Tuesday, February 26, 2019

QUORA: “What exactly do ‘Democratic Socialists’ want?”

I posted this answer:

Political power.

Before we go further, let’s define what we mean by “socialism”. The idea of socialism has been around for hundreds of years, at least since the original communist, Plato. The goals and principles of socialism can be and have been pursued and adopted in a variety of ways, including through voluntary associations. When we speak of socialism in the modern sense, we mean it in the full, political, totalitarian Marxian sense--the total subordination of the individual to “society” as represented by the state.

Democratic socialists are of the latter, Marxist sense. That’s why democratic socialists turn to politics. As a leading disciple of Karl Marx understood, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” And so democratic socialists seek political power: Democratic socialism grows out of the barrel of a gun. It is, of necessity, totalitarian. Adding “democratic” in front of “socialism” changes essentially nothing. Freedom is not the right to vote. An elected dictator is still a dictator. Freedom is the right to live your life regardless of the results of any election.

Let’s examine a rising “star” of the Left, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. The 28 year-old Cortez could have gone into a money making career, where she would have spent a lifetime earning a real living by creating real value for people willing to voluntarily pay her. Instead, she went into politics. What motivates an obviously ambitious, smart, talented young person into a “career” in politics? Raw, naked powerlust, as a reflection of an utter disregard of the rights of others to live by their own judgement and values--the power to legally force her values on everyone else.

So, given the choice between the field of economic power, which derives from voluntary, mutually beneficial trade, and the field of political power, Cortez and her socialist ilk choose political power. They bring nothing of economic value to the trade “table”; not goods or services, not jobs, not investment opportunity. The only thing they bring to society’s “table” is a gun—and a vision for how to run other people’s lives. Rather than choose a productive career, they opt to control those who produce.*

One can observe in concrete terms exactly what Democratic Socialists want by examining the avalanche of legislative bills they’re proposed or advocated since the midterm elections. All involve increasing economic controls and taxes that go well beyond the redistributive welfare state “safety net.” To “grease the skids” for their agenda, they seek more concentration of power in the federal government by demolishing the checks and balances put into place by the Founding Fathers to restrain government power.

But when you cut through the veneer of slogans, what you find under the surface of a socialist, democratic or otherwise, is naked powerlust. If this were not true, they wouldn’t choose a political “career.” Not content to solve what they see as problems by private means, with like-minded people, leaving those who disagree free to go their own way unmolested as other socialist-minded Americans have done in the past**, democratic socialists seek to force dissenters into subservience. Modern democratic socialists are more clever than their 20th century communist predecessors. They play the “long game,” sneaking in socialism piecemeal, in stages, and without--yet--the wholesale confiscation of private business and property. Their approach is more fascistic--that is, they seek control of business and the economy by regulation and taxation, rather than state ownership of “the means of production.” They are national socialists, not international socialists. But their essential collectivist goals are the same as the communists, driven by the age-old dream of all Marxists--some utopian vision for the wholesale reshaping of society by naked force, without regard for human nature and the consequences for actual individual human lives and their inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.

* [As to the millions who vote the socialists into power, they are more concerned with running other people’s lives than in preserving their rights to govern their own lives. Their motivations run from greed to envy. See my Quora answer to “What makes someone a socialist?”]

** [ See, for example, The Communistic Societies of the United States; Harmony, Oneida, the Shakers, and Others by Charles Nordhoff and History of American Socialisms by John Humphrey Noyes. Consider also the Israeli Kibbutz.]

*** [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.]

Sunday, February 24, 2019

QUORA: ‘Right’ to Healthcare vs. the Sixth Amendment Right to Legal Counsel

I posted this answer:

The Sixth Amendment reads:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

When people claim health care is a “right,” they usually mean a “right” to health care whether you can pay for it or not, in which case others must be forced to provide it. You obviously have a right to health care that you buy from willing providers, or access in other ways based on voluntary consent, such as voluntary charity. It is in this second sense that the Sixth Amendment recognizes the accused's’ right to be represented by counsel. It clearly does not recognize any right to compel others to provide that counsel.

It’s true that today taxpayers and/or lawyers are forced to provide counsel to people who cannot afford it. It’s arguable whether this should be so. But providing counsel to an accused is not analogous to providing goods or services like health care at others’ expense. Given that criminal prosecution is a legitimate governmental function that proceeds from the proper purpose of government, which is to secure the inalienable individual rights of its citizens, it’s hard to see how the government can fulfill its obligation to provide a fair trial to a defendant who is not represented by counsel.

The fact is that the power to forcibly redistribute wealth from one private person to another is not among the enumerated powers constitutionally granted to the government. Then Illinois state senator and Constitutional scholar Barack Obama acknowledged this fact, though he considered it to be a flaw rather than one of the Founding Fathers’ great achievements, the constitutional protection of private property rights. The Sixth Amendment “right to legal counsel” and the “right to health care” as it is commonly meant are not the same thing. The first relates to the prosecutorial function, mandated by the constitution. The second relates to redistribution of wealth, which is not constitutionally authorized.

Related Reading:

Health Care is Not a Right
--Leonard Peikoff

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Socialism's Totalitarian Nature Cannot Be Obscured by 'Democratic Socialism'

A recent guest column in the New Jersey Star-Ledger is titled I’m a socialist and a historian, socialism is blooming again in N.J. - this time in the age of Trump. Whitney Strub takes pains to separate democratic socialism from socialism’s brutal history in practice:

The president himself frequently denounces socialism, and last fall, the White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a scathing report, report, “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism.” None of this is worth taking seriously at an intellectual level; the 70-page report is full of inane attempts to link U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to such historical figures as Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong. It insinuates that somehow “Medicare-for-all” will repeat the “tens of millions of deaths by starvation” in Stalinist Russia. Even as scare tactics, this is a joke.

In reality, cherry-picked examples from the worst of Soviet and Maoist authoritarianism tell us nothing about socialist politics here in New Jersey. “Socialism” is as broad a term as “capitalism,” but at its core, it is about working people benefiting from their own labor, and economic and political arrangements that ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and resources, in stark contrast to our current system that is glaringly skewed toward the wealthy.

Of course, under no socialist system do workers--all workers--benefit from their labor. The proceeds of labor are controlled by the state. Strub acknowledges as much. Wealth and resources are distributed not by market forces--that is, by the cumulative voluntary choices of free people, as under capitalism--but by the state--that is, by force. How do you get “Medicare-for-all” without forcing everyone into the program whether they agree or not? That forcing into “[fill-in-the-blank] for all” is exactly what drives a Castro or a Mao or a Stalin, whether it’s collectivized farms or factories or healthcare.

Strub goes on to muddy the intellectual waters. She names several groups that fought for allegedly socialist causes, never identifying their means: Did they employ private voluntary means, or coercive legal means? She says only:

What unites all of these groups is the fight for the rights of workers, women, African-Americans, immigrants and all marginalized and oppressed groups.

Rights are guarantees to freedom of non-rights violating action. Group organizations that are voluntary associations are right-respecting, and fight for genuine individual rights. They are not socialist in the modern, Marxian sense. But Strub is clearly referring to Marxism, as she mentions him favorably in the article. There is no doubt that there have been oppressed groups in America. But extending equal protection of individual rights to all, not equal enslavement of all under a totalitarian state, is the proper answer. Strub concludes:

The Democratic Socialists of America is a big-tent organization of many beliefs and strategies, but its core principle is that “working people should run both the economy and society democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few.”

If Strub is referring to genuine individual rights, she’s not talking about socialism. If she’s talking about genuine socialism, she’s not talking about rights, which belong to capitalism and free markets--that is, privately controlled economy and society to each meet her own needs through work, trade, or other voluntary means..

I left these comments:

A “democratically run economy and society” is a government that totally controls our economic and social lives.

Economics is the field of activity by which people support their lives. A government that totally controls the economy has total control over people’s means of survival. A government with total control over people's means of survival is a government that has every individual by the throat. What freedom, what opposition, what dissent, is possible under such conditions? Does it matter if it is elected? A government, of whatever kind, that has every individual by the throat is a totalitarian state.

Don’t be suckered by “democratic.” It only means you give up your precious personal “vote”--the power to live by your own choices--in exchange for a meaningless political vote, buried among millions. You get to vote for the dictators that control your life. But an elected master is still a master, and a voting slave is still a slave. Freedom is not the right to vote. Freedom is the right to live your life regardless of anyone else's vote or the outcome of any election.

There’s a reason democratic socialists turn to politics. As a leading disciple of Marx understood, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” So democratic socialists seek political power: All socialism grows out of the barrel of a gun. Modern democratic socialists are more clever than their communist predecessors. They play the “long game,” achieving their goals in stages, and without the wholesale confiscation of private business and property. But a system that subordinates the individual to the political power of politicians to engineer “a radical redistribution of power and wealth and a radical restructuring of our social system” from the individual to the state is a redux of Mao and Stalin.


It’s true that few people who self-identify as “democratic socialists” want the terror of the Castros, Maos, and Stalins. But the totalitarian underpinnings of the democratic socialists does not differ from those communists in any essential degree. The essence of socialism is the denial of individual rights. In “What is Democratic Socialism?” from the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, we read that “Democracy and socialism go hand in hand.” This is oh-so-true; the fruits of the two century-long effort by the Democratic Party and its offspring, the so-called Progressive Movement, to convince Americans that the country the Founding Fathers created is an unrestrained democracy, rather than a limited government republic.

Strub’s talk of rights is a smoke screen to muddle the totalitarian goals of the Democratic Socialists of America. Rights encompass life, liberty, and property. The rights violations of democratic socialism begins with property, which requires violating liberty to dispose of property. Next is life, in the form of political prisons and killing fields. How do you resist, once you’ve submitted to a government that denies your liberty and property rights, the essence of what it means to live? Once the socialists come to power, do you think they will allow you to simply vote them out of power?

The answer is no. As the socialist intellectual Robert L. Heilbroner explained in 1982, socialism is incompatible with individual freedom. In What Is Socialism?, Heilbroner wrote  “If socialism seeks to avoid both the anarchy and alienation of capitalism, it must seek to break the hold of the market, not merely over the economy but over the mind.” Socialists can exploit capitalism’s “tolerance of dissent” to gain power, Heilbroner explains, but then must not allow dissent to undermine their power. Once in power, socialists must understand that

Dissents, disagreements, and departures from norms then assume a far more threatening aspect than under bourgeois society, for they hold out the possibility of destroying the very commitment to a moral consensus by which socialist society differs from capitalist.

Nor can we wriggle off this hook by asserting that, among its moral commitments, socialism will choose to include the rights of individuals to their Millian liberties. For that celebration of individualism is directly opposed to the basic socialist commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal.

Strub’s attempt to distance democratic socialism from “the worst of Soviet and Maoist authoritarianism” rings hollow. And remember that Hitler, Mussolini, and Chavez, socialists all, came to power by democratic/constitutional means--and all promptly consolidated power into a dictatorship. Democracy, properly understood, is totalitarian. So is socialism. The Democratic Socialists of America understand this. So should we.

Related Reading:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

In Medical-Aid-in-Dying Debate, Remember the Doctors’ Rights

In Let us die our own way, New Jersey Star-Ledger guest columnist Laurie Wilcox made an impassioned plea on behalf of herself and her sister for passage of NJ’s Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Act (A1504/S1072). The Act would legalize doctor-assisted suicide that “would provide terminally ill New Jerseyans with six months or less to live the option of medical aid in dying to peacefully end intolerable suffering.”

One of the objections opponents raise is that there is a risk that unscrupulous people will abuse the freedom by coercing disabled people into unwanted suicide. Wilcox made the most effective argument against this objection, one that I have used. After pointing out that “the New Jersey legislation has more than a dozen safeguards to prevent abuse and coercion,” Wilcox argued:

The reality is there will never be enough safeguards for some people who oppose medical aid in dying. All my sister and I ask is that our lawmakers not allow a minority of New Jerseyans to deny this option to a majority of their constituents like us who want it.

I have been a strong supporter of the legalization of assisted suicide.

I left these comments, slightly edited for clarity:

The "option" to use medical aid in dying is more than that: It is an inalienable individual right, derived from our rights to life and liberty. By the logic of the opponents, no rights, and no freedom, is possible. After all, what rights, including rights to freedom of speech, religion, and property, are not subject to abuse by a small number of people?

My main concern is that doctors be free to decide whether to participate in aid in dying, based on their own individual conscientious moral beliefs. Given our mandate-happy politicians, that freedom for doctors is not at all a given. For all the talk of patients’ “rights,” the one group that gets the least consideration--the group without which there are no healthcare issues to discuss--is the doctors.

As a person nearing 70, the right to manage one's own end of life is important to me. So I support the concept of legalized medical aid in dying, but only insofar as doctors' equally important freedom to choose is equally protected.

Related Reading:

             Quality vs. Quantity
, by Christina Symanski

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The 'Watermelon' Analogy is Real, and it is Dangerous

Free market advocates have often used the watermelon analogy--”green on the outside, red on the inside”--to describe the relationship between the Environmentalism movement and socialists. As the theory goes, socialism was supposed to bring prosperity to all while capitalism collapsed into a perpetual cycle of the rich getting richer while “the masses” got poorer. When the reality was that as the rich got richer, the general standard of living, even for the poor, soared, socialists faced a crisis. The crisis was deepened when it became clear that the poverty of the socialist countries was “achieved” by brutal, repressive tyrannies.

But they didn’t give up their socialist dreams. They came up with a new mantra to advance socialism--Environmentalism, originally called Ecology. The new playbook claimed that all of this capitalist prosperity was ruining the Earth. The original culprit was pollution, a very real problem. But rather than give up on capitalism, Americans cleaned up the pollution, but largely kept the capitalism. The prosperity and industrial progress continued on a progressively cleaner path. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the crisis reached its climax.

The socialists then turned to climate change, the ultimate environmental catastrophe. “It’s climate change” can be trotted out to explain every bad thing, from routine extreme weather, to corporate bankruptcies, to terrorism. In order to save the planet’s climate, draconian central planning--i.e., socialism--must be imposed on all economic activity..

There is plenty of evidence to back the watermelon analogy. The Environmentalism/socialism partnership is getting more open about their aims, with climate change emerging as the leader on the Environmentalist side.

For example, the latest United Nations IPCC climate assessment “Summary for Policymakers” called for “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to reign in global warming. These drastic actions, the report states, could be folded into other political goals, such as “go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society” and “efforts to eradicate poverty.”

In November, Reason’s Ronald Bailey reported in November 2018 on a New York Times op-ed by Benjamin Y. Fong titled The Climate Crisis? It's Capitalism, Stupid, in which Fong argued:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It's capitalism that is at fault.

Congresswoman and self-described Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chimed in about her “Green New Deal.” As Ronald Bailey reported in December 2018,

"This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil rights movement of our generation," declaimed Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) at a "Solving Our Climate Crisis" townhall this week. She was referring to the idea of a Green New Deal, which Mother Jones describes as "a complete realignment of the U.S. economy for a carbon-free future." Not wanting for ambition, Ocasio-Cortez added this goal: "We can use the transition to 100 percent renewable energy as the vehicle to establish economic, racial and social justice in America."

All italics are mine.

Terms like “a complete realignment of the U.S. economy” and “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are the kinds of utopian dreams that totalitarian central planners have always salivated about. Terms like “economic, racial and social justice” are collectivist--i.e., socialist--terms. Real justice is individual, and it belongs to capitalism, the system of individual rights.

Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez recently called climate change "Our World War II," referring to the younger generation. Nick Gillespie pointed to the link to the IPCC report. O-C literally said the world would end by 2030 "if we don't address climate change. 2030 happens to be the IPCC's deadline date for its “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society." Fits nicely with O-C's totalitarian socialist agenda.

There it is--the watermelon in action. The analogy is true. And it makes sense. After all, humans survive and flourish only by changing the environment. And what social system leaves people free to reshape the natural world to his benefit, if not capitalism, the system of freedom of production and trade? What government coercion aimed at crushing this freedom can not be justified by so vague a goal as “fighting climate change?”

'Climate Change' Ideology is a reformulation of anti-Capitalism; the perfect vehicle for aspiring totalitarian socialists. The watermelon analogy is real, and it is dangerous.

Related Reading:

Destroy Capitalism to Save the Climate, Argues New York Times Op-Ed: Centrally planning the climate will work about as well as centrally planning economies did. by Ronald Bailey

Can the Democrats Really Win 2020 with a New Green Deal?
--Ronald Bailey

If there is one positive thing the Green New Deal does, it’s that it brings to light the fact that much of the environmentalist agenda is just a thinly veiled vehicle for implementing far-left socialism.