Monday, December 30, 2013

Ending Extended Unemployment Benefits Was the Right Thing to Do

Expressing Outrage at cutting off unemployment benefits, which takes effect in January after Congress's budget deal, a letter stated in the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

    How did we reach this point where so many are unemployed long-term and might now lose their benefits?
    First, the federal government deregulates the financial industry, leading to proliferation of risky mortgages, which are packaged and sold as investments rated high quality by rating agencies paid by the very companies selling them. This drives home prices up and up and the bubble inevitably bursts, destroying billions in home values and producing this Great Recession.
    Our economy has never produced enough jobs for all the job-seekers, but now the shortfall is enormous. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fewer than 4 million job openings existed in a recent month, while there were nearly 12 million people looking for work.
    That doesn’t include the discouraged people dropping out of the labor force.
    Nevertheless, members of Congress, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), say the unemployed just need to get jobs, failing to recognize that this economy Congress helped create will always have millions unemployed because there simply aren’t enough.
    Now, that same Congress wants to cut off benefits to those who are unemployed as a direct result of the government’s misguided actions.
Tony Giordano, Howell

I left these comments:

There are multiple falsehoods in this letter.

First, the financial industry wasn't deregulated. In fact, financial regulations increased by 29% under G.W. Bush. [Correction; 23%]

Second, the packaging of "risky" mortgages into investment vehicles did not cause the housing bubble and bust. The easy-money Federal Reserve policies and subsequent sharp "tightening" did, as any basic economics text will tell you.

Third, the statement "Our economy has never produced enough jobs for all the job-seekers" is utterly false. As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, labor shortages were so acute that fast food restaurants were offering twice the minimum wage to attract workers. Higher-skilled occupations faced even larger shortages (and still do today). Throughout history, a healthy economy has always produced more jobs than job-seekers. During the 19th Century, jobs were generally plentiful despite the flood of immigrants entering the country. Even today, states with healthy economies, like the energy boom state North Dakota, have plenty of jobs for anyone willing to work. Jobs are always plentiful as long as government masterminds keep regulations and taxes reigned in, because there are always plenty of people willing to start businesses.

Congress did the right thing ending unemployment benefits for the so-called "long-term unemployed." Seizing money from working people in order to pay people not to work is simply wrong. Want more jobs [?], reign in government regulations, taxes, and spending, stop demonizing businessmen, stop subsidizing unemployment, and we'll once again be lamenting worker shortages, like in the 80s and 90s.

Giordano is right about one thing, but not in the way he means. The sad state of the economy certainly is "a direct result of the government’s misguided actions."

Related Reading:

Washington Budget Debacle Highlights Extent of Our Dependence on Government

Saturday, December 28, 2013

No Free Market Health Reform Will "Work"—by Socialist Standards

Last Fall's attempt by the Republicans to force a defunding of ObamaCare through the budget process, thus precipitating the confrontation with Democrats that in turn precipitated the government shutdown, was, I believe, a poorly conceived political strategy. My reasons are two-fold. First, I believe that ObamaCare must be confronted openly and on principle, rather than smuggled in through the budget process. 

By principle, I mean fundamentally opposite of the statist ObamaCare. To do that, the GOP must offer a fundamentally opposite healthcare reform to anchor their opposition. Being against without being for something is not a viable strategy. The Republicans have failed to come close to offering a viable principled alternative.

Worse, they've gone the opposite way, basing their opposition to ObamaCare on the Democrats' basic premises. House Republicans introduced a health care reform plan in September that would replace ObamaCare if Republicans are successful at repealing ObamaCare. According to TPM's Dylan Scott:

The plan, drawn up by the House Republican Study Committee, starts with repealing the 2010 health care reform law. It then aims to lower health care costs through a few mechanisms. Income and payroll tax deductions would be available to individuals ($7,500) and families ($20,000) for health coverage. Insurance plans could be sold across state lines. The federal government would pump $25 billion into state high-risk pools for people with preexisting conditions. Medical malpractice laws would be reformed to reduce doctors' risk of litigation.

Although the GOP plan does have a few good free market reforms, it is vague and underwhelming. Worse, the preamble's muddled message reads like a weak-kneed attempt to achieve the Democrats' goal of universal coverage, only more slowly:

Americans want a step-by-step, common-sense approach to health care reform, not Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s costly, 1,990-page government takeover of our nation’s health care system. Republicans’ alternative solution focuses on lowering health care premiums for families and small businesses, increasing access to affordable, high-quality care, and promoting healthier lifestyles – without adding to the crushing debt Washington has placed on our children and grandchildren.

The GOP plan won't "work,"  argues Scott, because it doesn't help poor people get insurance in the way ObamaCare does.

But ObamaCare "helps" poor people get health insurance by subsidizing their premiums with money seized from taxpayers against their will. ObamaCare further subsidizes some peoples' healthcare at the expense of others through insurance mandates that force everyone to buy only government-approved coverage whether they need, want, or can afford such coverage. The contraceptive mandate is a prime example of this. And, of course, there is the individual mandate, which requires everyone to purchase a government-approved policy under threat of fines. The effect of these mandates is to raise premiums on people who would otherwise be able to get much cheaper coverage, in order to subsidize—lower the premiums of—others. As a corollary, ObamaCare accords federal regulators unrestrained power to write regulations; i.e., to make law.

All of this amounts to a monumental regulatory/redistributionist scheme that massively violates the rights of individuals to control their own wealth and healthcare. The only fundamental alternative to ObamaCare and like schemes is a free market. But no free market plan can comply with the standard of government help for the poor or the uninsured. No free market plan can "work" by socialist standards on socialist premises. A free market protects individual rights. A plan that guarantees coverage for everyone must necessarily violate rights on a massive scale. If the Republicans are to credibly counter the Dems' universal coverage schemes, they must reject the Dems' premises and boldly hold individual rights as the standard for healthcare reform.

Some of their proposals do advance toward more freedom; e.g., "Allowing Americans to buy insurance across state lines" and "Enhancing Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)." But it also contains provisions for "Universal Access Programs to guarantee access to affordable care for those with pre-existing conditions." Nowhere do the Republicans uphold individual rights and free markets as their standard. They simply accept the Democrats' standard and, of course, by that standard the GOP plan won't "work."

Of course, the natural incentives inherent in a fully free market—consumers shopping for the best healthcare and health insurance at the best price, coupled with providers competing to attract customers and expand sales and profits—inexorably leads to lower costs and higher quality. Problems like pre-existing conditions are largely a consequence of the government-instigated third-party-payer system that ties health insurance to employment, which wouldn't exist in a free market. (The GOP plan seeks to partially rectify that by allowing tax deductions for individuals and families to equalize tax treatments between individuals and businesses.) The lower costs and higher quality that results from competition in a free market does help everyone, including the poor, to pursue healthcare. But that must be recognized as a consequence, and individual rights as the standard, if the GOP is to avoid the trap set by Scott and other Leftists.

And that's what a free market does; protects everyone's right to pursue healthcare and health insurance that fits their values, needs, wallets, and overall personal circumstances. A free market does not give anyone an automatic claim on other people to provide for needs they can not provide for themselves, with the government acting as his agent to carry out those claims. A free market does not guarantee that everyone's needs will be satisfied. A free market only protects the rights of the needy to seek charitable help, and everyone to offer such help as and when they choose. The government's only role is a neutral one; to protect everyone's individual rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of healthcare equally and at all times. This government protection is what makes free market capitalism the only moral social system. 

As long as the GOP frames their ideas as a way to achieve socialist goals, as their recently submitted plan is implicitly designed to do, they will fail to stem the tide toward full, single-payer socialized medicine. In fact, they will enhance the trend. Why go for a slow-motion, halfway Republican plan of universal coverage when the Democrats are offering to take you there much quicker and explicitly. 

Consistency will always win over half measures, and the Dems have been fully consistent in pursuing universal healthcare. As Ayn Rand observed about "The Anatomy of Compromise" in Capitalism: The unknown Ideal: "In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins." The GOP, if it is to be the political voice of free markets, must heed her advice.

Related reading:

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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fossil Fuels and Climate Change: Remember Life Before Them

A letter titled Time for carbon tax appeared in the NJ Star-Ledger on July 26, 2013. Here is an excerpt:

Prosperity depends upon clean air, water and soil, and the ability to grow healthful food.
The greatest threat to American prosperity is unchecked global climate change. We must therefore redirect our national priorities away from policies that promote profits for the few (fossil fuel magnates) at the expense of the many (everyone else). We must tell our legislators directly that we want an authentic and widespread prosperity based on energy conservation, efficiency and innovation. A revenue-neutral carbon tax would tax fossil fuel industries and return the funds to taxpayers, who would then be empowered to spend the money on locally produced goods and services, including renewable energy.

I wonder what constitutes checked climate change? I wonder what policies actually promote the profits of fossil fuel magnates, given all of the taxes, regulations, and promising oil and gas tracts that producers are forbidden to explore and develop—not to mention the continuing assault on the coal industry. The only profit-promoting policies I see are the never-ending subsidies to "renewable energy" parasites.

And I wonder how Linda, the author of the letter, would get people to spend their money on "locally produced goods and services," or what consumers would do if what they need or desire is not produced locally. 

In any event, I left these comments:

RE: Time for carbon tax

Linda, what do you think powers our agriculture, water purification and delivery systems, sewage disposal pipelines, and waste water treatment plants? Electricity powered primarily by carbon fuels (not to mention transportation, central heating and cooling systems, illumination, and many other life-enhancing needs). Any discussion of fossil fuels should consider their benefits, and the consequences to man of ending their use (which is the environmentalists' ultimate goal).

Contrary to your fantasies, oil industry profits do not come "at the expense of everyone else." Like all actual profits, they are earned through voluntary trade, a win-win transaction that benefits both seller and buyer. When you fill up your tank with gas, you benefit. When you turn on your heat on a cold winter day, you benefit. When you buy food produced on mechanized farms and delivered to your local supermarket in trucks, you benefit. When you exchange your money for these benefits, the industry also benefits in the form of their profits, which feed future investments in innovations like fracking technology. Profits are noble—the reward for productive work that enhances the lives of business' customers—billions of them. Win-win.

What you don't have a right to do is declare yourself the arbiter of "national priorities," and tax (i.e., loot) energy users to facilitate handouts—or demand proxie politicians do it for you. But, hey, it's still a relatively free country. Why don't you spend or invest your own money on conservation, efficiency, and innovation—or do it yourself? 

Any restrictions on carbon (i.e., CO2) emissions that hamper energy production is grossly irresponsible. Fossil fuels power most of our energy needs , and without fossil fuels our industrialization is doomed for the foreseeable future. Without industrialization, human beings will once again be at the full mercy of natural disasters (which have always happened, and always will).

Fossil fuels have vastly improved the planet and made for a vastly better living environment. Countries with the longest life expectancies correlate with high usage of fossil fuels. Life expectancies and living standards in China and India are rising, not falling, as their use of fossil fuels, including vast amounts of coal, increases to power their advancing industrialization. It is in backward third world countries that life is miserable.

Even if we concede that man's use of fossil fuels is marginally warming the planet and increasing the severity of storms—a dubious assumption—so what? It should be remembered that without industrialization, which depends primarily on fossil fuels and will for the foreseeable future, life for humans is miserable, short, and deadly.

Rather than adding restrictions, we should be removing restrictions on fossil fuel production and use. A better approach is to adapt by building more and better protections against weather extremes, which fossil fuel-driven industrialization can and has enabled us to do.

The fossil fuel industry is heroic. We should hail them, and condemn their enemies. The greatest threat to American prosperity is environmentalism.

Related Reading:

Attack on "Carbon Pollution" an Attack on Human Life

"Clean" Energy Companies, not "Fossil Fuel Bosses," Need Political Favors to Compete

We Are Doomed Without, Not Because of, Fossil Fuel Use

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas: A Holiday for All

Can non-Christians celebrate Christmas? Many do, and why not? I’m an atheist and I have no problem celebrating Christmas, even though it has no religious significance for me.

What’s great about Christmas is that it is both a religious holiday, being based upon the birth of the Christian icon Jesus, and a secular holiday as well.

How can I say that? I am indebted to philosopher Ayn Rand for identifying the resolution of that seemingly contradictory proposition. In answer to the question of whether it is appropriate for an atheist to celebrate Christmas, Rand answered:

Yes, of course. A national holiday, in this country, cannot have an exclusively religious meaning. The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property… of the Christian religion. (The Ayn Rand Lexicon)

This makes perfect sense. A national religious holiday in a secular nation founded on the principle of separation of church and state (religious freedom) is a logical impossibility. Since to have a secular government means to have one that is neutral with regards to the fundamental beliefs of all of its citizens, an American national holiday by definition cannot be religious.

In fact, what we today call Christmas originally didn't have any connection to Jesus at all, writes Onkar Ghate in U.S.News & World Report:

"Before Christians co-opted the holiday in the fourth century (there is no reason to believe Jesus was born in December), it was a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, of the days beginning to grow longer. The Northern European tradition of bringing evergreens indoors, for instance, was a reminder that life and production were soon to return to the now frozen earth."

The Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice with the holiday Saturnalia. In Northern Europe, the holiday was called Yule.

Indeed, as philosopher Leonard Peikoff notes over at Capitalism Magazine, the leading secular Christmas symbol - Santa Claus - actually contradicts some standard Christian tenets:

Santa Claus is a thoroughly American invention. ... In 1822, an American named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem about a visit from St. Nick. It was Moore (and a few other New Yorkers) who invented St. Nick's physical appearance and personality, came up with the idea that Santa travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, comes down the chimney, stuffs toys in the kids' stockings, then goes back to the North Pole.

...Santa implicitly rejected the whole Christian ethics. He did not denounce the rich and demand that they give everything to the poor; on the contrary, he gave gifts to rich and poor children alike. Nor is Santa a champion of Christian mercy or unconditional love. On the contrary, he is for justice -- Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones.

When Congress declared Christmas a National Holiday, Christmas ceased being a religious observance and became a secular holiday. So, regardless of your beliefs, go ahead and enjoy Christmas on your own terms.

On that note, let me extend to everyone a hearty wish for a joyous, safe, and thoroughly non-contradictory…


Related Reading:

How the Welfare State Stole Christmas, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Was Jesus Really Born on Dec. 25?, by Andrew Santella.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Work is a Requirement of Nature—Whether Yours or Someone Else's

In an 8/22/13 NJ Star-Ledger letter titled Likes tuition-free plan, Dick Haupt voiced support for a college tuition payment plan advanced by NJ Senate president Stephen Sweeney, which would allow students to attend college tuition-free—at taxpayer expense—and in return for agreeing to "pay back" the expense from their future salaries. 

Haupt wrote, in part:

Students suffer trying to attend classes and work one or two jobs to cover costs, while trying to keep up with their studies.
There also should be no interest on college loans. Our country gives away billions of dollars; it is immoral to continue this practice .
I left these comments:

"Students suffer trying to attend classes and work one or two jobs to cover costs, while trying to keep up with their studies."

What about the taxpayers who would be forced to foot the bill for the "tuition-free plan?" Do they not "suffer" with having to work while trying to keep up with their life's many other concerns?

Like it or not, nature provides nothing for free. Every product and service humans need and desire, including education, must be produced by someone's work. There are only two ways to get what you need to live and flourish; work for it yourself, or get it from others. If you choose to get it from others, there are only two alternatives; voluntary charity or forcibly taking it (looting and slavery). Only working for it yourself or asking for voluntary help are moral. 

As to the $billions our government gives away in foreign aid, it is immoral because paid for by taxes.

Related Reading:

From Middle Class to Welfare Class

Friday, December 20, 2013

Protecting Rights vs. Sanctioning Action

There is a related point regarding yesterday's post, Marriage Equality vs. Anti-Discrimination Law: Freedom of Contract Works Both Ways

Regarding my NJ Star-Ledger comments, a correspondent took issue with my statement, "Of course, the law should not sanction discrimination," saying: "That is, of course, precisely what your 'objections' here would allow."

Here is my answer:

By "sanction" I mean enforced by law. Laws that protect rights don't sanction any particular type of behavior, good, bad, or otherwise. They sanction the individual's freedom to act on his own convictions and judgement. E.G.: Protecting freedom of speech does not imply that the law sanctions Nazism just because it protects a Nazi's right to speak in favor of Nazism. By protecting a bigot's right to freedom of association in regard to gay's, the government does not sanction his behavior. Laws banning gay marriage DOES sanction bigotry, because the same-sex couple's rights to freely contract are violated.

The key to understanding is to recognize that when a government violates a PRINCIPLE of liberty, it destroys the liberty the principle protects. If Nazi's are forbidden their free speech rights because their ideas are "unacceptable" to the government, then the government becomes the arbiter of which ideas are acceptable and which aren't. That's the end of free speech and thus intellectual freedom. The same goes for freedom of association and contract. There is a reason why the Founders described rights as UNALIENABLE. Everyone's rights must be protected equally and at all times, including the most despicable practitioners of a given right. The only condition: Don't stand in the way of others practicing their rights.

Related Reading:

The American Right, the Purpose of Government, and the Future of Liberty—Craig Biddle

Rand Paul, Title 2, and the Importance of Principles

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Marriage Equality vs. Anti-Discrimination Law: Freedom of Contract Works Both Ways

A New Jersey court rightfully overturned the state's ban on gay marriage. Now the legislature is considering codifying the right to gay marriage in law, so no future court can overrule that judicial decision. The bill, crafted by State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) and Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), would, among other things, ban all private establishments open to the general public from discriminating against gay couples. A previous Civil Union law had exempted any "group affiliated with a religion — such as the Knights of Columbus," from the anti-discrimination mandate even if its doors were open to the public.
The NJ Star-Ledger, a supporter of the judge's ruling, editorialized in support of the new law.

I left this rebuttal:

As a passionate defender of individual rights, I have been a strong advocate for marriage equality for years, and I applauded New Jersey's legalization of gay marriage. But when you turn to law to ban private voluntary discrimination, you've lost me.

The right to freedom of contract is derived from the inalienable, fundamental right to freedom of association. Marriage is essentially about freedom of contract—and so is any commercial transaction. Society has no more right to force the Knights of Columbus to host gay weddings as society has to ban gays from marrying.

Of course, the law should not sanction discrimination. It was right, for example, for the Supreme Court to overturn Plessey in its Brown decision [which ended school segregation]. But the law should otherwise be neutral in regard to private voluntary associations, regardless of moral intent.

Irrational forms of discrimination should be fought through peaceful means. Freedom of speech, social ostracism, boycotts, economic competition, and just plain individual courage are the way that free people battle the evil of bigotry. They are powerful tools. And they work. Look at what Rosa Parks set in motion. Look at what Branch Rickie and Jackie Robinson accomplished, without government help. Woolworth's would have opened its doors to African-Americans without the coercion of laws. Social pressure would have done it. And social pressure, after all, is what led to laws like the 1964 Civil Rights Act (most of which is good). Politics, after all, never leads. It is merely a reflection of popular will.

And if Woolworth's persisted, customers could simply go elsewhere in the meantime. Woolworth's evil behavior was certainly offensive, but it nonetheless violated no one's rights. Neither does the Knights of Columbus in refusing to host gay weddings.

Freedom of contract works both ways. Those who would force contracts with gays on private establishments are just as wrong as those who would legally ban gay marriage contracts. They both violate rights to freedom of association, and institutionalize a more pernicious evil; putting government in charge of dictating private morals.

Related Reading:

Are "Diversity Maps" a Precursor to Forced Neighborhood Integration?

Gay Marriage: The Right to Voluntary Contract, Not to Coercive “Contract”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Professor Nicholas Carnes's Warmed-Over Marxism is Not what We Need in Washington

Nicholas Carnes, an assistant professor of public policy at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, has proposed a solution to the mess in Washington: Elect more middle and working class politicians. This new wave of politicians, Carnes argues in a NJ Star-Ledger editorial, Can blue collar pols fix this white collar mess?, will "probably go much further to protect the middle and working classes if more of them came from those classes themselves."

What does Carnes mean by "protect?" Today, he says of the people represented by the politicians currently in power:

We’re letting people who have always had health insurance decide whether to help people without it. We’re letting people with personal fortunes that insulate them from the rest of society decide how much to spend on the schools and hospitals and other public goods that everyone else depends on.

Get that? To "protect the middle and working classes" does not mean to protect their rights. "Protect" means to empower them to force others to provide them with unearned benefits—as if, under the burgeoning weight of today's welfare state, people's wealth isn't already being forcibly redistributed on a mass scale.

I left these comments:

The question one must first ask is: How did the middle and working "classes" get so dependent on government spending to begin with? The workers' champions themselves—the ivory tower Marxists and their wealthy political shills—did it to them. Who funded this dependence? In large measure the wealthy, but also the workers themselves.

So, to what end do we need more blue collar politicians?; to hook blue collar workers into even greater dependence on forcibly redistributing wealth from those who earned to those who didn't? To further cripple the job market and stifle the opportunities of the young with higher minimum wage laws, more occupational licensure cartelization; more labor law mandates on those who create and maintain jobs?; to further burden business and the most productive entrepreneurial individuals—the very people who produce the material goods, productivity tools, and remunerative jobs that a prosperous "working class" depends on—with more taxes and regulations?

Mr. Carnes's "solution" is just warmed over Marxism with its "class struggle" fantasies. We don't need more Marxist politicians. We don't need a government that favors workers over "the rich", rather than the other way around. We don't need a government that favors "the will of the people"—the economic interests of the electoral majority-of-the-moment—over the will of all others. 

We need politicians who understand the proper role of government; one that represents all of the people by protecting the individual rights of all people, at all times, to pursue their values by their own efforts; to keep the property they earn; to voluntarily associate, contract, and trade with others—and then begins rolling back government's massive intrusions into our lives based on those principles.

Related Reading:

The Shadow of Marx Blankets the "Fiscal Cliff" Fight

Marxism "Begins with Theft and Ends with Murder"—Ari Armstrong

Related Listening:

"Why Marxism?" An Evening at FEE with C. Bradley Thompson—Foundation for Economic Education

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Real Meaning of Christmas: What Would Jesus Teach Today?

In The Real Meaning of Christmas, Brian Regal, a fellow of the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy, explained why Christmas should be celebrated by all people:

    [A] common refrain today . . . is the exaltation to "keep Christ in Christmas." This, I would suggest, is the much better argument than the "war on Christmas" angle. . . .
    Commercialization and atheists are the least of our problems here. Jesus said some of the simplest, yet most moving statements ever uttered: statements to inspire all human kind.
    Whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Ufologist, one can’t help but be touched by the profound humanity of "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."
    He urged his followers to treat people as we would have them treat us. He rejected the pursuit of wealth and political power. He embraced the poor and the outcast, not Hollywood celebrities or mega-preachers. He said the meek would inherit the Earth. It’s unlikely he ever owned more than one set of clothes, let alone an assault rifle.
    Jesus did not say, "When I was hungry, you turned away from me," or "When I was sick, you cut my health care," or "When I was poor, you mocked me," or "When I was a stranger, you pulled a gun on me and stood your ground."

I have a different take on Christmas. Following is an expanded version of my posted comments:

I agree that Christmas is a holiday for all, but for a different reason. (I don't agree with Jesus's ethics.)

Christmas ceased being a religious holiday when Congress declared it a national holiday. A national religious holiday in a secular nation based on the separation of church and state is a contradiction in terms. Today, Christmas is a secular holiday by law, and everyone should feel free to observe it (or not) based on his own values. You want Christ in Christmas? More power to you. No Christ? Same sentiment. To each his own. To paraphrase Jesus, respect others' right to their values, just as you would have them respect your right to your values.

As to Jesus, the context of the time in which he "rejected the pursuit of wealth and political power" was one in which wealth was largely accumulated by thieving rulers. Poverty was the widespread norm, save for the politically powerful few, who took from the meager earnings of their subjects. The pursuit of wealth and political power were synonymous, so Jesus's position was perhaps understandable, if not justifiable.

But the rise of modern capitalistic, free market individual liberty unleashed productive work and win-win, mutually beneficial trade as the path to wealth. People pursue wealth, not by theft, but by creating wealth and then exchanging value for value, simultaneously enriching both themselves and others. The rise of the free market economy separated the pursuit of wealth (economics) from political power. As the Declaration of Independence states, the purpose of government was set to protect individual rights, not the power of parasitical rulers to enrich themselves at the expense of the average man. What would Jesus say to that? Would he understand the difference between the pursuit of wealth by legalized theft, and the pursuit of wealth by work? Hopefully. But his 2000 year-old ethical ideology is not applicable to a free market economy, to the extent that we have one.

Of course, political power can still be an avenue for pursuing wealth by theft, as is the case with the modern redistributionist welfare state. Regal implies that Jesus would endorse this legalized theft with his statement "When I was sick, you cut my health care"—a slap at those who oppose government handouts paid for by forcibly taking from someone who earned it. Jesus certainly preached the morality of what we know today to be socialism; self-sacrifice for the needs of others. But remember the context. Would he endorse the modern union of wealth pursuit and political power—forced transfer of wealth from those who earned it to those who didn't—over voluntary giving? 

The blind, dogmatic adherence to Jesus's 2000 year-old ethical ideology is resurrecting that ancient evil; the pursuit of wealth through political power. It's time to modernize our ethics. What would Jesus preach today if he observed the broad-based prosperity created by self-interested, reason-guided labor (productive work) and trade? What would he think when he observed "poor" people living in comparative luxury vs. the "rich" rulers of his day, as is the case in the semi-free industrialized nations? 

We need a new ethics. In the modern world of wealth creation, should Christmas be about the worship of poverty? No. It should celebrate the rise from poverty made possible by the liberty to selfishly and rationally pursue one's own happiness by one's own efforts. By all means, lend a helping hand to someone in need, if it's consistent with your values and personal circumstances. That doesn't require a holiday to justify. Christmas should be a celebration of the good things in our lives, including our life-enhancing material achievements and the free exercise of spiritual values like rationality, productiveness, honesty, and pride that made those achievements possible. Spirituality and good will toward one's fellow man are not the exclusive monopoly of religion.

This Christmas season, I'll celebrate family, food, cheery decorations, and the wonderful commercialization—the symbol of freedom of production and trade—that enriches all of our lives. Earned spiritual and material enrichment go hand in hand.

Related Reading:

The Creed of Sacrifice vs. The Land of Liberty—Craig Biddle

Books- Understanding Rational Selfishness

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Oregon's Tuition Plan is More Redistributionist Snakeoil

New Jersey lawmakers are exploring novel ways to use taxpayer money to fund college for young people. One such plan was discussed in a NJ Star-Ledger blog column. According the Star-Ledger's Kelly Heyboer and Jarrett Renshaw:

In Oregon, one proposal called for graduates to pay back 3 percent of their incomes for 24 years in lieu of tuition and fees. All students would pay the same percentage, no matter how high- or low-paying their jobs are after graduation.

This is obviously a little-disguised redistribution scheme. And, obviously, somebody has to advance the money to pay the tuition. That somebody is the taxpayer. 

But this is going from bad (federally subsidized direct student lending) to something far worse. 
For one thing, the plan is a clear incentive for students to load up on useless courses. Why not? If there is no correlation between the potential earning power of the skills the student is acquiring and what the student will ultimately have to pay back, why should he care what his college years will cost?

And what if the graduate turns into a loafer, avoiding work as much as possible? Will the government step in and force him to work? 

More broadly, since the state will have a vested interest in the careers of students, will it muscle in on the career decision-making of students? If a student signs up for the program, he will essentially owe his working life to the state for 24 years. It's hardly realistic to expect the state to stand idly by, given that the career choices of the graduates will dictate how much of the tuition bill the state recoups. Who pays the piper calls the tune. The state will ultimately have to exert control over the graduates career choices—and ultimately college curricula.

Politicians should not be debating novel new ways to use taxpayer money to pay tuition. They should be working to get government out of higher education. The government should protect the rights of citizens to spend their own money as they judge best, not seize their money to fund yet another entitlement scheme.

Related Reading:

Why Must Colleges Be Primary Schools?

End, Don't Reduce, Federal Student Higher Education Funding

On "Nightmare" College Debt

Friday, December 13, 2013

The "Relative Poverty Gimmick" Revisited

In a post I wrote about five and a half years ago, The "Relative" Poverty Gimmick, I said:

"Poverty, then, is not a problem that is intended to be “solved”. What the “poor” represent today is not actual poverty, in the historical context, but a means to electoral advancement for phony, power-seeking politicians like John Edwards. They are merely window dressing for the advancement of statism. This is why the definition of poverty keeps changing. Some day, poverty will mean having the smallest yacht. Just as President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” didn't “work”, So John Edwards’s “Two Americas” anti-poverty scheme won’t “work”. It is not intended to “work”.

"So remember where your tax dollars are going. Most likely, they are not going to a starving child. Even if they were, it would be immoral. Tax-funded “charity”, like tax–funded religion, is a violation of individual rights.

"No, your tax dollars are very likely going to someone with a car, air conditioning, a color TV, and quite possibly a house. In other words, to someone just like you, except that you worked for his car, air conditioning, color TV, and quite possibly his house."

In a recent article, America's First world Underclass: Mistaking Inequality for PovertyBarry Fagin, a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, amplifies my argument. He writes:

The poverty problem in America has been solved. If you want to talk about poverty of the spirit, inequality of wealth, inequality of opportunity, or inequality of happiness, fine. But “poverty,” in the sense of not having the basic material needs for life, just isn’t much of an issue in America any more.

Considering how deeply embedded the alleged plight of the poverty-stricken is in today's politics, my essay and Fagin's essay are good resources to bring some perspective to the debate about what "we"—i.e., the government—should do about it, if anything. It's always good to have the practical argument to back up the all-important moral argument against redistributionist injustice.

Related Reading:

From Middle Class to Welfare Class

"More Prosperity" or "Shared Sacrifice?"

Memo to Justice Sotomayor: Welfare Statism Threatens Children's Welfare

Why Capitalism Needs a Moral Sanction

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ho-Hum: Another "Expert" Panel Pedaling Climate Change Scientology

Another "expert" scientific panel has "affirmed" the urgency of catastrophic climate change, and the NJ Star-Ledger has predictably appealed to that authority in continuing its propagandizing on The march of climate change.   

Citing the panel's report, the editors warn of "immense human suffering," melting ice caps, "more Hurricane Sandy-style storms (yes, style)," "the beetle infestation threatening the Pine Barrens [after having] ravaged tens of millions of acres of forests in the American West and Canada," "the sixth great mass extinction in the Earth’s history," "a 'moderately likely' risk over the next century of creating huge dead zones in the ocean ."

And we mustn't forget that "rain-fed agriculture could be devastated, creating food shortages and political chaos" in poor (largely undeveloped) countries.

I left these comments:

"Science abusers treat science as an infallible authority to be blindly obeyed by the public. Real scientists treat science as a method to be carefully explained to the public."—Alex Epstein, The Church of Climate Scientology.

And where does this ho-hum "panel of the nation’s best scientists " get its funding? Primarily, from the government; which means, from politicians. Is it any wonder that the results are just what statists want? Catastrophic man-made climate change is vital to the Left's commitment to omnipotent government. Thus, the politicization of climate "science."

But what's missing from the "expert authority's" litany of impending catastrophes? Recognition of the vital necessity of reliable, economical, large-scale energy production that powers man's industrial ability to cope with nature's brutality, which occurs in any climate. And what is the source of the vital industrial-scale energy? Primarily fossil fuels, with smaller but important contributions from nuclear and hydro-electric. What is a total failure? So-called, mis-named "renewable" energy like wind and solar, which always requires subsidies and, due to its utter unreliability, always requires back-up from hydro, nuclear, and especially fossil.

What's missing is recognition of the tremendous improvement in the Earth's environment made possible by fossil fuels. Humans in industrialized countries enjoy the most safe, clean, healthy, happiest living environments, and consequently the longest life expectancies, in history. Why are people in poor nations victims of climate change? For the same reason poor people have been victims of nature throughout pre-industrial history. Rather than whine that they are not to "blame" for climate change, they should become part of the "problem."

Anyone who cares about poor nations—and man's well-being in general—would advocate removal of all restrictions on the development of industrial-scale energy production, especially the production of fossil fuels. And that requires rejection of the Left's statist agenda. We should advocate the liberation of the individual human mind provided by even limited capitalistic political and economic freedom, because the individual human mind is the source of industrial progress, and freedom is the mind's fundamental social requirement. Finally, we should recognize the heroic contributions to human well-being generated by the fossil fuel industry. They are currently driving one of the few economic bright spots; the shale energy revolution. We owe them a silent thank-you.

[Note: The Report cited by the Star-Ledger is from the "independent" National Research Council, a member of The National Academies. The National Academies also includes Science, Engineering, and Medicine. They are all government chartered and report to government officials. The report was sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, U.S. intelligence community, and the National Academies. None of this automatically disqualifies the scientific research they produce. But it does place the report under a cloud of suspicion, given the political clout of the Environmentalist lobby. For an excellent expose' on the dynamics at work in the climate change movement, see Ayn Rand's "The Establishing of an Establishment" in Philosophy, Who Needs It?.]

Related Reading:

Why I Don't Trust the "Climate Consensus"

Climate Cabal Exploits Sandy for Statist Ideological Purposes

Growing Antarctic Ice Sheet Belies "Melting Polar Caps" Hysteria

Now, the World's Looters Target America for "Climate Injustice"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Private" vs. Private Schools

The title of Christopher Baxter's investigative report in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Some N.J. private schools for disabled students cashing in on taxpayers, speaks for itself. But briefly, the specific issue Baxter covers is alleged corruption and over-spending within the network of private special education schools whose students' tuitions are paid for with tax money.

The governance at the schools on which Baxter reports may or may not be accurate and may or may not be bad. I am not going to judge the details of this report. What I'd like to zero in on are these statements made in the article:

  • "The complaints [about nepotism, high executive salaries, generous pensions, fancy cars and questionable business deals . . . in parts of this more than $600 million New Jersey industry] have resonated with [Governor Chris] Christie, a strong supporter of privatization and greater school choice."
  • "Despite the schools’ contentions that competition on the free market — and not state oversight — would result in the lowest costs for taxpayers, records show 56 had dealings with companies related to their leadership, families of their leadership or other associates in 2012."
  • "Audits show about half of all for-profit private special-needs schools had deals connected to leadership, families or other associates. By contrast, such deals were found at about a quarter of nonprofit schools."

I left these comments:

Despite implications by Mr. Baxter, these schools' operations and governance are not indicative of privatization, school choice, a free market, or how for-profit business's earn their profits. The system of taxpayer-funded private schools is indicative of crony socialism (sometimes mis-characterized as "crony capitalism"), not free markets. Leaving aside judgment as to the governance of these schools, the corruption begins with the source of the schools' revenue. 

These schools get their revenues from money seized from citizens by force of taxation, and laundered through government. The schools "compete" for revenue by lobbying politicians and bureaucrats and gaming the political system. The incentive is less to profit from cost containment than to "profit" from political connections. Although these schools may or may not provide excellent services, they are, though privately owned, essentially political institutions. 

The source of revenue for truly private schools operating in a free market would be money voluntarily paid by the parents or other students' sponsors (school benefactors, philanthropic organizations, and the like) through the dynamic process of competition to offer the best quality service at the best price. Private schools earn their profits by keeping prices as low as possible consistent with quality that satisfies the parents—and keeping costs of operations lower. The difference between prices charged and cost of operations equals their profits, which are not guaranteed. 

Free market education would leave schools accountable to the parents or other private parties voluntarily contracting to buy the schools' services, rather than government officials doling out someone else's (the taxpayers) money. The "free" in free market means the absence of coercive government involvement. In a free market, the government only steps in when rights are violated, such as in the cases of fraud or breech of contract.

Related Reading:

"Accountability": Government School vs. a Free Market

Misunderstanding a "Free Market"

Related Listening:

What is Capitalism?—Ayn Rand

Monday, December 9, 2013

Federal Student Loans and the GI Bill

If federal student loans and other financial supports for higher education are abolished, what would be the status of the GI Bill, which funds college for military veterans?

There is a clear moral distinction between the federal student loan program and the GI Bill. They spring form opposite moral principles.

The government's proper job is to protect individuals from those who would violate their rights by initiating force against them—e.g, domestic criminals and foreign enemies. This is spelled out quite clearly in this nation's philosophic blueprint, the Declaration of Independence, which states; "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men." To perform that task, governments must maintain domestic police forces and a military. The people hired in that capacity must be paid, and paid well enough to attract competent, dedicated individuals. 

Providing servicemen and women with financing for a college education, whether through a GI Bill or other means, can certainly be a part of that compensation. Servicemen and women do the job of protecting the rights of Americans from foreign aggressors, so college financing is payment for these vital services.

Subsidized student loans are the opposite. In that case, the government is the aggressor against the American taxpayer, seizing their money and handing it over to other Americans, not because they earned it by protecting their rights, but because they need it. But need is not a license to steal, with government as the hired gun.

Granted, the GI Bill is funded by coercive taxation, and that is wrong. Government functions should be funded by voluntary means. But the issue of government funding in a fully free society is a separate issue. One may also argue about specific provisions of the GI Bill. But those issues are secondary to the principle involved here. Individuals who sign up for legitimate government jobs—the job of protecting American citizens' individual rights—should be paid in one form or another. The GI Bill is a form of payment to military veterans, and is therefor, in principle, legitimate.

Related Reading:

End, Don't Reduce, Federal Student Higher Education Funding

On "Nightmare" College Debt

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

The Virtue of Selfishness (Chapter 15)—by Ayn Rand 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Is ObamaCare the Peak of the Latest Political "Swing-to-the-Left"?

Is ObamaCare the peak in the political "swing to the Left" of the past 15 years?

A recent Gallup poll, reports Reason, showed that the percentage of Americans who believe that it is not the federal government's job to ensure that every American has health insurance coverage doubled from 28% to 56% in seven years. This reversal comes after years of Gallup poling that consistently reflected a two-one margin in favor of a government guarantee of health coverage.

Is this a moral sea change happening in American culture? Doubtful. More likely, it's a narrow, though welcome, response to the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. People are seeing first hand how redistribution works. The ObamaCare rollout is a dramatic concretization of the principle that for government to provide for some, it must first take from others. 

For most redistribution schemes, the connection between taking and recipient is not obvious. For programs like food stamps, farm subsidies, or Medicaid, it's not obvious exactly where the money comes from. You see income taxes being paid. You see deficit spending (future taxation). You see the erosion of your dollar's purchasing power (inflation, a back-door tax created by the central bank's monetization of the debt through the printing of money). But you can not trace the dollars leaving your wallet into the hands of food stamp, agri-business, or Medicaid recipients. Programs lake Social Security and Medicaid do tie taxation directly to benefits, but people see those benefits as rewards funded by the individual's own taxes, not as the redistribution that it in fact is. In all of these cases, you do not see the direct connection between the confiscation of your money and the recipients of government largess. The redistribution is there, and—with a little deductive thinking—one can "see" it. But that's just it: The redistribution of wealth is rather abstract and thus easy to evade.

Not so with ObamaCare. People can see reports of uninsured individuals signing up for subsidized health insurance on government "market" exchanges side-by-side with reports of soaring premiums and cancelled policies for previously insured individuals. For many, it is personal. As one former ObamaCare supporter wailed, "Of course, I want people to have health care; I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.” The connection is obvious: ObamaCare provides health insurance to the uninsured by taking from the previously insured.

Though the trend reversal began in 2007, Gallup reports that "Prior to 2009, a clear majority of Americans consistently had said the government should take responsibility for ensuring that all Americans have healthcare." 2009, the year that debate over ObamaCare got started, the real shift began. That year, the percentage of Americans rejecting the idea that the government should guarantee health coverage jumped from 41% to 50%, while those believing the opposite slumped from 54% to 47%. In the latest poll, the margin jumped to a solid 56% to 41% against government guarantees. 

Will this reversal in public sentiment, which from what I can see was totally ignored by the "mainstream" media, translate into big gains for Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections? It's up to the Republicans. It would be great if the GOP could capitalize on this development, and tie the fiasco to its roots—altruism. The GOP should show that the redistributive nature of ObamaCare is not just a practical problem but, more fundamentally, a moral problem. That could turn what may be a developing short-range political "swing-to-the-Right" into something of real, broad-based, and lasting substance—a swing that actually results in a rollback of a major welfare state program coupled with real free market health insurance reforms.

Related Reading:

My Challenge to the GOP: A Philosophical Contract with America

Before ObamaCare Fiasco: Problems Caused by Government

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

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Obama's Collectivist "Togetherness" vs. Genuine Individualist Togetherness

During the 2012 election campaign, President Obama raised hackles with these now infamous comments:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
"So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”

There is much to say on these comments. But at root is a fundamental question: What is the proper means of human association? 

Human beings must live among other human beings. In a world of six billion people, none of us have a realistic choice about that. The choice we do have is in determining how to accomplish the task of living among one another. It is a political choice; choosing the proper social system. More importantly, it is a moral choice. Regarding the above statement, then, the question is: What does Obama mean by the term "together?" 

There are essentially two visions of that term. There is the collectivist sense of group supremacy vs. the individualist sense of peaceful coexistence. To understand the difference, let's start at the beginning.
There is no "we." Metaphysically, the only human entity that exists is the autonomous individual. This is an indisputable fact of nature. In the most fundamental sense, we're not "in this together." Each person is "on your own." No one can think for another. No one can operate the cognitive processes inside of another person's skull. No one can focus another person's mind. No one can make the mental connections that lead to understanding, except you, the individual owner of your brain. Only you can do these things for yourself. It is only a matter of choice and personal responsibility--yours.

That being the case, the group supremacy premise actually means state supremacy over the individual. Since government is solely an instrument of force, collectivistic "togetherness" means forcible subjugation of the individual and his property to the state--the togetherness of a rightless chain gang. The social systems that embody this principle are many--communism, fascism, Nazism, welfare statism. But all are manifestations of statism. All have one thing in common; no individual freedom to act on one's thinking.

In the individualist premise, togetherness means sovereignty for each individual. Does this mean everyone is an uncooperative loner, as Obama suggests? Hardly. Individualism means independent thinking and acting on one's own judgment. It means each individual is neither subordinate nor supreme over another. This type of togetherness leaves only one type of association among people--a type that is alien to Obama--voluntary association  There is only one social system that embodies this principle--capitalism. Capitalism is based upon inalienable individual rights and a limited, rights-protecting government.

Obama obliterates the individualist means of living together, mainly by distorting the nature of individualism. Notice the false choice he offers in regard to fire fighting services. Either we have a government-funded fire department, or "everybody had there own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires," he said. Yes, it would, which is why, without government involvement, people would voluntarily organize and pay for fire companies. The same goes for building the Golden Gate Bridge, roads, or the Hoover Dam. There are things, as Obama says, that we don't literally do on our own. 

But according to Obama, only government force gets things done together. Therefor, we must be forced into compliance with government dictates whenever there is a task that requires a cooperative effort among many people. 

Under statism, the state, as representative of the collective "we," owns the lives and wealth of its citizens. It can forcibly dispose of any individual(s) or his wealth in any manner it deems beneficial to "society" or the "public good." Under the division-of-labor exchange economy of capitalism, people deal with each other by means of voluntary trade to mutual benefit. People work together on a rights-respecting basis by voluntary contractual agreement. Under statism, people have their wealth seized by force to fund the public dreams of state officials. Under capitalism, people pursue their own dreams with their own wealth.
Obama's vision of togetherness is built on force. The opposite vision banishes force from human relationships. Obama's vision enslaves the productive to the needs of the less productive or the unproductive. The opposite vision protects the fruits of every productive person from human predators. Obama's vision is of a man getting what he needs from others by force of government theft (wealth redistribution). The opposite vision is of a man getting what he needs from others by trading his work product in return; i.e., by paying for it.
Obama's togetherness means collectivistic predatory socialism--the subordination of the makers to the takers. He is pandering to his greedy, grovelling, envious, parasitical base, the only beneficiaries of the "we're in this together" society. We need the peaceful coexistence provided by capitalism, and we need a strong enough Republican to articulate that moral vision.