Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why I Don't Trust the "Climate Consensus"

Freeman Dyson is a Princeton, New Jersey physicist who columnist Paul Mulshine identifies as the heir to Albert Einstein's title of "most brilliant physicist on the planet." Dyson is also a proud skeptic of the global warming "consensus" and major critic of today's computer model-driven climatology field.

One thing I found particularly interesting is Dyson's belief that "Atmospheric CO-2 may actually be improving the environment." Mulshine writes:

   "It’s certainly true that carbon dioxide is good for vegetation," Dyson said. "About 15 percent of agricultural yields are due to CO-2 we put in the atmosphere. From that point of view, it’s a real plus to burn coal and oil."   In fact, there’s more solid evidence for the beneficial effects of CO-2 than the negative effects, he said.

Dyson touched on one of the reasons that I don't trust the so-called "climate consensus."

I left these comments:

Dyson's observation that "there’s more solid evidence for the beneficial effects of CO-2 than the negative effects" is a breath of fresh air. It's long past time that the extraordinary benefits of fossil fuels are recognized.

Global warming ideologues give no consideration to what's good for human beings. Their concern is only for the "environment"--meaning, untouched nature. What about the human environment? Raw nature is misery and death to human beings. Industrialization--man-made alterations to the natural environment, powered predominantly by fossil fuels--has made our lives longer, healthier, and happier. Fossil fuels have vastly improved earth's environment, from the perspective of human life as the standard of value. Even if one concedes that human activity is the primary driver of global warming, the gentle warming over the past century and a half is a small price to pay--if it even is, on balance, a price--for the vast improvement in our standard of living brought about by fossil fuel-driven industrialization. 

There are several other reasons why I believe the "consensus" is far from what it is portrayed to be.

Environmentalists have succeeded in making global warming (or "climate change") synonymous with disaster. Floods, droughts, bigger storms, wildfires, mass extinctions, heat waves, cold waves, and even blizzards--you name it, if it's bad, it's global warming. But, the contention that the effects of global warming are uniformly catastrophic is absurd on its face. A warmer planet has historically correlated with flourishing life. The disaster scenario does serve a political purpose, though: It serves as a rationalization for government expansionism to head off the disaster.  

Which leads to my next reason for my mistrust of the consensus: The "solutions" to global warming are uniformly statist; i.e., expanding government power and shrinking liberty and individual rights. This indicates that the global warming consensus is really a statist political movement. 

Further, the politicization of science brought about by government funding renders the "science" behind global warming suspicious, to put it mildly. Who pays the piper calls the tune. How much of the "consensus" is true and how much of it is geared toward satisfying politicians with the "correct" conclusions so as not to jeopardize future funding? Government funding does not automatically mean that the science is wrong, of course. But how much is it skewed? It's impossible to know without reading the minds of scientists and politicians. Government funding is by nature and definition politicization, and science funding is no exception. The very presence of government funding casts a political pall over the "consensus". Climate science can not be fully trusted until government funding of science ends.

Finally, the heavy use of ad hominem tactics—smearing opponents personally rather than refuting the issues raised is a method used by intellectual cowards. The refusal, in most cases, of climate alarmists to understand and debate issues raised by "skeptics" indicates a lack of conviction for their case—and an element of panic. As increasingly shrill predictions of climate catastrophe or "chaos" meet with growing indifference on the part of the public, so grows the climate alarmists' ad hominem attacks. 

Related Reading:

Climate Cabal Exploits Sandy for Statist Ideological Purposes

The Wreckage of the "Climate Consensus"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Energy Advances Continue

Energy is the vital force without which our industrial economy cannot function, so it is great to know that technological advances continue to expand the amount of energy potentially available to us.  

I've written about the Heroes Driving America's Oil and Gas Boom, based on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking).

But, there's more. 

Howard Roerig writes about Lockheed-Martin's development of a radically new fusion reactor that can be economically mass produced and promises to Deliver "Energy for Everyone." The first such reactor could be commercially operational by 2022.

Roerig also delivers good news on environmentalists favorite whipping boy, coal. He enlightens us on the progress of scientists developing a process to Generate Electricity from Coal Without Burning It. "The process gives off no air pollution, and the captured carbon dioxide is ninety-nine percent pure, enough to make it a valuable commodity."

As long as there is a meaningful level of freedom left in our mixed economies, men of reason and inventiveness will continue to thwart the anti-industrial naysayers by finding better, cleaner, more abundant, and more economical forms of energy production to power man's industrial advance toward an ever higher standard and quality of life.

Related Reading:

Cheers to the Heroes Driving America's Oil and Gas Boom

Obama Should Approve the Keystone Pipeline for Economic and Environmental Reasons

"Fracking's" Knee-Jerk Enemies

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Memorial Day Tribute

Throughout history, armies have fought for territorial boundaries, kings, monarchs, dictators, imperialistic ambitions, the “honor” of some sundry rulers, the tribe, some theocrat's assertion of God’s will, and so on.

America’s military is unique. It fights for a set of ideas…the most radical set of ideas in man’s history. America is the first and only country founded explicitly and philosophically on the principle that an individual’s life is his to live, by unalienable right. America is the first and only country founded on the explicit principle that the government exists as servant for and by permission of the people, with the solemn duty to protect those rights; or, as Ronald Reagan put it in his first inaugural address:

We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around!

Sadly, the knowledge of what this country stands for is steadily slipping away…and along with it, our rights. Fortunately, we’re still free to speak out. So the best way to honor our military personnel, for those of us who still retain that knowledge, is to remind our fellow Americans in any small way that we can about America’s unique, noble, and radical Founding ideals.

We can still prevent “the other way around”. But we must rediscover the knowledge of, and think about, what it means to be an American. So, let us reflect on what really made this country possible.

This Memorial Day weekend, we will hear a lot about the “sacrifices” made by those who died defending America.

It is said that this nation, our freedom, and our way of life are a gift bestowed upon us by the grace of the “sacrifices” of the Founding Fathers and the fighters of the Revolutionary War. But, was it? Is it even possible that so magnificent an achievement – the United States of America – could be the product of sacrifice? As the closing words of this country’s Founding philosophical document – the Declaration of Independence – attest, the Founding Fathers risked everything to make their ideals a reality:

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Some point to those words, and bestow on the signatories of that document the “honor” of having sacrificed for us, the "future generations." Nothing can be further from the truth. Sacrifice--properly understood--is the giving up, rather than the achievement, of values. America was achieved.

What is any human being’s highest attribute and value? It is his mind and his independent judgement. To use one’s mind – to think – is an exclusively personal, individualistic, self-motivated, self-chosen, selfish effort. All else in a person's life is a consequence of the use, or lack of use, of his mind – for better or for worse. One’s convictions about what one believes is right, one’s passionate concern for ideas, is the product of the independent use of one’s mind. The man who places nothing above the judgement of his own mind, even at the risk of his own physical well-being, is not engaging in self-sacrifice. To fight for one’s own fundamental beliefs is the noblest, most egoistic endeavor one can strive for.

The Founders were thinkers and fighters. They were egoists, in the noblest sense, which is the only valid sense. They believed in a world, not as it was, but as it could be and should be. They took action – pledging their “sacred honor” at great risk to their personal wealth and physical well-being – to that end. They would accept no substitute. They would take no middle road. They would not compromise. They would succeed or perish.

Such was the extraordinary character of the Founders of this nation.

To call the achievement of the Founders a sacrifice is to say that they did not deem the ideals set forth in the Declaration as worthy of their fighting for; that the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and not to any collective and not to any ruler was less of a value to them than what they pledged in defense of it; that they did what they did anyway without personal conviction or passion; that the Declaration of Independence is a fraud. To say that America was born out of sacrifice is a grave injustice and, in fact, a logical impossibility.

World history produced a steady parade of human sacrifices, and the overwhelming result was a steady stream of bloody tyrannies. The Founders stood up not merely to the British Crown, but to the whole brutal sacrificial history of mankind to turn the most radical set of political ideas ever conceived into history’s greatest nation. It is no accident that the United States of America was born at the apex of the philosophical movement that introduced the concept of the Rights of Man to his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, the Enlightenment.

Only the most extraordinary men of the most ferocious personal strength and courage could have so uncompromisingly upheld, against overwhelming odds and hostility and personal risk, so passionate a belief in their own independently held convictions so as to have established the American Founding. The American Revolution was history’s brightest demonstration of the rationally selfish pursuit of a noble goal by any group of people, ever. It was a monumental human testament to the dedication these men had to their cause – the refusal to live any longer under any social condition except freedom, and to "pledge eternal hostility against every form of tyranny."

The highest tribute I can pay to those Americans who died in the line of military duty, on this Memorial Day, is not that they selflessly sacrificed for their country. Self-sacrifice is not a virtue in my value system. It is an insult, because that would mean that their country and what it stands for was irrelevant to them; that they had no personal, selfish interest in it; that they were not passionate about their service; that they were indifferent toward America's enemies; that it made no difference to them whether they returned to live in freedom or to live in slavery.

This, of course, is not the case.

Freedom is thoroughly egoistic, because it leaves individuals alone to pursue their own goals, values, and happiness. It follows that to fight for freedom is thoroughly egoistic. If American soldiers fight for freedom, then the highest tribute I can pay to those who perished in that cause is to say that they were cut from the mold of the Founding Fathers; that they did not set out to die for their country but rather that they set out to fight for that radical set of ideals that is the United States of America.

In honor of those who perished fighting for the American cause, and to all of America’s service men and women past and present:

Thank you for your service in defense of American ideals, for your desire to live in freedom, and for your fierce determination to accept no substitute.

Happy Memorial Day!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Apple's Partriotism Highlights Urgent Need to Abolish the IRS and Institute a Low-Rate Flat Tax

This letter appeared in the New Jersey Star-Ledgeron May 24, 2013:

Disband the IRS
Congress is discussing whether to effectively raise income taxes on Apple. If Congress decides to close tax loopholes, it is imperative it creates an agency other than the IRS to collect these taxes. The American people do not trust the IRS.
Maybe Congress should defund the IRS and install a flat tax instead. That would give the government the same revenue it gets now.
Sanford Aranoff, Monroe Township

I left these comments:

I agree.

Apple acted morally and patriotically by utilizing every available legal means of avoiding taxes. The attacks by power and tax-hungry politicians and statist media is totally unjust. Apple earned their profits by providing billions of consumers worldwide with valuable products they willingly paid for. The politicians simply want to seize Apple's legitmate profits despite the fact they broke no laws.

Disband the IRS. Rather than close "tax loopholes" (raise taxes), we should drastically lower taxes (and compliance costs) for everyone by means of a low-rate flat tax for both individuals and corporations. The injustice against Apple as well as recent events concerning IRS targeting of conservative groups should convince everyone of the threat this massive, corrupt agency poses to our economic and political liberty.

To Apple's critics, I would only add: Anyone who, in the shoes of Apple's management, would have done any differently are either hypocrits or fools.

Related Reading:

Time for a Flat Tax

Toward Less-Unfair Corporate Taxes

Apple's Tax Avoidance Justifies Moral Outrage--Toward those Harrassing and Smearing Apple by Ari Armstrong

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Keep Government Out of the ISP Business

A battle is raging across America over Community Broadband Networks (CBNs). CBNs are local high-speed internet systems owned and operated by municipal or county governments, private non-profit institutions, or local for-profit companies.

My latest post at The Objective Standard blog argues why government should be legally barred from creating, owning, or operating CBNs. Read my piece titled Government has No Business in Broadband Business.


Industry analyst Craig Settles, though he believes that municipal CBNs have a place, shows how motivated entrepreneurial individuals can and do form high quality, viable private CBNs through non-profit companies and co-ops and for-profit businesses. Though the examples Settles cites did take advantage of federal subsidies, he shows that private CBNs can in fact raise adequate private capital, including from charities, and compete against the big guys.
But, as I said in my TOS article, some communities' "need" for broadband services do indeed create incentives for private initiatives to provide it. But no one has a right to broadband services, and thus no right to force others to provide it to them through government involvement.

Related Reading:

My debate commentary to Putting Up a Fight with the Internet Monopoly posted under my screen name "Zemack"

"Government Help" Leads to Totalitarian Socialism

What NJ Doesn't Need: More Government "Investment"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ideas, Not Money, Matters in Political Campaigns

NJ Star-Ledger reporter Matt Friedman, writing about a state senate race in New Jersey, headlined his front page article Democratic Primary for Union County's 20th District is a Clash of the Machines. His first paragraph states: "[L]ike most of the politics in Union County and Elizabeth, the campaign is a brawl, and each side insists the other is breaking the rules."

What rules? Campaign finance rules.

I left the following comments:

My reaction upon reading about this battle over who's spending how much for whom is; so what?

People have a right to spend their own money as they see fit. This includes spending on political advocacy, in any amount, for or against any candidate or any issue. When people finance political ads, they are spreading ideas and information. The general population is thus better informed in a myriad of ways. People are perfectly capable of assimilating the information and making up their own minds. No "machine," no matter how well financed, can force a voter to vote a certain way. They can only seek to persuade.

The tit-for-tat accusations about campaign finance rule-breaking are a distraction from what really matters; ideas and issues. It's time to end this silliness by getting rid of campaign finance laws. For one thing, these laws don't work. People will always find ways to spend money to influence politicians, legislators, and elections. But that is the people's right, and the whole point of the democratic process, and people shouldn't have to figure out ways to game the system in order to express themselves. Liberating campaign finance would also make for better, more informative campaigns. Finally, repealing campaign finance laws would remove a serious threat to First Amendment free speech and press rights.

We should repeal campaign finance laws. It is the practical and moral thing to do.

Related Reading:

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

Monday, May 20, 2013

Freedom of Speech and Press are Linked

New Jersey has a governor's race coming up this year, and the question of campaign donor disclosure is surfacing as a campaign issue. Governor Chris Christie has decided not to publish the names of his donors, and his Democrat opponent, Barbara Buono countered with, "Me neither." 

But there are two fundamentally different types of political funding; donations that go to private issue-advocacy organizations and donations that go directly to a politician's campaign coffers.
The second is beyond the scope of this post. But, as to the first, the state has no right to force people to disclose spending related to their speech. It is none of the government's or the public's business who funds what, as long as no one's rights are violated. Granted, there can be a fine line between private groups and politicians' campaigns, which  often work in concert, whether officially or unofficially. 

But, a fine line is still a line, and it is crucial for government to respect it. It's bad enough that so many people don't, but especially people whose occupation's very existence owes to the First Amendment. They should know better.

In an April 8, 2013 editorial, the NJ Star-Ledger strongly defended Fox News reporter Jana Winters, who faces jail for refusing to reveal her sources related to a Colorado case involving the Aurora theater shootings. The editors called the demand for Winters to reveal her sources "a textbook challenge to freedom of the press" that sets a "dangerous precedent."

Just four days later, however--April 12, 2013--these same editors railed against "the influence of big money," calling it "the poison of modern American politics, one that tilts the playing field in favor of those with the most money." Citing ads run by pro- and anti-Christie private advocacy groups, the editors write:

Brace yourself for a flood of shady money in this year’s governor’s race. We’re talking about anonymous donors writing unlimited checks, typically for the most negative style of advertisements.  
The sad truth is that efforts to limit the influence of big money are in a state of collapse. The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down key restraints, the Federal Election Commission has proved to be fatally weak, and both parties have taken advantage of every loophole, saying they cannot unilaterally disarm.    
The best remaining hope is to require prompt and full disclosure. At least then voters will know which special interests are pulling the strings, and can judge candidates accordingly. In its infamous Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court invited Congress to require disclosure, saying that would not interfere with free speech rights.

The "anonymous donors" the editors refer to are the folks funding the "liberal" One New Jersey and the pro-Christie Committee for Our Children’s Future, both private issue advocacy groups. The editors claim that "the playing field [is tilted] in favor of those with the most money."

I left these comments comments:

Just four days ago, the editors defended Fox News reporter Jana Winters' right not to disclose her sources, calling the Colorado case "a textbook challenge to freedom of the press" that sets a "dangerous precedent." Today, they demand that private advocacy groups disclose their sources. Never mind that the first involves information sources, and the second involves funding sources. The principle is the same, and the contradiction is breathtaking. 

The editors apparently believe that freedom of speech doesn't rise to the same level of urgency as freedom of the press. But, the two are inextricably linked. In fact, you can't have the second without the first, which makes freedom of speech the more fundamental right. 

Never mind the egalitarian nonsense about "big money" tilting the playing field. The only field that matters is the field of law, under which every individual's rights must be protected equally and at all times. The size of the donations is irrelevant. Every individual has an inalienable right to spend his own money, as he judges best, in the exercise of his inalienable right to freedom of speech; so long as his actions don't involve the violation of the rights of others.  Property rights and speech rights are inextricably linked.

"Big money" in no way corrupts American politics, nor is it "shady" if undisclosed. It fosters vigorous debate. The fact that I can't spend as much as the next guy in no way violates my rights or hinders my ability to speak. Every individual is perfectly capable of judging the issues for himself, and has no need or right to know who paid for the ads. Each of us is also free to pool his money with others to take out ads, or donate money to advocacy groups that spread his views. Each of us has many ways to express himself; speak to friends, family, or co-workers; write letters-to-the-editor; participate in on-line forums; form ad hoc advocacy groups, etc. There is no "tilt" in the playing field, as long as all individuals are free to express themselves in whatever capacity available to them, make up their own minds on the issues, and vote their own conscience

It's one thing to require politicians to reveal the source of their direct campaign contributions.  It something else entirely to require private advocacy groups or individuals to reveal theirs.

Any law that in any way restricts rights-respecting private citizens' freedom to spend their own money, including laws requiring disclosure, is immoral and a violation of free speech and press rights. Remember, just as the editors warned four days ago that "This time it's Fox, but the next time, it'll be CNN,"
 so too, to paraphrase: "This time it'll be restrictions on freedom of speech, but the next time, it'll be freedom of the press." 

"Big media" loves to rail against "money in politics," perhaps because non-press advocacy is destroying the dominance the "big media" once enjoyed in the dissemination of ideas. But, as they do, they are cutting their own long-term throats, not to mention gutting the First Amendment.  

Related Reading:

Campaign Finance: Free Speech, Not Disclosure, is the Main Issue

Citizens United and the Battle for Free Speech, by Steve Simpson

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mandated Paid Parental Leave, Too?

Another "needy" group, another government program.

Monmouth University professors Steven Pressman and Robert Scott took this month's occasion of Mothers Day to argue for paid parental leave--financed, of course, not by personal savings, but with another government program.

The article includes this gem:

Decades ago, this was not a major issue. Not many women worked for pay outside the home or family business, especially women with young children. This is no longer the case. Nearly three-quarters of mothers, many with infants, are in the paid labor force. Mothers today are doing double duty.

Basically, there are two reasons for this cultural change.

I left these comments:

How do you get another coercive government program? Identify a need that some people may have, then collectivize it. Speak in terms of the  "we," as if "we" is an entity onto itself, independent of the individuals that make it up.

Mysticism drives the omnipotent welfare state. Take away the mystical "we," which doesn't exist, and think in terms of individuals, who do exist, and you expose the criminal nature of every welfare state program--and cut the welfare statist off at the [intellectual] knees. Who will pay for these benefits? People whose money is seized by the state at gunpoint, and redistributed to others who didn't earn it. Common theft, legalized.

Thanks to mysticism, we have become a nation of collectivist thugs. Every man with another plan turns to government to force it on everyone else. Why not, it's for "us." It's not moral to steal or to use force against others? But morality is for individuals. The collective is the God of the Left. The collective is above morality.

Well, no, it isn't. If it's wrong for an individual to steal or force another, it's just as wrong for that individual if he joins a group; say, an electoral or legislative majority.

Paid leave is a great idea. That's why people should follow the age-old advice of financial planners: build up an emergency nest egg to cover unexpected expenses. Then, when you need some time off, you can "pay yourself" out of your savings.

But, that would require personal responsibility. "We" can't have that. What would the master planners do with themselves.

What a way to honor mothers; call for another expansion of government coercion into our lives.

Related Reading:

Mandated Paid Sick Days, Too?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Standardized Testing is Not the Fundamental Problem

Bruce Taterka, a teacher and member of the 2011-12 New Jersey Department of Education Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee, has a good op-ed explaining why N.J. Teacher Evaluation on the Wrong Track.

Getting rid of bad teachers and rewarding good ones is all the rage in education these days, and the central planners are busy figuring out ways to evaluate which are which. Like any collectivist approach, the focus will have to be on creating some metric to measure collective performance. 

Not surprisingly, student standardized testing has emerged as a key measuring stick for accomplishing that goal. The idea is to test students to measure the progress of entire classes, schools, and even districts, with a rising average score indicating a good teacher (or school or district), and a stagnant or falling average the opposite. What about the unique attributes of the individual students? This is a collectivist approach, remember. Taterka writes:

The state will use a complex formula — the Student Growth Percentile, or “SGP” — in which a student takes a test at the beginning of the year and again at the end; students’ scores are compared statewide to calculate each teacher’s “effectiveness.”

Taterka calls this scheme "a disaster" because "So many factors that affect student learning are outside the teacher’s control." He lists some of those factors, and cites his experience on the Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee, including the testimony of several experts, to back up his views.

But Taterka is a public school establishment type, and consequently misses the fundamental problem. I left these comments:

The problem is not so much the tests as who is administering them and how they are used.

The biggest flaw in this whole evaluation craze is that it cuts the parents out of the decision-making loop. The people who are best equipped to evaluate what's best for the child, including if and how to use standardized tests, are the people who actually know the child, the parents and their children's teachers. They are the ones who should decide if and how to apply standardized tests. But, for that to happen, parents must have decision-making power over their children's teachers and schools--something they don't have now. That will only happen when we have a free market, where parents and education providers are free to contract voluntarily to mutual advantage, or agree to disagree and go their separate ways. We can begin moving in that direction with a universal school choice plan.

Until then, I couldn't agree more that the current scheme is a bad one. But, any evaluation scheme outside of the context of the parents' moral right to have final say concerning the course of their children's education is a sham.

The idea that central planners pouring over test scores to come up with some teacher rating determined by a hypothetical average student will tell you nothing of the educational issues, needs, and problems of individual students, or how effectively a teacher deals with them. A collectivist approach to evaluation not only can't work--because children are not averages but sovereign individuals--it is unfair to teacher, student, and parent.

The whole point of government-run schools is to cut the parents out and minimize their influence. That must change. A free market--getting government coercion out of education--is the only genuine teacher evaluation plan, 

Related Reading:

The Conflict Over Standardized Testing is a Consequence of Government-Run Schools. 

Teacher Accountability Follows from Genuine Market Activity.

By All Means, Let Parents Lead

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How Government Powers of Economic Control Threatens Free Speech

The recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative and Tea Party political activist groups drew a sharp rebuke from the NJ Star-Ledger, usually an Obama Administration sympathizer. In response to the S-L's editorial, Nixon's Ghost Visits the Obama White House, I left these comments:

The IRS episode highlights the hidden danger inherent in the government's power over the economy and money; a danger that extends beyond the economy to a threat to free speech.

Recently, BB&T failed the Fed's "stress test" of the 18 largest financial institutions despite being the best-capitalized bank of the 18 and having gotten through the financial crisis in strong shape by avoiding making the disastrous mortgage loans to its customers.

Why is BB&T targeted? It's noteworthy that John A. Allison, who served as BB&T CEO from 1989 to 2008, has long been an outspoken critic of government policies relating to the housing bust and in particular a major critic of the Federal Reserve. He opposed the TARP bailouts and only took the government's "bailout" money after Paulson threatened him--and paid it back as soon as it was allowed. In his new book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure--an in-depth account of the crisis from an insider's perspective--Allison identified the Federal Reserve as the primary cause of the financial crisis because of its bubble-building easy-money policies.

Is BB&T being targeted in retaliation? This episode stinks of regulatory retribution every bit as much as the IRS's tax retribution. One wonders how extensive the government's abuse of its tax and regulatory powers for the purpose of punishing and/or silencing dissenters is. These two episodes may be the tip of the iceberg, indicating a major covert threat to free speech. This is something any large newspaper--which depend for their survival on the First Amendment--should be concerned about, so I'm glad to see the S-L editors all over the IRS story.

Steve Forbes cited the BB&T story in its lead Fact and Comment section of the May 6, 2013 addition of Forbes magazine. In a piece titled The Fed: Playing Thug Politics With Banks, Forbes notes that four of the 18 banks failed the stress test. Three of the four are well-run institutions. But the CEOs of the three have been strong critics of government policy. Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs (also a Romney ally) have been outspoken critics of the Obama Administration, and as Forbes notes:

The Fed’s thrashing of BB&T, however, is especially disturbing, because it is the best-capitalized institution of the 18. The Fed is playing dirty pool here for two reasons. First, the bank’s former CEO John Allison IV, who made BB&T the formidable powerhouse it is today, was unusually outspoken in his criticism of bank regulators. During the financial crisis of 2008-09 he fiercely resisted Treasury Department pressure to take TARP money. The bank took it only after Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson threatened grievous harm.

In his book The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, Allison writes, "the Fed regulates the banking industry, so it is risky for a banker to be opposed to the Fed (writing this book is risky)." Since business in general is heavily regulated, it's risky for any businessman to criticize government. The non-objective antitrust laws are another good case in point. That body of laws are so vague that essentially any business practice could be deemed illegal under antitrust. When Google founder Larry Page spoke out against government regulation of the internet while being targeted by antitrust enforcers, Owen Thomas, writing for Business Insider, chastised him, saying "it's not a smart thing for the CEO of a company facing antitrust scrutiny to say."

Forbes said the three banks "were whacked for political reasons." How often will future bank CEO's be willing to speak out against government policies? How many businessmen keep silent for fear of rankling some regulator? Where are all of the champions of "whistle blowers?"

Related Reading:

The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure by John A. Allison

Federal Reserve Joins Vendetta Politics of Obama Regime, by Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Borraggine's not the Only Businessperson Forcing Minimum Wages on Other Businesspersons

In my post, Morality and the Minimum Wage, I wrote:

[Carissa] Borraggine's vague rationalization's like "even the playing field" or an "obligation as a country" or high-and-mighty declarations of "caring about our state's lowest-wage workers" are sugar-coating  for injustice; the belief that some may force their judgment on others--or, as Ms. Borraggine arrogantly puts it: "I pay real wages, shouldn't everyone?"

Restaurateur Borraggine calls for a higher minimum wage in New Jersey ($9.00, up from $7.25) that conveniently falls below what she currently pays her employees. She claims the higher wages she pays is good business practice, because that fosters a happier and more reliable workforce. So, she reasons, I Pay Real Wages, Shouldn't Everyone is justification for attacking other businesspersons by forcing higher wages on them.

Apparently, small business owners are not the only ones Throwing Your Fellow Businessmen Under the Minimum Wage Bus. As Doug Altner at Voices for Reason notes, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek also calls for a higher minimum wage--at the federal level--with the same rationalization; it's good for business.

Whatever their motivations, both Borraggine and Jelinek are taking an immoral stand--and, as businessperson's, a suicidal one. If the government can force some businesses to pay higher wages than they are willing and/or able to pay, then that government can force any business to pay higher wages--including their own business. Whether they cynically see minimum wage laws as a means of hampering their competitors, or believe it's the right thing to do, their's is an immoral stand because they are attempting to force their ideas on others, with government as the hired gun.

All businesspersons have a right to act on their own judgement, and contract voluntarily with those they hire, based on the rights of employer and employee alike. Any time force enters the equation, individual rights are violated. Borraggine and Jelinek--and every person--should adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy of respect for the rights of others, and call for an end to minimum wage laws. That would be the moral stand.

Related Reading:

Morality and the Minimum Wage

End, Don't Raise, Minimum Wage Laws

NJ Star-Ledger's Tom Moran Replies to Me on Minimum Wage

Monday, May 13, 2013

Replace the Corporate Income Tax Mess with a Low-Rate Flat Tax

The House Ways and Means Committee is taking a hard look at the corporate income tax. In my latest post at The Objective Standard blog, Toward Less-Unfair Corporate Taxes, I offer a suggestion.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

It's NOT the Guns, it's the Rights

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) announced "a package of bills that will serve as a national model for gun safety." He outlined the bill in an op-ed, Gun Control that Works for New Jersey and is a National Model.

The bill would require all gun information such as gun permits and firearms IDs to be encoded into a drivers license, and allow instant name verification, criminal and mental background checks, proof of proper training in the ownership and use of firearms, etc., with a swipe of the license.

What's interesting is that Sweeney claims to be for gun rights for law-abiding citizens. He has said that he is a gun owner, and so are many members of his ironworkers union. He has angered anti-gun activists by adamantly refusing to reduce the magazine limit from the existing 15 to 10. Said Sweeney:

The centerpiece of our legislation, which I am proud to sponsor, is a bill to completely overhaul the process for purchasing firearms so that it is more modern, requires instant background checks on all purchases and stops those who should not have weapons from getting them.
This bill packs a lot of punch, and there may be a lot of bad stuff in the bill that could be a backdoor means for anti-gun zealots to restrict gun ownership by means of unreasonably difficult requirements. However, I have said that rules governing gun ownership are proper functions of government, and the stream-lined process could theoretically make it much easier to obtain a gun, thanks to the instant verification process.

But, in reading Sweeney's article, something struck me: The piece is full of terms like "gun safety," "gun violence," and "gun control." It's all about the guns. So, I submitted the following letter-to-the-editor, which was published in edited form:

As the people's designated agent of self-defense, properly holding a legal monopoly on the use of physical force, the government has a role in overseeing the use of instruments of deadly force. Therefore, the government may properly make objective rules regarding gun ownership, much as it has rules regarding who may obtain a driver’s license.

But, I have my doubts that responsible, rights-respecting gun legislation can be crafted because the anti-gun zealots have managed to subvert the whole debate with invalid terminology like "gun control" and "gun violence." Guns can't commit violence. People commit violence, and the cause isn't the gun. The cause is perverted values and motives. The gun is just a means.

As long as the focus is on gun control or gun violence, the impetus will be toward increasing restrictions on gun ownership for law-abiding, morally upstanding citizens. The proper purpose of gun legislation should be to protect the rights of upstanding citizens to own guns for self-defense or recreational purposes; rights that are implicit in the inalienable rights to life and the pursuit of happiness.

It must be stressed that the "gun control" issue is fundamentally one of individual rights; specifically, the right to life and the right to pursue happiness. The right to life implies the right to possess and use adequate means to defend oneself when law enforcement isn't there to protect one (owning guns for self defense). And the right to pursue happiness implies the right to own guns to secure a feeling of personal security and for recreational purposes.

Related Reading:

Gun Control Should Focus on Principles, not Guns

Banning Guns Punishes the Innocent and Violates Rights

With Gun Control, Cost Benefit Analysis is Amoral by Harry Binswanger

Friday, May 10, 2013

Obama's Sugar-Coated Poison

President Obama's  commencement address at Ohio State University continued his unrelenting call for American Collectivism. 

Obama zeroed in on what he termed "that perennial, quintessentially American value of optimism; altruism; empathy; tolerance; a sense of community; a sense of service...." 

Obama goes on to list myriad ways that people have "served," from joining the military or the Peace Core to starting a career in business or the Arts.  He urges the graduates to "choose a cause that you care about in your life and will fight like heck to realize your vision." By this, Obama does not mean that graduates should pursue their own happiness:

There is a word for this. It’s citizenship. And we don’t always talk about this idea much these days — citizenship — let alone celebrate it. Sometimes, we see it as a virtue from another time, a distant past, one that’s slipping from a society that celebrates individual ambition above all else; a society awash in instant technology that empowers us to leverage our skills and talents like never before, but just as easily allows us to retreat from the world. And the result is that we sometimes forget the larger bonds we share as one American family.

Obama wants the America's young to choose based upon what is good for the country, not themselves, implicitly discounting the possibility that joining the military or starting a business or helping out after a disaster could be consistent with "individual ambition"; i.e., rational, selfishly chosen values and goals. Indeed, if their goals are selfishly motivated, they are by definition not morally valid. From the perspective of his Kantian ethical worldview, he is right: If your goals are not altruistic--i.e., self-sacrificial--they are ipso-facto selfish and thus immoral. 

Obama wants these kids to subordinate what's good for themselves as individuals to what's good for others as the collective. What better way to condition kids for an eventual, undiluted authoritarian state?

Stephen Bourque has a great rebuttal to Obama's message at The Objective Standard blog titled Obama's Un-American Call to "Service" and "Duty." Here is an excerpt:

In saying “this country cannot accomplish great things if we pursue nothing greater than our own individual ambition,” Obama dismisses the purpose and history of the United States, and the very concept of liberty. America was not formed so that “this country” could accomplish great things; it was formed so that individuals could accomplish great things.
I urge you to read the whole thing.

The idea of the individual as subordinate to the country is as old as totalitarianism, because "the country" or whatever name you want to ascribe to the collective necessarily means the state; a collective or group, as such, does not exist in concrete reality. Only the legal apparatus of the state and the individual exist. Obama's  message is the same old sugar-coated poison that has been spouted by statists since time immemorial.

No wonder Obama urges us to "reject these voices [that] warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner." He doesn't want anyone to discover where he wants to take the country that we are to subordinate our individual ambition to. But why would he even bring attention to "these voices?" Perhaps he is telling us that we are starting to have an impact.

Related Reading:

Obama's Way vs. the American Way

Obama's Collectivist Manifesto, Parts 12, and 3

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Un-American Moral Premise Behind the Drive to Tax Internet Sales

In Time for Online Sellers to Collect Sales Taxes, the NJ Star-Ledger editorialized:

The U.S. Senate is advancing a bill that would require internet-only and catalog businesses to collect sales tax from out-of-state customers. It’s aptly named the Marketplace Fairness Act, and it’s long overdue.

There is a fairness issue involved, but that isn't the editors' main concern:

The current system deprives state and local budgets from a much-needed infusion of cash. By one estimate, state and local governments lose out on $23 billion in revenue annually because of untaxed online transactions.

I left the following comments:

The idea that "governments lose out on $23 billion in revenue" hides a virulently un-American, statist premise; that the government has an inherent claim on people's wealth, and that any untaxed money people keep is by government permission only. 

This is a moral inversion. The money individuals earn is theirs by inalienable right. It is not owned by government, which was Founded as the individual's servant and rights-protector. Therefor, government isn't losing anything by not taxing something, because it can't lose what it doesn't own to begin with.

Another example of the editors' statist/collectivist worldview is the comment "We’re well-positioned to collect our due under the proposed law." We the people, as individuals, will actually be paying out more. By "we're" and "our" the editors mean the government, which will be collecting--and redistributing the money to the most politically connected. But statists don't much concern themselves with actual individuals. Individualism runs counter to statism. That's why they always speak in collectivist terms to justify expanded government.

That said, there is a fairness issue involved. Taxing store sales while exempting online sales violates store retailers' rights by violating the principle of equality before the law.  One way to fix the fairness problem in the short term is to apply sales taxes to the internet while simultaneously lowering the sales tax rate to a point that is revenue-neutral to the government (which should focus on cutting spending, not increasing taxes). The last thing that should be done is to increase the amount of money the government seizes. And since the politicians can't be trusted to not sneak the rates back up later, some ironclad statutory method should be included to prevent that.

Longer term, the sales tax should be phased out and abolished. As to those roads, bridges, ports, and airports, they should be funded through user fees only, not generalized redistributive taxation (which is also un-American and probably unconstitutional). 

I should clarify that I do not believe we should fight for a lower sales tax in exchange for taxing the internet as any kind of compromise or primary goal. My point is that in a worse case scenario, a lower sales tax may be the only short-term option to fight for if the Marketplace Fairness Act passes and if the extension of the sales tax can not be stopped in the state one lives in. 

My activism in newspaper forums is sometimes rushed, and consequently can leave an erroneous implication. A clearer statement of my position is laid out in The Objective Standard blog. 

Related Reading:

Stop the "Marketplace Fairness Act"

Whose Money is it, Anyway?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hiring, Racism, and Criminal Records

Akil S. Roper, vice president, assistant general counsel and supervising attorney of the Prisoner Re-entry Project at Legal Services of New Jersey, is calling for the passage of a state law that would forbid employers from doing criminal background checks on job applicants until after a job has been offered:

The bill (S2586, and its Assembly companion A3837), known as the New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act, would allow employers to consider applicants’ criminal record histories only after a conditional job offer has been extended.

The title of the article, A Fairer Way to Hire Minorities in NJ, immediately got my back up. 

I left the following comments:

The attempt to frame the issue in a cloak of implied racism is a despicable smear against employers that almost caused me to dismiss this column in disgust, except that crucial issues are at stake--specifically, the attempt to legally strong-arm employers. The issue of hiring people with criminal records has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the right of employers to set their own terms of employment. 
That right has already been substantially eroded, and the "NJ Opportunity to Compete Act" further violates employers' individual rights. Just as no one should be forced to take a job against his will, so employers should not be forced to hire anyone against his will. An employment contract is properly and morally a strictly voluntary agreement. 
The description of the bill indicates that the employer would still be "allowed" to make the final hiring determination. Be that as it may, no one should have to seek permission from the government before hiring someone, which is what the use of the term "allowed" really means. It's naive to ignore the actual nature of such a law, which would be a further wedge of political coercion into private employment contracts. 

There are undoubtedly ex-convicts who are sincere about turning their lives around and thus worthy of hire and a chance to build a life. I will be the first to recognize the courage and determination of such individuals, particularly those who have been snared into "ex-prisoner" status by unjust laws such as those that criminalize personal drug use. And no, it is not easy. But, there are undoubtedly many bad ex-cons, and the worthiness of an ex-con job applicant is a profoundly important decision; a judgment that rightfully belongs only to prospective employers to make, not politicians. Employers alone have the moral right to decide whether the hiring of an ex-con, as opposed to someone without a criminal record, is worth the extra risk.  
The morally proper role of ex-con advocacy groups like Prisoner Re-Entry Project is to educate employers about ex-con job applicants and judge them as individuals, and to persuade employers to voluntarily hire them, not force them to hire ex-cons with government as the hired gun.  
Working to help worthy ex-cons get back on their feet is laudable. Coercing employers to hire them with laws such as S2586 is contrary the proper role of government, which is to protect everyone's right to act on his own judgment so long as his actions do not violate another's rights.

Related Reading:

"Greed" is a Two-Way Street

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The "Marketplace Fairness Act" is Not Fair, and Should be Defeated

My latest post at The Objective Standard Blog is titled The Marketplace Fairness Act: A Morally Unacceptable Gimmick. Here is an excerpt:

The issue the bill purportedly aims to address is the need of equal protection under the law. Currently, a state can compel a retailer to collect sales taxes only if the retailer has a physical presence in the state. This state of affairs, the MFA’s supporters claim, renders in-state retailers “at a competitive disadvantage” relative to out-of-state retailers. The MFA, they say, would “level the playing field.”

This is totally misleading BS, as I explain in the article. 

This is an important issue with long-reaching consequences--all bad. So, read the whole thing.

I would add that liberty lovers may have an ally in the the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In a 1967 case, the Court ruled that the kind of taxing authority the MFA would grant to the states to be unconstitutional based on the Commerce Clause. The Court found the imposition of state and local use taxes on national mail order house National Bellas Hess constituted “impediments upon the free conduct of its interstate business” because it could “entangle National's interstate business in a virtual welter of complicated obligations to local jurisdictions with no legitimate claim to impose 'a fair share of the cost of the local government.'” (Emphasis added.) The same reasoning could be applied to online and catalogue businesses today, so there’s good reason to believe that even if the MFA passes into law, it may not pass muster with the Supreme Court.

On a final note, some may ask: If sales taxes are abolished, how would states pay for the things the tax currently funds? 

Before we answer that, we must ask a deeper question: Is the sales tax just, and in conformance with the principle of individual rights? The answer is no. The fundamental problem is the immorality of the sales tax as such. As Ari Armstrong has noted, the sales tax “essentially forces businesses to serve as the government’s tax collectors, at the businesses’ own expense, with noncompliance punishable by criminal penalties.”

So, how would states replace the "lost" revenue? To the extent that the revenue raised by sales taxes goes toward purposes not proper to government, such as funding public schools or parks, the tax is a rights-violating seizure of people’s money, and the government has no claim to that money in the first place. To the extent the revenue funds proper government functions, such as the police or state courts, it is still unjust for reasons cited above, and the government should figure out a better way to raise the revenue. (Ultimately, all taxation should be voluntary. But that is a battle for a distant future.)

Related Reading:

Don't Expand Sales Taxes, Abolish Them by Ari Armstrong

How Would Government be Funded in a Free Society? by Craig Biddle