Free Markets, Free People

capitalism

Krugman’s latest pearls of wisdom

I noted yesterday that one of the more prolific hacks left off of Alex Pareene list (link in previous post) at Salon was Paul Krugman.

QandO has a long history of examining Krugman’s political thoughts and finding them mostly wanting.  That’s not to say he’s a bust at everything he does – when he just talked economics he had some interesting things to say.  But his venture into political advocacy has, shall we say, not helped his overall reputation in the least.  One of the reasons is he’s prone to saying things like this:

The rich don’t necessarily deserve their wealth, and the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty.

Don’t “deserve” wealth or poverty according to whom and by what standard, Mr. Krugman? 

Who gets to decide what is or isn’t “deserved” if earned or obtained legally?  And how does one make the blanket statement that “the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty?”  That, in many cases, is demonstrably false. 

If we agree we are the sum of our choices in life, and those who’ve made consistently bad choices (drop out of school, take up drug use, commit criminal acts) end up in poverty, how is it they don’t “deserve” what they now suffer?  Certainly I can think of examples of the poor who may be poor through no real fault of their own – the mentally deficient who haven’t the skills to earn high wages, etc.  But for the most part, if everyone is offered essentially the same opportunities as others and they choose not to take advantage of them, how does one relegate their descent into poverty as “undeserved”?  Especially when others in precisely the same circumstances make different decisions that raise them out of poverty?

What, in fact, that statement is meant to reflect is Krugman’s apparent belief that wealth is unequally distributed not because it is earned, but by an immoral and unfair system that needs to be fixed. 

The market, in Krugman’s world, arbitrarily picks winners and losers and rewards them at whim apparently.  Thus most of the rich and none of the poor “deserve” their financial status.

So this should come as not surprise:

Allow me to make a point: Economics is not a morality play. It’s not a happy story in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished.

The market economy is a system for organizing activity — a pretty good system most of the time, though not always — but not according to any moral significance.

Really?  So nowhere in such an economy is honesty, fairness, good customer service rewarded with business over competitors who exhibit none of those virtues?  Instead, it’s just a “system for organizing” where consumers buy from which ever vendor they first come upon without ever once considering those virtues as a reason for buying?  Does the system punish those who act in what one could consider an “economically immoral” manner – i.e. in violation of the laws of economics” or screwing over customers?  Does it not mostly reward those who act in a manner that most pleases their customers and helps their reputation?

How is that not evidence of a moral code operating within a given market?

Well of course it is – but such a code is inconvenient to the Krugman’s of the world, because admitting that markets, unimpeded by government intrusion, would reward or punish those who transgress its laws would mean the argument for more government intrusion would fall flat.  And certainly, admitting that the rich “deserve” their riches as much as many in poverty “deserve” their poverty would again admit to a morality that precluded government making everything “fair” by it’s attempts to redistribute that “undeserved” wealth.

Those key premises are what Krugman and much of the left base their criticism of capitalism on, never once admitting that a) capitalism as it should exist doesn’t and  b) the reason the markets may not seem to be “working” is because of the amount of distortion they already suffer from government intrusion.

Of course, it is the age old cycle many of us have come to understand – government declares something to be a problem, declares it is the solution, exacerbates the problem and again declares only it can fix it with even more intrusion. 

“Morality” is, at a base level, “good and bad”.  We label what we deem “good” as moral.  The bad stuff is “immoral”.  How one can observe real markets at work, where the basic transaction is a voluntary exchange of goods for money between two people (entities) and not recognize the basic morality of such an act wouldn’t understand morality if it bit them on the leg.   Billions of those transactions will happen on this, Black Friday.  Consumers will go to stores they trust from experience, buy from vendors with good reputations and the best customer service and reward them with their business.  That decision is one based in morality in which the consumer weighs the options and picks the vendor who best exemplifies their moral ideal in the marketplace.  If they’ve been burned in the past by store X, that store most likely will not get their business – a decision based on the moral judgment of the consumer.

How a so-called economist doesn’t understand the basic morality of markets seems a bit beyond me.  Which is why I put Krugman in the hack category.  That morality, which is plainly evident to me, is inconvenient to Krugman’s thesis that government must intervene in the economy.  He can’t really point to any success stories (well he tries by saying, finally, that massive government spending for WWII brought us out of the Depression and that’s suspect), so he’s left trying to explain why it is government’s job to save us from the inherent unfairness of the market.

You have to leave a whole bunch of stuff out to do that.  And you have to establish nonsensical premises like “the rich don’t necessarily deserve their wealth, and the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty”, in order to advance your government intrusion thesis.

Thus the cycle repeats – government is again the only solution to the problem government created.  After all, the markets put us 14 trillion in debt, not the profligacy of government – or so I fully expect Krugman to explain in some future bit of nonsense in the New York Times.  It would make about as much sense as this nonsense.

~McQ

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Government mandates and the law of unintended consequences

Your “Econ 101” lesson for the day is a lesson politicians never seem to grasp, although they do love to harp on is “greedy corporations” outsourcing “American jobs”.  In effect, they play off of free market decisions necessary to maintain competitiveness in order to characterize corporations as the bad guys (and, naturally, they and government as the white knights).

Of course the market decision I’m speaking of concerns doing what is necessary to remain competitive in highly competitive markets. And, one of the highest costs of production is headcount or the workers.  So in a free market, competitive industries are going to seek the lowest cost possible for labor to remain competitive. 

That may mean moving to a new country for labor intensive industries where labor costs are lower.

But sometimes it isn’t “greedy corporations” that drive American jobs offshore.  Sometimes it is the US Government.  Take light bulbs for instance:

The last major GE factory making ordinary incandescent light bulbs in the United States is closing this month, marking a small, sad exit for a product and company that can trace their roots to Thomas Alva Edison’s innovations in the 1870s.

Wait, you say, there’s still a demand for light bulbs!  Of course there is – but thanks to government intrusion, that demand, by law, is only for a particular kind – not the incandescent types that we actually manufactured here.  Instead of letting the market decide which type of light bulb it wanted, the government decided to mandate it. And what you are now allowed to “demand” is a compact fluorescent, or CFL.

What made the plant here vulnerable is, in part, a 2007 energy conservation measure passed by Congress that set standards essentially banning ordinary incandescents by 2014. The law will force millions of American households to switch to more efficient bulbs.

The resulting savings in energy and greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to be immense. But the move also had unintended consequences.

Rather than setting off a boom in the U.S. manufacture of replacement lights, the leading replacement lights are compact fluorescents, or CFLs, which are made almost entirely overseas, mostly in China.

Consisting of glass tubes twisted into a spiral, they require more hand labor, which is cheaper there. So though they were first developed by American engineers in the 1970s, none of the major brands make CFLs in the United States.

CFLs, as noted, are more labor intensive to manufacture than are incandescent bulbs.

China’s labor costs are far less than the US’s.  Therefore, the US government’s mandate ending the use of incandesents by 2014 and mandating CFLs be purchased in their place drove the domestic lighting industry – and the jobs it produced – off shore.  And all based on dubious science and the apparent belief that energy production is finite and waning.

Oh, and “how about those green jobs?”  Another promise shipped off to China.

When you screw that CFL in some family in China will thank you.  And when you pay your taxes some of which go toward unemployment benefits for former light bulb manufacturers here – make sure you thank the politicians for the job well done.  I’m sure those former GE workers will.

/sarc

~McQ

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Irony and the law of unintended consequences visit the UAW

You could also entitle it "meet the new boss, same as the old boss". What I’m talking about is a recent meeting between UAW bosses and GM workers. To say it didn’t go well would be a vast understatement)(via Sweetness and Light):

Workers at a General Motors stamping plant in Indianapolis, Indiana chased United Auto Workers executives out of a union meeting Sunday, after the UAW demanded workers accept a contract that would cut their wages in half.

As soon as three UAW International representatives took the podium, they were met with boos and shouts of opposition from many of the 631 workers currently employed at the plant. The officials, attempting to speak at the only informational meeting on the proposed contract changes, were forced out within minutes of taking the floor.

The incident once again exposes the immense class divide between workers and union officials, who are working actively with the auto companies to drive down wages and eliminate benefits.

Actively working with the auto companies? They are part owners now of the auto companies – they’re "management" for heaven sake.

Interesting how it suddenly looks when you’re on the "other side", huh?  And in the face of vociferous opposition, the UAW officials abandoned the podium.

All of this was written up at the World Socialist website.  There’s also a video which gives real credence to the story. In the beginning someone from the local is speaking. He or she (I really couldn’t tell which) then introduces the UAW international drones at about 2:48. As you watch it, it will remind you of some of the townhall meetings of last summer:

The article goes on to say:

Workers at Local 23 voted 384-22 in May to reject reopening a previous contract, which had guaranteed that wages would remain intact in the event of a sale. GM first announced its intention to sell the plant in 2007, threatening to close it if it did not find a buyer.

Despite overwhelming opposition by the rank-and-file, UAW executives secretly continued negotiations with JD Norman, which they outlined in a document sent to workers last week.

Pretty bad when your union which is now management sells you out, isn’t it?  To paraphrase one worker, “they’ll still have their jobs while they sell ours out”.  Wow – wasn’t that the argument against the hated “management?”  Heh …

Irony – it’s really something to be appreciated sometimes, isn’t it?  The UAW always wanted control of the auto companies didn’t it?  Now it has it – sweet, huh?  And private sector unions wonder why their membership is dropping like a rock.

~McQ

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The Economy In An Anecdote

I think this entire article entitled “Why I’m Not Hiring” could qualify as the QOTD. It neatly explains why businesses are so reluctant to hire anyone right now.

Meet Sally (not her real name; details changed to preserve privacy). Sally is a terrific employee, and she happens to be the median person in terms of base pay among the 83 people at my little company in New Jersey, where we provide audio systems for use in educational, commercial and industrial settings. She’s been with us for over 15 years. She’s a high school graduate with some specialized training. She makes $59,000 a year—on paper. In reality, she makes only $44,000 a year because $15,000 is taken from her thanks to various deductions and taxes, all of which form the steep, sad slope between gross and net pay.

[…]

Employing Sally costs plenty too. My company has to write checks for $74,000 so Sally can receive her nominal $59,000 in base pay … When you add it all up, it costs $74,000 to put $44,000 in Sally’s pocket and to give her $12,000 in benefits. Bottom line: Governments impose a 33% surtax on Sally’s job each year.

There is no grand revelation in Mr. Fleischer’s explanatory essay. Just hard cold reality: make the costs of hiring more expensive, and less hiring will happen.

Some may argue that just because Mr. Fleischer’s company isn’t hiring for these reasons, that doesn’t mean that other companies are refraining on the same basis. True, but what are the other possible reasons then? Logan Penza summarizes some of the arguments:

It’s those Evil, Greedy Corporations.

That’s the simple explanation most of the talking heads have for the continuing high unemployment numbers. Those Evil, Greedy Corporations horde their money and refuse to hire anyone. When they do hire someone, they don’t pay them enough, don’t offer them enough benefits, don’t pay enough taxes, pollute the planet, steal candy from babies, kick puppies, and make obscene gestures at your auntie. Evil, Greedy Corporations are offered up as cartoon villains, detestable and vile and without any redeeming value.

The trouble with cartoon villains is that they are fictional.

Well, yeah, but it’s so much easier to blame fictional bogeymen then to address what the real businesses say.

Another argument I’ve seen advanced is that the marketplace is inherently uncertain, and that businesses who can’t cope with changes in the law are simply unfit to survive. There is a certain laissez-faire appeal to this argument, but ultimately it doesn’t make sense.

The fact of the matter is that the types of market risk that businesses can and do adjust to, aside from increased competition, are changes in demand and supply, natural disasters and war. The more savvy, efficient and customer-sensitive businesses do survive these sorts of uncertainties and ultimately enhance the economy when they do.

In contrast, when the government continually raises the costs of doing business in the first place (or threatens to do so), the only ones who really survive are either the politically connected or the very wealthy (yes, they are often the same thing). That doesn’t have anything to do with building a better mousetrap, as it were, or growing the economy. And it certainly doesn’t do anything to raise everyone’s standard of living. Instead, all it does is reward those closest to the rule-makers, thus creating more competition to be closest to the King rather than satisfying the marketplace. It is exactly the sort of crony-capitalism we claim to detest.

As Mr. Fleischer summarizes:

A life in business is filled with uncertainties, but I can be quite sure that every time I hire someone my obligations to the government go up. From where I sit, the government’s message is unmistakable: Creating a new job carries a punishing price.

Perhaps instead of punishing business, the government could get out of the way. Maybe then we could get some of that job growth we’ve all been looking for. Unfortunately, it seems that few in Washington are listening, or worse, that they don’t really care.

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Deficits: Are Spending Increases The Same As Tax Cuts?

This weekend on on Fox News Sunday, Jon Kyl (rather inartfully) set up a classic struggle between political views of how government economics work:

Ezra Klein (and others) pounced on Kyl’s poorly expressed assertion (my emphasis):

What’s remarkable about Kyl’s position here is that it appears to be philosophical. “You should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans,” he said. Never! This is much crazier than anything you hear from Democrats. Imagine if some Democrat — and a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, no less — said that as a matter of principle, spending should never be offset. He’d be laughed out of the room.

Back in the real world, tax cuts and spending increases have the exact same affect on the budget deficit. This sort of comment is how you tell people who care about the deficit apart from people who are interested in exploiting fears of the deficit to shrink the size of government.

While Kyl’s phrasing lends to this sort of demagogic mockery, it’s hard to blame Klein, et al., after the spending binge that followed the Bush tax cuts of 2001. Kyl’s immediate point — that paying for some tax cuts by raising other taxes — is spot on. Shuffling around the types of taxes that one pays makes no sense if the idea is to let Americans hold onto more of their money. Indeed, he made exactly that point after his Fox News Sunday appearance (via Daniel Foster):

“Who does the money belong to?” Kyl asked rhetorically. “The money belongs to the taxpayer, to the people. The money does not belong to the government, and yet that’s what this kind of a rigid paygo rule would assume: that the money belongs to the government, and therefore if you’re going to deny the government some of that revenue through a tax cut, you have to make the government whole, because the government can never lose any money. That would mean that you could never reduce the size of government. Each year, when it gets bigger, it stays at that level or it gets bigger yet, but you can never reduce it.”

As Foster notes, “Kyl is openly advocating some ‘starve the beast’ unfunded tax cuts.” Klein counters this with a reasonable budgetary point: deficits are deficits, whether from reduced income or increased spending. Yet, this misses the real issue:

He who has the money expands; he who does not shrinks.

According to the “starve the beast” strategy, if government takes in less revenue than it spends, eventually it will have to cut spending in order to match revenues, and thus the government will shrink. At the same time, if the private sector has more money in its pocket, the economy will expand. While the efficacy of this strategy leaves much to be desired in practice, at least one part of the equation can’t be denied, i.e. the more money that the government takes in, the more it expands.

The same holds true for the private sector. The fewer taxes it is forced to pay (that is, the more money it is allowed to keep), the greater it expands.

So, the real question is, which do we want to expand: the private sector or the government?

Kyl is dead-on in his describing the pervasive attitude of statists of all stripes. They really think the money belongs to the government and should be dispersed as it sees fit (provided, of course, that government is run by officials suitably attuned to the “common good”). That is where the struggle lies. Statists believe that government is the best source of economic expansion while history individualists commend the opposite.

If the statists are correct, then we should want the government to expand, and deficits should be run up without commensurate spending cuts or, alternatively, with tax increases. If, instead, the private sector holds the key to economic expansion, then deficits (if any) should be met by spending cuts. Period.

To be sure, in order to live under a rule of law, some minimal level of government spending is required. Ideally, taxes, user fees, etc. pay for that minimal level, but there will always come a time when unfortunate events necessitate dipping into the red. It is in those times when raising taxes may be the best solution on a temporary basis (which hasn’t always worked out very well). Once those events subside, however, continuing to expand government spending can only be done to the detriment of the private sector, which will then shrink.

In the end, whether the electorate chooses an expansion of the state or the private sector will be the real deciding factor in whether the economy expands or not. All deficit spending may be equal in budgetary terms, but only one course will actually serve to expand the economy. On that score, Kyl has the better of the argument.

~MJW

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Chavez tightens grip on Venezuela

In all the hype about the McChrystal story and the focus on the Gulf spill, you may have missed this story about Hugo Chavez’s continued destruction of the Venezuelan economy:

Venezuelan army soldiers swept through the working class, pro-Chavez neighborhood of Catia in Caracas last week, seizing 120 tons of rice along with coffee and powdered milk that officials said was to be sold above regulated prices. “The battle for food is a matter of national security,” said a red-shirted official from the Food Ministry, resting his arm on a pallet laden with bags of coffee.

How dare they not heed price controls? Meanwhile, in the ultra-efficient state machine bureaucracy, things are going swimmingly:

Critics accuse him of steering the country toward a communist dictatorship and say he is destroying the private sector. They point to 80,000 tons of rotting food found in warehouses belonging to the government as evidence the state is a poor and corrupt administrator.

120 tons confiscated. 80,000 tons allowed to rot. You can do the math.

“We are bringing order to prices,” Trade Minister Richard Canan told Reuters during the Catia raid. “There are traders who are taking these products to the black market … That is a crime and our government will continue to target these stores.”

Food prices are up 41% this past year. Price controls. If you don’t think you’re paying enough now, try them.

~McQ

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The market speaks: doctors increasingly turning down new Medicare patients

USA Today brings us a story that should surprise no one. Medicare, the supposed model of a government run health care system, is finding that fewer and fewer doctors are willing to take on new patients under that system. They cite the low payments Medicare offers (or perhaps forces) for patient treatment. Baby boomers just now entering the system are going to find their choice of a doctor restricted.

The numbers break down like this:

• The American Academy of Family Physicians says 13% of respondents didn’t participate in Medicare last year, up from 8% in 2008 and 6% in 2004.

• The American Osteopathic Association says 15% of its members don’t participate in Medicare and 19% don’t accept new Medicare patients. If the cut is not reversed, it says, the numbers will double.

• The American Medical Association says 17% of more than 9,000 doctors surveyed restrict the number of Medicare patients in their practice. Among primary care physicians, the rate is 31%.

Note especially that final group. Primary care physicians are the group of physicians that the newly passed health care reform law depends on to implement its “preventive care” regime.

The reason is rather simple and straight forward – Medicare offers 78% of what private insurance pays in compensation for a doctor’s services. Why doctors are leaving or restricting new Medicare patients is rather easy to understand as well:

“Physicians are saying, ‘I can’t afford to keep losing money,’ ” says Lori Heim, president of the family doctors’ group.

Consequently they cut or drastically restrict the source of the loss. While most doctors are not going to turn away existing Medicare patients, they may not accept new ones and finally, through attrition, close their practice to Medicare patients.

It isn’t rocket science – no good businessman is going to continue to do things in which the net result is a loss of money. And a doctor’s private practice is a business – one which employs a number of people. He or she, like any business person running a small business, cannot afford the losses. So they identify the problem and eliminate it.

As this continues it will put them in a direct confrontation with the federal government. It is anyone’s guess, given the current administration’s choices for wielding power, how that will turn out. But what this rejection of the compensation offered by government is doing is bringing to the fore is one of the underlying conflicts of the new health care law – the premise of the law is that government can control costs (and payments) and thereby make medical care less costly. The doctors are saying, go for it, but I’m not playing.

At some point, government is going to have too address those who make that declaration. We’ll then see how free of a country we really are, won’t we?

~McQ

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Just words

Not that I’m particularly upset by this (liberal certainly are), however, it again makes the case that this president should never be judged just by what he says (see below). He should always be judged by what he does and how it all turns out. For instance:

The White House is intervening at the last minute to come to the defense of multinational corporations in the unfolding conference committee negotiations over Wall Street reform.

A measure that had been generally agreed to by both the House and Senate, which would have affirmed the SEC’s authority to allow investors to have proxy access to the corporate decision-making process, was stripped by the Senate in conference committee votes on Wednesday and Thursday. Five sources with knowledge of the situation said the White House pushed for the measure to be stripped at the behest of the Business Roundtable. The sources — congressional aides as well as outside advocates — requested anonymity for fear of White House reprisal.

Tough talk, populist rhetoric (CEO’s get paid too much and we need to rein them in) and when it comes to actually doing so? Yeah, not so tough at all. Like I said, the outcome doesn’t bother me and, after publicly taking corporate CEOs to task, attempting to shame them and cut their pay, someone must have alerted Obama to the fact that they mostly paid the campaign freight during his run for the presidency.

Why do I say that? Well the “Business Roundtable”, which so vociferiously opposed this is a lobby of corporate CEOs. And the White House liason to that lobby is Valerie Jarrett.

The White House is now saying that the provision allowing investors proxy access which would allow them to have a say in CEO salaries was never something they explicitly backed.

“It was not part of our original financial reform proposals, and we have not taken a position explicitly. We have heard from and understand the various concerns on this critical corporate governance issue from multiple stakeholders including business, investors, labor and others. We are confident that the House and Senate conferees will come to a resolution and deliver a consensus view,” said the spokesperson.

Of course that, along with much of what they say, is not true. Huffington Post reminds us of two administration officials who took very explicit positions in support of the provison:

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin addressed the provision. “The Senate bill will make clear that the SEC has unambiguous authority to issue rules permitting shareholder access to the proxy. We support that proposal. The SEC’s rulemaking process will define the precise parameters of proxy access,” he said. “But the principle is clear: long-term shareholders meeting reasonable ownership thresholds should have the ability to hold board members accountable by proposing alternatives and making their voices heard.”

Valerie Jarrett followed Wolin. “The Senate bill will make it clear that the SEC has unambiguous authority to issue rules permitting shareholders access to the proxy — essential, as I know you guys know,” she said. “We agree that corporate governance means more transparency, more responsibility, more accountability, and once again — I can’t say it too often — we stand firmly with you on that point.”

Any questions? Does this leave you with the impression that the administration never explicitly took a position on that provision? Are you still convinced Obama means what he says, or are you beginning to understand that he’s mostly show and not much “go”?

Oh, and yes, this would be called “crony capitalism” if you were wondering.

~McQ

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Misunderstanding Freedom

Rand Paul managed to raise quite a ruckus by honestly stating his views in response to a loaded (and irrelevant) question. In the process, the left and those who pose an intellectual moderates have seized the opportunity to tee off on libertarianism and the Tea Party movement. Dale capably dismantled one such effort by the New York Times editorial board. Today, a more subtle, concern-trollish effort graces the NYT in a piece from Sam Tanenhaus:

On the surface Mr. Paul’s contradictory statements [i.e. that he dislikes the federal government intrusion into private business affairs, abhors racism, and would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act — ed. – which aren’t necessarily contradictory] might seem another instance of the trouble candidates get into when ideological consistency meets the demands of practical politics. This was the point Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, made when he said, in mild rebuke of Mr. Paul, “I hope he can separate the theoretical and the interesting and the hypothetical questions that college students debate until 2 a.m. from the actual votes we have to cast based on real legislation here.”

But Mr. Paul’s position is complicated. He has emerged as the politician most closely identified with the Tea Party movement. Its adherents are drawn to him because he has come forward as a kind of libertarian originalist, unbending in his anti-government stance. The farther he retreats from ideological purity, the more he resembles other, less attractive politicians.

In this sense, Mr. Paul’s quandary reflects the position of the Tea Partiers, whose antipathy to government, rooted in populist impatience with the major parties, implies a repudiation of politics and its capacity to effect meaningful change.

Although Tanenhaus provides a fairly non-judgmental opinion here, he is also quite clearly trying to imply a racist undertone to the Tea Party movement. At best, he is suggesting that Rand, and thus Tea Partiers, are smugly indifferent to the vagaries of racial prejudice, and all too ready to sacrifice the well-being of those who suffer most from such discrimination on the altar of libertarian purism. While it’s true that libertarians can be just as prone to fits of utopianism as any good Marxist, Tanenhaus’ conjecture relies on at least two fundamental misunderstandings: (1) that adherence to principles of liberty can only be maintained from a standpoint of ideological purity; and (2) that distrust of government intrusion equals “anti-government.”

Taking the second point first, there has been a concerted effort by the left to portray libertarians in general, and Tea Partiers specifically, as some sort of “anti-government” force. Tanenhaus attempts to support this myopic view by equating Rand’s skepticism regarding certain portions of the ’64 Act with an unbending aversion to government in toto. In turn, all those in favor of limited government, and especially those opposed to the unnecessary and unwanted expansion of federal powers witnessed in the past couple of years, are labeled as anti-government ideologues, who mistake the theoretical for the practical. Yet, in truth, the views of libertarians and the Tea Party crowd are not terribly different from those of this nation’s founders in that regard. Distrust of government, after all, was what led to the formation of a constitution that limited its powers and explicitly placed the source of all such power in the hands of the people. That is not an anti-government stance, but a pro-limited-government and pro-liberty view. Tanenhaus’ misapprehension of that fact leads to a portrayal of Rand et al. as some sort of anarchist radicals bent on destroying government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Turning to Rand’s comments on the ’64 Act, we should all have a problem with government intrusion into our private affairs. A good argument can be made that without such intrusion the invidious racist practices targeted by the ’64 Act would have continued for quite a while, but that is simply an end-justifies-the-means argument that misses the most important reason to be skeptical of such intrusions: once government has such power it rarely, if ever, gives it up, but instead extends its reach into other areas as well. Yes, that is a “slippery slope” argument, but one that in this case is well founded in fact. Indeed, the ’64 Act itself, based on Congress’ Commerce Clause powers, serves as the perfect illustration of why the slippery slope should be minded. Since the end of the Lochner era, and the concurrent expansion of Commerce Clause power, the federal government has arrogated to itself the ability to control almost every level of your business and personal activity, right down to what you may or may not ingest, and how you can can receive health care when you get sick. Again, whether some of these results are “good” is beside the point that the means of obtaining them requires a suppression of liberty and an expansion of centralize government power. For that reason, and that reason alone, Rand is right to question the necessity of certain provisions of the ’64 Act, even if eventually he would have voted in favor of it (and leaving aside the cogent, and certainly correct, arguments that federal government had the requisite power to enact those provisions through the 13th Amendment). And, again, none of that stance make he or anyone who supports him some sort of “anti-government” radical.

In the same way, questioning invasive government powers in defense of liberty does not make one an impractical ideologue. For starters, freedom isn’t just an idea or some sort of construct; government is. Like pure oxygen, it’s rare to find in the natural order of things, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In contrast, government had to be invented from the ideas of man. Accordingly, it is not ideological to take the view that, as Justice Scalia once noted, individual liberty is the default position and government control over it must be constitutionally and specifically justified, not the other way around. Our very country was founded on this basic principle. Yet, the critics of Rand Paul, libertarians and Tea Partiers get this exactly backwards.

Moreover, just because something is practical, doesn’t warrant an eradication of individual liberty. Perhaps it is true that de facto Jim Crow would have lingered in the absence of those ’64 Act provisions preventing private discrimination. If so, then the practical application of those laws would seem to trump the individual liberty of the racists who tried to perpetuate that era. Yet, can it truly be said that the ’64 Act was responsible for bringing an end to discrimination, or since we know it still exists, its retardation? Isn’t there a much better argument to be made that Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and all those civil rights activists of the 50’s and 60’s who lent their blood, sweat and tears — and sometimes their very lives — to the cause had a much greater impact than the 88th Congress? In this sense, while the ’64 Act may have been practical in regards to expediency, was it really necessary especially in consideration of the cost to personal freedom? Even if the answer to that last question is a fully justified “Yes” (and maybe it is), raising it does not make one an ideologue impervious to the realities of life. It simply makes one a principled defender of liberty, which one can be without being a mindless utopian.

Looking at this whole issue from a broader perspective, the real problem here is a basic misunderstanding of freedom. One can love liberty and still support government. From a libertarian point of view, government is simply an ordered, less brutal means of securing to ourselves the ability to pursue freedom by donating limited powers to the governing organization. Instead of defending all property with the barrel of a gun, we look to the judicial system. Rather than depend on the will and wherewithal of individuals to defend our society from its enemies, we support a national defense. As opposed to having each and every transaction among people be subject to individual contract, we recognize the ability of legislatures to set certain standards for the conduct of society. We may disagree as to where the limits should be set on each of these governmental powers, but libertarians are fully cognizant of the fact that having some sort of governmental structure is more desirable than having none. And yet, we also unapologetically and jealously guard our freedom, ever mindful that liberty lost is rarely regained without serious strife and deadly consequences.

In short, although we may question authority, we do not seek to abolish it. While we may defend the liberty of even the most odious of individuals, that does not mean we support their anti-social behaviors. Libertarians, and all lovers of freedom, have firm, historical reasons for challenging intrusions into their lives. We do not need to be ideologues to do so, and the practical effects of that suspicion of power has led directly to the greatest expansion of wealth and prosperity for the largest number of people in history. Freedom, at times, may be ugly up close, but it is still the most beautiful thing that has ever existed, bar none. Defense thereof requires an adherence to reality, not flights of fancy.

Ed Morrissey nails it

Take a look at this little blurb from President Obama’s speech in Quincy IL:

We’re not, we’re not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that’s fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money. But, you know, part of the American way is, you know, you can just keep on making it if you’re providing a good product or providing good service. We don’t want people to stop, ah, fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow our economy.

Ed latches on to those two highlighted lines to deliver a great rebuttal:

He should have stuck with the TelePrompter. The President doesn’t get to decide when people have “made enough money.” In fact, as the radio host notes, that’s a statist point of view. Furthermore, the responsibility of an entrepreneur isn’t to “grow our economy,” core or otherwise. It’s to grow his own economy. In a properly regulated capitalist system, the natural tension of self-interests create economic growth through innovation and efficient use of capital and resources.

Bingo – well said, old friend.

~McQ

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