Wednesday, July 31, 2019

If We’re Going to Place Blame, then Fossil Fuel Consumers are the Real Climate Culprits

In The City of Paris goes full stupid – considers climate lawsuit over flooding, Anthony Watts discusses the movement that seeks to place responsibility for weather disasters allegedly caused by climate change on fossil fuel companies. Specifically:

The City of Paris decided today to explore possibilities to sue the fossil fuel industry for causing climate damages, following the example of New York and other US cities.

The Paris initiative was triggered by flooding caused by heavy rains, which supposedly resulted from climate change allegedly caused by burning of fossil fuels. Watts cites a FUBAR press release from Bill McKibben’s

“It’s fantastic news that cities like New York and Paris are stepping up to protect their citizens and hold fossil fuel corporations accountable for the harm they cause. This is a major breakthrough for divestment campaigners around the world that have been pushing cities to take a stand against the polluters wrecking our climate.”

My emphasis. But the fossil fuel companies are in business only to the extent that consuming citizens that McKibben and his anti-energy ilk claim to want to protect voluntarily buy their products. This is true of every industry. If a consumer buys a product, and uses it the way it is intended, then the consumer is responsible. 

If a gun buyer kills someone, the buyer, not the gun manufacturer, is the guilty party.

If a drunk drives off in his car and kills someone, it’s the car buyer, not the car manufacturer, that is the guilty party.

If I dump old paint into a stream, it is I, not the paint company that sold me the paint, that is guilty of polluting. 

Likewise, if we accept the Paris argument on its face, if I buy a tankful of heating oil for the oil burner that heats my house and supplies hot water, it is I, not the company that provided me the heating oil, who is guilty of causing the floods. 

My question is, aren't the consumers of fossil fuels at least as legally liable as the companies? After all, it’s well known that burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So consumers know full well (or should know) of the alleged climate effects of the fossil fuels they willingly use. This means that the inhabitants of Paris, who drive cars, use electricity, buy food produced on farms using fossil fuel-powered equipment, and virtually any good produced in a modern factory, are themselves guilty of causing the flooding in their city. What about the city officials, who failed to ban the use of any energy produced with the product of the fossil fuel industry and who allowed the sale of myriad products within city limits that was produced in factories using fossil-powered energy?

In dismissing a climate change damage lawsuit based on the reasoning of the City of Paris, Federal Judge William Alsup correctly observed:

With respect to balancing the social utility against the gravity of the anticipated harm, it is true that carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels has caused (and will continue to cause) global warming. But against that negative, we must weigh this positive: our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal. Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?

Fossil fuel villainization from the climate warriors are not looking to “protect our citizens.” They are among our greatest enemies by seeking to take away the vital energy that every aspect of our lives depend upon. But if there is blame to be placed, every consumer need only look in the mirror.

Related Reading:

Sunday, July 28, 2019

QUORA: ‘Would people's basic needs eventually be fully met by the free market?'

QUORA *: ‘If we cut out welfare and allowed capitalism to take its course, would people's basic needs eventually be fully met by the free market?

I posted this answer:

First, let’s clarify. I assume that by “welfare” the question refers to government force-imposed redistribution of wealth. A private social safety net made up of voluntary charity, welfare, mutual aid societies, and the like, which existed before the modern welfare state, would continue to exist and grow under fully free market capitalism. Nobody proposes to “cut out welfare.” We who advocate capitalism are against government-run welfare, not welfare as such; in effect, we support a separation of charity and state.    

That said, the question misrepresents the nature of the economy and of free market capitalism. This is of crucial importance, because underlying all political debate is the conflict between two diametrically opposed social principles—collectivism vs. individualism—a conflict dating back at least 2500 years. Historically, political theory assumed top-down control of the people by a ruling elite (statism). The only debate was primarily over who would rule, and how. Statism is fundamentally collectivist, with rulers acting (allegedly) on behalf of the group good, however the rulers define it. But there is an opposing theory—that theory holds that the individual has the inalienable right to govern his own life and pursue his own happiness, with the state as the agent to protect the individual’s sovereignty and freedom. Capitalism arose on that opposite basis.

So, it’s critical to frame the issue correctly. 

First, I reject the collectivist premise of the question outright. Capitalism can only be evaluated on the basis of its fundamental nature, individualism. The question implies the mystical, collectivist premise that “the economy” exists to take care of people because the average person is not capable of taking care of himself and/or is not responsible for his own life, and must depend on some authority to provide for his basic needs. That collectivist premise is the rationalization for capitalism’s antipode, socialism. But it is not the basis of capitalism. Capitalism holds that every individual is equipped with the capacity to provide for his own needs, morally must do so, and politically should be free to do so. 

Second, what we call “the economy” is not an entity above and apart from people: It is the sum of the efforts of productive individuals. Capitalism establishes the proper social conditions to allow productive individuals to work and trade. Capitalism, through unhampered markets (the freedom to work and trade), leaves people free to provide for their own individual economic welfare, by their own self-interested individual efforts. Unlike under socialism, in which you live and work for the state, a capitalist government does not command and confiscate people’s economic activity and wealth in order to provide benefits. Instead, it secures peoples’ rights to earn their own living through work, cooperation, and voluntary trade with others (a free market). Of course, in a fully free market, some people, through incapacity or misfortune, cannot provide for themselves and would have to depend on others’ charity and support or on some sort of voluntary “social safety net”. And there are those who resent the self-responsibility that human nature and freedom demands, who may be too lazy or irresponsible to provide for themselves. Capitalism doesn’t guarantee that everyone will meet their own needs and flourish. It guarantees that each individual will be free to do so, and to keep whatever she or he earns, in whatever amount, by inalienable right.

What the free market “provides”  in goods is whatever productive individuals are willing to create and offer for trade. As a self-responsible individual, each person must provide for his own needs. As a consumer, each individual must decide his own needs, and choose from offerings in the market to fulfill those needs. History has shown that the natural result of free markets--that is, people sharing, through trade with each other, the fruits of their own work through the division of labor--is an enormously broad array of wealth production to meet every conceivable desire and need, as well as desires and needs we didn’t know we had until some entrepreneur conceived of it, made available for trade by individuals pursuing their own individual happiness. The result is a rising general standard of living, precisely because the vast majority of people are capable and willing to meet their own needs and desires by their own productiveness. 

I would ask the questioner, if you were free to pursue your own values and happiness, would you be willing and capable of supporting yourself? Or do you think the world owes you a living? Government protection of your freedom based on individual rights to life, liberty, earned property, and the pursuit of happiness is what a free market secures. The rest is up to you. 

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.]

Thursday, July 25, 2019

T. Patrick Hill: Wrong on Religious Freedom and ‘Equal Protection Under Law’

The intersection of intellectual freedom with government controls is evident in the long-running controversy surrounding the government’s reproductive, or birth control, mandates. 

In a secular and pluralistic society, such as the United States today, religious exemptions as public policy are a contradiction in terms. Under the U.S. Constitution, individuals enjoy the right to practice religion. At the same time, the Constitution prohibits any kind of state-sponsored religion. Constitutionally speaking, the practice of religion is a private not a public matter, even though it takes place in public.

Why then did President Trump recently issue rules affording healthcare providers, insurers and employers the protection of their religious beliefs against providing such services as abortion and sterilization?

Exemptions to laws on religious grounds, but not other grounds, are definitely unfair. Providers should be free to decide who they do or do not treat, consistent with contractual terms, on any ethical grounds as a matter of individual rights. However, on religious freedom, Hill is dead wrong. Hill does not explain how government protecting the freedom to non-rights violating religious practice, in this case refusing to provide abortion or sterilization services consistent with the providers’ private religious convictions, amounts to a government establishment or sponsorship of religion.

Yet that is what Hill is arguing. And he frames his view in constitutional terms. I left these comments, expanded and edited for clarity *:

Religious freedom—freedom of conscience—means the right of each person to live by his own conscientious beliefs, so long as he respects and does not violate the same rights of others. This means that a person has the moral right to consume contraceptives, but no right to force any pharmacist to provide the contraceptives. Likewise, the pharmacist has a moral right to refuse to provide contraceptives, but no right to forbid anyone from going elsewhere to get it, or forbid other pharmacists from filling the prescription. Either way, no one’s rights are violated.

The same goes for abortion or any other healthcare product. There is no right to healthcare—to legally force someone to provide it—only the right to pursue healthcare from willing providers on mutually agreed terms. This principle goes beyond the reproductive mandates, to all healthcare mandates. Forcing anyone to provide, or buy, services against her will violates the government’s purpose to protect individual rights. 

Hill goes on:

How can we secure the constitutional principle of equal protection under law when the justification for the law is a set of beliefs that cannot be shared beyond the believer precisely because they are religious?

In light of Hill’s reference to the Equal Protection Clause, it is stunning to read the following:

Obviously, the believer is at liberty to undergo or not medical treatment on the basis of his or her beliefs since the decision is self-regarding. But of course that is not possible in the case of a healthcare provider, whose treatment decisions are unavoidably other-regarding, involving patients.

This is a moral perversion. Hill is essentially saying that health providers are not entitled to live “on the basis of his or her beliefs” because they provide the services. That is fundamentally unethical, and unequal treatment under law. Providers are not slaves. Providers have the same “self-regarding” right to conscience as everyone else--and rights by definition govern relationships with others**. Protecting pharmacists’ right to refuse is not “law [that] prohibits the fulfillment of the prescription.” No one is proposing to prohibit any pharmacist from proscribing any legal substance. By protecting religious rights (or any right), government is doing its job of protecting rights equally, both of the consumer and of the provider. Just as no one should be forced to undergo medical treatment against his or her will, so no one should be forced to provide medical treatment against his or her will.

Hill jumps through myriad hoops to twist logic onto his side. I agree that there should be no religious exemptions to laws. But neither should anyone be exempt from the protection of their individual rights. Each of us has a right to our own conscientious beliefs, but no “right” to force our beliefs on others. Yet forcing beliefs on others is exactly what the reproductive mandates for contraception, abortion, sterilization, etc. do. If it is wrong for government to establish religious beliefs, it is equally wrong for government to establish any moral beliefs. Religious freedom = freedom of conscience, because religion has no monopoly on moral beliefs. Freedom of conscience extends to both believers—the consumer and the provider. The First Amendment, interpreted fundamentally and in its full context, protects intellectual freedom, which is the right of each person to live by his own conscientious beliefs, so long as he respects and does not violate the same rights of others. 

Related Reading:

How the Catholic Church Paved the Way for the Birth Control Mandate

Related Viewing:

Ayn Rand on Free Speech and Church-State Separation --Onkar Ghate explains the broader meaning of the First Amendment.

*[Once again, the Star-Ledger has blocked my comments from public view; that is, it appears when I am signed in but disappears when I sign out. It does that often, for reasons no one will explain to me.

**[Absent a social setting or relationships with others, rights are absurd. The purpose of individual rights is to prevent others from violating your rights. If you are alone on a deserted island, who can violate your rights?]

Monday, July 22, 2019

Bernie Sanders’ Evil Takes Root

Three and a half years ago, in January 2016, I posted a piece titled China’s Recovery from Socialism vs. Bernie Sanders, The Most Evil Politician in America, in which I said:

Mao’s grand utopian experiment is estimated to have killed 40-60 million people. Keep that gargantuan famine in mind when you consider Bernie Sanders, the openly self-described “democratic socialist” who has a real chance of becoming America’s next president. China under Mao’s collectivism is what real socialism looks like. Sanders’ policies are actually far from undiluted socialism. But by dressing up his comparatively benign welfare state agenda in the garb of socialism, Sanders is creating in many people’s minds—in particular the uninformed minds of the young—the false idea that socialism isn’t so bad—and even good; in effect, camouflaging socialism’s blood-drenched history under a cloak of respectability and even compassion. This sanitization of socialism, to the extent it takes hold in American culture, will make it easier to push through more and more socialist “reforms” in the future, accelerating an unsuspecting America down the road to full, totalitarian socialism. 

Given the bloody, authoritarian, impoverished history of socialism in all of its manifestations, including the democratic and nationalist brands, Bernie Sanders’ sanitization of socialism makes him, in my view, the most evil politician in America.

Since then, the Democratic Socialist movement has taken off. How far it gets is to be determined. But my warning about Sanders appears to be on target. As Reason’s Robby Soave observes, Socialism Is Back, and the Kids Are Loving It:

[P]eople like Sanders have studiously worked to get a softer definition of socialism into circulation. Throughout the 20th century, the word evoked either the working class directly seizing the means of production or the government nationalizing industries, setting prices, and reducing or abolishing the right to own private property. The latter was much more common in practice, and the countries that took that route—the Soviet Union, mainland China, the Eastern European states, etc.—had horrific human rights records. Socialist regimes found it necessary to negate a whole host of individual rights and to arrest or murder dissidents in order to realize their ends.

But the founders of the DSA rejected Soviet-style socialism. 

Despite his own advanced age—and even though he's not a member of the group himself— Sanders is by far the person most responsible for bringing this wave of young people into the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America]. His groundbreaking 2016 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination helped spread socialist ideas to a generation born after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Bernie Sanders is who introduced me to socialism," says Alex Pellitteri, co-chair of New York City's chapter of the DSA's youth arm, the Young Democratic Socialists of America. "I was a Democrat, I was a liberal, but I had never really crossed that line to socialism."

Essentially, Sanders has done for democratic socialism what Ron Paul did for libertarianism in the late '00s: make it an exciting, cool, radical alternative to the mainstream parties' staid orthodoxies.

How did Sanders and his proteges sanitize socialism? By ignoring the essential totalitarian nature of Marxian socialism. Soave:

When today's most prominent democratic socialists are asked to explain their ideology, they tend to skimp on the substantial structural questions and lean on paeans to dignity, generosity, and equality. Sanders has defined democratic socialism as "the understanding that all of our people live in security and dignity" and "a government and an economy and a society which works for all." Ocasio-Cortez defines it as "democratic participation in our economic dignity."

It shouldn't be surprising that democratic socialism, reduced to a set of pleasant-sounding buzzwords and some proposals to give more people free stuff, is having a moment.

Soave asks, “How dangerous is the democratic socialist resurgence?” Very. “So far, the strategy is working,” he concludes. “If you assumed that socialism's appalling 20th century failures would relegate it permanently to the ash heap of history, you were wrong.”

I agree. We have to learn to “see through” the pleasant-sounding buzzwords and slogans and get to the structural questions--the essentials--of democratic socialism. For example, “the economy” is the sum of the efforts of productive people working and trading in pursuit of their own individual well-being. For the government to ensure “an economy and a society which works for all,” it must control the work, property, and lives of productive members of society; i.e., establish a totalitarian slave state. There is no other way. Either individuals are free to live for themselves (capitalism), or they live for the state (socialism).

This is the challenge. Think through the slogans. Ask how they will be achieved. Don’t be suckered by the DSA’s rejection of Soviet-style socialism. In every respect, the means to their benign-sounding ends grows out of the barrel of a governmental gun. In the end, whatever “style” emerges, socialism is totalitarian. It can be no other way, or reach any other destination.

Related Reading:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Don’t Be Suckered by Pete Buttigieg’s ‘Democratic Capitalism’

In Pete Buttigieg, Democratic Capitalist, Reason’s Zuri Davis writes “The good news: Capitalism is working its way back to the Democratic mainstream. The bad news: This capitalism comes with a whole lot of government.” Davis is referring to Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is running under the label Democratic Capitalism:

Buttigieg told CNN it's generally assumed that those who support capitalism also support democracy. In his view, though, democracy and capitalism are "coming into contention" with one another.

"It was very alarming to hear recently one of the president's economic advisers said that between capitalism and democracy, he would choose capitalism," said the South Bend mayor. "I would say the reverse ought to be true, that at the end of the day we prioritize democracy. And, you know, having that framework of a rule of law, fairness, is actually what takes markets to work."

But capitalism has always been in “contention” with democracy, with good reason. They are opposites. The first is based on freedom based on individual rights, with people governing their own lives. The second is majoritarianism--that is, top-down government control by elected political elites.

Davis takes heart that a Democratic candidate is introducing the capitalist label into the Democrats’ politics in a positive way. But pro-capitalists shouldn’t take heart. Granted, the term “democracy” is so vaguely understood that it’s hard to know precisely what Buttigieg means by the term. But he is running for president, so I’m taking at his word that by “democracy,” he means democracy. That being the case, Buttigieg’s democratic capitalism it’s just a trojan horse for democratic socialism--which means, socialism.

Another Reason columnist, Brittany Hunter, has a better grasp of what’s at stake. In What Should We Make of Peter Buttigieg’s “Democratic Capitalism”?, Hunter observes:

[Buttigieg’s] views are not all that different than those of other candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. A true believer in individual rights and private property would never sacrifice the free market to the will of the majority. [my emphasis]

Do not confuse democracy with the democratic process in a constitutional republic. If by “democracy” we mean the limited electoral authority in a constitutional republic, there is no conflict between capitalism and democracy, since the freedom of the individual is not at risk. However, capitalism is incompatible with genuine democracy, which places no constraints on the government’s force over individuals. In any conflict between force and voluntarism, force will win--which means, in any conflict between democracy and capitalism, democracy wins, making capitalism nonfunctional.

Freedom is not the right to vote. Freedom is the right to live your life regardless of anyone else’s vote, so long as you respect the same rights of others. In the proper understanding of the terms, democracy can exist without capitalism, but not the other way around. Capitalism, the system of inalienable individual liberty, cannot survive genuine democracy, the system of majority rule.

Related Reading:

Recommended for further study: on democracy and freedom, see Timothy Sandefur, The Conscience of the Constitution, especially Chapter One, “Democracy and Freedom”; on capitalism and freedom, see Andrew Bernstein, Capitalism Unbound: The Incontestable Moral Case for Individual Rights; and on the connection between rights and politics, see Tara Smith, “Moral Rights and Political Freedom.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

‘Reparations’; Another Leftist Path to Socialism

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker demands study on reparations for slavery, decries ‘hideous legacy’ during historic House hearing. So headlined a 6/19/19 article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger by  Jonathan D. Salant | NJ Advance Media for “This idea that [reparations is] just about writing a check from one American to another falls far short of the importance of this conversation,” said Booker. Yes, it sure does. Read on:

“As a nation, we have yet to truly acknowledge and grapple with the racism and white supremacy that tainted this country’s founding and continues to cause persistent and deep racial disparities and inequality,” Booker said in his prepared testimony.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., put the kibosh on Booker’s bill a day before the hearing.

I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea," he said on Capitol Hill.

On Sirius XM Wednesday, Booker lashed back at McConnell, saying his statement contained a “tremendous amount of ignorance."

Booker said in the radio interview that the debate was about obtaining “equality of opportunity, a leveling of our economic playing fields, health playing fields, housing playing fields" and "addressing those past consciously racial harms and wounds.”

At the hearing, Booker said in his prepared testimony that long after slavery ended, blacks were excluded from the programs that helped lead whites out of poverty .

“Many of our bedrock domestic policies that have ushered millions of Americans into the middle class, stimulating generational wealth and opportunity, like the GI bill, and Social Security, were intentionally designed to exclude blacks.”

The article concluded with a quote from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who said “Slavery is the original sin.” By which she means, America’s Original Sin--a term that was first introduced (as far as I know) by presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008. I knew then that Obama was laying the philosophical groundwork for future assault on Americanism.

I posted these comments, edited for clarity *:

I agree with McConnell. I also agree with Booker that there’s more to the story than writing a check. Government policies like Jim Crow and Separate but Equal did oppress blacks. Local zoning powers and government schools suppress economic opportunities today.

But it is not socialist government policies like SS and the GI Bill that “lead whites out of poverty”. It was the individualism of capitalism that liberated productive people to earn their way to middle class prosperity (and in turn fund those programs). The basic historical problem is that capitalist freedom was not at first extended to all Americans. 

The thing is, given freedom, an individual can make an end run around legacies and pursue and achieve success. I think MLK had it right in his Dream speech when he urged America to simply live up to its “promise that all men—yes, black men as well as white men—would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Nobody needs nor deserves equality in any sense but one: Give people equality of rights under law, and who could stop them? 

Yet building on the absurd assertion that white socialism, rather than individual initiative, lifted white people, Booker wants socialism for black people as “reparations.” Like “climate change,” “reparations” is being seized on as a path to power for the Democrats to replace Americanism with socialism. But socialism is antithetical to Americanism.

True, King’s politics drifted toward socialism. But he had it right the first time. People need freedom, not handouts of opportunity, income, health, housing, and whatever life challenges that socialist tyrants might conjure up. Slavery is not some “Original Sin,” a collective guilt that can only be cleansed by perpetual socialist tyranny. Slavery is a form of restriction on freedom, of which only Americanism is the antidote.

Slavery is a stain on the United States of America in the sense that it violated the very principles of Americanism--individualism and equality of political freedom. But slavery is no Original Sin of America. The real story of slavery is America’s original virtue and one of Americanism’s proudest successes--the abolition of slavery. That--Abolition--is the true American legacy. It is the legacy that allows Booker and his ilk the freedom to spin their lies regarding the fundamental goodness of American history. 

* [Note: My comments were subsequently blocked by the Star-Ledger under the heading “content disabled.” I have no idea why.]

Related Reading: