Thursday, January 18, 2018

Explaining Charity’s Standing in the Objectivist Ethics

A For the New Intellectuals Facebook Post by Anoop Verma highlighted Yaron Brook’s talk Why Capitalism is the Only Moral System. The post triggered this question by a correspondent:

I'm having some trouble with this topic. If I enjoy serving others, sometimes even at my expense, am I not serving my self [sic]? It brings me I'm getting something out of it. Or maybe that's not the same thing. I'm still learning. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

It’s “serving myself”—self-interested—as long as the service does not come at the expense of something more important to your life and well-being. Otherwise, it’s altruistic—self-sacrificial (self-destructive)—and thus wrong according to the Objectivist Ethics.

“Service”, of course, is a broad term. For example, serving others is the act one performs in making money. Productive people serve their customers or their bosses or whomever is paying them for the service. That is called trade. Making money—earning a living—is vital to living. Money is not the only form of payment, though. Trade is broader that money. Joy is a form of payment. But if the service the questioner speaks of comes at the expense of money or time or effort needed for purposes more important to you, then the joy is not worth it and therefore not selfish, and therefore not moral. Personal well-being is a long-term process to the rationally selfish individual. With very rare exceptions involving emergencies, the long-term always trumps immediate gratification. Would you go out of your way to serve a stranger if the cost is standing up a friend who is counting on you? Risking a friendship, not to mention your reputation for trustworthiness, for the sake of momentary joy is neither selfish nor rational.

Let me step back a second. Ethics was one of the hardest aspects about Objectivism for me to grasp. It took me years to grasp that altruism is not about good will or serving others, and that selfishness, properly understood, is not about screwing others. Altruism is about making one’s own life worse; that is, giving up a greater value for a lessor value or a non-value; that is, self-sacrificially serving others. Objectivism holds that one’s actions should always be self-beneficial, not self-sacrificial. There is nothing about the Objectivist Ethics, called rational selfishness, that stands in the way of serving others, even if only as an act of goodwill and benevolence. Other people (or causes that benefit people you don’t even know) certainly can be a value to a rationally selfish person.

Which brings us to the starting point of the Objectivist ethics. The Objectivist ethics starts with the observable fact that human life, like all life, is about values—specifically, for humans, the need to pursue, achieve, and to protect the values that your life and flourishing depend on, from material values like food, shelter, phones, and cars, to the spiritual like human relationships or relaxation. Humans need a philosophic guide to figure out what is good or bad for them, which leads to the need for a moral code. This leads to the question above—when is it moral to serve others for the mere joy of it? The Objectivist ethics holds that one must perform the task of hierarchizing one’s values by importance to one’s life; a hierarchy of values geared not to the short term but to the long term context of one’s entire life. Once you have established a proper value hierarchy, you are in a better position to judge whether a given action or goal is rationally selfish or self-sacrificial.

Only when the service rendered advances one’s own values is truly “serving myself”. Let me give an example. My wife and I are both retired. My wife used to volunteer at a food pantry. She quit that to become a CASA volunteer. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. It’s strictly volunteer service that requires the juggling of her time. But none of the time spent working at the food pantry or the more demanding CASA interferes with her personal relationships or activities she loves or in any way undermines her enjoyment of her retirement. She is serving these children, but not in a sacrificial way. That is the Objectivist Ethics—rational selfishness.

On the other hand, volunteer service is not for me. My main retirement interest is writing as a political activist—activism not in regard to the usual Republican vs. Democrat, or conservative vs. liberal, or “Right” vs. “Left”, but in the more fundamental sense of individualism vs. collectivism. I have other activities, as well. But my interests do not involve volunteer service. That, too, is the Objectivist ethics. The Objectivist ethics does not hold service to others as a moral commandment.

My wife and I are both pursuing our interests and values non-sacrificially—that is, not at the expense of our commitment to each other, our children, our friends, our interests, or any other important values. We never deliberately ignore our hierarchy of values.

There is nothing about the Objectivist ethics that doesn’t leave room in one’s hierarchy of values for serving others or giving a helping hand, even to strangers. In the example above, there’s nothing wrong with short-term joy if it doesn’t harm you longer term. The trader principle, exchanging value for value that results in win-win, comes into play whether the payment for service is material or spiritual (no one should ever demand service from you unconditionally, nor should you give it, nor should you ever expect unrewarding service to you from others.) If your payment is spiritual—that is, the mere joy of it—it’s fine as long as it is genuine joy (not a quest for others’ praise or approval) and it doesn’t conflict with what in your own judgement are values more personally important. Self-sacrificial service is never good. It is dishonest, because it ignores one’s own needs. And research is increasing showing that self-sacrificial service—putting others above self—can be psychologically, emotionally, and even physically damaging (See Being empathetic is good, but it can hurt your health, Jennifer Breheny Wallace).

The most fundamental question is not, does this action give me joy or satisfaction, important as those emotions are. Emotions are a reflection of your convictions (right or wrong). They are not a guide to action. Only reason should be your guide. The question is, where does this action fit into my rational hierarchy of values? Am I giving up another value in my service in pursuit of joy? If so, is it a greater or lesser value? If a lesser value, or if the action doesn’t entail giving up another value, and if the service is consistent with your own convictions, the service can be considered self-interested. However, if the action requires the giving up a value that, by one’s own rational judgement, is greater than the value derived from the act of service one is considering, it is a sacrifice and is thus immoral.

Other people can be and often are of great value to us. As long as person(s) are deemed to be worthy according to our own judgement, we should approach them as selfish values, and act accordingly toward them—that is, in accordance to our own value hierarchy—and expect no less in return from them.


Normally, I’d have posted this answer as a reply to the questioner. But Eric MacIntosh replied at length and did a good job, as well as posting a link to his article Other People as Egoistic Values Versus Other People as Objects of Self-Sacrifice in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy. So I didn’t think my explanation, being largely redundant, would add substantially to the conversation (though MacIntosh doesn’t mention Rand’s value hierarchy tool).

Related Reading:

The Objectivist Ethics by Ayn Rand

Books to Aid in Understanding Rational Selfishness

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NJ’s Self-Serve/Full-Serve Gasoline Wars: The Star-Ledger exposes the True Motive Behind Government Regulation

For years, New Jersey was one of only two states that banned motorists from pumping their own gas at public gas stations. With Oregon eliminating its ban, NJ now stands alone.

On January 6, 2017, the New Jersey Star-Ledger whined:

One of the things that makes New Jersey such an attractive state to live in and do business is our quality of life. Here in the Garden State, we don't have to get out of our cars in a freezing tempest, or get smelly gas on our hands. And as we sit snugly in our cars in arctic conditions, we have the comfort of knowing that we are providing jobs.

To the folks who call that elitist: Polls have consistently shown that most New Jerseyans like it this way. Are we all elitists?

This is the will of the people, and legislators ignore that at their peril. Besides, with the very real problems plaguing this state, ask yourself: Why should this even make the list?

Some killjoys - mostly out-of-state transplants - will argue that this isn't an either or. If we just drop the state law that mandates full-service gas, they say, you can get your gas pumped, and I can pump my own. Do not fall for this.

If you see other people getting out into the cold to save a few pennies, you may feel obliged to do the same. Making it a law delivers us from all guilt.

And the reality is, as soon as we eliminate full service at most of the pumps, cars will back up at the one or two pumps that still offer it. Then the majority of people in this state, who do not want to pump their own gas, will be forced to.

Eventually, gas station owners will see that when required to wait, New Jerseyans do pump their own gas, and they will eliminate full service entirely because self-serve is cheaper. And a longstanding, beloved and truly special piece of New Jersey culture will be lost forever.

Those misanthropes who want to force us all to pump our own gas can get their tanks filled in another state.

Here is my Comment on the NJ Star-Ledger editorial N.J. hearts go out to Oregonians, forced to pump their own smelly gas, edited and expanded for clarity:

There is absolutely no justification for government force to be injected into the gas station business where no public safety issue is involved. It’s not true, as Sweeney says, that legalizing self-service means “abandoning full-service gasoline.” Legalizing self-service gas pumps would not outlaw full service. The state would simply be removing itself from the decision-making process. It would end the forced restrictions forbidding station owners from allowing their customers to get out of their cars and do it themselves.

A free market is the only fair solution. Must everything be politicized? Full-service fans should not be allowed to use the government’s law-making powers—the power of the gun—to impose their full service on others who don’t want the cost or inconvenience of someone else pumping his gas. A free market—that is, a market free of coercive political interference—would leave the market—that is, the commutative voluntary choices of gasoline merchants and consumers—to decide. If enough New Jerseyans are willing to wait longer and pay extra for full service, as that poll suggests, service stations would be free to provide it—and will, or lose the customers.

As to “the comfort of knowing that we are providing jobs,” a legitimate—that is, productive—job is one that provides a service that others want and are willing to pay for. Not to denigrate anyone’s work personally, but it must be said: No one has a right to force others to provide him with employment. Otherwise, why not legally mandate that every homeowner hire someone to dig and refill holes in their backyards?

No one would be forced to pump their own gas, as the Star-Ledger absurdly claims. A government mandate is force. Removing the mandate is to remove the force—unless you believe that the person who doesn’t like pumping his own gas has the right to force others to satisfy his every whim. This thinking is a moral and logical inversion. It’s like saying a restaurant patron is “forced” to cut his own steak because the owner doesn’t supply a meat-cutter to do it for him. There are a million and one mundane little tasks that life requires us to do, but which we may not like doing. Does doing these mundane tasks translate into being “forced”? Forced, by whom? By anybody who chooses not to offer the service? (A collectivist would say, by “society”.) The fact that life requires us to perform myriad minor tasks doesn’t mean the state should mandate full-service this, that, or the other thing.

Don’t laugh. As far as I’m concerned, having an attendant pump my gas for me is just as ridiculous as having someone cut my meat. No one has a right to other people’s labor if no one chooses to supply it. Laws outlawing self-service at gas stations force people, under threat of fines (the seizure at gunpoint of his money by government agents), to have someone else do what the customer could safely do for himself without any undue risk to others.

But, the Star-Ledger says, polls show that most people want full-service. If so, then why does it—or the “most New Jerseyans” who allegedly represent “the will of the people”—fear a free market, which incentivizes merchants to cater to customers’ wishes? No answer. It just ridicules the very logical argument that if we “just drop the state law that mandates full-service gas, . . . you can get your gas pumped, and I can pump my own.” “Do not fall for this” argument, the Star-Ledger urges. If self-serve is legalized, more people “may feel obliged to do the same” until “Eventually, gas station owners will see that when required to wait, New Jerseyans do pump their own gas, and they will eliminate full service entirely because self-serve is cheaper.” And that’s the real fear, isn’t it?; that, when given a real choice, people will choose differently from the way the Star-Ledger wants. It’s a rare admission by a statist, and the heart and soul of government regulation—You have no right to act on your judgement: It’s my way or the highway. Completely divorcing itself from logic, and citing polls, the Star-Ledger claims that abolishing the the legal ban on self-service would “force” us to give up full service, thus succumbing to “the tyranny of the minority” (yes, tyranny). What about actual tyranny—the tyranny of the majority? How about no tyranny—that is, a free gas-pumping market?

Related Reading:

A Proposed Compromise on NJ’s Full- vs. Self-Service Gasoline Controversy: Legalize Both

After Big Gas Tax Hike, Will New Jersey Finally End the Ban on Self-Serve Gas?

New Jersey’s Still Debating Whether to Legalize Self-Serve Gasoline

A brief history of why you can't pump your own gas in N.J.—

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. For His Moral Ideals Rather Than His Politics

In commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Peniel E. Joseph, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University, said in a 2014 article:

King emerges as a talented individual whose rhetorical genius at the March on Washington helped elevate an entire nation through his moral power and sheer force of will.

The March on Washington was when King delivered his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech. Joseph goes on:

Yet missing from many of the annual King celebrations is the portrait of a political revolutionary who, over time, evolved into a radical warrior for peace, justice and the eradication of poverty. During his last three years, King the “Dreamer” turned into one of the most eloquent, powerful and scathing critics of American society. King lent his moral force and power to anti-poverty crusades that questioned the economic system of capitalism and called for an end to the Vietnam War. . . . King’s powerful rage against economic exploitation and war is often overlooked when we think of him as only a race-healer.

The "moral power" of King's famous "Dream" speech in Washington was actually the moral power of the Founding Fathers resurrected. In that speech, King reminded Americans of the ideals laid down in the Declaration of Independence—the philosophic blueprint for the constitution and the new nation—and called on Americans to fully live up to those ideals. “In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check,” King said.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a 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." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Yet, King's Dream was to be corrupted by an inner contradiction. In his later years, King questioned the legitimacy of capitalism and turned to what he termed "democratic socialism," a hybrid of two evil systems (democracy and socialism) that repudiates the very ideals he espoused in his speech. Therein lies one of the great American paradoxes—the clash between King the moral force and King the political revolutionary.

When the Founders drafted the Declaration of Independence, they laid down the radical principles that would give birth to capitalism. These 55 brilliant words—the opening lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration—sum up the essence of capitalism:

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. . .

When King reaffirmed those ideals—that all men are created equal, possessing inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness protected equally and at all times under a government of objective law rather than of men—he was really, though apparently unwittingly, affirming the foundational principles of capitalism.

Capitalism is the system based on individual rights, rights-protecting government and the only kind of equality consistent with justice—equality of individual rights before the law. Because of these principles, Capitalism is the only social system that banishes exploitation and war, because individual rights banishes aggressive or initiatory force from human relationships—particularly aggressive force by government against the people. Under capitalism, exploitation is replaced with voluntary trade to mutual benefit among individuals, a win-win in which individuals trade value-for-value and get better together. Capitalism liberates every individual to think and act on his own judgement and work to lift himself from poverty, and protects those who take up that life-affirming challenge from would-be exploiters who don’t. And under capitalism, war is replaced with peaceful coexistence among nations based on that principle of trade.

So why would King uphold the moral principles of capitalism in his most famous speech while repudiating it in his politics? It's obvious that King didn't understand capitalism or fully grasp the moral implications of the Declaration of Independence that he so eloquently honored.

He undoubtedly viewed the America of the 1960s as capitalist, when in fact what America had was a mixed economy; a mixture of economic freedom and government controls—that is to say, an economy corrupted by heavy political interference, which included the virulently anti-capitalist Jim Crow segrgation laws. America in the 1960s was just emerging from a time when large segments of blacks were legally oppressed and hence unable to enjoy “the riches of freedom and the security of justice” that is capitalism. Blacks, King failed to understand, were not victims of capitalism but of statism.

King’s legacy includes an end to state-sponsored segregation and oppression—a monumental achievement. But his democratic socialist political policies also “succeeded,” strengthening and entrenching the mixed economy in America, which he mistakenly perceived as capitalism—the result being, in turn, to reduce economic opportunities for many poor but ambitious people, including African-Americans.

To his credit, King explicitly opposed full-blown socialism, which he believed leads to communism, a system that he correctly understood "forgets that life is individual." But he wrongly believed that "Capitalism forgets that life is social," leading him to his hybrid democratic socialism. He failed to see that capitalism, by leaving individuals free to pursue their own values in the absence of physical coercion, provides the only proper moral foundation for both individual flourishing and robust benevolent social interaction—the moral foundation implicit in the Declaration of Independence, rational egoism.

Thus is the paradox of Martin Luther King.

Commentators like Joseph urge us to elevate his politics to at least the level of his ideals. That, of course, would be an impossible contradictions. But ideas are where the real power lies. Since ideas are the driving force of human events, Martin Luther King, despite his politics, remains one of my heroes. Standing in a line that includes John Locke, the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and Ayn Rand, among others, King reaffirmed America's Founding ideals at a crucial point in American history. That, to me, is his real legacy contribution to America. For that, I am grateful to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal—Ayn Rand

Martin Luther King: Right On Racial Justice, Wrong On ‘Economic Justice’

Related Viewing:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Free the Market to Sort Out the Future Course of the Energy Industry

An international agency representing 29 major nations is reporting that the U.S. to Dominate Oil Markets After Biggest Boom in World History. As Grant Smith reports for Bloomberg Markets:

The U.S. will be a dominant force in global oil and gas markets for many years to come as the shale boom becomes the biggest supply surge in history, the International Energy Agency predicted. 
By 2025, the growth in American oil production will equal that achieved by Saudi Arabia at the height of its expansion, and increases in natural gas will surpass those of the former Soviet Union, the agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook. The boom will turn the U.S., still among the biggest oil importers, into a net exporter of fossil fuels. 
“The United States will be the undisputed leader of global oil and gas markets for decades to come,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg television. “There’s big growth coming from shale oil, and as such there’ll be a big difference between the U.S. and other producers.”

The shale boom was made possible by the miraculous technological advance known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Is there anything that can derail the shale boom? Possibly.

The Washington Post is reporting that There’s enough wind energy over the oceans to power human civilization, scientists say:

New research published on Monday finds there is so much wind energy potential over oceans that it could theoretically be used to generate “civilization scale power” — assuming, that is, that we are willing to cover enormous stretches of the sea with turbines, and can come up with ways to install and maintain them in often extreme ocean environments. 
It’s very unlikely that we would ever build out open ocean turbines on anything like that scale — indeed, doing so could even alter the planet’s climate, the research finds. But the more modest message is that wind energy over the open oceans has large potential — reinforcing the idea that floating wind farms, over very deep waters, could be the next major step for wind energy technology.

Of the two, shale oil and gas seems like the most realistic outcome, by far. But who really knows? Shale has long been known to harbor vast reserves of oil and gas—it was even included in the plot of the 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. Fracking opened this vast new previously technologically unexploitable hydrocarbon supply. Who could have predicted the shale boom just 15 years ago? Is there a similar unforseen dramatic technological breakthrough “waiting in the wings” for wind energy that would overcome the seemingly insurmountable drawbacks?

And then there is nuclear power. Though stymied for decades by Environmentalists’ scare-mongering, major nuclear technological advances have opened the potential for a nuclear power resurgence, reports Ronald Bailey for

In view of the exiting advances in energy technology that have occurred or could occur, how do we sort out the best course forward? That’s easy. Restrict government interference and favoritism, and liberate the energy market. A regulated, controlled, crony-dominated industry—an unfree market— restricts or forbids some ideas while favoring others. One might call an unfree market a partial or total “moratorium on brains”. A free market ends that moratorium, and opens up the field to all ideas and investments on an equal basis, while liberating energy consumers to make their own choices. A free market requires fair and evenly enforced laws. A free market is not just the most practical and objective way to get at the most progressive energy production, from a human flourishing perspective. It’s also the only just way, because a free market eliminates force—in other words, political influence—from the decision-making process of all participants.

There is no shortage of exiting real and/or potential, known and unknown, energy advances out there. Only freely operating private enterprise, shielded by strong property rights and anti-fraud laws, can keep progress toward an ever cheaper, more reliable, environmentally cleaner, human flourishing-enhancing energy future a reality.

Related Reading:

If ‘Renewable Energy’ Technology Has Truly ‘Proven Itself,’ Why Does the Renewable Industry Need NJ’s 80% 'Renewable' Mandate?

Climate Change Catastrophists Who Oppose Nuclear have Anti-Humanist Premises

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

‘Hate Crimes’ are Invalid as Objective Laws

A savage attack by four black thugs on a disabled white man in Chicago, which resulted in a controversial charging of the four black thugs with a “hate crime” was the subject of an article by Michael Hurd. In 'Hate Crimes' Go Both Ways, Hurd points out the double standard involved:

"Conventional wisdom and contemporary legal practice hold that if you kill or injure someone in a protected racial or social group minority – i.e., black, Hispanic, gay/lesbian, Muslim – then it’s automatically and always a 'hate crime.'" 
Logically, if you commit a crime against someone because they’re Christian, atheist, agnostic, Asian American or white … well, isn’t that a hate crime too? Conventional wisdom doesn’t have an answer. You just don’t ask that question. At least not until now. [emphasis added]

Hurd points out not just the double standard, but that the designation “hate crime” itself is nothing more than a political weapon used to create victimhood out of thin air—and the dangerous end to which this premise leads:

The classification “hate crime” was only ever necessary to ensure that some crimes become more criminal than others when they’re committed against politically powerful victim groups. It never was about justice; it was always about politics. Because once a government elite can punish us merely for hating, the stage is set to punish us for thinking, speaking or believing. Even in America, we’re perilously close to the edge of entering that zone. [emphasis added]

A hate crime amounts to criminalizing people for thoughts the government doesn't approve of. Sooner or later, "hate" will be decoupled from the commission of an actual crime, and people will be punished simply for expressing thoughts the government doesn't approve of. It's already happening elsewhere. “Hate Speech” is now a crime in Europe. The precedent is set: You can be punished for your thoughts. It's a precedent that leads straight to political prisons.

On Hurd’s facebook post, Michael Mangold commented:

A crime intended to intimidate or terrorize a community has more victims than one that isn't. Burning a cross or spray painting a swastika is different than random vandalization, for instance, and requires commensurate penalties.

Hurd responded:

As to this argument: "A crime intended to intimidate or terrorize a community has more victims than one that isn't. Burning a cross or spray painting a swastika is different than random vandalization, for instance, and requires commensurate penalties." 
Why? On what basis? The moment you start penalizing or making illegal hatred (or any emotion, feeling or idea) itself is the moment you have created the basis for a totalitarian dictatorship. The rest is only a matter of time. As revolting and disgusting as I find some attitude or feeling/idea, I can't use the force of government to punish/jail/fine people only because I find it revolting and disgusting. I can only invoke government once force or fraud are involved. And the fact that millions or thousands agree with my disgust has no bearing on it either. That's the moment you're talking about mob rule. The inherent self-refutation of the "hate crime" concept can be seen in the facts of this Chicago case. If you classify it as a hate crime, then you elevate any case as arguably a hate crime; if you get rid of the concept altogether, then you simply classify all crimes as crimes, perhaps debating what constitutes a crime or what the penalty should be, of course. Bottom line context, and this cannot be dropped or evaded: In a free society, you don't punish anyone for an emotion; only for an action. And you don't penalize the crime more heavily only because of the emotion behind it.
Michael Mangold replied:
I'm taking it as an unintentional compliment that you quoted my comment. I usually agree with you and find your insights invaluable. The number of victims when a community is targeted is greater than is the case from a mere random act of violence. That is why; that is the basis.
I agree with Hurd. But there’s more to say here.

On the face of it, Mangold’s argument is a plausible one. If a black woman is targeted because she is black, then every black woman could theoretically feel at risk. But on examination, Mangold’s argument collapses.

The term "intimidate or terrorize a community" is way too vague and subjective. What about a serial killer or street gangs, who can be said to "intimidate or terrorize" everyone regardless of race, rather than just a politically powerful group? Why are people "intimidated or terrorized" by gang violence not victims, while people "intimidated or terrorized" by burning a cross are so classified? What's to stop the premise from being expanded to encompass ever more "protected groups" at the expense of individual rights?

And if being "intimidated" or "terrorized" makes one a victim, then why shouldn't being "offended" also make one a victim? Once you go down the road of expanding the classification of people as "victims" for how they feel, it's a dangerous expansion of criminality beyond aggressive force and fraud.

The whole idea of "protected groups" runs afoul of the 14th Amendment. How can we have equal protection under the law when the level of one's protection depends on the group one is assigned to, and whether one's group has a privileged "protected" status or not? We can't. The only basis for equal protection is the principle of inalienable individual rights, protected equally for all people at all times.

I sympathize with victims of bigotry. I’ve been one. But only the actual physical crime, or direct imminent threat thereof—not thoughts, however hateful—should be punishable. Only objective laws can accomplish that.

Related Reading:

Cohen: Hate-Crime Laws are "Totalitarian Nonsense"

“Hate Crime” Laws are Gateways for Censorship and Statism—my article for The Objective Standard

The Sentencing of Dharun Ravi: Judge’s Reasoning Highlights Dangers of “Hate Crime” Laws—my article for The Objective Standard

Monday, January 8, 2018

Is It Now ‘Respectable’ to be a Moocher?

A New Jersey Star-Ledger guest editorial titled I'm battling cancer: Why are medical costs harming the lives meds try to save was published early last year. The complaint of the author, a woman battling cancer, is with out-of-pocket costs of the medications—even with health insurance; even with ObamaCare. The point was to advocate for a bill in the NJ legislature to cap out-of-pocket expenses at $200 per month (the author currently pays $550 per month, including her $250 insurance premium. She doesn’t say how much she is not required to pay, thanks to insurance and government subsidies [other people]).

Now, we can all sympathize with a person struck with cancer. We all know someone who has been afflicted, or been afflicted ourselves.

But on reading this article, my first thought was to attack the call for yet another health “insurance” mandate. It is such mandates that has pushed health “insurance” premiums beyond the reach of many. The ACA plans are already heavily subsidized, with purchasers paying only a small percentage of the actual premium. The rest of the cost is forced onto everyone else in the form of inflated premiums. This bill, A2337, would shift more of the burden onto premiums, making “insurance” even more unaffordable, forcing more people into subsidized plans. (I use scare quotes around “insurance” because actual health insurance has been outlawed in this country. If insurance were legalized, this article wouldn’t have been written. From here on, I won’t use scare quotes with this understanding.)

But that didn’t seem like enough. There was something very disturbing about this article, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Then it hit me: When did moocherism become so acceptable that an article like this could be printed in a major newspaper? There was a time when being on the dole was considered shameful. A serious need might justify privately asking for charitable help. But a person asking others for help in paying her bill wouldn’t broadcast it. She would keep it private, and she certainly wouldn’t consider forcing others to help her—not if she had integrity. Here, we have a person boasting about her inability to afford to pay his bills. She gives no reason why she might be deserving of others’ helped. Why is she in this predicament? Bad luck, or bad choices? Why, at 63 years old, is her only income a $750 disability check? She doesn't say. She apparently believes it’s not relevant; that mooching is now so mainstream that she doesn’t feel the responsibility to at least explain why she deserves help from her fellow man.

Her need alone not only justifies shifting her bills onto others’ shoulders; but forcing it onto others shoulders through law. She just lays the pity on thick. I can’t pay my bills. Therefor, the world owes me. She probably figures her demands are legitimate, since she can hide the immorality of the taking behind the fact of politicians legitimizing it through legislation. But make no mistake: Taking others’ property by force is wrong whether you pull street robberies or use the government as your hired gun. This may sound callous, at a glance. But make no mistake. A government is supposed to protect us from human predators, not be the predators’ agent. What about the people and employers already struggling to pay artificially inflated premiums? Where is the consideration for them—the victims?

But that’s what America is coming to. Have unmet needs? Didn’t work for it or plan for it in advance? No matter. It doesn’t matter any more whether an unmet need is the result of misfortune beyond a person’s control or the result of laziness, incompetence, or irresponsibility. The mere fact of an unmet need entitles you. The mere fact that politicians pass a law to effect it makes it OK to put your burdens on people you don’t know. America the nation of self-reliance is becoming the nation of the greedy needy.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on Debbie Biase. The lie that healthcare is a “right” has been peddled for so long—and so rarely challenged in the only way it can be challenged, morally—that it should not be surprising that there is a “NJ Out of Pocket Prescription Cost Limit Coalition.” The idea that you—not “society” or government—are morally responsible for paying your own way, and that insurance is merely a tool for you to use toward that end, is alien to most people, at least when it comes to healthcare.

Of course, that attitude increasingly extends beyond healthcare. We hear more and more about a “right” to an education, or a “right” to a livable wage regardless of your productiveness, and so on. When mere need is considered an automatic moral claim on others wallets; when productive self-responsible individuals’ financial health is at the mercy of anyone claiming an unmet financial need; when what one “deserves” becomes completely divorced from what one earns; when moral character deteriorates to the point where articles like this one don’t elicit outraged moral outcries in defense of the people who will be victimized by such predatory legislation; when need trumps justice: It makes one wonder how America the prosperous free country can survive much beyond another generation or two.

Related Reading:

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Proposed Compromise on NJ’s Full- vs. Self-Service Gasoline Controversy: Legalize Both

Well, Oregon has partially allowed self-service gasoline, leaving New Jersey as the only state that mandates only full-service. In a snarky New Jersey Star-Ledger report, Oregon descends into madness, forces citizens to pump their own gas, Samantha Marcus reports that NJ politicians are steadfastly refusing to consider following suit:

"Just because we're the only state, doesn't mean we're the wrong state," said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

"New Jerseyans like to be pampered, I guess," state Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, said with a laugh.
 But added,
"Not gonna happen. People don't want it. And if (Gov.-elect Phil) Murphy wanted to get off to a bad start, he'd advocate that," Codey said.
“New Jersey won't be abandoning full-service gasoline, Sweeney and Codey said”

I left these comments:

There’s only one fair solution to the full- vs. self-service gasoline controversy: Legalize Both.

There is absolutely no justification for government force to be injected into the gas station business where no public safety issue is involved. It’s not true, as Sweeney says, that legalizing self-service means “abandoning full-service gasoline.” Legalizing self-service gas pumps would not outlaw full service. The state would simply be removing itself from the decision-making process. It would end the forced restrictions forbidding station owners from allowing their customers to get out of their cars and do it themselves.

I hate waiting for service. Being someone who travels out of state often, I’m used to getting in, gassing up, and getting on my way without delay. Now, I have no problem with people who don’t want to get out and pump. My wife hates it. She has told me that if self-service comes to NJ, I’ll be responsible for keeping both cars filled up if no station near us has full-service pump islands. But that’s our business. I can live with that.

A free market is the only fair solution. Must everything be politicized? Full-service fans should not be allowed to use the government’s law-making powers—the power of the gun—to impose their full service on others who don’t want the cost or inconvenience of someone else pumping his gas. A free market—that is, a market free of coercive political interference—would leave the market—that is, the commutative voluntary choices of gasoline merchants and consumers—to decide. If enough New Jerseyans are willing to pay extra for full service, service stations would be free to provide it or lose the customers.

To paraphrase a famous saying about the weather, “Everybody talks about compromise, but no one ever does anything about it!” Well, let’s do it. The solution, as I suggested earlier, is to legalize both full- and self-service gas. That’s a true and fair compromise. Voluntarism, not force, is the only fair solution.

Related Reading:

After Big Gas Tax Hike, Will New Jersey Finally End the Ban on Self-Serve Gas?

New Jersey’s Still Debating Whether to Legalize Self-Serve Gasoline

A brief history of why you can't pump your own gas in N.J.—

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?

What is Capitalism?—Ayn Rand