Month: July 2012

Liberty and Society

This is the first installment of a series that explores the true nature of liberty, how liberty depends on society, how society (properly understood) has been eclipsed by statism and its artifacts, and how society — and therefore liberty — might re-emerge in the United States.

The typical libertarian — like the one who commented on my post “Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism” — will say something like this:

Liberty is simply defined as “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others.”

This is just a restatement of John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle,” which first appears in Chapter I, paragraph 9, of Mill’s On Liberty:

[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Mill himself reveals the emptiness of his formulation in paragraphs 11 through 13:

[11] …I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. Those interests, I contend, authorize the subjection of individual spontaneity to external control, only in respect to those actions of each, which concern the interest of other people. If any one does an act hurtful to others, there is a primâ facie case for punishing him, by law, or, where legal penalties are not safely applicable, by general disapprobation. There are also many positive acts for the benefit of others, which he may rightfully be compelled to perform; such as, to give evidence in a court of justice; to bear his fair share in the common defence, or in any other joint work necessary to the interest of the society of which he enjoys the protection; and to perform certain acts of individual beneficence, such as saving a fellow-creature’s life, or interposing to protect the defenceless against ill-usage, things which whenever it is obviously a man’s duty to do, he may rightfully be made responsible to society for not doing. A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury….

[12] But there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished from the individual, has, if any, only an indirect interest; comprehending all that portion of a person’s life and conduct which affects only himself, or if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation. When I say only himself, I mean directly, and in the first instance: for whatever affects himself, may affect others through himself; and the objection which may be grounded on this contingency, will receive consideration in the sequel. This, then, is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience, in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it. Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow: without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.

[13] No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

The latter two paragraphs (12 and 13) would seem to satisfy the typical libertarian. But they are as empty of content as the bald statement of the harm principle in paragraph 9. What Mill does in paragraph 11 is to pour content into the harm principle — content that the typical libertarian would find abhorrent, for its statism if not for its utilitarianism. The discussion of liberty in paragraphs 12 and 13 cannot be understood without reference to Mill’s restrictive definition of harm in paragraph 11.

To put it another way, liberty — “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others” — is an empty concept unless it rests on a specific definition of harm. Why? Because harm is not a fixed thing — like the number 1 or your house — it is a vague concept that has meaning only when it refers to specific types of act, which then may be judged as harmful by some and unharmful by others. But until harm is defined and agreed through mutual consent (explicit or implicit), liberty lacks real meaning.

My goal in this post is to outline the social conditions that conduce to actual liberty, that is, a kind of liberty that could be found in the real world, given the nature of human beings as self-centered, quarrelsome, often aggressive individuals, as well as loving, cooperative, and generous ones. (Social behavior, in this context, includes what is usually called economic behavior, which is just a kind of social behavior.) I will try to be realistic (rather than pessimistic) about the degree to which liberty is attainable.

I begin with my definition of liberty, which is

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

That may seem just as vague as the harm principle, but it is not. The harm principle is meaningless without an agreed definition of harm. My definition is operationally meaningful, in itself. It says that liberty is found wherever there is peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. Why? Because a society which meets those conditions is a free society to its members, who (by definition) prefer it to alternative conditions of existence. Among other things, they must be agreed about what constitutes harm and how it should be treated.

It is now only(!) a matter of describing the kind of society in which there can be peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. Going from broad characteristics to narrow ones, this is such a society:

1. “Society” has many meanings. This one rings truest:

an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

The “organized patterns of relationships” will include rules about behavior (a moral code). On the negative side, the rules will specify (if only tacitly) what is allowed, what is not allowed, how transgressions should be treated, and how certain mitigating circumstances figure into judgments about and the treatment of transgressions. On the positive side, the rules will specify (if only tacitly) expectations about how certain members of society should treat others (e.g., respect for elders, voluntary aid to those in need, mannerly behavior of certain kinds). A society, in other words, is inseparable from its moral code.

2. Mutual trust, respect, and forbearance allow differences within a society to be resolved through voluntary means, according to its moral code (1).

The means will include compromise; not every member of a society will agree with every rule, the way in which rules are enforced, or every resolution of differences, but every member of society will accept them. When a member of society can no longer compromise his preferences with the enactments of society, and has voiced his discontent to no avail, exit is his only option. Exit, at this stage, is exit from a society, as defined in 1. Unlike the situation that pertains when a person can no longer abide the rules imposed on him by a distant and unrepresentative government that controls a large geographic area, exit from a society need not require physical exile.

3. Mutual trust, respect, and forbearance (2) depend, in turn, on genetic kinship and cultural similarity.

Human beings are, at bottom, tribal creatures. This is a fact of life that cannot be erased by wishful thinking: “Why can’t we just all get along with each other?”

4.  The voluntary institutions of society (civil society) inculcate and enforce a society’s moral code (1), foster mutual trust and respect (2), and help to preserve cultural similarity (3).

The institutions of civil society include families, friendships, neighborhoods, churches, clubs, markets — and interconnected circles of them. Enforcement of the moral code, up to a point, is by voluntary observance (for fear of the social and physical consequences of non-observance. Where unacceptable behavior persists or is egregious, it is dealt with by civil institutions, including ad hoc groups organized for the purpose of controlling, confining, and punishing behavior is uncontrollable through the usual means. Those means include intra-familial punishment, physical retaliation, social signalling (ranging from expressions of approval and disapproval to ostracism, at the extreme). The means, themselves, are encompassed in the moral code.

5. A society’s moral code (1) and culture (3) evolve by trial and error, through the operation of the institutions of civil society (4).

The members of a society perceive that certain behaviors enable the society to thrive, and that others do not. Thriving is a matter of social and economic success, of the attainment of outcomes that the members of society find pleasing, and which they seek to promote by encouraging the behaviors that are consistent with pleasing outcomes and discouraging the behaviors that work against those outcomes. These signals — pro and con — are transmitted through the institutions of civil society (4) and thus become part of the society’s culture (3). Observance of the signals is essential to the maintenance of mutual trust and respect (2).

To summarize: A society coheres around genetic kinship, and is defined by its common culture, which includes its moral code. The culture is developed, transmitted through, and enforced by the voluntary institutions of society (civil society). The culture is the product of trial and error, where those elements that become part of received culture serve societal coherence and — in the best case — help it to thrive. Coherence and success depend also on the maintenance of mutual respect, trust, and forbearance among society’s members. Those traits arise in part from the sharing of a common culture (which is an artifact of societal interaction) and from genetic kinship, which is indispensable to societal coherence.

If the foregoing description is correct, there is one aspect of society — and one only — that a society cannot “manufacture” through its social processes. That aspect is genetic-cultural kinship. To put it another way, it is unlikely that a society’s membership can be drawn from more than one genetic grouping (or cluster), of which there may be dozens. Throw in cultural differences, originating in the geographic separation of otherwise genetically close populations, and the number of distinct genetic-cultural groupings must be very large indeed.

Though it is possible that an occasional outsider can be accepted into a society through acculturation and acceptance, because of bonds that develop between the outsider and insiders, it is far less likely that a society will welcome significant numbers of outsiders. This contention is borne out by the checkerboard and tipping models of voluntary racial segregation:

[E]ven when every agent prefers to live in a mixed-race neighborhood, almost complete segregation of neighborhoods emerges as individual decisions accumulate. In [Thomas Schelling's]  “tipping model”, he demonstrated the effects which emerge when people have varying levels of perception as to acceptable levels for other ethnic groups in the neighborhood. The model shows that members of an ethnic group do not move out of a neighborhood as long as the proportion of other ethnic groups is relatively low, but if a critical level of other ethnicities is exceeded, the original residents may make rapid decisions and take action to leave. This tipping point is viewed as simply the end-result of domino effect originating when the threshold of the majority ethnicity members with the highest sensitivity to sameness is exceeded. If these people leave and are either not replaced or replaced by other ethnicities, then this in turn raises the level of mixing of neighbours, exceeding the departure threshold for additional people. Domino and tipping models were suggested to be explanatory factors for white flight in the 1960s US. Schelling also noted that in different societies, people have residential preferences, for factors other than ethnicity, such as age, gender, income levels.[41] In 2010 Junfu Zhang found support for both the checkerboard model of residential segregation as the only stable spatial arrangement (arrangement not subject to tipping effects), and for tipping effects, showing how these lead to integrated residential areas being irreversibly tipped into complete segregation.[40]

This is “wrong,” in the “liberal” and left-libertarian view of the world.  That view is not based on what can be, given the nature of human beings, but on what ought to be: a desirable but unattainable ideal (see nirvana fallacy).

I will next consider several possible objections to my model of a society’s essence and workings. This series will close with a blueprint for the restoration of society and liberty. The first sequel is “The Eclipse of ‘Old America’ “; the second is “Genetic Kinship and Society“; the third is “Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?

Related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
What Is Conservatism?
Zones of Liberty
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Rush to Judgment
Secession, Anyone?

That’s Life … Expectancy

UPDATED (BELOW) 07/24/12

For no particular reason, I looked up the most recent U.S. life tables issued by … are you ready? … the National Vital Statistics System of the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The full citation is Arias, Elizabeth; “United States life tables, 2007“; National vital statistics reports, vol. 59, no. 9; Hyattsville, Maryland: National Center for Health Statistics, September 28, 2011.

Relevant quotations from the report:

There are two types of life tables—the cohort (or generation) and the period (or current). The cohort life table presents the mortality experience of a particular birth cohort—all persons born in the year 1900, for example—from the moment of birth through consecutive ages in successive calendar years….

…[The] period life table for 2007 [the type presented in the report[ assumes a hypothetical cohort subject throughout its lifetime to the age-specific death rates prevailing for the actual population in 2007. The period life table may thus be characterized as rendering a ‘‘snapshot’’ of current mortality experience, and shows the long-range implications of a set of age-specific death rates that prevailed in a given year…..

…Hispanic females continued to have the highest life expectancy at birth (83.4 years), followed by non-Hispanic white
females (80.6 years), Hispanic males (78.2 years), non-Hispanic black females (76.5 years), non-Hispanic white males (75.8 years), and non-Hispanic black males (69.6 years)….

I constructed a couple of graphs from tables 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, and 18 of the report. The first depicts the additional number of years that a person of a given age (in 2007) could expect to live:

The second graph is self-explanatory:

Mortality rates bottom out at around age 11. Then rates then rise sharply, especially among males. The dangerous years for males extend from age 12 to about age 22. Male mortality then levels off or declines slightly before embarking on its long, steady, inexorable rise.

Hispanic females are the longest-lived of the groups, and have the lowest mortality rate at almost every age. But the pattern of the Hispanic-female mortality rate resembles that of male mortality from age 12 to age 22. Perhaps a lot of Hispanic female are exposed to the risks that beset males in their teens and early twenties. Nevertheless, Hispanic females in that age group fare better than other females.

Non-Hispanic black females fare as well as Non-Hispanic white females until age 20. But in the age range of 35 to 60, Non-Hispanic black females experience mortality rates that are second only to those of Non-Hispanic black males.


The statistics in the tables cited above include estimates of person-years attained for 100,000 live births. The disparities are striking:

Person-years Index*
Hispanic females 8,337,374 1.00
Non-Hispanic white females 8,061,655 0.97
Hispanic males 7,823,786 0.94
Non-Hispanic black females 7,654,925 0.92
Non-Hispanic white males 7,580,601 0.91
Non-Hispanic black males 6,963,840 0.84
* As a fraction of the number for Hispanic females.

Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right

Regarding The New York Times piece by Jason DeParle, called “Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do,’” Rick Garnett says, “Maybe the piece should be called “Dan Quayle was right”? There’s no “maybe” about it. Dan Quayle was right when he said this in 1992:

Right now the failure of our families is hurting America deeply. When families fall, society falls. The anarchy and lack of structure in our inner cities are testament to how quickly civilization falls apart when the family foundation cracks. Children need love and discipline. A welfare check is not a husband. The state is not a father. It is from parents that children come to understand values and themselves as men and women, mothers and fathers.

And for those concerned about children growing up in poverty, we should know this: marriage is probably the best anti-poverty program of them all. Among families headed by married couples today, there is a poverty rate of 5.7 percent. But 33.4 percent of families are headed by a single mother are in poverty today.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there are no mature, responsible men around to teach boys how to become good men, gangs serve in their place. In fact, gangs have become a surrogate family for much of a generation of inner-city boys….

The system perpetuates itself as these young men father children whom they have no intention of caring for, by women whose welfare checks support them. Teenage girls, mired in the same hopelessness, lack sufficient motive to say no to this trap….

Ultimately, however, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failure to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

It doesn’t help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown – a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman – mocking the importance of a father, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another “lifestyle choice.”

I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong. Now it’s time to make the discussion public….

Quayle’s message was derided by the usual suspects, of course. But Quayle’s remarks now apply just as much to whites as to the inner-city blacks whose behavior Quayle cites.

Indeed, DeParle focuses on the example of two white women, Jessica Schairer and her boss, Chris Faulkner:

They are both friendly white women from modest Midwestern backgrounds who left for college with conventional hopes of marriage, motherhood and career. They both have children in elementary school. They pass their days in similar ways: juggling toddlers, coaching teachers and swapping small secrets that mark them as friends. They even got tattoos together. Though Ms. Faulkner, as the boss, earns more money, the difference is a gap, not a chasm.

But a friendship that evokes parity by day becomes a study of inequality at night and a testament to the way family structure deepens class divides. Ms. Faulkner is married and living on two paychecks, while Ms. Schairer is raising her children by herself. That gives the Faulkner family a profound advantage in income and nurturing time, and makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages.

Ms. Faulkner goes home to a trim subdivision and weekends crowded with children’s events. Ms. Schairer’s rent consumes more than half her income, and she scrapes by on food stamps.

DeParle also hammers at inequality in a companion piece to the article quoted above:

An interesting pattern over the last four decades is that inequality has grown much faster for households with children than it has for households over all — an indication that changes in family structure (as opposed to wages and employment alone) have increased inequality….

While the decline of two-parent families is most striking in the bottom quarter, that is a familiar story and had largely occurred by 1990. Much of the recent growth has occurred in the second-lowest quarter, sometimes called the working class. In that group, the share of households with children headed by unmarried parents has soared to nearly 40 percent and the growth has continued in recent years:

The focus on inequality is perverse but predictable, inasmuch as DeParle is writing for The New York Times. Yes, DeParle eventually gets around to mentioning the choices made by the women in question:

College-educated Americans like the Faulkners…

Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree….

[Ms. Schairer] got pregnant during her first year of college, left school and stayed in a troubled relationship that left her with three children when it finally collapsed six years ago. She has had little contact with the children’s father and receives no child support. With an annual income of just under $25,000, Ms. Schairer barely lifts her children out of poverty, but she is not one to complain. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.

Why, then, the focus on economic inequality, which is an unsurprising consequence of the kinds of decisions made by Ms. Schairer and growing numbers of white women? DeParle eventually acknowledges the latter point:

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class — among women like Ms. Schairer who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree.

But Ms. Schairer finds herself in “the lower reaches of the white middle class” because of her decisions — not because of a mysterious force called inequality, which has become the left’s all-purpose excuse for social ills.

The focus on inequality is surely meant to suggest that there is a “problem” about which government should do something. But the real problem is not economic inequality, which (though inevitable) is exacerbated by the rising trend toward broken families and one-parent homes. And that is the real problem, because its victims are innocent bystanders: the children of broken families and one-parent homes.

Rick Garnett asks, what “[c]an can law [i.e., government] do, if anything, about the challenges identified in [DeParle's] piece?” The correct answer is that government should not compensate women like Ms. Schairer for the consequences of their bad decisions. Where government, through various welfare schemes, does compensate the Ms. Schairers for the consequences of their bad decisions, the result is to encourage more such bad decisions. (Economists call it moral hazard.)

The most that government can and should do is to cancel the perverse incentives that it has created in the past several decades: lax divorce laws; favoritism in employment and child-care subsidies that lure women into the working world, away from their children;  and, of course, the welfare programs that reward bad decisions.

Government can’t do anything about the real problem, which is the decline of Judeo-Christian values as a guiding force in the affairs of Americans. Government has hastened that decline, but anything that it might do in an effort to reverse the decline is sure to be counterproductive.

Dan Quayle was almost right when he closed his infamous speech with this:

So I think the time has come to renew our public commitment to our Judeo-Christian values – in our churches and synagogues, our civic organizations and our schools. We are, as our children recite each morning, “one nation under God.” That’s a useful framework for acknowledging a duty and an authority higher than our own pleasures and personal ambitions.

Quayle’s counsel is one of lip-service and, strangely, reliance on government.

Judeo-Christian values, to be vital and effective in the affairs of society, must be inculcated within the family circle. Only when government stops breaking up families will there be hope for a broad resurgence of Judeo-Christian values in America.

I am a realist, however. And so I must close by paraphrasing the conclusion of a recent post. I do not believe that America can recover from its descent into hedonism. Therefore, the “single-parent problem” will not go away, and the dwindling fraction of Americans who conduct their lives conscientiously will subsidize an ever-growing fraction of Americans who make bad “life choices.” America is becoming (has become?) a moral wasteland, replete with one-parent “families,” broken families, and children who suffer spiritual neglect.

Given this state of affairs, it is prudent and desirable for traditional families to insulate themselves, as much as possible, from “mainstream” America. This can be done by limiting one’s social relationships (other than superficial ones) to those persons who share one’s values (even to the exclusion of family members, if necessary), and by home-schooling one’s children or sending them to private schools  that can be relied on to transmit Judeo-Christian values.

Related posts:
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Nature Is Unfair
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Why Conservatism Works

Obama’s Big Lie

I was too easy on Barack Obama in “Barack Channels Princess SummerFall WinterSpring.” It’s not that I gave him a pass for denigrating the accomplishments of successful businesspersons. Far from it. But the Obama piñata deserves another good beating.

This beating is prompted by Jason Brennan’s tone-deaf post, “On Quoting Out of Context and the Right-Wing Smear Machine,” at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Referring to Obama’s remarks in Roanoke, Virginia, on July 13. Brennan writes:

Obama said:

If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…

If you are successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet, so then all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

The right-wing smear machine quotes this out of context, as follows:

If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Wow, notice how quoting out of context changes the apparent meaning of those two sentences. In context, the sentences mean: If you own a business, you relied upon background institutions, infrastructure, and help from others to build that business. Your success depended upon many of the rest of us and on government. You didn’t create everything from scratch. The bolded “that” refers to “this unbelievable American System” and “roads and bridges”. This is what Obama actually said.

Out of context, the sentences seem to mean: You didn’t build your business; someone else did. Quoting him out of context makes it seem like the bolded “that” refers to your business.

Well, as it happens, the only way to interpret Obama’s statement — in or out of context — is to read it exactly as the so-called right-wing smear machine interprets it.  To help Brennan understand that, I hereby reproduce the paragraph from the official White House source:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Note that the official source places an em-dash where Brennan places a comma. I will come to the em-dash in a moment.

The pronoun “that” in the fourth sentence unambiguously refers to “business,” which (in context) is the antecedent of “that.” And the em-dash that sets off the clause “you didn’t build that” makes it all the clearer that “that” refers to “business.” For it is the task of an emphatic clause set off by an em-dash to make an additional or clarifying statement about what immediately precedes the clause.

Further, having introduced the “that” in the fourth sentence, Obama repeats it in the next sentence. So, what Obama says in the fourth and fifth sentence of the paragraph is this:

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that [business].  Somebody else made that [business] happen.

One doesn’t have to be a right-winger to see through Obama’s rhetoric.

It may be legitimate to say that (almost) nothing is accomplished (these days) by individuals working on their own. But Obama is trying, not so subtly, to denigrate those who are successful in business (e.g., Mitt Romney) and to make a case for redistributionism. The latter rests on Obama’s (barely concealed) premise that the fruits of a collective enterprise should be shared on some basis other than market valuations of individual contributions. (Brennan seems to share that view, so perhaps he is not altogether unsympathetic to Obama’s aims.)

It is (or should be) obvious that Obama’s agenda is the advancement of collectivist statism. I will credit Obama for the sincerity of his belief in collectivist statism, but his sincerity only underscores and how dangerous he is. (Note to Jason Brennan: “his” and “he” refer to “Obama.”)

Related reading:
Thomas Sowell, “Obama’s Rhetoric,”, July 19, 2012
Thomas Sowell, “Trashing Achievements,” JWR Insight, July 19, 2012
Mark J. Perry, “Milton Friedman Responds to Obama’s Claim That There Is No Such Thing As Individual Achievement,” Carpe Diem, July 20, 2012
Mark Steyn, “Golden Gateway to Dependency,” National Review Online, July 21, 2012

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
The Price of Government
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
The Real Multiplier
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
The Commandeered Economy
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
In Defense of the 1%
The Real Multiplier (II)
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
“Big SIS”: A Review
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
Barack Channels Princess SummerFall WinterSpring
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in The U.S. of A.
The Economy Slogs Along

The Rationing Fallacy

Sheldon Richman writes:

[S]ome defenders of government control [of health care] acknowledge that rationing is the logical consequence of their ambition. They parry objections by saying in effect: “So we’ll have to ration. Big deal. We already have rationing—by the market.”

For example, Uwe Reinhardt, an economics professor and advocate of government-controlled medicine, writes, “In short, free markets are not an alternative to rationing. They are just one particular form of rationing. Ever since the Fall from Grace, human beings have had to ration everything not available in unlimited quantities, and market forces do most of the rationing.”

Sadly, interventionist economists are not the only economists who talk this way. Most free-market economists would agree that where there is scarcity there must be rationing and that the most efficient way to ration is by price, that is, through the market.

This is factually wrong and strategically ill-advised. As we’ll see, markets–even completely free markets–do not ration….

To see that the market does not ration one need only see that “the market” doesn’t do anything. To talk as if it does things is to reify the market—worse, it is to anthropomorphize the market, ascribing to it attributes — purposes, plans, and actions—that only human beings possess. We may also see this as another instance of literalizing a metaphor, which, as Thomas Szasz has so often warned, is fraught with peril.

I’m not saying that economists don’t realize this diction is a metaphor. Of course they do, and there’s no harm in using this shorthand among those who understand it as such. The problem, as I see it, is that the general public doesn’t fully grasp the metaphorical nature of these statements. For the sake of public understanding, free-market advocates should not welcome a debate in which they begin by saying, “Our method of rationing is better than your method of rationing.”

Better to respond to the interventionists this way: The market does not ration or allocate. The market does not do anything. It has no purposes or objectives. It is simply a legal framework in which people do things with their justly acquired property and their time in order to pursue their own purposes.

I once put it this way:

Economic goods are not rationed by price; price facilitates voluntary transactions between willing buyers and sellers in free markets. Rationing is what happens when a powerful authority (usually a government) steps in to dictate the organization of markets, the specification of goods, and — more extremely — who may buy what goods and at what prices (though dictated prices are essentially meaningless because they do not perform the signaling function that they do in free markets)….

I added:

How will … rationing entice doctors and hospitals to provide services that they are now unwilling to provide? If doctors leave the medical profession, and new doctors enter at reduced rates, what would [an advocate of rationing] do? Begin drafting students into medical schools? What about hospitals that refuse to conform? Would they be nationalized, along with their nurses, orderlies, etc.?

What a pretty picture: Soviet-style medicine here in the U.S. of A. Yet that it precisely where outright rationing will lead if the politburo in Washington sees a shrinking supply of doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers — as it will. Most politicians do not know how to do less. When they create a mess, their natural inclination is to do more of what they did to cause the mess in the first place.

Rationing (in peacetime, at least) is the last refuge of political scoundrels. It gives the appearance of solving a problem, while making it worse.

Barack Channels Princess SummerFall WinterSpring

The princess of the title is Elizabeth Warren, self-reputed to be of Cherokee descent. And, as Native Americans go, Warren is about as authentic as Princess SummerFall WinterSpring of Howdy Doody.

You may remember Warren’s bleat of last September, in support of Obama’s plan to soak “the rich.” It caused ripples in the blogosphere (here and here, for example). The bleat? It goes like this:

I hear all this, you know, Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Last week, in Virgina, The Mighty O said the same thing in slightly different words:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

I repeat what I said in response to Warren’s bleat:

Who said anything about anyone getting rich on his own? But didn’t the factory owner — and other “malefactors of great wealth” — pay a “fair share”of the taxes that support roads, education, and police and fire forces? Yes.* Didn’t the factory owner pay his workers for their labor? Yes, and sometimes (in the case of union workers) at the expense of consumers and those workers who couldn’t find employment because unions effectively limit entry to the labor market.

If anyone owes “the rest of us” anything, it’s the workers who received subsidized educations that enabled them to earn good wages at factories that were built because factory owners, shareholders, bond holders, and (sometimes) venture capitalists put their own money at risk.

Workers and others (including Elizabeth Warren) ought to be grateful to the “malefactors of great wealth” who have — against heavy odds — enabled America’s prosperity.

Tom Smith of The Right Coast weighs in with this:

…{H]ow many more successful businesses, inventions, products, services, toys, tools, insights, and just plain fun would there be, if government did not in the first place make it so ridiculously difficult to start a business and keep it going? I don’t see our young president taking credit on behalf of the state for all the failures it help cause, all the ideas that never got off the ground because the regulatory hurdles were so high, or all the established companies that never had to face competition because they had managed to get their rents written into law. This is part of the seen and not seen insight of Bastiat. What you see is a successful business when it manages to survive, and then people run up, the same people who taxed and regulated it nearly to death, and say I helped! I helped! What you don’t see are all the businesses that perished or never got started because of the heavy hand of the state. And it’s a very heavy hand….

I started a business, commercially unsuccessful, sadly, but we created some great technology. I was a libertarian before that, but I was really a libertarian afterwards. It’s difficult to even explain how pervasive, expensive, frustrating and sometimes just plain insuperable the regulatory and taxation burden of the state is. It’s not what did our venture in, but it helped….

It’s obvious, but still worth saying — for our young President to suggest that government deserves some large part of the credit for the achievements of business founders who manage, in spite of it all, to start a business and make of a go of it, is deeply, deeply perverse. What it ought to get credit for are all the unseen businesses, no longer here or never to be, that it is responsible for.

I can tell you, from bitter experience as a business owner and corporate officer, that Smith is exactly right. The burdens that government imposes on the creation, expansion, and operation of businesses are myriad and onerous. Most Americans aren’t aware of just how much government does to discourage the creation of jobs, income, and wealth because most Americans — even those who are employed — are not exposed to the ugliness of the business-government interface. If business-government transactions were rated like movies, they would be rated XXX.

There is one more thing to be said about the Warren-Obama attack on industriousness. It’s wrong, as any economist worth his salt could tell you. (That excludes Paul Krugman and his fellow worshipers at the altar of big government.) Despite the pretensions of bleeding heart libertarians and their brethren on the left, no one on Earth is qualified to say how much a person deserves to earn. Aside from thieves and others who coerce their earnings from others (e.g., government officials, members of compulsory unions), Americans earn what they are able to command for their services, on the basis of the value of those services to others.

The factory owner who makes a lot of money does so — after having taken the considerable risk of owning a factory and putting up with a lot of crap from government — because what he produces is valuable to others. He is being rewarded more than his employees because he is taking  risks and putting up with harassment. He is, in other words, being rewarded for his contributions to the success of his enterprise. (Did Barack or Elizabeth do anything to help him create it? Did the workers do more than they were paid to do? No, to both questions.)

And if the factory owner loses a lot of money and goes out of business, is it the fault of those who failed to buy his products? Would Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren say that everyone let him down? They should, because by their “logic” the failed factory owner was failed by everyone who didn’t buy his products, and so they owe him something.

But most American business owners are not whiny brats like Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and the freeloaders whose votes they depend on to stay in power.

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
The Price of Government
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
“Buy Local”
Giving Back, Again
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
In Defense of Wal-Mart
Union Thuggery
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth

Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do

Every once in a while, Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) warns against calling Obama a socialist. Here’s a sample:

It is a tactical mistake for libertarians and conservatives to label Obama a socialist. For what will happen, has happened: liberals will revert to a strict definition and point out that Obama is not a socialist by this strict definition. Robert Heilbroner defines socialism in terms of “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production.” To my knowledge, Obama has never advocated such a thing. So when the libertarian or conservative accuses Obama of socialism he lets himself in for a fruitless and wholly unnecessary verbal dispute from which he will emerge the loser.

It is enough to point out that the policies of Obama and the Democrat Party lead us toward bigger government and away from self-reliance, individual responsibility, individual liberty, and sound fiscal policy.  If you want to use the ‘S’ word, you can say that Obama & Co. are pushing us in the direction of socialism.  But calling him a socialist is tactically inadvisable.  Never forget that the whole point is to remove him and his gang from positions of power.  To achieve that goal we need to persuade large numbers of fence-sitters that  that he is leading us down the wrong path.  That persuasion is less likely to happen if we come across as extremists who misuse language….

It’s good advice, and not just for the reasons given by Vallicella. It seems to me that persons of the left — and I mean to include so-called left-of-center “liberal” moderates as well as their “bomb-throwing” brethren on the hard left — suffer a not-fully requited passion for government control of almost everything. As long as it’s their kind of government and as long as their livelihoods are unaffected by what that government controls, of course.

How can so-called “liberal” moderates and “bomb-throwers” be brothers under the political skin? Simple. The so-called moderates like to say that they are against socialism — saying that is what makes them so-called moderates. Yet, whenever a something comes to their attention that they consider unjust, unfair, inequitable, and so on, their knee-jerk response is that government ought to “do something” about it, or to endorse (without thought) the usual and inevitable call for government to “do something” about it. In sum, so-called moderates differ from “bomb-throwers” mainly in being less honest with themselves and others about the depth of their attachment to socialism.

As Vallicella says, leftists will argue that Obama isn’t a socialist. But they will do so only because they know “socialist” is a scare word. And they don’t want their “boy” tainted by a scare word. So they will get technical and defend him (and themselves) by denying that he is in favor of something scary

But, really, they don’t care. To be a socialist is a good thing, even for the so-called left-of-center moderate who tries to conceal his true feelings from himself.

And that is the real reason why it is counterproductive to call Obama a socialist. To be thought of as a socialist (i.e., a lover of big, all-powerful government) is high praise to a large chunk of the citizenry. Daniel B. Klein explains:

Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims — and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romance (henceforth TPR)….

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests….

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved….

[N]ested within the conventional view that government is not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government (“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimum wage law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government…. ["The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)," The Independent Review, v. X, n. 1, Summer 2005, pp. 5–37]

Which brings me to the “f” word: fascism. This is the core meaning of fascism:

Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism. [Morris and Linda Tannehil, The Market for Liberty, p. 18]

That is a proper definition of fascism. It is proper because it is devoid of the emotional baggage that the word carries because of its association with the (rightly) despised regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and lesser figures of the past and present. (That Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei — is an inconvenient fact, and therefore one that is ignored by the left.) Fascism is not — I repeat — not synonymous with such things as concentration camps and the Holocaust. Those were vile  aspects of Hitler’s regime, but they were not fascistic as such. But — and this is a big “but” — it is the lingering memory of concentration camps and the Holocaust that invests “fascism” with its emotional baggage.

The emotional baggage carried by “fascism” can be very useful to libertarians and conservatives who want to see the back of Obama and his crew of brown-shirts. Why? Because, the Tannehills’ definition of fascism fits Obama’s regime (and that of his spiritual predecessors) like a bespoke suit.

If only Romney could find copywriters who had the skills to connect Obama and fascism — subtly but convincingly.  The evidence is there, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots. The word “fascism” couldn’t be used, of course, because it’s a smear word, and its overt use would backfire. But the word could be implied by factually describing the thrust of Obama’s policies, then adding punchlines like these: “Policies that were disgraced long ago”; “Is this the America you want your grandchildren to inherit?”;  “Utopia comes at a high price.” The punch lines would be accompanied by newsreel clips that do not show Hitler, Nazis, or Nazi rallies, but which unmistakeably depict the Germany of the 1930s. Let viewers connect the dots.

Am I going too far in calling Obama a fascist? I think not. Fascism is simply another manifestation of The People’s Romance:

Notwithstanding the arguments of political scientists – who would distinguish fascism from other collectivist –isms such as communism, socialism, or national socialism (Nazism) – these distinctions are really irrelevant because all these forms of collectivism are equally pernicious to, and destructive of, individual rights and freedom. Leftists like to use the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives because they naively believe that socialism is somehow less evil than collectivism of “the right” – that the murder of millions of people killed by Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, by Mao in Red China, or by Pol Pot in communist Cambodia somehow was less evil than the murder of millions of people killed by Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s regime in fascist Italy. Leftists have no legitimate claim on the truth, and neither do they have any monopoly on use of the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives. [David N. Mayer, "2008: Prospects for Liberty," MayerBlog, January 11, 2008]

*   *   *

…B.C. Forbes, the founder of the eponymous magazine, denounced “rampant Fascism” in 1933. In 1935 former President Herbert Hoover was using phrases like “Fascist regimentation” in discussing the New Deal. A decade later, he wrote in his memoirs that “the New Deal introduced to Americans the spectacle of Fascist dictation to business, labor and agriculture,” and that measures such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, “in their consequences of control of products and markets, set up an uncanny Americanized parallel with the agricultural regime of Mussolini and Hitler.” In 1944, in The Road to Serfdom, the economist F.A. Hayek warned that economic planning could lead to totalitarianism. He cautioned Americans and Britons not to think that there was something uniquely evil about the German soul. National Socialism, he said, drew on collectivist ideas that had permeated the Western world for a generation or more.

In 1973 one of the most distinguished American historians, John A. Garraty of Columbia University, created a stir with his article “The New Deal, National Socialism, and the Great Depression.” Garraty was an admirer of Roosevelt but couldn’t help noticing, for instance, the parallels between the Civilian Conservation Corps and similar programs in Germany. Both, he wrote, “were essentially designed to keep young men out of the labor market. Roosevelt described work camps as a means for getting youth ‘off the city street corners,’ Hitler as a way of keeping them from ‘rotting helplessly in the streets.’ In both countries much was made of the beneficial social results of mixing thousands of young people from different walks of life in the camps. Furthermore, both were organized on semimilitary lines with the subsidiary purposes of improving the physical fitness of potential soldiers and stimulating public commitment to national service in an emergency.”

And in 1976, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan incurred the ire of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), pro-Roosevelt historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and The New York Times when he told reporters that “fascism was really the basis of the New Deal.” [from David Boaz's "Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt: What FDR had in common with the other charismatic collectivists of the 30s," a review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch's Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933–1939]

Obama’s regime is nothing less than a new New Deal — on steroids.

Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
The People’s Romance
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America

Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications

This is the third (and probably last) post in a series. The first two posts are “Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle” and “Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action.” The purpose of the series, as suggested by the titles of the posts, is to inject reason (and facts) into the discussion of race. It has been done before, of course, but it cannot hurt to add another voice to the chorus of race-realism.

Yes, I am a race-realist. I believe (based on fact) that the socioeconomic divide between blacks and other racial-ethnic groups in America is primarily a product of genetic and cultural differences that work to the general disadvantage of blacks.

I know that some readers will quickly reject what I have to say, and a lot of them will do so as soon as they reach the end of the preceding paragraph. Why? Because the facts that I present will not comport with their view of the way the world ought to be. What is the “ought to be”? Briefly, it is an imaginary world in which all races are equal in ability, and in which cultural differences hove no bearing on economic achievement. If that is your view of the world, and if you are unwilling to consider a different, fact-based view, you may stop reading now and return to the land of unreality. Before you do that, however, I want you to be aware of one important thing: My own racial views are neutral; that is, I am unprejudiced toward blacks as blacks, though I am greatly opposed to pro-black policies (as opposed to race-neutral ones), which have been harmful to black Americans as well as their countrymen. For evidence of my race-neutrality, see the note at the bottom of this post.

Then there are those readers who might agree with the facts that I present here, but who prefer to ignore them because they might “feed racism” and be used as an excuse to treat blacks as second-class citizens. Racists need no help from me or anyone else who presents the facts about the causes of the socioeconomic divide in America. Racists are immune to facts and see the world as they think it ought to be, which is free of blacks or with blacks shunted to second-class citizenship. The socioeconomic gap between blacks and other Americans cannot be shrunk by ignoring the reasons for the gap. The gap can be shrunk (though never closed) only by understanding its real causes and adopting policies that address those causes.

A note about usage: It is my practice in this blog to put “liberal” (and its variants) in quotation marks when referring to modern liberalism, which is quite a different thing than classical liberalism. The difference, of course, is that modern liberals espouse statism. In particular, they believe that what is adjudged “good” by academic-political elites should be imposed on everyone by the state. And liberty — despite its etymological relationship to the word liberal — be damned. Thus the sarcastic quotation marks, or sneer quotes. In any event, I have, in this post, omitted the quotation marks for the sake of typographical neatness. Rest assured, however, that where I use “liberal” and its variants in this post I am referring to statists and statism.

Continued below the fold. (more…)

Homage to a Former Blogger

I learned recently, and belatedly, that Ilkka Kokkarinen — late of Sixteen Volts, The Fourth Checkraise, and The Wingnut Musings — has retired from blogging. Earlier this year, Kokkarinen published The Wingnut Musings, a no-longer-available book that seems to be drawn from his blog posts.

It is Kokkarinen’s misfortune (in my view) to live and work in uber-politically-correct Canada. (He teaches computer science at Ryerson University in Toronto.) A sad fate for someone like him, who seems born to coin politically incorrect mots justes by the bucketful. It was, evidently, political incorrectness that led to the shutting down of Sixteen Volts in 2006.

In 2007, however, Kokkarinen returned to blogging with The Fourth Checkraise. He took a brief break in 2010. At some point he renamed his blog The Wingnut Musings. That blog ended its run earlier this year. It is possible to find many snippets and chunks of Kokkarinen’s writings — just Google on Ilkka Kokkarinen or the names of his blogs (especially the last two). I cannot choose a favorite insight among his many incisive ones, but I can give you a typical one:

If national borders are bad and everyone should be allowed to live wherever they want regardless of their citizenship status and ethnic heritage… why do you think that it so wrong for some international corporation to move its factory (or some fat Western retiree to move his ass) to some poor Third World country?

You can find much more by Googling (e.g.,  this, this, and this).

It is fitting to close this homage to Kokkarinen by hoping that he will return to blogging (if he may), and by quoting the description of his book (a description that only he could have written):

Do you ever wonder how it is possible for all smart people to know that there is no such thing as intelligence? Or why the most progressive areas tend to have the highest levels of poverty, inequality and distrust, and even the progressives themselves do their best to insulate themselves and their loved ones from their ideas? Or why those eager to get the government out of our bedrooms seem to be equally adamant in giving the government the complete power over living rooms, kitchens, boardrooms, shop floors, classrooms and sports arenas? Or why the ideology that preaches environmentalism and localism but only when it comes to food can proudly extol its frequent flyer cosmopolitanism in all other things, while its twin ideology that preaches sustainability can barely sustain even itself more than one generation? Or how Wal-Mart, fast food, nuclear power, industrial farming and fishing, shopping malls, automobiles, suburbs, drug companies, oil, cheap airline travel and mass tourism can be targets to so much of intellectual disdain even though they have achieved more than all intellectuals together in making the average person wealthier, healthier and more free than the richest emperors of the past? This collection of short but all the more provocative essays throws rocks at many ideas that dominate the modern discourse but ultimately boil down to nothing but narrow group shibboleths for the social class that is anxious of its status, its position ever more precarious due to societal changes that have already made it obsolete. Their ideas are not meant to inform but to enforce conformity and groupthink, and to distinguish the anointed from the lower orders that they are not wealthy enough to avoid being mistaken for. They tolerate no competition or criticism, but form a pervasive and suffocating bubble that always provides the default answer for everything. Even worse, intentionally advocating policies that are harmful for weaker people serves as an imaginary status signal that has detrimental effects on society and those unable to escape their very real consequences… and this group will include many who blithely assumed that they would not be part of it, but will learn differently soon enough. A vaccination against many mind viruses that people believe not because they have thought through the facts and logic but merely because all nice people they know proclaim to believe these things, this book is guaranteed to annoy those on the left side of the political spectrum, and with its spirit of raucous zingers sprinkled amidst blunt observations, both educate and entertain those on the right side of ideas and history.

The force be with you, Ilkka.

The U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession

I have added a page of that title to this blog. Readers may access it through a link near the top of the left sidebar. The page includes a large table that gives the dates of service and lines of succession for every person who has served on the U.S. Supreme Court. This is the text that accompanies the table:

Though there are now only nine justices and nine seats on the Supreme Court, this table lists eleven lines of succession. There is one for the chief justiceship and ten for the associate justiceships that Congress has created at one time an another by changing the size of the Court. In other words, two associate justiceships have “died out” in the course of the Court’s history. The present members of the Court, in addition to the chief justice, hold the first, second, third, fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth, and tenth associate justiceships created by Congress.

The name of every justice is associated with the name of the president who nominated that person to a justiceship (chief or associate). The first date under a justice’s name is the date on which he or she took the oath of office (or was appointed in a recess of the Senate). There is a second date below the name of every justice (except for the nine now serving). That date is the date on which the person left the Court, by death or resignation, and that date may be (and usually is) associated with a president other than one who nominated the justice. The date of a justice’s departure from the Court usually appears directly above the name of the next justice in the line of succession for the same seat on the Court.

Because there is a separate line of succession for the chief justiceship, persons who were already on the Court and then elevated to the chief justiceship are listed in two different places. Also, the names of a few justices appear in more than one place because they served non-consecutive terms on the Court.

Obamacare and Zones of Liberty

Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics at Princeton, offers this tantalizing idea:

Let us set up two distinct systems for health care within our nation. Call one the Social Solidarity system and the other the Libertarian system. Ask young people — at age 25 or so — to choose one or the other.

People joining the Social Solidarity system would know that they will be asked to subsidize their less fortunate fellow citizens in health care through taxes or premiums or both. They would also know, however, that the community will take care of them, and they will not go broke, should serious illness befall them.

People choosing the Libertarian system would not have to pay taxes to subsidize other people’s health care, and they would pay actuarially fair health insurance premiums — low for healthy people and high for sicker people.

Libertarians, however, would not be allowed to come into the Social Solidarity system, unless they were so pauperized as to qualify for Medicaid. Hospitals would have every right to use tough measures to make them pay their medical bills in full, to prevent freeloading at the expense of others.

Furthermore, care would have to be taken to prohibit the kind of estate planning that now often permits well-to-do individuals to take advantage of Medicaid benefits. ["Health Care: Solidarity vs. Rugged Individualism," in Economix, The New York Times, June 29, 2012]

Reinhardt’s suggestion has much merit — his loaded labels aside. The “social solidarity” model really amounts to freeloading, or the futile attempt to freeload. The “rugged individualism” model really amounts to a preference for making one’s own decisions instead of having decisions rammed down one’s throat by government — in other words, a preference for liberty.

But, as I say, the suggestion has merit. And the merit extends far beyond the matter of health care. As John Goodman puts it, “why restrict the choice to health care?”

Which leads to my immodest proposal for zones of liberty:

The 50 States (and their constituent municipalities) are incompatible with the kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers. Today’s State and municipal governments are too bureaucratic and too beholden to special interests; they have become smaller versions of the federal government. For, in today’s populous States and municipalities, coalitions of minority interests are able to tyrannize the populace. (The average State today controls the destinies of 25 times as many persons as did the average State of 1790.) Those Americans who “vote with their feet” through internal migration do not escape to regimes of liberty so much as they escape to regimes that are less tyrannical than the ones in which they had been living.

The kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers — and the kind of federalism necessary to liberty — would require the devolution to small communities and neighborhoods of all but a few powers: war-making, the conduct of foreign affairs, and the regulation of inter-community commerce for the sole purpose of ensuring against the erection of barriers to trade. With that kind of federalism, the free markets of ideas and commerce would enable individuals to live in those communities and neighborhoods that best serve their particular conceptions of liberty.

What do I have in mind? A zone of liberty would be something like a “new city” — with a big difference. Uninhabited land would be acquired by a wealthy lover (or lovers) of liberty, who would establish a development authority for the sole purpose of selling the land in the zone. The zone would be populated initially by immigrants from other parts of the United States. The immigrants would buy parcels of land from the development authority, and on those parcels they could build homes or businesses of their choosing. Buyers of parcels would be allowed to attach perpetual covenants to the parcels they acquire, and to subdivide their parcels with (or without) the covenants attached. All homes and businesses would have to be owned by residents of the zone, in order to ensure a close connection between property interests and governance of the zone.

Infrastructure would be provided by competing vendors of energy, telecommunications, and transportation services (including roads and their appurtenances). Rights-of-way would be created through negotiations between vendors and property owners. All other goods and services — including education and medical care — would be provided by competing vendors. No vendor, whether or not a resident of the zone, would be subject to any regulation, save the threat of civil suits and prosecution for criminal acts (e.g., fraud). Any homeowner or business owner could import or export any article or service from or to any place, including another country; there would be no import controls, duties, or tariffs on imported or exported goods and services.

The zone’s government would comprise an elected council, a police force, and a court (all paid for by assessments based on the last sale price of each parcel in the zone). The police force would be empowered to keep the peace among the residents of the zone, and to protect the residents from outsiders, who would be allowed to enter the zone only with the specific consent of resident homeowners or business owners. Breaches of the peace (including criminal acts) would be defined by the development of a common law through the court. The elected council (whose members would serve single, four-year terms) would oversee the police force and court, and would impose the assessments necessary to defray the costs of government. The council would have no other powers, and it would be able to exercise its limited powers only by agreement among three-fourths of the members of the council. The members, who would not be salaried, would annually submit a proposed budget to the electorate, which would have to approve the budget by a three-fourths majority. The electorate would consist of every resident who is an owner or joint owner of a residence or business (not undeveloped land), and who has attained the age of 30.

A zone of liberty would not be bound by the laws (statutory and otherwise) of the United States, the individual States, or any of political subdivision of a State. (The federal government could impose a per-capita tax on residents of the zone, in order to defray the zone’s per-capita share of the national budget for defense and foreign affairs.) The actions of the zone’s government would be reviewable only by the U.S. Supreme Court, and then only following the passage of a bill of particulars by two-thirds of each house of Congress, and with  the concurrence the president. (A zone could be abolished only with the approval of four-fifths of each house of Congress, and with the concurrence of the president.)

Absent such an experiment, I see only one hope for liberty — albeit a slim one — a Supreme Court that revives the Constitution. Politics as usual will only take us further down the road to serfdom.

I wrote that two years ago, and it is based on a post that is now more than six years old. Much has happened since, almost all of it to the detriment of liberty. Would our rulers dare allow at least a few of us to undertake an experiment in liberty? It is doubtful, because they fear the possibility that the experiment would succeed. And if it did, they would face the prospect of demands for more of the same. And where would that leave them? Without vast power. Scratch the idea of asking the federal government or any State government for a zone of liberty.

But maybe it isn’t necessary to ask. Suppose that a new (unincorporated) city were to spring up in, say, an isolated county with a friendly government. Suppose, further, that the new city’s citizens were to do nothing to organize themselves but (a) set up a police department and (b) hire legal counsel to ensure that the residents obey those State and federal laws that they must obey. And suppose that the city were to be an economic and social success, despite the absence of all of the codes and ordinances that ensnare the residents and businesses of today’s typical city.

Isn’t it worth a try? And doesn’t it beat trying to entice libertarians to move to New Hampshire (brrr!) or to live in international waters (pirates off the bow)?

Obama: Not Bailed out by CJ Roberts

UPDATED 07/03/12

Chief Justice Roberts’s bailout of Obama care — a.k.a. CJ Roberts’s sellout — may have brought some wavering believers in big government back into the corral, but probably not enough of them to rescue Obama from defeat at the hands of Mitt Romney. I continue to forecast a Romney win over Obama, the strong possibility of a GOP takeover of the Senate, and approximately no change in the GOP’s large House majority (see left sidebar).

Further evidence for my forecasts, is found in Scott Rasmussen’s polls about the “popularity” (i.e., unpopularity) of Obama and Obamacare:

Sources: Rasmussen Reports, Obama Approval Index History and Health Care Law.

The latest poll results show a net disapproval rating of -18 for Obama (as of July 3) and a net disapproval rating of -14 for Obamacare (as of June 29-30, the two days immediately following CJ Roberts’s bombshell).

Obama’s net disapproval rating measures the percentage of respondents who strongly approve of his performance, minus the percentage of respondents who strongly disapprove of his performance. It has been three years since the arithmetic yielded a positive number, which is why I usually refer to the poll results as Obama’s disapproval or unpopularity rating.

The ratings for Obamacare are constructed as follows: For the period before Obamacare was signed into law on March 23, 2010, the numbers represent the percentage of respondents who strongly favored the passage of Obamacare, less the percentage of respondents who strongly opposed the passage of Obamacare. From the enactment of Obamacare to the present, the numbers represent the percentage of respondents who have strongly opposed the repeal of Obamacare, minus the percentage of respondents who have strongly favored the repeal of Obamacare.

Needless to say, Obamacare has always been in negative territory. In the latest poll (June 29-30) it gained only one percentage point from the poll conducted a week earlier. The recent uptick began in May, probably as a result of the intense p.r. campaign conducted by Obama and other Democrats (most notably Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee).

The save-Obamacare campaign may have worked on CJ Roberts, but its overall effect has been small. In fact, the recent gain in popularity is minuscule in comparison to the bandwagon-effect gain that began in January 2010 — when it became clear that Obamacare would become law — and continued until the eve of enactment on March 23, 2010.

The real silver lining in the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision — if there is any silver lining — is that the Obamacare target still hangs from Obama’s neck.