Free Markets, Free People

Libertarian


About that burned down house — let’s set the record straight

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.

Not really.

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”:

Service Models:

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.

Oh, and the “county mayor” of Obion County TN? A Democrat:

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.

~McQ


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.


Libertarians – More popular than Socialism and Militias … and Indies love us

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.

~McQ


Welfare State In Crisis

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.


Open borders, immigration and reality

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.

~McQ


Heartland Institute’s “Freedom Pub”

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.

~McQ


When Nanny becomes Bully

We’ve talked at length here at QandO about the dangers of the Nanny State to individual autonomy – liberty/freedom.  If there is a zero sum game out there, it is the trade off between the power of the Nanny state and the degree of individual autonomy you are able to exercise.

I think why this health care bill bothers, no, outright scares libertarians is the degree of encroachment it represents in terms of individual autonomy.  The premise I’m talking about is well stated here:

[I]individual autonomy is the core value of a democratic society; there is an inherent trade-off between individual autonomy and public health under health paternalism; and the abandonment of individual autonomy in health policy poses a threat to our other freedoms.

I’d change one word – individual autonomy is the core value of a free society. I’m not sure how it can be considered any other way. There is a trade-off between the state assumption of responsibilities and the amount of individual autonomy you retain. Call it a liberty index if you wish, but every time the state takes over more responsibility for the lives of the citizens, by whatever means, the liberty and freedom of that citizenry is commensurately reduced.

And, as the state takes more responsibility and attempts to enforce it, there is a less than subtle transition from a Nanny state to a Bully state.

The Institute for Public Affairs lays out that case quite well and uses health care to do it. the IPA focuses on a shift in thinking among our ruling elite who support the welfare state that is driving this transition from Nanny to Bully. The transition is based on the failure of their first assumptions. Their assumption was that if the state (Nanny) provided relevant and important health information to the public, the public would heed it and change its behavior to take advantage of that information to live healthier lives.

The provision of that information hasn’t yielded those results. Instead, people still smoke, drink and are fat. Obviously, at least in the opinion of some, that model isn’t working and something better is necessary – for their own good, of course. Nanny can’t get the results she wants simply by providing the information she thinks should motivate others into living the lifestyle she finds most healthy, so she must look elsewhere and at different methods.

To get the results desired, given the “failure” of the previous assumptions, different assumptions are necessary. See if you recognize any of these or can see them coming:

Most of the health care burden is driven by disease that results from lifestyle decisions.

Most of the health care burden is therefore, in theory, preventable.

The cost of most lifestyle-related disease is not recovered from the individuals with such diseases or from the industries whose products contribute to these diseases.

Individual autonomy cannot be the paramount value in health care.

Individual choice as a basis for health is ‘too simplistic’.

Individual freedoms may have to give way to the coercive power of the State.

Interventions, including coercive actions, to change behaviour may proceed in the absence of evidence of their effectiveness.

Individuals have a clear responsibility to refrain from lifestyle decisions that lead to disease and, consequently, treatment can be denied to those who refuse to change their behaviour.

For those of you who can manage to look at the health care bill objectively and have listened to descriptions of what it requires should have absolutely no problem understanding that the list of new assumptions are clearly evident in that bill. One only has to think “individual mandate” to know that the assumption “individual autonomy cannot be the paramount value in health care” is being acted upon. The hiring of 16,000 new IRS agents to enforce that mandate speaks to the assumption “individual freedoms may have to give way to the coercive power of the State”.

So it certainly isn’t at all a leap to also understand that at some point, to keep this from being another in a long line of centrally planned failures, the attempt to intervene and change behavior and to coercively enforce the “responsibility” to refrain from lifestyle decision which lead to disease and the consequent health care costs, will be acted upon. The Nanny state becomes the Bully state.

And for those of you who would wave this away with a “this can’t happen here”, I’ll simply remind you of what was signed into law yesterday and the fact that some of the assumptioins listed above, as I’ve pointed out, have already been acted upon.

~McQ


Challenging licensing laws

What do doctors and florists have in common in the state of Louisiana?  Both have to be licensed by the state.  That’s right – the person who preforms heart surgery on you and the person who arranges the flowers you get afterward both have to meet licensing requirements set by the state.

A 7-decades-old state law requires florists to pass a test and get a license to arrange and sell flowers, making Louisiana the only state in the USA with such a requirement. Supporters of the law say it ensures florists know what they’re doing and deliver quality products.

“Know what they’re doing and deliver quality products?” I thought the market, i.e. customers, usually rewarded or punished those in that profession who didn’t “know what they’re doing and [don't] deliver quality products”.

So is this licensing requirement a) rational b) necessary and even c) constitutional? What it certainly is, though, is a bar to entry into the market imposed by government.

The arguments about licensing in general fall on two sides. Some see no reason to license anything – the market will sort out the good from the bad. Those that approve of licensing argue than in many cases lives and health are at stake and, in such cases, it is the role of government to step in and ensure those who pursue those professions are competent enough to do so.

Arranging flowers certainly doesn’t seem to fit the category of a risk to either the life or health of their clients.

What it certainly does is limit those who can enter the market. First, it imposes a $2,000 licensing fee. That will obviously keep a certain percentage who might otherwise become florists from attempting it because they don’t have the money. Certainly that might be a small percentage and you can make the argument that anyone who can’t afford the fee probably can’t afford to be a florist, but is that your or the state’s call? Instead it is an artificial barrier to entry in the market arbitrarily imposed by the state.

And, usually, when such a bar to entry is evident, you’ll find businesses who’ve met the bar to be the most ardent of supporters. Why? Because it is an artificial means to limit competition. For instance, this case:

The test to obtain a Louisiana florist license consists of an 80-question written exam and a four-part hands-on section, where aspiring florists are scored on how well they put together funeral wreaths, table bouquets and other arrangements, said Mike Rome, vice president of the Louisiana State Florists’ Association, which supports the law.

On the written exam, candidates are asked questions about floral arranging and flowers in general, including how to prolong the life of flowers, wiring methods and plant identification.

In the design section, the aspiring florists have four hours to arrange four designs: a wedding arrangement, corsage, funeral wreath and table bouquet.

Judges then score the designs using guidelines such as “Has the design the proper focal point?,” “Is the correct gauge wire used on flowers?” and “Is a corsage pin attached to the corsage in a way that will not injure anyone?”

Candidates are judged by a panel of three licensed florists. The average score of the written and floral arrangement sections needs to be 70% or higher to pass. The arrangements are judged more on technical competence than creativity, Rome said.

“The florist license gives the consumer a little more assurance that you get a quality product,” Rome said. “Florists are artists; they’re very opinionated. But sometimes you have to follow industry standards.”

“Industry standards?” What “industry standards”. Louisiana is the only state in the union that licenses florists. So whatever standards are imposed by a rather biased group, who apparently brook very little deviation from whatever arbitrary standards they’ve dreamed up, have control over who or who doesn’t join them in that state’s florist market.

As John Stossel reminds us:

Established businesses have always used government to handcuff competition. Years ago, small grocers tried to ban supermarkets. A&P was going to “destroy Main Street,” the grocers cried. Minnesota legislators responded to their lobbying by passing a law that forbade supermarkets to hold sales. Consumers were hurt.

And that is the result of this legal travesty.

As it turns out, 4 would-be florists have taken the requirement to court:

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court here last week is challenging the law’s constitutionality, claiming it infringes on a resident’s right to earn a living. The suit, filed by the Institute of Justice, a libertarian non-profit law firm based in Washington, D.C., lists as plaintiffs four local florists who have either failed the test or refuse to take it.

“Who is the state to tell me I’m not an artist?” said Monique Chauvin, 42, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Chauvin, owner of Mitch’s Flowers in New Orleans, failed the test in 2000 and has not retaken it. “It’s time for this archaic law to be off the books,” she said.

Chauvin, who has apparently owned a successful florist business in New Orleans for 10 years is defacto proof that the requirement is unnecessary. She’s obviously been successful enough in the marketplace (i.e. her customers find her floral arrangements satisfactory enough to keep her in business – even in a recession) without licensing to stay open for 10 years.

So, why is Chauvin bringing a lawsuit now? Enforcement:

Chauvin said her legal fight is about keeping her shop open through the economic recession. She now has two options: hire a licensed florist or take the test again. If not, she’ll be forced to close her shop.

The market, not a state panel, should be the final judge of her bouquets, she said.

“If a customer is not happy with what we do, he’s not going to come back to me,” Chauvin said. “That should be the quality control.”

Exactly. So in answer to the three questions above – a) it’s not rational.  It imposes arbitrary requirements as well as artificial bars to entry on a profession which threatens neither life or health. b) it’s not necessary. Consumers don’t need government “protection” from florists. and c) it’s most likely not constitutional since most would agree it interferes with a person’s fundamental right to earn an honest living in profession which doesn’t threaten life or health.

Of course, my use of the words “life or health” imply I find the licensing of those who work in professions that can have a detrimental effect on life or health, such as the medical field, to be ok.  Well, yes and no.  I think, for instance, a market solution is possible for those professions as well.  Think, for instance, if the American Medical Association, instead of being a shill for government health care reform, was a body that set minimal professional standards for the medical profession and anyone seeking membership had to demonstrate competence enough to meet those standards.   If you were seeking out a doctor, most likely your first question would be “is he (or she) a member of the AMA?”  And, in this day and time, you’d most likely be able to access an AMA data base to check doctor’s out before going to them.  And your insurance carrier would certainly require you use such a doctor, wouldn’t it? In fact,  you’d likely be leery of any doctor that wasn’t a member.  Same solution as now exists done on a voluntary basis without government intervention. And certainly there might be other associations that would form which would also lend credibility to a doctor’s abilities than just the one.

Would the AMA have a reason to assure its members met their standards and continued to meet them?  Of course it would.  It’s very existence would depend on it, as would the credibility of every one of it’s members.

Of course that’s all been rendered moot by government deciding it should be the final arbiter in that regard.  But it is food for thought, isn’t it?

~McQ


When Girl Scouts Attack

Some of you would no doubt love to be accosted by a bunch of girl scouts plying their wares (you know who you are), but you won’t be subject to such a harrowing experience in Seattle:

Tim Burgess’s move to outlaw “aggressive panhandling” may be an unconstitutional, attention-seeking bully tactic, but at least the Councilmember appears willing to apply the law equally to anyone asking for money on the streets. Even if they just want to sell you a box of thin mints.

The issue, such as it is, arose from a (possibly facetious) email exchange between a Seattle Councilmember and an alleged citizen complaining about what can only described as a channeling of a Mike Myers mock-horror scene:

Councilmember Burgess:

I was strongly opposed to your panhandling proposal until my experience on the streets of downtown West Seattle yesterday. Now I totally understand where you’re coming from.

Here’s what happened: on the way to the West Seattle Farmer’s Market, I encountered a band of Girl Scouts aggressively promoting cookie sales within spitting distance of a KeyBank ATM where I was withdrawing money. The situation was so extreme that I could actually hear their aggressive, repeated, high-pitched solicitations at the very moment I was entering my PIN. Then as my cash was dispensed and I nervously removed my receipt — trying to stay calm despite this invasion of my constitutional right to not be confronted by my relative class status — I saw two adult women. They were the ringleaders, I assume. They didn’t seem to be doing anything but watching over the whole scene and talking discreetly to each other about god knows what. All in all, a nerve-racking experience.

So there they were, asking for money, repeatedly, despite my lack of interest in what was on offer, all happening well within 15 feet of an ATM. Would this be banned by the your ordinance? I certainly hope so, because there’s a long history of applying laws like this inequitably, almost as an excuse to push poor people out of desirable areas instead of addressing the actual problem.

Thanks for any information you can offer.

My best guess is that this email comes from a rather disgruntled, yet somewhat clever, panhandler. The Councilmember’s response is both appropriate and obviously skeptical, but it does raise an interesting question: if the state is going to exercise it’s police powers judiciously, doesn’t that ensure that we miss out on opportunities that are neither a threat nor an offer of something we don’t really want? After all, what sort of hair-shirted aesthete do you have to be to not want girl scout cookies?

When it comes to local rules and regulations, I’m not one to quibble too much unless such restrictions impinge on fundamental rights. Setting up shop in a public way certainly deserves some treatment of police power since the sidewalks belong to the public. At the same time, if you are just standing around hawking your legal goods, I really don’t understand what it is we need to be protected from. Can it be annoying to walk through a gauntlet of capitalism? Sure. Maybe worse for some than others. But we don’t have any right to be free from annoyance, do we?

I mean, if that were the case, then why should I be bothered by ACORN morons marching up and down the street where I work? Nothing has ever been done about that. Once, I nearly came to blows with some idiot preaching about how we needed a new New Deal while I was trying to enjoy a leisurely stroll in downtown Alexandria, VA. Do I have the right to be free from that annoyance? Not bloody likely.

And the fact of the matter is that I shouldn’t be “free” from those annoyances, anymore than I should expect to be “free” from girl scouts selling cookies on a street corner, or a hippie selling dew rags in a city square. If one of them genuinely threatens my peace, then the appropriate authorities should be able to step in, but how often is that truly the case? That some panhandler was able to point out this hypocrisy in the enforcement of Seattle’s anti-public-space-economy laws (to coin a terrible phrase) only underscores how ridiculous the application of police power (local or otherwise) has become.

The bottom line is that, whether one is selling girl scout cookies or dew rags, why do I need the state’s protection? Keep the public ways clear for the public sure, but let’s not forget that commerce is what truly makes the world go ’round. Without it, that police protection doesn’t get paid for.

[HT: Tom Scott]


The “Constitutional Conservative” Manifesto

Also known as the “Mt. Vernon Statement” is a statement designed to reorient “conservatism”.  I’m not sure it does that at all.

Anyway, the 5 “first principles” which should guide “Constitutional Conservatives” (ConCons?) and which are supposed to “inform” this agenda are:

* It applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.

* It honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life.

* It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.

* It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.

* It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.

Through point 3, it’s indeed mostly a Constitutional approach I could support as a matter of policy.

However, point 4 is the NeoCon point and point 5 justifies the SocialCon agenda.

Since it isn’t politicians saying it, and despite my former criticism, I assume the writers are committed to them, meaning they’d obviously like to see politicians use point 1 through 3 as their basis for judging the merit of any legislation they may consider. What needs to be more closely defined is what “limited government” means. If that’s not done – and I think a Constitutional case can be made for what government should and shouldn’t do – then the term is relatively meaningless.

Point 4 also needs some further defining. I’m not sure I’m in agreement that as a matter of policy it is our job to “advance freedom” and “oppose tyranny” except here at home. That’s not an isolationist stance, it’s a non-interventionist stance. I recognize “prudently considers what can and should be done” is tacked on to the end of the sentence to provide options. And I’m sure by that they mean soft power as well as hard power, i.e. aid and diplomacy among a myriad of “soft power” options as well as the military option if necessary.

I’m one of those who believe that our job as a country is to defend itself against threats to its security. If, in the pursuit of that, we advance freedom or oppose tyranny via military power, then that’s a good thing. However as a policy objective in and of itself (i.e. our foreign policy is designed to “advance freedom and oppose tyranny”), I’d have to say, “no thanks”. Our foreign policy should be designed to protect this country and advance its peaceful interests (like trade, etc) and generally stay out of the business of other states in areas that don’t involve our national security or trade.

Point 5 is obviously designed to make the SocialCons happy – it’s wide ranging, nebulous and pretty much cancels point 1. In my world, individual liberty has a very specific meaning. Primarily it means I don’t impose my beliefs on others. Practicing your beliefs is the best defense in the world. It demonstrates their power. And, as long as they don’t violate another’s rights, you should be able to do that. Imposing them, however, is a form of “tyranny”, something point 4 says Conservatives are against. The desire – on both sides – to use the law to impose beliefs is not what the Constitution was designed to do. And since this is a manifesto about the “Constitutional Conservative”, I can only suppose that the intent of this rather broad statement is to announce an intent to use the document as a basis for such impositions of belief, via law (because that’s what the Constitution is) of their defense of “family, neighborhood, community, and faith.”

Points 4 and 5 mostly serve to underline “why I’m not a Conservative”. Had they stopped at point 3, I’d have happily endorsed their attempt to refocus “conservatives” (and Republicans). With the inclusion of 4 and 5, they again demonstrate they’ve learned nothing from the NeoCon debacle and on the SocialCon side are just as committed as the left to using the Constitution and the law as a means of imposing their beliefs on others.

Those last two points are simply not consistent with the first three – especially when citing the Constitution. And they certainly don’t reflect what the founders of this Republic intended when they wrote the Constitution. Politicians on the right who adopt all 5 points are asking for trouble. If indeed the intent is to have “Constitutional conservatisim” guide policy, 4 and 5 should be dropped.

Of course, doing so would make them mostly libertarian, wouldn’t it?

~McQ

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