Month: September 2005

Tom DeLay and James Madison

No, I do not mean to put DeLay on a par with Madison. Not by a very long shot. But I needed a catchy title. This is about DeLay’s current legal troubles, and why DeLay’s real “crime” isn’t what a Texas prosecutor claims it is.

Sure, Tom DeLay is a tough political cookie. Sure, he plays hardball, like everyone else in Washington — and elsewhere — who seeks to control the levers of power. Sure, in his zeal to wield power he might have broken some Texas law about political contributions (from CNN):

The indictment [handed down today] accused DeLay of a conspiracy to “knowingly make a political contribution” in violation of Texas law outlawing corporate contributions. It alleged that DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee accepted $155,000 from companies, including Sears Roebuck, and placed the money in an account.

The PAC then wrote a $190,000 check to an arm of the Republican National Committee and provided the committee a document with the names of Texas State House candidates and the amounts they were supposed to receive in donations.

Yes, a law is a law, and if DeLay broke it, he should be punished for breaking it. But campaign-finance laws are inherently repressive of free speech, so part of me wants DeLay to get off. And I’m hoping that McCain-Feingold and all of its ilk at the State level will be eviscerated in the 2005-6 term of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court has granted certiorari in Vermont Republican State Committee v. Sorrell, described by SCOTUSblog as a “challenge[] to expenditure limits imposed by Vermont campaign finance laws.” (For more, go here.)

But I will not be sorry if the campaign-finance scandal ends DeLay’s political career. I have no sympathy for a senior Republican (or any other politican) who can say what DeLay said about funding disaster relief. This from The Washington Times:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an “ongoing victory,” and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.
Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans’ choice to borrow money and add to this year’s expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn’t seem possible.
“My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I’ll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet,” the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.
Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.”

Balderdash! Hogwash! Bilge!

It’s time for Republicans to get back to basics: spending cuts to match tax cuts, then more tax cuts and more spending cuts, for as long as it takes to get Congress back to its enumerated powers under Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States.

And don’t be fooled by the “general welfare clause” in the first sentence of Section 8. Here’s why:

In his last act before leaving [the presidency], Madison vetoed a bill for “internal improvements,” including roads, bridges, and canals:

“Having considered the bill…I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States…The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified…in the…Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers…” [1]

Madison rejected the view of Congress that the General Welfare Clause justified the bill, stating:

“Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms ‘common defense and general welfare’ embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

Related posts:

The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract (03/23/04)
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers (06/05/04)
An Agenda for the Supreme Court (06/29/05)
What Is the “Living Constitution”? (08/23/05)

The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design: Part II

A few days ago I wrote about a debate between Francis Beckwith and Douglas Laycock over at Legal Affairs Debate Club. Their topic: “Is Teaching Intelligent Design Illegal?” I concluded with this:

A fundamental illegality occurs when a public-school teacher is barred by law from teaching about a possible explanation for the existence of life. As it also says in the First Amendment: “Congress [and, by extension, all governmental bodies] . . . shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. . . .” It seems to me that a general proscription by any legislative body or court of the teaching of intelligent design as a possibility would be in violation of the First Amendment.

Laycock’s latest entry in the debate nevertheless includes this observation:

Religious students can believe what they want about God’s role in directing or even bypassing natural explanations. The Constitution protects all such beliefs, but they are not scientific beliefs, and they are not beliefs that can be taught—or opposed—in the public schools. The science course can teach only the best available natural explanation; it must leave all questions about supernatural explanations to the private sector.

In sum, freedom of speech on the subject of evolution comes down to this: If it isn’t science, it can’t be taught. Says who? Several months ago, in “Going Too Far with the First Amendment,” I wrote this:

Think of the fine mess we’d be in if the courts were to rule against the teaching of intelligent design not because it amounts to an establishment of religion but because it’s unscientific. That would open the door to all sorts of judicial mischief. The precedent could — and would — be pulled out of context and used in limitless ways to justify government interference in matters where government has no right to interfere.

It’s bad enough that government is in the business of funding science — though I can accept such funding wheere it actually aids our defense effort. But, aside from that, government has no business deciding for the rest of us what’s scientific or unscientific. When it gets into that business, you had better be ready for a rerun of the genetic policies of the Third Reich.

Aside from advancing us down the slippery slope toward absolute statism, the argument that schools should be in the business of teaching only that which courts deem “scientific” is nothing short of fatuous. If schools were in the business of teaching only scientifically valid lessons in government, history, and economics, most of the textbooks that praise government intervention in the economic and social order would have to be burned, for there is abundant evidence of the wrongness of such teachings.

I’ll make a deal with Laycock and his band of merry pseudo-scientists: I’ll let you ban the teaching of ID in public schools if you’ll let me reciprocate by banning the teaching of socialism in public schools.

A Belated Anniversary

September 16 marked the 60th anniversary of the death of John McCormack:

John McCormack (14 June 1884 – 16 September 1945), was a world-famous Irish tenor in the fields of opera and popular music, and renowned for his flawless diction and superb breath control. . .

. . . and for his silvery, lyrical voice.

Here he is singing, appropriately, “Goodbye” by Francesco Paolo Tosti.

Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking

If women are the same as men, except for certain anatomical features, there’s no reason to favor women candidates for office because they might possess more “compassion.”

If a woman’s place is outside the home, whose place is inside the home, where children need the kind of moral education best given by a parent?

Excluding the inculcation of immoral socialistic ideals, public schools cannot venture very far into moral guidance without offending someone’s “sensibilities.” Nor can public schools enforce moral guidance with a quick swat.

And what’s wrong with a quick swat as a way of imprinting a moral lesson? It’s a lot more effective than “Joshua, I’m telling you for the last (100th) time not to do that.”

If the black poor are poor because they’ve been “kept down” by discrimination, then affirmative action isn’t of much use to them, except as a way of victimizing whites. (Moral lesson: Two wrongs don’t make a right.)

If the black poor are poor in spite of generations of welfare programs aimed at them, perhaps the problem is that such programs have created a form of dependency that destroys initiative.

If, as Thomas Sowell argues, “black” (redneck) culture is largely responsible for both the perpetuation of black poverty and racial prejudice, doesn’t that make a strong case for “acting white” instead of clinging to a culture that isn’t even authentically “black”?

And where’s the “compassion” for poor, inner-city blacks when they cannot obtain a better education through school vouchers because of resistance to vouchers by their own “educators” and white “liberals” in adjacent suburbs?

If it’s good to have racial and ethnic diversity in housing and jobs, why isn’t it good to have intellectual diversity (a.k.a. free speech) on campuses?

Homosexuality has driven many Catholic priests to molest boys. The Church wants to protect boys by banning the ordination of homosexuals. Liberals must choose between their reflexive defense of homosexuals and their purported desire to protect children.

That purported desire should also cause them to rethink where they want mothers to spend their days and where they want children to go to school.

The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design

Francis Beckwith of Right Reason has begun a debate with Douglas Laycock over at Legal Affairs Debate Club. Their topic: “Is Teaching Intelligent Design Illegal?” Laycock, in his reply to Beckwith’s opening salvo, says

[i]t is entirely lawful for public school teachers to say we know much less about a natural explanation for the origins of life than about a natural explanation for the evolution of different species once life begins. But it would be an important additional step, sounding more in religion than in science, for the teacher to say that therefore, an intelligent designer must have created the first living things.

I understand the First Amendment’s proscription of the establishment of religion. But I cannot for the life of me understand why it should be illegal for a public-school teacher to suggest that an intelligent designer might have created the first living things. Neither evolutionary theory nor any other branch of science can disprove the existence of an intelligent designer (or God, for that matter).

A fundamental illegality occurs when a public-school teacher is barred by law from teaching about a possible explanation for the existence of life. As it also says in the First Amendment: “Congress [and, by extension, all governmental bodies] . . . shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. . . .” It seems to me that a general proscription by any legislative body or court of the teaching of intelligent design as a possibility would be in violation of the First Amendment.

Like a Fish in Water

A.O. Scott of The New York Times wants to prove that the myth of a liberal movie industry is dead. How? By citing two current box-office hits, Just Like Heaven and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and a few other recent films that are putatively conservative or libertarian in outlook. In “Reading Hollywood, from Left to Right” (Sept. 25, 2005), Scott asserts that

the studios themselves, especially after the stunning success of Mel Gibson’s independently financed “The Passion of the Christ,” have tried to strengthen their connection with religious and social conservatives, who represent not only a political constituency but a large and powerful segment of the market.

All this tells me is that Hollywood is interested in making money, which is fair enough. (Unlike Hollywood hypocrites who make big money with movies that criticize making big money, I don’t begrudge the money Hollywood makes.) But Scott’s assertion says nothing about the determinedly Leftish politics of most Hollywood stars and big-wigs.

Scott’s evidence for the demise of Leftism in Hollywood is the supposed pro-life stance of Just Like Heaven, which apparently has a slapstick finale; an appeal to open-mindedness about religion, which is evidently the message to be taken from The Exorcism. . . ; Mel Gibson’s surprisingly successful The Passion of the Christ, which I recall being anathema to Hollywood before it became a hit; and a rather dumb action-hero animation known as The Incredibles, which I found to be an inferior version of Superman, Captain Marvel, and Batman comic books. And that’s about it, out of the hundreds of movies churned out by Hollywood and the so-called independent studios in the past few years.

Scott’s problem is that, like most liberals, he can’t see the liberalism that surrounds him because it’s his natural milieu. He’s like a fish in water who has been shocked by a small infusion of additional oxygen. It’s not enough to affect his environment significantly, but it causes a brief spasm of alarm.

The Pro-Peace Faction Answers Back

Christopher Hitchens unmasks phony peaceniks in an eloquent piece at Slate: “Anti-War, My Foot.” A widow of the war gets to to the heart of the matter:

“I would like to say to Cindy Sheehan and her supporters: Don’t be a group of unthinking lemmings,” said Mitzy Kenny of Ridgeley, W.Va., whose husband died in Iraq last year. She said the anti-war demonstrations “can affect the war in a really negative way. It gives the enemy hope.”

The road to peace, regrettably, is sometimes through war.

The FEC and Bloggers: Stay Tuned

McQ of QandO says: “In between the bookend hurricanes, the FEC still has bloggers in its focus.” In the linked story, Federal Election Commission vice-chairman Michael Toner

argued that political activity on the Internet fails to meet the campaign finance law’s threshold to stop corruption or the appearance of corruption. Toner urged Congress to pass a law that pre-empts the court’s action and ensures that the Internet remains exempt from campaign finance rules.

But

Scott E. Thomas, the FEC [chairman], said his agency’s original exemption for the Internet was a mistake and the FEC should come up with rules for Internet campaign ads in light of the $14 million spent on Internet ads in the 2004 campaign.

Thomas said Congress should hold off on any legislation until the FEC acts.

Another commissioner, Ellen Weintraub, said the agency preferred a “less is more” approach.

“This is appropriate because the focus of the FEC is campaign finance,” she said. “We are not the speech police.”

Glad to hear it, but the FEC is currently acting under an order from U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, which struck down the FEC regulations that had allowed those advertising on the Internet to avoid many of the requirements of McCain-Feingold. And so, if the judge has her way and you say anything positive about a candidate, or negative about the candidate’s opponent, you might be found to have given a campaign contribution in kind to the candidate. Then the FEC could have its way with you.

Thanks a bunch, judge. Also thanks a bunch to U.S. Reps. Christopher Shays and Marty Meehan, who brought the suit against the FEC, and to those great defenders of freedom of speech, Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, who filed an amicus brief in support of Shays and Meehan. What those paragons of liberty and their brethren in Congress want is for all of us to shut up, because silence favors incumbents.

What should happen is this: When the U.S. Supreme Court has its full complement of justices, some persons with standing (bloggers among them) would file a challenge McCain-Feingold. The challenge by Senator Mitch McConnell failed in part because he was deemed to lack standing, but it failed mainly because of the Court’s balance. Chief Justice Rehnquist wasn’t a wholly reliable support of free speech; Justice O’Connor is even less so. Two new justices, Roberts and ?, could swing the balance back toward freedom of speech.

But no matter how it comes out, they’ll have to pry this blog from my cold, dead hands.

A Concession, of Sorts

I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and again in 2004. I now conclude that my preference for Bush is vindicated by perhaps as few as five things, the first four of which haven’t panned out as well as expected:

  • the vigorous military response to 9/11, including the strategically wise if tactically flawed invasion of Iraq
  • the effort to reduce taxes, in the vain hope of choking off non-defense spending — a hope that he, himself, has helped to shatter
  • the effort to begin privatizing Social Security, which was strategically wise and tactically botched
  • some reduction in the rate of expansion of the Code of Federal Regulations.

The fifth thing is Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice, because Roberts seems to be dedicated to the primacy of the Constitution, though he says bothersome things about the “respect” owed precedent.

I am hopeful about the choice of Roberts, but I had high hopes about Bush’s ability to prosecute the war in Iraq, his resolve to cut spending, his ability to sell some form of Social Security privatization, and his willingness to roll back the regulatory state.

I will therefore reserve judgment about the appointment of Roberts until it is certain that Roberts is dedicated to the Constitution and — in spite of his declarations to the Senate Judiciary Committee — can find ways to work around precedents that have undermined the Constitution.

That’s all I can find to say in Bush’s favor at this stage of his presidency. The man is smarter than his enemies like to portray him, but he is far more “political” and far less principled about the proper role of government than I had expected him to be. He is turning out to be his father’s son.

The Supreme Court: Our Last, Best Hope for a Semblance of Liberty

In the second postscript to this post I reaffirm my conviction that government “could not have done as well as private citizens and business owners, had they been allowed to keep their tax dollars and use them to prepare for and recover from Katrina.” I then list several related posts. All of which, if read by anyone from Center to Left, would draw a retort along these lines: “How is a bunch of individuals going to deal with something as massive as a natural disaster. Only government can do things like that, and do them efficiently.” Or “There are just some things that people can’t be trusted to do for themselves.”

It’s precisely that kind of thinking which has brought us to where we are today: in the grip of the regulatory-welfare state, which has made us immensely less prosperous than we could be. Free-market capitalism, which is how individuals cooperatively make wise and fruitful decisions — when they are allowed to do so — has been brought to heel by legislators, executives, judges, and regulators.

A central rationale for the regulatory-welfare state, of course, is the notion that government should do things people can’t be “trusted” to do for themselves. There is the paternalistic assumption that someone else knows better than you how you should run your life. Paternalists are blind to the opportunity cost of paternalism, which is that when someone else makes your decisions for you, you are less able and less likely to make good decisions for yourself.

The paternalistic assumption, in other words, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When government makes certain decisions for you (e.g., by providing “free” education and a sort of retirement program) and then charges you for the privilege, you are in a double bind. You are herded toward or forced into certain government programs, which may fall far short of meeting your needs. But because of the taxes and fees you pay to support those government programs, you are left with less money. Thus you may be unable to afford the better alternatives provided by markets — where markets are allowed to provide alternatives, at all.

Paternalism on the part of the central government supposedly is curbed by the enumeration of Congress’s powers in the U.S. Constitution, which enumeration has long since become an irrelevancy. In any event, when it comes to paternalism, State and local governments are always ready to pick up any slack left by the central government. The end of Lochner-era substantive due process (defended quite nicely, here) effectively unshackled State and local governments, which can now justify almost anything as a “compelling governmental interest.” And, if they can’t, the U.S. Supreme Court can continue to manufacture other excuses for paternalism, as majorities of its members did this year in Raich and Kelo.

So, where does it all end? Unless the U.S. Supreme Court is turned around fairly quickly, I think it ends in the continued expansion of state control of what should be private conduct; for example:

  • Laws against certain “hateful” forms of expression.
  • Detailed regulation of Internet content, under the rubric of McCain-Feingold and the Commerce Clause.
  • More and more bans on the use of tobacco in so-called public places, and even in private clubs and homes.
  • Further reliance on regulation rather than property rights and free markets to control products and activities that might affect the environment.
  • Further interference with the actions of institutions that are private and voluntary (e.g., a holding that the Catholic Church’s impending ban on the ordination of gay priests violates “equal protection”).
  • More government interventions that undermine the shreds of our barely civil and self-regulating society (e.g., approval of involuntary euthanasia, requiring employers to put “partners” on a par with heterosexual spouses).
  • The creation of ever more massive bureaucracies to deal with “problems” that the central government (at least) shouldn’t be involved in (e.g., the creation of a “disaster czar”).

I could pile it on, as could many of you. But the drift is obvious. God save the U.S. Supreme Court, for it may be our last line of defense against total statism.

A Challenge to My Senators

I’m about to send the following message to Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas:

The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison/John Cornyn
United States Senate
Congress of the United States
Washington, D.C.

Dear Senator Hutchison/Cornyn:

I’m writing to you about Hurricane Rita, which may soon strike a devastating blow to Texas. As you know, President Bush has said that the federal government will pick up the tab for rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That tab is estimated to be about $200 billion, or around $700 per American. I hope that the $700 will be funded by cutting “pork” and other unnecessary government spending, as President Bush has suggested.

So, in spite of the prospect of grievous damage to homes and businesses in Texas — and in the expectation that persons who live near the Texas Gulf Coast will evacuate inland — I hope that Hurricane Rita leads to the following results:

1. The President should call for the uninsured damage to be defrayed by taxpayers, as before.

2. The cost of Rita will lead to additional cuts in unnecessary federal spending.

3. This will continue as additional hurricanes and other unavoidable natural disasters occur, depleting all unnecessary federal spending for FY2006, and perhaps beyond.

4. Congress, then facing the prospect of evolving into a sort of disaster-relief agency with the power to appropriate funds, will resist any further spending on disaster relief, by issuing the following joint resolution:

WHEREAS, the legislative power of the Congress of the United States is limited by Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States, and

WHEREAS, said Section does not contemplate the provision of disaster preparedness or relief, notwithstanding previous and erroneous interpretations of the Commerce, General Welfare, and Necessary and Proper Clauses of the Constitution, and

WHEREAS, Congress shall therefore no longer be a party to disaster-preparedness and disaster-relief programs that have the effect of encouraging and subsidizing the maintenance of residences and businesses in high-risk areas, and

WHEREAS, such encouragement imposes undue burdens on those persons who sensibly choose not to live in high-risk areas, and

WHEREAS, persons and businesses who choose to live and operate in high-risk areas should be responsible for protecting and insuring themselves and their property, and

WHEREAS, when persons and businesses do not take responsibility for themselves they make economically inefficient decisions that have ramifications for the well-being of all Americans, in addition to the direct costs of disaster preparedness and disaster relief, and

WHEREAS, the functions of disaster preparedness and relief can be provided more effectively and at lower cost through private insurance (if properly deregulated); other cooperative, market-based measures; and private charity, and

WHEREAS, government programs absorb funds that individuals and business could put to better use in such private endeavors, and

WHEREAS, the defense of Americans and their property from armed attacks is a legitimate function of the United States government, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED that from this day forward Congress shall not appropriate or make any other provision for disaster preparedness or disaster relief, except as necessary in the event of attacks upon the persons and/or property of American citizens by enemies of the United States, foreign or domestic.

Respectfully,
Liberty Corner

Enough of Altruism

These are excerpts of a very long post at Liberty Corner II, where my longest posts reside.

A while back I posted “Redefining Altruism,” in which I said:

Altruism is defined as “the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.” . . . A better definition of altruism would go like this:

Altruism is the quality of concern for the welfare of others, as evidenced by action. An altruistic act is intended, necessarily, to satisfy the moral imperatives of the person performing the act, otherwise it would not be performed. The self-interestedness of an act altruism does not, however, detract in the least from the value of such an act to its beneficiary or beneficiaries. By the same token, an act that may not seem to arise from a concern for the welfare of others may nevertheless have as much beneficial effect as a purposely altruistic act.

There is no essential difference between altruism, defined properly, and the pursuit of self-interest, even if that pursuit does not “seem” altruistic. In fact, the common belief that there is a difference between altruism and the pursuit of self-interest is one cause of (excuse for) purportedly compassionate but actually destructive government intervention in human affairs.

Don Watkins III of Anger Management had much to say about my post, including this:

Thomas is defending psychological egoism: the view that all actions are selfish, because the fact that a person chooses to do something shows that he valued it more than the other options available to him. He then uses this premise to try to reconcile altruism and self-interest. . . .

I am not defending psychological egoism, nor am I trying to reconcile psychological egoism and altruism. I reject the concept of psychological egoism because it’s just a label for behavior that seems to involve a “gain,” as Don would have it. I similarly reject the concept of altruism because it’s just a label for behavior that seems to involve a “loss,” as Don puts it. The problem with trying to separate egoism and altruism is that a person’s behavior arises from a single human mind. One cannot accept a “loss” without considering (even for a subconscious instant) the potential “gain,” and vice versa. . . .

Let me make it clear that Don’s post isn’t a defense of altruism but of the concept of altruism against my denial that there is such a thing as altruism. In the essay linked to by Don, Rand makes it clear that she has no use for altruism. . . .

Rand gives altruism a life of its own — makes an evil totem of it — in order to oppose it. And that is where Don goes wrong: He insists that there is a separately identifiable thing called altruism. I am surprised that an Objectivist adheres to the notion that there is such a thing, for, as Rand says, “Reality exists as an objective absolute — facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.” . . .

The implication of calling another person’s act a “sacrifice” is that someone can get into that person’s mind and determine whether the act was a gain or a loss for the person. I say that someone must be able to get into the person’s mind because I don’t know how else you one determines whether or not an act is altruistic unless (a) one takes the person’s word for it or (b) one assembles a panel of judges, each of whom holds up a card that says “altruistic” or “selfish” upon the completion of an a particular act. . . .

My argument rests on the proposition that human actions are, by definition, driven by the service of personal values, which come to us in many and mysterious (but not supernatural) ways. As a consequentialist, I prefer to look at results, not motivations. (“The road to hell,” and all that.) I eschew terms like altruism and egoism because they imply that a given result is somehow better if it’s “properly” motivated. A result is a result. What matters, to me, is whether the result advances liberty or infringes on it. What matters to others may be something else entirely. . . .

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL POST.

Enough of Altruism

This one’s for Don Watkins III of Anger Management, who has announced that he’s shuttering his blog and taking down his archives. (The links in this post to Don’s blog and posts may not be working by the time you read this.) I’ve been fiddling with this post for a few months, off and on, in the hope that Don would reply to it at Anger Management. Perhaps, if he has the time, he’ll acknowledge it at Diana Hsieh’s blog, where he promises to post occasionally.

A while back I posted “Redefining Altruism,” in which I said:

Altruism is defined as “the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.” . . . A better definition of altruism would go like this:

Altruism is the quality of concern for the welfare of others, as evidenced by action. An altruistic act is intended, necessarily, to satisfy the moral imperatives of the person performing the act, otherwise it would not be performed. The self-interestedness of an act altruism does not, however, detract in the least from the value of such an act to its beneficiary or beneficiaries. By the same token, an act that may not seem to arise from a concern for the welfare of others may nevertheless have as much beneficial effect as a purposely altruistic act.

There is no essential difference between altruism, defined properly, and the pursuit of self-interest, even if that pursuit does not “seem” altruistic. In fact, the common belief that there is a difference between altruism and the pursuit of self-interest is one cause of (excuse for) purportedly compassionate but actually destructive government intervention in human affairs.

Don Watkins III of Anger Management had much to say about my post, including this:

Thomas is defending psychological egoism: the view that all actions are selfish, because the fact that a person chooses to do something shows that he valued it more than the other options available to him. He then uses this premise to try to reconcile altruism and self-interest.To grasp the fallacy on which psychological egoism is based, take a simpler case of the same error: those who argue that every action involves a sacrifice since, no matter what value one pursues, one is necessarily giving up or choosing not to pursue something else. A sacrifice, on this view, is anything a person gives up in exchange for something else. What epistemological fallacy is involved here? Uniting by non-essentials.

To define the concept “sacrifice” this way obfuscates two essentially different kinds of results: a gain and a loss. It says that trading a dollar for a penny is essentially the same as trading a penny for a dollar, since in both cases you gave something up in exchange for something else. What that definition evades is the fact that in one case you gained values from the exchange, while in the other case, you lost values.

If the purpose of a concept is to unite similar existents according to their essential characteristics, then any concept that does not distinguish between a gain and a loss is an invalid concept.

Properly speaking, to sacrifice is to surrender a higher value for a lower value or a non-value. A sacrifice is a loss. . . .

Thomas’‚’s error should now be apparent. By equating all chosen actions with self-interested actions, he is uniting essentially different units under a single concept: he is uniting those actions a man chooses for the purpose of sustaining his life and achieving his happiness, and those aimed at sacrificing his life and his happiness for others. He is uniting Mother Teresa and Bill Gates. Peter Keating and Howard Roark. They are all selfish, he says, because they all chose to take the actions they valued the most. . . .

Here is a proper, essentialized definition of altruism: “The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to live for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value” (Ayn Rand, PWNI).

Advocates of the “everyone is selfish” doctrine do not deny that, under the pressure of the altruist ethics, men can knowingly act against their own long-range happiness. They merely assert that in some higher, undefinable sense, such men are still acting “selfishly.” A definition of “selfishness” that includes or permits the possibility of knowingly acting against one’s long-range happiness, is a contradiction in terms (“Isn’t Everyone Selfish?”, VOS, 69). . . .

What Thomas . . . is saying is that the good of others can be achieved by means of self-interested action, and so therefore there is no conflict between altruism and self-interest. But this misses the point: the good of others is not the standard of altruism, neither historically nor philosophically. Altruism means self-sacrifice, it means sacrificing oneself to others.

It is true, that if one lives selfishly, he will end up benefiting others, but this does not make him an altruist, any more than the fact that by sacrificing himself for others, the altruist gets a momentary sense of satisfaction makes him an egoist.

I am not defending psychological egoism, nor am I trying to reconcile psychological egoism and altruism. I reject the concept of psychological egoism because it’s just a label for behavior that seems to involve a “gain,” as Don would have it. I similarly reject the concept of altruism because it’s just a label for behavior that seems to involve a “loss,” as Don puts it. The problem with trying to separate egoism and altruism is that a person’s behavior arises from a single human mind. One cannot accept a “loss” without considering (even for a subconscious instant) the potential “gain,” and vice versa.

So, it seems to me that what I am talking about is the motivation of a person who commits a seemingly altruistic act, whereas Don is talking about some external force that seems to demand altruism of us. My mistake was to use the term “self-interest” as shorthand for that motivation. There is no “egoism” or “altruism,” there’s simply behavior that reflects an individual’s values, and which seeks to serve those values.

Let me make it clear that Don’s post isn’t a defense of altruism but of the concept of altruism against my denial that there is such a thing as altruism. In the essay linked to by Don, Rand makes it clear that she has no use for altruism:

As to altruism — it has never been alive. It is the poison of death in the blood of Western civilization, and men survived it only to the extent to which they neither believed nor practiced it. But it has caught up with them — and that is the killer which they now have to face and to defeat. That is the basic choice they have to make. If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject….

What is morality? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions — the choices which determine the purpose and the course of his life. It is a code by means of which he judges what is right or wrong, good or evil.

What is the morality of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to live for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice — which means: self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction — which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as the standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”

Now there is one word — a single word — which can blast the morality of altruism out of existence and which it cannot withstand — the word: “Why?” Why must man live for the sake of others? Why must he be a sacrificial animal? Why is that the good? There is no earthly reason for it — and, ladies and gentlemen, in the whole history of philosophy no earthly reason has ever been given.

It is only mysticism that can permit moralists to get away with it. It was mysticism, the unearthly, the supernatural, the irrational that has always been called upon to justify it — or, to be exact, to escape the necessity of justification. One does not justify the irrational, one just takes it on faith. What most moralists — and few of their victims — realize is that reason and altruism are incompatible. And this is the basic contradiction of Western civilization: reason versus altruism. This is the conflict that had to explode sooner or later.

The real conflict, of course, is reason versus mysticism.

Rand gives altruism a life of its own — makes an evil totem of it — in order to oppose it. And that is where Don goes wrong: He insists that there is a separately identifiable thing called altruism. I am surprised that an Objectivist adheres to the notion that there is such a thing, for, as Rand says, “Reality exists as an objective absolute — facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.” Yet, in a reply to my comment on his post, Don said:

. . . The reason I define altruism as “self-sacrifice in the service of others” is because that is the fundamental characteristic that distinguishes altruism and egoism.

And altruism and egoism ARE distinct. They are distinct, because egoism doesn’t mean doing whatever you want to do. It means identifying the actual requirements of human life, and using your mind to enact those requirements. Altruism says that your concern must not be with your interests, but the interests of others. This makes self-sacrifice the crowning moral virtue of the altruist ethics.

And there’s the heart of the matter: Don Watkins separates and reifies egoism and altruism. He’s quite clear about the reification of altruism in a later post:

Sheldon Richman notes a peculiar criticism of Wal-Mart’s charity operations…they’re too selfish:

Consider this: Wal-Mart is the biggest corporate donor in the country. The Foundation Center says the Wal-Mart Foundation is second to none in contributing money to charitable causes, with annual donations totaling $120 million. If for no other reason, youÂ’d think this would win some plaudits from Wal-Mart’s critics — and you‚’d be wrong.

According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), Wal-Mart‚’s efforts hardly qualify as charity at all. ‚“Unfortunately, their philanthropy is more about corporate advertising than it is about helping nonprofits or communities.” That‚’s how NCRP deputy director Jeffrey Krehely sees it. Anyone surprised?

That’s the naked face of altruism, friends. Altruism doesn’t demand you do good for others, it demands that you sacrifice yourself for others. Self-sacrifice, not the welfare of others, is the essential characteristic of altruism.

Altruism isn’t a force that operates outside us, it’s what we tend to call a certain kind of result when we see it. Don acknowledges that an act which seems to be “selfish” or egoistical” may benefit others, and that an act which seems “altruistic” may give its performer some “egoistical” satisfaction. In doing so, he almost gets it right: What we call “altruism” and “egoism” are simply manifestations of an integrated, internal decision process that thinks not in terms of “altruism” or “egoism” but in terms of serving one’s values.

If altruism exists, where does it come from? How does it operate on us? Is it social pressure, community norms, or the like? If that’s what it is, a person who is under pressure to commit a so-called altruistic act has the option of saying “no” to it. Whether or not a person says “no” to it, the person is making a choice about how best to serve his or her own values. If the person says “yes” and commits what seems to be an altruistic act, that person may seem to “sacrifice” something (e.g., a life, a fortune) but that sacrifice was the person’s choice. A “sacrifice” serves an end: the satisfaction of one’s personal values. Nothing more, nothing less.

The implication of calling another person’s act a “sacrifice” is that someone can get into that person’s mind and determine whether the act was a gain or a loss for the person. I say that someone must be able to get into the person’s mind because I don’t know how else you one determines whether or not an act is altruistic unless (a) one takes the person’s word for it or (b) one assembles a panel of judges, each of whom holds up a card that says “altruistic” or “selfish” upon the completion of an a particular act.

To illustrate my point I resort to the following bits of caricature:

1. Suppose Mother Teresa’s acts of “self-sacrifice” were born of rebellion against parents who wanted her to take over their business empire. That is, suppose Mother Teresa derived great satisfaction in defying her parents, and it is that which drove her to impoverish herself and suffer many hardships. The more she “suffered” the more her parents suffered and the happier she satisified her personal values.

2. Suppose Bill Gates really wanted to become a male version of Mother Teresa but his grandmother — on her deathbed — said “Billy, I want you to make the world safe from the Apple computer.” So, Billy went out and did that, for his grandmother’s sake, even though he really wanted to be the male Mother Teresa. Then he wound up being immensely wealthy, much to his regret. But “Billy” obviously put his affection for or fear of his grandmother above his desire to become a male version of Mother Teresa. He satisfied his personal values.

Now, tell me, who is the altruist, my fictional Mother Teresa or my fictional Bill Gates? You might now say Bill Gates. I would say neither; each acted in accordance with her and his personal values. One might call the real Mother Teresa altruistic because her actions seem altruistic, in the common meaning of the word. But one can’t say (for sure) why she took those actions. Don’s definition of altruism nevertheless requires such knowledge. Suppose the real Mother Teresa acted as she did not only because she wanted to help the poor but also because she sought spiritual satisfaction or salvation. Would that negate her acts? No, her acts would still be her acts, but we would understand them as acts arising from her values. That’s the best we can do absent the ability to read minds.

My argument rests on the proposition that human actions are, by definition, driven by the service of personal values, which come to us in many and mysterious (but not supernatural) ways. As a consequentialist, I prefer to look at results, not motivations. (“The road to hell,” and all that.) I eschew terms like altruism and egoism because they imply that a given result is somehow better if it’s “properly” motivated. A result is a result. What matters, to me, is whether the result advances liberty or infringes on it. What matters to others may be something else entirely.

Objectivism may offer a useful set of values for ordering one’s life. I have yet to find that it offers a good explanation of why we humans act as we do. Rand rejects mysticism, yet the reification of “altruism” is nothing if not mystical.

A Challenge to My U.S. Representative

The text of the following message is exactly as I sent it to my U.S. Representative. I was inspired to write this by N.Z. Bear’s porkbusting project. (I’ve since updated this post, and my message to Rep. McCaul, to get my arithmetic right. I guess I was stunned by the size of the “pork” bill.)

The Honorable Michael T. McCaul
Representative for the 10th District of Texas
United States Congress

Dear Mr. McCaul:

President Bush said in his nationally televised speech last Thursday night that the federal government will pick up most of the cost of rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then, speaking at the White House on Friday afternoon, President Bush said that although rebuilding the Gulf Coast would be expensive, he was “confident we can handle it and our other priorities.” He said the government will “have to cut unnecessary spending” and should not raise taxes.

That leads me to three observations and a request. First, if the federal government is going to pick up the tab for Katrina (presumably the uninsured damage), that’s likely to set a bad precedent for the owners of homes and businesses in other high-risk areas, who will be tempted to skimp on insurance and let the rest of the nation insure them, through taxation. Second, if the federal budget includes $200 billion in unnecessary spending (a mighty low estimate, in my opinion), that $200 billion shouldn’t be in the budget in the first place. Third, neverthless, if the federal government is to provide something like $200 billion in aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, without raising taxes, members of Congress from all states must be willing to give up some of the “pork” that’s scheduled for their districts.

Here, then, is my request. Please identify — and volunteer for elimination from the FY2006 federal budget — enough “pork” from the 10th Congressional District of Texas to eliminate our district’s “fair share” of unnecessary spending. If you can’t find all of it in “pork,” find it in the federal government’s non-defense operations. If each district were to offer up $500 million in “pork” and other cuts, that would amount to $200 billion, plus some spare change. The pork shouldn’t be too hard to find. I went to the website for Citizens Against Government Waste (http://www.cagw.org/site/), scrolled to “Reports” in the navigation bar, clicked on “Pig Book,” then clicked on “2005,” and came to a page where I selected “Texas” and “all appropriations,” and entered “Austin” as my keyword. That produced a list of projects (for Austin alone) which garnered $13.252 million of federal funding in FY2005. The “pork” bill for the entire 10th District for FY2006 must be much larger than that. Surely the residents of the 10th District — most of whom are like me and do not benefit from “pork” — should be willing to surrender their “pork” and any other unnecessary government spending for the sake of hurricane victims.

Be a leader. Be a fiscally responsible Republican. Show your colleagues in Congress that your constituents are willing to cough up their “pork” — and more besides — to set an example for the rest of the country to follow.

Why Government Spending Is Inherently Inflationary

Note that the title of this post doesn’t say “only deficit spending is inherently inflationary,” which is the prevalent conception among laypersons, commentators, and even many economists. In the interest of keeping the preceding post from being any longer that it is, I glossed over the relationship between government spending, deficits, and inflation. This post fills the gap.

That government spending is inherently inflationary can be shown by the following first-order approximation of its effects, in the case where government spending is “financed” by taxes:

  • Suppose the GDP of the United States would be, as it is today, about $12 trillion in the absence of all government. (Actually, as I show here, GDP would be a lot more than today’s $12 trillion in the absence of government — defense and justice, excepted — but I’m giving government some benefit of the doubt in this example.)
  • Suppose government arrives on the scene one fine day and says: “You Americans need our services, so we’re going to tax you $2 trillion in order to provide things that we want you to have.” A few of those things — such as defense and justice — will be worth something to almost everyone. Some of those things will be valued only by persons who want someone else to pay for them. Most of those things will be heavily regulatory and thus will detract from GDP. To assume, as I do in this example, that the $2 trillion is effectively thrown away is to be generous to government.
  • Government’s edict has the same effect as if the producers of $2 trillion worth of valuable goods and services walk off the job. (More accurately, it’s as if they walk off the job and begin to vandalize homes and businesses.) Only, in this case, government entices them off the job with $2 trillion in “tax dollars.” But the the taxes are an illusion.
  • When the producers of $2 trillion worth of real output walk off the job, at the behest of government, it is as if government were destroying real output. But government pretends that it’s producing $2 trillion worth of real output, so (1) it levies taxes for government services, most of which taxes fall on the productive sector, and (2) it pays producers of government services from those taxes.
  • But the producers of real output know what’s happening, so they raise prices by enough to compensate for the taxes they’re paying. And government collects those “empty dollars” in the form of taxes. Why are those tax dollars “empty”? Because they don’t represent real output, government having destroyed the same by enticing producers out of the real economy.
  • In sum, government pays the producers of government services in “empty dollars,” which those producers then try to spend on real output.And so we have $12 trillion chasing $10 trillion worth of real goods and services.

That’s real inflation. No deficit spending necessary. And it happens every time government finds a way to widen the gap between what the productive sector could produce and what it actually produces, after government has worked its will.

What if government were to borrow the $2 trillion instead of raising taxes by $2 trillion? Borrowing doesn’t change the outcome, just the way we get there. It’s still as if the producers of $2 trillion worth of valuable goods and services walk off the job. Only, in this case, government entices them off the job with $2 trillion that it calls “borrowing” instead of “taxes.” Again, if the producers of $2 trillion simply walk off the job, that leaves a real GDP worth $10 trillion. This time, however, the producers of that output don’t raise prices to compensate for taxes; they raise prices to capture the $2 trillion that government puts in the hands of producers of government services. The result is as before.

Here’s another way to look at it: Taxation results in supply-side inflation, as producers of real output raise prices to compensate for taxes; borrowing results in demand-side inflation, as producers of real output raise prices as government injects new money into the system.

What about the “crowding out” effect of government borrowing on private, growth-inducing investment? Here’s the real story:

  • When government enters financial markets for additional funds, that raises the demand for money. The usual result would be higher interest rates, which would tend to dampen private investment and consumption to some degree.
  • However, when government borrows instead of raising taxes it leaves nominal dollars in the hands of the private sector. Some of those dollars flow into financial markets, thus increasing the supply of money.

The precise net effect depends on the marginal propensity to save, and on the elasticity of investment and consumption with respect to interest rates. But it seems likely that the net effect of government borrowing is close to zero. As I wrote here:

The actual effect of government borrowing on interest rates — and thus on the cost of private capital formation — is minuscule, and perhaps nonexistent, as Brian S. Westbury explains:

The theory [that deficits drive up interest rates] suggests that deficits “crowd out” private investment, putting upward pressure on interest rates. In other words, government borrowing eats up the available pool of capital. But today’s forecasted deficits of $300 to $500 billion are just a small drop in the pool of global capital markets. In the U.S. alone, capital markets are $30 trillion dollars deep, for the world as a whole they approach $100 trillion. Deficits of the size projected in the years ahead cannot possibly have the impact on interest rates that many fear….

The next time someone tells your that taxes should be raised in order to be “fiscally responsible” and to stem the tide of inflation, tell him this: Government spending is inherently irresponsible because it reduces real output. And government spending is inherently inflationary, not matter how it’s financed.

Debt Hysteria, Revisited

Recently I had a long and unproductive exchange with a blogger, an evident “gold bug,” who insisted on making a big deal of these factoids:

Dallas Morning News columnist Scott Burns wrote June 1 that the government’s debt is actually “a mind-numbing $43 trillion. . . .”

Burns said the Federal Reserve has put the net worth of all U.S. households at just $40.6 trillion. . . .

Dr. Kent Smetters [an economist on a Treasury Department project], testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Burns wrote.

Smetters told the subcommittee: “The government reports that the national debt in 2003 was about $3.6 trillion in the form of government ‘debt held by the public.’ But that number ignores massive imbalances in Medicare and Social Security programs and the government’s other programs.

“When the liabilities associated with those programs are taken into account, the nation’s fiscal policy is currently off-balance by over $43.4 trillion in present value, a number that is not reported in standard budget documents,” he told the subcommittee. . . .

The hysterical blogger thereupon concluded that “we” are bankrupt because “our” debt outstrips “our” net worth. As I tried to explain to the hysterical blogger, the $43 trillion is not debt “we” (householders) owe today, it’s an estimate of the present (discounted) value of future, unfunded obligations of the U.S government. Only about 1/6 of that amount is now on the government’s books (the current, gross federal debt). The rest won’t become a legal obligation unless and until the government is required to borrow money because future outlays exceed future revenues.

Let me elaborate: $43 trillion is an estimate of the present (discounted) value of debt the U.S. government might eventually owe, given certain projections about revenues and spending (including spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid). Those projections might prove to be wrong, either because of (1) cuts from projected entitlement benefits (which wouldn’t mean cuts in actual benefits, as benefits are scheduled to become more generous), (2) increases in the taxes that partially underwrite those benefits, or (3) some combination of the two. The same is true for government’s general accounts (the ones that fund actual government operations as opposed to transfer payments), which also are subject to future changes in spending and taxes.

But let’s assume that all of the projections will come to pass, so that the discounted value of future government spending less future taxes is in fact $43 trillion. Does that somehow mean we are bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy? No it does not. Consider this example: Mr. & Mrs. X apply for a mortgage loan. Based on their current family income of $100,000, the lender gives them a $250,000 loan to buy a house. Now, I know that the loan becomes a real, current obligation (unlike the $43 trillion), but bear with me. The loan doesn’t bankrupt Mr. & Mrs. X; otherwise, the bank wouldn’t give them the loan. The loan doesn’t bankrupt Mr. & Mrs. X because the lender is pretty certain, based on the couple’s employment history and prospects, that the couple is going to keep making $100,000 a year, and more.

How does that relate to the $43 trillion? The $43 trillion includes today’s federal debt (which already is being serviced) plus a stream of projected future deficits of, let’s say, $1 trillion a year. Now, I don’t like that extra $1 trillion a year any more than anyone else (except liberals, to whom I’ll come). My reason for not liking it is this: It is part (and only a small part) of a massive redistribution of resources by government; taking from those who are productive and either pouring the resources down ratholes or giving the resources to people who haven’t earned them. Regardless of that, Americans can “afford” the extra $1 trillion a year because they’re now making about $12 trillion a year (GDP), less federal, state, and local taxes (excluding transfer payments) of $2+ trillion a year. So, like Mr. & Mrs. X, we taxpayers can afford the annual “mortgage” payment (the additional $1 trillion a year) from future income (GDP), so we’re a good credit risk. Or, rather, the U.S. government is a good credit risk because it can always tap into our pockets by raising taxes.

That brings me to the question whether the U.S. government’s debt can continue to grow, and at what rate. I addressed that question at length in an earlier post on “debt hysteria”; for example:

Because individuals and institutions are quite willing to lend money to the federal government, it can keep piling up debt indefinitely. In fact the federal government has been able to increase its debt almost continuously since opening for business. From January 1, 1791, to April, 19, 2004, the federal debt rose at an average annual rate of 5.5%. During that period, the debt reached a low of $33,733.05 on January 1, 1835. From then until April 19, 2004, the debt rose at an average annual rate of 11.3%. That’s a much greater rate of increase than we’ve experienced recently or expect to experience in the next several years.

What about those future generations? Well, future generations not only “inherit” the debt, they also inherit an offsetting asset. If you lend the government $10,000 by buying a 10-year Treasury note, and you keep rolling the note over (that is, buying a new 10-year note when the old one matures), the note eventually will pass to your heirs.

Future generations of taxpayers also inherit an obligation to pay interest on the federal debt. But those same future generations receive the interest that is being paid.

What about debt service? It comes down to the same thing. One person’s interest payment is another person’s income. The interest rate on the government’s debt does fluctuate, but that’s due less to the size of the debt than to conditions in credit markets. U.S government debt, as large as it is, is a small component of global capital markets — currently less than 10 percent. (There’s a relevant chart about interest on the debt in this post by The Skeptical Optimist.)

What about those “foreigners” who hold U.S. government debt? There is the notion that, by holding our debt, foreigners have a “hold” over us. How so? It hurts them if U.S. debt loses value. Foreigners have absolutely no incentive to “dump” U.S. debt unless financial markets already have signaled that it’s losing value, or unless they get wind of a sudden, unanticipated change in America’s economic picture. The $43 trillion isn’t such a change; it’s long been anticipated by financial markets. In any event, given the liquidity of U.S. government securities, there is scant room for speculative attacks on those securities. If any large investor were “dumping” U.S. debt, in the absence of new information, that would be the investor’s loss because the investor would be driving down the value of its own holdings. The value of those holdings would return to something like their former levels once the investor had finished its “dumping,” thus rewarding the buyers with windfall profits.

Variations in the price of U.S. government debt depend mainly on inflationary expectations for the U.S. vis-a-vis other countries. Inflationary expectations and trade deficits also influence exchange rates, and exchange rates play back into the price of debt. We’ve been through periods of high inflation, high interest rates, large trade deficits, and low exchange rates at varying times, and we’ll go through them again. Today we have relatively low (but rising) inflation, and relatively low (but rising) interest rates, a persistently large trade deficit (willingly financed by foreigners), and therefore a falling exchange rate. But all of that can and will change as higher interest rates and lower exchange rates work their way through the economy, dampening investment and consumption spending and, therefore, imports.

Today is not forever. Doomsaying is an ancient and long-discredited profession. Remember the ten years between the “oil shocks” of the early 1970s and the end of double-digit inflation in the early 1980s? Remember the next 20 years of almost unmitigated economic growth with low inflation? Extrapolating from current economic conditions is a sucker’s game, unless you bet on the underlying trend in the U.S., which is long-term economic growth.

Yes, we could go through a prolonged period of higher inflation and higher interest rates, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. government won’t be able to fund its debt. Someone always steps up to buy U.S. government debt, because it’s so secure. And given the underlying strength of America’s economy, which is the source of the U.S. government’s good credit, someone always will buy U.S. government debt.

And now we come to the real problem: government spending. Whether government spending is financed by debt or taxes, it is a generally destructive force. Government spending (with some exceptions for defense and justice) results in the gross misuse of resources. And the ways in which Americans are taxed to fund government spending (which is still how most of it is funded) tends to penalize, and thus discourage, growth-inducing initiatives.

Let me say it again: The real problem isn’t government debt, it’s government spending. Government debt is the effect, not the cause; the symptom, not the disease. Our “leaders” in Washington obviously don’t want to do anything to fight the disease; they’re like terminal alcoholics who keep ordering triple shots.

It’s up to libertarians and legitimate conservatives to make some real noise about government spending. Focusing on debt plays into liberals’ hands because they’ve come around to “fiscal responsibility” — their kind of fiscal responsibility: higher taxes to support higher spending.

Liberals and the Rule of Law

Liberals never quit. They defended Clinton because his “heart was in the right place” when it came to women, even though he was blatantly guilty of the anti-feminist sin of sexual predation. Republicans cried “rule of law,” but Democrats weren’t buying it, because Clinton — the sexual predator — was their man. In other words, liberals believe in neither the rule of law nor in any principle that can’t be sacrificed to their agenda of the moment, whether it’s keeping a law-breaking president in the White House or stealing an election by interpreting hanging chads.

Now comes Dahlia Lithwick of Slate to tell us why Judge John Roberts isn’t fit to be Chief Justice:

All afternoon, witnesses have been testifying back and forth about John Roberts. His supporters call him brilliant and kind and diligent and principled. His detractors mostly say he doesn’t get it. . . .

Back and forth the witnesses go—Roberts is great/Roberts doesn’t get it—never really acknowledging that they are not disagreeing; that it’s possible to be kind and smart and to believe in the rule of law and also not to get it.

Because the “it” in question has nothing to do with the rule of law. It’s about something I might call “law-plus”—the idea that the rule of law, in and of itself, has not always made this country fair. . . .

John Roberts isn’t a fan of law-plus. In fact, the unbounded nature of judicial power under law-plus is probably what drove him into the boiler room of the Reagan administration in the first place. Time and again he scolds the senators: If you want your statute to provide money damages, write it that way; if you want your legislation to implicate interstate commerce, write it that way. For Roberts, it is not the courts’ responsibility to make statutes effective. It is not even the courts’ responsibility to make the world fair. . . .

The problem isn’t whether John Roberts can be principled and fair on a thoroughly passive court. I’m sold on that. It’s whether a thoroughly passive court can ever truly be principled and fair.

In sum, the law be damned, just give us what we want and call it “fair.”

Rejection of the rule of law, which is what Lithwick and her ilk openly propound, means that no one knows what the rules are and that government can do anything it wants. If a judge says it’s right to take property away from homeowners and give it to developers, that’s “fair.” If a judge says that it’s right to discriminate against white persons because they aren’t black, that’s “fair.” Fair to whom? Fair to whomever liberals want to favor on any given day: Bill Clinton, developers, blacks upon whose votes they count, and on and on.

In the end, the liberal schema leaves all of us adrift, except for those in the inner circle, who are clued in from day to day as to what’s considered fair. The rest of us — black and white, rich and poor, rural and urban, religious and irreligious — must muddle along wondering what twist the law is going to take today. Will it follow the Constitution and laws made pursuant to the Constitution, or will it veer off in a new direction, favoring the liberal community’s cause du jour and leaving the rest of us in the lurch — without the education for which we are qualified, without the job for which we are qualified, and without the home in which we had hoped to spend our remaining years.

If you don’t like the law, get the legislature to change it, or get the legislature and the people to amend the constitutional meta-law. That’s too hard for liberals, who prefer a “fair” judge who will simply change the law without the bother of legislating and amending. And why is that? Because liberals know that in many instances they wouldn’t get what they want. And, guess what, that wouldn’t be “fair.”

You see, “fairness” is a shell game. And the owner of the game always wins. That’s the liberal agenda. To win, and screw anyone who gets in the way. “Fairness” is fair only to liberals, and that’s the way they want it.

So the next time a liberal tells you “it’s only fair,” ask “fair to whom?”

Senator Specter Abuses the Constitution

According to an article at The American Spectator (referring to a post at Mirror of Justice), Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee) asked this of Judge John Roberts:

When you talk about your personal views and, as they may relate to your own faith, would you say that your views are the same as those expressed by John Kennedy when he was a candidate, when he spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960, quote, do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me, close quote?

I believe that Senator Specter violated Article VI, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution, which states in part that

no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

What was the senator’s question, if not a religious test?