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Rant On The 'Ground Zero' Mosque


I know it’s a little more blunt and rambley when I write this blog in rant form, but I'm too busy with other shit to spend more time on it, so here it goes .....

Hey, Obama, WE AGREE ON SOMETHING!

For the first time (or at least as far as I can remember... there might have been another time or two) I actually agree with President Obama and think he said, essentially, the right thing in regard to a Mosque being built in the vicinity of ground zero.

Unfortunately, around 68% of Americans (I’m usually better at providing links... but I forget where I saw that particular poll number) disagree with him. That’s enough of a percentage to make this something most people on both sides of the political spectrum agree on: that he is wrong. Obama has finally delivered on his campaign promise to unite the country! Hooray!

This could possibly be the issue that, in the end, makes Obama a one term president. But as much as I hate him (and I truly, truly, truly hate him), if this is the issue that brings him down... one where he actually states, however basically, an understanding of rights and liberty... it will be a sad commentary on our country, and society in general, indeed.

Bring Him Down.... But For The 'Right' Reasons....

I’d prefer to see him brought down by... oh... maybe his lying about de-regulation being the cause of the housing downturn and financial crises (it just takes the will to study up on this subject and not rely on demagoguery and personal biases to find out how incredibly untrue this accusation is). How about for scaring the public into supporting the passage of a massive ‘stimulus’ package by claiming (with big giant graphs and all) that if they passed it, and quickly, unemployment would not go above 8%. Well, it passed, and unemployment went above 10%, and as I type this a year and a half later it sits at 9.7%  (and those are the ‘official’ estimates... it’s actually closer to 18%... but that’s for another time...)?

I could go on and on, but the point is, there are plenty of other fucked up things that he could go down for. Things where he either outright lied, played loose with the facts, completely ignored the boundaries of presidential power set by the constitution, or expressed a terrible... and I mean TERRIBLE.... understanding of the concept of rights. But the one time where he DOES say something completely consistent with the rights of free people in a free society... that, so long as they are not violating the rights of other individuals, a holder of private property may use that property as they see fit, and that acknowledging and defending this is not a comment on how one feels personally about, as Obama put it, the wisdom of how those rights are being exercised... THAT'S when the overwhelming majority of the country goes "You've gone too far!".

This is a stance... that the principle of rights is sovereign... that I have taken when talking or debating with others and when writing in this blog. I believe to the very core of my being that people have the right to be free and do as they wish so long as they do not violate the rights of others, and I have learned over the past 5 or so years how to understand the depth and subtleties of this principle, and to apply it as consistently and objectively to as many situations in my life as I possibly can (as well as why it is so important to do so).

Selective Application

But, most people, it appears, don’t. The more I listen to people, whether through conversation or articles, on both the left and the right, the more I am disheartened with how arbitrarily people choose what rights are worth defending, and to what degree they are worthy of defense. I started working a while back on a blog talking about why standing on the principle of rights is so vital to a free society, and I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, but it boils down to this: if we do not stand on a principled application of rights, and apply those principles consistently regardless of the difficulty of the issue at hand (actually, the more difficult the issue, the more important it is to stand by the principle) then we are left at the mercy of simple democracy (or, as the founders called it, mob-ocracy): the idea that all that matters is that the majority of people want (or don't want) something, nevermind if the rights of others are trampled upon. Most people seem to believe that this is just fine.... until they find themselves in the minority.

You Can... Unless We Say You Can't

You have the right to build a mosque on private property, however emotionally hurtful the location may be to many.

Oh, wait, the majority disagrees? Ok, property rights be damned! No mosque!

You have the right to do drugs that may or may not cause harm to your body, because, being you're not a slave and all, you have the right to self ownership and liberty, and that includes self-destruction, and...

....oh, wait.... The majority says no? Ok, right to liberty be damned! We’ll tell you what you can put into your body, and what harm you can or can't do to it!

You have the right to not buy health insurance and take irresponsible risks with your health because, again, it’s your life and your body and....

....uh... what’s that?... Oh, ok.... Obama says that's too bad because he’s gonna pass into law a bill that uses government force to make you buy a product you may not want to buy and he says it’s valid because he was elected by a majority, so rights to not engage in a form of commerce be damned!

This last one really gets to the heart of it: Obama can see where rights are sovereign in the matter of the mosque. But I have to both applaud his statement while at the same time cry out “FUCK YOU OBAMA!!!!” because of his completely arbitrary, highly selective application of the principle.

Respect For Rights While Still Respecting Pain

There’s more I want to say on the complete hypocrisy and selectiveness of much of what I’ve read about this lately, but this entry is already too long and I want to quickly touch on another aspect of this: the vile political tactic of trying to marginalize those who oppose the mosque by labeling them ‘intolerant’ or ‘bigoted’. Are some who oppose the mosque intolerant and/or bigoted? Absolutely. But just as we shouldn’t label every muslim as a terrorist, we shouldn’t paint everyone who disagrees with us on an issue as having the worst of all motives.

The fact is, although I believe wholeheartedly that there should be no government intrusion that stops that mosque from being built, I can also understand how many who lost a loved one in that horrid attack (or even Americans who didn’t) are deaf to the arguments I’m making. They don’t care that these aren’t the terrorists. They can’t hear, for the volume of the pain inside of them, high minded defenses of rights. All they know is that they lost a loved one in a way so awful that I can’t even begin to imagine it, that it was done in the name of a particular religion, and that now a house of worship of that particular religion is being built close enough to this location to be, in their eyes, an act of disrespect to the death of their loved ones.

I sympathize with this with all of my heart, and on a personal level, I agree that building a mosque there is the wrong thing to do.

Sometimes a bias or bigotry is completely irrational and based on false assumptions... but sometimes it is based on past experience and observation, however wrong others of us may believe are the conclusions drawn by the limited perspectives of those who may have had those experiences or made those observations.

But that..... THAT is the proper (and one of the only) role of government: to ensure that, regardless of what a majority thinks or feels or wants or doesn’t want, or thinks is the right or wrong or moral or immoral thing to do, rights.... RIGHTS.... remain sovereign and protected. Even, and especially, in the face of the most difficult and contentious of issues.

I’m so pissed off about all the fear mongering I’m reading about this ‘net neutrality’ nonsense, put out there for the sole purpose of scaring people into giving the Federal Government even MORE control over the lives and choices of free individuals, but I am too busy to write a proper blog these days, so this is more in the form of a ‘rant’ than my other blog posts, which I usually go over again and again to make my points as lucid, clearly, and poignant as possible (I'm also pissed off about the hero worshipping of the dude that quit Jet Blue, but that will have to wait)....

Ok, so here’s the most perverse claim, via the extraordinarily ignorant Al Franken:

“Net neutrality is the foremost free speech issue of our time”


This claim is pure, unadulterated, bullshit. Free speech is not a hard concept to grasp: it means you have the right to speak freely. To give your opinion, however harsh it may be. To speak up. To speak out. To try to persuade others. To insult. To dissent. To say the most unpopular, the most vile, things imaginable.

But what free speech DOESN’T mean is that you have a right to a platform from which to speak, a right to a type of medium in which to air your views, or a right to be heard. As I’ve written in the past, free speech, like any other freedom related action, operates in a market. The various voices of those who wish to speak are competing for ears to listen, for eyes to read, and the platforms from which to speak from.

Those platforms cost money. They require a reason for scarce resources to be allocated there instead of elsewhere. They require capital investment to build, to maintain, and to improve upon. They require enough of a possible return on investment to persuade someone that it is worth risking their capital (which is itself a scarce resource) by investing in these ‘platforms’ as opposed to investing it elsewhere.

It seems lost on many people (mostly from those on the left of the political spectrum) that Internet Service Providers are the result of such capital investments and risks. They aren’t some intangible abstraction of infinite abundance that sprung up out of nowhere for all to use equally (actually this seems lost on many people when it comes to most goods and services... but I digress). They are the result of private entrepreneurial individuals betting that there was enough of a demand for internet access to justify the risk of investing their capital in a way that would allocate other scarce resources toward the end of satisfying those wants.

So, why are so many people acting as if it is some sort of natural born right to have every website load at the same speed? Why are people acting as if it is a ‘right’ to have, what is demagogically called a ‘level playing field’ when that ‘playing field’ in and of itself is privately owned, privately built, and privately maintained. Why are so many talking as if ISPs are somehow our servants, that must provide us with a service in a way we demand it be provided, as opposed to the voluntary, mutually beneficial relationship it is, wherein we voluntarily pay for the service offered, and if we do not like the service we can tell them to screw themselves and go with another provider. How is the relationship between an ISP and its customers different than any other voluntary agreement among private individuals in a market place? Why do most people have such a complete lack of understanding of free markets and market forces?

I’m sure some of you are saying to yourself “I only have a choice of one ISP! There is a monopoly in my area!” That’s a valid problem, but it’s not a naturally occurring one. It is one that, once again, is the result of the government being involved in areas it shouldn’t be. So, to that I say: you need to look at the various government licenses and regulations that have either raised the barrier to entry in your area, or given monopoly privilege to that ISP. In other words, look into how the government has curtailed freedom by inhibiting competition in that area and rail against THAT instead of vying for even MORE curtailment of freedom by supporting this absurd bill.

But let’s look a little closer at the economics of what everyone is so up in arms about: the idea that, with the Google-Verizon deal, an era will be ushered in where some companies may be charged a premium so that their websites load faster. What this means, in reality and outside of the world of political rhetoric, is that resources, once again, need to be allocated, and that the best way to do this (outside of violence, bias, and prejudice) is through the pricing system. But whereas, in the end, violence benefits no one besides maybe the person being violent, the pricing system provides immense benefits and crucial information and incentives when it is allowed to function properly in a free market.

Here’s a brief, partial explanation as to why: The money bought in by corporations vying for the highest load times possible will provide an incentive, and the additional capital to work with, to Verizon (and whoever else goes this route) to invest more in their servers and infrastructure. The innovations that will arise from all of this in the overall picture, as there always are in the free market (which is one of its many, many beauties), will result in an internet experience that is not worse than it is today, but far superior. More people will have access to broadband, and load times for smaller sites, in the long term, will not be slower than today, they will be faster.... even if that means the larger ones would be faster still.

Those who support socialism are always, even if completely unwittingly, advocating this sentiment: All trees should be cut down so that none stands out taller than the rest. And so the same is true with those who support this ‘net neutrality’ legislation: they are advocating, even if completely unwittingly, that all load times should be slower so that none should be faster than the rest. Never mind the fact that, in an absolute sense, in the end, all load times would be faster than they now are.

You can not like this all you want.... economics doesn’t care what you like or what you don’t like.... economics is something that simply happens, regardless of anyone’s political bias or personal preferences or utopian wishes.

It should also be noted that areas like electronics and the internet are as innovative and dynamic as they are precisely because they are the areas of our economy that have some of the LEAST amounts of government interventions, regulation, and oversight. They operate in a free market... in a relative sense, at least. So, If you really want to fuck up the internet, and interfere with free speech, give the government their foot in the door by supporting ‘net neutrality’ legislation.... and remember.... it won’t always be your favorite politicians in charge of interpreting that legislation as they see fit.

This is probably my longest blog post to date, but it's a very important, complex subject. It still doesn’t get to the central point of why one would argue, and stand so firmly behind, principle, so I’ll have to save that for another post (perhaps later this week) But, if anyone wants a pretty good overview of how liberals in the media (and even some conservatives) have to out and out lie in order to smear libertarianism, then please read this entire post (none of this even begins to touch on the blatantly distorted misrepresentations of the libertarian philosophy and world view that Salon.com put forth this past weekend, but if you’d like a sample, read Matt Welch’s article here).

THE QUESTION

"Why is it not enough to oppose racial discrimination and support peaceful social movements against it? Why must one also endorse using government force against what is, after all, nonviolent behavior? (Not all loathsome behavior is violent.) Is endorsement of State force necessary to show one’s bona fides as a humane person? If so, that is very strange, indeed."

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and this one paragraph probably states my position better than the rest of this entire post. This was a statement posted by editor of ‘The Freeman’ Sheldon Richman here, elicited by the recent controversial debate on whether or not Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul is racist for believing (as I do) that Governments have no right to force private citizens not to discriminate in their business affairs. It seems completely lost on people on both the left and the right that the libertarian position is virtually always based on the fundamental principle that the use of violence/force/coercion, when not being used to defend against violence/force/coercion, is wrong. Libertarians (most of them, anyway) are highly uncomfortable with 'positive violence/force/coercion'. It is almost always revealed through debate that many, if not most, of those on the right and the left are only uncomfortable with violence/force/coercion when it is being wielded to promote ends that do not conform to their personal views.

WEEKEND POLITICS

After writing my initial blog on this subject last Friday, I read a good many articles from the left (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), the right (Wall Street Journal, IBD, etc.), as well as the ones I find myself agreeing with 99% of the time: the libertarian ones (Reason, FEE.org, The Freeman, etc.). I also watched some of the Sunday morning political shows (ABC’s This Week, the Mclaughlin Group).

The end result: I was horrified. Horrified by the way the libertarian view was being presented (on both the left and the right), and completely misrepresented (often with outright blatant historical inaccuracies... very basic inaccuracies, mind you. As well as shockingly obvious inconsistencies with the actual principled libertarian view point vs. the accusations being levied against it). It was the age old political tactic: misrepresent your opponent’s argument in an effort to marginalize them, and if possible, insinuate racism. And why? Because someone dared to state a view that was against the grain of conventional wisdom.

Now, I’m not sure whether to blame Dr. Paul or not. I’ve never had to quickly express my views on a talk show before, so I can imagine the pressure was intense, and as I mentioned in my last post, this is not a seasoned politician. Maddow is, however, very sharp and very good at her job, as much as I despise her for the way she performs it. She knows how to find a weakness in her opponent and exploit it. And as it turns out, Dr. Paul’s weakness is quite obviously expounding on his views... making strong counter arguments that, even if they do not necessarily persuade your ideological opponents, at least give them some degree of pause.

Or, perhaps Dr. Paul simply holds his view ideologically, and hadn’t spent enough time contemplating the depths and complexity of them vs. the prevailing conventional wisdom. I simply don’t know. What I do know is that there are many, many libertarians whom, despite the mainstream knock in the media this weekend stating that libertarians seldom, if ever, take into account the real world consequences of their philosophy, the fact is quite the opposite: they can, and have, presented (and even come into) their views based on real world analysis, and historical and empirical evidence.

5 POINTS

What I have decided to do today is to present a group of thoughts, in defense of my principled views, that have crossed my mind this weekend. Some are in response to some of these articles and shows, and others are quotes or expansions of some of the best libertarian articles that arose on the subject this weekend (which were also often in response to some of liberal articles on the subject):

1. In what I have deemed the dumbest New York Times editorial ever (and it has a hell of a lot of competition!), we have this gem:

“It was only government power that ended slavery and abolished Jim Crow, neither of which would have been eliminated by a purely free market. It was government that rescued the economy from the Depression and promoted safety and equality in the workplace.”

In response, The Freeman’s Sheldon Richman asked here:

“Did an intelligent, educated person actually type those words? Did an editor actually approve them for publication?”

And then correctly noted:

“It was only government power that created and sustained the institutions of slavery and Jim Crow, um, LAWS. They were preemptions of the free market, so how could it have abolished them?”

I would like to add further, the government did not, in any way, shape or form, rescue the economy from the Great Depression, but rather prolonged it with a perverse web of new regulations and restrictions as well as creating constant uncertainty in the market. It did, however, cause the Great Depression via the Federal Reserve.

It’s very helpful to compare the actions of the Federal Government during the Great Depression to the actions (or in this case, more so inactions) of the Federal Government during the depression of 1920, which was actually a harsher downturn than the Great Depression of the 30’s. Never heard of it? That’s the point. Because instead of expanding and intervening in the economy, the government backed off and let the market correct itself... exactly as Free Market proponents claim markets do when left to function.

For more on that, visit mises.org here, and/or watch this video.

2.  Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week”, conservative George Will (whom on other matters I have often agreed with) stated in regard to the Civil Rights Act: “... we refuted an old notion: that you cannot – and this may offend some libertarians – the notion was you cannot legislate morality. Yes you can. We did. We not only got African-Americans into public accommodations, we changed the thinking of the white portion of the country as well,”

Now, first off, if morality can be legislated, and we changed the thinking of white people as well - through legislation- then there should be no racism left in this country. But only a fool would state that racism has been legislated away, in this country, or in any other. As I recently quoted Barry Goldwater on my facebook page: "You cannot pass a law that will make me like you--or you like me. That is something that can only happen in our hearts". 

Perhaps if I am to be more fair to the intention of Will’s statement, he may be assuming that the Civil Rights Act is responsible for the DECLINE in racism, and that this is a result of the part of the Civil Rights Act that forces business owners to serve everyone. However, the very fact that the legislation was passed shows that attitudes among many whites were already changing on their own accord, despite the government laws which already violated property rights in the opposite direction by forcing private business owners to segregate under threat of punishment. This change of attitudes was a steady progression, and there is no reason to assume it would have abated, let alone reversed, especially if the Civil Rights Act simply did what it should have: abolished Jim Crow laws and all other laws that institutionalized racism by, among other things, forcing private businesses owners to segregate.

This ends up being just one of the many ways in which government jumps in front of a parade and then claims to have been leading it. If we can go back to the ridiculous New York Times editorial I referenced earlier in which they state: “It was government that... promoted safety and equality in the workplace.” I have to assume that they are talking about OSHA laws, which are often used to show how wonderful regulation is by showing the decreasing numbers of workplace fatalities since OSHA’s enactment. But what is rarely ever shown is that workplace fatalities were already declining BEFORE OSHA was enacted, and, rather than accelerating or adding to the decline, it simply continued on the same pace as before.

As mentioned in a CATO article “To credit OSHA with all of the post-1970 drop in fatalities is similar to a physician's taking credit for the health of a patient whom the doctor did not start treating until two weeks after the patient began recovering. The impact of the doctor, and the impact of OSHA, must be judged on the counterfactual evidence of what the pace of recovery would have been without any intervention.”

What OSHA did do, was add extra costs to businesses resulting, as always, in a loss of jobs.

But, to go even further into George Will’s claim, is it really true that ‘government regulated morality’ stomped out racism even in those who would have bucked the trend, or is it more the case that now those who tended toward racist views have been driven underground? Would it not be true that absent Jim Crow Laws, as well as the part of Civil Rights legislation that bans private businesses from discriminating, those who continued to segregate would be being transparent in their bigotry (or at the very least in the views of their customers?)? Is it not scarier that now they can hide amongst us more easily? Government enforcement of Jim Crow LAWS allowed for this opaqueness, and thus allowed bigots to avoid judgment being as, since it was the law, you couldn't claim someone was racist for discriminating against blacks. You had to discriminate, or face punishment by the government.

But by abolishing Jim Crow Laws while still allowing for consistent protection of property rights (allowing private owners of business to decide whom they will, or will not serve) we would have a much clearer view of who are the bigots amongst us, and we could choose not to patronize them. We are now devoid of that mechanism.

3. Rachel Maddow stated to Rand Paul in her interview: “Unless it's illegal, there's nothing to stop
that— there's nothing under your world view to stop the country from re-segregating like we were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”


My response to this is: If a local Government banned the abhorrent racist speech of the KKK, the ban would almost surely be overturned as a violation of free speech. Does Ms. Maddow mean to tell us that there is anything in progressivism/liberalism, conservatism, or any other -ism, let alone libertarianism, that would then stop the KKK from going back to saying racist things once the ban on their right to free speech had been lifted? Or... well... anything outside of using the threat of violence.

Consistent defenders of liberty (libertarians, usually) do not defend the natural rights of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness on the grounds that those rights must only be exercised in ways that do not offend our personal values and virtues. As F.A. Hayek once wrote: "Freedom necessarily means that many things will be done which we do not like".

4. Then there is this awful piece by Bruce Bartlett, and this one, from Joe Conason at the New York Observer (which I just read as I was working on this blog). These two articles are just a small dose of the many distortions liberals have put forth of both history, as well as complete distortions of what ‘libertarians believe’ in general, and how those views have (or, more accurately, haven’t) been allowed to put their stamp on history.

Reason.com staffers have thoroughly refuted the blatant inaccuracies of Bartlett’s rant here, here, and here:

Damon Root explains rightly that “Plessy v. Ferguson, the notorious 1896 Supreme Court decision that enshrined “separate but equal” into law and become a symbol of the Jim Crow era, dealt with a Louisiana law that forbid railroad companies from selling first-class tickets to blacks. That’s not a market failure, it’s a racist government assault on economic liberty.” ... and the great David Bernstein rebuttal to Bartlett also notes that Plessy was “OPPOSED by the PRIVATE train company”. In other words, had the Supreme Court done the right thing, the train company would have sold first class tickets to African Americans, and the free market would have resulted in one more step being taken toward integration.

5. I’ve written a ton, so I’ll only touch on the economic side (which requires more of a chapter, if not a whole book, to truly discuss effectively) briefly with this quote. I forget where I copied it from (probably one of the articles I’ve already posted here): “Jim Crow laws were imposed precisely because racists feared the South's rigid caste system would collapse if business owners were free to integrate, as historian Charles Wynes noted in his 1961 study Race Relations in Virginia.”

Indeed, one of the great beauties of liberty, and the free market that it gives life to, is that it more often than not tends to promote diversity over conformity.

Rachel Maddow vs. Rand Paul


Before I left for the weekend, I had to throw together this blog to express at least a portion of my objection to the left’s attacks today on Rand Paul.

In a recent interview on the Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow asked Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul if he would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The principled positions expressed in his response were dead on and intellectually consistent, but he did an absolutely horrible job of articulating them. This is not such a surprise as he is a non-politician who has entered the seedy world of pundits and politicians where the game is not so much to have an honest intellectual debate about issues, but rather to see who can do the best job at making the other person look silly by finding the best ‘gotcha’ moment possible.

Here is the full interview:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2010/05/20/rachel_maddow_and_rand_paul_discuss_civil_rights.html

The fact is, Dr. Paul’s stance; that private citizens have a natural right to choose whether or not to interact and/or engage in exchange with other private citizens, regardless of the relevancy or irrelevancy of the considerations they have taken into account in making their choice; is principley consistent with the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.

Ms. Maddow tries to paint Dr. Paul into a corner by asking if he would be ok with segregated lunch counters at Wallgreens (the first thing that came to my mind was “lunch counters at Wallgreens? Aren’t they a pharmacy/convenience store?” ... But I digress), as I assume there had been before the Civil Rights Act. But this is a straw-man argument, and one that displays the fact that Ms. Maddow is not interested in honest intellectual debate, but rather trying to paint Dr. Paul as being a racist by one simple virtue: if he isn’t in favor of outlawing such behavior, surely he must condone or at least be ok with the behavior.

If we are to follow Ms. Maddow’s inference through to it’s logical conclusion and apply it consistently: any and all behavior or speech that any of us does not believe should be made illegal we must, by default, approve of.

So, being as I am an ardent believer in free speech, by Ms. Maddow’s twisted logic I must condone expressions of Nazism, Communism, Socialism, Facism, Racism, and just about every other horrible thing that can come out of an individual’s mouth by sole virtue that I do not think the strong arm of the law should use the threat of violence to shut the mouths expressing those views.

BUNDLES O' RIGHTS

It is instructive to think of this from another angle: The majority of us abhor racism, and find discriminating based on the color of one’s skin, or religion, or other irrelevant characteristics to be abhorrent. The majority of us also find racist speech, the use of the ‘N’ word (though I know at least one black guy who uses it to tease another black guy), anti-Semitic speech, etc. to be abhorrent. But here lies the inconsistency: the majority of us accept ‘Free Speech’ as a bundle of rights. We do not, and should not, create separate ‘classes’ of speech by saying “I believe in free speech... except we should make the ‘N’ word and other racial slurs illegal”, (though it should be noted, alarmingly enough, ‘the state’ often does create, or try to create, classes of speech). We accept that this would be a dangerous road, and a slippery slope if we start to go on it, and thus we recognize that defending free speech often means defending the right for other to express ideas we ourselves find repulsive.

However, somehow when it comes to other natural rights, many people start thinking in terms of classes of behavior and, non violent as the behavior may be (and therefore, not a violation of the natural rights of others), start believing it is ‘just’ to make illegal those classes of behavior that we find offensive and reprehensible. And worse yet, should someone like Dr. Paul (or myself) stand up and say that it is not right to force private individuals to interact with others (which is fundamentally all that is going on in terms of business and exchange) in ways that they do not want to, it is said that, as the ultra-liberal Salon.com put it today we have “sided with the terrible folks” (the actual Salon quote is “But Paul basically sided with the terrible folks”.

Way to boil down a complex and subtle issue into one demagogic sound-bite, Salon.com! You guys sure are on the side of the 'right' and the 'just'!

So, to sum that up: defend racist speech and you are not siding with the terrible folks who spread those beliefs, but rather, a valiant defender of the right to freedom of speech and expression. But defend someone’s right to express their personal and property rights by not engaging in exchange with another person for reasons of race, religion, gender, or whatever, and you are not a consistent, passionate defender of rights and liberty, but rather someone who has “basically sided with the terrible folks”.

The saddest part about those who think along those lines are that they do not recognize how the right to free speech is essentially one and the same as those of personal and property rights.

CAPITALISM AND DISCRIMINATION

I don’t have the time or the energy to get into the economic and historical aspects of this, which would further demonstrate the fallacy of the ‘progressive’ liberal stance on this issue, but I would like to share a couple of paragraphs on the subject from Milton Friedman’s 1962 classic “Capitalism and Freedom”. From the chapter on “Capitalism and Discrimination”, in discussing the usage of laws to force employers to not discriminate, based on race, in their hiring (the Fair Employment Practice Commission, or ‘FEPC’), Dr. Friedman says:

“The man who is exercising discrimination pays a price for doing so. He is, as it were, “buying” what he regards as a “product”. It is hard to see that discrimination can have any meaning other than a “taste” of others that one does not share. We do not regard it as “discrimination” —or at least no in the same invidious sense —if an individual is willing to pay a higher price to listen to one singer than to another, although we do if he is willing to pay a higher price to have services rendered to him by a person of one color than by a person of another. The difference between the two cases is that in the one case we share the taste, and in the other case we do not. Is there any difference in principle between the taste that leads a household to prefer an attractive servant to an ugly one and the taste that leads another to prefer a Negro to a white or a white to a Negro, except that we sympathize and agree with the one taste and may not with the other? I do not mean to say that all tastes are equally as good. On the contrary, I believe strongly that the color of a man’s skin or the religion of his parents is, by itself, no reason to treat him differently; that a man should be judged by what he is and what he does and not by these external characteristics. I deplore what seem to me the prejudice and narrowness of outlook of those whose tastes differ from mine in this respect and I think the less of them for it. But in a society based on free discussion, the appropriate recourse is for me to seek to persuade them that their tastes are bad and that they should change their views and their behavior, not to use coercive power to enforce my tastes and my attitudes on others.”

A couple of pages later, he has this to say about the danger of basing laws on such grounds:

“FEPC legislation involves the acceptance of a principle that proponents would find abhorrent in almost every other application. If it is appropriate for the state to say individuals may not discriminate in employment because of color or race or religion, then it is equally appropriate for the state, provided a majority can be found to vote that way, to say that individuals must discriminate in employment on the basis of color, race or religion. The Hitler Nuremberg laws and the laws in the Southern states imposing disabilities upon Negroes are both examples of laws similar in principle to FEPC. Opponents of such laws who are in favor of FEPC cannot argue that there is anything wrong with them in principle, that they involve a kind of state action that ought not to be permitted. They can only argue that the particular criteria used are irrelevant. They can only seek to persuade other men that they should us other criteria instead of these.”

Libertarians and believers in liberty are constantly (and wrongly) accused of not thinking their ideas through carefully. I find, through constant reading and exploration, both on theoretical/philosophical terms AND empirical evidence, that the opposite is true.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan recently posted a short blog titled “Sacrificing Freedom to Gain More” in which he quotes Hilary Bok, who tries to use traffic laws as an example of how “government action can enhance our freedom”:

    “Normally, the point of driving is to get somewhere. The traffic laws enable us to get where we are going much more quickly and safely than we would if each of us had to decide for him- or herself which side of the street to drive on. The traffic laws do not tell us where to go. They leave the choice of destination, and for that matter the decision whether to drive at all, entirely up to us. They simply tell us which side of the road to drive on, that we should stop at various points, and so forth. By taking away our freedom to drive on the left, or to blast through busy intersections, they grant us much more freedom in the form of a greatly enhanced ability to get wherever we want to go quickly and safely.

    Anyone who thinks that the traffic laws enhance our freedom should acknowledge that in some cases, including this one, government action can enhance our freedom, even if that action takes the form of restrictions on what we can and cannot do. An enormous number of questions about which (other) forms of government action might enhance our freedom would remain to be answered, but the fact that some government policy involves either a more active government or new restrictions on our action would not, by itself, imply that it diminishes our freedom.”

Now, the second I read this I grew suspicious as to the accuracy of the core assumption:  that had wise politicians, government bureaucrats, and other central planners, not come together to give us order by writing out a set of traffic rules, restricting our freedom to drive on whatever side of the road we want, that there would be anarchy and confusion in the streets... constant accidents as some people wanted to drive on the left, and others on the right. Blood everywhere! Horrors! In other words, she assumes that government created order where there would otherwise be none.

But as is usually the case when someone tries to justify active government on such a simplistic and narrow scope, history tells a different story, and one that, once again, proves right F. A. Hayek’s insight into ‘spontaneous order’ (order that arises not through the conscious design of a group of benevolent, omniscient elites, but rather through millions of individuals cooperating in accordance with customs and traditions, which evolved through centuries of cultural evolution, ultimately serving to coordinate human efforts without coercion.)

HISTORY SAYS TO HILARY BOK: "I BEG TO DIFFER"

If we look back at history, (http://users.telenet.be/worldstandards/driving%20on%20the%20left.htm#anecdotes) we find that a precedent was set (which still exists in Britain and I believe its former colonies) for traveling on the left side of the road that started in feudal times, due to the fact that most people are right handed, and thus, if they needed to wield their sword to defend against an enemy, they wanted their opponent on their right side (I’m left handed, so I would have been screwed I guess, but I digress). In the late 1700’s, however, some countries began to switch to the right because “teamsters in France and the United States began hauling farm products in big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. These wagons had no driver's seat; instead the driver sat on the left rear horse, so he could keep his right arm free to lash the team. Since he was sitting on the left, he naturally wanted everybody to pass on the left so he could look down and make sure he kept clear of the oncoming wagon’s wheels. Therefore he kept to the right side of the road”.

The French Revolution also had an impact, as “before the Revolution, the aristocracy travelled on the left of the road, forcing the peasantry over to the right, but after the storming of the Bastille and the subsequent events, aristocrats preferred to keep a low profile and joined the peasants on the right”. As governments always have a way of jumping in front of a parade and then claiming to have been leading it all along, “an official keep-right rule was introduced in Paris in 1794”. Then Napoleon spread that rule all throughout much of Europe.

And so on and so forth.

The essay I’ve linked to is very long, so I won’t quote the rest... you can read it yourself if you’d like... but hopefully you get the point. Naturally, as horse and buggies gave way to automobiles, the long established customs were followed. Further changes were made by auto manufacturers, once again without government intervention, as to move the driver seat to the middle of the road side (if you’re interested in that tidbit, it’s way, way down at the bottom of the essay).

Eventually, yes, government stepped in (as it always does) and made ‘official’ what side of the street, and other rules of the road (many, if not most, of which had also come about through the same phenomenon of spontaneous order) were to be followed by drivers by writing them into law and making it illegal to do otherwise.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

But let’s look closer at one of the Ms. Bok’s assertions: “By taking away our freedom to drive on the left, or to blast through busy intersections, they grant us much more freedom in the form of a greatly enhanced ability to get wherever we want to go quickly and safely”.

Let’s say, hypothetically, there were no laws telling us we could not drive on the left side of the road, and could not blast through intersections. Do we think there would be mayhem? We would still have the long standing traditions that people would still be following, so would people willy-nilly start driving on whatever side of the street they wanted and drive carelessly into busy intersections? I wouldn't (if I drove), would you? Is it the fear of breaking a law that keeps you on the right side of the road, or regard for your own safety in knowing that it is customary to do so, and therefore highly dangerous not too. And do we think that someone who is off their rocker enough to drive on the other side of the road is going to be stopped because they don't want to break the law and are worried about a traffic ticket, or do we think that if someone’s insane enough to do that, no law is going to stop them?

There is a partial sense in which Ms. Bok is right. And that is, as Lord Acton once said: “There is no freedom without government”. But this is not in the sense Ms. Bok intends. For hers is a case for active government creating order lest there be chaos. In Lord Acton’s sense, government’s main role is to protect us from physical coercion from others. It is to ensure, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins”. In that way, government DOES enhance freedom, because it ensures that chaos will beget order through voluntary cooperation among free individuals.

AND IN THE END...

In the end, Ms. Bok’s statement is a sign of a much larger problem. The widely held belief that the order of human affairs (or, rather, the abstract that is ‘society’) is one of conscious design, and the lack of understanding and knowledge of the origins and working of the extended order of human cooperation. It is a lack of understanding that has led to much meddling by well intentioned (and sometimes not so well-intentioned) busy-bodies, bureaucrats, politicians, and central planners. Meddling which, if traced back properly, one can find the origins of the resultant detrimental effects caused by efforts to impose such conscious design in everything from the recent financial crisis, the mess that we call a ‘health care system’ (not only in the US, but in the rest of the world as well), and many other issues encountered in modern society that have been exacerbated by the conceit of a few who believe that they are wise enough, and can ever possess the necessary tools, to perfect the imperfectible.

To paraphrase a famous line: the best laid plans of mice and men always go awry.

“The Bowery Mission in New York City had to toss away a batch of fried chicken donated by a local church to help feed the homeless. City law bans all licensed food vendors, including emergency food providers, from serving food with trans fat.” Charles Oliver, Reason Magazine, March, 2010

“Freedom is almost certainly to be destroyed by piecemeal encroachments.” F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 1960

There are times when we all see people engaging in behavior, either on their own or voluntarily with others (through mutual exchange of goods and services, perhaps), which we do not approve of, can not condone, are disturbed by, or simply offends our personal code of ethics. Behaviors that do not fit in with our personal value systems. Behaviors that we do not see as having any benefit to anyone, including the person engaged in the behavior, in any way, shape, or form. Behaviors we may sincerely believe to be detrimental to the physical or moral well-being of those particular individuals engaged in them. Behaviors we may even deem to be counter to the moral fabric of the public in general.

If a majority of people, a very vocal minority, a group of ‘activists’, a special interest group, religious group, lobbyists of all strifes, busy-bodies in general, experts, intellectuals, or over-zealous elitist politicians, do not approve of these behaviors, inevitably, the tendency is for their condemnation to beget legislation in the form of either regulation, or even out-right prohibition.

But so long as the individuals choosing to engage in these behaviors do so without using coercive action or other forms of violence against others, regardless of the harm they may cause to themselves, do our objections validate taking government action in order to force our values onto others by curbing the offending behaviors?

Whatever It Is, I'm Against It!

I don’t think I’d be going to far out on a limb to say that most people reading this probably feel laws that prohibit or regulate at least some of the following activities are valid:  A law against selling one's own kidney. A law establishing a minimum wage. A law banning foul language and nudity from network television stations. A law prohibiting selling and shooting heroin. A law mandating money be deducted from a workers wages to pay for a government-run social security scheme. A law mandating motorcycle riders to wear a helmet. A law banning smoking in restaurants, bars, and clubs.

Yet, whatever the level of justification and pragmatism each of these laws, taken at face value, may seem to possess, by turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into potential criminals for merely engaging, or refusing to engage, in acts that are well within their rights, we breed contempt for, not only these particular laws, but for the rule of law in general. And worse still, we invite the insidious piecemeal encroachments that, over a long period of time, erode both the respect for individual rights, and consequently, liberty itself, by giving credence to the idea that a prevailing consensus view is sufficient evidence for the righteousness of a law.

Slip Slidin' Away.

The further down this slippery slope a society slides, the more incompatible it becomes not only with freedom, but peace and prosperity as well. With each new law, the friction between people escalates. A friction between those who want to use government as a means for instilling their values upon others by way of legislating behavior, and those who believe that the very essence of rights means being able to follow their own values in regard to the choices they make in their lives, for better or worse, so long as it is peaceful (not in direct conflict with the rights of others).

The great irony is that, for the vast majority of people, the side they’re standing on today depends entirely on the issue at hand. Today, you perceive an evil, and either have the power to pass legislation that will, in your opinion, rectify it, or you will attempt to lobby for such legislation. Never mind my protestation that the legislation infringes upon a right to action that I hold dear.

Tomorrow, however, you will cry that some piece of legislation that I am trying to get passed, in order to rectify what I perceive as an evil, violates a right that you hold dear.

This utter inconsistency in our adherence, in both the best and worst of times, to the sovereign principle that rights are inviolable, little by little, increases our antagonism and antipathy toward each other. We pass the hammer of the law back and forth, and, blow by blow, bludgeon liberty to death.

Careful Where You're Swinging That Thing!


That our actions should be limited only to the degree that they are at odds with the rights of others is supposed to be the guiding principle of any truly free society. To quote Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas: “The freedom to move my fist must be limited by the proximity of your chin”. This does not only apply to individual action, but to collective action (including action taken via governmental rules, regulations, and prohibitions) as well. To paraphrase Dr. Walter Williams, we all agree that rape is wrong because it is an obvious matter of an individual violating the rights of another individual. But is gang rape any less wrong by sole virtue that the violation is being done by committee? Of course not. Consensus opinion that collective action should be taken to violate someone’s rights is no less wrong than one individual violating the rights of another.

Hold The Rights, Please.

If we do not hold rights to be inviolable, then they are not principles, but, rather, preferences. And if we give credence to the idea that rights are preferences... something we'd prefer to uphold, but must sometimes be subverted for pragmatic, political, economical, or moral purposes, in order to achieve particular ends... then to what do we appeal when the collective ‘fist’ of the government finds its way to our ‘chin’?

When we set the precedent, for whatever reason, that the achievement of particular ends is of greater importance than upholding fundamental individual rights...

... the precedent set by legally prohibiting an individual who owns his body from selling his kidney to a willing buyer...

... the precedent set by legally prohibiting a business man from offering a wage at a lower rate than the government-set minimum wage, even if there is a worker who finds the offered wage preferable to no job at all...

... the precedent set by legally prohibiting an individual from deciding for himself how to best spend the portion of his earnings that the government taxes away under the pretention that he is better off being coerced to ‘save’ for his retirement...

... the precedent set by legally threatening to take money from an individual if he is caught risking harm to no one but himself by riding a motorcycle without a helmet...

... the precedent set by legally prohibiting the use of ‘profane’ language and nudity on network television, effectively violating the 1st amendment by abridging free speech...

... the precedent set by legally prohibiting privately owned businesses from allowing their patrons to smoke, or allowing their potential patrons to choose whether or not they want to voluntarily enter and do business with such an establishment...

... the precedent set by legally prohibiting an individual from doing himself harm by engaging in the use of heroin, or selling it to a willing buyer...

... then we undermine any appeal to the defense of our rights that we might otherwise have when, under the guise of "for your own good" and "for the public good", those who consider us children who must be protected by a paternalistic government decide to regulate, ban, or legislate to death, peaceful activities that others of us would like to engage in. Activities like the selling of bacon Hot-Dogs, offering live entertainment at new bars and restaurants, dancing outside, producing and distributing fetish movies, fish pedicures, yoga-teacher training, feeding the hungry on church grounds.

And lest you think I’m being alarmist or demagogic, consider that each of the things I have just listed has already been banned, absurdly regulated, or prosecuted by self-righteous busy-bodies somewhere in this country who have decided that it should not be individual rights, but rather their own personal biases, prejudices, preferences, or values that should be the determining measures of what actions non-violent human beings are allowed to partake in.

So, in the end, the same logic that says I must pay into social security, pay a minimum wage, and can't shoot or sell heroin, is fundamentally the exact same perverse logic that says the bellies of homeless folk are better left empty than full of chicken cooked with trans-fats. It's a logic that says big daddy government knows best.

“... the passionate reformer, whose indignation about particular evils so often blinds him to the harm and injustice that the realization of his plans is likely to produce. Ambition, impatience, and hurry are often admirable in individuals; but they are pernicious if they guide the power of coercion and if improvement depends on those who, when authority is conferred on them, assume that in their authority lies superior wisdom and thus the right to impose their beliefs on others.”F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 1960

Incredulous About Stimulus


While watching the President’s State of The Union address, I had an email exchange with my friend, Danny, in which he made a comment in regard to Obama’s promise for a new ‘jobs bill’ (read: Stimulus 2) which would include a new hi-speed rail system. Danny said, “I do like the sound of a new hi-speed rail system. After backpacking Europe I'm really appalled at the prohibitive cost of train travel in this country. It's the best way to travel, I feel, and it should be cheaper and easier and faster than it already is.  Seems a good way to stimulate the economy, on the surface, and create jobs - both administrative and the actual labor of building new rail systems.”

The core issue (and it's a whopper of one) Danny brings up is based around the grand folly of seeing a perceived evil or societal ill (in this case, the perceived evil is  "...I'm really appalled at the prohibitive cost of train travel in this country... ), rationalizing what 'should be' (in this case, Danny rationalizes what 'should be' by saying: "...it should be cheaper and easier and faster than it already is."), and ultimately calling for, or supporting, the deadening hand of governmental force as a means of rectifying said perceived evil. It's an issue that, at its base, underscores the entirety of what, I believe, keeps us from reaching our full potential as a species, making us poorer, less prosperous, and less peaceful the world over. The arguments against this tendency have to be made on economic, political, and philosophical grounds. The arguments involved in all three of these categories are of a depth and complexity that they cannot be simply addressed in one blog post, or one discussion, but I'll attempt to make them over the course of the life of this blog. Today, however, I'll simply focus on touching on the economics involved.

Economics In One Lesson

In his classic book, “Economics in One Lesson”, Henry Hazlitt states the ‘one lesson’ as such: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups”.

Putting aside to another day the fact that there is no such thing as an economy that needs stimulating, not only does an economic 'stimulus' simply function as a political Ponzi scheme (an attempt to buy votes and political capital by moving money from one place to another, giving the mere appearance, but not actual occurrence, of economic recovery and health) but, in the long run, once the pain comes back (often worse, and always more complicated than before), and the true consequences of government manipulation of the market rear their ugly heads, blame is once again deflected away from those who actually create the problems (politicians) and onto the highly distorted, practically non-existent, free market. But here's what's actually happening...

The Seen

When jobs are ‘created’ via ‘stimulus’ (in this case high-speed rail) we all see the jobs ‘created’. We see the people laying the tracks, building the trains, etc. News stories focus on the people working, they interview them talking about how they were out of work for ‘x’ amount of time until the government stepped in and ‘created’ their jobs. The news also focuses on the jobs that will be ‘created’ once the trains are up and running. Tellers, administrators, managers, and more. Politicians hold speeches extolling the virtues of government stepping in to ‘stimulate’ the economy. Who can deny it isn’t working? Who can deny the slumping economy needed to be ‘stimulated’? We SEE the activity, where previously there was none. We SEE the jobs, where previously there were none. We FEEL better, because something... anything... needed to be done, and this is certainly something, isn't it? We BELIEVE that there was a true need for this sort of project anyway because, well, other countries have it and they like it, and I’ve used it and it works great. It’s something that we FEEL was needed, and since the market couldn’t, or wouldn’t, provide it, the government must. Cause we all know that if the market isn't providing something, and a large enough, or loud enough, group of people want it, the government should step up and provide it.

But what about the other, far more complex, side of that coin? What about what we don’t see? What about not just the short term benefits that we can see, but the long term consequences that are both seen AND unseen?

Governments Have No Money. Only People Have Money

First, we have to understand that governments have no money to build a high-speed rail, or do anything else. It has to get it from somewhere. Either by taking it away from productive people through direct taxation, borrowing it, or by having the Fed turn on the printing press and inflating the currency. But which ever way they choose to do it, we ultimately pay it back through taxes directly, or through the insidious tax of inflation.

Second, money is a scarce resource. It is a placeholder for wealth. Thus, the more it is wasted, the less wealth (goods and services) that will be generated, and the poorer we all are as a result. Government is inherently inefficient. It is the great destroyer of wealth.

Here's why: In order for the money to get to each newly ‘created’ job, how does it get there? Well, as we’ve seen, it needs to be borrowed from somewhere, or taxed from some productive person, first. The number of bureaucracies, and the amount of people working in each, that it takes to get the money from the taxpayer or lender to the people working on the lite-rail, other trumpeted ‘jobs programs’, or any of the multitude of wealth redistribution payments that modern governments around the world engage in, is huge.

Each step of the way, someone is receiving the scarce resource that is money, not to induce them to produce more of the goods and services that truly create the wealth of a nation by raising living standards and lifting people out of poverty, but to simply partake in the process of moving money from one persons pocket to another, while taking a cut for themselves (their own pay).

Put another way, each payment made by the government either for jobs, welfare, social security, whatever, requires that a larger sum of money be taken out of the collective pockets of productive citizens than actually reaches the pocket of the intended recipient, in order to pay the government workers along the way. Since government workers consume goods and services with their cut of money, but do not add to the overall produce of a country, there are fewer goods and services to go around. Living standards are necessarily lowered. Wealth is destroyed. Prosperity is decreased. Poverty is increased.

The Unseen

In the long run, and on the whole, this will actually result, not in more jobs than we would have otherwise had, but many FEWER jobs than we would have otherwise had. That is the UNSEEN. It is unseen because, as I noted above, when all the action is happening in one spot, we can see it and go “Oooo! That MUST be working! Look at those jobs! Look at the work!”. But when the losses that result from this short-sighted political slight-of-hand happen, they are not concentrated in either time or distance. A few people lose their job here this month... a few people there a few months later... a guy in Nebraska.... then maybe 3 in North Carolina... some happen this year.... some happen next year. No particular news story focuses on them, and no one diagnoses the connection of the job losses because of the inherently dispersed, sporadic nature of such phenomena. Newly created jobs and opportunities are fewer and farther between as well, and for the same reasons, no connection is made to the ‘stimulus’... to the government distortion of market forces.

But If It’s So Hard To Make The Connection, How Do We Know What’s Going On?


Well, what do we do with our money if it’s not taxed away from us? We don’t eat it. We don’t make paper airplanes out of it (well, I do sometimes, but then I unfold it and use it appropriately). We consume it (by spending it on goods or services), invest it directly (investment being the true generator of economic growth), or save it (which is also investing, as the money we save results in loanable funds for banks). If we have less money to spend due to taxation, we purchase fewer goods and services. If we purchase fewer goods and services, businesses have less money coming in, resulting in people losing their jobs. But there is no way to tell what exactly the public, over all, is going to cut back on... it’s a little less of this here... a little less of that there... maybe no more cable... or just no HBO... maybe no more internet on the cell phone... maybe bringing lunch to work instead of going out to eat... maybe a little less hookers and blow. The cut backs are as diverse and dispersed as the multitude of tastes, wants, needs, and desires of the millions of people making them, and thus, so are the job losses. The lack of new job creation follows a similar path. If, due to our taxed away income, we have less to save, banks have fewer funds to loan, which means credit becomes scarcer, interest rates rise, riskier new and small businesses suffer by having less access to credit, and thus jobs and opportunities that would have come into existence, adding to our overall wealth, are never given a chance. Hopes, dreams, and opportunities that would have, could have, and should have been, are dashed (how's THAT for a little demagoguery!).

No One Spends Your Money As Carefully As You Do

Now, lest we think this is a ‘one for one’ trade off... the new hi-speed rail ‘stimulus’ job for the private sector one... there are a couple of things to take note of. First, as I’ve already mentioned, the layers of government bureaucracy involved in taking money from one person's pocket and putting it into another’s means that it already costs more to create the ‘stimulus’ funded job then it would to create a private sector one by sole virtute of the fact that the money has to trickle off into the pockets of many people who are not involved in the wealth generating process of the market before it reaches its recipient. Therefore, the cost of the recipient of the ‘stimulus’ is not only his salary and benefits, but also a portion of the salary and benefits of each of the people involved in the long chain of taking it out of our pockets and putting it into his. But it’s worse then this... much, much worse.

As Milton Friedman (who, you can probably tell by now, I like quoting) pointed out in his book “Free To Choose” there are 4 ways to spend money:

1. You can spend your own money on yourself.


This generally provides you with the incentive to be efficient in the way you spend your money. You’re careful about how much you spend, and what you receive in return for your dollars.

2. You can spend your own money on someone else.

We can buy gifts for people, take them out to eat, and we are still provided with the incentive to not spend more than we have to, but we are not quite as efficient about what the recipient is receiving as we are when we spend on ourselves. Not that we don’t care if they like what they get or not, but we’re not as attuned to making sure they are as satisfied with what they receive in the same way we are when we spend our own money on ourselves. That’s why the saying goes “it’s the thought that counts” and not “it’s whether it’s what the person actually wanted or not that counts”.

3. You can spend someone else’s money on yourself.

Say you have dinner on your job’s expense account. You are going to be careful that you get what you want, but you aren’t going to be nearly as careful about how much you’re spending. The burger is $10, the New York Strip Steak is $20. You want the steak, and hey, you’re not paying for it, so steak it is! But if you WERE paying for it yourself, you may say to yourself “I’d like the Steak, but I’d rather not spend $20, so I’ll be fine with the burger.”

4. You can spend someone else’s money on someone else.


You take a client out to dinner on your job’s expense account. If he orders the steak instead of the burger, you have no incentive to talk him down to the burger, after all, it’s not your money. What do you care which one he prefers? Let him have his damn steak! What the hell do you care, anyways? The company will pick up the tab. And while we’re at it, I think I’ll have a steak too! What the hell... I’m not paying for it!

My reason for this seeming tangent is to point out that government spending, be it high-speed rail, other ‘stimulus’ projects, welfare, social security, medicare, medicaid, all function as #4 on this list. Someone spending someone else’s money on someone else. This means the incentives and crucial information that, in a dynamic market, provides (through supply and demand, prices, profits, and interest rates) private industry with the information needed to, among other things, determine the appropriate price to pay for labor, is non-existent. If the scarce resource of money is used to pay more for labor than the actual value the market places on it, more than its output justifies, then we end up with fewer jobs... fewer goods and services... lower living standards... a weaker economy... less prosperity... and more poverty.

This is just as applicable to the tellers, ticket takers, and the plethora of other more 'permanent jobs’ involved in running a high-speed rail system, as it is to the temporary construction jobs involved in building it. In fact, the 'permanent jobs', along with the other operating and maintenance costs, result in a legacy drag on the economy.

If, as a man named Robert Anderson once put it, “Increased output at a lower cost equals increased prosperity”, then, as we have now seen, the exact opposite is true in regard to government spending: decreased output at a higher cost equals decreased prosperity.

Ticket Sales, Schmicket Sales...

And while, in the case of a project like a high-speed rail, there is certainly an offset to the cost that happens once the project is complete (due to ticket sales), as this article from the free market oriented Reason Foundation notes:

"... a December 2009 report on high-speed rail from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) helpfully points out that of all the dozens of high-speed rail projects build worldwide over the last several decades, only two are “estimated” to have paid for their capital cost out of farebox revenues. All the rest, in Japan, France, Spain, and elsewhere have been largely paid for by general taxpayers."

As far as I can find in researching this issue, the only lines in the world that have even broken even are the Paris-Lyon and Tokyo-Osaka lines (these are the two that I assume the Reason article is referencing).

None of this even begins to address the immorality of forcing some people to pay, through their federal tax dollars, for something they live nowhere near, and may never use once in their lifetime.

In Conclusion


In the end, all of this benefits no one but the ambitions and egos of politicians who use these ‘stimulus’ and redistribution schemes as a means of elevating themselves, in the eyes of a desperate public, as the saviors of an economy that they are, in reality, and perhaps unwittingly, engineering the slow but steady destruction of.

This nonsense that we call 'economic stimulus' is largely due to a much discredited, disproved theory by John Maynard Keynes that still lives on not only through economically ignorant politicians and journalists, but also through a large swath of professional, elitist-minded, Nobel Prize winning economists, such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.

When confronted by his detractors with the long term consequences of his theory, Keynes response was: “In the long run, we’re all dead”.

Keep that in mind during our next boom and bust cycle, during which many of us will still be very much alive to suffer the consequences of the current burst of short sighted Keynesian policies.

A freedom by any other name...


Last week the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down the portion of McCain-Feingold that restricts, as the OC Register put it, "using corporate funds to undertake an "electioneering communication" or any speech advocating the election or defeat of a candidate within 30 days of a primary election and 60 days of a general election".  "HOORAY!" I thought. "A victory for free speech, and consequently, liberty itself!" Then I read various facebook posts, articles, and comments to articles, and I was shocked (though, in hindsight, I guess I shouldn't have been) at how many people were not only outraged by this decision, but seemed to have very little understanding of, let alone respect for, the principles of free speech and rights in general. More shocking was how many of these people were college educated.

Of all the issues I've debated with people, this was the one that finally made me feel compelled to start blogging. So... here we go....

One of the founders' fears of creating a bill of rights (if memory serves, it was an argument made primarily by Alexander Hamilton) was that rights are far too numerous for any one document to hold, and their uses far too many for any one mind to comprehend. Thus they feared that over time, the people, and the government, would come to believe that if a right isn't specifically listed in this bill of rights, then it was fair game for government oversight and regulation. The argument FOR the bill of rights was that, though Hamilton's concern was valid, these particular rights were so integral to a free society that they needed to be specifically stated. The latter argument won the day, and ultimately, the bill of rights was included in the constitution.

However, fast forward to the issue at hand, and we can see some of the many ways in which Hamilton's fears have been justified.

1. It is contended by many that the 1st Amendment does not protect speech for corporations because A) corporations are not people, and the 1st Amendment only protects speech for people, or B) The 1st Amendment doesn't specifically mention corporations, and therefore they are not eligible for the same protection as individuals.

Both of these objections show a misunderstanding of what corporations are.

It is instructive to understand, as Milton Friedman taught us, that there is no 'corporation'. Only people. Just as there is no 'society'. Only people. These are simply abstract terms (and in the case of 'society', not a very sufficient term) used to describe many individuals organized in different ways. You can not talk about these things without talking about the various people within them. In the case of the corporation, you have to talk about the CEO, the Board of Directors, the Shareholders, and the Employees. A corporation is simply a word used to described a way in which a group of people chooses to assemble in order to collectively engage in a variety of activities. It does not exist. Only the people exist. The word used to describe the way people choose to assemble, in this case the word 'corporation', does not negate the right of the people being referenced to use their collective means in order to engage in political, or any other kind, of speech.

2. Another argument I've seen made over and over is that corporate speech in the political sphere must be restricted because the way they use that freedom may have a negative impact on society and democracy.

Now... putting aside to another day and another blog enrty the fact that this country is not, never has been, and was never meant to be a Democracy (a word which you will not find in either the Declaration of Independence OR the Constitution), but rather one that uses democratic means... since when is upholding the sovereign principle of rights (in this case, the right to speech) dependent on how, for what purpose, and by whom, those rights will be used? It is imperative to stand by these principles even, and especially, when we cannot see the immediate benefits of doing so, for the long term negative consequences of violating them will often be far greater. This is why we must defend speech with vigor even when we abhor the views being expressed. Such as those of the KKK, or Neo-Nazis. Not because we are defending racism or antisemitism, but because we recognize the consequences of not doing so. The only limit that can be put on rights, while remaining consistent, is that they can not be used to directly violate the rights of others. These battles must be fought at the extremes.

But, further on this argument, it is important to note that what many of these people fear, the way the corporations use their political speech to influence the electorate in a way that benefits them (which is a legitimate fear when taken at face value) is not simply an effect of extending speech to people who have assembled as a corporation, but rather an effect caused by a very long trend toward which our country has been moving in which, instead of competing for various voluntarily mutual co-operative relationships in the market place, we, whether the public at large, or businesses in general, lobby the government for various protections and privaleges in order to incur gains which could not otherwise have been obtained in a free market. This slow but steady move, from persuasive relationships to coercive ones, turns exchanges from being mutually beneficial, where both sides win, to exchanges where one party wins at the expense of another. It turns a positive sum game, into zero sum.

The answer to this problem is not to further violate freedom by abridging freedom of speech, but rather to address the depth of the issue that created this situation (which, hopefully, I will be examining, over time, in future blogs).

3. The last objection (though there are many more) I will address is the "money is not speech!" argument.

Well, on its face, this is true. George Washington is not literally speaking from a dollar bill (though, how COOL would that be?). But if we take the time to examine deeper, we find that money is property. It is an extension of the right to self ownership. Ask yourself: do I own my mind and body, or does the Government? Is it not my right to use my surplus, which in the modern world is usually expressed through money, to achieve the ends that are most important, and most relevant, to my life? Or am I simply a slave to the subjective whim of Government officials who, based on their own biases, preferences, and prejudices, will decided not only who gets to say and do what, when, where, and how, but will also arbitrarily decide how I can and cannot peacefully use the fruits of my labor... my knowledge... my being?

Unless we are slaves, or we think that others should be treated as slaves by sole virtue of the manner in which they choose to assemble, then so long as they are not directly violating the rights of others, we must respect their right to use their means (in this case money) to achieve their ends (in this case speech), just as we would want others to respect the way we use our rights.

The Constitution guarantees us all the natural, fundamental right to exercise free speech, but neither guarantees a platform upon which to speak, nor a megaphone to speak through. It cannot, and should not, guarantee equality in voice. Therefore, we must submit to the hard fact that speech competes, like all human action, in a market place. This means, in essence: money sometimes=speech. Just as sometimes, money=a turkey sandwich.

Of course, all of the arguments I've addressed here should be made moot based on the simply phrase in the 1st Amendment that reads "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech...". That pretty much says it all right there. It doesn't say "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech... except where it is assumed that some organizations of individuals may use this freedom in ways in which others may object".

And none of this even begins to scratch the surface of the discussion about why this case was brought before the Supreme Court (due to the Hillary Clinton documentary) and how it relates to the evolution of government actions and how they reach conclusions neither foreseen nor intended by their well meaning, but often highly naive, sponsors. But I'm sure I'll be exploring that subject in great depth over the course of other blogs. In the mean time, I hope this blog has, at the very least, provided some healthy food for thought.