Sunday, June 27, 2010

Iraqi Democracy vs. Freedom

When establishing a “democracy”, the first thing to remember is that democracy means majority rule. The second thing to remember is that if the majority will rule, then the minority must be protected from the majority. Since the smallest possible minority that can exist in human society is the individual, this means the recognition, and protection, of individual rights. Since the majority elects a nation's political leaders, the next thing to remember is that a constitution must be written to limit the elected government to the protection of individual rights, not “group rights”, (such as women and “minorities”) which do not exist.

When these three principles are implemented, of course, you no longer have a democracy. Or, to put it another way, you have the original American concept - a constitutionally limited republic. Today, too many Americans, including most of our political leadership on both sides of the isle, have forgotten it. For proof, I give you the former Bush Administration’s “Forward Strategy for Freedom” – the effort to build democracies in the Middle East.

In an article entitled Iraq reverting to its former freedom-less ways, Joel Brinkley describes a nation in the process of crumbling back into tribal savagery. In describing the situation there, Mr. Brinkley commits the same fundamental error that George W. Bush commits – the equation of freedom with democracy. This is evident throughout the article. While he is basically correct in stating that “Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation unless its people and its leaders all are asking for it”, he misses the crucial point.

What Mr. Brinkley is implying is that the philosophical foundation for such action must be built first – a monumental task. This is certainly true. But, for America to build that foundation, it must first understand it itself. It does not. Because democracy is equated with freedom, the failure of our democracy building in the Middle East, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was inevitable. The primary reason for failure is that democracy is fundamentally incompatible with freedom – which means individual rights and a government that protects them.

Mr. Brinkley’s opening paragraphs state:

“The United States wrote democratic freedoms into Iraq's constitution, including protections for women and minorities…

“As American troops withdraw from Iraq this summer, expect the democratic freedoms Iraqis have enjoyed in recent years to recede as well."

Notice the term “democratic freedoms”, and their application to groups such as “women and minorities”. Individual rights as properly understood are nowhere to be found in the Iraqi Constitution's Bill of Rights. The "rights" listed are a hodgepodge of economic rights to material benefits guaranteed by the state (socialism), or political rights such as freedom of religion or speech. No distinction is drawn between economic and political rights, a distinction that is paramount if freedom is the goal because the two cannot coexist. In fact, there are no such things as economic rights. Be that as it may, it is notable that all of these so-called rights are conditional. None of them are absolute, meaning unalienable. For example, Article 26 under the heading “Chapter Two – Rights, Duties, and Public and Private Freedoms” states:

“Freedom of the press, printing, publishing, media, and advertising are guaranteed and the law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.”

That’s just one example. The entire so-called Bill of Rights is full of this kind of language. There are no rights, only permissions subject to “the law” - i.e., government approval. And, as Article 23 makes clear, all of these rights (including internationally recognized “rights”, which are another problem) are valid “so long as these do not contradict Islam”. So much for freedom of religion. This is true democracy, under which the elected leadership of any given moment can override anyone’s “rights” in “accordance with the law” – i.e., by legislative fiat. It is utterly shameful that the post-Saddam Iraqi nation could establish such a constitution under the auspices, guidance, and military occupation of the country built on the premise of the unalienable rights of man, the United States of America. A country whose citizens’ “rights” are at the mercy of the government, elected or not, is a dictatorship. Democracy is tyranny, and nothing else.

This leads me to a fourth principle that must be grasped: A free society is compatible with only one social system, laissez-faire Capitalism, or the separation of economics and state.

Notice one major source of the massive corruption described in the article, “American reconstruction funds”. Instead of establishing a free market with all of the legal and constitutional protections that that implies, which would have opened the Iraqi economy up to the international capital markets, we simply handed over American taxpayer money to an Iraqi government seen as legitimate simply because it was elected. Government officials promptly embezzled at least $13 billion of those funds. Mr. Brinkley sees serious dangers ahead as American troops recede.

He sees an effort by “the nation's oligarchy … to restore the old order of things, to protect their positions and perquisites. It happens every time. All of that is made even worse when sectarian divisions smolder under the heavy foot of an oppressive government – only to flare up once the government falls. That's what's happening in Kyrgyzstan right now. Of course, that's been a fundamental part of Iraq's problem from the start.

“Already, the Iraqi government is restricting freedom of the press, expression and assembly. It's toying with Web censorship, torturing political prisoners and killing political opponents.”

Ayn Rand identified the nature of this deteriorating process more than half a century ago:

“But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law--men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims--then money becomes its creators' avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they've passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.” (Page 413)

The Iraqi government, having collected untold $billions confiscated from American taxpayers, only to see it vanish into the hands of other crooks, is a real life, vivid demonstration of a society on the road to vanishing in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

And this leads to yet another related fundamental truth, which Mr. Brinkley describes:

“A large part of the problem is corruption. Under American stewardship, Iraq has grown to be one of the half-dozen most corrupt nations on earth. ‘Significant widespread corruption’ afflicts ‘all levels of government,’ the State Department says. Nothing can so quickly cripple a democracy as the need by the nation's leaders to protect their cash flow and hide all evidence of their thefts. That leads, at least, to electoral fraud and press censorship. How can corrupt officials survive if the press is free to report on their misdeeds?

“ ‘We are controlled and censored,’ Faris Fadhil Sultan told me. He's a reporter for Al-Arabiya television in Iraq. "The government can exert its will on reporters through criminal charges or suspension from work – even kidnapping and killing."

“Iraqi reporters are intimidated into compliance – even when Western journalists found that government officials had embezzled $13 billion in American reconstruction funds.”
(Emphasis added.)

Government power begets more government power. A government that operates outside of its only legitimate purpose, the protection of individual rights, will grow in power like a malignant cancer. Rights violations beget more rights violations. Government controls are incompatible with freedom. As one grows, the other must necessarily recede. In the case of Iraq, the government’s control of the reconstruction efforts is ending up with rigged elections, an end to freedom of speech and press, such as it existed there, and other abuses.

After recounting other failed attempts to bring the “great gift [of] democracy and freedom” to countries like Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, and Cambodia, Mr. Brinkley concludes on Iraq:

“It seems all but certain. Another nation given a chance to be free is slipping almost effortlessly back into old patterns of behavior, as if drawn by inertia. Soon, after the Americans leave, the last vestiges of freedom will begin to disappear.”

I would most certainly add Venezuela to that list. All attempts to establish freedom through democracy are doomed to failure. (Whether America should engage in nation building is another issue.) Democracy is just another form of tyranny. Under a democracy, rights are not recognized as unalienable individual possessions validated by the metaphysical facts of human reality. Instead, they are considered gifts of majority whim or bureaucratic and political edict.

Democratic processes are necessarily a part of any free nation, but only a subordinate part. The primary principle governing society must be individual rights, properly understood. Individual rights are guarantees to freedom of action, and are grounded or related to three philosophical primaries:

Epistomology – reason, an exclusive faculty of the individual.
Ethics – egoism, the individual’s right to the pursuit of his own happiness.
Politics – laissez-faire capitalism, the socio-political system that subordinates society and government to the natural moral law underpinning the rights of the individual.

We need desperately to get it right. Our entire Mideast strategy is fundamentally flawed. Freedom does not mean merely waving ink-stained fingers in the air. The right to vote is not fundamental but presupposes the right to live free from physical coercion, including government coercion. Our leaders should read our own Founding documents for proper guidance. So should all Americans.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Forgetting American Ideals: Mathews Defends Legalized Brute Force

“In 1776 [the Gadsten flag] served warning to those who threatened America from abroad. Today, it’s being waved in contempt of our own honestly elected American government in Washington.”

So ranted MSNBC’s Chris Matthews against what he calls “the rise of the New Right” – the Tea Party Movement.

Chris Matthews fears violence from the Tea Party. Tea Partyers vent they’re rage in peaceful demonstrations but use fiery rhetoric that can inflame its members. The Left is flummoxed. The Tea Party is angry against a government that was duly elected. Horrors!! Elections are the Left’s magic wand, after all. In a democracy, which America never was intended to be, any action by elected officials is justified by the will of the people as expressed through the counting of ballots. Elected politicians wielding coercive powers never constitutionally granted to the government sit in a chamber and pass legislation that shreds the only protection the people have against an omnipotent government, democratically elected or otherwise – individual rights.

They have some ominous company. On the Left’s own premise of the omnipotence of elected officials, Hugo Chavez is shutting down press freedom in Venezuela as he establishes yet another socialist hellhole, and Adolf Hitler slaughtered 6 million Jews. Chavez and Hitler were elected, right? Oh, but Hitler was “violent”, which is somehow different from elected officials politely abusing the legal force of law. “An honestly elected government” can justify the non-violent, legalized enslavement of the medical profession under ObamaCare, so long as there is no “violence” involved. There is a concrete difference, but the difference is not fundamental.

Matthews apparently believes that an “honestly elected government” need not respect our own Declaration of Independence, which separated the colonies from that foreign power. That Declaration states unequivocally:

“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Our American system was designed as a constitutionally limited republic, not a democracy. It was limited to the protection of individual rights, not the momentary whims of any electoral constituency as represented by the politicians they elect. In our American Republic, the individual’s rights are protected first, and the electoral process is narrowly limited and has no power to alienate those basic rights of anyone. Democratic principles are an important part of a republic, but they are not the bedrock principles that govern it. Those principles are grounded in the moral doctrine of individual rights. There is a very good reason for why the Founders set up our governing system as they did. They recognized the unique dangers that government inherently poses. “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master”, warned George Washington. They sought to constrain that institution of force.

Force is force, and there is fundamentally no difference between its violent and non-violent exercise. Violence is nothing more than a manifestation of force. Writes Amit Ghate:

"Yes it is proper to condemn the initiators of violence. In fact it is morally mandatory because such action represents a tremendous evil. But violence is wrong precisely because it is a species of force. For the left to oppose open violence while promoting every other form of force is more than hypocritical — it’s an unconscionable intellectual crime.

"Whatever its form or specific target, force is evil because it impedes or defeats man’s use of his mind and its products."

Matthews and his Left Wing ilk blow a smokescreen consisting of potential Tea Party force in the form of violence, to hide the much more sinister and destructive actual, legalized force of the Obama government. The difference is monumental. In a republic, we are protected from violent force by government through its laws, police, and prosecutors who arrest and jail the violent offenders, and we are protected from government force by a constitution. But today - our republic having been morphed into a democracy, and our constitution increasingly rendered irrelevant by the “living constitution” doctrine - we are no longer protected from force-wielding powerlusters in a runaway government. We are, in fact, legally disarmed in the face of Obama statism– left without any protection from the government thugs.

Matthews fears Tea Party violence but sanctions the camouflaged violence of robbery and enslavement perpetrated by an elected government under cover of the law. We are approaching the state of affairs of pre-Revolutionary War England, or the world of Atlas Shrugged, when “society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law--men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims [and] laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you.” (page 413)

The Left holds up a straw man, purporting to be worried that some fringe Tea Partyer might perpetrate an isolated act of violence, even as this government wields massive force against its own citizenry. Central planning bureaucrats are gaining massive physical power over our lives, from healthcare to energy to education to finance to food and on and on.

Yet Matthews pillories the Tea Party for daring to resist this power grab by upholding this country’s Founding ideals! He sees in the words “Don’t Tread on Me” a threat of violent rebellion against an elected government, ignoring the essentially anti-American, authoritarian nature of democracy. He separates the original Tea Party from the current one, by citing a difference between foreign and domestic threats to liberty. He forgets that our own Declaration of Independence does not distinguish one from the other:

“That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive…”, declared our Founding Fathers. Notice that the Founders didn’t advocate or rule out any particular method by which “the people” may alter, abolish or institute new government. They just reserved the right of the people to do it, and urged prudence. Mathews' fantasies to the contrary notwithstanding, the Tea Party Movement has been nothing if not “prudent”, demanding change not a “toppling”, seeking to right “a long train of abuses and usurpations” peacefully through persuasion and elections rather than violence. It seeks to rein government back within its constitutional restraints from which it burst – to reverse a statist trend that is accelerating but did not originate with his beloved Obama Administration. Tea Partyers seek to overturn “a design to reduce them under absolute despotism.”

Matthews sees threats of violence where no meaningful ones exist, in order to divert attention away from the growing Washington tyranny that he promotes, aids, and abets. He wants to expose an alleged danger to society posed by the new Tea Party rebellion. Yet, by protecting the force-wielding Washington catalyst for the Tea Party, he is helping to push this country toward the day when we cross the line into actual dictatorship, leaving violent overthrow the only means left to a once free people to exercise "their right [and] their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."

The Left statists hide their brute force policy agenda behind the ballot box like a mob hit man hides his weapons behind a trench coat. And like the mobster, they seek to silence dissent through intimidation and smears. But they must be getting nervous, indeed, even though the Tea Party Movement is still only a fledgling scattering of mixed premises and competing factions.

Matthews and I are in agreement about at least one thing, however. The Gadsden Flag is an appropriate symbol of the Tea Party Movement. Those words represent a threat, all right, but not in the way he means. Don’t Tread on Me are the words today’s Washington can not bear to hear. It’s hard to control the man who stands up for his right to live free.

Friday, June 18, 2010

NJ's "Affordable Housing Crisis" - It's the Zoning, Stupid!

The New Jersey State senate recently voted to abolish the Council on Affordable Housing, known as COAH, and shift its functions to the Department of Community Affairs. COAH has wreaked havoc on NJ municipalities since its inception in the 1980s. Created by the Fair Housing Act of 1985, its intention was to force each town to provide for its “fair share” of affordable housing, as determined by COAH bureaucrats. The consequence has been 25 chaotic years in the state, with a flood of lawsuits to go along with the affordable housing quotas.

The COAH story doesn’t begin in 1985, however. It begins with a state Supreme Court decision back in 1970. Frank X. Askin, an opponent of Senate Bill S1, wrote:

“On a Sunday in October 1970, Jacob’s Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopalian congregation in Mount Laurel, had invited Mayor Bill Haines to discuss a nonprofit organization’s plan to build 36 garden apartments.

“As in many other suburban municipalities, Mount Laurel’s zoning ordinance prohibited garden apartments and any other form of multifamily housing. Haines delivered the town’s response to the housing proposal to the congregation: ‘If you people can’t afford to live in our town, then you’ll just have to leave.’

“That incident led to the landmark New Jersey Supreme Court decision known as Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel, which established the doctrine that all municipalities must provide 'reasonable opportunity' for the creation of affordable housing.”

Mayor Haines’ arrogance exemplifies the practice engaged in by many municipalities, and which the high court was asked to deal with – the exclusionary housing policies of powerful local central planners called zoning boards. The court’s answer was to force zoning changes on the towns, which really meant that the state was given override powers over local officials. The process was complex in practice, with the legislature creating the state central planning bureaucracy known as COAH and builders suing towns to overturn zoning regulations that allegedly didn’t provide “reasonable opportunity” for low cost housing.

COAH itself became a source of housing chaos, with quotas being imposed on towns where there was no market for “affordable” housing, and so forth. Scott T. Rumana, a proponent of S1, had this to say:

“The practical application of the court’s decision has far exceeded the original purpose to require inclusionary zoning. Instead, it has driven up property taxes, destroyed open space and natural resources and worsened flooding and traffic problems.

“The Mount Laurel decisions and ensuing laws and regulations have been a nightmare, resulting in impossible quotas on towns, unfair fees on new development and an expensive, endless cycle of lawsuits.

“As a former mayor, I have been on the front lines grappling with the unintended consequences of the Mount Laurel decision — especially 'bonus density' and 'builder’s remedy.'

“Bonus density allows developers to build four market-rate units for every low- or moderate-income unit they build. In practice, builders have built up to seven units for each affordable one.

“Builder’s remedy allows developers to sue municipalities to force excessive housing developments into places that don’t make sense from any logical planning perspective. Communities have essentially been held hostage to developers empowered to dictate how much development would occur regardless of zoning laws or the impacts on nearby property.”

Sound crazy? Such is the nature of political interference in the market. Proponents and opponents of the bill have diametrically opposing views:

“The bill ‘restores sanity in New Jersey housing policy,’ said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). [He] said the bill will eliminate the state’s ‘byzantine maze’ of rules and ‘produce more affordable housing.’

“Housing advocates say the moves would return the state to practices that occurred before the state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel decisions, so named for the township that was sued for its zoning policies.”

Despite differences, all sides hold to the belief in central planning, whether by the courts, a state bureaucracy, or local zoning boards. But, they’re all missing the obvious.

In 1970, Mount Laurel zoning ordinances forbade the African Methodist Episcopalian church from building a 36 unit apartment complex in the town. The state Supreme Court saw exclusionary zoning (which it was), and issued the decision that led to COAH. In doing so, it correctly identified the problem – local zoning regulations – but then proceeded to compound rather than solve the problem. The question that should have been asked and answered was: Why should any central planning authority have the power to stop the African Methodist Episcopalian congregation, or any developer, from building what they please on their own land? The issue is not “exclusionary” vs. “inclusionary” zoning, but the legitimacy of zoning powers as such.

The court granted override powers to the state to correct what it considered local zoning abuses. This simply shifted central planning abuses to the state level. Instead, it should have overturned those powers at the local level, thus liberating the housing market.

No zoning does not mean no government role, but recognizing government’s proper, limited role – the protection of individual rights, including property rights. The principle of individual rights is the basic premise governing what one may or may not do with his property and when government must intervene. The builder cannot, for example, design his project so as to allow storm water runoff to flood adjacent properties. In these or similar instances, if the parties can not work things out among themselves, the government can properly step in to require corrections and/or the payment of restitution to the affected property owners, as determined in a court of law. But as long as the builder causes no physical harm to the property or lives of others, he has violated no one's rights and thus should be free to build according to his best market judgement. Also, since government owns the roads, it has a legitimate interest in seeing that road improvements appropriate to the project are built. (Whether the government should own the roads, is another complex issue encompassing philosophy and law.)

Applying the principle of individual rights is a complex legal issue. But rights, properly understood (as our Founders did), belong to individuals and not to groups. The “community” or municipality, as such, has no rights, and so it has no legitimate power to impose land-use restrictions...whether for reasons of race, income level, preserving the "quality of life" of existing residents, esthetics, or to impose their own utopian vision of what the "character" of "their" town should look like, etc. When it does, it is merely acting at the behest of some local special interest group, usually a majority of the township residents, at the expense of the rights of individuals. Protecting individual rights includes protection from any majority voting block, which is only a collection of other individuals.

Is there a real life model for what no zoning would look like? Yes – Houston , Texas has never had zoning. Joel Kotkin, writing in Forbes, had this to say about Houston:

“So what does Houston have that these other cities lack? Opportunity. Between 2000 and 2009 Houston's employment grew by 260,000. Greater New York City--with nearly three times the population of Houston--has added only 96,000 jobs. The Chicago area has lost 258,000 jobs, San Francisco 217,000, Los Angeles 168,000 and Boston 100,004.

“Politicians in big cities talk about jobs, but by keeping taxes, fees and regulatory barriers high they discourage the creation of jobs, at least in the private sector. A business in San Francisco or Los Angeles never knows what bizarre new cost will be imposed by city hall. In New York or Boston you can thrive as a nonprofit executive, high-end consultant or financier, but if you are the owner of a business that wants to grow you're out of luck.

“But Houston's biggest advantage cannot be reduced to numbers. Ultimately it is ambition, not style, that sets Houston apart. Texas urbanites are busy constructing new suburban town centers, reviving inner-city neighborhoods and expanding museums, recreational areas and other amenities. In contrast with recession-battered places like Phoenix, Houston remains remarkably open to migrants from the rest of America and abroad.”
(Emphasis added.)

And, Houston isn’t burdened by one of the biggest regulatory barriers any city can throw at its ambitious residents – zoning restrictions, whereby some elite’s vision of “style” can trample the rights of people pursuing their life’s goals.

While Mr. Kotkin doesn’t mention Houston’s no-zoning governance, some correspondents do. And it’s clear that this thriving city in the middle of a recession owes its “uncontrolled” growth in large measure to its lack of central planning, which is exactly what zoning is.

Reading the comments section to “Model City”, it seems that people either love Houston or hate it. Those who hate it are by and large arrogant, elitist snobs who, when you get right down to it, simply hate the choices others make. But, the freedom to make those choices is exactly what Houstonians have that residents of those other cities Mr. Kofkin discusses don’t have. And, the legal sanction of the snobs to impose their version of acceptable development through the legalized physical force of zoning powers is what only Houston does not have.

Not all of the differences between Houston and other cities is due to zoning, of course. But, the point is, Houston is thriving without zoning. Compare that to the chaotic mess that is the NJ housing market.

There is a strong demand here in New Jersey for affordable housing. The answer to the housing affordability problem is to eliminate the source of the problem...the many government impediments. Zoning power is a major one. The answer is not better state central planning, such as shifting COAH authority to the Department of Community Affairs as Senate bill S1 does. The answer is not to choose between local or state central planning. The answer is no central land use planning at any level of government. The property and housing markets should be liberated from the tyranny of local (and state) central planners. So long as no one else's rights are violated, the location, price range, and quantity of residential development should be determined by the voluntary, uncoerced judgements of landowners, homebuilders and homebuyers freely contracting with each other to mutual advantage ... i.e., by the free market ... and nothing else.

Mr. Rumana objects when, under state affordable housing rules, “developers … sue municipalities to force excessive housing developments into places that don’t make sense from any logical planning perspective. Communities have essentially been held hostage to developers empowered to dictate how much development would occur regardless of zoning laws or the impacts on nearby property”. Excessive, by what standard? Don’t make sense, to whom? To those directly involved by voluntary choice - property owners, the builders, or his customers? Or to the central planning elite’s “logical planning perspective”? There’s a hostage situation going on, all right. But, Mr. Rumana has it exactly backwards. The original Mount Laurel case proves just the opposite. Developers have been held hostage to zoning boards.

Let no one suppose that a free market is not the answer to the housing affordability problem in New Jersey. That institutions as diverse as large profit-seeking developers and small non-profit church congregations stand ready and willing to meet the demand for such housing, with only government standing in the way, is my proof that it is.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The BP Gulf Disaster: the Proximate vs. the Ultimate Cause

The New Jersey Star-Ledger is demanding BP's financial head, in this editorial entitled, Polluter must pay: Congress should lift the oil spill liability cap. The Editors write:

"Now that it’s obvious BP wasn’t prepared for a worst-case scenario with its deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the massive cleanup effort comes down to two questions:

"How much will it cost to make communities whole again? And how do we make sure BP pays for all of it?

"Innocent towns trapped in BP’s viscous mess shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for the historic screw-up of a multibillion-dollar company. Neither should taxpayers.

"BP, the creators of this disaster and the subject of a criminal investigation, should keep writing checks until every pelican is squeaky clean, every marsh is bustling again with wildlife and every droplet of oil is gone."

Fair enough, up to a point. BP should pay damages to any human being whose property was damaged. Damages paid must be based upon legitimate, objectively determined criteria grounded in the principle of individual rights, not on the whims of any do-gooder who spots a bird covered in oil, or of government officials wielding arbitrary powers. The proper venue for settling claims is the civil court system. (Unfortunately, the knowledge of objective law, individual rights, including property rights, and the proper role of government has largely been lost to Americans, including the Editors.) But yes, BP should be held liable.

But the saga doesn't end there. The question is, why was it that "BP wasn’t prepared for a worst-case scenario"? Let's turn to the second subject of this editorial, the liability cap. The Editors write:

"To ensure that, Congress must lift the current $75 million federal liability cap — pennies in a spill this size — to $10 billion (or beyond) for any company that causes the pollution."

Is there a connection between BP's unpreparedness,and that $75 million government-imposed cap? Let's go a little further:

"Oil industry officials say a $10 billion cap would force smaller companies to abandon deepwater drilling because insurance would become too expensive."

Now we have the insurance connection, which is key here. I posted these comments:

zemack June 10, 2010 at 4:18PM

Another disaster, and once again government interference is the ultimate cause.

Notice I said ultimate cause. Yes, BP must clean up the mess, and compensate the victims, even if it bankrupts them. If BP engaged in fraud to get the permits, prosecute the company. And, NO BAILOUTS. It is BP’s well, after all.

But, the Star-Ledger uncovers government market interference as, once again, the underlying culprit. And once again, the Editors don’t draw the obvious conclusion – government regulations set the stage for this disaster, and they should be removed.

Why do oil companies get any liability protection at all? Because the politicians restrict shallow water drilling, where blown out wells are easily dealt with, and environmental damage can be contained.

By pushing oil companies into deeper waters, insurance rates skyrocket. So, to manipulate insurance rates down to make drilling feasible, the politicians cap liability – thus short circuiting the natural market mechanism of risk management. With this liability giveaway in place, the incentive to reduce risk and thus insurance rates through technological innovation evaporates. No problem, the regulators just go ahead and approve shallow water technology. That 3-story blowout preventer was the backup safety plan demanded by the government!

Just as with the financial crises, the government rigs the system to encourage excessive risk and reduce personal responsibility, and wonders why disasters happen. It’s the classic regulation spiral: government regulates, causing problems, which leads to more regulations to fix those problems, which causes more problems – and on and on.

Government should eliminate, not raise, the liability cap, and abolish shallow-water restrictions. Make laws requiring companies to pay all damages they cause, whatever the cost. Leave insurance rates to settle where they may based upon the judgements of the insurance companies’ assessments of economic, technological, and environmental reality. If oil companies find insurance rates too high, then they can abandon deep water drilling. More than likely, though, they would find better and safer ways to operate to satisfy the insurers and reduce rates. The insurance industry, it must be remembered, is the economic bulwark against excessive risk. It is impervious to the kind of cozy relationships we constantly see between regulated industries and the regulators, because the demands of the profit motive requires policies to be priced right.

We’re seeing the usual demands for more regulation, with blame being placed on a non-existent “free market”. But, like I said, BP is the proximate cause, but government regulation is the ultimate cause. We need less regulation, and more economic laissez-faire.

What role did that paltry $75 million cap play in the BP disaster? The answer is, plenty! The Editors quote Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.): "Those who pollute should pay, and they should be unlimitedly responsible for their actions." For once, I agree with him. But then why is he sponsoring a bill to repeat the same governmental mistake? Why cap liability at $10 billion? After all, observe the Editors:

"Greater liability would force oil companies to think twice about risky drilling. Menendez believes the $75 million cap encouraged ecological gambling, because it was so low."

Amen to that, and what a revelation. What does Menendez think happens when government artificially limits private liability? The evidence is widespread in the economy, not the least of which is the housing bubble and bust. This is about as close as I've ever seen any statist politician come to taking the blame for problems government causes. Who placed that $75 million cap that caused BP not to think twice, or to not be "prepared for a worst-case scenario with its deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico"?

The Editors conclude:

"The lesson learned from BP is simple: If companies can’t stop the gushing, clean up the mess and cover the costs when things go wrong, they shouldn’t be drilling."

But, BP wasn't the only "historic screw-up". There was an even bigger one - the one that caused the first. The lesson learned from the government is: Stop meddling in the markets!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Moran Strikes Back Against Christie's "Rant"

Remember NJ Governor Chris Christie's sharp rebuke of NJ Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran for questioning his "confrontational tone"? Fellow columnist Paul Mulshine called Christie's "highly amusing rant" a "move to the right - right into web stardom".

Well, Tom Moran answered the governor in a 6/8/10 article entitled N.J. Gov. Chris Christie's rant reveals a hard-right agenda

In this piece, Mr. Moran exposes Christie's sinister plan, the worst kept secret in NJ: He plans to cut state aid to poor urban school districts! Of course, he doesn't quite put it that way. In the classic doublespeak language of the postmodern Left, Mr. Moran accuses the governor of planning a "scheme to take money out of poor urban school districts and spread it around to wealthier suburbs."

He accused the governor of "playing an ugly political game". He finds "a pretty tight fit" between the governor and the definition of "demagogue", citing Webster's:

A person who tries to stir up the people by appeals to emotion, prejudice, etc., in order to win them over quickly and so gain power.

Does that definition have a familiar ring to it. It sure sounds like one ideological side in this polarized country of ours.

I've left the following rebuttal comments:

Posted by zemack
June 08, 2010, 7:53PM

The governor a demagogue? It looks like we have a pot & kettle case here. Mr. Moran writes:

“The governor also revealed for the first time the real reason he removed Justice John Wallace from the bench: It was the first phase in a larger scheme to take money out of poor urban school districts and spread it around to wealthier suburbs.”

It was the state supreme court that in the 1970s forced the income tax on NJ, by closing down the public schools. It coupled that with the Abbott rulings to create a system of municipal welfare called “state aid” – funded, of course, by the income tax. The very purpose of those rulings was precisely to take money out of wealthier suburbs and spread it around poor urban school districts. The result 3 decades later is that municipal welfare now consumes over half of the state budget!

Christie blames the court for this mess, but he’s only partially right. The court is indeed a cause, but it is not the ultimate cause. The ultimate cause is the “thorough and efficient” clause of the NJ constitution (article VIII, section 4), which was the driving force behind the court rulings.

And why were those rulings allegedly necessary? Because “Kids in poor cities were crowded into decrepit buildings with poorly paid teachers in systems funded at slightly more than half the state average.” Who created that set-up? Who forced the city’s residents to fund those failed schools, to the tune of “slightly more than half the state average”? “Governors and legislatures”, that’s who. What created those “poor cities”, to begin with? The liberals’ very own welfare-state programs, which chased the productive into the suburbs and destroyed the tax base.

Then came the classic hard-Left solution to all government failures – “bigger government, higher taxes, more spending”. Under the political cover provided by the high court, the hard-Left liberals reached out to pick the pockets of people who sought a better life in the suburbs, to bail out the cities. Of course, it didn’t work.

And, when decades of taking money out of wealthier suburbs to spread it around poor urban school districts replaced “underfunded” failed urban districts with state-aid bloated failed urban districts, the governor who bluntly and directly told us that the Emperor has no clothes is called a demagogue. Now, in a monumental act of deception (or self-deception), Mr. Moran calls Christie’s modest cuts in municipal welfare taking money from those same aid-bloated districts! Well, read that Webster’s definition of a demagogue provided by Mr. Moran again, and you will find a perfect description of a modern welfare state liberal.

I like Christie’s honest and refreshing “confrontational tone”. But “hard-Right” he most certainly is not. In the end, he’s a classic “moderate” republican, who will make some tough and even bold decisions to save NJ”s fiscal neck – and in the process save the hard-Left’s redistributionist programs, in this case the municipal welfare scheme.

Do you want “hard-Right? Try this: repeal the “thorough and efficient” clause; abolish the state income tax; end state aid to municipalities; and break up the government’s public school monopoly with universal tax credits and private vouchers to empower all parents to control their own children’s education.

Somehow, Tom Moran's rant doesn't quite measure up to Governor Christie's. He's out of his league.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Moral Inversion At Work

The Greek welfare state collapse has cast a spotlight on the fundamental moral issue of the age. In a piece entitled Beware of Greeks demanding gifts, Voices for Reason contributor Tom Bowden comes to the defense of pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.

The Greek government, reeling from crushing, self-imposed financial pressures, unilaterally slashed the prices it pays for the company's diabetes drug that 50,000 Greeks depend on. This comes on top of an overdue $36 million bill owed the company by the government. In response, the company stopped selling its medicine in the Greek market rather than take a loss on every sale.

But, instead of the beneficiaries rushing to the defense of the company whose valuable products they depend upon, they are attacking it! Mr. Bowden writes:

By any rational standard of justice, Novo Nordisk is completely in the right here. The company has done nothing to harm Greeks—on the contrary, it has offered them a positive value they didn’t have before, benefiting tens of thousands of people. By refusing to sell its products at a loss, the company is simply leaving Greek diabetics exactly as they were before it first offered those easy-to-use insulin pens for sale. Greeks who want more such devices should figure out a way to pay for them—not expect Novo Nordisk to sacrifice for the resolution of financial problems created not by them but by the Greeks themselves.

The company that seeks to profit from its own ability to produce valuable, life given products - i.e., from doing good - is being vilified for placing its bottom line above the needs of its customers. There is indeed a tragedy here, in that people are left without a readily available treatment. But the essential, unjust nature of the ethics of need is on display here, as well.

That which is “more than just the bottom line” here is diabetics’ need for Novo Nordisk’s products, considered apart from the willingness to pay for them. Serving that need is what constitutes a “corporate social responsibility.” Refusing to fulfill that need is what makes the company’s decision “blackmail.” And by acting in the company’s economic self-interest, its managers are expected to shoulder a burden of guilt for what then happens to 10-year-old diabetic girls–while parents shirk responsibility and write angry letters demanding something for nothing.

Novo Nordisk is the villain. Why? Because the company is the producer of the products people need. The real culprits - the Greek government, the welfare state, and the Greek people who support it - are given a pass. Why? Because they don't. Here is the essence of mankind's darkest moral evil - the sacrifice of the virtuous for being virtuous.

One would think that any rational person would rush to the defense of those one depends upon when they become the victims of injustice. Instead, we see starkly the sheer insanity wrought by the worship of the God of Need.

The full, destructive nature of the moral inversion called altruism, and its ultimate logical consequences, is dramatically demonstrated in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Tom Bowden's piece can be read in its entirety here

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Coming Collision Between the Doctors and the State

The ink of the President’s signature is hardly dry, and already the horrifying ramifications of ObamaCare are surfacing. Two recent episodes, one in Florida and one in Massachusetts, highlight the dangerous path that must logically follow when government decrees a “right” to healthcare, and begins to enforce it.

The Florida case involves a single doctor launching a lone dissent against ObamaCare. Dr. Jack Cassell has an independent practice in Mount Dora. In “A Prescription Against Tyranny”, Ralph R. Reiland describes this individual American’s method of protest:

“He's the Florida doctor who told his patients to go elsewhere for treatment if they voted for President Obama. The message posted on his office door: ‘If you voted for Obama ... seek urological care elsewhere. Changes to your health begin right now, not in four years.’

“It didn't take long for Cassell's congressman, Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat, to say that he smelled racism [because] ‘many of the Democrats who live in Mount Dora happen to be African-Americans [which implies that] he's saying that he's not going to treat a large number of African-Americans in this country.’

“Cassell told Fox News that the real purpose of his door posting was educational, not racist, and that he wasn't literally turning down patients” although, as Investor’s Business Daily quoted him as saying ‘If they read the sign and turn the other way, so be it.’ ”

“Meanwhile, Rep. Grayson,” continues Mr. Reiland, “ trying to dig up a victim in order to challenge Dr. Cassell's medical license and/or empty the doctor's bank account, reportedly is looking for an Obama voter who encountered Dr. Cassell's notice on the door and then took flight, thereby being deprived of medical care.”
(Emphasis added.)

Under the doctrine of a “right to healthcare”, someone must be forced to provide it. Dr. Cassell is merely exercising his basic unalienable human right to contract freely and voluntarily with patients of his choice, in this case coupled with his right to dissent against what he considers governmental tyranny. He is not depriving, and in fact has no power to deprive, anyone of medical care, any more than someone choosing another doctor is depriving Dr. Cassell of patients. If he chooses not to treat someone, for whatever reason, that person is free to seek treatment elsewhere. But because anyone seeking treatment from him has a right to his services under this doctrine, the doctor’s refusal means that someone “thereby [is] being deprived of medical care.” Dr. Cassell’s actual, political rights are obliterated. Such is the nature of all alleged economic rights … the violation of actual political rights, and the imposition of involuntary servitude upon the provider.

The second case involves the continuing evolution/deterioration of the healthcare industry in the land of ObamaCare’s model, the RomneyCare universal healthcare scheme of Massachusetts. Among many problems, that state is apparently having some trouble attracting doctors voluntarily into the state plan’s network. So, the politicians have come up with a solution – force them into it. In a Voices for Reason post entitled Massachusetts law would turn doctors into serfs, Don Watkins quotes a proposed law:

“ 'Every health care provider licensed in the commonwealth which provides covered services to a person covered under ‘Affordable Health Plans’ must provide such service to any such person, as a condition of their licensure, and must accept payment at the lowest of the statutory reimbursement rate…' ”(Emphasis added.)

One doctor he quotes termed the law “unbelievable”.

“But it isn’t unbelievable–not if you view need as an entitlement [i.e., a right]” continues Mr. Watkins. “If a Medicare patient’s need of health care entitles him to it, then why should a doctor have the right to refuse service just because the doctor won’t make money? Wouldn’t that be selfish and greedy?

“There is nothing noble or benevolent about political thugs forcing doctors–the men and women without whom all of our health care needs would go unfulfilled–to sacrifice their time, their energy, and their wealth to anyone’s need.

“Remember: the morality of need means serfdom for doctors.”

Indeed it does, as these two instances prove. And as IBD observes in the Cassell case:

“Washington will eventually treat him and other doctors as vassals of the state.

“They will no longer be the owners of their minds and their labor, their years of study and the development of their skills. All those instead will be owned by their masters on the Potomac.”

Notice the common denominator tying the Massachusetts and Florida cases together – government licensure. As I pointed out in my post of 6/24/08, government licensure in America is reaching epidemic proportions and is “being led … by private citizens looking to protect their occupational turf through governmental coercion”, leading to the emergence of the modern-day version of Medieval guilds. This extracts a tremendous cost on the economy. Medical licensing, in particular, has had a very deleterious effect on healthcare. In an article entitled Medical Licensing Impedes Quality, Affordability of Care, Jillian Melchior writes:

"Medical licensing is ineffective and inefficient, and patients would be better served by relying on brand recognition when choosing their doctors, writes [Cato Institute fellow] Shirley Svorny in a new report for the Cato Institute.

“In health care, we haven’t used brand names because people have been trusting licensure,” Svorny told Health Care News, “but it’s a weak apparatus, and it’s not trustworthy. People put a lot of faith in this license, and it doesn’t tell you very much.

“In essence, you’re putting your life at risk,”
Svorny continued. (Emphasis added.)

Government occupational licensure is destructive, immoral, and a violation of individual rights, to be sure. But, as the two cases cited above reveal, the worst evil is that it is a tool of coercion and control.

Doctors are being threatened with the choice of either submitting to a modern-day version of slavery, or loss of their careers and livelihoods. This, because many are exercising their basic human right to follow their own convictions, consciences, and professional and economic self-interest. This brazen, legalized thuggery is the logical end result of a society that accepts the principle that, to quote Francisco d'Anconia, “in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing” (p. 413).

Is this the tip of the iceberg? We are at the beginning of a slow-motion medical catastrophe in this country the like of which the world has never seen. As the trend of socialized medicine spread around the world during the 20th century, there were various instances of doctor resistance. One of the most infamous cases was in 1964 Belgium, where Doctors staged a limited nationwide strike in defiance of the enslavement of their profession – a peaceful rebellion that was crushed when the government instituted a military-style draft…yes, a draft…of doctors into the civilian national health service. But overall, despite varying levels of resistance, doctors ultimately submitted, resulting in the gradual deterioration of heathcare in those nations that government-run medicine is infamous for.

But this is America, the last bastion of semi-freedom in healthcare. There are growing signs that the doctors here won’t take this lying down. Dr. Joseph M. Scherzer, M.D., reports that:

Just "two years after a survey found nearly half of Texas doctors weren't taking some new Medicare patients, new data shows 100 to 200 a year are now ending all involvement with the program."

And Daniel Palestrant reports about ObamaCare at

“…the medical establishment is not celebrating. In fact, the mood in those exams rooms is downright morose.

“In tens of thousands of exam rooms all over the country physicians are struggling to make sense of the 2,000-plus pages of the reform bill. A recently released poll of more than 2,000 physicians, conducted by Athenahealth and Sermo, is alarming. The poll, part of a broader Physician Sentiment Index, indicates that 79% of physicians are less optimistic about medicine since the passage of health care reform. Fifty-three percent indicate they will consider opting out of insurance plans with passage of the bill. Worst of all, 66% indicate that they will consider opting out of all government-run programs. The same reform bill that will provide "care for all" may drive away more physician caregivers than attract previously uninsured patients. What a predicament that would be.”

What a predicament, indeed! Consider the Massachusetts and Florida medical licensure cases cited above as you digest that 66% figure. If that percentage is even close to becoming a reality, we are heading on a collision course between the government and the medical profession, which will have very broad and serious implications for American liberty. Will the statists in Washington resort to terroristic practices when its universal healthcare fantasy begins to disintegrate? Will they move to literally enslave the doctors? Or will they relent, and move toward medical freedom? The Florida and Massachusetts actions by our government officials, not to mention Belgium’s doctor draft, gives us a glimpse into a chilling future.

The doctors are the front line in this battle. A principled doctors’ rebellion of some sort against the coiling snake of government control of medicine is, in the end, our best hope of avoiding not just an American, but a world-wide, medical catastrophe. America’s island of relative freedom in a world of socialized medicine has been the safety valve for the stressed systems of other countries. Both directly and indirectly, the American market has been the catalyst for medical progress. It has absorbed many of the victims who couldn’t get the care they needed in their native countries. When America goes, so will go the rest.

How recalcitrant individual doctors respond to the ObamaCare assault will undoubtedly depend upon their personal circumstances. An older doctor who is financially set is obviously in a very different position from his younger colleague who still has a mountain of debt to pay off. But one thing that may unite a large segment of the medical profession is the kind of outraged sentiment expressed by Dr. Hendricks in Atlas Shrugged:

“I quit when medicine was placed under State control, some years ago,” said Dr. Hendricks. “…I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything — except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the ‘welfare’ of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only ‘to serve.’ That a man who’s willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy. I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind — yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Let them discover the kinds of doctors their system will now produce. Let them discover … that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it – and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn’t.” (P. 744)

If the Florida and Massachusetts assaults on their rights become the preferred method of force behind the government’s drive to guarantee everyone healthcare, then the doctors have an unbeatable trump card. Medical licensure gives doctors a secret weapon of their own that can be thrown back in the politicians’ faces, if they discover it and choose to use it, much the way Hank Reardon challenged the judges at his trial:

“The penalty which this court has the power to impose on you is extremely severe.”

“Go ahead,” said Reardon.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Impose it.”
(P. 478)

One of the lessons of Atlas Shrugged is that evil can only triumph with the sanction of the good. Otherwise, it is thoroughly impotent. The doctors’ have more than the choice of to quit or submit. The statist political establishment apparently believes it has a trump card – government licensure. Some such snake like Rep. Alan Grayson is counting on the doctor’s love and need for his profession in order to force his will, what Ayn Rand called “White Blackmail” – the practice of extracting involuntary concessions by using not some victim’s villainous secret but his virtues as the weapon against him. But what if some doctor such as Dr. Cassell were simply to call the government’s bluff? That is the power the doctors hold.

I know it’s easy for me to say. I’m not a doctor. I acknowledge that. It’s not my livelihood that’s at stake here.

On the other hand, the future of not just my healthcare but the healthcare of my children and grandchildren is at stake. So, let us imagine what might be if enough doctors are willing to take a Hank Reardon stand:

“Go ahead, take my license!”

Who, then, will be depriving whom of medical care?