing the Kavanaugh allegations in this political context, the 21 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are acting in accordance with their respective party’s philosophical foundations, which grew out of this constitutional divide. The political issues have obviously changed. But the basic philosophical divide remains, and its resolution has serious consequences for the future of a free America. The Democrats are backing Ford not because they care about her or her issues, but because they are hard core (though with exceptions) democratic constitutionalists and so want SCOTUS justices most likely to protect unlimited legislative powers. The Republicans are mostly giving Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt, at least for now, because they are generally (though far from consistently) republican constitutionalists who want justices more likely to defend individual rights against legislative encroachments.


Another answer posted by Nikki Primrose is very sympathetic to Christine Blasey Ford. Primrose drew on an issue that we're hearing a lot about during the Kavanaugh saga when she wrote: 

I believe in the presumption of innocence, but there are exceptions. When we are appointing someone to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court, when we are selecting someone who will literally have the power to decide the future of our country, we have to err on the side of caution. We do not have to declare him guilty, but he is not entitled to this privilege. When his character and integrity is in question, we have to put the interest of our democracy first. Is it really too much to ask for SCOTUS appointees who haven’t been accused of sexual assault?
My emphasis. I commented:

“I believe in the presumption of innocence, but there are exceptions.”

I sympathize with much of this post. But personal opinion about the credibility of Ford vs. Kavanaugh should not be used as a pretext to undermine a core moral principle of justice. Once you start making exceptions to “innocent until proven guilty,” then no one is safe from being the next “exception.” It’s an opening wedge of prosecutorial and political tyranny.

SCOTUS confirmations are a political process, not a criminal trial. It is not and should not be a referendum on the “presumption of innocence” principle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

QUORA *: ‘What makes someone a socialist?'

QUORA *: ‘What makes someone a socialist? Please don't provide tautological answers saying "they belong to the Socialist Party”. If you can't refrain, then explain what makes a party a "socialist" party.

I posted this answer:

I think this question needs rephrasing. Nothing “makes” someone a socialist. People have free will, and choose their political principles according to their values. A more proper framing of the question would be something like “What draws someone to socialism?” or “Why do people choose socialism?” To answer that, we must first define socialism in its essentials.

Socialism is an outgrowth of collectivism. Collectivism is the doctrine that the good of the group is the standard of morality. Since socialism is a political manifestation of collectivism, socialism embodies the principle that the good of society takes precedence over the individual pursuing his own good. “Society,” however, is an abstraction. Society is not a conscious entity separate from the individuals that comprise it. It is not an entity capable of acting in its own interests, or even choosing its own interests. Only individuals are capable of acting and choosing. Individuals can collaborate voluntarily to cooperatively advance interests they have in common. But only individuals can act and choose. Society is comprised of individuals. Yet socialism claims that society has interests that supersede the interests of the individuals that comprise it. Since society cannot act on its own--that is, independent of individual thought and initiative--who, then, assumes the authority to represent society’s interests? A ruling political elite, acting through the mechanism of the state.

Since socialism holds that the interests of society morally supercede the interests of the individual, the socialist government, to fulfill its function as representative of society, must hold full power over all individuals’ lives—their property, their goals, the proceeds of their productive work, what they may say or write, and so on—which it can dispose of for whatever it deems to be “in the public interest” or to further “the good of society.” Therefore, socialism denies individual rights, including rights to property and free trade. Of necessity, the individual has no rights to his life, political liberty, earned property, or pursuit of personal happiness: He exists to serve society as determined by the state.

Socialism has many forms. It can be total, as with national socialism (fascist) or communism. It can be partial, as with the welfare state. But whatever its manifestation, the basics of socialism remain the same. Every socialist initiative begins with armed aggression by the state against private individuals, based on the premise that the individual’s life is not his own to live, but belongs to society.

What type of person does such a system appeal to? Since socialism forcibly redistributes wealth from those who earned it to those who don’t, it appeals to greed. Since socialism requires totalitarian powers for government officials, it appeals to powerlust. Since socialism systematically punishes and ultimately destroys productive individuals, it appeals to envy and hatred of achievement. Add to that a craving for unearned prestige; i.e., the desire to be seen as “caring about the welfare of others,” without actually having do do anything for the welfare of others--socialism is a cover to force others to pay for craver’s pseudo-compassion, with the government as his hired gun. So socialism has appeal to the phony. Greed, powerlust, envy, hatred, and phoniness, or some combination thereof, are what draws people to socialism. Why these vices and nothing better? Because virtuous motivations belong to the self-responsible people who simply want to live in peaceful coexistence with others, neither being controlled by others nor controlling others, and who respect the same rights of others to live by their own judgement. Self-responsible, respectful people who fully understand what socialism actually is simply are not attracted to socialism.**

There is, however, a more innocent (or less guilty) group of socialism supporters. As I observed at the outset, socialism is rooted in collectivism. Going deeper, collectivism is rooted in the morality of altruism. Altruism holds that self-sacrificial service to others is the standard of moral action. Because they accept the conventional altruist morality, they see socialism as altruistic because it subordinates individuals to live for others (the collective) rather than themselves. So they logically jump to the conclusion that socialism therefore must be good. This last group may not really understand socialism. Or they may rationalize away socialism’s horrific record as “socialism not done right.” For this group, the draw of socialism is their concept of the moral. In this regard, I’ll defer to Craig Biddle’s article, The Passion of Socialists, for his important observations on the moral motivation behind socialism’s draw, and to my Quora answer to Is Ayn Rand wrong about

That said, there is a certain sense in which socialists are “made.” Ignorance plays a major role. The strongest support for socialism in America is among the young, who are in, or just left the grip of, an educational establishment that whitewashes socialism’s true inhumane nature and obliterates capitalism’s historic benevolence. Many, though by no means all, of these young people are thus unwitting accomplices in paving the road for a socialist America. I attribute this unwittingness to the collapse of education in America. Kids are simply not taught to think; to conceptualize and apply concepts to all related concretes. They do not think in principles, making them unable to “connect the dots”; that is, to understand the essentials of socialism so they can recognize socialism when they see it: No two socialist regimes are the same. But are all united by the same principles--the all-powerful state, the subordination of the individual to some vaguely defined collective good, and the sacrifice of productiveness to incompetence, wealth to need, justice to mob “might makes right” rule, and virtue to vice. This is why, in witnessing the collapse of yet another country under socialism--Venezuela--we once again hear that “That’s not real socialism!” with hordes of people gulled into giving the next socialist gang, the democratic socialists of America, the same power justified by the same principles that the Chavez-Maduro regime used to tyrannize Venezuela.

Socialism in whatever manifestation is akin to the criminal element rising up from the underworld to rule the nation. It is from start to finish a criminal enterprise. It is marked by theft, slavery, and murder--and nothing else. “What makes someone a socialist?” Greed, powerlust, envy, phoniness, and a false sense of moral righteousness, aided and abetted by the deliberate campaign of ignorance of the collectivists’ educational intelligencia, all of it camouflaged behind high-minded collectivist slogans like “social welfare” or “the common good.”

Related Reading:

QUORA: ‘Can you start a purely communist society in the US?’

QUORA *: ‘Why do people find communism so terrifying as an idea?’

A is A, and Socialism by any Other Name...

Sorry If You're Offended, but Socialism Leads to Misery and Destitution: “Socialism is the leading man-made cause of death and misery in human existence.”--David Harsanyi

* [Quora is a social media website founded by two former Facebook employees. According to Wikipedia:
Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010.[3]Quora aggregates questions and answers to topics. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.[4]
You can also reply to other users’ answers.]

** [Unfortunately, too many people are ignorant of socialism’s true nature, and are thus falling for its latest incarnation, democratic socialism--which simply replaces the socialist dictatorship-by-coup d’état, the communist version, with a socialist dictatorship created by constitutional/democratic means. Put bluntly, democratic socialism simply replaces the Stalin, Mao, or Castro with the Mussolini, the Hitler, or the Chavez.]

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Hijacking of the #MeToo Movement?

The article Millions of women understand Christine Blasey Ford’s decades of silence by Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak starts out with an intelligent overview of the difficulties faced by sexual assault victims and why they remain in silent suffering for years or decades. So I was disappointed and outraged to read Dvorak’s conclusion:
My friend who wrote her attacker’s obituary has an idea about this. And I love it.

“Should all victims of sexual assault who remained silent all these years/decades converge onto Washington to support Professor Ford and her testimony against Judge Kavanaugh?” she asked. “As a long silent victim, I say, ‘Hell, yes.’ Sometimes it takes decades to pronounce your truth. Stand tall and proud, Professor Ford. Legions of silent and traumatized women and men are with you. Let’s expose this dirty — not so little — secret.”

What do you say? What if we launch a #MeToo March on Washington for everyone who has kept silent all these years?

I bet it would be the biggest march in the capital’s history.

I believe the #MeToo movement was a healthy grassroots attempt to highlight and eradicate a serious injustice. But the movement is increasingly being taken over by collectivism, which means that the individual is subordinate to the moral supremacy of the group. Under collectivism, the innocence or guilt of any individual is to be judged not by objective facts but by his group affiliation.

#MeToo is collectivizing into a war on men--all men. Petula Dvorak of the WAPO calls for a “#MeToo March on Washington” this week in one-sided support for Ford ahead of any testimony and prior to the surfacing of relevant facts or proof. Jenna Wortham of the NYT wants “every single man put on notice, to know that they, too, were vulnerable because women were talking.”

This is pure hatred. This is racism. This is collectivism. If “every single man” should fear any woman “talking,” then any man can legitimately be accused of sexual harassment, whether he as an individual is guilty or not. Why not? He’s a man. He’s guilty no matter the actual facts of any individual case, because men as a group are guilty.

Sexual predators should be brought to account. That’s the original intent of #MeToo. But the rise of collectivism within the #MeToo movement indicates that the movement has lost its moral legitimacy. It appears to be turning into an old fashioned witch hunt. Couple that with the modern Democrats’ willingness to do or say anything or destroy anyone’s character to further their totalitarian socialist designs on America, and the trustworthiness of Ford’s (or anyone else’s) accusations against Kavanaugh becomes suspect. Ford could be a Democrat “plant” who is “talking” not to expose actual wrongdoing by Kavanaugh but to put “every single man put on notice, to know that they, too, were vulnerable,” which is exactly what collectivism says is the right thing to do. This fits neatly into Democrats’ desperate efforts to keep off the Supreme Court any justice who views the constitution as it should be viewed--as a check on legislative power and safeguard of the inalienable rights of the individual. You cannot have socialism and individual rights in the same place at the same time. The collectivist takeover of #MeToo also fits neatly into the Democrats’ smearing of all Republicans as racist homophobic women haters. Given these collectivist motivations, it is more than likely that Kavanaugh is a victim of politically motivated false accusations and character assassination.

Just as the Civil Rights Movement started out as a legitimate demand by an oppressed group that America live up to its creed of equal individual rights, but was hijacked by statists who turned it into a collectivist movement for totalitarian socialism, so it looks like the #MeToo movement is being hijacked by a predatory, collectivist, revenge-seeking gang that is on the hunt for innocent victims to condemn without evidence, without a hearing, and without the benefit of Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

This is a shame. Ford may be courageously telling the truth, but her credibility is being severely undercut by collectivist witch-hunting and political powerlust. Or she may be involved in a sleazy Democrat plot to derail Kavanaugh. The timing of her coming forward, and the way she came forward--going to Democrat Dianne Feinstein rather than Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley--indicates the latter. As Reason’s Shikha Dalmia correctly observes, “Taking down decent men on flimsy grounds will discredit #MeToo. Movements collapse when they become more interested in collecting heads than advancing their cause.”


Collectivism is an insidious evil. In practice, collectivism is by far the greatest killer in human history. The collectivist worldview--identifying individuals only as members of groups--begins with the branding of entire groups for political advantage and ends with killing fields, gas chambers, and mass beheadings. The Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, the German genocide, the Cambodian genocide, the Ukrainian genocide: You name the genocide, and it stems from branding of entire groups--whether groupings based on race, or gender, or nationality, or creed, or economic status, or political affiliation, or other category--as the object of moral concern, regardless of the actions or characters of the individuals that comprise the group.

Related Reading:

Saturday, September 22, 2018

QUORA: My Scariest, Riskiest ‘Investment’ that Paid Off---and that I'll Never Do Again

QUORA *: Have you ever made a very risky investment that paid off big time?

QUORA *: What was the riskiest investment you made that paid off?

I posted the following answer to both questions (click here and here):

In 1980, I bought 100 shares of Sante Fe International, an oilfield services firm, for about $28 per share. Then I got greedy. I bought 400 more shares on margin. When the stock dropped to $24, I called my broker to buy more on margin. Though he tried to discourage me, I still bought 100 more shares, for a total margin loan of nearly $14,000. That was a LOT of money for us in those days.

As it turns out, 1980 was right at the peak of the 1970s oil boom. From a peak of near $40 per barrel ($121 in today’s dollars), the price of crude oil would drop to below $10 ($25) by 1986, on its way to about $6 ($15) by the late 1990s. We were about to lose our shirts. But one Friday in 1981, the stock didn’t trade. I called my broker, whose secretary said he didn’t know anything, but an announcement was pending for the following Monday.

On Monday, the government of Kuwait announced that it was buying Sante Fe International for $52 per share. I paid off my loan, got back my initial $2800 cash investment, leaving a total profit of more than $14,000.

Phew! As it turned out, the oilfield services stocks dropped precipitously, losing most of their value in the subsequent few years. The Kuwaiti government was criticized for overpaying for Sante Fe. But they bailed us (actually, me) out of a very stupid ‘investment’ decision. That was the first and last time I ever bought stock on margin.

Related Reading:

Wall Street’s ‘Unfairness’ Shouldn’t Scare the ‘Little Guy’ Out of the Stock Market

* [Quora is a social media website founded by two former Facebook employees. According to Wikipedia:

Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010.[3]Quora aggregates questions and answers to topics. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.[4]

You can also reply to other users’ answers.]

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Note to #FREEPRESS: A Free Press Derives from Freedom of Speech

The New Jersey Star-Ledger joined a coordinated global editorial campaign to defend freedom of the press “in light of President Trump’s frequent attacks on the media.” Led by The Boston Globe’s #FREEPRESS campaign, the global barrage aims to push back against Trump’s labeling of the mainstream press “the enemy of the people.” In Think your enemy is the press? So does every tyrant and corrupt politician, the Star-Ledger gives a spirited defense of a free press, saying:

Like Putin, or Stalin, Trump knows he doesn't need to convince his base that everything he says is true; just that everybody else is a liar, including the press that fact-checks him. Because when people believe that the real truth is unknowable, they grow cynical, and prefer to tune out and believe no one.

And so we have "the enemy of the people," a phrase straight out of George Orwell's dark imagination. But the real enemy of the people is never a free press, which holds the powerful accountable. It is a government that wants to be the sole arbiter of truth.

My emphasis. I left these comments:

A free press is a derivative of free speech, which belongs to everyone. Yet free speech is under attack, including by much of the press. The attack masquerades as fighting “fake news”--a term that came to us courtesy of the left after Trump’s win. The attack comes as “net neutrality,” “campaign finance reform,” calls to ban “hate speech,” fear mongering about so-called “dark money,” and other gimmicks. It comes in the form of political threats, such as when Senator Diane Feinstein told Facebook, Google, and Twitter that their platforms were being “misused,” "and you have to be the ones who do something about it—or we will”--which is censorship by proxy.

Much of the press, including the Star-Ledger, supports these free speech restrictions. That’s shocking. You can't have freedom of the press without freedom of speech, which makes freedom of speech the more fundamental right. Restrict freedom of speech for non-press individuals, and sooner or later the restrictions will be extended to the press. It is truly disingenuous to lecture us on the importance of press freedom while supporting free speech restrictions on everyone else.

Journalists are not some privileged elite. Their free speech rights are no more important than anyone else’s. Except in very narrow cases where speech is directly and imminently linked to violence or fraud—which are really not free speech issues—no one’s freedom of speech and expression should be restricted. All free speech is vital to individual liberty, to a free republic, and to truth-seeking.


There’s no question that a free press is a vital means of holding the government accountable. But who holds the press accountable--especially a press that is complicit in supporting a statist political faction that seeks to roll back individual rights not just to speech but gun ownership, free association, and property? The rest of us--the non-press masses--through our rights to express ourselves at our own expense, that's who. Who the hell is the Star-Ledger to stop us from holding them accountable?

Note the precision of the Framers. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” First speech, then freedom of the press. It’s obvious that speech is the broader principle. Press is a form of free speech, but not the only form. If this is not clear enough, observe that a journalist reporting on a President’s policy is practicing freedom of the press, but also necessarily practicing freedom of speech. But someone giving a speech in a lecture hall on that policy is necessarily expressing her freedom of speech, even though not press freedom.

It’s shocking that so much of the press, especially on the Left, so strongly fights to restrict freedom of speech for the rest of us, when a few moments of thought should tell them that there is no way to restrict others’ speech and claim that such restrictions shouldn’t be applied to the press, as well.
Related Reading:

The First Amendment

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

Obama Urges Amendment to Overturn the First Amendment

Anti-First Amendment Democracy for All Amendment Introduced in Senate

Citizens United and the Battle for Free Speech in America—Steve Simpson

Steve Simpson on Continuing Threats to Corporate Free SpeechTOS interview

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

16 Year Old Voters? How About 21?

There is a movement to lower the voting age to 16. In a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column, We see the power of mobilized youth. Now lower the voting age, Rutgers-Camden professor Dan Hart argues the case. “Sixteen- and 17-year-olds,” Hart argues, “have the capabilities necessary to vote effectively.”

I left these comments:

Lower the voting age to 16? Aren’t the schools mediocre enough already?

You’ll get uneducated teenagers who haven’t learned to articulate their own viewpoints--in fact, likely haven’t even developed their own viewpoints--being sent out to vote. That’s completely backward. Far more important to a free society than the vote is freedom of speech. Foundational to free speech is the ability to think objectively and independently, so one can use one’s intellectual freedom most effectively. From what I’ve observed, schools don’t educate. They indoctrinate--especially on politically charged issues.

Given that America’s schools are dominated by a political action group, the so-called Teachers Union, this is not surprising. Giving 16 year olds the vote is in effect giving the teachers extra votes. Unless, of course, the parents de-program their kids, in which case the parents most likely get an extra vote.

Even politicized schools aside, politics has no place in the schools. On what basis do children form opinions that are actually their own? Informed political opinions begin with a firm and BALANCED foundation in political philosophy, not just civics. And in economics. Where do they get that? Most of what kids learn, especially about current political events, comes after the high school years, in their adult years when they begin to get real life experience. The schools should be focussed on training young minds how to think and analyze, and gain a love of learning. Schools shouldn’t be corrupted by politicization. If anything, it’d be better to raise the voting age to 21.

Related Reading:

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

Why It’s Time To Raise The Voting Age Back To 21—Robert Tracinski

Sunday, September 16, 2018

On This Constitution Day, Remember the Declaration of Independence

230 years ago, on September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention ended and the Constitution of the United States of America was signed. This day is officially known as Constitution Day.

It was also an occasion for one columnist to declare that the US Constitution is "broken." The New Jersey Star-Ledger's Tom Moran wrote five years ago:

Kids in America are taught to venerate the Constitution, almost as if it were the word of God.

And that’s exactly what Thomas Jefferson feared. He believed it was flawed, that experience would teach each generation new lessons and that it should be redone every 19 years.

But Jefferson lost the argument. And so the Founders signed a Constitution 225 [230] years ago tomorrow that is an impregnable fortress, firmly set against the forces of change that Jefferson welcomed and almost impossible to amend.

Does that make sense? Haven’t we learned valuable lessons over the past few centuries about how democracies thrive, and how they stagnate? In a day when our federal government is so dysfunctional, shouldn't we at least consider fundamental changes?

University of Texas Professor Sanford Levinson is advocating a series of such fundamental changes to the US Constitution, which Moran discusses in his column. Levinson's proposals include instituting a direct popular vote for president and measures to greatly weaken the checks and balances that limit the power of any one branch of government. In essence, Levinson's purpose, according to Moran, is to expand the power of majority rule and break Washington's political "gridlock," which has made our federal government "dysfunctional."

Moran approvingly cites Thomas Jefferson who, as Moran strongly implies, would welcome these constitutional changes, or any changes suited to any generation.

Before we discuss ways to expand the power of electoral majority rule so as to enable the government to get more done, we need to have a conversation about what the government's proper job it is to do.

The American constitution's basic function is to limit government's power to the protection of individual rights. This is spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, the philosophical blueprint for the constitution. Any discussion about the constitution has to begin with the Declaration--which, incidentally, was written by Thomas Jefferson:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .

In its essentials, this 55 word statement of proper government says:

  • Rights are held equally and at all times by all people.
  • Rights belong inextricably to the individual by virtue of his nature as a human being.
  • Rights are guarantees to freedom of action; to the pursuit of happiness, not to happiness guaranteed by the labor or wealth of others.
  • Rights precede government.
  • Government is created exclusively to “secure”—i.e., protect—rights.
  • Government’s “just powers” being authorized by the people, through a popular vote.
  • “Just powers” being only those powers required for government to fulfill the purpose for which it was created to begin with—to legally protect the people’s unalienable individual rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Of course, this is not the "Word of God," to be accepted uncritically. Each of these points requires extensive philosophical backup. None of these "truths" are in fact "self-evident." They must be learned and validated scientifically; i.e., morally and philosophically, as determined by the observable facts of reality concerning man and his requirements for survival and flourishing. But these are the essentials, as I see it.

The Founders did not intend to create a democracy, despite Moran's devious attempt to smuggle in that premise. They created a constitutionally limited republic protective of the liberty and rights of the individual, under which the constitution "carefully limits the power of the majority by drawing a legal boundry around it" (P. 113)—a boundry that stops majority and elected officials' power where individual rights begin. The Founders understood that government presupposes individual rights. So the constitutional discussion must begin with the questions: What are rights, and what is the proper function of government?

As the Declaration states, every individual is "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Since productive work is the only means of sustaining one's life and achieving happiness, it's obvious that the Founders understood--including in Jefferson's own words--that property rights are among those rights. The Declaration then states "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." Rights—which in fact are not endowments by either nature or God but moral principles derived from observations and facts about human nature—are sanctions to freedom of action in a social context, not a claim on the lives and property of others or a government guarantee of material well-being and happiness. Notice that the constitution does not authorize government to redistribute private wealth.

Moran is wrong. America hasn't stagnated. It has "progressed" from what was a largely free country a century ago to a burgeoning regulatory welfare state—a dangerous regressionary trend. Why? Because the fundamental principles upon which the constitution rests have been largely abandoned, opening the door to the piecemeal progression toward unlimited majoritarian rule, a manifestation of totalitarianism. Consequently, our best short-term protection against further encroachments on individual rights--and it's a weak protection--is political gridlock. I can't think of anything more dangerous to America's future than to begin tampering with the basics of the constitution in today's cultural environment. Before we consider unshackling majority rule, we must rediscover our Founding principles, roll back the regulatory welfare state, and provide ironclad guarantees that no one's rights be alienated by majority vote; i.e., respect the original intent of the constitution.

The Founders did not intend to replace absolute monarchy with absolute majority rule unconstrained by the principle of individual rights. As Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) asked during a debate over the propriety of the Revolutionary War in the movie "The Patriot", "Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away? An elected legislature can trample a man's rights as easily as a king can."

The answer: We shouldn't. As Jefferson said, "the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society." The Founders were not primarily concerned with giving the people the right to vote. They intended to liberate the people from predatory government, whether monarchistic, theocratic, or democratic.

There are those who would invert the original concept of Americanism—that the individual is sovereign and his life belongs to him—and replace it with the idea that the collective—i.e., the state—is sovereign over the individual. It is an attempted transition from republican constitutionalism to democracy; from individualism to collectivism. We cannot let the reactionaries succeed. The fight to defeat the reactionaries and restore and renew Americanism can start with this: As we celebrate Constitution Day, remember what I call the Constitution’s philosophic blueprint, or what has also been called the Conscience of the Constitution—the Declaration of Independence.

Related Reading:

Friday, September 14, 2018

QUORA: ‘How do capitalists justify the inequality/high disparity part of a capitalistic society that a socialistic system tends to stop?’

I posted this answer:

First of all, let’s define “inequality/high disparity.” Political inequality is unequivocally bad: It means the absence of equal protection of the law. Capitalism is the system of political equality—that is, the inalienable individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness and its corollary, the equal protection thereof under the law.

Second, let’s be clear that we are talking about when we say “capitalists.” I am answering as a capitalist in the broad philosophical sense, not in the narrower sense as a businessperson or investor.

Economic inequality/high disparity is a sign of a healthy and highly moral society where each individual is free to rise economically as far as his own personal attributes—his rationality, ability, ambition, values, goals, interests, temperaments, natural potentialities, personal circumstances, moral character, et al—will productively carry him. How high any productive individual’s attributes will carry him is determined not by central state planners (physical coercion) but by the market—that is, the cumulative voluntary choices of the individuals the producer trades with.            

Why “highly moral?” Because in a capitalist society, where force is banned from human relationships and government protects individual rights equally and at all times, the only way to advance economically is to earn (make) money is through voluntary trade; that is, to produce a value that others, by their own judgment, willingly pay you for.** Trade is the win-win exchange of value for value. To make money is to create value for others. Those who make a lot of money are those who produce a lot of value for a lot of people. Those who make mega-fortunes improve the lives for millions. I love my Dell computer, which I’m typing on right now. It’s made my life better. Should I resent Michael Dell his fortune, just because there are tens of millions of other similar individual Dell owners? But it doesn’t end there. Michael Dell benefits once—my payment--and in an incalculably small way. I benefit every time I turn on my Dell computer, for as long as I have it. It’s more than five years worth of benefit, and counting. Inequality? You bet. I benefit vastly more from my one Dell computer than Michael Dell does. Dell’s fortune results from the fact that there are tens of millions of beneficiaries just like me. What great humanitarians the Michael Dells of the world are!

Capitalist economic inequality is not bad. It is capitalism’s virtue. What can be more virtuous than a social system whereby the rich build their fortunes by lifting everyone they deal with.

Socialism is immoral precisely because it seeks to equalize people in direct contradiction to the rich diversity across the individual spectrum of society. Socialism is thoroughly utopian--that is, contrary to human nature--by philosophical design. By design, socialism—in the name of stopping inequality—forcibly prevents people from expressing their personal desires and attributes through economic activity, impoverishing everyone. Stop someone from making money, and you stop his would-have-been customers from improving their lives. Perhaps the worst part of socialism is not that it prevents the best and brightest from flourishing and making the world a better place. The worst part of socialism that it kills aspiration and hope of ever flourishing and prospering, sacrificing upward mobility on the altar of economic equality.

Capitalism—of which I mean laissez-faire, not today’s cronyistic, mixed economy regulatory welfare states—naturally results from freedom, which means the right of each individual to pursue his own happiness, for his own sake, by his own effort, so long as he respects the same rights of others, dealing with others by voluntary consent to mutual advantage, in a free market, without government favors. Such human interaction results in economic inequality. Capitalists do not have to “justify”  economic inequality/high disparity, because it is not a flaw. Inequality/high disparity should be celebrated. It is the economic justification of capitalism. The only way to kill inequality is to cripple individual achievement by force, which is why socialism always leads to economic paralysis and collapse, and ultimately to totalitarianism of one form or another (e.g., communism, national socialism, etc.). Political equality and economic inequality are corollary, mutually reinforcing hallmarks of capitalism, which is why capitalism is the only moral social system. Socialism is capitalism’s antipode.

Related Reading:

* [Quora is a social media website founded by two former Facebook employees. According to Wikipedia:

Quora is a question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010.[3]Quora aggregates questions and answers to topics. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.[4]

You can also reply to other users’ answers.]

** [NOTE: money “earned” through fraud is not truly earned, and laws against fraud are vital to capitalism. Also, I am leaving aside the issue of gifting or inheritance, which is irrelevant to the current discussion.]