Kevin Drum has a blog post up at MoJo in which he supports a claim by Tim Lee that American Liberalism “has incorporated libertarian critiques at a striking rate over the past few decades”. The claim is that is true especially in the area of economic policy. For instance:
Income tax rates are way down. Numerous industries have been deregulated. Most price controls have been abandoned. Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining. Trade has been steadily liberalized.
I guess that can all be categorized as “it depends on your perspective”. While personal income taxes are down in comparison with where liberals would prefer them to be – especially for the rich – corporate taxes remain the highest in the free world. And, speaking of economics and libertarians, we at least understand who ends up paying corporate taxes – and it ain’t corporations.
This is major blind spot of the liberal side of the house. If they admit that corporate taxes are passed along to consumers, then their basis for taxing in such a regressive manner would be questioned. So they continue to pretend that by demanding higher and higher corporate taxes, they’re somehow calling for equity in income distribution – assuming government will take the money collected from corporations as taxes and parcel it out to those who need it most. And further assuming that’s a function of government.
Of course what they end up doing is having corporations take money from those who must have their products but can least afford the cost of the increase driven by the taxation. “Benevolent government” then takes the money, after it takes its cut, and passes it back to the “most deserving”, or the “most in need”. Corporations then, are a tax collection entity, not a tax paying entity.
What happens when corporate taxes are raised is it has an adverse effect on the corporation’s consumer base. If they get high enough, that base begins looking for less costly alternatives or quits buying altogether.
All that to set up this next Drum statement:
The problem is that a system that generates enormous income inequality also generates enormous power inequality — and if corporations and the rich are allowed to amass huge amounts of economic power, they’ll always use that power to keep their own tax rates low. It’s nearly impossible to create a high-tax/high-service state if your starting point is a near oligarchy where the rich control the levers of political power.
You could most likely spend all day on those two sentences. Completely left out, of course, is who is paying income taxes. What we all know is somewhere around 50% of us aren’t. So when we see discussions about taxes we have to keep that in mind. More importantly – and after all the talk of having much in common with libertarianism – check out what Drum’s ideal is: “a high-tax/high-service state”.
Obviously the libertarian camp would find nothing to agree with there.
Essentially Drum’s argument is that we, as a nation, have the right to demand such a state. But while the “corporations and rich” own the “levers of political power” we’ll never achieve it. Solution? Implied: take those levers away from them. Method? Well all of this has been a prelude to the real reason for the post:
I am, fundamentally, old fashioned about this stuff: I think of the world as largely a set of competing power centers. Economics matters, but power matters at least as much, and I think that students of political economy these days spend way too much time on the economy This explains, for example, why I regret the demise of private sector labor unions. It’s not because I don’t recognize their many pathologies, or even the fact that sometimes they stand in the way of economic efficiency. I’m all in favor of trying to regulate the worst aspects of this. But large corporations have their pathologies too, and those pathologies are far worse because there’s no longer any effective countervailing power to fight them. Unions used to provide that power. Today nobody does.
This is the common cry of the liberal today. The need for a “countervailing power” to fight the power of corporations – real or imagined. Weapon of choice? Unions. But the power that unions fight against has nothing to do with the supposed problem with corporations that Drum has outlined. Taxes. Name a single union that has, in any time in the past, rallied and protested to get their corporation’s taxes raised? They understand what such an increase could mean to labor. As for power, unions are more concerned with the internal power of a corporation as it relates to wages and benefits. It is only recently, with the addition of union PACs, that the union movement has begun to address corporate political power.
And if I had to guess, that’s what Drum secretly laments. As private sector unions decline, so does any “countervailing” political power he thinks unions could wield. Of course, it doesn’t help when they act like this . Unions are and have been the liberal left’s power center in their war against corporations for centuries. If you don’t believe that, you just need to review recent elections and their pattern of donations:
The UAW has considerable clout in the Democratic party. In the 2010 election cycle, the union spent $10.1 million through its political action committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was down from $13.1 million in the 2008 election.
The center said that 100 percent of the union’s 2010 federal donations — $1.4 million — went to Democrats. The funds come from voluntary contributions by members and retirees.
That’s the real impact of the “demise of private unions”. It is also why those like Drum support any effort that makes organizing easier for unions today.
So when Tim Lee writes that "Competitive labor markets have steadily displaced top-down collective bargaining," I just have to shake my head. Competitive for whom? For the upper middle class, labor markets are fairly competitive, but then, they always have been. They never needed collective bargaining to begin with. For everyone else, though, employers have been steadily gaining at their expense for decades. Your average middle class worker has very little real bargaining power anymore, and this isn’t due to chance or to fundamental changes in the economy. (You can organize the service sector just as effectively as the manufacturing sector as long as the law gives you the power to organize effectively in the first place.) Rather, it’s due to a long series of deliberate policy choices that we’ve made over the past 40 years.
But here’s the bottom line: if there were indeed a crying need for unionization felt by the “average middle class worker”, the ability to join a union (or form one) still exists. The problem is, it’s mostly fair and thus doesn’t favor the union as previous organizing laws did. However, if the organizing drive meets the criteria outlined in labor law,bingo, a union is born and members are able to cash in on the supposed benefits of such a relationship.
The problem, however, is fewer and fewer people apparently see any advantage in such a relationship anymore, if declining membership is any indication. Like anything else in the world, the consumer of a product has to convince themselves that the product’s benefit justifies its price. It seems that is no longer the case when it comes to private unions. Drum prefers to blame the demise on “policy”. I see it as the consumer saying, “no thanks” after the price/benefit comparison is made. The fact is policy or law doesn’t prohibit the formation of unions. Only votes do. And for quite some time, the votes – of those they would unionize – haven’t favored private union organizers.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that corporations and the rich know this perfectly well, even if lots of liberals have forgotten it. They know exactly what the biggest threat to their wealth is, and it’s not high tax rates. This is why the steady erosion of labor rights has been, by far, their single biggest obsession since the end of World War II. Not taxes, unions. If, right now, you were to offer corporations and the rich a choice between (a) passage of EFCA or (b) a return to Clinton-era tax rates on high incomes, they wouldn’t even blink. If you put a gun to their head and they had to choose between one or the other, they’d pay the higher taxes without a peep. That’s because, on the level of raw power, they know how the world works.
Of course he’s right, but not necessarily for the reasons he believes. Unions have grown into an impediment. A costly impediment to competitiveness. Whether anyone likes to admit it or not, labor is a commodity. Despite the emotional arguments of the left concerning labor and “real people”, people who want to work aren’t owed a job or a certain level of compensation. They have to be worth it to earn it.
So yes, corporations are more concerned about unions than taxes, at least to the point that passing along increased taxes starts costing them customers. Then they pay more attention to taxes. And if taxes do start to cost them customers? Where is the easiest commodity for a corporation to cut in order to maintain a competitive price as it collects the increased taxes? Yes – labor.
Without apparently realizing, the liberal left’s call for increasing corporate taxes dramatically for their “high tax/high services” state is a call for more unemployment. Unions would attempt thwart the ability for corporations to adjust headcount to remain competitive. Result? The US steel industry redux.
Is that really what the liberal left wants? I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t what any libertarian would want. But perhaps it is the fact they don’t even realize how it all works (and what they’re really wishing for) that’s the most dangerous aspect of all of this.
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It is nanny-staters like Joe Ozersky who drive me up a wall. They represent that group of people with mindset that common Americans simply don’t have the ability and wherewithal to run their own lives or those of their families. And, as expected, they applaud government’s unrequested and unwanted intrusion in their lives to control aspects (or modify behavior) that they simply cannot fathom real Americans doing. Or at least not doing to their satisfaction.
Ozersky has decided obesity is a problem (he apparently was a fat kid who ate lots of hamburgers). Ozersky has decided that one of the main reasons for the problems is fast (processed) food and in particular McDonald’s Happy Meals. So Ozersky is just tickled to death that the intrusive board of supervisors in San Francisco has chosen to ban Happy Meals. He correctly identifies the source of such intrusion:
Last week’s elections may have seemed like a repudiation of liberalism, but the San Francisco board of supervisors appeared unfazed. The city’s governing body went ahead and fired a bunker buster into the Happy Meal, decreeing that restaurants cannot put free toys in meals that exceed set thresholds for calories, sugar or fat.
One of the reasons liberalism, or in its new incarnation, "progressivism" is in such disrepute is because of foolishness like this. Ozersky’s next line claims "libertarians are livid".
Everyone should be "livid". Since when is it up to a city board of supervisors – elected to keep the peace and make sure the garbage is picked up on time – to decide what is or isn’t appropriate to feed one’s child?
Ozersky, however, applauds the effort but believes it is just a beginning and, in fact, needs to go further:
No, the problem with the ban is that it doesn’t go far enough. America’s tots aren’t getting supersized simply by eating Happy Meals. In a recent nutrition commentary that is making waves in food-politics circles, in part because NYU’s Marion Nestle posted excerpts of it on her blog, University of São Paulo professor Carlos Monteiro makes the case that "the rapid rise in consumption of ultra-processed food and drink products, especially since the 1980s, is the main dietary cause of the concurrent rapid rise in obesity and related diseases throughout the world." And reversing that trend will be a lot harder than making Happy Meals a little less happy.
But still, you have to start somewhere, and I understand why the San Francisco supervisors picked Happy Meals as their beachhead.
So the war, apparently is on "processed food", all of which Ozersky would prefer to see eliminated. But is processed food really the culprit behind the obesity "epidemic". Ozersky cites Nestle’s work as a definitive yes. However, a nutrition professor recently shot the claim in the head with an experiment he ran on himself:
Mark Haub, who teaches at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., told FoxNews.com he has lost 27 pounds in two months eating approximately 1,800 calories a day – and those calories came from foods like snack cakes, candy bars and even potato chips – basically anything he could get from a vending machine.
Haub said before the diet, he was eating up to 3,000 calories a day and weighed 201 pounds.
Key take away – it isn’t necessarily the type of food that makes you obese – it is the amount of that food, in calories, that does so. Always has been.
The point, of course, is obesity is caused by eating too many calories and not exercising sufficiently to burn off the excess. Banning Happy Meals won’t change that at all. As Tanya Zuckerbrot, a NY dietician noted, “it doesn’t matter if you’re eating Twinkies or Brussels sprouts – it’s all about your caloric intake.”
And unless the state plans on issuing meals and monitoring your every bite, banning a specific meal isn’t going to change the habits that have caused someone to become obese. Nor will bans on salt, sugary drinks or any other choice the nanny-staters think they can take from the public. It is a fairly simple concept to understand – “The laws of thermodynamics dictate that if you consume fewer calories than your body burns, you will create a caloric deficit resulting in weight loss.”
Yet those like Ozersky choose to ignore it in favor of government action to take choices and freedoms away from people. McDonalds is obviously – at least in progressive circles – an evil purveyor of bad “processed” food. And progressives believe it is their sworn duty to protect you from yourself and those corporations which prey on you.
Why? Because you’re brainwashed:
Again and again, efforts to promote fresh fruit and produce in low-income urban areas have failed for the simple reason that Americans have been brainwashed. We have been conditioned, starting in utero, to prefer high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar concoctions rather than their less exciting, more natural culinary cousins.
Really? I simply don’t recall that as being conditioned preference of mine. Instead, visits to places such as McDonalds were irregular and not particularly common. They were “treats” on occasion. But they were hardly conditioning me for such a diet.
Where such conditioning takes place, if anywhere, is in the home. It is there the bulk of all food is consumed and, pretty much, in the quantities desired. It is there where children (and adults) are either encouraged to be active or left to decide for themselves (play outside or do XBox) their activity level.
Banning toys in Happy Meals is simply an intrusion with no effect. It’s an exercise in power, nothing more. It has no beneficial effect and it is another in a long line of government imposed restrictions on freedom.
In his conclusion, Ozersky asks, “And why are eight people in San Francisco the only ones who seem willing to step up and do something unpopular to address such a serious issue?”
Because they’re as enamored with the power they wield as Ozersky seems to be and just as clueless. This isn’t about doing anything to address a "serious issue". This is an exercise in power cloaked in some feel good nonsense. It is about a group of people who feel they are entitled by their position to decide what is or isn’t acceptable for others and how those others should live their lives. This isn’t about doing something good, this is about stretching the envelope and seeing if they can get away with it.
If in fact they are allowed too, you can spend hours imagining what they’ll next decide you’re too stupid to realize or control and need their enlightened and progressive hand to stay you from your self-destructive ways.
Freedom is choice – and this bunch of progressives are all about limiting choice.
ASIDE: check out the comments to the Ozersky article. Heartening.
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One of the unstated questions many of us who have observed the Tea Party ask is how long before it become co-opted by one of the major parties. Because it is mostly a leaderless movement, that may end up being a very unlikely thing. But what about the candidates it backed? We’re told that 5 Senators and about 30 or so representatives were backed by local and regional Tea Parties and won their elections.
One of those was Rand Paul who, as the son of Ron Paul, came off as particularly libertarian in his approach to his job as a Senator from Kentucky. In fact, during his campaign, he made what his campaign web site labeled "Rand’s no-pork pledge":
Rand Paul appreciates Republican Senator Jim DeMint introducing today a one-year ban on earmark spending and a balanced-budget amendment. Rand strongly supports both initiatives and has made them centerpieces of his campaign for limited government, including his signing of the Citizens Against Government Waste “No pork pledge.”
“The Tea Party movement is an effort to get government under control,” Rand said. “I’m running to represent Kentuckians and to dismantle the culture of professional politicians in Washington. Leadership isn’t photo-ops with oversized fake cardboard checks. That kind of thinking is bankrupting our nation. Senator DeMint understands that and has taken action to stop it.”
It was that pledge along with other such promises that saw Paul ride a wave to electoral victory.
However, and it seems in politics today, there’s always a "however", it seems that even before taking office, Paul is having second thoughts about his pledge. Veronique de Rugy at the Corner points us to a quote in a Wall Street Journal article about Rand Paul which is, well, disappointing, to be kind about it:
In a bigger shift from his campaign pledge to end earmarks, he tells me that they are a bad “symbol” of easy spending but that he will fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork, as long as it’s doled out transparently at the committee level and not parachuted in in the dead of night. “I will advocate for Kentucky’s interests,” he says.
Of course there are plenty of ways to "advocate for Kentucky’s interests" without breaking a pledge. That, of course, requires a politician with imagination and the courage of his convictions.
If the quote is accurate, then I have no doubt that Rand Paul will rationalize and justify his way into becoming just another establishment Republican Senator who sells out (in this case, almost immediately) to the “system” in DC. Another in a long line of “go-along-to get-along-old-boy-network” that is within virtual inches of destroying this country.
I have to wonder how the Tea Party movement, which spent so much time, effort and money to get this guy elected feels about this quote? I’ll be interested to hear Paul’s explanation concerning what the WSJ says he said.
But frankly, and assuming he wasn’t misquoted, it’s another indication that much of our political class is a collection of opportunists whose only real quest is the accumulation of personal power. They’ll say whatever it takes to win with no intention of sticking with the principles they claim. While, as Paul says, earmarks are indeed more symbolic that significant, they were significant enough when he was seeking office to take a pledge not to seek them. A pledge voluntarily taken by someone who, as usual, styled himself as “different” and an “outsider” who was going to change the way we do business.
Instead, at the first opportunity, he back-peddles and attempts to rationalize breaking his pledge to “advocate for Kentucky’s interests”.
I hope it’s not true but in reality it appears to be business as usual.
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Outside of Libertarian Party types, few people probably even remember who former Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) is anymore. He was most famous, of course, for spearheading the prosecution of Pres. William J. Clinton’s impeachment. However, Barr was also a fierce “Drug Warrior” and a leading proponent of the Defense of Marriage Act, which drew the wrath of many libertarians. After his House district was combined with another Republican, Barr was ousted from office much to the delight of liberals and libertarians.
Two years later, Mr. Barr is using his role as putative head of the Libertarian Party to make endorsements of congressional candidates such as … Russ Feingold:
What I look for in Washington are folks in the Senate and the House who put the Constitution first. Not the “R” or the “D”, not partisan politics but the Constitution. And what you have in Russ, and I have worked closely with him over a number of years to try to rein in the Patriot Act, to try to rein in the government surveillance and so forth — this is a man who understands the Constitution, who supports and fights sometimes against his own party to defend the Constitution in the Congress of the United States in ways that are much more consistent and much more proactive than a lot of Republicans.
That’s right, folks, Bob Barr believes that Russ Feingold — the man who helped bring us that delightful attack upon our First Amendment rights known as “McCain-Feingold” — “is a man who understands the Constitution.” Now, I suppose Barr could have meant that Feingold knows the Constitution in that Kierkegaardian sense that one must know it so intimately and thoroughly in order to fully oppose it. But some how I think not.
Instead, Barr intends to throw the weight of the Libertarian Party behind a politician who thinks that political speech can be legislatively restricted, that it is the job of government to provide everyone health care, that Congress can and should set compensation for each and every one of us based on gender, and who takes myriad other anti-freedom positions. Which, for the 3,209th time, is why I will not ever be associated with the Libertarian Party.
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Lots of libs claiming, as Libby Spencer has, that the firefighters who watched a man’s house burn down because he hadn’t paid his fee is representative of the reality of a "conservative/glibertarian free market utopia" (her words, not mine) that we libertarians talk about.
As it turns out, it is nothing of the sort.
It turns out, though, that the fire department in Tennessee was not a private for-profit fire department. It was a government-run fire department. You read that right: the fire department that refused to show up and refused to name a price at which it would show up was run by the government of South Fulton.
Yes, that’s right, it was a government run fire department. We libertarians are always proposing government do more, aren’t we? To Spencer’s credit she mentions that factoid a little further on in her post . But she’s already poisoned the well by then. You’re left to think this is what a "for profit" or "subscription", or to use the words the left usually spits out when saying them, "free market" form of fire service might look like.
As David Henderson points out, in the "free market" version, it is very likely the fire service would show up and charge you appropriately:
You would think at some price, the fire department would show up. After all, a private for-profit fire company could make some good money doing so and, by charging high enough, could limit the incentive for people not to pay in advance for protection.
Standing by is not logical for a company which gains its earnings by doing that sort of work and, at the time of the fire, it’s a seller’s market isn’t it? But you don’t get paid unless you put the fire out.
And there are examples of exactly what we’re talking about. Henderson links to one that provides services in rural Arizona. Here’s a portion of what it says under “services”:
There are four different models Rural/ Metro Fire uses to provide fire protection services. Descriptions are listed below. If you are unsure which service model Rural/ Metro Fire uses to protect your home or property, please call customer service so that we can let you know.
Fire Service Accounts — In select unincorporated county areas where taxes do not pay for a Fire Department, residents are responsible for setting up an account directly with Rural/ Metro Fire Department to provide fire protection services. Annual fees are based on the square footage of the enclosed property. For more information on a Fire Services Account call your area’s customer service department.
Now you have a choice here, don’t you? Sign up and be protected or blow it off and take your chances. And while I’m not here to defend a government run fire department in Tennessee, it’s the same choice the man there had. He chose to blow it off and paid the consequences for his decision, didn’t he? But we know invoking personal responsibility is simply passé, especially if the person involved in the rant thinks they can pin something on the right?
Anyway, the probable difference is in a “pay for service” libertarian situation, it is more likely that the fire service chief on the scene and home owner would have quickly reached agreement on a price to save his home. There’s an incentive for the “pay for play bunch” to reach that agreement.
However, government is more about bureaucracy and rules than it is incentive. If the fire chief on the scene was a government worker he would most likely have no power to make such a decision. And the fire fighters in question would have absolutely no incentive to fight the fire and every incentive not too – after all, this guy was a deadbeat and their rules said no pay, no play and they saw no reason to break the rules and risk their lives for someone who hadn’t thought enough of them or their service to subscribe.
So in reality, this wasn’t some libertarian fantasy gone awry. It was a government driven decision with a pretty drastic consequence. Apparently the government had not been able to imagine a contingency where this might happen, or, if they did, they seemingly had no plan to address it. Most would call that “inept governance”, not a failure of libertarianism.
Benny McGuire is announcing his candidacy for re-election to the office of Obion County mayor in the May 4 Democratic primary. McGuire said the last 31⁄2 years have been very busy and have been productive for the entire county.
Hmmm … how inconvenient.
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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.
Here’s a somewhat entertaining survey by Pew. In it they asked various people to give a positive or negative reaction to a group words they were given. The words were socialism, capitalism, libertarianism, progressive, civil liberties, civil rights, family values, militia and state’s rights. Interestingly, conservative was left off the list.
As it turns out, libertarians scored a split verdict, with a 38% positive and 37% negative.
Now again, realize that people are being asked to react to the words based on how they understand them. There’s apparently no context given – for instance “progressive” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “liberal” if the person so chooses to consider it by an alternate meaning.
On the other hand, capitalism, socialism and libertarianism pretty well have a single meaning or context. What they actually mean to each person remains a mystery, obviously, but the most negative of the 3 was socialism, followed by libertarianism and then capitalism. That says to me that many people still think of libertarianism to be the realm of the blue skinned guy who refuses to carry a driver’s license and is worried about the gold fringed flag. But it also says that the image may be changing and becoming both more acceptable and more mainstream. Good.
And independents are most positive about libertarians (stands to reason since libertarians don’t consider themselves Republicans or Democrats) while Republicans are least positive. In many ways we’re actually competition for Republicans and try to hold them to their principles and slam them when they don’t live up to them. But Republicans don’t like us on the social side of things. And that’s where some Dems love us.
Interestingly the terms which provoked the most warm fuzzies – positives – were civil rights, state’s rights, civil liberties and family values. I see that as a hopeful sign, and another in a long line of signals that say stand down the size of the federal government, respect the state’s rights and those of individuals as well.
The most negative word of the group? Militia. I’m not sure whether that’s a function of how the media constantly portrays them, but my guess is it is heavily influenced by that characterization. But militias are a very minor and insignificant problem in this country today. I have to wonder how conservative would have fared.
I’m not sure what to really make of all this other than taking it at face value – people react to these terms for a particlar reason in the manner they do. On the whole, libertarianism seems to be making a better impression now than it has in the past. That’s a hopeful and welcome sign to me.
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The bailout of Greece may not work. Spain is teetering on the edge of serious financial doom. The Euro is taking a beating. And the banks of Europe are not looking too healthy overall. Meanwhile, here in the States, unfunded government debt, already expanding at an unprecedented rate, is set to explode. What do all of these things have in common? They are the direct result of expanding the welfare state without any means of actually paying for all of it.
In truth, there is never a way to pay for expanding the welfare state because, while wealth creation isn’t a zero-sum game, the population of wealth-creators is; after all, not just anyone can create electricity, telephones, heart medications, MicroSoft, Wal-Mart, or even pencils without some know-how, sweat and inspiration. If that were possible, then wealth creation could never be retarded, regardless of the impediments. Some wise, noble, and completely selfless individual would always emerge to drive the economy forward. Alas, self-interest trumps all, without which wealth-creation is for the horses.
No matter how ingenious the plan, or divine the motives, the only way for governments to fund the welfare state is to tax the wealth-creators. As even the most Marxist of intellectuals knows, if you want less of something, then tax it. This is why cigarettes are levied against in ridiculous proportions, and why carbon taxes are considered (by some) to be the savior of our planet. Well, taxing wealth-creation works exactly the same way: tax it more, and you will get less of it. Which leads to the inexorable conclusion that, as the governments of the world sink deeper into fiscal crisis, the looters will be coming en masse.
Does that mean that we are in for another Great Depression? Not necessarily. In fact, I predict that no such thing will occur. For starters, we have many institutions in place today that didn’t exist in the 1930’s such as the FDIC, Social Security, Medicare, the IMF, and the World Bank. Some of these things are arguably beneficial in that they smooth out the rough patches that economies inevitably encounter. The U.S. economy, for example, may not have realized the devastation it did if old people, like McQ, could have survived without taxing their families’ resources so much, or the FDIC had been in place to quell bank runs. Maybe. But more importantly, in this day and age our politics and law-making bodies (and those of every democratic society) are dominated by those whose own self-interest is firmly grounded in the ability to buy votes. That ability is highly dependent upon feeding the welfare state, since the vast majority of votes are bought from those who don’t create electricity or heart medications. This is why politicians of all stripes won’t take steps that would decrease the welfare state, because to do so will cost them votes — to the politician who promises more largesse at the expense of whatever hated rival is being villainized at the time. Accordingly, the odds are rather stacked against wealth-creators continuing to employ their skills in service of the very state that punishes them.
Instead of the Great Depression, Part Deux, I would predict that the elites (those, and their friends, who hold the power to dole out goodies for votes) will shuffle the deck just enough to ensure that they stay in favor, while allowing the overall health of the economy to softly fade into oblivion. They are like Dr. Kevorkian administering to capitalism. The ability to create wealth will slowly continue to be arrogated to the governors and “experts,” while the welfare state expands in decrescendo. Eventually, we will be left with something akin to the Ottoman Empire: all power and glory in name only, inside a rotting shell, harkening back to a time so dissimilar as to be unworthy of the title. What’s left will be hopeless, farcical and cruel, and will not have the slightest ability to nurture the welfare state that started it all. Perhaps the “Long Morose” would be a better title.
Irrespective of my gloomy predictions, there simply isn’t any question that, at some point, the beneficiaries of the great welfare state will have to take a bath. Most likely, that day will come when everyone jumps in the tub together. Until that time, prepare for the politically powerful to loot the wealth-creators out of existence in order to pay off the welfare beneficiaries. Eventually the only ones left to take that bath will be the filthy and the unwashed.
So why would libertarians not be “open borders guys” as Dale admits in his post about Arizona’s new illegal immigration law? Well, for one, for the same reason Milton Friedman understood when he said “you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.”
I’d love to have free immigration or “open borders”. I’d like to see free people who want to work and better their lives be able to freely wander to where such opportunities exist. In an ideal world, what I would call my moon pony and unicorn world, that’s the way it would work.
I’d also prefer not to have a welfare state. Welfare states are, in my opinion, destructive states that kill human productivity and builds the power of the state to a degree that “citizens” eventually become vassals. Additionally, I’m not keen on my hard earned dollars going to support such a state. But they do.
If you eliminate the welfare state, the “open borders” argument has more credibility. But borders aren’t going away anytime soon. Unilaterally eliminating ours or, for the sake of argument not monitoring who comes in the country, isn’t going to change anything as regards the welfare state. Unless those coming in are required to immediately contribute to the state welfare apparatus (an anathema any open border theory) before taking advantage of it, the desire to keep illegals out and away from state welfare that the citizenry has paid for will remain high. That’s a practical concern that drives much of the anger and desire of the citizenry to keep illegals out.
Since the welfare state doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon (if ever) either, again it seems rather silly to argue that “open borders” is a viable solution. Yes, it’s an ideologically pure libertarian solution, but it denies reality. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good goal, but it does mean that in the current situation, no one is going to listen to it seriously or give it any credence.
And then, to compound the argument against open borders, there’s a second problem. There are a whole bunch of people out there who are trying to kill us. Not random criminals, who are bad enough, but an entire movement dedicated to the demise of those who live in this country. “Open immigration” or open borders would only grant full and unimpeded access to those who want to do us harm. It is something they’d welcome. Imagine, if you will, not monitoring anyone who comes in or what they might bring. How long would it take for our enemies to establish themselves and strike?
Now the natural inclination of my libertarian kin at this point in a discussion like this is to say, “yeah, but if we hadn’t gotten entangled in those foreign alliances and remained isolationist, we could have …”. Could have what? Sold our products to ourselves? Avoided a religiously driven zealotry that targets nations like ours just because they’re” infidels?” Pretended Nazism and Japanese imperialism weren’t a threat to us and our way of life?
Even if that’s shrugged off, we still need to trade to live. And trade requires interaction. International trade requires international interaction. You can’t do that as an isolationist (and “open borders” seems contradictory – at least to me – to being an isolationist. How does one “isolate” themselves except behind their borders?). Those you interact and trade with have certain demands that come with trade you either negotiate or they refuse the trade. While it is wonderful to think that we could have survived quite nicely by being internally self-sufficient and trading only within our borders, it’s probably nothing more than a pipe-dream. We could no more keep the world out of here than the Japanese were able to keep us out of Tokyo bay. Simple demand of the citizenry for products from other nations would have forced that.
Open borders have only existed in times when there was no welfare state and no existential threat – and, in fact, no real government in place. Think the settling of the west and the borders of both Canada and Mexico. People passed through them pretty much at will seeking a better opportunity or a better life. That is an era which has passed. Even as we were warned by our founders to avoid foreign entanglements, we were becoming aware of their necessity – self-protection or mutual protection among them. And even as we wished for the ability to open our borders to all free people, we became aware of those who would use such an advantage to harm us. Or, as the welfare state developed, to take advantage of that to which they’re not entitled.
Like many laudable desires, that of “open borders” doesn’t survive reality of a changing (and smaller) world. All things being equal, I’d prefer open borders for free people. But that’s not how this world works and the disadvantages – partly our own doing, partly that of our enemies – argues pretty strongly against “open borders” – at least in the present.
All of that said, we have a problem to deal with. The welfare state isn’t going away nor are our enemies. The border situation is intolerable, we have an antiquated and essentially broken immigration system and we a very large number of illegals already here. What are we going to do about that?
Whether or not you agree with Arizona’s recent law, it points out the frustration that many of the border states are undergoing as the problem continues and grows. I’ve mentioned any number of times that while the solution won’t be simple, the general outline isn’t rocket science:
– Streamline the legal immigration system so people can more easily access it, apply, receive visas, green cards, etc. It shouldn’t take us half a lifetime or cost multi-thousands of dollars to immigrate here, prove their worth and become US citizens.
-Streamline the work visa program and the seasonal work visa program. If I can order a kindle book from Amazon with a single click and have it downloaded to the kindle within a minute , it tells me the technology is probably available to make such a program much easier than it is at present.
-Kill the “anchor baby” provision. It may take a Constitutional amendment, but whatever it takes, remove the incentive. Heck in some countries they have tour packages aimed specifically at pregnant women in other countries to come here and have their baby. Sorry – no short cuts, no breaking the line, no gaming the system.
-Deal with the illegals in the country. Require them to register by a certain date or face permanent deportation. Once registered provide them with a clear, but back of the line path to citizenship, if they so desire. Make the requirements tough but fair. My guess is we’ll find many, if not most, of them would instead prefer a work visa or a seasonal work visa rather than citizenship. Many are here illegally because they can’t get those sorts of visas now.
-Secure the border. We do have an existential treat. Throughout our history we’ve had many existential threats. As long as different ideologies exist, especially those based in religious zealotry or secular imperialism, we’ll continue to have existential threats. Until those go away, we’re always going to have borders and those borders are going to have to be guarded to protect our citizenry.
I believe in immigration. I believe, in some ways, it represents the heart and soul of this country. I believe in giving those what want to work hard and better themselves the opportunity to come to this country to do so. But they need to come here legally through an improved system to do that. Since we do indeed have a welfare state, I want those who try to game that system by illegal entry stopped. And since we have existential enemies, I want them stopped at the border too.
It may not be my moon pony and unicorn utopia, but it is reality and it is that with which we have to deal. Then we can work on utopia.
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Jim Lakely, a former Washington Times journalist who has been a good friend of QandO from the beginning, is now with the Heartland Institute and is the “bartender” and host at the libertarian think-tank’s “Freedom Pub“. The Pub opened for business yesterday.
As Jim describes it:
It’s friendly place where those who value liberty and honor the Founders’ vision of America can gather together and express themselves.
It’s a group-blog community where you can sign on and have your own page and keep up with others who share your views. I’ve signed up (anything to get the word out) and will probably do some crossposting of QandO posts there.
Give it a look and if you’re so inclined sign up and contribute. If Jim’s in charge, I can promise you it will be a worthwhile endeavor.
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