» Economics

PJM Lifestyle

The Case Against Freedom, Part V: Slavery Is Freedom

Sunday, April 19th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Robert Kuttner, professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and senior fellow of the think tank Demos, believes that libertarians suffer from a delusion. He claims that the market is incompetent to price certain problems, and must be tightly controlled by government to prevent excess and abuse.

In a piece written for The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner submits examples which he believes demonstrate market failure. We rebutted his analysis in parts one and two of this series. Unsurprisingly, Kuttner’s assertions arise from a Marxist worldview wherein natural disparities in both wealth and knowledge require government activism to equalize “power.” We explored a couple of the fatal flaws of that perspective in part three. Most recently, we addressed the proper role of government in the market.

To close out the series, let’s take a look at the foundation upon which Kuttner builds his case against freedom. In Orwellian fashion, he attacks liberty by redefining it:

In the idealized libertarian world, individuals are “free to choose”—never mind that some are born with far more resources with which to choose than others…

Beyond assuming away inherited disparities, the Hayek-Friedman equation of markets and freedom leaves out the role of government in promoting affirmative liberties. A young person from a poor family who does not need to incur crippling debt to attend university is a freer person. A low-income mother who cannot afford to pay the doctor attains a new degree of freedom when she and her children are covered by Medicaid. A worker who might be compelled to choose between his job and his physical safety becomes freer if government health and safety regulations are enforced. The employee of a big-box store who can take paid family leave when a child gets sick is freer than one whose entire life is at the whim of the boss; likewise a worker with a union contract that provides protection from arbitrary dismissal or theft of wages. An elderly person saved from destitution by a government-organized Social Security pension has a lot more liberty than one bagging groceries at age 80 to make ends meet, or one choosing between supper and filling a prescription. An aspiring homeowner who doesn’t need to spend countless hours making sure that the mortgage won’t explode is freer to spend leisure time on other activities if government is certifying which financial products are sound and is prohibiting other kinds.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Yes, we do get the idea. Rather then deal with liberty as such, Kuttner would prefer to conflate it with resources.

Liberty is not the capacity to act as you wish or get what you want when you want it. Liberty offers life free from coercion. Kuttner’s attempt to portray liberty as resources ignores the manner in which resources comes into existence. Someone has to produce the products and services, provide the healthcare, earn the money, pick the cotton. Someone has to work. To the extent the beneficiary of that work is not the person doing it, we have slavery.

Indeed, Kuttner’s version of freedom stands as a rationalization for slavery. Plantation owners in the pre-Civil War south enjoyed “a new degree of freedom” on the backs of their slaves. If we define freedom as Kuttner suggests, as the capacity to enjoy that produced by others, than one man’s “freedom” requires another man’s chains.

Kuttner’s cited “affirmative liberties” place claims upon the lives of others. Negative liberties, which are the only legitimate sort, demand only that you ”don’t tread on me.” So-called affirmative liberties demand that people be tread upon.

True to form, Kuttner rests his case against freedom on an appeal to envy. Generally, he stokes envy against those who have more. Particularly, he incites contempt for those who inherited what they have.

To paraphrase him, Kuttner argues that freedom doesn’t work because we have not each begun from the same starting block. Some have wealthier parents, lighter skin, better schools. The market does not handicap for such advantages, and therefore proves unfair.

Like the broader envy toward those with more wealth, inheritance envy ignores the means by which wealth comes into existence. Someone created it. Whoever that was, they own it. What difference does it make to the rest of us whether a wealth creator blows their earnings or passes it onto an heir? How does that affect our capacity to do what we must to create our own wealth?

If we take one point away from our time in Kuttner’s mind, it should be that slavery has not been abolished. Slavery lives. More than that, it thrives in the academy, in the culture, and most especially in our government. The notion that some men should labor so that others may benefit has never died. It’s merely been repackaged from an overt institution of human chattel to a more politically correct contempt for those who succeed.

Read bullet | Comments »

Profit from a Glimpse of TomorrowLand

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

This featurette evoking the creative futurism of Walt Disney, which took one form in his Epcot Center and will take another in this year’s feature film Tomorrowland, reminds us how vast the entrepreneur’s vision truly was. He clung to an optimistic view of the future where urban planning would improve the quality of life for new generations.

When we consider such past visions of the future, like that of 2015 imagined in 1989’s Back to the Future, Part II, we clearly see how much they deviate from our modern reality.

Why is it so difficult to predict future developments, and what lesson should we take away from that observation? Technology futurist Daniel Burrus relates in the clip below how we tend to focus on the wrong things when predicting the future. He provides some insights into how to focus on the right things, and profit from it.

Read bullet | Comments »

The Case Against Freedom, Part IV: You Didn’t Build That

Sunday, April 12th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Robert Kuttner, professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and senior fellow of the think tank Demos, believes that libertarians suffer from a delusion. He claims that the market is incompetent to price certain problems, and must be tightly controlled by government to prevent excess and abuse.

In a piece written for The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner submits examples which he believes demonstrate market failure. We rebutted his analysis in parts one and two of this series. Unsurprisingly, Kuttner’s assertions arise from a Marxist worldview wherein natural disparities in both wealth and knowledge require government activism to equalize “power.” We explored a couple of the fatal flaws of that perspective in part three.

Now we turn from Kuttner’s critique of the market to his reverence for government. Where the market fails, Kuttner argues, government boasts great accomplishments:

Government can invent things that markets never would have imagined. Apple has created wonders, but it has piggybacked on government investment in advanced semiconductors and the Internet. America’s biotech industry’s success was reliant on massive government investment in the Human Genome Project and other basic research. Later in the special report in the magazine’s Winter issue, Fred Block’s piece describes the indispensable government role in innovation. Commercial broadcasters were disinvesting in radio as a serious medium of news, public affairs, culture, and humor, when along came public radio, partly underwritten by government and partly by listener-subscribers. NPR demonstrated that ingenious and high-quality noncommercial programming could attract an audience that for-profit companies did not know was there.

This echoes the sentiment of a government-adoring MSNBC promo featuring Rachel Maddow at the Hover Dam, claiming the private sector could never build it. Perhaps, but that hardly stands as justification for the means by which it was built.

The pyramids may never have been built without slaves. That doesn’t justify slavery. Nor do modern monuments to “the public good” or “national greatness” justify the theft utilized to construct them. That’s the best argument against Kuttner’s point, the moral argument. A thief doesn’t get to cite “the good” he did with stolen money as a justification for stealing.

Beyond that, we ought to question the value of these so-called public goods. If indeed, as Maddow asserts, the private sector never would have built the Hoover Dam, then perhaps the Hoover Dam should never have been built.

When we say that the private sector “can’t” do something, we’re really saying that it won’t.

We recognize, in other words, that the public good in question has insufficient value to warrant private investment. More to the point, it does not adequately serve those who pay for it.

Therefore, when we claim government must produce some good which the market “can’t,” we’re really saying that people should be forced to pay for something which does not serve them. There’s no getting around this point. Statists like Kuttner don’t even try. Instead, they argue that those stolen from to produce public goods deserve to be victimized on account of their “privilege.” The whole point of public goods is to benefit those who don’t pay for them at the expense of those who do.

The NPR example demonstrates this redistributive motive. Kuttner claims that the public radio audience eluded private sector investors. That’s an odd way of looking at the interaction. Is it really any surprise that an audience exists for free stuff? If investors were willing to throw their money away on a private venture that looked like public broadcasting, there would undoubtedly be an audience for it. But that audience wouldn’t be sufficient to make the venture commercially successful. In that light, what Kuttner is actually saying is that the NPR audience benefits from the theft integral to NPR’s production. Again, this fails as a moral justification.

It’s the height of arrogance to assume that technological developments like the internet or scientific research would not occur without government.

We have no way of measuring what hasn’t happened as a result of government interference in the market, no way to know the precise opportunity cost of resources seized, productivity displaced, or innovation prohibited. Even so, we can stand on the certainty of human nature and economic law, which suggests that people do not die of atrophy without government prodding them to action. Populations only starve when enslaved.

Despite its many immoral excesses, government retains a legitimate function. Kuttner comes close to articulating that role:

…The market itself is a creature of government. As Karl Polanyi famously wrote in a seeming oxymoron, “laissez-faire was planned.” Markets could not exist without states defining the terms of property ownership and commerce, creating money, enforcing contracts, protecting patents and trademarks, and providing basic public institutions. A Robinson Crusoe world never existed. So the real issue is not whether government “intrudes” on the market—the capitalist system is impossible without government. The practical question is whose interests the state serves.

The proper answer to that practical question is: the individual.

Government exists to protect individual rights. It does so by wielding a monopoly on force in retaliation against those who initiate force, applying due process according to objective law.

Kuttner postures as if government’s role in the market is some sort of revelation to libertarians. But this is a strawman. No one but the most ardent anarchists believe government has no role to play in the market. Indeed, a market cannot truly exist without government to ensure that individual rights are preserved and transactions occur by consent rather than coercion or fraud. Of course, by definition, that also precludes government from violating rights. You can’t rationally claim, as Kuttner attempts to, that government must violate rights to “protect” the market.

Next time, we’ll get into Kuttner’s naked contempt for freedom as such. The only thing more stunning than his wholesale rejection of self-ownership is the extent to which our culture embraces his anti-libertarian worldview.

Read bullet | Comments »

The Case Against Freedom, Part III: You’re Too Stupid!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 1.01.44 PM

Robert Kuttner, professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and senior fellow of the think tank Demos, believes that libertarians suffer from a delusion. He claims that the market is incompetent to price certain problems, and must be tightly controlled by government to prevent excess and abuse.

In a piece written for The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner submits examples which he believes demonstrate market failure. We rebutted his analysis in parts one and two of this series.

Kuttner summarizes his critique of the market by fully unveiling his statist economic worldview:

The free market doesn’t live up to its billing because of several contradictions between what libertarians contend and the way the real world actually works. Fundamentally, the free-market model assumes away inconvenient facts. Libertarians presume no disparities of information between buyer and seller, no serious externalities, no public goods that markets can’t properly price (Joan Fitzgerald’s piece in our special report in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine discusses one—water), and above all no disparities of power. But in today’s substantially deregulated economy, bankers have far more knowledge and power than bank customers (witness the subprime deception); corporations have far more power than employees; insurers have more power than citizens seeking health insurance. Labor markets can’t compensate for disparities of power. The health insurance “markets” created by the Affordable Care Act can’t fully address the deeper problem of misplaced resources and excessive costs in our medical system.

Kuttner’s concern over power disparity rings hollow in a context where he advocates for government activism. No private institution, no matter how large or influential, wields the legal monopoly on force bestowed to government. If his complaint is that big banks and large corporations have more power than consumers and laborers, Kuttner loses all credibility by prescribing an institution of even greater power.

Of course, when Kuttner writes about “power,” he’s really referencing private control over private affairs. He’s criticizing property rights and the freedom of association, not an application of force. To his mind, when a bank denies someone a loan, it has exercised “power” over that person’s life. In reality, the denied applicant has lost nothing. They have not been violated. They have not succumbed to force.

By contrast, government activism always applies force. That’s what government is.

That’s the defining characteristic that separates a public institution from a private one – the ability to legally wield force against individuals. By advocating for government activism, Kuttner actually endorses force. He seeks not to curb power, but to concentrate it.

Kuttner also points to a disparity in knowledge. Mom and Pop investors didn’t have the “knowledge” necessary to see through “the subprime deception,” he claims. Here too, his point proves self-defeating.

First of all, it’s absurd to hold up symmetrical knowledge as an ideal. No two people hold the same knowledge about any given transaction, and no principle exists which suggests they ought to. Even if such a principle could be articulated, as a practical matter, there exists no means by which to affect knowledge equality.

Indeed, disparity of knowledge proves natural in society and integral to the functioning of the market. As touched upon in part two of this series, the key benefit of the market is its division of labor. We each specialize in our chosen occupation and defer to the expertise of others by consenting to trade. You don’t have to be an expert in automotive engineering to purchase and make use of a car. Nor would you necessarily want to be.

Before engaging in a transaction, you weigh several factors which substitute for expert knowledge. You consider reputation. You consider the advice of others whom you trust. Above all, you consider price.

Price is the mechanism by which experts communicate their knowledge to non-experts. Price is the collective expression of individuals acting independently in pursuit of their self-interest. It is therefore a measure of value beyond compare. For a price to “lie,” the individuals involved in setting it through expressions of supply and demand would have to abandon their self-interest. A few may, but the overwhelming majority don’t. In this way, price tells us all we need to know regarding the value of a product or service.

To produce an economy that is more equitable as well as more efficient, government uses a variety of tools. It regulates to counteract market failure.

By advocating for government activism, Kuttner seeks to disrupt the price signals which convey knowledge from experts to non-experts. Indeed, as we covered in part two, it was such disruption which caused the 2008 financial collapse. Kuttner claims investors lacked the knowledge to see through “the subprime deception.” He’s right, but fails to recognize the means by which such knowledge is acquired – accurate price signals in a free market. He also fails to recognize the means by which the deception occurred – inaccurate price signals.

Government cannot create or distribute such knowledge. Government can only maintain the condition in which accurate pricing occurs – the condition of liberty. Taxes and government regulations merely keep people from applying their self-interested judgment to the distribution of their earned resources. To the extent capital is taxed away and economic activity is barred by regulation, knowledge which could have been conveyed through price is lost. As a result, remaining resources are to one degree or another misallocated.

The trick which statists like Kuttner like to pull is blaming the market for misallocations caused by government.

The financial collapse serves as a perfect example. Kuttner blames powerful banks for praying on ignorant investors while dismissing the role that government played. Government blunted the risk which banks should have bore, and thus distorted the prices which investors should have paid, which fostered transactions that never should have occurred.

Next time, we’ll get into Kuttner’s reverence for public goods and the proper role government plays in the market. Check back soon.

******

image illustration via shutterstock /  

Read bullet | Comments »

The Case Against Freedom, Part II: Booms and Busts

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

monopoly-house

Robert Kuttner, professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and senior fellow of the think tank Demos, believes that libertarians suffer from a delusion. He claims that the market is incompetent to price certain problems, and must be tightly controlled by government to prevent excess and abuse. In a piece written for The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner touches upon three examples which he believes demonstrate market failure.

The first is catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, which Kuttner offers as an example of negative externality. We addressed such externalities in part one of this series.

The second example Kuttner provides takes us back to 2008:

The other great catastrophe of our time is the financial collapse. Supposedly self-regulating markets could not discern that the securities created by financial engineers were toxic. Markets were not competent to adjust prices accordingly. The details of the bonds were opaque; they were designed to enrich middlemen; the securities were subject to investor herd-instincts; and their prices were prone to crash once a wave of panic-selling hit. Only government could provide regulations against fraudulent or deceptive financial products, as it did to good effect until the regulatory process became corrupted beginning in the 1970s. Deregulation arguably created small efficiencies by steering capital to suitable uses—but any such gains were obliterated many times over by the more than $10 trillion of GDP lost in the 2008 crash.

Kuttner makes a legitimate point, if only coincidentally, when he asserts that government ought to respond to fraud. However, by making that point, he implies that fraud and deception are integral to the market.

Fraud is not a function of the market. It does not belong in an intellectually honest critique of the market. No one aside from the most strident anarchists believe that fraud should go unanswered by government. Therefore, to attack fraud as a function of the market is to attack a strawman.

Kuttner may be conflating “deception” with ignorance. While government properly ought to respond with retaliatory force against fraud, recognizing fraud as a form of compulsion against the innocent, government has no role in protecting consumers from their own ignorance. If I fail to do my due diligence, if I sign on the dotted line or click “I accept” without reading the terms of an agreement or understanding a product or service, the fault lays with me. Failure to act rationally does not make one a victim.

The herd instinct which Kuttner cites as a negative is actually a key mechanism by which the market regulates economic activity. The power of the market is specialization, otherwise known as the division of labor. We each become experts in our chosen field, and rely upon the expertise of others, benefiting through mutual exchange in ways that none of us could accomplish living alone on an island.

Everyday, in a thousand different ways, we defer to the expertise of others. We defer to the engineers of our vehicles regarding their safety and operational integrity. We defer to the vendor at a lunch counter regarding the preparation of our food. We defer to our cellular company regarding the means by which our electronic communication occurs.

Even so, unlike animals, our “herd instinct” is not mindless. We evaluate the trustworthiness of a brand, a company, an individual. We consider track records. We examine history. We seek the advice of others. Then, we make our own decision.

In this way, we each individually act as regulators of the market, providing as many checks and balances as there are individual consumers – far more than government ever could – each motivated by something far more potent than a nebulous “common good.” We’re moved by self-interest.

Kuttner completely ignores the role that government regulation and mandates played in incentivizing the creation of toxic assets. His critique of the market only works in an environment where self-interest is skewed by moral hazard. When those who engage in risky behavior are not bound by the consequences of failure, when they can push those consequences off onto someone else, then they will not reign that behavior in.

That’s what caused the financial collapse, not a lack of government regulation, but a lack of market regulation caused by government. Kuttner unwittingly confesses this by citing a corrupted regulatory process. What he’s referencing is regulatory capture, a phenomenon whereby the entities which are to be regulated gain control of the regulatory apparatus.

Regulatory capture is only possible through government. It only works under compulsion. It would never last, if it manifest at all, in a free market. Without force, without the monopolization of regulation by government, no one can control the hundreds of thousands of checks and balances which react against bad actors – namely consumers.

The housing bubble doesn’t inflate in the first place without government housing initiatives. Sub-prime mortgages and derivative financial instruments based on them don’t manifest without government guarantees. Government created the 2008 financial collapse, not the market.

Kuttner continues:

A third grotesque case of market failure is the income distribution. In the period between about 1935 and 1980, America became steadily more equal. This just happened to be the period of our most sustained economic growth. In that era, more than two-thirds of all the income gains were captured by the bottom 90 percent, and the bottom half actually gained income at a slightly higher rate than the top half. By contrast, in the period between 1997 and 2012, the top 10 percent captured more than 100 percent of all the income gains. The bottom 90 percent lost an average of nearly $3,000 per household. The reason for this drastic disjuncture is that in the earlier period, public policy anchored in a solid popular politics kept the market in check. Strong labor institutions made sure working families captured their share of productivity gains. Regulations limited monopolies. Government played a far more direct role in the economy via public investment, which in turn stimulated innovation. The financial part of the economy was well controlled. All of this meant more income for the middle and the bottom and less rapacity at the top.

Kuttner here completely abandons historic reality. Government activism in the market has skyrocketed in the 21st century.

Government activism actually widens income distribution by protecting favored interests from the market forces which would otherwise keep them in check. Again referencing regulatory capture, the entities best positioned to benefit from government activism are those with the most resources to spend on lobbying and campaigning. This is why a growing mass of the non-partisan disillusioned regard both Republicans and Democrats as tools of corporate interests. We don’t fix that by limiting corporate interests. We fix that by limiting the government which corporate interests seek to buy.

That said, there’s a much more fundamental point to be made here. The premise which Kuttner takes for granted is that income inequality is a problem on its face. He doesn’t bother to tell us why. We’re just expected to know that income inequality is bad. This “knowledge” isn’t based on any rational argument, which is why Kuttner and so many others in his position fail to provide one. Rather, the notion of income inequality as a problem arises solely from an emotion – envy.

What does it matter to me whether you make more money? How am I deprived by your success? What claim do I hold to your wealth? On what basis should we ever, under any circumstances, concern ourselves with the distribution of that which is earned by others?

The only scenario wherein income distribution becomes a moral issue is one where income is distributed by illegitimate means. Income distributed by crime, by theft, by fraud – by compulsion. As an institution of force, government stands uniquely poised to distribute income illegitimately. Indeed, no criminal organization known to man has wielded force to seize wealth from those who earn it better than government.

Outside that context, in a hypothetical free market, the only means by which one can obtain income is through the production of value. In that scenario, one’s income becomes an accurate measure of the value they have produced. Since different people produce different degrees of value, their income will differ accordingly. As long as one’s income has been earned through production and trade, its size should not matter to anyone else. It’s nobody’s business. It has no effect upon the life of anyone else whatsoever, aside from providing the wealthy individual with the means to invest in even more production – providing jobs and opportunity for others.

As we continue in our breakdown of Kuttner’s “libertarian delusion,” we’ll consider his reverence for government regulation and so-called public goods. He takes a run at the “you didn’t build that” argument. Check back soon.

Read bullet | Comments »

Can Conservatives & Libertarians Unify? A Review of The Conservatarian Manifesto

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

614eKI1GOcL

Both conservatism and libertarianism carry a certain reputation for adherence to core principles, and while both philosophies share a few common ideals, there are certain sticking points — like immigration, the war on drugs, and abortion– that tend to separate the two philosophies. Conventional wisdom holds that conservatism and libertarianism sit in different areas on the right side of the spectrum, and never the twain shall meet.

But is such generalization really the case? There appears to be a growing movement among the right of people who find themselves somewhere between conservatism and libertarianism. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself falling somewhere in between the two distinct philosophies. That’s why I became excited when I heard about The Conservatarian Manifesto.

National Review‘s Charles C. W. Cooke has created a unique document that seeks “to remind the American Right that ours is an iconoclastic movement.” He reaches out to the people who find themselves firmly on the right but don’t feel like they firmly identify as conservative or libertarian.

Some among this group have become sufficiently frustrated with their brothers-in-arms to have established new and discrete groups, even abandoning or amending the “conservative” and “libertarian” labels traditionally used to describe the two strongest building blocks of the Right’s coalition. These are the “conservatarians” referred to in the title of this book, and they have an important to make.

Boy, do they (or should I say, “we”), and with Cooke as spokesman, the conservatarian movement may help unify the right.

Cooke begins his journey by picking apart both the positive aspects and negative assumptions of the conservative and libertarian movements. He also looks at what he sees wrong with the conservative movement, examining in particular the big-government conservatism that existed under George W. Bush.

During the Bush administration’s turbulent eight years, the Republican Party steadily ruined its reputation, damaging the public conception of conservatism in the process… Most of all, the Republican Party lost its reputation for fiscal restraint, constitutional propriety, and mastery of foreign affairs.

The author concludes his chapter on the problems that exist on the Right by noting that “Republicans must reestablish themselves as the party of liberty, demonstrating to a skeptical but interested electorate that they are committed to laissez-faire.” Interestingly enough, Cooke does not advocate a wholesale adherence to libertarian ideology, but he does acknowledge that conservatism and libertarianism can, and should, coexist.

One of the key tenets that conservatarianism must adopt, according to Cooke, is a devotion to federalism. He writes that the right should advocate that “as few decisions as possible are made from Washington, D.C.” and that lovers of freedom should “render the American framework of government as free as possible and…decentralize power.”

Cooke then takes a look at institutions like the media and the educational system. The right has done well to establish some alternatives to the traditional, left-leaning media outlets, but conservatives and libertarians alike have their work cut out for them when it comes to reforming the educational system. He then steals a glimpse into the importance of the Constitution to the right and why that attachment remains crucial to a nation that values freedom.

After his march through America’s institutions, Cooke tackles specific political issues and delves into what a conservatarian position could or should be on many of them. He starts with gun control, citing stats that prove the inefficacy of gun-control attempts, as well as information that demonstrates the growing popularity of the protection of gun rights. Cooke then points out why it is important for the right to nevertheless acknowledge that guns can be dangerous, no matter how free our society is.

Next, Cooke contrasts the success of the pro-gun movement with what he calls the failures of the war on drugs. Citing incarceration statistics, he points out how he believes that federal efforts to deter drug use are not working. But he notes that

…this is not to say that conservatives should be “pro-drug.” Indeed, the beauty of opposing federal involvement is that it affords us a free hand elsewhere. Conservatives can quite happily agitate for federal withdrawal and continue to argue against the wisdom of using drugs and leave the legal questions to the states and localities.

At this point, Cooke offers a few suggestions like leaving drug enforcement to the states and relying on churches and non-profits as well as supporting the demilitarization of the police.

Cooke then goes on to tackle a host of other issues. He makes one of the most eloquent and sensible arguments for the pro-life cause that I’ve heard and dismantles the follies of the advocates of abortion on demand. He delves into what he sees as the inevitability of same-sex marriage, preparing the right to get used to it, while at the same time advocating for the protection of those who do not agree with it.

Looking at foreign policy, Cooke acknowledges the fatigue that many Americans have toward the interventionist tack that the country seems to have undertaken, but he doesn’t necessarily call for a neutralist or isolationist stance. Instead, he argues for a continued strong defense because of the United States’ lone superpower status. Cooke notes that American primacy lends stability to much of the world order, but he notes that “[it] is entirely feasible for America to lead without needing to rush to the scene of every fire in every corner of the world.” He likens the hegemony of the United States to an insurance policy against problems in many areas of the globe.

Lastly, Cooke argues against the demography-is-destiny mindset that seems to plague both parties these days. He advocates for an immigration policy that is fair and does not become a welfare program.

Cooke sees the future as a golden opportunity for freedom-loving people on the right end of the political spectrum. His conclusion is for conservatives and libertarians to band together to ensure that freedom is a positive message that appeals to everyone. Some of the ideas in The Conservatarian Manifesto won’t appeal to everyone — I certainly had issues with a couple of the solutions in the book — but the book does put forth some encouraging strategies for what could be a united right, one we sorely need if we’re going to win in 2016 and beyond.

Read bullet | 26 Comments »

The Case Against Freedom, Part I: What Are ‘Externalities’?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Quotation-Truman-Capote-freedom-life-Meetville-Quotes-183081

Nowadays, whenever I attend a public meeting and stand alongside fellow Americans to say the Pledge of Allegiance, I look around the room and wonder how many truly believe in “liberty and justice for all.” To the extent each man or woman may claim allegiance to that sentiment, I wonder how each would define it.

Increasingly, it seems as though we find another argument against freedom every which way we turn, another push for control, another campaign for restriction or seizure. Far from the fringe exception to the libertarian rule, these arguments proliferate throughout the culture, applied to everything from healthcare to marriage, from finance to drugs.

In oh so many ways, as a people, we don’t truly believe in either liberty or justice. We modify the words to cut neatly around the areas of life where we personally prefer choice, while excluding those areas where we’d prefer to dictate the choices of others.

Unfortunately, the nature of reality is such that one cannot eat her cake and have it too. We cannot sustainably defend liberty in one area of life while suffering its compromise in another. Without a cohesive and comprehensive philosophical defense of liberty, any practical manifestation will whither under shifting political winds.

One such gust blows from the desk of Robert Kuttner. Author of a provocative article at The American Prospect, where he serves as co-founder and co-editor, Kuttner cannot fairly be marginalized as an insignificant voice. His bio boasts status as “professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School, and a distinguished senior fellow of the think tank Demos.” Kuttner has written for Business Week and the Boston Globe. This man shapes minds and influences opinions.

Kuttner believes liberty is overrated. He believes folks like me, who stand firmly upon the principle of individual rights, suffer from “The Libertarian Delusion.” His case against freedom deserves point-by-point scrutiny.

He begins with a general condemnation of the market, portraying it as a mechanism unfit to meet the needs of men:

In an Adam Smith world, the interplay of supply and demand yields a price that signals producers what to make and investors where to put their capital. The more that government interferes with this sublime discipline, the more bureaucrats deflect the market from its true path.

But in the world where we actually live, markets do not produce the “right” price. There are many small examples of this failure, but also three immense ones that should have discredited the libertarian premise by now. Global climate change is the most momentous… carbon is destroying a livable planet. Markets are not competent to price this problem. Only governments can do that. In formal economics, this anomaly is described by the bloodless word “externality”—meaning costs (or benefits) external to the immediate transaction. Libertarian economists treat externalities as minor exceptions.

Not being a libertarian economist, I can’t speak for them. From my perch as a layman intent upon upholding individual rights, externalities are often petty gripes overwrought into invalid claims upon the lives of others.

Externalities are real and come in both positive and negative forms. You build a house. Someone builds a nicer one next door. Your property value goes up. That’s a benefit external to the transaction, a positive externality, which you enjoy for the dumb luck of living next door.

Conversely, you build the same house. A bum moves in next door and trashes the joint, leaving garbage everywhere and never mowing the lawn. That’s a cost external to the transaction, a negative externality, which you suffer for the dumb luck of living next door.

Of course, in that particular hypothetical, the harm can be quantified and accounted for objectively. A case can be made against the offending neighbor, and legal action can be taken to correct the problem. We call that a tort. In situations where a particular tort can be anticipated, we craft nuisance law (i.e. mowing ordinances).

When Kuttner evokes externalities, he goes beyond torts. His particular example, anthropogenic catastrophic climate change, cannot stand as a case brought against an offending party in a court of law. In an essay for The Atlas Society addressing the topic of externalities, author Andrew Bissell explains:

Some cases [of negative externalities eroding property rights] are obvious; dumping toxic waste on a neighbor’s lawn is flagrant destruction of his property and probably poses a risk of serious physical harm. But what about driving a car that emits some small amount of carbon monoxide that, combined with the emissions of the millions of other drivers in a city, produces smog?

… These kinds of “costs” cannot really even be objectively calculated, which is one of the problems with trying to even out every single imbalance arising from externalities.

Trying to resolve every diffuse or minor negative externality would have some rather tyrannical—and economically destructive—consequences. Homeowners cannot be permitted to stall airline travel just because they dislike the appearance of jet contrails in the sky above their homes. To use a more common example, one’s appreciation of “open spaces” does not give one the right to prevent a farmer from selling his land to a developer looking to build a subdivision. It would be exceedingly difficult, in a court of law, to prove that these minor inconveniences had resulted in any significant physical or economic damage. When properly defined, property rights are not a blanket right to dictate what sorts of activities may take place within eyesight, earshot, or driving distance of one’s land.

Indeed, there are many negative externalities which one must rationally anticipate when they live in proximity to other people. Further, the type of community one chooses to live in — urban, suburban, or rural — dictates what kinds of externalities you must be prepared to deal with.

For instance, if you live in the middle of a big city, you must expect a certain persistent level of noise, light, and — yes — air pollution. Such consequences arise from living in proximity to others who exercise their rights in pursuit of life-affirming values like transportation, waste disposal, and electricity.

There was a time when people heated their homes by burning wood fires. This produced smoke and ash which choked the sky and clogged gutters. But no rational person would have argued that people should freeze to death or even just proceed uncomfortably cold for the sake of “clean air.” Further, if someone had attempted to sue their neighbor for burning a wood fire, they’d have been laughed out of court if not committed to an institution.

No doubt cognizant that any given carbon emission fails to constitute a tort, Kuttner advocates for a different process. He wants government to “price” the “problem” of climate change. How do we do that, exactly? Since the “harm” cannot be objectively calculated, any method ultimately proves arbitrary. We place a tax on carbon emissions. We create carbon credits, thus restricting essential life-affirming activities like energy production and manufacturing. We determine the “price” of these interventions through political means rather than economic ones, through the rule of men rather than the rule of law.

As Bissell indicates, externalities which do not qualify as torts are little more than petty gripes. I don’t like that my neighbor painted his house blue. I don’t like that he drives an SUV. I don’t like that gas is cheap. There ought to be a law.

As we continue refuting Kuttner’s case against freedom in future entries, we’ll see how the externalities he cites fit this mold of petty complaint. He doesn’t like that some people make more money than other people. He doesn’t like that some people succeed while others fail. He doesn’t like that words mean what they mean, and dutifully attempts to redefine them.

Catch up on his piece, and check back for more analysis in the coming days.

******

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-fifth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish
  21. Chris Queen on March 15: Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian
  22. Allston on March 16: Counter-Culture Wars, Part 1: Why the Fellow Travelers Hijacked Folk Music
  23. Ronald R. Cherry on March 17: How To Untangle Orwellian Doublethink: 4 Secrets To Help You Spot BS
  24. Dave Swindle on March 18: Do Fairy Tales & Scary Stories Hide Secrets For Defeating Evil?

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

Read bullet | 14 Comments »

Was Black Friday a Bust?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 7.32.38 AM

You decide:

According to the National Retail Federation’s Thanksgiving weekend spending survey, 55.1 percent of holiday shoppers were expected to visit stores or go online over Thanksgiving weekend, down from 58.7 percent last year.

“A strengthening economy that changes consumers’ reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement.

According to the survey, the average weekend shopper was expected to spend $380.95, down 6.4 percent from $407.02 last year.

Of that amount, $159.55, or nearly 42 percent, was spent online, down from $177.67 spent online last year.

Total spending was expected to reach $50.9 billion, down from last year’s estimated $57.4 billion.

I’m a little wary, to say the least, of Shay’s estimation of a “strengthening economy.” That certainly doesn’t jibe with what we’ve seen happen to middle class incomes since the “end” of The Great Recession. Anecdotally, I have a contact in management at a local Target, who said to me with no small amount of sympathy that “crazy” Black Friday shoppers are buying things they simply can’t afford the rest of the year.

So what do all the numbers mean? Probably nothing until we get the Q4 GDP revision a few months from now.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock / 

Read bullet | Comments »

12 Steps for a Perfect Pop Culture Christmas

Friday, November 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

YouTube Preview Image

Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice the confusion laced within a holiday message. When it comes to Christmas, the confusion is on overload. Somewhere along the way a religious message got smacked with a load of pop culture overtones to create a holiday lush with semiotic excess, too much for the brain or heart to process. So, allow me from my seat on the sidelines to create the How To guide so you can enjoy the perfect pop culture Christmas.

12. Shop early and shop often for things you’ll never need that are on sale at bargain basement prices.

Christmas really begins on Black Friday, or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, whichever you prefer. The holiday is about buying to your heart’s content and making sure everything you and your children have ever dreamed of is stacked up under that decorated tree. The bruises and broken limbs you get in pursuit of those awesome sale prices will be well worth it. Who needs teeth when they can have stuff?

Read bullet | Comments »

Is The Customer Always Right?

Monday, November 17th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

Read bullet | Comments »

Why China Won’t Fall Apart

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

shutterstock_116404606

The default Western strategy towards China’s rise as an economic and military superpower appears to be to sit back and wait for it to fall apart. That isn’t going to happen, as the dean of Beijing’s foreign press corps, Francesco Sisci, observes in this short essay entitled, “The Great Resilience of the Communist State”:

As a modest chronicler of events in China for over a quarter of a century, I witnessed at least four events that might have caused the government to crumble, and yet nothing of the sort happened. These include the protest in Tiananmen in 1989, the demonstrations of the Falun Gong in 1999, the SARS epidemic in 2003, and the political attempt of Bo Xilai in 2012. Except for SARS, the other three were caused by deep rifts in the top leadership and efforts of one faction to eliminate another. They were violent internal power struggles causing more damage to Chinese politics than any foreign interference, and yet nothing happened to society.

The deep-seated reasons for this can be found in an essay I wrote a decade ago. True to that analysis, ten years later, and despite many predictions to the contrary, there still has been no revolution in China. The fact remains that while democratic protests have been raging for a month in Hong Kong, adjacent Shenzhen, whose people receive uncensored news from the territory, has shown no sign of contagion.

In a nutshell, now is no time for revolution for the Chinese people, who are experiencing a golden age in their history and have had no past experience with democracy to pine for.

China will need to reform at some point, Sisci argues:

This does not mean that revolutions or democratic demands are impossible in China. A mix of internal forces and international constraints could change the situation in the next decade. There are two elements which could drive change. The Chinese economy will be roughly as large as that of the US, and this will draw increased attention and fear from other countries because China does not share the political framework of the countries that have dominated the world over the past two centuries – the UK and US. Additionally, a large portion of the Chinese population will enjoy Western middle-class purchasing power, and private enterprises will be required to pay a larger portion of taxes as they will represent a large share of the GDP but as a whole they mighthave limited control over how their tax money is spent.

Dr. Sisci, the first foreigner to complete a Chinese-language doctorate at China’s Academy of Social Science, has been my colleague at Asia Times Online almost since its founding. He was right about China ten years ago and he’s right now.

For background on China’s economic resilience, see the presentation “China’s Two Economies” prepared by my colleagues and me at Reorient Group.

Read bullet | Comments »

The Progressive Income Tax: Which Side Is ‘Greedy’?

Saturday, November 8th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Daily Question

Read bullet | Comments »

What 2 Retired Whores Can Teach Slut-Walk Feminists

Monday, October 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

YouTube Preview Image

A story about two old Jewish ladies is making the rounds in the Jewish press, but not for the reasons you may think. Sure, they’re bubbes. They’re children of a Holocaust survivor to boot. But the real reason they’re attracting so much attention is that they happen to be retired professional whores.

Dutch twins Louise and Martine Fokkens (probably not their real last name, since “Fokken” is a Dutch term for “old whore”) have become international celebrities since the 2011 release of their biographical documentary Meet the Fokkens. Women’s magazines like Cosmo picked up on their story shortly after the film’s release, publishing quick little details like:

Louise and Martine (mothers of four and three respectively) became prostitutes before the age of 20 in order to escape violent relationships.

It’s an interpretation that, at best, qualifies as a half-truth. Louise was forced into the sex trade by an abusive husband. Martine, however, became a prostitute out of spite:

Martine followed her sister into the trade, working first as a cleaning lady at brothels before she began turning tricks herself. “I was angry at how everybody around us shunned Louise,” Martine said. “I did it out of spite, really.”

Both women eventually divorced their husbands, whom they now describe as “a couple of pimps.” But they continued working in the district “because that had become our lives,” Louise said.

“Our life in the business became a source of pride, a sport of sorts,” Louise added.

In retrospect, both women say they regret becoming prostitutes.

Reading their story, one can’t help but wonder if mainstream feminist advocates for slut walks and “Yes Means Yes” legislation would condemn the pair for regretting the life they chose. After all, their body, their choice, right? They took control of their bad marriages, divorced the husbands they referred to as “pimps” and chose, fully of their own volition, to remain in the sex trade after their exes were fully out of the picture. Martine and Louise, it would seem, are the originators of the Slut Walk.

Read bullet | 15 Comments »

10 Ways Not to Land Your Dream Job

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Sure, you know how to write an assertive cover letter and you have a wardrobe of freshly pressed black and navy blue suits. But, just because you’re doing everything the manual tells you doesn’t mean you aren’t going to make a mistake in your job search. From my other life working in human resources, I give you the ten best mistakes applicants have made in pursuit of a job.

10. Want to include the fact that you taught an adult education course on photography on your resume? Don’t dub yourself “Adult Photography Instructor.”

Language matters. In the age of social media and Google, applicants should understand that lying on their resume isn’t an option. Just be sure you aren’t getting so creative with your wording that you make yourself sound more qualified for porn than a professional environment.

Read bullet | Comments »

Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge, Part 5: The Drug of Disinformation

Monday, May 5th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The Introduction to Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge: Starting Down the Yellow Brick Road…

Part 1: The Mask of Marxism

Part 2: Getting to the Heart of Social Justice

Part 3: Who Needs a Brain?

Part 4: Are Conservatives Cowards?

“The August 1991 coup in Moscow collapsed three days after it had started, providing the ultimate, ironic proof that nothing, not even a coup, could succeed any more in a society whose vital arteries had been calcified by 70 years of disinformation and dismal feudalism. The main loser was the Communist Party.”

– Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa

Both the Democrat and Republican parties have been disinformed by Marxism. The Liberal wing of the Democrat Party has been duped into putting their faith in Marxism’s many forms (socialism, economic determinism, progressivism), while the Republican Party has legitimized Marxism as a form of party politics instead of a murderous, atheistic religion that empowers despots. The Conservative movement, by and large, is slow to recognize Marxism’s true nature, because we are a nation that has been drugged by Disinformation. Pacepa continues:

At the end of the 2001 summit meeting held in Slovenia, President George W. Bush said: “I looked the man [Putin] in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.” Unfortunately, even President Bush was deceived by disinformation. Putin consolidated Russia into an intelligence dictatorship, not a democracy. During the Cold War, the KGB was a state within a state. Under Putin, the KGB, rechristened the FSB, is the state. Three years after Putin enthroned himself in the Kremlin, some 6,000 former officers of the KGB—that organization responsible for having slaughtered at least 20 million people in the Soviet Union alone—were running Russia’s federal and local governments.

…Is it too far-fetched to suggest that this new Russia calls up the hypothetical image of a postwar Germany being run by former Gestapo officers, who reinstate Hitler’s “Deutschland Über Alles” as national anthem, call the demise of Nazi Germany a “national tragedy on an enormous scale,” and invade a neighboring country, perhaps Poland, the way Hitler set off World War II?

That is the secret power of disinformation.

Pacepa share these thoughts with me mere weeks before the Ukranian revolution and secession of the Crimea to Putin’s Russia. Disinformation is wielding its power on the American homefront as well. In his critique of Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, David Brooks embraces Piketty’s idea of a tax on the wealthy’s investment capital in order to create intellectual equality among the classes:

Think of how much more affordable fine art would be. Think of how much more equal the upper class would be.

His musings aren’t that far off from those of Russian intellectuals, who are “making do” with their government’s clampdown on free media and the right to protest. In exchange for their rights, these Russians whose intellectual arteries have been “calcified by disinformation” are being doted upon by their increasingly despotic government:

All sorts of entertainment is being lavished on Russia’s hipsters. Their favorite public parks have splashy, beautifully designed restaurants and clubs, comfortable biking areas and luxurious places to chill. Sanctions or not, Fedoseyev’s friends can still dine out at restaurants full of expats, take shopping trips to Milan, or buy their electronic gadgets online. Fashion Week this weekend was another party blooming with charming models and celebrities; the usual hipsters clubs, Solianka, Simachev, Oldich Dress and Drink or Strelka, felt as cuddly and crowded as ever.

To paraphrase Brooks, it would seem that the fine art is quite affordable in Russia these days. Like junkies seeking a quick fix, Russian intellectuals pursue disinformation at the expense of their freedom. Is Brooks suggesting we do the same, or have we already succumbed to the addiction? In either case, what we need to know now is: What is the antidote to disinformation?

wizardhologram

Read bullet | Comments »

HBO Green Lights Men & Capitalism

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Warning: Not Safe for Work (profanity)

In his new HBO series Silicon Valley, Mike Judge turns his cutting sarcasm on the wunderkind of Silicon Valley, issuing awesome commentary on 21st century masculinity.

Thomas Middleditch portrays Richard Hendricks, a developer who creates a miracle algorithm with revolutionary file compression capabilities. He is the anti-Don Draper: a skinny, nervous twenty-something dressed in cargo pants and a hoodie; Hendricks is the lost member of the Big Bang Theory click. He lives with two other computer geeks in “the incubator,” a house owned by the overtly obnoxious yet humorous Erlich Bachmann (hysterically portrayed by T.J. Miller), whose app, Aviato, has turned him into one of the many tech venture capitalists in Palo Alto. 

Hendricks turns down a 10 million dollar offer from his tech guru boss Gavin Belson, owner of the fictional Google-ripoff “Hooli,” who is anxious to purchase the miracle algorithm. Instead, Hendricks elects to accept eccentric investor Peter Gregory’s offer of $200,000 for 5% of his start-up company, Pied Piper. It’s the best argument for capitalism and small business being made on television today. In electing to start his own business instead of running with the cash, Hendricks inspires his fellow nerds and is forced into maturity. Within the first three episodes he transitions from panic attacks to developing a business plan and entering his first series of negotiations.

With his 1999 hit Office Space, Judge issued a powerful statement about the death of masculinity in the corporate world. With Silicon Valley, his declaration is refined into a statement about how the free market can be used to empower men — primarily nerdy white guys and the Asians who hang with them. In the first episode, Hendricks declares:

Look guys, for thousands of years, guys like us have gotten the sh*t kicked out of us. But now, for the first time, we are living in an era where we can be in charge and build empires. We could be the Vikings of our day.

Judge also takes sharp jabs at the men who propagate corporate culture. Hooli’s Gavin Belson is a “global”-minded laughable yuppie with a Messiah complex who is “committed to social justice” and keeps a “guru” around to remind him how wonderful and unique he is. “If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller,” he proclaims as he races to compete with Pied Piper’s formidable nerds.

It will be interesting to see how women are treated within the show. In episode 3, Bachmann (who wears a shirt that reads “I know H.T.M.L.: How To Meet Ladies”) orders up an exotic dancer as a “gift” to reward the Pied Piper crew. The guys retreat to the kitchen, anxious to avoid an awkward scene. The one guy who she manages to trap declares his love for her, and is later found hanging out at the dancer’s home… playing video games with her children.

The series is peppered with Judge’s raunchy humor, but unlike Family Guy it is relatively sparse and works to advance instead of interrupt the story. The Big Bang Theory may have ushered in the era of the nerd, but Silicon Valley is taking America’s love affair with geeky guys and masculinity to a newer, deeper, and much-needed level of respect.

Read bullet | 5 Comments »

Let Them Eat Lead

Monday, April 28th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

shutterstock_3095855

A new policy change in Denver requires 911 dispatchers to contact a supervisor for immediate service when “Federal, State or Local Dignitaries (such as the Mayor or Governor) or personnel within their office requests or requires a police response on the dignitary’s behalf.”

Elected officials will now get preferential treatment by police officers in emergency cases of life and death. This is corruption, openly practiced.

Our justice system isn’t perfect. Celebrities often receive special treatment in court. The rich and powerful can afford a robust legal defense and if they sometimes slither through cracks in the system, well, the system still endures.

What our country cannot long endure is open corruption where elected officials are above the law. When a dispatcher sends a police officer to the Mayor’s house ahead of an ordinary citizen they are acting as a palace guard, and when they do it openly the rule of law is nullified.

To see the result of this failure you need look no further than our neighbor, Mexico, where corruption has led to a profound breakdown in society. Mexico is blessed with a mild climate, abundant natural resources and a hard-working and intelligent people. None of these benefits can overcome a government so bad that millions of citizens have fled for the economic freedom offered by the rule of law in the United States. In Mexico drug cartels have created unending cycles of terror and violence including human trafficking, prostitution, money laundering, rape and murder. When government operates by graft and corruption, the only businesses that thrive are ones who are just as corrupt.

Denver’s elected officials just chose to follow Mexico’s example and create palace guards who answer to their needs first. Denver police officers who take their jobs seriously should be outraged. If they allow this rule to stand, Denver police should find new uniforms to wear that more closely represent their new status. I suggest this one.

shutterstock_169363601

Images of Louix XIV and Vatican guard courtesy Shutterstock: Vladislav Gurfinkel, Catarina Belova

Read bullet | Comments »

Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge, Part 2: Getting to the Heart of Social Justice

Friday, April 25th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Editor’s Note: See the introduction here and Part I here to this ongoing series explaining the insights of Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet bloc

Most East European governments concealed their road to Communism by posting innocuous nameplates at the door, such as People’s Republic or Popular Republic.

Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa

“People’s Republic” is such a chummy term. In fact, Marxism in general, with all it’s “redistribution of wealth” sounds so compassionate, at least to a Western, Judeo-Christianized mind. A Chinese mind familiar with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, for instance, may have a different take on the benevolent-sounding idea of a “People’s Republic” given the facts:

“State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.”

Mao couldn’t lie his way past a free press in the West. Nor could Khruschev, as Pacepa explains,

The 1963 missile crisis generated by socialist Cuba gave the socialist mask of Marxism a dirty name in the West, and few Marxists wanted to be openly associated with socialism anymore.

But, socialism is still hot. China is still The People’s Republic and “we’re all socialists now,” right? The last installment ended with the question: How have intellectual Wizards manipulated Marxism to acculturate the American mind leftward? Pacepa answers:

[Marxists] therefore began hiding their Marxism under a new cover called “economic determinism,” …a theory of survival rooted in Marx’s Manifesto (another theory of survival), but it pretends that the economic organization of a society, not the socialist class war and the socialist redistribution of wealth, determines the nature of all other aspects of its life.

The goal remained the same; the players simply put on a new mask. China has managed to be a People’s Republic that justifies murdering millions of its own people. Likewise, Marxist movements in the West masquerade under the guise of political generosity, often changing their names to suit the cultural climate:

When economic determinism lost credibility because of the devastating economic crisis in Greece, our Democratic Party began replacing it with “progressivism,” which has become the latest cover name for Marxism. …Today’s Progressive Movement was born in New York’s Zuccotti Park. It was first known as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which advocated the abolition of “capitalist America.”

Marxists in the West successfully propagate progressivism under the guise of “social justice“ that demands the redistribution of wealth to the less fortunate. Ironically, most people of the Judeo-Christian West accept this Marxist notion out of the goodness of their hearts. However, putting faith in the Marxist lie that human beings don’t have a heart (and therefore are incapable of compassionate decision making) requires handing over all financial power to the Marxist Wizards who proceed to dole out your funds as they see fit.

This speaks to the heart of the question, but how have the Marxist Wizards rendered us so seemingly brainless? 

scarecrowbrain

Read bullet | Comments »

Does Admitting You Might Be Wrong Make You Right?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

freakonomics

I just finished reading Freakonomics for the first time. I know, I’m behind the times. I picked it up out of curiosity (I’ve heard so many things about the book, its authors, and the subsequent podcast) and convenience (it was left by a previous employee in the office I just moved out of, and while I was packing up unwanted books to donate, I set it aside).

One thing that struck me is how often economist Steven Levitt’s self-deprecation is cited as proof of his sincerity and trustworthiness. Everyone is fallible (even economists!) but you can probably trust the guy who’s wise enough to admit it, right?

I won’t play a guessing game on whether Levitt uses self-deprecation cynically, to manipulate readers, or whether he really is that humble a guy. The thing is, either way, there’s just too much of it. My relief and pleasure at discovering an economist who admits he may be wrong was quickly dampened by irritation at the way self-deprecation is used to excuse whatever happens to come next.

It’s possible I’m wrong, and there are a lot of variables involved that are nearly impossible to scientifically measure, and you should do your own research and think critically before making up your own mind, but…I’d posit that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually a documentary. Cats are secretly in control of the White House. And we all live in a computer program called The Matrix.

Obviously, admitting my potential error before I drop these theories makes them no less ridiculous. But the example above illustrates how self-deprecation can really be a rhetorical device to persuade someone into hearing out your outlandish theory (“Well, if he admits he might be wrong, he can’t be that nuts — what’s he got to say?”) and also a verbal insurance policy (“You can’t hold me to that, I told you up front I might be wrong!”).

My question is: does that verbal insurance policy really cash out? Is “I told you I might be wrong” actually a good defense for sharing a theory that may not be completely sound, but may spread disinformation or encourage bad policy? (I’m done picking on poor Levitt now, and just wondering generally — though some of his more famous theories may be grouped by some readers in that category.) It’s actually a close cousin to an infamous tabloid journalism trick — start a statement with “rumor has it” and you’ve admitted the following report may not be totally factual, but most readers who remember it will just remember the claims in the story, not the qualifier that they may not be true.

I still enjoyed Freakonomics for its refreshing and unusual take on a variety of interesting subjects. I hope Levitt continues to do his work of overturning common wisdom and examining topics other economists consider beneath them. I just wonder if he, and other fans of his favorite rhetorical device, realize there are limits to a “I might be wrong” insurance policy.

Read bullet | Comments »

How Much Would You Pay for Grass Clippings?

Monday, April 21st, 2014 - by Leslie Loftis

Whole Foods Easter grass

For Easter this year, Whole Foods sold Organic Timothy Grass for kids’ Easter baskets. The story sounds good, as usual—plastic is toxic and the stuff in the Easter baskets lingers for years on the planet. Not mentioned is how prevalent shredded, recycled paper has become for baskets or how the plastic grass lasts and gets reused year after year. That is, the menace of plastic grass is overstated. Also not mentioned in the real grass is great story, the price of the real grass.

As I first learned about the grass clippings in a Tweet from @johnrobison, “Salute the marketing geniuses at @WholeFoods for selling grass clippings for $23.96 a pound – More than good steak!”

Price Matters

A few months ago, Rhonda Robinson posted about a poor neighborhood that “ran off” a Trader Joe’s opening. The gist of the article and comments assumed the neighborhood had elevated politics over health and made a bad decision. She concluded, “The Portland African American Leadership Forum would much rather see empty decaying buildings in their neighborhood than give up their victim card.”

I doubt the neighborhood would rather keep vacant buildings. I also doubt that they objected to a grocery store opening. They likely objected to a Trader Joe’s opening.

Read bullet | 6 Comments »

Imagine No Taxes

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

chains_broken11

On Tax Day, I dared to wonder what happiness I might pursue with the money I earn but never see. I asked readers to join me in the exercise and imagine what they might do with the money they lost to taxes last year. Reader Mike Mahoney added this insightful comment:

I would probably wind up spending it on protection, roads, litigation services. If one looks at tax receipts and the portion of the budget that is enumerated as a power to do things in the constitution you’ll note a similarity. The rest is all done on borrowed money. So, if I didn’t pay taxes I would still pay.

Mike lands a fair point. Government certainly provides a value. In the absence of particular government services, we would need to pursue alternatives, thus incurring expense.

Of course, in that case, we could choose to pay as we saw fit, and would benefit from the cost and quality controls of the market. Whether we would pay as much for the same services under a private model is an open question. (I think it safe to bet we’d pay significantly less.) However, we know the percentage of our income spent on such services would decrease as we earned more, instead of increasing as it does today. Market-driven prices are rarely progressive.

You don’t pay more for groceries or fuel just because you earn more. So why should you pay more for the services provided by government, particularly if you prove less likely to use them?

An unspoken assumption which may inform Mike’s comment is that a world without taxes means anarchy. But that’s not necessarily the case. Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute here briefly explains how government could raise revenue without coercive taxation:

YouTube Preview Image

Imagine the effect such an arrangement would have upon our incentives to produce and improve the lives of ourselves and others through trade. The sky would be the limit.

Read bullet | 6 Comments »

Do Homeschoolers ‘Rob’ Public Schools of Tax Dollars?

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

shutterstock_108762488

Marcia Clemmitt recently published an extensive report on homeschooling at CQ Researcher. In “Homeschooling: Do Parents Give Their Children a Good Education?,” Clemmitt, a “social policy researcher” and former high school teacher attempts to explain the economic impact of homeschooling in the United States:

Since public schools are allotted government dollars based on the number of pupils they enroll, districts where home schooling’s growth is greatest inevitably lose cash. Arizona’s Maricopa County school district, for example, had lost $34 million by the year 2000 because 7,526 students were being home-schooled.

While I do not doubt for a minute the propensity of government schools to “lose cash,” homeschooling is not to blame.

A report from The Heritage Foundation in 2009 found that just the opposite is true — homeschooling eases the burden on local public schools, saving them billions:

An additional benefit of homeschooling comes in the form of savings to taxpayers and school systems. Analysts have estimated that homeschooled students save American taxpayers and public schools between $4.4 billion and $9.9 billion annually. Other estimates are as high as $16 billion.

The argument that homeschoolers deprive public schools of tax money is based on the premise that each child represents a sum of money to which the school has an inherent right. When parents choose to educate their children outside the public school system, opponents of homeschooling say, those students are “robbing” districts of money to which they are entitled by virtue of the fact that the child happens to live in their district.

Read bullet | 6 Comments »

The Rise of the Robot Employee

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

104163

President Obama’s new initiative is a higher minimum wage, and if he is successful the result will not be higher-paid employees heading off to work every day. Instead their jobs will be filled by an entirely new sort of worker: Robots.

Robots, unlike humans, don’t require pay or sick time or vacations. If they break they’re thrown out and recycled. Robots are expensive, but the threat of a higher minimum wage is now making a robotic worker more cost-effective than hiring a real person.

Across Japan the noodle-making chefs are now made of metal, and when you order a Big Mac at a MacDonald’s in Europe you do it by touch screen. A company called Momentum Machines in southern California has developed a robot that cranks out 400 perfectly-prepared burgers every hour. (Note: Robots do not sneeze. Ever. Think about that for a bit.)

Where is this going? Are we heading for a future where slinky femme fatale robots plot the destruction of mankind while wearing the perfect red dress?

tumblr_meoasoftn81rw2uyvo1_500

Read bullet | 33 Comments »

Altruism in Religion’s Free Market

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

tithe

My colleague Walter Hudson recently concluded that altruism has no place in Christian life:

Christian giving promotes life and health. Altruism promotes starvation and death. Altruism redistributes. Christian giving transacts. Christ’s own words assure us of greater blessing in giving than receiving. Christian giving leaves us better off, not worse. Altruism therefore proves atheistic, as Piper declares. We will never give more to others than God will give to us.

Walter’s basic conclusion is capitalist in nature: A Christian should be rewarded in kind (or over and above) for giving of their money, their time, or their talent. On the face of it, his argument makes sense, especially in light of congregational membership. My Christian friends often complain about the concept of “tithing,” a Torah teaching that is grossly abused by the religious establishment. Far too often, “tithing” translates into religious leadership putting pressure on church members to “donate” up to 10% of their annual income to their church. Synagogue membership, on the other hand, is rather simple: The same flat fee is charged to everyone on a yearly basis. No weekly passing of plates, no feeling ashamed; most synagogues have provision to assist members who may not be able to meet the annual sum. Programming fees are charged for additional events, like holiday services and Hebrew school. This model best fits Walter’s description of being rewarded in kind for monies given.

In the era where religious establishments have become places to fulfill business networking and social needs, it makes sense that you’d pay a fee for the religious service as you would any other mode through which these things would be accomplished. You pay for drinks at bars, JDate and Christian Mingle memberships, and head hunters; someone’s got to pay the electric bill so the lights are on when you’re shaking hands. The only question is, where is God in all of this? If the Bible is right, and we were put on earth to walk with Him in a personal relationship, what is He getting for His services rendered? That is, besides a corrupt priesthood on both sides of the aisle, pressuring congregants for cash and willing to let God take the back seat to a business deal?

Read bullet | Comments »