Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Without Principles, "Restraints on Government Power" is a Hollow Phrase

Returning to the article On Boston Bombing Suspect, Obama Strikes Right Balance--which I covered in my post Boston Bombers: Part of a Vast Enemy Movement, in which I challenged to NJ Star-Ledger's position that the surviving bomber should be handled as a common criminal--the editors backed up their position with:

Holding [Dzhokhar] Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant is another matter. Yes, this was a crime of terror and its purpose was to kill people, not a conventional crime intended for profit. And yes, Tsarnaev might talk more freely without a lawyer present.But we lose something when we throw aside the hard-fought restraints on government power.

The editorial position of the Star-Ledger is decidedly pro regulation, pro welfare state. So, one wonders about their reference to "hard-fought restraints on government power"; restraints that the newspaper spends most of it energy trying to dismantle. One correspondent called the editors' on it:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 12:01 PMmcovey36 wrote:It amazes me the hypocrisy of SLEB [Star-Ledger Editorial Board]! They want Govt restraint when it comes to someone whom [sic] kills and terrorizes the public but wants bigger Govt when it comes to forced healthcare, gun control and a host of other issues!

Tom Moran, a lead editor and (I suspect) the author of the editorial, seemed perplexed:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 2:57 PMTom Moran/ The Star-Ledger wrote:So let me see if I have this straight: To avoid being a hypocrit, one must always be for bigger government, or always against it?
So anyone who supports gun control must also favor treating this guy as an enemy combatant? Isn't that just a tad simple-minded? Is it really that easy to sort these things out?

In fact, when you take principles seriously, it is "easy to sort these things out." It's not that specific issues can't be complex. They often are, and it can take some significant mental work to apply the principles. But proper principles will guide you to a consistent, non-contradictory integration of your positions, and enable you to avoid a lot of unnecessary, repetitive time and effort trying to sort out every concrete issue one at a time. 

I left this reply to Moran:

Tom, it’s a question of a government that protects individual rights vs. one that violates rights; rights being the freedom to act on one’s own judgment, so long as one’s actions don’t interfere with the same rights of others. It’s not the size of government, but its proper function. You can’t be for rights or against rights depending on what suits you in the moment. You’re either for rights or against them. What “restraints on government power” allows government to compel its citizens to purchase only government-approved health insurance policies? To speak of “restraints on government power” implies certain political principles. To ignore the relevant principles at work is an act of evasion that destroys credibility.

The beauty (and fearsomeness)  of principles is that they offer a yardstick by which others can judge you on myriad unrelated concrete issues, which is what happened here. That's why it's so hard to live by principles, and most people avoid them. If the editors are going to espouse principles, they should learn to live up to them, and apply them consistently. Otherwise, astute readers will bring those principles back to haunt them, and hold your feet to the fire.

Related Reading:

Why Should One Act on Principle by Leonard Peikoff

Philosophy: Who Needs It? by Ayn Rand

SLEB Principle

Monday, April 29, 2013

Credit Card Fees

Whenever a special interest starts off with "To protect consumers," you know that they are ready to demand by government legal force what they couldn't get by voluntary agreement in the market.

In Price-Fixing, Not Swipe Fees, is the Real Problem, John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, takes issue with a bill in the NJ Legislature "that will prevent merchants from adding charges to their customers’ bills to cover the hidden and excessive swipe fees that Visa and MasterCard set for all the banks that issue their cards." Presumably, the added charges would apply to purchases made with a credit card, as opposed to cash transactions. The alternative would be for the merchant to factor the fees into the overall price structure of the products he sells so that there is no price differential between credit card and cash purchases.

Fair enough. The problem is, Holub doesn't take a principled stance against this immoral government intrusion into the market. He demands that, instead, the legislators violate voluntary private contractual agreements:

   Visa and MasterCard each individually set the fees their banks will charge. The banks under each umbrella then agree to charge the same fees and not compete. That’s price-fixing — something that the rest of us are prohibited from doing.
   By focusing only on the credit card surcharge, we are stacking the deck against both merchants and consumers and, in effect, helping the banks and credit card companies maintain their stranglehold on the swipe fee. Unless our lawmakers rein them in and stop the price-fixing, the anti-competitive and closed system they have created will continue to prevent merchants from thriving and consumers from benefitting from lower prices.

Holub justifies his call for the violation of contract rights by inverting the meaning of "price-fixing." Price-fixing is the arbitrary setting of prices by force; i.e., by legislative fiat. In the case of credit card fees, there is no force involved. Visa's and MasterCard's fees, conditions, and terms are established by voluntary agreement between them and the banks. Consumers voluntarily agree to use the cards, and merchants voluntarily agree to accept them in payment for their merchandise, thus implicitly agreeing to the fees, conditions, and terms. 

None of this is "price-fixing." If it is, then every sale large and small--including at any merchant's checkout counter--is price-fixing, and the term loses all meaning.

Holub has no business demanding government intervention because he thinks the fees "are too astronomically high." There's only one way to make that determination; the cumulative choices of buyers and sellers--i.e., the market. Visa and MasterCard created wildly successful products that facilitate trade across the economy, and thus wildly and justly profit from them. If the fees were "too high," banks, consumers, and merchants would figure out that they are better off without the cards, and either turn to other credit cards or to cash. Visa and MasterCard have no way of forcing their fees on others--no power to arbitrarily set the price--because they have no power to force anyone to use their products.

Cronyism is rampant in our mixed economy, and it's possible that Visa and MasterCard are supportive of the bill to forbid swipe fee surcharges, which violates the rights of merchants. That doesn't justify Holub's call to violate the rights of Visa and MasterCard. The legislature should not interfere on behalf of credit card companies, banks, merchants, or consumers. It should simply protect individual rights equally and at all times, including the rights to voluntary contract among all economic participants. This is the basic principle inherent in the capitalist system; the separation of economics and state, or strict governmental neutrality in regards to economic activity.

Related Reading:

B of A's Debit Charges: It's About More Than Fees

B of A Rescinds Debit Card Fees

Saturday, April 27, 2013

End, Don't Amend, Liquor Licensing in New Jersey

AJ Sabath, the executive director of Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing, has called on his state's legislators to Free N.J.'s Market for Liquor. Sabath notes that "Lack of competition and egregious monopolies have plagued the liquor industry in New Jersey for far too long." He notes that state law allows only two liquor licenses per company, but cites a number of:

[L]iquor giants [that] have spent decades perfecting ways to play the system.... These modern-day robber barons and tycoons hold dozens of licenses by working the system to their advantage.

The state's liquor laws are outdated, he said, and called for revisions to "reflect the times in which we live."

Unfortunately, Sabath's proposed revisions do nothing to rectify the underlying problem:

Current law prevents a company from owning more than two retail liquor licenses. RRLL [Retailers for Responsible Liquor Licensing] is pushing legislation that would increase the number of retail liquor licenses to 10. 
This change would occur gradually over 10 years. Under this legislation, the total number of state licenses would remain the same.

Sabath concludes:

It’s time to “give a heck” about New Jersey consumers by providing good old-fashioned American competition. If Rockefeller and Carnegie were able to survive the dissolution of their monopolies, I think the liquor lobbies will do just fine in the American open market.

My posted comments:

The comparison to Rockefeller and Carnegie is not apt. They built their dominant market positions by successfully competing in the market through productive genius, not by means of legal restrictions on competitors.

The whole point of occupational licensure is to legally restrict competition and protect special interests. It is a formula for monopolies. Why merely change the formula? Why not eliminate liquor licensure altogether? As long as liquor licensing remains in effect, ways will be found to game the system and restrict competition. 

Licensing is also immoral. No one should have to get permission from the government to work in the occupation of one's choice, trade, and earn a living. Alcoholic beverages are a legal product, and any merchant should be legally free to sell them to willing customers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boston Bombers; Part of a Vast Enemy Movement

Is the surviving Boston bombing suspect a common criminal or an enemy warrior? Should he be handled by the civilian criminal justice system or declared an enemy combatant subject to military justice? A typical response comes from the NJ Star-Ledger in an editorial On Boston Bombing Suspect, Obama Strikes Right Balance. The editors favor civilian criminal prosecution, with all of its protections afforded the rights of the accused. They write:

Holding [Dzhokhar] Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant is another matter. Yes, this was a crime of terror and its purpose was to kill people, not a conventional crime intended for profit. And yes, Tsarnaev might talk more freely without a lawyer present.    
But we lose something when we throw aside the hard-fought restraints on government power. And history shows that any power claimed by one administration can be abused by the next.    
The New York Times recently published an op-ed from a prisoner at Guantánamo who has been held as an enemy combatant for 11 years with no charges and no trial, force-fed to prevent his death from a hunger strike. It is a grotesque description of the price we pay for compromising our basic values.    
And it’s not necessary. Tsarnaev faces a possible death sentence and can be pressured to talk while in the civilian system, as criminals are every day. So far, no evidence has emerged linking him or his brother to al Qaeda. As demented as these Boston crimes were, they did not present the kind of existential threat that would justify throwing overboard fundamental values.

I left the following comments:

"So far, no evidence has emerged linking him or his brother to al Qaeda. As demented as these Boston crimes were, they did not present the kind of existential threat that would justify throwing overboard fundamental values."

This is 180 degrees wrongheaded.

Fundamentally, the enemy we face is not al Qaeda or any organized group. It is an ideological movement unified by a particularly virulent, evil set of ideas; imperialistic, totalitarian Islam. Totalitarian Islam seeks world domination and subjugation under a Dark Age-style theocracy governed by Sharia law. It's main enemy is exactly what America stands for; a free society governed by a secular government operating under laws that recognize the individual's inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They consider this decadent.

By all accounts so far, the Boston Bombers were motivated by this ideology, and thus should be recognized as enemy combatants. It is futile to look for links to Al Qaeda or some other terrorist group.  The link is ideological, which is what makes this movement especially dangerous. All that is needed is for the spiritual leaders to indoctrinate people with the movement's ideas, and then turn them loose on Americans. Iran has led this effort for decades. This appears to be the case in Boston.

If it is confirmed that the Boston bombers were motivated by Islamic imperialism, then they most certainly do represent the kind of existential threat that justifies and requires our government to treat them as enemy combatants--not because they hold certain ideas, but because they are acting on those ideas as part of an enemy movement bent on America's--and Western Civilization's--destruction.  Treating members of totalitarian Islam as the enemies they are would not constitute throwing our ideals them overboard. This would be a highly moral action of self-defense; upholding and defending America and her fundamental values.

AP reports that, according to family members, "In the years before the Boston Marathon bombings, [Dzhokhar's brother] Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell under the influence of a new friend, a Muslim convert who steered the religiously apathetic young man toward a strict strain of Islam." This "mysterious radical" is identified only as Misha. 

Furthermore, according to APDzhokhar's wife, Katherine Russell--to the surprise of people who knew her--also converted to Islam after meeting Dzhokhar. "[T]wo U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told The Associated Press that evidence suggests the brothers were motivated by a radical brand of Islam." 

If this is true, then the Tsarnaev brothers did not act alone in any fundamental sense. They were part of a vast enemy movement.

The Star-Ledger is correct in its warning about the abuse of government power (however that stand may contradict its statist domestic economic agenda). But the protection of individual rights does not extend to an enemy whose goal is the destruction of America and its rule-of-objective-law principles. It is important to recognize that we face just such an enemy.

Related Reading:

A Decade Later, the Same Solution

Winning the Unwinnable War, Elan Journo

Recognizing Radical Islam as Our Enemy, Ron Radosh

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Another Objectivist Freedom Fighter Succumbs to Cancer

Another Objectivist crusader for reason and liberty has succumbed to cancer. Young Joshua Lipana, assistant editor and writer of The Objective Standard, died April 22, 2013. His close friend, Craig Biddle, posted a moving tribute to Lipana titled Joshua Lipana Fought Until He Could Fight No More, in which Biddle said:

My dear friend . . . Joshua loved life with a contagious passion. He thought at levels well beyond his years. He wrote with an eloquence few writers ever acquire. And he laughed with a joy earned only through perfect virtue. His death is a monumental loss not only for those of us who knew and adored him, but for every person on Earth who values human ability, rationality, freedom, flourishing.
  I second that.

So, for the second time in a little over a year, Objectivism has lost a New Intellectual. We'll miss him.

Related Reading:

John David Lewis, New Intellectual

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"42": The Power of Courage and Moral Certitude and the Impotence of Ignorance and Bigotry

My latest post at The Objective Standard blog--42: The Triumph of Courage and Moral Certitude over Irrationality and Bigotry--is a brief encapsulation of the movie 42: The Jackie Robinson Story. The movie tells the story of the end of Major League Baseball's "color line" that separated white and black professional baseball players--in particular, blacks of African decent. 

I would note a couple of additional things. The breakup of baseball segregation was accomplished long before government got involved. De-segregationists didn't rely on government force in the form of laws against "discrimination," bureaucratic regulations, court orders, or executive orders. No posturing politician contributed to their cause in any way. What we see are a couple of self-motivated private citizens battling—and ultimately shaping—the tide of history, powered by the conviction that they were right. All they needed was the freedom to act.

To be sure, legal action is sometimes needed, but only in regards to repealing laws that impose segregation, such as the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education or certain sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Finally, I don't think the story would be complete without the understanding that baseball desegregation was really a two-front battle. While we celebrate the great and high profile Jackie Robinson, we must not forget the black man who, in the same year 1947, broke the American League color barrier. Just weeks after Robinson broke in with the Dodgers, Larry Doby joined the Cleveland Indians, having been signed by another courageous owner, Bill Veeck. As I previously noted, Doby faced at least as hard a struggle as Robinson.

You can read my TOS post here.

If you haven't seen 42, get out and see it. 

Related Reading:

Larry Doby, American Hero

Title 2: Government vs. Private Action

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Remember the Past

"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

This letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on March 26, 2013:

Health care reform   March 23 marked the third anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of which side of the debate you were on, this anniversary offers an opportunity for us to put the past behind us and take advantage of health care reform that will benefit all New Jerseyans.
   Starting Oct. 1, uninsured New Jerseyans will be able to purchase affordable health insurance plans on a web-based marketplace. Those purchasing plans on the marketplace will also be able to simultaneously access federal subsidies to offset the cost of insurance. The subsidies will be available to families earning as much as $94,200.
   New Jersey’s uninsured reflect the diversity of our state. They are representative of every age group, ethnicity, gender, race, region and socioeconomic status.
   To educate New Jerseyans and to help those eligible to enroll, the New Jersey for Health Care Coalition, in partnership with New Jersey Citizen Action, has announced plans to train an army of ambassadors to conduct education and outreach statewide. We invite you to join with us in these efforts.
   With health care reform now a reality, now is the time to come together, put the battles behind us and focus on our future — one in which every citizen has access to affordable, quality health care services.
   Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate, New Jersey Citizen Action

My comments:

Rather than "put the past behind us," as Maura Collinsgru urges, we should remember it. 

We should remember all of the individual rights-violating government intrusions into American healthcare that created the very problems of soaring costs that ObamaCare is allegedly designed to fix, but which ObamaCare will be and is making worse. We should remember the tax and regulatory policies that brought us the employer-based, third-party-payer system of private health insurance; government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP; and the piling on of expensive insurance mandates.  

Otherwise, when ObamaCare's disastrous consequences become impossible to ignore, we will be offered undiluted socialized medicine--in the form of HR676 or "Medicare-for-All"--as the only solution; a campaign that has already begun. And Collinsgru and her ilk will once again be telling us to forget the past, including her own letter praising ObamaCare.

We should never ignore history. Instead, we should reject Maura Collinsgru's advice. People who value their lives and freedom, and respect the same of others, should never "come together" with those who don't. 

People are morally and rightfully responsible for their own healthcare needs, and should be free to pursue them by voluntary contract with providers and insurers in a market free from government coercion. But we should recognize that no one has a right to "access" to other people's wallets, which Collinsgru dishonestly calls "access to affordable, quality health care services." We should be honest enough to recognize that the only practical and moral solution is to face up to the failures of past government policies, and begin repealing them.  


As ObamaCare Failures pile Up, Get Ready for the Mother-of-All Healthcare Battles

The Left's False Alternative on Health Care

Connecting the Dots on Healthcare, by Hal Scherz, via FIRM

Friday, April 19, 2013

No Conflict Between People and Business

The letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on March 12, 2013:

People over business 
After reading The Star-Ledger article, “MetLife to shutter Somerset office, move jobs to North Carolina” (March 8), I couldn’t help but wonder how such a large, successful corporation, spending $400 million over 20 years to promote its brand on the new Meadowlands stadium, can justify closing its Somerset office and putting as many as 1,500 out of work. While the $100 million-plus in tax breaks and incentives it will get to move to North Carolina makes business sense, it doesn’t make “people” sense. 
MetLife likes to tout itself as a caring, people-centered company that provides its customers “guarantees for the ‘if’ in ‘life.’ ” Apparently, it forgot about its employees. The families of the 1,500-plus New Jerseyans who will lose their jobs if they choose not to move have no guarantees. 
Crista Pontilena, Hackensack

I responded:

Crista, if any of those 1500 employees had decided to quit their jobs with MetLife for a better paying or more enjoyable job, retirement, etc., should they be condemned for not caring about people?  MetLife is run and managed by people, too, and they have no guarantees that any of their employees will not do just that. In fact, every year millions of employees quit their jobs to move on to better life opportunities. Employers have the same moral right to move on when better business opportunities arise.

Nature provides no "guarantees" for either employer or employee. Neither is there any such thing as "People over Business," unless you believe that some people should be guaranteed a living at other people's expense. 

There is no conflict between people and business. A job is a two-way street, and both the businessman and the employee have a moral right to terminate an employment contract, because each has a fundamental right to pursue his own self-interest. Neither has an automatic moral claim on the other, beyond the terms of any mutually beneficial voluntary employment contract. Your one-sided focus on MetLife is grossly unfair.

Related Reading:

"Greed" is a Two-Way Street

Business vs. Workers' Jobs: Who Makes Who Possible?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Religious Objections Irrelevant to Assisted Suicide Law

In a recent letter titled Don't Legalize Suicide, bishop Paul G. Bootkoski called on New Jerseyans to reject their state's proposed Death With Dignity Act, which would allow doctor-assisted suicide. 

The NJ Death With Dignity Act "would allow terminally ill patients ... to decide how and when they die." The bill would authorize doctors to "prescribe lethal doses of drugs to patients who have less than six months to live."

In opposition, Bootkoski claims the act would “undermine the sacredness of human life” because “Every human life, at every stage and in every condition, has inherent value and dignity bestowed by God."

But Bootkoski’s reasons for opposing the act are misplaced. This is a religious view, and the Reverend has a right to his opinion. But he does not the right to impose his views on others.

Religion has no place in the laws of a secular country governed by the principle of separation of church and state. That principle is foundational to a free society, because it is intended to prevent the imposition of religion or religious tenets by the state.

The issue of right to die is fundamentally an issue of the individual’s right to his own life. The right to life implies the right to make one’s own end-of-life decisions, including assisted suicide. For too long, this right has been legally denied. Yes, every human life has value and dignity—and rights—which we should respect by enacting The Death with Dignity Act. (I made these essential points, in more abbreviated form, in a letter that was published in the 2/15/13 Star-Ledger under the title Life and Death.)

While I believe the bill is a good step, I believe more liberalization in this area is needed. There is the question of whether assisted suicide should be restricted to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. What about people existing in what can only be called a state of living death? For a perspective that argues for expanding the concept of legal assisted suicide beyond the terminally ill, read my post "I've Suffered Enough" -- A Young Woman's Quest for a Peaceful End to an "Intolerable" Life.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Conflicts Over Education are Inherent in "Public" Schooling

My latest post at The Objective Standard Blog begins with:

The use of standardized testing in government schools—as mandated by George W. Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and supported by the Obama administration—has triggered “an expanding revolt against high-stakes standardized tests and the use of students’ scores to evaluate teachers, schools, districts and states,” writes Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post.

Find out why standardized testing is not the fundamental issue in this revolt in The Conflict Over Standardized Testing is a Consequence of Government-Run Schools. 

Related Reading:

Teacher Accountability Follows from Genuine Market Activity.

By All Means, Let Parents Lead

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Prime" Controversy: Profit vs. Patient Health?

Does profit-seeking conflict with the best healthcare interests of the patient? That question is at the root of a controversy surrounding Prime Healthcare Services' proposed acquisition of two New Jersey hospitals.   

Despite hints of "alleged misdeeds," the main objection to Prime revolves around it being a for-profit business. As Dan Goldberg reports:

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said Prime’s business model is “very concerning,” and is imploring the Christie administration to reject Prime’s application. 
“I feel Prime has demonstrated they are more interested in a business model than being a solid health care provider,” Oliver said.

A correspondent more succinctly reflected the opposition's true motivations:

There should be no profit in healthcare. We should pay our doctors very handsomely, but when it comes to Wall Street firms making money off of people's pain and suffering in the guise of providing medical care, this should not be allowed.  Prime Healthcare's record is ATROCIOUS. It is clear they have willfully manipulated the law, abused the system and provided inadequate care--all in the name of capitalism and the enrichment of a few.

Complaints by "unions, legislators and activists [include] Prime’s history of renegotiating insurance contracts, separate incidents of layoffs at newly acquired hospitals, accusations that include Medicare fraud, failure to meet minimum health standards, [and] lawsuits with labor unions...." 

"But," notes Goldberg, "the overlapping concern is over Prime’s business model." In other words, Prime seeks to streamline hospital operations to maximize profits.

As I pointed out to the above correspondent,  healthcare providers do not "make money off of people's pain and suffering." They make money providing products and services that relieve people's pain and suffering and save lives. Their profits are generated through voluntary trade, just like any other business. 

Profits earned in such manner are not only legitimate, but noble, and those who earn them have a moral unalienable right to their profits. This most certainly pertains to hospital management companies. Those who are ideologically opposed to for-profit healthcare are free to refuse to patronize such companies. But no government has a legitimate right to legally forbid for-profit healthcare companies, and no one has a right to demand that of government.

Granted, our healthcare market is thoroughly corrupted by political interference into the market, and it is often hard to separate legitimate profits from "profits" resulting from gaming the third-party-payer system. But that is because we do not have capitalism or free markets in healthcare in America, and that  is the essence of the problem. 

In the same vein, another correspondent said:
People are NOT a business and healthcare is NOT a commodity. Nor are people's lives. 
My response:

This is an arbitrary assertion with no basis in fact. Without people, there are no businesses. Business is the unsung hero that betters people's lives--the bridge between theoretical knowledge and practical, life-enhancing goods. So-called "non-profits" are nonetheless, essentially, businesses.

Healthcare products and services, like everything else that sustains human life, are man-made.  They come about by individuals thinking, working, and investing, and are not immune to the same moral and economic laws governing other markets; such as, the individual's rights to voluntary trade and contract, and the laws of supply and demand. The mess that has become of our healthcare is the direct result of attempting to circumvent those fundamental truths.

By "mess" I meant overpriced mess. The quality of American healthcare continues to be excellent.

Whatever Prime's "misdeeds" turn out to be, if anything, it is a law enforcement issue and the company is innocent until proven guilty. There are also complications relating to government interference into the healthcare market, such as a $252 million state loan for a new emergency facility at one of the hospitals, which Prime apparently would only partially pay back--a seeming partial free ride for the company. Some object on these grounds:

Renée Steinhagen, executive director of New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, is ideologically opposed to for-profit hospitals. She doesn’t believe taxpayers should be helping. 
“Why should I take an asset the taxpayer has put that much money into and hand it over debt free?” she said. “If we are absorbing the money, we should get the hospital.” 
She, as well as others such as Oliver, worries any for-profit model is going to put the bottom line ahead of patient care.

Conflicts-of-interest are inherent in government loans and subsidies, because they are funded by coercively seizing taxpayer dollars. Would he object if a non-profit were buying this hospital? After all, the taxpayers would still be on the hook for the moneyWho the "we" is that "should get the hospital" isn't clear, but if Steinhagen were really concerned about the taxpayers, she would be fighting against government loans, not for-profit hospital management companies. 

Anyway, these issues have nothing to do with the fundamental issue. It's clear the anti-profit zealots, who have no idea how profits are generated, are using side issues to rationalize their ideologically-driven opposition. 

Prime should be lauded for its record of profitably operating its hospitals, and the state has no business blocking it acquisition plans. It should ignore these zealots, and protect the rights of Prime Healthcare Services and the owners of the two hospitals to voluntarily contract for the sale.

Related Reading:

Profiting From Healthcare is Moral

The Choice is Profits or Guns, Freedom or Tyranny

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Al Gore's Call for Global Dictatorship

Al Gore’s new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, is “about all of human and geological history, about the whole world, about all the important frontiers in science, about business and politics and society and nature,” writes Washington Post reviewer Chrystia Freeland. But, despite this “vast, messy range,” Freeland believes it is “worth reading [for the] two newer ideas” it presents.

The first of these ideas, says Freeland, is the “premise [that] we are living in a ‘new period of hyper-change’.” This “unprecedented” change is being driven by “the technology revolution” which, as Gore tells us, “‘is now carrying us with it at a speed beyond our imagining toward ever newer technologically shaped realities that often appear, in the words of Arthur C. Clarke, ‘indistinguishable from magic.’”

“Gore’s second big argument,” writes Freeland, is that this “mind-blowing economic and social transformation [requires] a correspondingly ambitious political response.” Because “business has become truly global, . . .the nation-state is becoming irrelevant. We don’t need merely a robust national reaction to hyper-change, we need an international one, and Gore thinks that needs to be led by the United States or it won’t happen at all.”

Gore’s political conclusion: “We as human beings now face a choice: either to be swept along by the powerful currents of technological change and economic determinism into a future that may threaten our deepest values, or to build a capacity for collective decision making on a global scale.”

Gore’s reference to “economic determinism” is key to understanding his motives and goals. “Determinism,” Leonard Peikoff explains, “is the theory that ... every aspect of man’s life and character. . .is merely a product of factors that are ultimately outside his control.” As Ayn Rand has observed, “Dictatorship and determinism are reciprocally reinforcing corollaries: if one seeks to enslave men, one has to destroy their reliance on the validity of their own judgments and choices.”

As one can gather from this Amazon review (I have not read the book), “we”--as embodied by some global authority--must vastly increase controls on corporations, institute population controls, redistribute wealth, have veto power over biotechnology (and likely other) innovations, and, of course, curb CO2 emissions (energy production and use) in the name of controlling climate change.

A government with that kind of wide-ranging power is a totalitarian state, regardless of how much of that power is dormant at any given time. Gore’s essential point: We as individual human beings have no capacity to direct our own lives, the course of which is “determined” by some mysterious magical economic forces, on Gore’s view. So we need a clique of global political elites endowed with immense authority; a clique that is somehow immune to the power of these deterministic forces, and who alone are fit to impose their judgements and choices on everyone else. This Platonic worldview can result in nothing but totalitarianism.

There is nothing new about Gore’s “big” ideas. Judging by Freeland’s review, Gore’s book is a renewed call for the dusty old Leftist dream of global dictatorship. 

Instead, we as human beings should embrace and advocate free market capitalism, individual rights, representative government limited to protecting individual rights. No global government is necessary or desirable. We only need a community of nations that adhere to these principles. Legitimate international problems that do arise from the astounding economic advances that would result from a fully liberated global economy can be resolved through treaties. Such treaties, when based on a commonly accepted ideological capitalist foundation, would be easily attainable.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Blaming" Arms Manufacturers for "Stymieing" Gun Control Legislation

This letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on April 10, 2013:

Don’t blame the NRA   The issue of background checks for gun purchases and the stymieing of reasonable legislation by weak politicians is not the NRA.   The real culprits are arms manufacturers, pouring millions into the their NRA hand-puppets. The companies and executives who make and sell assault rifles, armor-piercing bullets and high-capacity magazines need to be called out by name.   No way could simple yearly dues from NRA members fund the revenue stream that has the Washington politicians quaking in their knickers at the thought of speaking out in opposition to the NRA.Tom Carroll, Annandale

I left these comments:

 RE: Don't Blame the NRA

Arms manufacturers are "real culprits" for disagreeing with you, Tom? Don't they have the right to spend their own money advocating for their ideas? Doesn't the NRA leadership have minds of their own? Don't those "weak politicians"? 

You're guilty of ad hominem, Tom. You personally attack your opponents, rather than intellectually defend the "reasonable legislation." Who spends what on whom is irrelevant. The merits of the issues is what matters. Evasion is cowardly. Stop evading, and tell us why you think the gun control legislation is right.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Real Tax "Loophole": The Sixteenth Amendment

This letter appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on March 8, 2013:

Part of the problem 
Closing the loopholes sounds easy enough and certainly seems like the right thing to do, but why don’t we do it? I agree with “Jersey’s budget solution hiding in tax loopholes” (op-ed, March 6). We can fix many of our budget problems by plugging up the loopholes. 
It’s about time we stood up to the wealthy, powerful people and businesses that are greedy. The problem is many of the lawmakers are the wealthy and powerful, and are invested in these businesses. It’s no wonder the problem is not fixed. 
Carlo A. Canestri, Franklin Park

I left these comments:

RE: Part of the Problem

The common reference to tax deductions, credits, etc. as "loopholes" is implies an inverted moral premise; that the government has an inherent claim on America's wealth, and whatever portion of our money we get to keep is only by grace of government permission. This tribal view of wealth is factually and morally wrong.

Money is created by productive individuals, and is first and foremost the individual earner's rightful property. Any legal means of avoiding taxes is not a "loophole," because the individual who earned the money, not the government, has first claim on that money.

The people who take advantage of tax deductions and credits to keep more of their own money are not the greedy ones. It's those who want to take their money who are the truly greedy. The real tax loophole is the Sixteenth Amendment, which allowed government to seize people's income.

Is the Sixteenth Amendment unconstitutional? To say I'm not an expert on constitutional law would be an understatement. Acknowledging that, here are a few thoughts on the question.

The constitution is vague on this point. It doesn't specifically authorize a broad-based tax like the income tax. But, it does authorize the federal government to "lay and collect taxes." It also forbids government from seizing property without due process. Given the protections of property rights coupled with the tax clause, it logically follows, in my view, that the government may collect narrowly defined taxes directly related to the exercise of its enumerated powers. I find it hard to swallow that the Founders would have ever sanctioned a federal income tax. Therefor, given that no such tax authorization specifically exists in the original constitution, my conclusion is that the income tax is unconstitutional. The 16th Amendment is, therefor, invalid.

One thing is sure. A general tax on income violates individual rights. Sure, people have a moral obligation to pay for the governmental service of protecting their rights. But, taxes--ideally of the voluntary variety--should be narrowly tailored to specific, clearly defined purposes like paying for the local police or to maintain a military. To have government seize the individual's earnings for whatever purpose it chooses, whether technically constitutional or not, is a loophole of statism in the philosophical framework of this nation.

Related Reading:

In the Spirit of "Compromise," How About a Flat Tax

'Loophole': Anti-Euphemism of Statists, by Craig Biddle

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher, Heroic Liberty Crusader

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of the 20th Century's greatest crusaders for liberty and free markets; perhaps not always consistently, but certainly on a scale that dwarfs most politicians on the world stage. She was also an indespensible supporter of Ronald Reagan's successful anti-communist crusade.

As my tribute, I thought I'd present a sampling of others' sentiments, whose words I could hardly improve on.

The New York Post writes in Our Fair Lady:

   In her day, the toffs dismissed her as the “shopkeeper’s daughter.” For Thatcher, that was a badge of honor. Her political life was spent working for a Britain where men and women could rise not because of their class but because of their talents and enterprise.
   The bulk of that battle was moral. Against the relativists of her day, she believed the Western way of life superior to the alternatives because it was rooted in truth and human nature. For such a society to work, it depended on what political author Shirley Robin Letwin called the “vigorous virtues” — thrift, hard work, risk-taking, etc.   In other words, when she argued for free markets and democracy, it was not simply because they were more efficient. Thatcher would tell you it was because they were more moral.

In Thatcher's Victories, John O'Sullivan writes:

   As the obituaries are repeating today, Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s greatest peacetime prime minister in the 20th century and the second-greatest overall after Winston Churchill.   They list her achievements, which are many and remarkable.   In foreign policy, she was the most consistent friend to Ronald Reagan and the United States in the final struggle with totalitarian communism. In that role, she helped to bring about the downfall of Soviet communism in the 1980s, and to liberate millions worldwide from tyranny.   She revived the British economy and the spirit of the British people in the 11 years of her premiership. By 1990, when she was forced out of office, she had made Britain the fourth-largest economy in the world. She pioneered a worldwide revolution of privatization and free market that have lifted literally billions of people out of Third World poverty.

In Cherrio, Maggie--and Thanks!, Leonard Greene notes how Thatcher turned a Soviet insult into an asset:

   Thatcher got the nickname “The Iron Lady” from the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star after she criticized Moscow in a 1976 speech for being bent on world domination.   It was a moniker that Thatcher seemed to cherish.   “If you lead a country like Britain, a strong country, a country which has taken a lead in world affairs in good times and in bad, a country that is always reliable, then you have to have a touch of iron about you,” she told an interviewer.
   Among her many, and sometimes controversial, accomplishments were free-market capitalism, a strong military defense and her shoulder-to-shoulder stance with Reagan in the face of Soviet aggression.

In Margaret Thatcher: Warrior for Liberty, Ari Armstrong lists a bevy of inspirational quotes from Thatcher, and concludes with:

Margaret Thatcher has passed away, but her eloquent and determined statesmanship will remain profoundly inspirational to all those fighting for a freer world.

Tom Bowden notes that there may have been A Thatcher-Rand Connection, as Ayn Rand was said to be on a list of thinkers who had influenced Ms. Thatcher. Judging by her own words, this would not be surprising.

Thatcher in her time understood something profound about the Soviet Empire; something that few in the West besides Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand understood, as indicated by her words of Eulogy for President Reagan:

   [President Reagan]  warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power and territorial expansion; but he also sensed it was being eaten away by systemic failures impossible to reform.
   So the President resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. 

Margaret Thatcher is gone, but her legacy will endure, and her leadership and words will forever provide a source of strength and inspiration for freedom fighters everywhere.

Related Reading:

Margaret the Magnificent: We Desperately Need More Leaders Like Her by Steve Forbes

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Political Ideology" vs. "Cooperation and Compromise"

This letter appeared recently in the NJ Star-Ledger:

Come together 
As a teenager still forming a political ideology, I find nothing more confounding than the Republican Party’s reluctance for bipartisan collaboration. Cooperation and compromise are just as important as freedom and “ideological purity.” 
Democrats and Republicans can agree our American political system has its faults, but the best thing we can do is stop drawing our proverbial lines in the sand, and stop dividing ourselves with labels. 
We all have our opinions, but similar to the world we live in, politics should not be so black and white. This delineation of political allegiances is what gave us the two-party system that independents and moderates seem to grapple with. Republicans aren’t the “bad guys” that some liberals make them out to be. Neither are they the party they once were. 
The polarizing issues of late have forced America to divide — “divide and conquer,” as the saying goes. No wonder some people think our country is falling apart at the seams. Maybe the key to success is good old cooperation, even if it does seem like a dirty word to the Republican purists. 
Sydelle Barreto, Fairfield

I left these words of advice for this young person: 

Sydelle,  "Cooperation and compromise are just as important as freedom and 'ideological purity'" is simply not true.

Would you cooperate with your friends if they wanted to pull off a string of robberies? Would you compromise and agree to rob only 2 stores instead of 4?

"Forming a political ideology" means adopting certain political principles, which are in effect moral principles since politics deals with how individuals should interact in a social context. If you adopt the principle that freedom--the inalienable right of the individual to live by his own judgment so long as he doesn't violate the rights of others by force or fraud--would it then be "just as important" to "cooperate and compromise" with those who want to take our freedom away from us? If you did, you would be betraying your own principles. Would that be right? Is that the action of a person of integrity?

The fundamental battle in America today is between freedom and tyranny. There is no compromise between the two. America today is a swirling, unstable mix. Politics is messy, but virtually every piece of legislation fundamentally either moves us one way or the other. Either America moves toward freedom, or continues on the road toward tyranny. Whichever side you are on, it is immoral to accept legislation that moves the opposite way. Never compromise your moral principles. Never cooperate with your enemies. You either have core political beliefs, or you mindlessly cooperate and compromise on anything and everything, but you can't have both.

Related Reading:

America's Core: Liberty or Compromise?

The Virtue of Extremism