In 2009 I predicted that the Obama administration and Congress would create two bubbles to replace the recently burst housing bubble: a green bubble and an automotive bubble. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that "green" jobs were produced four times as fast as all other types of jobs together in the U.S. during 2010–2011. There were about 3.4 million "green" jobs in the U.S. at that time, one-fourth of which were government-sector jobs.
I think the growth of such jobs, especially in the government sector and especially in compliance-related roles—which take valuable labor away from productive roles in the economy—is evidence of a growing, albeit small, green bubble. I join Keith Hall and Investor's Business Daily in lamenting the subsidization and growth of green jobs and the waste and opportunity costs they entail.
If the people wanted the goods and services that green-technology jobs produced, then private companies and individuals would fill those jobs and would make a profit doing so. There is no evidence that legislators, lobbyists, and bureaucrats know how to allocate resources more effectively (as measured by any criteria besides rent-seeking and cronyism) than the free market does.
Comedian Patton Oswalt echoes my feelings about humanity, and expresses them better than I probably would have, in response to the bombings at the Boston Marathon:
Boston. Fucking horrible.
I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."
But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.
But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.
But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."
Patton Oswalt posted that to his Facebook page, which I saw only because one of my friends shared it. (Turns out my Facebook feed is good for something!) He's right, of course, but sometimes it's hard to accept he's right; it's easy to give in to the feelings of despair and helplessness about how fragile our lives are and how easily they can be taken away by a miswired psychopath. By random, pointless violence. It's easy to become almost paralyzed by thinking about the victims of bombings and shootings, by wondering "what if that were me?" and despairing that our fellow humans are capable of such brutality. And by wondering if Oswalt is wrong and such optimism is misguided—what if we really are a dead-end species with too many psychological disorders and too many violent tendencies?
What is wrong with our country? What is wrong with our society? In the West, America is unique in the frequency and death toll of mass shootings. And now this bombing? What is the point to any of them? What leads anyone to plan for days and weeks a mass shooting or bombing of innocent victims who have nothing to do with any imagined grievance against the perpetrator? It can't always be psychotropic medications (how many murders are prevented by anti-depressants, anyway?). I think there's little doubt anymore that mass murders need to be treated as an epidemiological problem, though the source of that problem and its solution are a complete mystery, and will remain so for many years, I suspect.
Simply getting rid of guns (ha, "simply"), as dimwits like Fareed Zakaria suggest, would only substitute State violence for individual violence. He compares our gun ownership and murder rates with those of England, France, and Australia but doesn't even bring up earlier regimes with strict gun-control laws, like Pol Pot's Cambodia, Mao's China, Stalin's Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and dozens of African nations with many more guns in military than private hands. (Maybe he wanted to avoid addressing the role of gun control in allowing numerous genocides, or maybe he's ignorant.) If Fareed Zakaria and all the other gun control advocates have their way—and I'm betting they will—it will be pretty easy for murderous psychopaths to turn to bombs when they can't get guns.
Bombings in a crowded public place smell more like Middle Eastern–style terrorism than American psychopaths. Since the early 2000's, I have predicted that the U.S. government's aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East will bring semi-regular public bombings to our cities within my lifetime, public bombings like Israel has suffered for so long, that make an entire citizenry worry whether it can even go to a restaurant or ride the subway without being blown to bits. But my guess is that the Boston Marathon bombings were the work of domestic psychopaths rather than foreign (or even domestic) terrorists with a political motivation.
My political and social views lead me to practice some armchair psychology about the causes of mass killings in my country. It seems reasonable to propose that, entirely aside from the near certainty that psychotropic medications sway some depressed men from suicidal thoughts to homicidal rampages, there is something more systemic and social than clinical and neurological. I know there are statistics showing that homicide rates and gun-related violence have steadily decreased in the U.S. since the early 1990's, but the incidence of mass killings has increased in recent decades. We are right to be unnerved by them, and right to want to do something to stop them.
Radley Balko and some people he cites hypothesize that our ever-increasing standard of living is a major cause of our decreasing violent crime rate. That says nothing about why less affluent countries have much lower murder rates (and, especially, psychopathic mass-murder rates) than the U.S., but it does lead into the final point I wanted to make. I can't help wondering if some people's increasing sense of helplessness, of a lack of dominion over their own economic and social lives, of being not an individual in charge of their own destiny but just a statistic in a meaningless contest they have no control over, a cog in a cold, inhuman machine, leads them to rage against that machine in the only way their twisted minds can conjure: public shootings or bombings. Americans' lives do seem to be increasingly controlled and regulated and fenced in and limited by corporations and governments. (I don't think this is one of those feelings that every generation has when it compares itself to other generations but is actually unfounded—you know, the way parents and grandparents since time immemorial have thought kids today are more spoiled and entitled than ever, and things were better back in their day, etc.) These feelings wouldn't go very far to explain the American exceptionalism in psychopathic mass murders, because we are freer in some ways than a lot of more peaceful countries, but there is an explanation somewhere, buried deep in the psychology, sociology, and neurochemistry of our species.
I hope and believe Patton Oswalt is right about our species, but I'm not so sure about our country. There is something gravely wrong about a country that can produce this many mass murders. Even if the bombers weren't Americans, that means it was probably some type of anti-U.S. government/military/foreign policy statement, in which case the fault lies with this country again. I'm not looking forward to the government's "solutions", but I don't for a second blame people for seeking a solution, even from the government. They are right to despair at the rate of mass murders and refuse to accept them as just a part of life in the modern, free world. Regardless of whether statistics show that homicide or gun-related crime has decreased in the last few decades in the U.S., this country does have an epidemiological problem with mass killings and does need to do something about it. I think the solution is less government, less State-created divisiveness and helplessness, more community, more individual empowerment, abolition of government schools, serious questioning of the benefits of psychotropic medications, and a free economy that can improve everyone's standard of living while leaving plenty of resources to research and treat mental illness.
Blastr and ThinkGeek report that 20th Century Fox Television has sent cease & desist letters to Etsy users to ban them from producing homemade versions of the hat that Jayne Cobb received from his mother on the short-lived Fox show Firefly.
This might be the most absurd example of intellectual property muscle-flexing I've heard about in a long time. And it's a good opportunity for instruction on the invasive, unjust, predatory nature of intellectual property laws. The people who make Jayne hats own the fabric, the knitting needles, the pattern-sheets, and whatever other materials are involved in making a Jayne hat. They have rightfully acquired them through no force or fraud. The materials belong to them. Therefore, they can make whatever they want with them. They own their own voices, computers, paper, ink, and printers, so they can label the hat whatever they want. Their knitting of a Jayne hat and calling it a Jayne hat does not infringe upon the right of anyone else to make or not make, buy or not buy, own or not own, or wear or not wear their own Jayne hat or any other article of clothing, or to perform or not perform any other non-coercive action.
"But," you might say, "selling a Jayne hat does infringe upon Fox's trademark on the characters and other creative materials invented in Firefly, which it does legally own. It's not just the hat or the pattern, it's using Jayne's name and Firefly's name to make money off of something others invented and hold trademark on." The point is that the law and its trademarks are irrelevant. Laws are not always just, and are in fact often unjust. Intellectual property laws banning "unlicensed" merchandise are a good example of unjust laws that have no basis in justice, rights, or morality but rather in rent-seeking cronyism and favoritism.
To claim that the "unlicensed" knitting and selling of a Jayne hat violates some corporation's rights because that corporation owns the pattern and style of the hat or the names of a character and TV show is identical to claiming that that corporation has a rightful claim to the ownership or control of other people's fabric and knitting materials. Or that it has a right to control the ideas in other people's minds, i.e., their thought processes.
Intellectual "property" and all other ideas are not property at all because they are infinitely reproducible at zero cost and their existence in one person's mind in no way affects anyone else's mind, body, or property. This precludes ideas from being economically and legally actionable goods at all. Intellectual property is neither rivalrous nor excludable. Rivalrous means that one person's use or ownership of a good precludes the use or ownership of that good by anyone else. Excludable means that the owner or controller of the good or service can determine who uses it by charging money (or institute some other criterion) for access.
If the idea of a Jayne hat is non-rivalrous, non-excludable, and infinitely reproducible at zero cost, then no one can own it or control it or claim that they are harmed by someone else's having that idea. They can only (try to) claim that they are harmed by someone else's use or implementation of that idea. What does this entail? It entails claiming ownership or control over people's just property or over the way in which people manipulate their just property with their thoughts and bodies. It also entails the right to prevent people from using certain words and names because a corporation owns the exclusive right to those sound and symbol patterns. It is easy to see how fallacious it is to claim that either (a) Fox has a right to control the ideas and thought processes in other people's minds and the words they use to express them, or (b) Fox has a rightful claim to the ownership or control of other people's knitting materials and the body parts they use to work with those materials. It is not clear how Fox can have no legitimate claim to any part of people's ideas, bodies, or property but somehow does own the product of a certain combination of the three. Why that combination and not any other? Where exactly does such a claim come from? What prior or more basic right is it based in?
The only plausible answer I can think of is, "Someone else used the name first and paired the item with the name, so no one else can make money off of it." Note that no one (sane) is claiming that people should be prevented from merely calling it a Jayne hat. No, they are only claiming that no one else has the right to make money off of calling it a Jayne hat. But rights, morals, and justice precede and exist independently of money and profit, so any argument that invokes money or profit is missing the point entirely. Whether someone makes money off of anything has no bearing on the rightness of their action.
People can and do profit or benefit, i.e., gain utility, from many things besides money. These types of utility also precede and exist independently of money. Monetary profit is just one type of profit, and there is no reason the law should ban one type of profit and not another. If a trademark infringement claim cites monetary profit as the source of the infringement, then to be consistent, it would also have to claim infringement if anyone benefited in any non-monetary way from using that trademark name. In other words, some people have been making money from making and selling "Jayne hats", and others have been making "Jayne hats" for themselves, giving them as gifts, wearing them to conventions, keeping their heads warm in the winter, etc. Fox is not harmed by other people making money by selling Jayne hats any more than it is harmed by other people keeping warm by wearing Jayne hats. For Fox to claim it is being wronged by other people's monetary profit, it would also have to claim it is being wronged by other people gaining other sorts of utility from hats that they call "Jayne hats". To seriously make that claim is to expose oneself as an amoral enemy of just about every human right there is, so please, go ahead.
Either way, what Fox and other supporters of intellectual property laws are left claiming is, basically, that they have a right to ban others from profiting monetarily from something because Fox did it first (or acquired such a right from the person(s) who did it first). No one has a right to ban trade or profit any more than they have a right to control other people's ideas, bodies, or just property. This should all be self-evident, especially in so absurd a case as this, yet we find commenters making outlandish Statolatrist claims like the following on Whedonesque, io9, and Blastr:
They kind of own the copyright.
I get it but still major bummer.
I don't blame Fox. If it's a moneymaker then they should be making the money. As long as they don't keep people from making their own then there's no problem.
I agree that the suits have a right to protect what they own (there would be no point in complaining about the facts of life). But they aren't winning any fan love by focusing on every little thing (and the hat is a little thing IMO). *sigh*
They are entitled to stop people from making money off their own products. That's not stupid.
Ultimately - make away, fan friends. But if you're selling it, whoever owns the rights does have a, uh, right to say 'We paid money to sell this'
I have no problem with Fox's actions. People need to accept that licensed property is not free for the taking, especially if they're trying to make an easy buck off it. Doesn't matter if it's within the fan community or not. Stealing is stealing.
Fox owns the rights. To its characters and if you use one for profit without licensing they have every right to ask you to cease.
While I understand the frustration the sellers feel - unlicensed is unlicensed.
A lot of comments at those sites, both good and bad, brought up Fox's inability to claim any trademark infringement as long as Jayne hat sellers don't refer to Jayne or Firefly in any way. Just call it a "cunning hat" or something else, and Fox has no legs to stand on. While that is (probably?) true under current U.S. law, it doesn't affect the morality or property-rights discussion in any way. No person or entity has any right to claim ownership, control, or estoppel privileges over the use of certain words, in print or any other medium, for the same reason that they have no rights over ideas or thoughts. Combinations of letters, symbols, pictures, and sounds are non-rivalrous, non-excludable, and infinitely reproducible (at least, as they exist in people's minds), so it is irrelevant that Fox owns the legal privilege to profit from the show named Firefly and its character named Jayne Cobb. Making any item and giving it any name does not infringe upon anyone else's right to make the same item or any other item and give it the same name or any other name, nor does it infringe upon anyone's right to use, wear, sell, trade, or enjoy their own property. So this "intellectual property" right in a Jayne hat is just so much meaningless noise and ink. It has no existence or meaning in the real world, beyond laws and guns. It exists as much as a purple unicorn or a frumious Bandersnatch exists.
"I want to state, as forcefully as possible, that the War on Drugs is deeply, irredeemably immoral; that it corrodes the minds and souls of those who prosecute it, and creates incentives for bad behavior that those living under its contours have always and will always find too powerful to resist."
—Connor Friedersdorf, "The War on Drugs Is Far More Immoral Than Most Drug Use"
Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat, recently gave an interview on the Daily Show about the scientific precision with which junk food manufacturers design the flavors and textures of foods and drinks, and how it all smacks of a nefarious ploy to make money off of Americans by destroying our health.
Despite being pretty interesting, the whole interview was underwhelming. Moss and Jon Stewart both seem to miss the point by blaming the companies, the competition, and the pursuit of profit for the proliferation of high-salt, high-sugar, high-fat processed foods and the obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease they cause. The main problem as I see it lies in the people who eat those foods and the physiology that makes them enjoy junk food so much. The consumers buy and eat the foods willingly—eagerly, in fact—and not only that, but they know the foods are bad for them and eat them anyway.
Therefore, as valuable as Moss's discoveries are, and as much as this topic and the broader topic of nutrition and diet should be discussed and studied, the conclusion that the companies are to blame is misguided. They spend billions of dollars, employing hundreds of scientists doing decades of research, to make products that people like more and that cost less, and they're the root of the problem? Or the market that allows them to compete and profit off of people's tastes is the problem? I wouldn't even take issue if Moss and Stewart mentioned the companies and their products as part of the problem, but they must be the least culpable party in all this. In researching people's tastes and designing and marketing their products, they haven't deceived anybody or committed any fraud, or even done anything dishonorable.
Moss and Stewart do both try to mitigate their demonization of the junk food industry: Moss says, "I don't view the processed food industry as this evil empire that is out to intentionally get us obese or otherwise ill," and Stewart admits it's not a book of demonization. But they still imply that the system of research into human tastes, marketing of junk food, and profiting off of it is to blame for our unhealthy diets.
For instance, Moss says, "The problem lies in their collective zeal to do what companies do, which is make more money by selling more product."
He continues, "Even when these companies try to do the right thing by consumer health—and they have—...they get pushed back by Wall Street: 'Where are the profits?' ... One of their healthy lines, as they call it, they cut back on salt just a little bit, and all it took was a cough, a hiccup, from Wall Street, and what do they do? They've put the salt back in. Again, because they're looking at competition in the soup aisle, and their competitors aren't doing it."
Stewart asks, "How, in any way, can real and sustainable food and lifestyles compete in any way with these guys?"
Moss responds, "The playing field is so unlevel...the subsidies go toward the highly processed food, almost none go to the fresh fruits and vegetables." Well, if that's a reason junk food is so profitable, then obviously the government providing the subsidies is part of the problem! Subsidization is a two-way street, so we should never absolve the rent seekers and blame only the subsidy givers, but Moss and Stewart don't even go into the rent-seeking aspect of the processed food industry. Maybe mentioning the unbalanced subsidization was all the government-blaming they wanted to get into. Rent-seeking is the only objectionable thing that this interview even implies the junk food companies do. Anyway, the federal government also subsidizes farmers for producing many crops and other foods, so I'm not convinced junk food subsidies are a major reason junk food is so profitable. But it might be part of the problem.
That was the part of the interview that aired on Comedy Central. I found the second half of the interview more interesting:
This part of the interview is partially about an intervention in a poor area of Philadelphia staged by a school principal and local parents, whose children were eating mainly processed snack foods from local convenience stores before school, to their extreme mental and physical detriment. When talking about how hard it is for these rushed, over-worked, poor parents and their rushed, over-worked, over-tired children to eat healthily, Jon Stewart gets to what I think is the heart of this issue:
"It just shows...the way that the pressures of difficult, modern lives, combined with the convenience, combined with the price point, combined with the calories, and all those things, how it all adds up to a much larger problem than Nestle's got a couple of guys in the back figuring out how to make cookies feel just right in your mouth." That's a much more honest but less sound-bitey, snarky, comedic summary of the problem of processed foods and their attendant health problems than the first part of the interview was. Of course, the first part is what aired because it was more sensational, more entertaining, and more blameful of an easy target, the junk food industry, which happens to be a more palatable target for Jon Stewart and his viewers than the government and the distorted economy, school system, and social structures it has produced.
Liberal commentators all around the internet, both professional and amateur, were fuming earlier this week in response to Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster to block the confirmation of John Brennan for CIA director. But interestingly, many of them weren't going after Paul but rather were expressing disappointment and shame at liberal voters and Congressional Democrats for failing to challenge President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Brennan, and the CIA for their assertion—or at least non-denial—that military drones could legally be used to kill American citizens on American soil.
Glenn Greenwald, a staunch and consistent defender of Constitutional rights and civil liberties, who calls himself a "progressive", is a good example of the latter:
Progressives on Twitter mocking a Senator for objecting to due-process-free execution orders issued against US citizens in secret [link]
Pretty sad - and pretty revealing - that it was left to Rand Paul to raise in the Senate the killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki [link]
Fascinating day: Tea Party Senator filibusters torture-supporting CIA nominee over civil liberties, while Dem establishment mocks & fumes [link]
Zaid Jilani, the liberal writer and blagger formerly of ThinkProgress.com, United Republic, my alma mater the University of Georgia, and, surprisingly, my hometown of Kennesaw, GA, tweeted:
I'm ashamed of US progressive movement and Democratic Senators for letting the far-right be the leaders on #drones. #StandWithRand
I don't follow any liberal blaggers, writers, or pundits who voiced their disapproval of Rand Paul's filibuster or their support of John Brennan or Obama's American-assassination stance, but I'll take Greenwald's and Jilani's word that those liberals do exist in fair numbers and did publish such sentiments this week. What is widely known and easy to verify is that Senate and House Democrats disapproved of Paul's filibuster, do support Obama's nominee Brennan, and do support the Obama administration's claim that CIA drones can and therefore should potentially be allowed to assassinate American citizens on American soil because of a connection to terrorist groups.
For example, Senate Democrats immediately offered lame excuses for not supporting Paul's filibuster, calling it "a distraction" that "didn't feel like a constructive venue".
When Nancy Pelosi was asked whether the American public should be informed whenever the president targets a U.S. citizen in a drone strike or assassinates a U.S. citizen, she responded, "Maybe. It just depends," and justified her ambivalence with platitudes about how extrajudicial killings of people who haven't even been formally accused of anything, much less tried and convicted, are necessary, how it's a different world now, how a large portion of the public supports the drone assassination program, and how the public just wants to be protected.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein's response to the existence of assassination-capable drones was not to take something resembling a principled, moral stance against militarism, American exceptionalism, and unilateral assassination power but rather to call, as she must reflexively do in every conceivable situation, almost like a word-association game in which she always gives the same answer, for more rules and regulations.
Amy Goodman writes in The Guardian that America is ashamed that only Rand Paul [among Congresshumans] is talking about drone executions, both the hypothetical ones on U.S. soil and the thousands that have already happened around the world.
My point in bringing up the disappointed tweets from American liberals and the wholesale Statolatrist, militarist fascism (yes, if that word ever accurately applied to American politicians, it applies to those who advocate extrajudicial drone assassinations of American citizens) of Congressional Democrats is to point out that none of this is surprising to anyone outside of the American left. The only people disappointed, ashamed, surprised, or "fascinat[ed]" by the failure of Congressional Democrats to even pay lip service to the correct side of this issue are American liberals.
What I found most remarkable about the Brennan hearings/vote and the Paul filibuster was the surprised, disappointed response to it, mainly by liberals. I guess all of those liberal commentators weren't entirely surprised by the Democratic politicians' total failure on this issue, but they at least seemed surprised by the liberal response at large. In order to be disappointed and ashamed at someone's position or their response to a situation, I think you must be at least a little surprised by it. For instance, I am not the least bit surprised by the Democratic senators or their liberal supporters on this matter—in fact, what does surprise me is how many people, even cynical Democrat-bashers like Greenwald, seem to have been taken aback by them—and my reaction was not disappointment or shame but "business as usual for liberals and the politicians they voted into power". Anyone who has paid attention to American politics over the last several decades should have the same reaction to the American left's complete support for their beloved president and his expanding military power.
Notwithstanding admirable liberals like Greenwald and, I'm sure to some extent, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and a scattering of others across the decades, the left-liberal movement in America has since its inception been an enemy of individual liberty, Constitutional rights, military non-intervention, economic progress, the social and financial independence of the poor and minorities, and the empowerment of individuals over the State. Other than the universal suffrage movement and the opposition to racist Jim Crow laws and segregation, American left-liberals have made the average American less free, poorer, more dependent on the State, more scared of the State, more subject to the whims and psychoses of law enforcement officials, and more hated by foreigners than could otherwise have been the case. Not to mention the damage they have inflicted upon millions of people around the world.
Democrat politicians and the liberals who voted them into power have (along with Republicans and their conservative idolaters, obviously) confiscated and destroyed our wealth through taxation, regulation, inflation, crony-favoritism, bailouts, and criminal waste. They have sent tens of thousands of Americans to their deaths in non-defensive wars from World War I all the way through Iraq and Afghanistan. They have created the corporatist-Statist abomination of a healthcare/health insurance market that has killed thousands and impoverished hundreds of millions more. They helped create and expand the heinous War on Drugs that has imprisoned, killed, impoverished, or ruined the lives of millions of innocent, non-violent Americans and foreigners, predominantly black and Latino. They are primarily responsible for the creation and expansion of the welfare system that has made millions of poor and minorities far too dependent on the government for their livelihoods. They have fought to empower government schools, school systems, teachers' unions, and the Department of Education by stifling the ability of individuals, families, communities, and entrepreneurs to develop alternative modes of education. They have fought to destroy and outlaw the free market and all of its attendant freedoms that have made so much of humanity so wealthy, as well as less dependent on the State.
Given this history, I was not the least bit surprised to see a supposedly far-left Democratic president claim powers that not even his evil Republican predecessor claimed, nor am I surprised at all the liberal voters who defend every last act of tyranny he commits because at least he's not a Republican. No one should be surprised at this. This is all par for the course for left-liberals in Congress, the White House, and across the nation.
I have an audio file of a 1992 Saturday Night Live skit in which Dana Carvey plays Ross Perot discussing some of his proposals to save the United States from financial ruin. One of the many funny passages goes:
Let's take the issue of waste. You know, I find it fascinating that so much time and money is wasted on so many different kinds of shoes. Now, if every American could wear the same style shoe, we could save over $18 billion the first year alone. Now, you might ask, "Where does such a shoe come from?" Well, it's already been designed by the volunteers. Here it is. This unisex, water-resistant shoe is handsome, stylish, and comes in all three sizes: small, medium, large. Case closed.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
I am reminded of this satirical money-saving proposal when I read some of the real-life proposals offered by totally serious advocates of national single-payer health insurance or some other type of Medicare-inspired national healthcare/health insurance overhaul in the United States. Such as John Gunn, the chief operating officer of Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York, in that recent TIME magazine article by Steven Brill:
It [a national single-payer healthcare system] would certainly be a lot more efficient than hospitals like ours having hundreds of people sitting around filling out dozens of different kinds of bills for dozens of insurance companies.
A single-payer, socialized health insurance system probably would have certain advantages over our State-perverted, unfree, corporatist system, but that doesn't make it a good solution. Eliminating private companies and having the central government take over all medical care/medical insurance billing and pricing is no better a solution to too-high health care costs than eliminating all but one kind of shoe is to "wasteful" spending. Hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical supply companies, and insurance companies need more competition, and they need to be forced into the profit-and-loss system of a competitive, free market so that the wasteful, predatory companies will die and the more responsible, customer-friendly companies will flourish.
The people who advocate single-payer insurance systems for their advantage (among others) of saving money and eliminating waste should read up on the socialist calculation problem. A monopoly in an industry, either private or governmental, has no basis on which to price the products or services for which it has a monopoly. It has no way of knowing whether it would be more efficient to make something on its own or buy it from another company, because there is no other company. It has no way of knowing whether it should outsource some function, continue performing that function on its own, or abandon it altogether, because there are no other companies to compare themselves and their prices with. Furthermore, a governmental monopoly, as a single-payer health insurance system would be, has no good way to know whether its customers really even want what it's selling, or at least want what it's selling at the prices it charges, because it has a captive customer base. Monopolies can, of course, be unprofitable and can, of course, make productive-efficiency calculations (the marginal revenue vs. marginal cost comparison), but they can never know if they are allocatively efficient because there is no competitive market and no freedom of its customers to take their business elsewhere.
So whatever waste-avoiding advantages a single-payer health insurance system has over our crapfest of a broken market, single-payer should not be put forth as a desirable solution because it merely replaces one set of (State-created) problems with another, and its supposed advantage of greater efficiency is actually not an advantage at all compared to a free, competitive market.
A lot of people seem to be confused about what rights a pharmacist has to refuse to fill certain prescriptions, particularly the morning-after pill or other emergency contraceptives, and what things a customer can force a pharmacist to do, so I'll explain it here.
Any consideration of rights or justice must start with symmetry and equality: what one may rightfully do, another may equally rightfully do, and what one may not do, no one may do. This is because all human beings—at least all rational, moral agents—are on equal moral standing with each other and are subject to identical moral liberties and constraints. I consider this axiomatic; I don't know if it has been proved or disproved with logico-philosophical rigor, and I don't know if it is even possible to do so, but my "proof" is that I can't imagine it being false. I can't imagine or accept that the state of humanity does not include this perfect moral symmetry.
Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated this moral equality as, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." In other words, we can do whatever we want with our own bodies on our own time on our own property, but we can't do anything that harms others (or their property). We can't do anything that violates anyone else's equal right to do the same with their lives, their bodies, and their property.
With this background, let's imagine a simple scenario: A woman goes to a pharmacy in need of an emergency contraceptive, but the pharmacist refuses to sell it (perhaps doesn't even carry it) for ethical or religious reasons. The woman, with the backing of the State, makes the pharmacist sell the drug and/or imposes a penalty on the pharmacist for refusing. In this scenario, one person's rights have clearly been violated: the pharmacist's.
It should be pretty straightforward to examine the actions involved in a customer's demanding a medication from a pharmacist and the pharmacist's refusing to dispense it. The pharmacist holds some ethical or religious belief that an emergency contraceptive shouldn't be used because it violates a fetus's right to life or violates God's commands or something—the pharmacist's reasons are irrelevant—so he will not participate in the provision or use of the drug in any way. Notice that this is more inaction than action by the pharmacist: he doesn't interfere with the production or delivery or dispensation or possession or use of the drug, and doesn't prevent anyone from getting it elsewhere. He simply doesn't supply it to anyone.
The customer holds different ethical or religious beliefs and does not think it's wrong to take the drug. Because the pharmacist is in the occupation of supplying other medications to patients and because other pharmacists have no problem supplying this mediation, the customer demands that this pharmacist sell this medication to her, regardless of his qualms about it. Here we have two people whose beliefs preclude their peaceful interaction in this matter, and it should be left at that. The pharmacist won't dispense the drug, the customer won't go without it, so she needs to buy it from someone else.
The only rights violation that occurs between these two people is when the customer (and her agent, the State) uses the force of law to require the pharmacist to sell her the drug or else face a punishment (namely, removal from the occupation of pharmacist). Where does the customer get the idea that she can force the pharmacist to violate his beliefs to supply her the medication—i.e., to force her beliefs on the pharmacist—when he has no reciprocal right to force his beliefs on her? There are billions of people who don't sell her drugs that they disapprove of, nor does she demand that they do so. Why does anyone think they can demand this of pharmacists?
Clearly, the advocates of the customer in this scenario assign a special place and therefore special obligations to the pharmacist. This must be because they see getting a pharmacist's degree, getting a license from the State, setting up shop as a pharmacist, and, in most places, taking a pharmacist's oath as entering into an agreement with the public and making certain promises to them that must be upheld without exception.
First, it is important to note that the obligations you assign pharmacists are irrelevant. You and I and everyone else can concoct obligations and demands and requirements left and right, but this doesn't mean they are binding or just in any way. Some pharmacists have one definition of what constitutes fulfilling their roles and serving their customers morally and fairly, and other people have a different definition of what is proper and improper for pharmacists qua pharmacists to do. What makes one definition right and the other wrong? What makes it right for you to demand that they follow your morals but wrong for them follow their own morals quietly and peacefully and leave everyone else alone? Is it majority rule? Might makes right? Clearly that is insufficient.
Maybe law is the only justification that some people have for assigning certain obligations to pharmacists. But laws can be unjust—in fact, often are unjust—and only represent what the majority of legislators and possibly a majority of voters at a given time and place wanted. (In the case of forcing pharmacists to dispense medications regardless of their ethical qualms, I think it's safe to say that a majority of voters in most jurisdictions in Western countries do agree with this policy.) But this leads us back to the problem of majority rule and might-makes-right. The law only exists because the majority wanted it, and it only carries weight because of the might of the State. Codified by law or not, permitted by constitutions or not, upheld by courts or not, majority opinion is an insufficient criterion to establish justice. I also consider this self-evident and will not go into it further.
Maybe it is the fact that pharmacists take an oath that makes people think the pharmacist is obligated to dispense morally repugnant medications. Now, it can't be denied that a pharmacist who does, in fact, take an oath to dispense all medications without prejudice (within the confines of the law) can be expected to do so, whether they now have scruples about it or not, and thus any customer who needs emergency contraception should expect that pharmacist to serve her readily and fairly.
None of this suggests that such an oath is justified or wise, or that it is right to restrict the career of pharmacist to those who will accede to the State's demands, or that we shouldn't also allow pharmacists to take an oath of conscience in addition to a (perhaps more restricted) oath to serve the public in certain respects. I again place the burden on the customer and her advocates: What exactly makes your definition of pharmacist right and our hypothetical pharmacist's definition wrong? Note that our pharmacist does not interfere with the conduct of other pharmacists or customers; he merely abstains from participating in something he deems evil.
Instead of just assuming that the obligations that many people assign to pharmacists and the laws that bind pharmacists in many jurisdictions are just, we should first ask whether they are justified at all. Staying within the guidelines of the moral symmetry described above, what is unjust about a pharmacist declaring that he will dispense any medication except a certain few? What principle of justice precludes the possibility of some pharmacists dispensing medications that others don't? What part of moral equality allows a customer to demand that a pharmacist ignore his beliefs but does not give the pharmacist a similar, reciprocal power? Is it also unjust for a pharmacist to sell drugs that a customer disapproves of? Would that pharmacist then violate that customer's rights?
What is right is for the customer and pharmacist to do business as they see fit and leave each other alone otherwise. The pharmacist's inaction doesn't constitute doing anything to anybody, whereas the customer's (and the State's) imposition of their will on the pharmacist violates the moral symmetry that exists between people, and is therefore unjust. To demand that the pharmacist violate his conscience to follow other people's morals raises the question of what else this customer (and like-minded people) can force pharmacists to do.
If it is unjust for the pharmacist to refuse to dispense emergency contraceptives during business hours, is it unjust for him to refuse to do so in the middle of the night, when the pharmacy is closed? Perhaps the customer (or the State) can require the pharmacy to be open 24 hours a day so that these medications can be available in the middle of the night, when they are most effective? ("Morning-after pill" is actually kind of a misnomer.) If the only pharmacist in a small religious town is about to retire, and that pharmacist has no qualms about emergency contraception but no one is available to succeed him, can the pharmacist be forced to keep working until he dies because patients have a right to their medications? If that town has a potential pharmacist but that person decides no to go into pharmacy because of ethical qualms about selling emergency contraceptives, does the State have a right to force that person to become a pharmacist because it is wrong to refuse to sell a patient any legal medication? Why not? Why can one person refuse to dispense emergency contraceptives but another person cannot? Given that pharmacists should not be required to take an oath promising to violate their conscience, I cannot see how the act of becoming a pharmacist magically strips a person of one of their rights.
Who else can the customer (or the State) force to violate their conscience? Can they force an anti-abortion doctor to perform an abortion? Can they force an anti-abortion printing company to print pro-abortion pamphlets? Can they force an anti-abortion building contractor to build an abortion clinic? Can they force an atheist building contractor to build a church? Can they force the pacifist employees of a manufacturing company to switch to making weapons for the military during wartime?
Clearly the answer to all these questions is No, and clearly a pharmacist has every right to sell as many or as few medications as he pleases. I will also point out that in a free society, just about every medication or other substance would be for sale over the counter, Plan B and RU-486 and marijuana and heroin included, so the libertarian defense of the religious pharmacist actually entails a scenario in which it would be easier for a woman to obtain emergency contraception in the middle of the night.
In conclusion, the demand that pharmacists dispense all medications regardless of their ethical/religious opposition to some of them can only be based on the desire for the law to require it, the desire for the pharmacist's oath to bind them to it, a definition of pharmacist that conflicts with and precludes some pharmacists' definition, a complete disregard for other people's beliefs or rights, or a combination thereof. Refusing to dispense a medication is an inaction, a peaceful abstention that does not intrude upon or interfere with anyone else's life, whereas forcing a person to supply a medication they abhor is a violation of that person's rights and of the moral symmetry that binds all of us.
Oh, but in a libertarian society private courts would convict and imprison innocent people for profit, unchecked by any higher authorityDecember 24, 2012 – 2:54 am by John
Thousands of criminal cases at the state and local level may have relied on exaggerated testimony or false forensic evidence to convict defendants of murder, rape and other felonies.
The forensic experts in these cases were trained by the same elite FBI team whose members gave misleading court testimony about hair matches and later taught the local examiners to follow the same suspect practices, according to interviews and documents.
In July, the Justice Department announced a nationwide review of all cases handled by the FBI Laboratory’s hair and fibers unit before 2000 — at least 21,000 cases — to determine whether improper lab reports or testimony might have contributed to wrongful convictions.
The FBI review was prompted by a series of articles in The Washington Post about errors at the bureau’s renowned crime lab involving microscopic hair comparisons. The articles highlighted the cases of two District men who each spent more than 20 years in prison based on false hair matches by FBI experts. Since The Post’s articles, the men have been declared innocent by D.C. Superior Court judges.
Two high-profile local-level cases illustrate how far the FBI training problems spread.
In 2004, former Montana crime lab director Arnold Melnikoff was fired and more than 700 cases questioned because of what reviewers called egregious scientific errors involving the accuracy of hair matches dating to the 1970s. His defense was that he was taught by the FBI and that many FBI-trained colleagues testified in similar ways, according to previously undisclosed court records.
In 2001, Oklahoma City police crime lab supervisor Joyce Gilchrist lost her job and more than 1,400 of her cases were questioned after an FBI reviewer found that she made claims about her matches that were “beyond the acceptable limits of science.” Court filings show that Gilchrist received her only in-depth instruction in hair comparison from the FBI in 1981 and that she, like many practitioners, went largely unsupervised.
In its April investigation, The Post found that Justice Department officials failed to tell many defendants or their attorneys of questionable evidence and that the results of the review remained largely secret.
Interviews with the former unit chiefs, as well as more than 20 practitioners, scientists and legal experts, and a review of court records, training notes and transcripts of meetings indicate that some FBI lab examiners tried to skirt the limitations of their scientific findings in testimony and that they were encouraged to do so by their trainers.
Via my Facebook feed (where else?), I came across this inane guide from Health Care For American Now called How to talk about Obamacare during the holidays. Almost every point it makes is either false or interpreted in an inaccurate, pro-government way.
Health care is too expensive. Everyone agrees with that. The ACA is the first law in 50 years to actively address rising costs in health care.
Actually, it is just the latest in a long string of laws that will make healthcare more expensive for many Americans.
We can’t just send people to emergency rooms. Sending uninsured people to emergency rooms for primary care is the costliest way to treat them. The tab for their treatment is ultimately picked up by people with insurance. The ACA will bring an end to this.
If health "insurance" were used only to insure against the risk of catastrophic illness or injury, it would be affordable to as many people as car insurance is. The only medical thing most people should be insured against is trips to the emergency room. The fact that health "insurance" pays for every little routine thing is the single most important contributing factor to our overly expensive health care system. Requiring everyone to purchase a health "insurance" plan will only make insurance premiums more expensive than they could be, for a variety of reasons. I'm sure a single-payer system could very well cut a lot of costs compared to our bastard hybrid of government–corporate collusion, but it could never be as good as a free market (as is true in every industry), and the individual mandate will fall far short of either. If cash-only doctor's offices were allowed to become more prevalent and more practical, all those people who go to emergency rooms for routine issues could easily afford to go to a regular, private doctor's office. If health insurance operated like actual insurance (catastrophic insurance), then the insurance plans would also be less expensive.
Pre-existing condition exclusions. Everyone is tired of insurance company denials.
No, we're not. Insurance company "denials" for pre-existing conditions are exactly how actual insurance is supposed to work. They are exactly what (would) make actual insurance affordable to almost everyone. What would your car insurance company say if you applied for an insurance policy to pay for an accident after it happened? What if you decided to buy renter's insurance to cover a robbery of your apartment after it happened? They might literally laugh at you.
Insurance is the collectivization of risk, an economically justifiable and financially viable enterprise. Health "insurance" in the United States and elsewhere is collectivization of costs, which is not economically justifiable on anything approaching a large scale and is not financially sound. This is why healthcare has gotten so expensive. If patients, medical practitioners, and companies don't price-shop and make decisions based on price, then prices will skyrocket out of control. If you respond that someone losing their car or their apartment isn't the same as losing their life because of denial of coverage, then you should advocate policies that will make regular, catastrophic health insurance cheaper, i.e., returning health "insurance" to real insurance and letting the free market bring down prices while increasing the amount supplied, as it has done in every other industry where it has been allowed to.
Most people already have health insurance. Because so many folks already have coverage through a job or through Medicare or Medicaid (a.k.a. the government), most people aren’t going to be affected by the requirement that everyone buy health insurance if they can afford it.
If it affects a small proportion of people, then a federal law forcing million sof people to do something they don't want to do, which will be nearly impossible to overturn and untangle when it becomes obvious that it is economically unfeasible, is an awful, short-sighted solution.
Folks who don’t have insurance now will be able to get coverage in two ways: tax credits to help pay premiums for insurance purchased through online marketplaces called “exchanges” (the subsidies will make private insurance more affordable for the first time ever) or enrollment in an expanded Medicaid program.
Translation: taking money from people who earned it to give it to people who didn't. This is not charity. Charity and fraternal societies actually used to cover much of the medical expenses and lost income of Americans and Englishmen in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Private and public hospitals used to treat the poorest patients for free or for income-proportional fees.
Note that their glib language claims that the tax subsidies will make some people's insurance "more affordable for the first time ever" while glossing over the fact that the collectivist/redistributionist nature of these subsidies will increase overall health insurance expenses because the patients who will be covered by the new insurance policies will have little incentive to be frugal or price-shop. And healthcare providers will continue to have little incentive to be frugal or compete based on price.
Also note that the sudden increase in the number of people covered by insurance will cause a sudden increase in the quantity of healthcare that they demand. Routine/urgent care for these newly insured will immediately go from expensive/unaffordable to basically free/easily affordable. This will cause an ineluctable increase in the amount of healthcare that they demand, which will be paid for by somebody (specifically, taxpayers and other insureds). Undeniably, this will be good for those newly insured people compared to their current situation, especially for those who actually needed somewhat urgent and/or expensive medical care. But this web page is claiming that Obamacare will decrease overall healthcare/health insurance expenditures, which it will not. It cannot.
The authors of this web page are also disingenuous (or outright stupid) to extoll the virtues of this newly mandated, subsidized insurance (subsidized by taxpayers and healthy insureds), while they say a mere two paragraphs earlier, "The tab for their treatment is [currently] ultimately picked up by people with insurance. The ACA will bring an end to this." You just claimed that one great thing Obamacare will do is allow formerly uninsured people to buy insurance subsidized by insureds (through the online "exchanges") or by taxpayers (through Medicaid)! That is no better than the subsidization of emergency care by insureds and taxpayers now!
You’ll have peace of mind from knowing that no pre-existing condition will prevent you or your family from obtaining care.
These people might want to read up on adverse selection. It's a bad thing. It makes insurance companies less profitable and therefore insurance more expensive. Adverse selection is a necessary consequence of prohibiting companies from accounting for pre-existing conditions.
Insurance now must cover contraception, well-woman visits, mammograms, and cancer screenings, and those can save an individual more than $1,000 a year, protect women from preventable illnesses and enable family planning.
Again, this web page cites "advantages" of Obamacare that will necessarily increase insurance premiums. If they think collectivization of costs and direct redistribution of money from the wealthy to the poor or from the healthy to the sick or from males to females or from the young (the poorest age group) to the old (the wealthiest age group) are good governmental policies despite their unsustainability and unfairness, then they should just say that instead of trying to dress Obamacare up as cost-saving, fair, equitable, or good for everyone. Contraception, routine doctor visits, and screenings are not risk-laden activities or unexpected, unplannable expenses. Therefore, they should not be covered by insurance. In fact, they are by definition not even coverable by normal insurance. The fact that everyone clamoring for non-free-market healthcare reform wants even more routine things to be covered by insurance is exactly what has made healthcare so expensive and will continue to do so.
If you want to make health insurance more affordable to everyone so that they can easily buy health insurance before expensive medical conditions arise, then you should advocate a drastic reduction in the number and types of things covered by insurance (i.e., only catastrophic expenses) and advocate unregulated, unfettered competition in the provision of healthcare. Free-market competition invariably increases the quantity and quality of goods and services supplied while decreasing their prices.
Insurance plans now provide no-cost preventive care and health screenings.
Which will also increase premiums because these screenings are required to be covered in (some or all?) insurance plans whether an individual wants them or not. The more things that are covered by insurance, the more premiums cost. If you want to limit the price of something, then let suppliers compete and let consumers price-shop. Making it "free" by hiding and collectivizing the costs artificially inflates demand and gives suppliers little to no incentive to compete based on price.
I'm sure many supporters of Obamacare will advocate price ceilings, such as those negotiated by governments and providers in single-payer healthcare systems, to combat price increases. Instead of using government fiat to mandate prices or the government's power to negotiate price ceilings with pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers, we should let the price system of the market work as it does in every other industry where it's allowed to, and end the nonsensical separation of the customer (the patient) from the payor (usually the patient's employer).
Healthcare and health insurance are not special, unique industries that need government intervention in ways that other industries don't. Rather, only a free market of profit and loss, competition, and meaningful price signals could achieve productive or allocative efficiency in such complex, dynamic industries. The increasing prices and number of uninsureds, to the extent that these are problems, have been caused by 70+ years of collusion between governments, health insurance companies, and the American Medical Association. There are thousands of laws regulating the healthcare and health insurance industries, and these have only made both of them harder to afford by artificially restricting competition and supply. There has not been a free market in healthcare in the United States in 100 years, and we have not had an actual health insurance market in over 50. The free market cannot have been the problem because it has been repressed and regulated out of existence. The free market is the solution, as it is to every other economic and material problem that humanity could ever face, and Obamacare will only distort the healthcare and health insurance markets farther from that goal.
I expect Congress and President Obama to pass some form of ban or stricter federal law against semi-automatic weapons and/or "assault rifles" in the next few months. I'm sure many Americans strongly support such a ban now, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders, if they didn't before. It's easy to sympathize with that desire: What good is a semi-automatic rifle? Who needs that for home/self-defense? Who's going to carry that out in public to defend themselves and others against gun-wielding criminals? Who's stupid enough to think anyone needs one for hunting? I personally wish there were no such thing as a semi-automatic weapon, or that there were none in any place I'd ever live or visit, or that we could effectively prevent all violent psychopaths from getting ahold of one.
Proponents of bans on semi-automatic weapons view their owners as potentially violent people with an unhealthy obsession with guns, or as potentially deranged people who want to go on a killing spree. They view manufacturers and sellers of semi-automatic weapons as complicit in the crimes of mass shooters. The calculus is easy: no one could possibly be made worse off by eliminating all semi-automatic weapons from the face of the Earth, and hundreds if not thousands of people would have been better off (alive and non-traumatized) if no one had ever had access to one.
But semi-automatic firearms would have been good for something in many places many times since their invention. How would you view the manufacturers, transporters, smugglers, and sellers of semi-automatic firearms who got them onto the black market of Stalinist Russia? Nazi Germany? Mao's China? Pol Pot's Cambodia? They would be heroes! They would have saved countless lives by giving the subjects of those totalitarian dictatorships the means to defend themselves against State agents carrying the same weapons! Maybe only 50 or 100 million innocent civilians would have been murdered by their own governments last century, instead of 262 million.
It's true, that was then and this is now, and that was there and this is here. What is so special about the United States (or any other country) and the 21st century that make the democides of the 20th century impossible to repeat? The American president has a kill list, for crying out loud! American citizens are imprisoned and targeted for assassination by the military and CIA without being charged with crimes. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directly and specifically gives the president the authority to detain American citizens indefinitely without trial. The CIA has tortured suspected terrorists within the last few years. President Obama runs the most secretive, non-transparent administration in history. A liberal Democrat currently perpetrates all of these injustices and more, and millions of Americans rally and cheer and celebrate and brag about re-electing him! There is nothing to suggest our civil liberties aren't going to keep getting eaten away, little by little. There is nothing to suggest the Imperial Federal Government is going to willingly relinquish any power and return it to the people any time soon.
If I had to guess, I would predict that no, semi-automatic rifles will not be necessary to defend ourselves against massive slaughter by the State at any point in the future, but that could be unjustified optimism. Few communists probably thought their dictatorship of the proletariat could turn into a classic savage dictatorship so quickly.
At the same time, if I had to predict the effect of the law that will most likely pass next year, I think it will have about as much success in ridding the United States of any type of gun as the War on Drugs has had in ridding it of marijuana. It just won't work. Maybe such bans can and have worked better in other countries, but I don't see it happening here. A lot about our culture and our societal structures will have to change to prevent murderous psychopaths from obtaining semi-automatic weapons; I don't think gun-control laws are going to do it.
Finally, we should all be quick to remember that any legislative effort that seeks to disarm any citizens, psychotic or not, without also requiring the disarming of police, DEA, and other law-enforcement officials is a disingenuous or at least ineffective measure to protect innocent Americans from gun violence. Radley Balko has made a living documenting, basically, the misuse of force by law-enforcement officials, and the increasing militarization of local police forces is far more worrisome than the frequency of mass murders by psychopaths on anti-depressants.
This Tom Toles political cartoon from 2010 is making the rounds in the Twittersphere in support of strict gun-control laws in the wake of the Newtown, CT elementary school murders.
The content and the message of this comic are so misdirected and disingenuous that they could not have been unintentional. It makes a deliberately misleading comparison between the number of innocent bystanders killed by lone shooters and the number of tyrants overthrown by gun-carrying citizens. The more apt comparison would be between the number of innocents killed by gun-wielding maniacs and the number of innocents killed by power-wielding maniacs. State power, specifically. University of Hawaii Professor R.J. Rummel estimates that 262 million people were killed by their own governments in the 20th century alone.
This was not in times so ancient and so barbaric that they are nearly alien or unfathomable to us. This was last century, just across either ocean. Most of that democide occurred during our or our parents' lifetimes. We are not so evolved and so enlightened that it could not happen again this century or the next, in formerly (relatively) peaceful countries.
So yes, the manufacture, sale, and possession of assault rifles is a valid line of defense against tyranny, and no, informed people are not fooled by your inane, irrelevant straw man of a comparison.
According to this incredibly depressing and disturbing infographic, 62 pieces of human excrement have committed mass shootings in the United States since 1982, killing and injuring a total of 978 people. That's over 32 a year. Most of the guns used were semi-automatic, and 75% were purchased legally. All of the shooters, of course, were males. Thus the calls from many liberal Democrats for stricter gun-control laws, banning semi-automatic rifles, and outright abolition of the Second Amendment.
According to Iraqbodycount.org, over 100,000 civilians were killed in the Iraq War between 2003 and 2011. According to Marc Herold's Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing cited by Wikipedia, well over 3,000 Afghani civilians were killed by the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom between October 2001 and June 2003. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, some 2,000 non-combatants have been killed or injured by drone strikes by the U.S. in Pakistan.
I don't hear too many people on the left calling for massive disarmament of the President of the United States or its military. In fact, the liberals who supported Obama, at least, have cheered him on in his wanton murder of innocent civilians and elected him to a second term. Anyone who cares seriously about protecting innocent people from murder by crazed American males should condemn nearly every military action taken by any American president, including Barack Obama. They should plead for the disarmament not of innocent American gun owners but of the American president. They should seek not only to prevent drug-addled psychopaths from obtaining semi-automatic weapons but also to prevent power-hungry megalomaniacs from becoming president. A good way to dissuade murderous megalomaniacs from aspiring to the presidency would be to severely diminish the power that office carries. An even better way would be to eliminate such a powerful office altogether.
American presidents have killed astronomically more innocent civilians, including far more elementary school–aged children, than all American mass murderers combined. The American president's weapons are far more massively destructive. The American president has far more resources and people at his disposal. But the American president kills Muslims thousands of miles away, and the American president also enjoys legal immunity for civilian casualties in addition to a rapt, adoring fan base that cheers him on and re-elects him and makes excuse after excuse after excuse for him. If everyone treated all mass murderers and all mass murders equally, they would demand the immediate disarming of the the American president and the immediate withdrawal of American military personnel from every other country. We who make those demands are apparently far more concerned about protecting innocents from mass murderers than the partisans who want to continue arming the government while disarming its subjects.
Adam Gopnik, writing in the New Yorker, makes an eloquent while still outraged and despairing plea for the United States to enact much stricter gun control laws to prevent massacres like that in Newtown, Connecticut. I think he makes a major logical and philosophical error, though, when he makes gun-rights advocates like myself complicit in such mass murders:
The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.
All of that is a truth, plain and simple, and recognized throughout the world. At some point, this truth may become so bloody obvious that we will know it, too. Meanwhile, congratulate yourself on living in the child-gun-massacre capital of the known universe.
The reason libertarians and probably most other defenders of the right to own firearms defend that right so passionately is because guns are the citizenry's last line of defense against a totalitarian government. For this reason it might be our most important defense. As the saying goes, the beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it away. Strict gun control was almost certainly a facilitating factor to all of the major genocides and more minor State-perpetrated massacres that have occurred in the last two centuries. The governments that perpetrated the genocides of the 19th and 20th centuries—Germany, the Soviet Union, Cambodia, China, African countries under colonial rule—certainly considered gun laws or outright gun confiscation a key aspect of their efforts to establish authoritarian control over their populaces. It is easy to find quotes from 20th-century dictators stating the necessity of total disarmament to the dictators' programs of violence and subjugation. It is easy to verify that those populaces were largely disarmed before the genocides took off. Disarming the populace wasn't necessarily even the most important factor in any single genocide—in fact, almost certainly wasn't—but I submit that it was important in all of them.
Adam Gopnik blames me, probably you, all other libertarians, and all American Second Amendment defenders in general for the mass shootings in Aurora, CO, Happy Valley, OR, and Newtown, CT. By refusing to allow the government to regulate, restrict, and confiscate firearms, we allowed psychopaths to get ahold of those weapons of mass destruction to begin with. Well, then, by this (admittedly, probably emotion-clouded and outrage-fueled) logic, he and all gun-control advocates are likewise complicit in the murder of 300 million humans by their own governments in the 20th century. Here is how one might implicate Adam Gopnik in those genocides using his logic:
The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns unavailable are complicit in the genocides of those populations. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the confiscation of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of entire cities, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction Statolatrists get from their governments—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than 300 million lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.
All of that is a truth, plain and simple, and recognized throughout the world. At some point, this truth may become so bloody obvious that we will know it, too. Meanwhile, congratulate yourself on contributing to the most genocidal century in history.
I, too, am outraged at the Newtown, CT massacre, and not in any political or self-righteous way. Just full of purely emotional outrage and despair and sadness, like you and Adam Gopnik. I despair at that shooting and at the recent increase in mass shootings that seems to have occurred in the United States. We all say, What if that had happened to us? and, It's distressing that we are virtually powerless to prevent such twisted savagery.
But firearms capable of mass murders have been around for a century or more. Why do there seem to be so many more such shootings in the last 20 years than the previous 100, and why do they happen mostly in the United States? The Second Amendment is probably only a small part of the answer. Some libertarians and anarchists like pointing to the high proportion of mass murderers who were on psychotropic medications—medications prescribed to them, of course, by State-licensed doctors running State-approved medical practices and trained by State-approved medical schools. Well, I'd like more statistics on that, but I don't doubt anti-depressants or other mood-altering drugs contributed to some mass shootings.
Another major factor must be the brutalized, violent culture we live in, which starts with our governments. From the military to the drug war all the way down to local police and SWAT teams, from everything we see in the news to the very government schools we send our children to (cumpulsory, full of domination and authoritarianism), violence and brutality and subjugation and coercion and uncivility are all-pervasive. The United States imprisons more people than any country in history and a higher proportion of its citizens than any country right now (possibly ever). Our country, our society, and our governments are not peaceful or civil, by any sensible standards. They are violent and confrontational, coercive and authoritarian.
I guess Gopnik's argument—and he speaks for millions, no doubt—is that guns are all-pervasive as well, as are justifications for those guns. That doesn't make gun-rights advocates complicit in any murders, any more than Gopnik is complicit in genocides. I would listen much more favorably and tolerantly to advocates of gun control and semi-automatic weapon prohibition if they would start their gun-control arguments where they need to: with the State. The failure of left-liberals to advocate, fervently and frequently, the disarmament of every government agency and official harms their credibility and reveals their true colors. Their failure to explain how bans on semi-automatic weapons would prevent people from obtaining semi-automatic weapons is glaring. Their failure to plead for the immediate, widespread abolition of all drug laws and other laws against victimless crimes, along with the release of hundreds of thousands of non-violent prisoners, is equally telling. They want the State to be armed, not you, and that is more dangerous than any maniacal shithead could ever be—unless, of course, that maniacal shithead gains control of the reins of State power.
We’ve been hearing for four years how the poor economy and slow recovery under Barack Obama are not his fault because George W. Bush screwed it up so badly for eight years before him. I don’t doubt that’s true, just as I don’t doubt Obama’s and the Democrats’ policies are no better.
How many liberal Democrat-cheerleaders in this country place nearly all the blame for our current sluggish economy on George W. Bush and the Republicans while simultaneously crediting the economic growth of the 1990’s to Bill Clinton? If eight years of George W. Bush are (largely) responsible for the economy four-plus years later, aren’t twelve years of Reagan and Bush Sr. probably about equally responsible for the roaring growth and strong middle class of the 90’s?
I, for one, think it’s likely that plenty of the economic problems the United States and much of the rest of the world faced in the early 2000’s and the last few years were the fault of the Fed-fueled growth of the 1990’s; in other words, the good times weren’t so good. That’s (at least one version of) the Peter Schiff/Austrian school interpretation of the recent booms and busts.
Whatever the connection between the 1990’s and today’s economy, I see American liberals as being very hypocritical for crediting the 1990’s president for the 1990’s economic situation while diverting all blame from the current president for the current economy.
I liked this column by Arianna Huffington about the fiscal cliff face-off and the irrelevance it has to our deeper, long-term problems of employment and growth: 'Slightly Above Zero': A Slogan for Our Age of Diminished Expectations. I never thought of her as an astute political commentator, but this is fantastic:
What will the deal ultimately be? And, most important, which side will win and which side will lose? Is this great drama gripping the entire nation? Actually, only Washington and the media are transfixed. The rest of the nation is still absorbed by trying to make it in the struggling economy -- the same economy that will still be struggling after the champagne corks are popped as soon as the fiscal deal, whatever it may be, is announced in a few weeks. In fact, wherever you look, there are ominous signs that threaten to take our struggling economy over a much bigger cliff than the one looming on December 31st. And yet none of our political leaders seem to even be looking beyond the cliff, let alone planning for what happens next. No one is talking about a plan for real growth. Right now our entire conversation stops at the cliff's edge. But, unfortunately, our problems won't.
The horserace coverage of the election has been replaced by the horserace coverage of the fiscal cliff. And just as the real issues went largely unaddressed in the former, they're also being swept under the rug in the latter. To the extent that growth and jobs get mentioned at all, it's only as fodder for the political football game.
But the drop in unemployment was largely the result of people leaving the workforce, as an estimated 350,000 of them stopped even looking for work, dropping the civilian labor force participation rate down to 63.6 percent, a near 30-year-low. In addition to the 12 million counted as unemployed, there are now nearly four million people who have left the workforce or who didn't even try to enter after graduating from school. Nearly five million people have been unemployed for six months or more, accounting for 40 percent of the unemployed.
As Dean Baker notes, with the previous two months being revised down by nearly 50,000 jobs, the average growth for the last three months is only 139,000. "At the current pace," he writes, "we would not see the economy returning to full employment for another decade."
Macroeconomic Advisors revised their estimate downward to 0.8 percent from 1.4 percent. JPMorgan went from 2 percent to 1.5 percent. And RBC Capital Markets went from 1 percent to "slightly above zero at 0.2 percent."
Slightly Above Zero. If we were looking for a slogan for our times, it would be hard to pick a better one. Indeed, Slightly Above Zero might seem on the rosy side given what's already happening in Europe. From July through September, the EU actually shrank by 0.1 percent and the jobless rate stands at 11.7 percent, a record level.
And yet, far from having a debate about growth, all we're currently talking about is how to avoid the latest self-imposed disaster. Right now, what's really being debated is how to preserve the status quo. And the status quo -- slightly above zero -- isn't very good. In fact, for millions it's an utter disaster. And if you dig down into the meager job growth we've had, it's easy to see that not all job growth is created equal. As Barry Ritholtz points out, jobs from low-wage industries have made up 51 percent of private sector job growth in the past year. "Growth itself is increasingly not much of a solution to a weak economy, when so many new jobs are like those in retail," writes David Callahan of Demos. "We can't build a good economy on bad jobs."
And after the Democrats win by successfully taking the tax cut page from Republicans, what then? Who will be the party of growth and real job creation? The Democrats will have won this fight, but they'll have done so by taking the country further from what it needs.
Getting our economy moving and turning around the decline of America's middle class will also require a great national effort. But it will require a larger, bolder and more forward-looking conversation than the one we're currently locked into. If all we focus on is who wins political battles like the one over the fiscal cliff -- and, no doubt, there will be others -- we all lose.
A local (Michigan) radio show was recently discussing the right-to-work law being debated in the state legislature. One pro-union caller said (paraphrasing), “It’s simple math. When a union represents the employees of a company or of an industry, the employees earn higher wages because the union has major bargaining power with the employer and can negotiate better conditions and better pay.” I guess he skipped the part of elementary-school math where he would have learned that the more you pay each employee, the fewer employees you can afford to pay, which is why unions are often thought to increase the rate of unemployment of the lowest-skilled workers. That isn’t always the case, especially given all the ever-changing legal, demographic, economic, and historical complexities involved, but if you’re going to try to make unionization and wages a matter of “simple math”, then the simple math says that above-market wages increase unemployment. If, in a free and unregulated market, a union pushes wages higher than would otherwise exist, ceteris paribus, the employment rate must decrease, especially among the lowest-paid workers. That should be anathema to all purported “pro-worker” advocates, especially in today’s economic climate, especially in Michigan.
Anyway, right-to-work laws, just like pro-union laws, are undesirable for reasons entirely apart from mathematics or economics: they violate the freedom of association of employers and employees. Regarding the right-to-work law that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law yesterday, J.D. Tuccille writes:
I'm not cheerleading for the right-to-work law just passed in Michigan, which bans closed shops in which union membership is a condition of employment. I'm disappointed that the state has, once again, inserted itself into the marketplace to place its thumb on the scale in the never-ending game of playing business and labor off against one another.
In an article for The Freeman after Indiana approved similar legislation, Gary Chartier stated the case well:
If employers choose to conclude union-shop contracts with unions, what gives the Indiana legislature the right to interfere? Employers own the wages they will pay and the sites where work will be performed under such contracts. So it’s their right to dispense the wages and make the sites available specifically to union members, just as it’s their right, more generally, to trade with anyone they choose. When a legislature interferes with voluntary employment contracts, it infringes people’s freedom to bargain with their own labor and possessions. Treating this kind of interference as acceptable means licensing arbitrary interventions into the market by politicians, who are ill-equipped to second-guess the decisions made by the real people making work agreements with one another.
Chartier went on to defend not only the right of businesses and unions to negotiate the terms of employment in a workplace, but also the (sometimes) value of unions. I agree with him when he writes:
Supporting a free society means embracing people’s freedom to form unions. And it means acknowledging that unions—and union-shop agreements—can offer both workers and employers something valuable. Unions can help to secure workers predictable terms of employment and protect them against arbitrary dismissal. And a union contract can help make workplaces more predictable for employers, ensure that information is disseminated to workers, and reduce a variety of workplace transaction costs.
The ideal role for the government in business-labor relations is to stay the hell out of it and let the parties work things out themselves. I may prefer one outcome or another, but I don't have the right to enforce it by law, and that's what right-to-work legislation does.
Addendum: Some commenters point out that Michigan had earlier legislated in favor of unions. The economist Percy Greaves addressed this issue, writing, "the agitators for ‘right-to-work’ laws forget . . . that the problem is basically one of getting the government out of moral business transactions and not into them . . . . The economic answer is to repeal the bad intervention and not try to counterbalance it with another bad intervention."
According to an email that Sports By Brooks obtained, the clause in the NCAA student-athlete eligibility form that authorizes the NCAA to use the student-athlete's name or picture in promotional materials is not required for the student-athlete's eligibility, and it would not be legal for the NCAA to make it a prerequisite for eligibility.
The NCAA Student-Athlete Statement (pdf) is very short and only includes seven sections. Part III, "Promotion of NCAA Championships, Events, Activities or Programs" reads:
You authorize the NCAA [or a third party acting on behalf of the NCAA (e.g., host institution, conference, local organizing committee)] to use your name or picture to generally promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs.
In other words, you authorize the NCAA to make money off of your name, picture, or likeness. In the email linked to above, a Texas A & M athletic department official asked the NCAA what to do about an incoming student-athlete who refused to sign Part III of that eligibility form. The NCAA's response was that Part III isn't required for participation in NCAA athletics and has no legal backing.
Anyone who half-follows college sports knows what an immoral, coercive, exploitative racket the entirety of the NCAA is and how extensively it abuses its monopoly power over collegiate athletics in the United States. The NCAA and its member institutions make billions of dollars per year on college football and basketball, and not only are the football and basketball players not allotted any of that money, they are prohibited from using their status as student-athletes to make money or to benefit from any gifts whatsoever, including receiving a single meal at a restaurant from a representative of any athletic department. They cannot sell their own game-worn jerseys. They cannot sell their hard-earned championship rings. They cannot receive anything for appearing in any promotions, although the NCAA and their universities use their names, faces, jerseys, and in-game performances in promotional materials that make those institutions tons of money.
It's true that many of the student-athletes receive scholarships that include tuition, room, and board, so it's not like they're slaves...but it's also not like there's anything wrong with the student-athletes themselves earning money off of their status as successful athletes in any number of ways. Especially when the NCAA and its member institutions make so much money off of them.
If every NCAA student-athlete refused to sign Part III of the eligibility agreement, the NCAA would be barred from using any student-athlete's name or face in promotional materials. This wouldn't solve the problem of the NCAA and universities exploiting student-athletes for billions of dollars per year in unshared revenue, but it would put some pressure on them to change something.
In his post A Threat to the Internet as We Know It, science-fiction author, scientist, and futurist David Brin writes about the recent United Nations summit and the threats to internet freedom that it portended:
A United Nations summit has adopted confidential recommendations proposed by China that will help network providers target BitTorrent uploaders, detect trading of copyrighted MP3 files, and, critics say, accelerate Internet censorship in repressive nations. Approval by the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union came despite objections from Germany, which warned the organization must "not standardize any technical means that would increase the exercise of control over telecommunications content, could be used to empower any censorship of content, or could impede the free flow of information and ideas."
Internet activists are warning that this month’s meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body charged with overseeing global communications, may have significant and potentially disastrous consequences for everyday Internet users. Some of the proposals for the closed door (though leaky) meeting could allow governments more power to clamp down on Internet access or tax international traffic, either of which are anathema to the idea of a free, open and international Internet. Other proposals would move some responsibility for Internet governance to the United Nations. Things could get scary. Rule changes are supposed to pass by consensus, but majorities matter and can you imagine the internet run by majority rule in the UN? Not by the world's people, but by the elite rulers of a majority of bordered nations?
To be plain, I consider one of the watershed moments of human history to be a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s when powerful men in the United States of America chose a course of action that, in retrospect, seems completely uncharacteristic of powerful men... letting go of power. I know some of those -- for example Mike Nelson, now with Bloomberg Government -- who served on staff of the committee under then Senator Al Gore, drafting what became the greatest act of deregulation in history: essentially handing an expensively developed new invention and technology, the Internet, to the world. Saying: "Here you all go. Unfettered and with only the slenderest of remaining tethers to the government that made it. Now make of it what you will."
Yet, it seems that now we're at a turning point. The world's powers, especially kleptocratic elites in developing nations where middle class expectations are rising fast enough to threaten pinnacle styles of power, have seen what the Internet can do to all illusions of fierce, top-down control, fostering one "spring" after another. Responding to reflexes inherited from 10,000 years of oligarchy they seize excuses to clamp down and protect national "sovereignty."
I am reminded of how the film and music and software industries, dismayed by the ease with which people could copy magnetic media, sought desperately for ways to regain control. As you will see (in my next posting) I am not completely without sympathy for copyright holders! But those industries went beyond just chasing down the worst thieves, or fostering a switch away from magnetic media. They forced hardware makers to deliberately make our DVD players and computers cranky, fussy, often unusable, even when we weren't copying a darned thing! Capitalism failed and consumers were robbed of choice, leaving us with products that were in many ways worse than before.
And yes, that is what will happen to the Internet. Not just a betrayal of freedom and creativity, but a loss of so many aspects that we now rely upon as cool, as useful and flexible. As our inherent right. Nor is the threat only from one direction. As Mike Nelson just commented: "while everyone is fixated n the UN meeting in Dubai, nations are taking independent actions that could have chilling effects. It is not just the Great Firewall of China and Iran setting up it's own easy-to-censor Iranian intranet. It's includes Australian efforts to block certain types of content, the French three-strikes-and-you're-out law, Korea's effort to prohibit anonymity online, and Russia's new Internet law." Worth noting, as an aside; some of these endeavors are being propelled not by brutal dictatorships, but by political correctness on the left. The all-too human impulse for control is ecumenical.
I wonder if open/free internet advocates and those of us who warn of the dangers of every new internet-regulating proposal will come to be scoffed at the way hyperinflation scare-mongers are: "Oh, you've been predicting dire consequences and mass mayhem for decades; will you give it up already?" The fact that the professional criminal classes of country after country after country keep coming up with new ways to regulate, control, restrict, and police the internet suggests that the destruction of the internet as we know it is a very real possibility, whether it happens fast or slow.
Glenn Greenwald's column Obama: a GOP president should have rules limiting the kill list must be my favorite political writing that I've read in years. It expresses why I'm so frustrated and fed up with liberals and their Democratic politicians better than I ever could have, so I'll just quote it at length:
For the last four years, Barack Obama has not only asserted, but aggressively exercised, the power to target for execution anyone he wants, including US citizens, anywhere in the world. He has vigorously resisted not only legal limits on this assassination power, but even efforts to bring some minimal transparency to the execution orders he issues.
This claimed power has resulted in four straight years of air bombings in multiple Muslim countries in which no war has been declared – using drones, cruise missiles and cluster bombs – ending the lives of more than 2,500 people, almost always far away from any actual battlefield. They are typically targeted while riding in cars, at work, at home, and even while rescuing or attending funerals for others whom Obama has targeted. A substantial portion of those whom he has killed – at the very least – have been civilians, including dozens of children.
Worse still, his administration has worked to ensure that this power is subject to the fewest constraints possible. This was accomplished first by advocating the vague, sweeping Bush/Cheney interpretation of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) - whereby the President can target not only the groups which perpetrated the 9/11 attack (as the AUMF provides) but also those he claims are "associated" which such groups, and can target not only members of such groups (as the AUMF states) but also individuals he claims provide "substantial support" to those groups. Obama then entrenched these broad theories by signing into law the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which permanently codified those Bush/Cheney interpretation of these war powers.
From the start, Obama officials have also ensured that these powers have no physical limits, as they unequivocally embraced what was once the core and highly controversial precept of Bush/Cheney radicalism: that the US is fighting a "global war" in which the "whole world is a battlefield", which means there are no geographical constraints to the president's war powers. In sum, we have had four straight years of a president who has wielded what is literally the most extreme and tyrannical power a government can claim – to execute anyone the leader wants, even his own citizens, in total secrecy and without a whiff of due process – and who has resisted all efforts to impose a framework of limits or even transparency.
But finally, according to a new article on Sunday by The New York Times' Scott Shane, President Obama was recently convinced that some limits and a real legal framework might be needed to govern the exercise of this assassination power. What was it that prompted Obama finally to reach this conclusion? It was the fear that he might lose the election, which meant that a Big, Bad Republican would wield these powers, rather than a benevolent, trustworthy, noble Democrat - i.e., himself.
The hubris and self-regard driving this is stunning – but also quite typical of Democratic thinking generally in the Obama era. The premise here is as self-evident as it is repellent:
I'm a Good Democrat and a benevolent leader; therefore, no limits, oversight, checks and balances, legal or Constitutional constraints, transparency or due process are necessary for me to exercise even the most awesome powers, such as ordering people executed. Because of my inherent Goodness and proven progressive wisdom, I can be trusted to wield these unlimited powers unilaterally and in the dark.
Things like checks, oversight and due process are desperately needed only for Republicans, because – unlike me – those people are malevolent and therefore might abuse these powers and thus shouldn't be trusted with absolute, unchecked authority. They – but not I – urgently need restrictions on their powers.
This mentality is not only the animating belief of President Obama, but also the sizable portion of American Democrats which adores him.
There are many reasons why so many self-identified progressives in the US have so radically changed their posture on these issues when Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush. Those include (a) the subordination of all ostensible beliefs to their hunger for partisan power; (b) they never actually believed these claimed principles in the first place but only advocated them for partisan opportunism, i.e., as a way to discredit the GOP President; and (c) they are now convinced that these abuses will only be used against Muslims and, consumed by self-interest, they concluded that these abuses are not worth caring about because it only affects Others (this is the non-Muslim privilege enjoyed by most US progressives, which shields them from ever being targeted, so they simply do not care; the more honest ones of this type even admit this motivation).
But the primary reason for this fundamental change in posture is that they genuinely share the self-glorifying worldview driving Obama here. The core premise is that the political world is shaped by a clean battle of Good v. Evil. The side of Good is the Democratic Party; the side of Evil is the GOP. All political truths are ascertainable through this Manichean prism.
The result is that, for so many, it is genuinely inconceivable that a leader as noble, kind and wise as Barack Obama would abuse his assassination and detention powers. It isn't just rank partisan opportunism or privilege that leads them not to object to Obama's embrace of these radical powers and the dangerous theories that shield those powers from checks or scrutiny. It's that they sincerely admire him as a leader and a man so much that they believe in their heart (like Obama himself obviously believes) that due process, checks and transparency are not necessary when he wields these powers. Unlike when a GOP villain is empowered, Obama's Goodness and his wisdom are the only safeguards we need.
Thus, when Obama orders someone killed, no due process is necessary and we don't need to see any evidence of their guilt; we can (and do) just assume that the targeted person is a Terrorist and deserves death because Obama has decreed this to be so. When Obama orders a person to remain indefinitely in a cage without any charges or any opportunity to contest the validity of the imprisonment, that's unobjectionable because the person must be a Terrorist or otherwise dangerous - or else Obama wouldn't order him imprisoned. We don't need proof, or disclosed evidence, or due process to determine the validity of these accusations; that it is Obama making these decisions is all the assurance we need because we trust him.
This mindset is so recognizable because it is also what drove Bush followers for years as they defended his seizures of unchecked authority and secrecy powers. Those who spent years arguing against the Bush/Cheney seizure of extremist powers always confronted this mentality at bottom, once the pseudo-intellectual justifications were debunked: George Bush is a Good man and a noble leader who can be trusted to exercise these powers in secret and with no checks, because he only wants to keep us safe and will only target the Terrorists.
It is truly staggering to watch citizens assert that their government is killing "Terrorists" when those citizens have no clue who is being killed. But that becomes even more astounding when one realizes that not even the US government knows who they're killing: they're just killing anyone whose behavior they think generally tracks the profile of a Terrorist ("young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups"). And, of course, the Obama administration has re-defined "militant" to mean "all military-age males in a strike zone" - reflecting their propagandistic sloganeering that they are killing Terrorists even when they, in fact, have no idea who they are killing.
In light of all this evidence, to continue to blindly assume that unproven government accusations of "Terrorist" are tantamount to proof of those accusations is to embrace the type of faith-based trust that lies at the core of religious allegiance and faith in a god, not rational citizenship. Yet over and over, one encounters some form of this dialogue whenever this issue arises:
ARGUMENT: The US government shouldn't imprison/kill/surveil people without providing evidence of their guilt.
GOVERNMENT-DEFENDING RESPONSE: But these are Terrorists, and they have to be stopped.
OBVIOUS QUESTION: How do you know they're Terrorists if no evidence of their guilt has been presented and no due process accorded?
Ultimately, the only possible answer to that question - the only explanation for why this definitively authoritarian mentality persists - is because people have been so indoctrinated with the core Goodness of their particular party leader that they disregard all empirical evidence, and their own rational faculties, in order to place their blind faith in the leader they have grown to love and admire (if my leader says someone is a Terrorist, then I believe they are, and I don't need to see evidence of that).
To me, this comment, left in response to a Gawker post from Sunday on the new NYT article, perfectly conveys the sentiment I heard for years in right-wing circles to justify everything Bush did in secret, and is now just as miserably common in progressive circles to justify Obama's wielding of the same and even greater powers:
"The fact of the matter is that the complexities of security and war go far beyond what those interested in appearing morally superior are willing to concede. It just so happens that a lot of liberals are most interested in the appearance of moral superiority. . . .
"I used to be the exact same way, but then I actually genuinely considered how I would feel if I held the weight of the presidency and these decisions. I have no doubt that most liberals, when presented with that, would act just as Obama has. . . .
"I'm liberal, I'm no fan of war, I'm no fan of Republican fanaticism and thumping America-is-the-best nonsense across the globe. But I can understand why drone strikes might be the most expedient option in a war. Or, perhaps more precisely, can understand just how incapable I am of understanding. And instead of supposing myself worthy of understanding the complexity and therefore offering criticism, I trust those more intelligent than myself. But a lot of my fellow liberals don't believe there are people more intelligent than themselves. I have no self-loathing of liberals. Its just like a moderate Republican finding the right wing of their party crazy even if they believe in most of the same stuff."
That's the Platonic form of authoritarian leader-faith:
I don't need to know anything; my leader doesn't need to prove the truth of his accusations; he should punish whomever he wants in total secrecy and without safeguards, and I will assume that he is right to do so (as long as I and others like me are not the ones targeted) because he is superior to me and I place my faith in Him.
Anyone who thinks the leader (when he's of my party) should have to show proof before killing someone, or allow them due process, is being a childish purist. I used to be like that - until Obama got in office, and now I see how vital it is to trust him and not bother him with all this "due process" fanaticism. That's what being an adult citizen means: trusting one's leader the way children trust their parent.
This is the only sentiment that can explain the comfort with allowing Obama (and, before him, Bush) to exercise these extreme powers without checks or transparency. This is exactly the sentiment any Obama critic confronts constantly, even if expressed a bit more subtly and with a bit more dignity.
Ultimately, what is most extraordinary about all of this - most confounding to me - is how violently contrary this mentality is to the ethos with which all Americans are instilled: namely, that the first and most inviolable rule of government is that leaders must not be trusted to exercise powers without constant restraints - without what we're all taught in elementary school are called "checks and balances".
It is literally impossible to conceive of any mindset more at odds with these basic principles [of the Founding Fathers] than the one that urges that Barack Obama - unlike George Bush or Mitt Romney or whoever the scary GOP villain of the day is - can be trusted to unilaterally and secretly kill or imprison or surveil anyone he wants because he is a Good man and a trustworthy leader and therefore his unproven accusations should be assumed true. But this is, overwhelmingly, the warped and authoritarian sentiment that now prevails in the bulk of the Democratic Party and its self-identified "progressive" faction, just as it did in the GOP and its conservative wing for eight years.
Ultimately, this unhealthy and dangerous trust in one's own leader - beyond just the normal human desire to follow - is the by-product of over-identifying with the brand-marketed personality of politicians. Many East and West Coast progressives (which is overwhelmingly what Democratic Party opinion leaders are) have been trained to see themselves and the personality traits to which they aspire in Obama (the urbane, sophisticated, erudite Harvard-educated lawyer and devoted father and husband), just as religious conservatives and other types of Republicans were trained to see Bush in that way (the devout evangelical Christian, the brush-clearing, patriotic swaggering cowboy, and devoted father and husband).
There's one final irony worth noting in all of this. Political leaders and political movements convinced of their own Goodness are usually those who need greater, not fewer, constraints in the exercise of power. That's because - like religious True Believers - those who are convinced of their inherent moral superiority can find all manner to justify even the most corrupted acts on the ground that they are justified by the noble ends to which they are put, or are cleansed by the nobility of those perpetrating those acts.
Political factions driven by self-flattering convictions of their own moral superiority - along with their leaders - are the ones most likely to abuse power.
Federal prosecutors in New York recently charged hedge fund manager Mathew Martoma with using illegal "inside tips" to help his hedge fund make $276 million in illegal profits or avoided losses. He received some unpublished data about the ineffectiveness of an Alzheimer's disease drug, so he sold all possible stock in two pharmaceutical companies, which was illegal because those data hadn't been made public yet.
Even more alarming than the State's power to make such trading illegal and punish people severely for it is the public's near-universal, matter-of-fact acceptance of the justness of these laws and the evil of breaking them. But not only is "insider trading" not wrong or evil, it provides a social benefit to other traders and stockholders.
It is easy to see that trading stocks on inside information is not wrong by considering what such trades entail and whom they harm. To use an example with some smaller, easier numbers, let's say the hedge fund portfolio managed by Mathew Martoma included 1,000 shares of Elan Pharmaceuticals, which were priced at $10 per share. He finds out days before the public announcement that Elan's Alzheimer drug is ineffective and will be abandoned, so he sells all 1,000 shares for $10 each, making $10,000. The many people he sells those shares to now have a total of 1,000 shares of Elan Pharmaceuticals, which plummets to $5 after the public announcement. They spent a total of $10,000 buying shares that are now worth only $5,000. Hasn't Mathew Martoma cheated them out of $5,000 by basically tricking them into buying something whose value only he knew would decrease?
No. Those buyers were already looking to buy anyway. In a large, diverse, competitive market, which stock trading certainly is, there are many buyers and sellers of every stock at many prices. Those buyers would have bought their 1,000 shares for $10 each from some other person or persons. They still would have lost $5,000 in share worth and some other person(s) still would have made a total of $10,000 on selling over-valued stock. Well, then, hasn't Mathew Martoma cheated by using his insider information to steal $10,000 from those other sellers?
No again. His insider trading probably cost other sellers a small amount of profit, but nothing rising to the level of a crime. Because there are many buyers and sellers of pharmaceutical company stock at a given time, we can assume that any other seller(s) looking to unload, say, 1,000 shares of Elan stock were able to do so on the same day that Martoma did. So they still were able to make their sales; their potential buyers weren't all crowded out or dried up by Martoma's actions. What Martoma's selling probably did do was depress the price of the stock a small amount (especially if we consider that he made $270 million worth of sales, not $10,000). Martoma's selling of 1,000 shares of Elan Pharmaceuticals would increase the supply of the stock, lowering its price slightly. This means that after he sold his 1,000 shares for $10 apiece, other sellers could now only get, say, $9.80 per share. So instead of making $10,000 on their 1,000 shares of Elan stock, the other sellers only made $9,800 collectively.
It's easy to see that Martoma shouldn't be punished for earning more money through special knowledge than others did through dumb luck or good guessing. Should the others who sold Elan stock at about the same time be punished for their superior prognosticating abilities? What about some other stock traders and hedge fund managers who are friends or colleagues of Mathew Martoma and know that Martoma wouldn't sell so much stock so quickly without some inside information? They follow Martoma and sell their Elan stock, knowing something must be up. Should they also be punished for their second-hand inside knowledge? That's certainly more knowledge than I, a layman, have, and probably much more than other professional stock traders have. Why isn't that classified as illegal inside knowledge? And if it is, why is it wrong? Who does it harm?
What about the other sellers of Elan stock who happened to sell about the same time Martoma did but did so without any special knowledge of any kind? Their actions had the exact same consequences as Martoma's selling (though certainly not of the same magnitude). Isn't accidentally harming others often a punishable crime, though less severe than intentionally harming others, sort of like a charge of manslaughter vs. a charge of murder? Shouldn't those other sellers be punished for something? Maybe accidental insider trading? Shouldn't they be forced to hand over their profits to the Imperial Federal Government as well? Presumably, insider trading is punished by the government because it harms others and the government is just looking out for us, right? So if other, lucky sellers of Elan stock harmed others with their trades, shouldn't they forfeit their profits, at the very least? If they didn't actually harm anyone, who did Mathew Martoma harm?
Consider a stock trader who doesn't own Elan Pharmaceutical stock and who receives the same inside information Martoma received. With the private Alzheimer drug data, that stock trader abstains from buying Elan stock. Should he be prosecuted for insider non-trading? On the other hand, what if Martoma's inside information had told him the Alzheimer drug was effective, prompting him to hold onto the Elan stock that he had but not buy any more? Would he be guilty of insider non-trading? Why not?
As mentioned above, short-selling and insider trading also have socially beneficial functions in addition to violating no one's rights. Basically, they make prices less volatile, meaning they keep prices from increasing or decreasing as much or as suddenly as they otherwise would. Mathew Martoma's selling of a large number of pharmaceutical company stocks sent a signal to the stock market that those two stocks were over-valued. His selling slightly lowered their prices, as mentioned above in the hypothetical calculations. This signaled to others who might be ambivalent about the stocks to go ahead and sell them or not buy them. The more sellers there are in relation to buyers, the lower the stock prices go (ceteris paribus), and so they're lower at the time of the public announcement of clinical trial results. The people who own those stocks at the time of the announcement are in for less of a shock because those two stocks have already decreased in price, and the people who bought them in the days before the announcement lose less.
Insider trading and the slightly more gradual price changes it would allow would make it less likely for us to wake up one day and see huge bombshell announcements about a company's value tanking and thousands or millions of people losing thousands or millions of dollars because of a completely unexpected revelation about a company. Insider trading signals specialized knowledge, like all buying, selling, and prices do, so aside from being a victimless crime, its benefits would actually outweigh its costs.
That's only partly because I have an anger management problem.
My main problem with Republocrats is that they selectively ignore the bad aspects of their policies and politicians just so they can defend their side against the other side at all costs and get their side elected at all costs. By "at all costs", I include the costs to their conscience, the costs to the rest of the world, the costs to the promotion of justice and the fight against evil in this world. Most of them know they put evil in power, but they justify it by labeling it a lesser evil.
In addition to that, the main problem with Obama supporters specifically is that they go overboard into hero worship. No, the word "worship" is not hyperbolic or unfair; it is an accurate word to describe their feelings towards him. But if you prefer "idolatry", that's just as good. They're also really fucking smug. My Facebook feed has certainly had its share of Obama worship and smugness over the last couple of months. Here's a sampling of status updates and comments by my friends and acquaintances during the presidential campaign that were particularly annoying, oblivious, or rife with denial and willful ignorance. Probably nothing you haven't seen before, but it feels good to vent sometimes.
There were multiple statuses the day after the election that consisted of one word: "Forward." Yes, forward into endless war, expanding kill lists, and murdering and maiming not hundreds but eventually thousands of innocent non-combatants by drone strikes! Forward into a post-civil-liberties world where individual rights, due process, and checks on executive power are silly anachronisms that impede the true progress of Democrat power! Forward into a post-capitalist world where the price system, free exchange, private ownership, and profit-and-loss system of a semi-free market are eroded in favor of State management, State subsidization, State regulation, State favoritism, and State bailouts!
One super Obama-worshiping girl wrote this nauseating status:
After Obama's victory was secured, one really smug, intolerant, divisive shithead who's only a friend of friends wrote, among other execrable things:
Looking forward to more incremental progress toward tolerance and fairness.
No, I didn't bother to ask him tolerance to whom and fairness to whom? (If you frowned at my characterization of this particular guy as a "shithead" and lamented my stooping to unnecessary ad hominem attacks, please note that I was only trying to describe this person as accurately as possible and paint you as detailed a picture as I thought you'd need to understand my feelings towards this particular Obama worshiper. So no, it wasn't necessary, but I try to go above and beyond what's necessary, to help all five of my readers as much as possible.)
In response to another post by same shithead about one of the presidential debates, one of his friends commented,
I wish all people were smart...if you just listen to what the pres, vp, pres-candidate and vp-candidate are actually saying, there is absolutely no contest...two people have real arguments, the other side just says "no you're wrong"..
Yes, if only all people were as intelligent as us and started worshiping a real, live human being instead of some imaginary misogynist up in the sky, then they would all realize the infallibility of any president with a (D) after their name and the glorious good we could achieve if we just elected the right leaders. It's just stupidity, primitivism, and racism that makes anyone support a Republican. (I shudder to think how she would characterize libertarians and other anarchists!) It reminds me of this smug tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson and, especially, the super-smug and condescending comments by his Democrat-idolizing followers.
Of course, the day before and the day of the election, there were a good 10 or 12 posts imploring and encouraging everyone to go vote. I did not vote this year, and I am very glad and proud that I didn't. As I wrote in 2008, voting and becoming even slightly emotionally invested in the election results made me feel dirty and depressed.
One example of these status updates was,
In the words of Bob Scheiffer: "Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong."
Yes, big and strong that you've taken hold of some small part of the reins of the State and can use them to oppress, marginalize, subjugate, and otherwise disempower every human who doesn't support the policies and tactics you've helped force upon us.
Don't complain if you don't vote!
Actually, as George Carlin and Brian Doherty remind us, it is those who vote who have no right to complain. Or at least, as I would allow because I've voted in the past and will probably vote in the future, those who vote for winners have no right to complain.
Another girl left this comment in a thread that wasn't directly about the presidential campaign but was about politics and I felt like venting about it so close enough:
i would submit that there are many, many things the free market is bad at.
This is so ignorant as to defy argument, logic, or persuasion. I'll leave it at this for now: even the most liberal, Keynesian, Democrat-supporting economists acknowledge that a completely free, unfettered, unregulated, untaxed market will provide the most material wealth to the most people for the lowest cost in 90% of markets, without violating anyone's rights. Most "liberal" economists are largely free-marketeers (of course, that 10% or so makes a big difference). Most introductory Macroeconomics and Microeconomics textbooks are mainly about how the free market does almost nothing but allocate resources efficiently and make everyone better off. Then there are chapters about public goods and monetary policy that reveal their true colors. But if these ignoramuses would even walk by an Economics classroom once in a while, they might find out that professional economists who are on their side could go to town explaining how ignorant their opinions about the free market are.
You might wonder why I don't just hide these Obama-worshiping socialists and save myself some time and future medical problems from hypertension. Well, they post about politics mainly during the primary and campaign seasons, and the rest of the time, they might post something worth reading. And besides, their vacuous political commentary provides me with occasional blagging material, so I got something out of it. It helps me focus my criticisms of Obama and other politicians and either review the links I've saved or find new ones with concrete facts or respectable commentary to cite in support of my own statements.
Throughout history, it has often been the case that today's "hate speech" becomes tomorrow's enlightenment. Today's "incitement" becomes tomorrow's righteous subversion of unjust authority and flawed orthodoxies.
Add to all that the ignoble tendency to object to—or even recognize the existence of—repression only when it affects one directly...and it's clear that the opposition to free expression is grounded in the worst of human attributes.
In sum, it takes a staggering amount of hubris to believe you're in any position to decide which ideas are so objectively and permanently wrong that they should be barred. It takes an equally staggering amount of childishness to want some central authority to protect you from ideas that you find upsetting. And it takes extreme historical ignorance not to realize that endorsing the maintenance of a list of prohibited ideas and then empowering authorities to enforce it will inevitably lead to abusive applications of that power and, sooner or later, will likely result in the suppression of your own ideas as well.
Greenwald was writing mainly about Jonathan Turley's recent column about the four main rationales used by politicians and other freedom haters to restrict people's speech. It really is a powerful column because our right to free speech is absolute and is increasingly threatened everywhere in the world, even the U.S. Of course, it's far worse in Europe, as exemplified by these two Twitter-related stories.
[W]hen you vote for one of the factions in the imperial power bloc—Democrat or Republican—this is what you are supporting. You are empowering, enabling and associating yourself with an extremist regime that visits bin Laden-like terror on innocent people, day after day, night after night: killing them, traumatizing them, deranging their lives, destroying their families, their hopes and dreams. This is what you are voting for, you stalwart Tea Party patriots. This is what you are voting for, you earnest humanitarian progressives. This and nothing else but this: terror, murder, fear and ruin, in a never-ending, self-perpetuating, all-devouring cycle.
The Chicago public school teachers' union strike is still ongoing, so I can only assume the agorism and community cooperation described in this article remain accurate or have even expanded:
In the wee hours Sunday, she [Sarah Liebman] worked the phones to figure out somewhere her 4-year-old son could spend the next day while she and her husband went to work. Ultimately, she arranged for her youngest to be with his best friend, similar to what the family earlier had set up for their oldest child, in sixth grade.
Ahead of the strike, the Chicago Public Schools crafted a plan -- one criticized sharply by union leaders -- trying to give parents like Liebman options until teachers return to work.
The city's famed public transit system is offering free rides for students to move between so-called "safe haven" sites.
Chicago's parks department resumed camp-style sports, art and nature programs at dozens of its locations, while the public library system set aside computers in its facilities for students to use. Cotto said she sent her daughter to one such library to get books to read, in hopes the high school sophomore doesn't "miss an educational beat."
A group of parents in one city neighborhood banded together, hiring a former teacher to instruct about a dozen children. Their makeshift class commenced around 9 a.m. Monday in the basement of one of their homes.
Dozens of churches and civic organizations offered activities to children Monday, hoping to give parents' options by keeping their kids off the streets. So, too, did about a quarter of the city schools, although they only had skeletal staffs and limited resources.
Understandably, the parents are, as the article details, largely unable and unprepared to deal with a lack of a place for their children to go all day and unsure how to keep their children engaged in learning without a school to go to. For instance, one parent is quoted as saying, "It's disruptive because we don't know what the curriculum requires. We are sort of guessing. We want to keep their minds active and keep them engaged in something."
Well, first of all, how did you deal with a lack of school all summer? But more importantly, I hope this teachers' strike teaches the parents and, especially, the children a valuable lesson: schooling is not synonymous with education, and they don't need a rigid, formalized, uniform school experience to become educated. Far superior to our inflexible, bureaucratic, conformist, largely state- and county-controlled school systems would be a dynamic, variable, individual-, family-, and community-driven education paradigm—rather, a virtually endless and ever-changing series of such systems—in which creative thinking, individuality, self-realization, self-motivation, and a love of learning are fostered according to each child's needs, desires, skills, and interests.
Such a de-centralized, anarchistic educational paradigm would present many challenges of its own, but it would quickly and easily eliminate the value of conformity and submission to authority that students are inculcated with, the feeling that learning is an obligation to be suffered through, the years of forced association with bullies and the apparent inability or unwillingness of schools to do much about them, the one-size-fits-all curricula and requirements and standards and all the failures associated with them, the immense amount of wasted time both in school and on hours of homework each night, and, most important of all, the notion that someone else is responsible for the child's education. I think that the more involved children are in their own education and the more responsibility they gain over the years, the more educated, mature, responsible, fair-minded adults they will become.
Those parents who sent their children to libraries, museums, camps, or skeleton-staffed schools to make sure their children "don't miss a beat" are a microcosm of what is right and wrong about this whole situation. The fact that they are doing right for their children now is only highlighted because of how wrong they have been to dump them off at public schools and rely on school boards' curricula all these years. Again, how many "beats" were the children missing during summer break? Do they think they only need to provide these opportunities for their children/require them to learn things when their city/county/state says school is/should be in session? If children hadn't been exposed to this government-school paradigm all their lives (for which their parents are surely equally to blame as the school systems and teachers), would it make sense to the children that they should only learn 9 months a year, only when in a classroom or ordered to by someone else, and only what they are required to? No, I rather think that if children were exposed to the concept of education as it should be—self-driven, voluntary, cooperative, desirable, enriching, beneficial to them as individuals, glorious and wondrous and full of mystery and self-discovery—they would learn far more and far better than they do in rigid, bureaucratized, politicized government schools.
Tina Rulli, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, and David Wendler published a column in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled The Moral Duty to Buy Health Insurance. Inspired by the recent Supreme Court Approval of (most of) the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA; "Obamacare"), its thesis is that since medical professionals have a moral duty to provide emergency and acute care to patients, everyone should be required to buy health insurance to cover the costs of this care.
Rather than appeal to the collective good, this Viewpoint argues for a duty to buy health insurance based on the moral duty individuals have to reduce certain burdens they pose on others. Because physicians and hospitals have a duty to rescue the uninsured by providing acute and emergency care, individuals have a corresponding duty to purchase insurance to cover the costs of this care.
They expound upon this "duty to rescue":
Individuals have a moral duty to rescue—a duty to provide aid to others in urgent need at least when doing so involves minimal risk and burden. Certain professionals, including police, firefighters, and physicians, have a duty to rescue even when the burdens are more than minimal. This duty is embodied in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which legally requires hospitals to provide emergency care to people regardless of insurance status.
These assertions are hard to argue with, and I even must commend them for saying that these duties are "embodied" by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, as opposed to "originating from" or "being required by" the act; no moral duty or right or liberty can originate from law, but rather laws should only reflect the preexisting nature of rights and duties.
But they move on to shakier ground after this. To justify the classification of health insurance as a morally required burden-reducing activity, they offer the following example:
The duty to rescue can generate a corresponding duty on the part of potential rescuees to reduce the burdens of rescue. In 2011, an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan generated a large tsunami. Surfers in California were warned to stay out of dangerous waters to protect themselves and also to protect other individuals who would have to rescue them. Because others have a duty to rescue, these surfers had a moral duty to reduce the chances that they would need to be rescued under treacherous conditions. This example suggests that potential rescuees can be required to take rescue precautions when 3 conditions are satisfied: (1) the chance of requiring rescue is high; (2) the burdens of providing rescue are substantial; and (3) the costs and burdens of the precautions are not excessive. The situation of the uninsured meets these criteria.
Although they present their argument in moral terms, their position actually relies entirely on financial concerns. Specifically, their point #2 is that uncompensated care (care that hospitals are morally obligated to provide but which the uninsured patient can't pay for) places a substantial economic burden on the providers and, potentially, taxpayers. Further, their later paragraph under the heading "Limits on the duty to buy health insurance" says:
Individuals' duty to reduce the burdens of rescue is not limitless. In the healthcare context, it requires only that they buy enough insurance to cover the costs of the care that physicians have a duty to provide. This argument does not imply that individuals have a duty to buy the level of insurance mandated by the ACA (although it may be compatible with other arguments for more expansive coverage). Instead, the present argument implies individuals have a moral duty to buy enough health insurance to cover the costs of acute care and emergency care. Once an individual has bought this level of insurance, that individual's duty to reduce the burdens of rescue has been satisfied. Hence, that individual does not also have to eat broccoli or buy a gym membership.
Thus, a re-phrasing of their thesis would be: To avoid putting medical professionals, who are obligated to treat everyone, under undue financial hardship, everyone must be covered by health insurance so that the professionals will be sure to receive payment and the taxpayers won't have to cover much of the costs.
Actually, contrary to the second sentence of the last quoted paragraph, in a healthcare context, an individual's obligation not to over-burden physicians requires only that they not demand (or receive) healthcare that they cannot pay for and to pay for all that they demand (or receive). There are other ways to avoid receiving healthcare that you cannot pay for besides buying insurance, yet the authors jump directly to the conclusion that forced health insurance is the only answer. Some examples of ways an uninsured person would avoid burdening physicians with a duty they can't compensate the physicians for include payments from charities, paying out of pocket, debt installments, seeking care from a less qualified or non-State-licensed and therefore cheaper practitioner (if that were legal), and reducing the society-wide cost of healthcare and health insurance. To argue from principle, as the authors try to do, requires at least mentioning all of the options and not just omitting the ones you think are impractical or unrealistic. More than once in their column, they are too quick to assume health insurance is the only answer.
Second, their uncompensated-care argument lumps all uninsured Americans into one category of "guilty of imposing undue burdens on others". Rather, those guilty of imposing undue costs on others are the subset of uninsured people who receive healthcare and don't pay for it. To assume all uninsured people are guilty of this before they ever go into the emergency room or undergo surgery is to punish them before they have done anything wrong. Like all mandates and regulations imposed by a monopolistic government, the individual mandate forces one-size-fits-all requirements on everyone and treats everyone as guilty until proven innocent (in this case, guilty until they buy health insurance).
There are certainly practical arguments for and against individual mandates and other healthcare/insurance policies and laws, but as a philosophical argument (one based in "moral duty"), this one fails again. Not only does it fail by incorrectly defining who exactly wrongs the uncompensated medical professionals (it isn't all uninsured people automatically) and taking the unjustified leap that mandatory health insurance must be the only answer, but the authors' plan would actively commit injustices against innocents by penalizing them for doing nothing wrong. (And note that the uninsured would have done nothing wrong by the authors' own standards: receiving care they can't pay for. Not having insurance does not alone amount to an injustice or a "substantial burden" even by the authors' definition.)
Along those lines, since the uninsured and the uncompensated costs they impose are the main culprit according to the authors, why not try to prevent uninsured individuals from imposing those costs on medical professionals to begin with? Their transgression is not failing to have insurance per se; it is receiving emergency care neither they nor anyone else pays for. Instead of making uninsured people buy insurance, why not make them refrain from engaging in activities that could land them in the emergency room? (I am ignoring routine doctor's visits, contraception, prescription drugs, etc. because they shouldn't be covered by insurance anyway. If those things also impose uncompensated-care costs on medical professionals, that's the fault of the corporate–State health-insurance racket that the federal government is largely responsible for, not myself or Obamacare detractors or the free market or the free choices of uninsured individuals.) Sure, some emergency medical situations are not preventable or avoidable, like appendicitis. But others are. From a practical standpoint, it is clear that the authors support Obamacare's individual mandate because they think healthcare is a right and want more government involvement in healthcare, and also because mandating insurance is easier than mandating a lot of other things. But from a philosophical standpoint, why is buying health insurance a moral obligation but taking measures to avoid needing emergency care not?
The authors dismiss the claim that Obamacare or any individual mandate law would require people to "buy gym memberships or eat broccoli" to avoid being unhealthy. Well, if I can re-word that requirement to be a little less specific, I will step up and say "Challenge accepted." I will predict that the federal and/or state governments and/or insurance companies with the backing of government will, in my lifetime, issue healthiness requirements and/or unhealthiness restrictions to reduce the burden that unhealthy or high-risk individuals place on our government-supported healthcare system. Diet requirements or restrictions. Exercise rewards. Permissions or restrictions on cigarettes and alcohol. Hoops to jump through for verification. Taxes on unhealthy foods or outright proscriptions of them. Subsidies for the production, sale, and purchase of healthy foods. (That fascist lunatic Michael Bloomberg comes to mind.)
So no, I don't think the federal government will limit its idea of an individual mandate to the purchase of health insurance. I think this prediction is a lot less outrageous than a prediction, 30 years ago, that the federal government would one day require individuals to purchase a health insurance policy or else pay a penalty.
Despite their attempted focus on moral duty, it is clear that their only actual argument is financial. Unfortunately, the problem with the financial argument is that uncompensated care doesn't actually place a large burden on anyone. Glen Whitman wrote in 2007:
When recipients don't pay for their care, the rest of us end up footing the bill one way or another. Individual-mandate advocates contend, plausibly enough, that we should make the free riders pay for themselves.
But how big is the free-rider problem, really? First, we should note that not all free riders are uninsured. In fact, people with insurance consume almost a third of uncompensated care. Second, not all care received by the uninsured is paid for by others. Analysts at the Urban Institute found that the uninsured pay more than 25 percent of their health expenditures out of pocket.
So how much uncompensated care is received by the uninsured? The same study puts the number at about $35 billion a year in 2001, or only 2.8 percent of total health care expenditures for that year. In other words, even if the individual mandate works exactly as planned, it will affect at best a mere 3 percent of health care expenditures.
Three percent isn't nothing, but I'm sorry, it simply isn't "substantial" and hardly even classifies as a "burden".
Along the lines of financial concerns but not relating directly to the authors' specific points, I predict Obamacare will fail spectacularly at keeping costs down. It seems to me an unavoidable fact that insurance premiums and total healthcare expenditures will both increase due to PPACA. This is an easily predictable outcome of irrevocable economic law, and absolutely nothing short of national price caps will prevent it.
First and most obvious, the increase in the number of insured people will increase the amount and quality of care they demand. The price of healthcare to those newly insured individuals will plummet, while the total cost of the provision of healthcare will not be affected (at least not by an individual mandate), so the quantity of healthcare demanded by individuals can only go up. If the quantity demanded by the entire populace goes up, then either the total expenditure on healthcare goes up or healthcare is rationed by waiting lists or political measures.
In the link above, Glen Whitman explains the problem with government-mandated insurance policies:
If you're going to mandate something, you have to define it. Under an individual mandate, legislators and bureaucrats will need to specify a minimum benefits package that a policy must cover in order to qualify. It's not plausible to believe this package can be defined in an apolitical way. Each medical specialty, from oncology to acupuncture, will pressure the legislature to include their services in the package. And as the benefits package grows, so will the premiums.
The law’s famous guarantee that you can buy insurance after you’re already sick—the situation otherwise known as “preexisting conditions”—gives Americans a huge incentive to go without insurance until they fall ill. The dirty secret of the law’s individual mandate is that it’s too weak: Millions will decide to pay the $695 fine, knowing they can buy insurance later, instead of ponying up $15,000 for health insurance. Their absence, in turn, will drive adverse selection, the process by which only the sickest people buy insurance, driving premiums to unsustainably high levels.
The law’s community-rating provision forces young people to pay far more for health insurance, in order to subsidize the old. This is especially troubling given that the majority of people without insurance are under the age of 35. In some states, young people could see premium increases of as much as 75 percent, encouraging many of them to drop out of the system, thereby increasing costs for those who remains.
Indeed, by the very act of subsidizing insurance, the law drives up its cost. ... One of the costliest aspects of the law is that it requires all plans on the new exchanges to have a generous financial value, called a “minimum actuarial value,” that will force everyone to buy costlier insurance.
A tiny minority of people will benefit financially from Obamacare: those who have serious illnesses, who are uninsured today, and who have low-enough incomes to qualify for maximal subsidies. Everyone else will pay more. Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped design Obamacare, has predicted that individual-market premiums in Colorado will go up by 19 percent by 2016, owing to the Affordable Care Act. And that’s on top of existing health-care inflation. In Minnesota, Gruber projects, premiums will go up by 29 percent because of the law. In Wisconsin, they’ll go up by 30 percent.
Avik Roy also wrote another column listing the existing laws and PPACA provisions that make health insurance more expensive. It's possibly the best summary I've found of how government policies increase the cost of insurance, so to do it justice I would have to quote the whole thing.
I have found resources that claim Obamacare will drive down healthcare costs and that an individual mandate won't increase premiums any faster than they already are increasing. (Of course, the latter article praises Massachusetts's Romneycare, which was an abject failure, so I'm not sure how reliable some Obamacare-supporting sources are.) If they're right, it will be the only time any government perturbation of the market has ever improved both quality and prices, so...no, it won't happen. Call me "biased" or "prejudiced", but I'll accept those labels in exchange for being correct.
The fact is that PPACA will coerce individuals into buying something they wouldn't otherwise have bought, inject even more politics and legislation into the healthcare industry, open the door for more interference in this industry and in our private lives, create adverse-selection problems while prohibiting insurance companies from charging higher-risk individuals more, and subsidize powerful insurance companies in more ways than it already does.
Most of this discussion has been about the authors' second criterion justifying an individual health insurance mandate (i.e., that failing to take the precaution of buying insurance places substantial burden on medical professionals and also on the taxpayers and insureds who have to pay for uncompensated care). Now I will return briefly to #1 and #3.
Their criterion #1 was "the chance of requiring rescue is high". Well, no, actually, by definition, this risk isn't high for any individual. To the individual, insurance is supposed to be basically a precaution against unexpected, non-routine, catastrophically high expenses. Their point #1 does not apply to normal insurance and should not apply to health insurance because by definition, if you buy an insurance policy to cover unexpected losses, the chance of requiring "rescue" is low; otherwise, very few people would buy that insurance and/or the cost of the insurance policy would be very high. If we limit the healthcare/health insurance debate to emergency and other unexpected care, which, to their credit, the authors largely do, then the opposite of point #1 is true: The chance of requiring insurable care is low, which is why it is insurable (according to the normal definition of insurance) in the first place.
The issue of cost brings us to their criterion #3: "the costs and burdens of the precautions are not excessive". Actually, the excessive price of health insurance is the very reason so many healthy and/or poor people don't have it! If, using the authors' central argument, all of society has a moral obligation to take precautions against over-burdening the small subset of society that works in the medical profession, then surely society also has an equally strong or stronger obligation to avoid over-burdening the vast majority of its members with government-boosted healthcare/insurance prices.
The fact is that the cost of the precaution (health insurance) is already excessive to a lot of people, many of whom buy the insurance anyway at the expense of other goods that would actually increase their quality of life, but some of whom don't. These excessive, unnatural, continuously increasing, non-market prices are the direct, predictable results of government intrusion into the healthcare and health insurance industries and government collusion with national insurance corporations.
State-enforced medical licensing. A patent system with which pharmaceutical companies keep prices artificially high. The idea, started by FDR and Blue Cross, that health insurance should cover all healthcare and not just catastrophic expenses. Outlawing or restricting medical underwriting (charging based on health risk). Laws that restrict the ratio of elderly people's insurance premium prices to young people's. Third-party payment systems in which the patient is not also the customer and in which price-shopping is almost nonexistent. Employer-provided health insurance that overpays for a quantity and quality of care that many recipients don't want but don't object to because, again, they aren't the ones paying. Coverage mandates in which state governments (soon the federal government, possibly) require that all plans cover certain treatments or procedures that many people don't need and don't want to pay for. Soon, the outlawing of denial of coverage for preexisting conditions.
The list goes on and on. The number of laws governing the healthcare and insurance industries has only grown over the decades, and so have their prices. The current crisis in the affordability of healthcare was caused entirely by government and its collusion with big corporations and the American Medical Association. The addition of thousands of pages of healthcare-related laws has not helped at all. Every limitation governments have placed on the healthcare/insurance market has made the market less free and therefore more expensive. More government will cause more problems, more inefficiencies, higher prices, and lower quality of care than we could have had. There is no way around it.
A free market in healthcare and health insurance would be more flexible, more dynamic, full of more options of all kinds, continuously improving, and continuously becoming less expensive and more accessible to the poorest members of society. This is what the free market always does in all industries with all goods and services, whenever allowed to. The free market's unique abilities to reward efficiency, punish waste, direct future production, allocate scarce resources efficiently, foster wealth-generating competition, increase the ease of trade, and improve quality while reducing costs make it more suitable to the "unique" industry of healthcare, not less. Individuals would be better able to choose what's best for them. More and different companies, charities, and fraternal societies would arise to answer their demands. Profitable hospitals would treat the poor and uninsured out of charity, as they used to. Health insurance would become extremely inexpensive for most people again, as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And we would see what an injustice the meddling governments of our world have inflicted upon their subjects.
In college athletics, the Southeastern Conference has been lenient in penalizing student-athletes who fail a marijuana test. The SEC might not punish a player at all for one failed test, and it might be a third, fourth, or even fifth failed test before a player is suspended or banned from the team. This sharply contrasts with the NCAA, which suspends players for one year when it administers a positive marijuana test to them.
I say good for the SEC. Every school and every team probably has some alcohol-related policy, especially regarding minors, but I guarantee even those are too strict because the drinking age should be 18, not 21. The school's marijuana policy should be similar or identical to its alcohol policy, viz., very lenient. Not penalizing simple alcohol possession/consumption in 18–20-year-olds would constitute a de facto legalization of alcohol drinking in those adults, and a similar de facto legalization of marijuana should also become the standard practice of colleges and universities. Marijuana is not addictive and not any more harmful than alcohol, and the war against marijuana in this country clearly does more harm than the drug itself.
I would have no problem with an athletic program, team, or coach banning pot smoking, especially during the season, because it can be bad for your lungs and thus impair performance, but I think at some point it's better to just bench players who don't perform well. (How would they enforce the smoking ban, anyway? Spy on them?) Maybe the marijuana could also have detrimental effects on the athletes outside of their lungs (making them eat too much Taco Bell and Doritos? making them forgetful and absentminded?), but there are a lot of other bad habits the teams don't ban, possibly alcohol consumption (at least in the offseason).
What it comes down to is that the NCAA, universities, and athletic programs ban marijuana use because the Imperial Federal Government says it's illegal, and it's good to see a group of schools defying that dogma (surely for their own athletic, i.e., football, benefit), and it would be even better if this trend spread throughout the country in defiance of the government and its athletics branch the NCAA, resulting in a de facto allowance of marijuana use among people who deserve to be treated like responsible, sovereign adults.
I liked this article about marginal pairs and the price system by Daniel J. Sanchez, especially the last section, "The Social Function of Price Rationing":
Why is it important that markets clear? Why is the market-price system, characterized as it is by competitive bidding, important? Of all the possible standards for rationing, why is the standard of exchange "capability" (maximum buying price or minimum selling price) the best?
One factor that determines exchange capability is how direly the person wants the good in question. This cannot be quantitatively measured, but using our historical understanding, we can perceive a difference between, say, Farmer Frida wanting the horse to plow her field so she can feed her hungry family and Polo Pete wanting the horse for sport riding on the weekends. And we can easily imagine how the relative direness of Frida's need versus Pete's need would provide a relative boost to Frida's exchange capability.
Most people look kindly on the notion of such a difference expressing itself in a market outcome.
But then another factor that determines exchange capability is how wealthy the market participant is. For example, Jockey Jane, like Pete, also wants the horse for recreational purposes. Yet, perhaps because she has more money, she is able to outbid the desperate Frida.
Many people do not look kindly on that kind of a market outcome, and thus are severely critical of the market-price system.
What such critics miss, however, is that the market-price system's primary importance is not the bare fact that it rations already-produced goods a certain way on the spot. Its primary importance for humanity is the role such rationing has in coordinating and optimizing future production. As Mises put it,
The allocation of portions of the supply already produced and available to the various individuals eager to obtain a quantity of the goods concerned is only a secondary function of the market. Its primary function is the direction of production.
As Mises characterized it, the market is distinguished by "consumer sovereignty." Consumers vote with their dollars to shape the productive structure to best satisfy their wants.
For example, let us say Jane and Frida were entrepreneurs and had actually been bidding for the horse for use in the production of other goods. If Jane is able to outbid Frida due to her superior wealth, this indicates that the consumers considered Jane to have been a better past steward of the means of production than Frida.
By voting for her with their dollars, they have put Jane in a more prominent place at the helm of production. Since everyone is first and foremost a consumer, and a producer only subordinately (production being for the sake of consumption), it is in the interest of everyone that the means of production be directed toward those who best arrange them according to consumer wants.
If, irrespective of bidding, a horse was rationed to Frida instead of Jane, this may be a one-off boon to Frida. But if such rationing were the rule, and the sovereign consumers were dethroned across the board, Frida would lose as a consumer far more than she gained as a producer.
One might then object that, in our earlier construction, Jane and Frida were not bidding for the horse as an intermediate good. Both Jane and Frida were bidding for the horse as a final good: Jane for riding, and Frida for subsistence farming. What does Jane's superior bidding power have to do with the market's structure of production in this case?
Jockey Jane may indeed have more votes than Farmer Frida in the consumer's democracy. But, insofar as her wealth was acquired on the market, its level is a function of how much she (or her benefactor), as a producer, contributed to satisfying consumer wants.
The more commensurately her past contribution is rewarded, the more she will be guided toward maximizing her future contribution. And this is true of all producers, including producers of horses, like Breeder Bill.
The market-price system that gives Jockey Jane more purchasing power than Farmer Frida, is the very same market-price system that guides and enables Bill and his fellow breeders to produce an abundance of horses. You cannot have one without the other, for they are one and the same.
With this system, horses (as well as other goods and services) will more likely be abundant and cheap enough for both Jane and Frida to get what they want. Without it, horses (as well as other goods and services) will more likely be so scarce and expensive that neither will.
It's sad but not surprising to see that the successor to SOPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA, H.R. 3523), is gaining support in the House of Representatives and seems likely to pass there. I had little doubt this would happen, but the quickness with which Congress has jumped from SOPA to CISPA is alarming. It's also insulting, but that's definitely not surprising.
As usual, the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains why this bill is a dangerous threat to privacy and why everyone should oppose it (everyone who isn't a large company in bed with the government, that is).
The bill purports to allow companies and the federal government to share information to prevent or defend from cyberattacks. However, the bill expressly authorizes monitoring of our private communications, and is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large swaths of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight—effectively creating a “cybersecurity” loophole in all existing privacy laws.
Under CISPA, any company can “use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property” of the company. This phrase is being interpreted to mean monitoring your communications—including the contents of email or private messages on Facebook.
Right now, well-established laws, like the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, prevent companies from routinely monitoring your private communications. Communications service providers may only engage in reasonable monitoring that balances the providers' needs to protect their rights and property with their subscribers' right to privacy in their communications. And these laws expressly allow lawsuits against companies that go too far. CISPA destroys these protections by declaring that any provision in CISPA is effective “notwithstanding any other law” and by creating a broad immunity for companies against both civil and criminal liability. This means companies can bypass all existing laws, as long as they claim a vague “cybersecurity” purpose.
CISPA has such an expansive definition of "cybersecurity threat information" that many ordinary activities could qualify. CISPA is not specific, but similar definitions in two Senate bills provide clues as to what these activities could be. Basic privacy practices that EFF recommends—like using an anonymizing service like Tor or even encrypting your emails—could be considered an indicator of a “threat” under the Senate bills.
After collecting your communications, companies can then voluntarily hand them over to the government with no warrant or judicial oversight whatsoever as long is the communications have what the companies interpret to be “cyber threat information” in them.
I suppose President Obama should be lauded for criticizing the bill, assuming this means he also will veto it when it passes. But the practice of violating the civil liberties of uncharged Americans without any trial, hearing, or other due process is par for the course for the Obama administration, so any opposition Obama registered on Constitutional grounds would understandably sound hollow.
would trump wiretap laws, Web companies' privacy policies, gun laws, educational record laws, census data, medical records, and other statutes that protect information....
Beadon presents a scenario I haven't read about elsewhere:
Government networks are protected by a network security system called Einstein, which is being steadily expanded to do things like analyze the content of communications. Such software meets all the criteria of a "cybersecurity system" under CISPA, and there is serious concern that the bill would permit the government to offer Einstein or a similar system to private cybersecurity companies. By CISPA's definitions, everything collected by such a system would qualify as "cyber threat information" and thus be open game for sharing with the government—and nothing in the bill would prevent these private systems from being connected live to government databases, effectively uniting them with the government's own security network.
McCullagh also notes that CISPA authors Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) cite cybersecurity threats from Russia and China as a major impetus for the bill. Rogers and Ruppersberger, of course, claim that CISPA actually "protects privacy by prohibiting the government from requiring private sector entities to provide information." I don't buy it for one minute, and neither should you. How many imagined, overblown, or manufactured threats from abroad have been invoked to justify encroachments of liberty by governments throughout history? How many measures did those governments take in the name of protecting and helping their citizens, only to prove that those were so many empty promises at first chance? When the government comes to help, we should fight it back with all we've got.
The internet and all its freedom of exchange, communication, and association are the least regulated domains of our lives, so it isn't surprising that the parasites in big government and big business see them as prime targets for overdue legislation. Our currency, our schools, our business, our labor, our agriculture, our health care, and now our private online communications—all restricted and regulated and controlled by a professional criminal class that invokes the public good in order to attack it, that promises to protect our rights so that it may violate them.
I don’t think it will last long, unfortunately. Our ardor and stamina in defending our rights just don’t exist. Our quality of life will have to be severely, immediately, and clearly impacted by a law for widespread protests and backlash to defend us against our corrupt political system for long. There will be another SOPA/PIPA, and it will pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president, probably President Obama. It won’t be egregious and alarming to most people, but it will be bad enough. Liberal and conservative voters will pat themselves on the back for being reasonable, realistic, and bi-partisan and defending themselves against the horror of SOPA, and the professional criminal class will chuckle to themselves saying, “Stupid, gullible SOPA protesters. That’ll teach ’em what standing up to our authority will get them.”
Peter Gray has written an absolutely fascinating series of articles about the alternative form of home-based education called "unschooling" and the families who practice it. Gray is a professor of psychology who runs the blag "Freedom to Learn" at Psychology Today, in which he often writes about education from an anti-mainstream, even iconoclastic, viewpoint. (For example, I recall this pair of posts about how ineffective, restrictive, and prison-like grade school is, especially for less docile children.)
In his four articles about unschooling, he introduces what unschooling is, summarizes the responses from his international survey, and provides many quotes from the respondents. The first article, introducing the concept of unschooling and inviting unschooling families to respond, was published back in September 2011 (all bold text is my emphasis):
Unschooling is a movement that turns conventional thinking about education upside down.
Defined most simply, unschooling is not schooling. Unschoolers do not send their children to school and they do not do at home the kinds of things that are done at school. More specifically, they do not establish a curriculum for their children, they do not require their children to do particular assignments for the purpose of education, and they do not test their children to measure progress. Instead, they allow their children freedom to pursue their own interests and to learn, in their own ways, what they need to know to follow those interests. They also, in various ways, provide an environmental context and environmental support for the child's learning. Life and learning do not occur in a vacuum; they occur in the context of a cultural environment, and unschooling parents help define and bring the child into contact with that environment.
All in all, unschoolers have a view of education that is 180 degrees different from that of our standard system of schooling. They believe that education is something that children (and people of all ages) do for themselves, not something done to them, and they believe that education is a normal part of all of life, not something separate from life that occurs at special times in special places.
Nobody knows just how many kids in the United States are currently unschoolers. For official record-keeping purposes, unschoolers are lumped in with homeschoolers. State laws don't allow parents to just take their kids out of school; parents have to somehow prove that their kids are being educated at home, and that puts them into the homeschooling category.
All in all, unschooling is a very significant educational movement, because it involves such a large number of kids and it violates so sharply the standard view that kids must be forced to learn an imposed curriculum if they are going to succeed.
Academic researchers have steered clear of any serious study of unschooling, just as they have steered clear of Sudbury model schools and all other innovations in education that deny the value of an imposed curriculum.
Gray then provides links to several unschooling resources and summarizes what each one offers.
The second post, which was the first of three summarizing the results of the unschooling survey, was about the benefits of unschooling as reported by the respondents.
Essentially all of the respondents emphasized the role of their children in directing their own education and in pointing out that education is not separate from life itself.
By our coding, 100 (43%) of the responses fell into Category 1. These were the responses that most most strongly emphasized the role of the child and did not describe parental activities conducted specifically for the purpose of the child's eduction, other than being responsive to the child's wishes or the child's lead. As illustration, one respondent in this category wrote: "Unschooling equals freedom in learning and in life. We push aside paradigms and established regulations with regards to schooling and trust our children to pave their own way in their own educations. Everything they want to experience has value. We trust them." Another wrote: "Unschooling, for us, means there is absolutely no curriculum, agenda, timetable, or goal setting. The children are responsible for what, how, and when they learn."
By our coding, 96 (42%) of the responses fell into Category 2. These differed from Category 1 only in that they made some mention of deliberate parental roles in guiding or motivating their children's education. As illustration, one in this category wrote: "We define unschooling as creating an enriching environment for our children where natural learning and passions can flourish. We want our life to be about connection—to each other, to our interests and passions, to a joyful life together....As a parent, I am my children's experienced partner and guide and I help them to gain access to materials and people that they might not otherwise have access to. I introduce them to things, places, people that I think might be interesting to them, but I do not push them or feel rejected or discouraged if they do not find it interesting...."
Finally, 35 (15%) of the responses fell into Category 3. These were responses that might be considered as falling at the borderline between unchooling and what is sometimes called "relaxed homeschooling." The parents in these cases seemed to have at least some relatively specific educational goals in mind for their children and seemed to work deliberately toward achieving those goals. As illustration, one in this category wrote: "We believe that, for the most part, our daughter should be encouraged to explore subjects that are of interest to her, and it is our responsibility as parents to make learning opportunities available to her... I usually ask her to learn something or do something new or educational every day (and I explain to her why learning something new every day is such a cool thing to do!)."
The most common categories of benefits were the following:
1. Learning advantages for the child. ... Many in this category said that because their children were in charge of their own learning, their curiosity and eagerness to learn remained intact.
2. Emotional and social advantages for the child. ... They said that their children were happier, less stressed, more self-confident, more agreeable, or more socially outgoing than they would be if they were in school or being schooled at home. Many in this category referred to the social advantages; their children interacted regularly with people of all ages in the community, not just with kids their own age as they would if they were in school.
3. Family closeness. ... They wrote that because of unschooling they could spend more time together as a family, do what they wanted to together, and that the lack of hassle over homework or other schooling issues promoted warm, harmonious family relationships.
4. Family freedom from the schooling schedule. ... They said that freedom from the school's schedule allowed the children and the family as a whole to operate according to more natural rhythms of their own choice and to take trips that would otherwise be impossible. Some also mentioned that because of the free schedule, their kids could get jobs or participate in community projects that would be impossible if they had to be in school during the day.
To avoid an overly long post that would kind of defeat the purpose of linking to and excerpting from Gray's article, I'll just paste a few brief snippets of the survey responses that Gray quotes:
"More time together, less arguing, watching our daughter spend hours absorbed in things that she is pursuing on her own, seeing her getting enough sleep and not coming down with viruses that she used to catch at school, exploring museums and other community resources together...." [I will note that a lower exposure to viruses and bacteria is actually a negative side effect of avoiding schools, because germs are good for you; they make you stronger. What if that child gets chickenpox as an adult instead of as a child? Then it becomes deadly instead of just painful and annoying. —JTP]
"Children who are full of joy, full of love for learning, creative, self-directed, passionate, enthusiastic, playful, thoughtful, questioning, and curious."
"Our kids learn all the time, instead of being trained to learn one subject at a time, in 50-minute increments bookended by bells."
"So we don't have the kind of power struggles that other parents seem to have over bedtimes and homework. ... After all, happy relationships should ideally not be based on power issues."
"The children can delve deeper into subjects that matter to them, spend longer on topics that interest them. . . . The children can participate in the real world, learn real life skills, converse with people of all ages. They do not have to waste time with endless review, boring homework, having to work above or beneath their abilities, or in unpleasant power dynamics with adults with whom they have no connection. They can be themselves, and learn about themselves, and become who they truly want to be."
The second article was about what leads the parents to unschool their children.
...the child's experience in school led them to remove the child from school. In their explanations, 38 of these families referred specifically to the rigidity of the school's rules or the authoritarian nature of the classroom as reason for removing the child; 32 referred to the wasted time, the paltry amount of learning that occurred, and/or to the child's boredom, loss of curiosity, or declining interest in learning; and 32 referred to their child's unhappiness, anxiety, or condition of being bullied.
Here is a selection of quotes from the parents explaining why they and their children chose unschooling:
"The school principle threatened to have [my son] prosecuted for bringing a 'weapon' to school. The 'weapon' was a can of silly string."
"I saw kids punished for being inquisitive and talkative, which is something I thought most young kids were, naturally."
"We were tired of our children being labeled and tired of them coming home exhausted and quite frankly full of nastiness. They weren't the nice people we remembered them to be. Once we brought them all home, they became 'people' again."
"After I put them in public school for a time, it became extremely clear to me that being forced to follow someone else's idea of a curriculum was counterproductive, to the point of making them 'hate' learning...."
"We hated the blue ribbon public school our oldest attended. He had 1 hour of homework (reading comprehension and math worksheets) every night, for a 6 year old!"
"I worked in the classrooms a lot and saw a LOT of wasted time during which my kids were stuck sitting still and doing absolutely nothing."
"Too many hours in school and then working on homework. He said to me, 'Mom, when is my time?' It was breaking my heart."
"We ... found that increasing levels of homework and projects left us slaves to the school's schedule even after school hours and on weekends. Additionally, we found that our oldest child was losing his love of learning, and our 2nd child did not have enough time for her passion and gift - the performing arts."
"The faculty repeatedly ignored situations where other kids attacked my son physically and verbally. and after two years of taking it he pushed one of his bullies back and was suddenly in trouble (the bully was not in trouble even though it was witnessed by several teachers him being a bully toward my son) The school repeatedly set my son up to fail and ignored my requests and demands for change. Then they called a meeting to discuss what to do 'about my son' instead of what they could to FOR HIM... I told them that there would be no such meeting...."
"Eventually she stopped even doing maths and went from top of the class to bottom. This was due to a maths teacher who used to mock her and make her feel small."
"In the beginning of grade 2, my daughter told me one evening of how one of her friends had been verbally threatened (the term used was 'YOU'RE DEAD MEAT') by another classmate, pushed up against a wall, and told that the classmate's older cousins were going to get her. I was appalled that this was happening to 8 year olds and that, upon talking to my daughter's teacher about this incident, this type of interaction was not considered alarming by the teaching staff. I never want my children to accept and numb themselves to think that treating other humans horrendously, unloving, and unkindly is normal!"
"When we first started homeschooling my oldest, at age 11, had been so emotionally damaged from his school experiences that we were shocked to see how quickly his personality rebounded within a month or two."
As a first step in the analysis, we coded the challenges that people described into several relatively distinct categories. The most frequently cited of these categories is the one that we labeled "Social Pressure." It includes negative judgments and criticism from other people, from relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, and unschoolers’ perceived needs to justify their choice repeatedly to people who don’t approve or don’t understand.
The second most frequently cited category of challenge is the one that we labeled Deschooling the Parent’s Mind." This category has to do with parents’ difficulties in overcoming their own, culturally ingrained “schoolish” ways of thinking about education.
Both of these two most often mentioned categories of challenge have to do with the power of social norms. We are social creatures, and it is very difficult for us to behave in ways that run counter to what others perceive as normal. In the history of cultures, harmful normative practices or rituals may persist for centuries at least partly because of the stigma, or perceived stigma, associated with violating the norms. ... School is the most predominant cultural ritual of our time. It is a practice ingrained as normal, even necessary, in the minds of the great majority of people. To counter it, one must overcome not just others’ negative judgments, but also the judgments that rise up from one’s own school-indoctrinated mind.
Several of the quotations about social stigma reveal how truly indoctrinated, obstinate, dogmatic, and downright religious people are about schooling and education.
“By far the greatest challenge is with other people. It is such a radical concept, I think it feels so easy for people (especially family members) to criticize it. I get tired of feeling like I need to wait until my children are adults so I can finally say, ‘See, it’s all right!’”
“I would say the only real challenge we have is dealing with others’ (mostly strangers') prejudices and misunderstandings. When we say we homeschool (because ‘unschooling’ is met with blank stares most of the time) they assume I have little desks set up in my living room. They assume we have no social life. It just gets really, really tiring hearing those comments all the time (from people we meet out in public). Then a program comes on mainstream TV about unschooling and people think that is our life (these programs are usually sensationalized and edited in such a way as to portray us as neglectful, ignorant parents who don’t care about their kids). I’m sick of answering questions like ‘Well, that’s fine for art and music, but what about math?’ or ‘How will your kids function in the Real World.’" [Ha! As if forced government schooling is more like the real world or prepares them for it! —JTP]
“My daughter’s father and stepmother were so opposed to it that they literally kicked her out of their house because they felt she was setting a bad example for their younger children.”
“My MIL stopped asking about her grandchildren, unwilling to try to understand what we were doing or why…so they essentially lost a grandparent.”
"I learned very quickly that most people can’t (won’t?) understand, and some are downright disapproving."
"Others don’t understand and look down on what we’re doing. Most people are stuck in the school paradigm and feel like it really is necessary for kids to go to school in order to be successful adults. They see things like bullying and doing work that has no meaning for you as necessary rights of passage to the ‘real world,’ which they see as boring, scary, and uninviting in general.”
“My son instinctually knows how to do this [learn at home on his own], but we [my husband and I] have had to unlearn a lot!” [Structured schooling is unnatural to children in a lot of ways, and home-schooling and unschooling simply open their minds and their lives up to what learning should be. —JTP]
“Something in us rebels at the thought of kids ‘getting away’ with not having to do math and spelling drills, homework, or having something forced upon them ‘because they’ll need it.’ It’s hard to see them spending so much time doing unstructured learning and having to fight the feeling that they’re not learning effectively even when we can see that they are.
"Learning to see learning everywhere, and understanding that learning has no connection to teaching.”
“Refraining from pushing and coercing kids into things that I think are good for them. It never works out well and undermines the trust inherent in unschooling. At its root is worry that I’ve made a terrible mistake and they won’t get what they need."
“I have found that the biggest hurdles so far all self inflicted...Sometimes it feels too easy and that there must be a catch. Am I just being lazy? For the love of God, what about the workbooks!"
“For us the main issues are the travel required for socializing –- this can be tiring. We have to travel further to find girls my eldest daughter’s age.”
“Because our son is an only child, and the other children who live in our neighborhood attend school and then after-school care, we have had to make sure to provide plenty of opportunity for him to get together and play with other children, as he really enjoys being with other kids. Until we found a couple local(ish) unschooling/homeschooling networks with which we connected, it was challenging to find him children to play with as often as he wanted to get out and socialize."
I imagine both home-schooling and unschooling are much more daunting to the parents than to the children. The reasons for this are obvious: We have been indoctrinated with the society-wide paradigm of structured schooling and all that comes with it, but this is unnatural to many children, who might instinctively know (or, at least, could figure out soon enough) that schooling does not equal education.
I would love to know how the average unschooled student or the majority of unschooled students turn out socially, in college, and in their careers. Do they have a hard time dealing with the idiot douchebags who populate the Earth, whom they haven't had to deal with frequently as children? Do they have a hard time coping with entry-level jobs they might not like so much but which they need in order to pursue their career interests, because they aren't used to biting the bullet and doing unenjoyable things for a while? Are they more or less well-rounded, given that they weren't "forced" to learn subjects that didn't interest them but, at the same time, were allowed to pursue all of the subjects that did?
All I know is that the government near-monopoly on education across the world has so thoroughly prevented a free market in learning and education for so long that, as that monopoly starts to break and individual people and families free themselves from it and more people start learning how to teach themselves and communities evolve more dynamic, less structured ways of teaching all of their children and entrepreneurs develop new schooling systems for those who want them, we are going to see how truly restrictive compulsory government schooling has been to our children and how devastating it has been to society as a whole. Schooling is not education, and the freedom to grow our intellect and creativity to their fullest potential requires eliminating all government from all education forever.
Do you have any experience with home-schooling or unschooling, or do you wish you did? What is your first-hand or second-hand take on it and on the adults that home-schooled or unschooled children grew into?
I liked several things Bob Murphy had to say in his recent appearance on the Peter Schiff Show podcast, which was guest-hosted by Tom Woods. The two main topics they discussed were the contradictions between Keynesians and Austrians even though they have the same empirical data and the justice of insider trading laws.
At 5:25, Woods asked Murphy, "How is it possible that somebody like Krugman can look at the crisis that we've just endured and are still going through and feel like he and Keynesianism in general have been vindicated, and yet at the same time, the anti–Federal Reserve Austrians and 'austere' Austrians feel like they've been vindicated? Does that just go to show that economics is a whole lot of bunk?" Murphy responded,
You're right, I have been very embarrassed just being an economist for the last few years. I keep making jokes to my colleagues, saying, "You'd better get something else going on because people are going to come out with the pitchforks, they're going to string us up pretty soon. You know, maybe right after the lawyers.
I think a lot of it is the nature of economics, and this is stuff that Mises and other Austrians have been stressing... This is why the methods of the natural sciences—you can't just carry them over blindly into the social sciences. In particular, it's because you can't have a reproducible experiment, a controlled experiment. We can't roll back the clock to early 2009 when Obama came in and say, "Well, what if he had done a stimulus of the size that Krugman recommended? Or what if they did what the Austrians said and they just cut the government's budget drastically and cut taxes and tied the dollar to gold or just got rid of the Federal Reserve, and then what would have happened?
... Just looking at one particular episode, nobody can say. Just like the Great Depression, economists still are in disagreement over that. So from our point of view, the Austrian point of view, we're going to say, "Yeah, see? Hoover raised spending a lot, he put in a lot of New Deal light, even though FDR's own advisers after the fact admitted that what we did under the New Deal, the Hoover administration actually started the ball rolling and we just extended it.
So you would think, from our point of view, what better evidence could you see? The closest the U.S. has ever come to a command economy, absent war time, was the 1930s, and clearly that was the worst economy we ever had. And so, "Duh, what more do you need to see that we're right?" But of course, Krugman's going to say, "Well, if you looked at hospitals, you'd see people getting medicine were really sick, and you wouldn't want to just conclude, therefore, that medicine makes people sick. And the reason FDR had to do all that stuff was because of how bad the economy was since Hoover didn't do enough."
It just shows the importance of having an antecedent economic theory that you use to parse the world with, because otherwise, you can always after the fact come up with some ad hoc explanation as to why your theory's been vindicated.
Woods: ... People will say, "Well, the Austrians don't care about empirical evidence and they're just dogmatists." But the point is, in the real world, when you're looking at the same empirical evidence, people are drawing exactly the opposite conclusions. And that goes to show, the Austrian point is that obviously, empirical evidence in and of itself in the social sciences, when it's not clear when you've got mere correlation or causality, can't in and of itself settle the debate anyway. ...
Murphy: Just to follow up on that, Russ Roberts, an economist at George Mason—he's not an Austrian per se but I think a fellow traveler... On his blog, within the last three months or so, came out and said something like... "There's all these econometric estimates of the multiplier...and I go with the ones that are low or negative because of my prior beliefs, not because I'm weighing the evidence." And he was just being honest because his point was these apparently scientific guys who just say let the data speak for themselves—some people come up with a negative number, and some people say government stimulus has a multiplier of double what the government says.
So his point was, this isn't like we're measuring the charge on an electron. These estimates are all over the place. And he said, "Isn't it funny that the people who are politically in favor of Keynesian remedies tend to believe the studies that come up with a high number, whereas I, who am a libertarian personally, I tend to like the studies that come up with a low number?" So he's just being honest.... And people were jumping all over him, saying, "Ah! See, he admits he's an ideologue." When in fact, he at least acknowledged what the situation was.
At 15:30, they start talking about insider trading, the justice of laws against it, and the economic effects surrounding the issue. It was slightly more interesting than I expected.
Woods: This week in 2004, Martha Stewart was convicted of lying to Congress in the course of an insider trading investigation. Libertarians in general believe that insider trading is basically a victimless crime, and they are willing to defend it as a perfectly acceptable practice. And yet it sometimes comes off sounding like the person is an apologist for evil and wicked people in our society. ...
Murphy: The official justification for these laws against insider trading is that it's allegedly unfair if somebody who works in a Wall Street firm or somebody who deals with certain companies and has access to information that's not in the public realm...and they're allowed to personally trade on that and, in a sense, take advantage of the person on the other side of the trade who didn't have access to that information. Some people say that's just unfair, end of story, it should be illegal. And other people try to make a utilitarian justification and say, "Well, that's going to make regular people afraid to invest in the stock market...and we need some assurance that's not going to happen."
There's the libertarian argument to just say, "Hey, it's property rights, no one's sticking a gun to your head, if you want to trade with somebody and they happen to know more information, so be it." But even beyond that, just economically, that's a silly objection to raise [the ones mentioned above].
In any other context besides financial stocks, we want people to trade who are experts. Like when it comes to baseball scouting, can you imagine if somebody said, "No, we don't want the sports teams hiring guys who actually know baseball and can identify talent. We should just randomly grab people off the street and say, 'Hey, get me my next pitcher.' We think that the Major Leagues would be better that way." That would be crazy.
Or when it comes to art, would anybody get mad if at an auction, people actually went there who were experts in the art that was being auctioned off and were making bids based on their own knowledge about how valuable the thing was instead of grabbing random people off the street and saying, "What do you think this particular painting is worth?"
In any other context, we want experts with so-called insider information profiting from their trading so that the prices are accurate. And that's what happens with stocks and the financial sector: If somebody has information, they know there's going to be a court ruling that's going to come out tomorrow and make the stock go way up, we want them out there buying the stock now because that makes prices less volatile. So when the news breaks, the price doesn't jump 50%, maybe it only jumps 10% because the so-called insiders have already been bidding the price up. So us, like Joe six-pack on the outside who has no clue about these things, that actually makes the stock market less risky for us. We know day to day there's not going to be these massive bombshells of news getting released that'll make our portfolio go way up or way down. ...
Woods: ... I don't agree with it, but I understand the complaint that somebody gets some inside information that makes them think that this stock is going to plummet because he knows something about the company, and so he unloads it. And you've got a good argument as to why that's actually socially very useful.... But what if he gets inside information saying, "I think this company's going to get better, I think this stock's going to rise," so his inside information leads him to hold on to his stock [when he otherwise might have considered selling]? Would we throw him in jail for insider non-trading?!
Because I want to see the movie soon but want to read the book first, I'm finally getting around to reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It's set in a dystopian North America several hundred years in the future, as explained in this spoiler-free passage from the first chapter:
He [the mayor of the narrator's "district"] tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.
Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch [on television]—this is the Capitol's way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen."
"It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks," intones the mayor.
That certainly gets the story off to a chilling start, and I've heard it only gets darker.
Pretty much all of my friends have read the novel and/or seen the movie. Those who haven't probably will soon. How has it affected them? What lessons will they get out of it? Will they apply the lessons and warnings and morals of Collins's story to the world we live in? Will they ever see the similarities between the totalitarian nightmare of Panem and the real government they put in power, with its constant manipulation, its spinning of violent intrusion as benevolent helpfulness, its use of aggression as a matter of course, its dehumanizing and divisive influence, its elevation of the mighty government above its subjects, and the complete immunity with which its leaders commit atrocious crimes? Or will they (more likely, in my opinion) conclude that because they sympathize with the protagonists and hate the villains, their own democratically elected government and its president must, for the most part, reflect their righteousness? They could never imagine the United States devolving into such a brutal, oppressive nightmare (unless, of course, Republicans had their way). I mean, a television show where children are forced to kill each other, and everyone cheers as they watch it at home? Is that really even useful as an allegory or a forewarning for our society?
That got me to thinking: How unrealistic is a totalitarian government like Panem and its Hunger Games? Is it really so radically different from the oppressive regimes that much of humanity has suffered under for much of its history? We've all read about the unthinkable, unspeakable, heinous, inhuman atrocities committed by governments from ancient times to modern. We know humans are capable of barbaric things.
Which is more unthinkable: the Hunger Games or the Holocaust? Which society is more barbaric and uncivilized: the Panem that has not only lived under but celebrated and reveled in the televised Hunger Games for decades, or the world that perpetrated the Holocaust, the Stalin purges, the Great Leap Forward, the Killing Fields, and numerous other genocides all within a span of a few decades? If you were living 100 years ago and read about two alternate dystopian futures, one with a government whose oppression included the Hunger Games (disregarding whatever incredulities you would have about the science-fictional concept of television at that time) and one with genocide after genocide after genocide, most of them perpetrated by thousands of willing soldiers and officials of supposed governments of the people, which would you consider more absurd? (One of them is only in North America and the other includes the whole world, but close enough.)
Our parents and grandparents lived through a brutal time, unprecedented and hopefully never to be repeated, but we are living in a more brutal age than we might care to admit. Governments across the world kill their own citizens every day for crimes far less egregious than murder (sometimes no crimes at all). The president of the supposed freest nation on Earth kills thousands of foreigners a year who are not soldiers, terrorists, or any other type of threat, and the supposed freest nation on Earth imprisons a higher proportion of its citizens than any other nation by far. Every communist or fascist country of the 20th century was a dystopia. We would do well to remember that real humans with previously normal lives committed mass murders only recently, and that genocide is made much easier by a powerful government, a single powerful executive, a large military, and an unarmed populace.
I loved this EconTalk podcast with guest Adam Davidson, who co-founded NPR's Planet Money and writes the It's the Economy column for the New York Times Magazine. The subject of the podcast was Davidson's recent article in The Atlantic, Making It in America, about the Greenville, SC factory of Standard Motor Products.
Naturally, because it's the EconTalk podcast and Russ Roberts is an economist, they focused more on the microeconomics that Davidson learned in his visit to Standard Motor Products and also to factories in China, rather than on the human-interest aspect of his Atlantic article, although the latter wasn't ignored. Here are some segments of the podcast that especially piqued my interest from either an economic or other point of view:
From about 6:50 through about half of the podcast, Davidson and Roberts talk about "skilled blue-collar workers" and less skilled entry-level machine operators whom we usually think of as typical factory workers. The skilled blue-collar workers probably have a high-school diploma and a two-year associate's degree but are fairly smart and have gained a lot of knowledge about metallurgy, computer programming, electronics, chemistry, and even calculus. In contrast, the basic, low-level machine operators learn their menial jobs in a day, are unlikely to advance their careers much, and their jobs are almost guaranteed to be replaced by machines before they retire. The latter are people like Maddie, whom he focused on in his Atlantic article, and Davidson's own grandfather, who populated assembly line floors in factories in the 1920s–1960s. Davidson muses, "I think there's no question—certainly for me, I think for most people—you'd rather be a skilled worker now than an unskilled worker when there were lots of jobs. It's just much more interesting. You're doing lots of different things every day, you're using your brain, you probably will not get carpal tunnel."
Davidson says those low-level machine operators, who used their muscles more than their brains to perform menial, repetitive tasks, were often replaced by the hundreds by a single robot and a computer, which are only operated by one person now. Considering the output that this one person and his machine are responsible for, the labor of this skilled blue-collar machinist is now hundreds of times more productive than a single low-level machine operator was. This comes at the expense of hundreds of jobs, but that labor is now freed up to do other work that serves some other of humanity's infinite set of unsatisfied wants and needs.
Russ Roberts reminds us that this is called "creative destruction" and that this is an important foundation of economic progress and our material well-being. This is nothing new, but old truths often seem to need frequent repeating. He summarizes the four major benefits of this creative destruction: increased productivity/labor ratio; more and better products for lower prices for all of society; freeing people from having to do menial, back-breaking work and instead making machines do it (faster and with less wear and tear); and enabling the displaced labor to do different work that serves other unsatisfied human wants and needs. This is the very essence of wealth creation and should be celebrated at every chance. One place that that displaced labor (not the actual laid-off machine operators, but the potential or hypothetical labor that would have filled their spots in the future) can go is, of course, to making the machines and computers that replaced the machine operators of old. This is higher-level work requiring more education, more critical thinking, more mathematical reasoning, more creativity, and less physically taxing labor than manual labor does. Such replacement and progression is considered absolutely crucial to the advancement of human civilization and the creation of new and additional wealth.
When mercantalists, protectionists, and other economic ignoramuses decry the loss of jobs to inanimate machines that serve the heartless profit motive of evil industrialists and greedy shareholders, they forget about the jobs of the robot manufacturers and computer engineers and programmers who make those robots and computers. What about those jobs? What would they say if the robot makers all lost their jobs? Should those jobs just not exist? Should those companies never have been founded and their employees just gone into menial manual labor instead? What sense does it make to protect a less productive job over a more productive one? The 100 lost machine operator jobs are that which is seen, the gained robot/computer maker jobs are that which is less often seen, and the yet uncreated or unsaturated job niches that an additional 100 people can now fill are that which is very rarely seen. The increased wealth and well-being that we enjoy as a result of advances in technology that make labor more productive and make menial, dangerous jobs unnecessary can be seen everywhere all the time, yet we don't always take notice of what we see.
(As I quote below, Roberts later says, "I'm extremely excited about my job getting destroyed by technology.")
The skilled blue-collar workers are represented by Standard Motor Products' Luke Hutchins, whom Davidson also highlights in his Atlantic article. He is no mere machine operator but rather a machinist. He has a lot of math ability and says calculus is particularly helpful for his job. I loved it when, after Davidson said that, Roberts interjected, saying, "That's so wild, though! I gotta stop there! Because I read that. It got like a sentence...part of me wanted the entire article to be about that. My wife teaches high-school math, and we talk all the time about the value of various skills and who can use them, and...is it just good for your brain to learn these skills in math or does it actually come in handy? And certainly if you were going to be an engineer, then it's good to know math, but a machinist needs to know calculus? Why?!" Davidson then explains how Hutchins has to deal with three sets of x-, y-, and z-coordinates to make adjustments to the machine, typing them into a DOS-like command-line interface. He likened it to string theory, thinking in nine dimensions all the time. I also got a kick out of that segment. This has nothing to do with politics or economics; it's just fascinating how beneficial math is and how crucial calculus is to almost everything about our lives. The world runs on calculus.
At about 34:00, Davidson explains why he chose Standard Motor Products over some newer, perhaps more cutting-edge manufacturing company that makes high-end technological products and uses even more machines per human than Standard does, or offshores all of its labor. "I wanted a firm that wasn't trying to squeeze every penny of profit out...because I thought it would make for a more interesting, compelling story.... You know, all the stuff about Bain Capital and Mitt Romney—I just didn't want to get into that debate. I wanted a company that almost anyone would look at and say, 'Alright, those are decent people. They would love to hire more people. They would love to justify keeping everyone on and never laying anyone off. But they can't because the market won't let them.' To do that would mean just going bankrupt."
But Roberts and Davidson go on to agree that regardless, Standard basically does have to squeeze every penny of profit out, or at least squeeze every penny out of their production costs, because if another company makes fuel injectors (and other products that Standard makes elsewhere) for a few cents cheaper, then the after-market auto parts retailers aren't going to sell its products anymore, and then it'll have no customers. Standard makes a net 5% profit margin in a great year. It's usually closer to 2% or 3%, which Roberts notes is probably the norm for everyone in that industry, even those trying to squeeze every penny out (and I think probably just about everyone in all of manufacturing).
Roberts then notes that they can't stand still, they have to keep improving, keep lowering the cost of every little input, keep reducing the time it takes to switch a machine over from making one type of fuel injector to another, all in the name of staying afloat and avoiding bankruptcy.
That reminded me of the old adage that liberals and a lot of other leftists never acknowledge: The profit motive is the single strongest driving force keeping prices low, not high.
Taking this drive, this necessity to continue improving little by little into consideration with the improvements in labor productivity and wealth creation exemplified above, this discussion also reminds us that the competition of a free market is not a dog-eat-dog competition to take a piece of the static economic pie from others; rather, it is a competition to create new and additional wealth for the consumers who are your ultimate raison d'être.
However, it can't be denied that there is more than one way to make profit and more than one way to stay competitive, in any industry. Germany has gained a reputation for "making money by making stuff", and I think it also has a reputation for treating its employees a little better and paying them a little more than factories in other countries do or than the German companies could probably get away with. (That's what I gather from reading one of the top comments at Davidson's Atlantic article and hearing things around the radio and internet, anyway.) For some companies, paying employees more actually improves their profits. The story is certainly different in some ways for the retailers profiled in that article than it is for manufacturing companies, but it must be similar in some ways, also. I wish I knew more about their successes and failures and what makes them similar and different. I bet a lot of economists do, too.
At around 48:15, after Davidson and Roberts have discussed the reasons there might be an apparent shortage of skilled labor in the manufacturing industry (the Luke Hutchins types), such as ignorance that the high-skill and medium-skill jobs exist, some sort of snobbery that sours people's opinions of manufacturing and/or small Southern cities, inadequate education to prepare young people for such jobs, and insufficient pay scales, Roberts pontificates on the educational and labor changes that the U.S. might see soon or is in fact already seeing:
I think there's a lot of changes going on in the American labor force that are brought on by this recession, where people are opening their eyes to all kinds of things, especially in what they study in school and where they study it. If we can make our education market a little more flexible, which I think is coming, I think there's going to be a lot of changes in how these worlds work. I'm extremely excited about my job getting destroyed by technology. I think there's a tremendous opportunity for the American college experience and the American high-school experience to be replaced by something that's different. I'm not exactly sure yet what that will be, but it's going to involve technology and online learning and different ways of learning.
... I think we have a crisis in education. A lot of people look at foreign countries and say, "They do it differently and better." Rather than us trying to figure out from the top down what we ought to be doing, I'd allow a little more chaos in the education industry. I'd get government out of it and let private entrepreneurs come up with things that would make the Maddies of the world better prepared for the future.
At about 57:00, Davidson and Roberts got into a very interesting discussion, mostly hypothetical musing on Roberts's part, about how low-skill workers can improve their skills, get higher-level training, make themselves (more) irreplaceable, learn to use their brains instead of their muscles, and add a lot more value to their company in a decision-making, critical-thinking kind of way:
Let's think creatively for a minute. ... I'm going to have a little thought experiment.
You have people in the factory who are bright, but through either the choices they've made or bad luck or unawareness of what's going on outside... You'd think there'd be an opportunity to do the following. You'd think the factory could bring in some training into the factory that the workers would pay for, not the factory. Workers might pay for it not out of pocket, but in the form of lower wages. So if you offer $10 an hour or $11 an hour, you don't get those workers to do your job, but you might if you said, "Look, I'm only paying 10, my competitor, I know, is offering you 13...but if you come to work for me for 10, your life's going to be tough for a while, but I've got this program where we're going to take a break for an hour or two a day...and we're going to help you get the skills that you might be able to use elsewhere in our factory....
And I [speaking as a factory owner] realize that maybe many of the workers who'd like to have those skills aren't going to have the capability of acquiring them, and I'm uneasy about bearing that risk, so I'll let the worker bear the risk, in the form of lower wages, and we'll have an in-house training program as one of our fringe benefits. We'll bring in a local community college to teach a class on site, or we'll partner with them to make it easier for you to get off work at certain times. You'd think those kind of things would be desperately helpful to folks who are either eager to get ahead or worried about the fact that they're not going to stay where they are.
I think this sounds like a great idea that could be entirely feasible in more than one manifestation. This could not only help workers get training while still earning money but also would make employees and employers more invested in each other. It would allow employers to train their future higher-skill blue-collar workers for free or very cheaply, while still making relatively sure that the employees would stay at the company for a certain length of time (through a contractual agreement), and it would also make the employees more of an invested, interested partner in the future success of their workplace.
Davidson agrees with me and Russ Roberts about these potential benefits and responded that the CEO of Standard Motor Products was inspired by Davidson's article to start taking training much more seriously.
Davidson notes that this worker training program could be mostly self-selective, meaning each employee would decide for himself whether he wants to enter such a training program. This self-selection would increase the likelihood of each employee finishing the training and actually succeeding in learning the skills required for higher-level employment. He also mentions the German companies in Greenville, particularly the BMW plant, which have inherited the German model of apprenticeships, which helps employees who start at the lowest levels learn valuable skills, make themselves more valuable to the employer(s), and move up in the world.
Davidson then explains that larger companies like Bosch and Michelin do have training programs for their low-level employees via partnerships with the community college, Greenville Tech:
Greenville Tech...will work with the bigger multinationals, like the BMW or Bosch or Michelin, who will say, "We need 50 people who can do blank...." And the school will take care of teaching those people, and those people are guaranteed, "If you finish this course, you will get a job at Michelin."
I'm sure Greenville Tech would love to do what you just described as well. A criticism I've heard is that it's in the company's interest to train people more narrowly than it might be in their interest.
Roberts notes that then it returns to being a question of getting the people to pay for it and invest in their education and future employability themselves.
Putting more of the cost on the employee sounds like one way to strike a balance, although they're already probably suffering financially as it is, so a lot of them might not be willing to sacrifice those wages for one or two years. Maybe another possibility is for the employer to pay much of the cost of the training or pay them a full wage while they aren't working a full workweek, but only in exchange for (in addition to a contractual guarantee that the employee will stay at the company for X number of years) paying the newly trained employee a slightly lower wage than others in that higher position for the first few years.
Davidson summarizes this segment of the podcast nicely:
What I really like is the creative thinking. You know, thinking that the only way to advance does not need to be: you have to leave the workforce or you have to go to night school and go to a two-year technical college and spend money while you're not earning money. I do like that proposal to think more creatively and destroy some of the old models.
I hope new, different, and creative education/training models like those do emerge and flourish, but I wonder why they haven't already. Too much of a government monopoly on education? Too few practical skills taught in high schools? Too much entrenchment in the old student loan/student debt/traditional college model of education and subsequent employment? Too little on-the-job training for manufacturing workers of all kinds (which Davidson laments earlier in the podcast)? Too much pure number-crunching/profit-seeking by corporations and not enough investment in human capital or sort of seeking good karma for fostering good employer–employee relations? Too many corporations and not enough worker-owned collectives? (Note that all or at least most of the cost–benefit trade-offs that impair these non-traditional employee training programs in manufacturing corporations would also exist in any other employment/ownership model.)
Near the very end, Roberts says something that perfectly summarizes what I think about the intersection of labor and education in the United States today:
There are people who struggle to apply those intangible skills [that they have acquired in school, such as with a generic high-school diploma or their liberal arts major], and they'd like some tangible ones. Rather than trying to create that educational system, I'd like to let it emerge. And we need, I think, a lot more creativity in how we let that system run.
Some other interesting aspects of Davidson's article and the podcast, that don't relate too closely with economics but maybe they do with politics, were the story of the founder of Standard Motor Products and the story of Maddie the level-1 worker.
Elias Fife, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, founded Standard because he saw a demand that wasn't being filled back in the early days of car ownership: "many people were frustrated with Ford and the other car manufacturers because they never made enough replacement parts" and "The tiny aftermarket auto-parts industry was a mess: countless mechanics and hobbyists made parts by hand in their garages, and many of these parts didn’t fit or would break." So "Fife decided to build a trustworthy, reliable brand whose products met or exceeded the quality of the original parts." That's the epitome of the American dream, right there: come to the land of opportunity and seize upon the first good one you find, even if you know nothing about that market beforehand, and create a company that will grow and profit for decades!
Maddie's story, in contrast, is quite sad in many ways. It's a powerful exemplary warning against teenage pregnancy. In both the article and the podcast, Davidson describes her as smart, quick, young, pretty, and hard-working, but because she graduated high school 6 months pregnant and could never sacrifice potential wages for schooling after that, she is stuck in a low-level job with no future career prospects in which she is completely interchangeable with any other worker and will soon be replaceable with a machine. She was good at math and other subjects in high school and got good grades. She was planning to go to a four-year university and major in criminal justice. But she had to make money immediately to support her baby as a single mother, and there are numerous obstacles to Standard (or any other company) paying for her to go to technical college or some kind of training/certification program to enable her to move up in the future. (Two of them being: How does Standard know her abilities and interests will match those required for a higher-level decision-maker? and, How do they know she won't then be lured away by another company offering higher pay? I wonder how Japan and Germany, which supposedly treat their factory workers better and pay them more and treat them like human beings instead of numbers, would handle a case like hers.)
I have little doubt that Maddie would stand a good chance of benefiting from a technical education program (organized, promoted, or sponsored in some way by her employer) that doesn't fit the mold of any currently existing education/training models, and I have little doubt that eliminating the State-caused regimentation of education and labor markets would give Maddie multiple money-earning and job-training options that aren't available to her (and her employer) now.
Maddie's story also brings up the sad but true fact that while her career prospects were ruined by her teenage motherhood, the father's were not. The father left after high school and is nowhere to be seen. He could go on about his life like any other 18-year-old man. It seems clear that Maddie should have done everything she could and used every resource she could to track him down and force him to pay child support. With all the misguided and unjust laws that pervade our society, it's hard to argue against child support payments when a father just leaves the mother alone to raise both of their child. Maybe she did try, and maybe she still could try.
I wonder why Maddie's family couldn't help raise her child and support her through at least two years of technical school; it seems almost a given that they had no money to do so. This just provides more support for the libertarian position that a wealthier and freer society benefits everyone, particularly the poor and downtrodden. A world of more and cheaper goods, no inflation, no impoverishing government regulations, no wasteful government bureaucracy, more labor mobility and bargaining power, more unconventional employment options, no trillion-dollar defense budget, no wasteful welfare programs, no wasteful stimulus packages, and no pitiful Social Security program might have allowed Maddie's parents and other relatives to save more money and be in a better position to help raise her child. Many economists have argued that extensive government assistance programs make families and communities weaker, an argument I find nearly irrefutable. Absent an overbearing and wasteful State, perhaps Maddie's family, church, and local charities could have helped provide for her child while she spent two years in school. (Maybe in the deep South, they would shun her more than help her, but I would guess not. They would probably shun her a lot more for having an abortion than having a baby.)
Maybe liberals would ask why Maddie didn't claim some type of welfare or other assistance benefit from the state and federal governments. I wonder that, too. Maybe she is against it, maybe her parents persuaded her not to because they're against it, maybe she didn't know about it, maybe she was too caught up with everything else to get around to it, maybe she tried and couldn't get much money. Maddie sounds like exactly the type of person the government "safety net" is supposed to help, yet where was it for her? I'd like to know the whole story.
Maddie's story might also be a good example of how a crappy life in the U.S. today isn't actually all that bad by historical standards. Humanity would be nothing if we didn't always strive for something better and dream about improving our lot in the future, so I would hate for a bright young woman like Maddie to be complacent (which she isn't), but that shouldn't stop us from recognizing that the more productive the world economy is and the more free everyone is to be the master of their own lives, the more life improves for each successive generation. It is not a benevolent State or its welfare programs but rather the exponential increase of wealth, the continuous expansion of the worldwide division of labor, and the continuous creation of economic opportunities that raise the standard of living of the poor. (Besides, without the excesses of a free-ish economy, there would be no welfare to give.) Despite the aforementioned restrictions of her own economic opportunities, Maddie's children will have a great chance to be better off than either she or her parents were, and they already seem to have a decent life in inexpensive Easley, SC. It's just that her job won't last forever, and there's little she can easily do to improve her career prospects now. That's the really sad part.
I honestly don't know. I wish it were a lot, but I think it's optimistic to say they've even done a moderate amount of good for the cause of liberty in this country as a whole. I voted for him in my state's primary just to try to help out his numbers the only way I could and thereby increase his exposure and notoriety some tiny amount. Obviously, one vote isn't going to make any noticeable difference, but neither is one blag post, yet here I am and here you are!
Ron Paul has only won 47 out of the 745 GOP delegates so far. He hasn't won any state. He's won 11% of the popular vote so far, well up from last time but not enough to force Statist sycophants in the mainstream media to talk about him. At least Jon Stewart gave him lots of love when other talking heads wouldn't.
Maybe 11% of (some subset of) voters is good progress, though. In 2008 Ron Paul wasn't running for president; he was running against the presidency. I don't think he had the same clearly stated goal in 2012, but I also didn't think he had a realistic shot at the GOP nomination, so as far as a campaign against the presidency goes, 11% is actually pretty good, in my opinion.
The reason I don't think voting is a bad idea for libertarians and anarchists of any stripe is that people pay attention to presidential races and poll results, so using that platform to spread libertarian or anarchist ideas is a good, legitimate strategy. Jon Stewart didn't interview Ron Paul the congressman from Texas. Jay Leno didn't interview Ron Paul the congressman from Texas. Glenn Greenwald and Charles Davis didn't write about Ron Paul the congressman from Texas. (Probably.) Average Republican and Democrat voters don't say, "Gee, I don't love any of these candidates, so I wonder if there are any anti-establishment, different-thinking congressmen or senators from other states whose press releases and speeches on the House or Senate floor I should pay attention to. I'll take half of my Sunday afternoon to see if I can find any." People pay attention to presidential debates, primaries, and candidates, so if I and any other libertarians can promote our philosophy by supporting a largely libertarian candidate, then I'm all for it.
I know a lot of libertarian- and anarchist-leaning people don't support Ron Paul because of his policy positions, such as opposing immigration and supporting the Constitution too strongly. I must admit agreement with them on the first point, but I would note that any shift towards strict Constitutionalism in our country today would be a great improvement in our legal, economic, and social lives. If you take the incrementalist approach or admit that it has any validity, a move towards Constitutionalism can only be a move in the right direction. Should anarchists who oppose Ron Paul's presidential campaign for philosophical reasons also never praise any writer or thinker who holds a single disagreeable position? I know this is an unsatisfactory analogy because mere writers and blaggers hold no legal power over others to enforce supposedly objectionable policies; but Ron Paul was never going to get elected president, so there was no need to worry about your vote contributing to, enabling, or sanctioning evil acts.
(I have also wondered whether some strongly anti-incrementalist anarchists, i.e., those who think agorism and black-market living is the only way to achieve freedom in this world, consciously or subconsciously oppose Ron Paul's candidacy because they don't want incrementalism to gain any more ground, a development that they would consider ultimately harmful to the cause of liberty. That could hold some water, but I remain firm in my current opinion that agorism is sort of incrementalism and that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive.)
All in all, I can't refute any specific point anti-Paul anarchists or libertarians offer for opposing him, because it ultimately comes down to personal feelings, preferences, and predictions about what's best, but I will mention that Ron Paul is, in fact, very strongly libertarian and hasn't backed down or capitulated on a single policy issue since I've heard about him. He is therefore an excellent public representative of big-tent libertarianism and a presidential candidate whose ideas and exposure seem only to do good for the cause of shrinking government and improving individual liberty in the United States.
It seems likely that the mainstream media's ignoring of Ron Paul has had something to do with his unpopularity, but his numbers are still very low in states where I thought more people would/should support him. My home state of Georgia, for instance, which I once considered one of the most libertarian states in the nation based on their distrust of government and the popularity of semi-libertarian radio show host Neal Boortz, voted overwhelmingly for Georgian Newt Gingrich, with Ron Paul in a distant fourth behind maniacal fundamentalist theocrat Rick Santorum. So there's certainly reason for pessimism.
I loved this column in the New York Times by Paul Butler: Jurors Need to Know That They Can Say No:
If you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote “not guilty” — even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult. As a juror, you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer.
The information I have just provided — about a constitutional doctrine called “jury nullification” — is absolutely true. But if federal prosecutors in New York get their way, telling the truth to potential jurors could result in a six-month prison sentence.
Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Julian P. Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor, with jury tampering because he stood outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan providing information about jury nullification to passers-by. Given that I have been recommending nullification for nonviolent drug cases since 1995 — in such forums as The Yale Law Journal, “60 Minutes” and YouTube — I guess I, too, have committed a crime.
The prosecutors who charged Mr. Heicklen said that “advocacy of jury nullification, directed as it is to jurors, would be both criminal and without constitutional protections no matter where it occurred.” The prosecutors in this case are wrong. The First Amendment exists to protect speech like this — honest information that the government prefers citizens not know.
Laws against jury tampering are intended to deter people from threatening or intimidating jurors. To contort these laws to justify punishing Mr. Heicklen, whose court-appointed counsel describe him as “a shabby old man distributing his silly leaflets from the sidewalk outside a courthouse,” is not only unconstitutional but unpatriotic. Jury nullification is not new; its proponents have included John Hancock and John Adams.
(And John Jay.)
The doctrine is premised on the idea that ordinary citizens, not government officials, should have the final say as to whether a person should be punished. As Adams put it, it is each juror’s “duty” to vote based on his or her “own best understanding, judgment and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.”
Nullification has been credited with helping to end alcohol prohibition and laws that criminalized gay sex. Last year, Montana prosecutors were forced to offer a defendant in a marijuana case a favorable plea bargain after so many potential jurors said they would nullify that the judge didn’t think he could find enough jurors to hear the case. (Prosecutors now say they will remember the actions of those jurors when they consider whether to charge other people with marijuana crimes.)
There have been unfortunate instances of nullification. Racist juries in the South, for example, refused to convict people who committed violent acts against civil-rights activists, and nullification has been used in cases involving the use of excessive force by the police. But nullification is like any other democratic power; some people may try to misuse it, but that does not mean it should be taken away from everyone else.
How one feels about jury nullification ultimately depends on how much confidence one has in the jury system. Based on my experience, I trust jurors a lot.
(Well, I don't trust juries a lot, but I trust them far more than politicians and lawyers.)
I first became interested in nullification when I prosecuted low-level drug crimes in Washington in 1990. Jurors here, who were predominantly African-American, nullified regularly because they were concerned about racially selective enforcement of the law.
Across the country, crime has fallen, but incarceration rates remain at near record levels. Last year, the New York City police made 50,000 arrests just for marijuana possession. Because prosecutors have discretion over whether to charge a suspect, and for what offense, they have more power than judges over the outcome of a case. They tend to throw the book at defendants, to compel them to plead guilty in return for less harsh sentences. In some jurisdictions, like Washington, prosecutors have responded to jurors who are fed up with their draconian tactics by lobbying lawmakers to take away the right to a jury trial in drug cases. That is precisely the kind of power grab that the Constitution’s framers were so concerned about.
In October, the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, asked at a Senate hearing about the role of juries in checking governmental power, seemed open to the notion that jurors “can ignore the law” if the law “is producing a terrible result.” He added: “I’m a big fan of the jury.” I’m a big fan, too. I would respectfully suggest that if the prosecutors in New York bring fair cases, they won’t have to worry about jury nullification.
Bring these points up to any of various stripes of authoritarian and they will delve into their standard stock of apocalyptic warnings about inconsistency and unpredictability in the law, as if people today always know exactly what is legal anyway and the Statist criminal code protects people from overzealous prosecution or from criminals who were let off the hook by underzealous juries. The American and British common-law tradition, which includes jury nullification, tends to maintain more constancy, predictability, and fairness in the law, whereas Statist law subjects ever more people to the depredations of the State under ever more petty and aggressive laws. Statist law is also likely to change faster and be less predictable because it need only be accepted and implemented by a powerful minority, whereas customary law (which must usually or always embrace jury nullification) changes more slowly and is more predictable because each law must be accepted by an entire community in order to reach any substantial level of permanence or solidity.
Much writing about science funding and policy reveals how a consistent libertarian morality and an understanding of basic economics could add valuable insight into otherwise vacuous writing. It also shows how handicapped scientists and science writers are by being stuck in the mindset that government should fund science research and that there are substantive policy differences between Democrats and Republicans. A recent editorial column in Nature titled Tough choices is just so weak and vacant of any real intellectual contribution that it made me cringe sometimes and shake my head in disappointment others. This editorial was, of course, written by the editors of Nature, who are Ph.D.’s and mostly current or former high-level researchers, not just science writers with degrees in Journalism or English and a background in science. I’m not sure if that makes their apparent political cluelessness better or worse.
The idea that science is a driver of prosperity is one of the few things on which the United States’ bitterly divided political parties still agree.
Oh, please. Don’t make me laugh. Since about the 1970′s, the Democrats and Republicans haven’t been bitterly divided over anything except how to direct their control over our social and economic choices.
The harder the cuts bite, the more those agencies will have to streamline their operations and merge or terminate programmes.
This week’s budget proposal, which contains many references to “tough choices”, shows that this process is already well under way. The Department of Energy (DOE), for example, wants to discontinue funding of several dozen projects that have not met their research milestones, or that seem otherwise unpromising. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is likewise cutting back on some $66 million in lower-priority education, outreach and research programmes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been ordered to pursue “new grant management policies” to increase the number of new grants by 7%. And NASA is being obliged to make drastic cuts to its Mars exploration programme so as to finish building its flagship James Webb Space Telescope.
Conceivably, this process could get even more drastic. Last month, Obama asked Congress to give him the authority to consolidate and streamline agencies on his own initiative — and suggested that one early application would be to transfer the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from the Department of Commerce to the Department of the Interior. If Congress were to give Obama that power, it is possible to imagine him — or some future Republican president — sending all of the NSF’s science-education programmes to the Department of Education, or merging the DOE’s particle and nuclear physics research into the NSF, under the guise of making management of science more efficient.
White House officials insist that no one in the administration is even contemplating such a wholesale restructuring. But the arithmetic of the deficit is unavoidable. Individual researchers, scientific societies and science funding agencies can no longer afford to be purely reactive, responding to each cut as it comes along. They need to be part of the debate, thinking systematically about how programmes and even whole agencies could be restructured to make them more efficient at using the scarce funds available, and more effective at promoting the best science.
Gee, there’s a problem with efficiently allocating scarce resources? If only there were an entire centuries-old scientific discipline that could inform this problem. This is a classic resource allocation problem in a politically (socialistically) run industry. Almost all basic science research and much translational and clinical research in the United States is funded by the Imperial Federal Government, and neither Republicans nor Democrats see any problem with that. Neither do most scientists, either because they can’t bear the thought of leaving science-funding decisions to the citizens who supply the funds or because they can’t bear the thought of leaving any decisions to ordinary citizens. Politicians decide how much money will be available for each agency or department, and bureaucrats and scientists within each agency or department decide how their money will be divided. Research funding is so insulated from market forces that it’s hard to even imagine it in a free-market context.
The funding, organization, and streamlining of scientific research should not be a political or bureaucratic problem. Because it is, scientific research experiences all the problems characteristic of socialist industries: apparent funding shortages despite mostly continual budget increases, funding that is subject to the tug and pull of political power, its zero-sum nature of resource allocation, decisions that are out of the hands of the people who have to pay for them or implement them on a daily basis, a tax base that questions the worthiness of the endeavors it has funded, the nonexistence of saving and reinvestment in profitable endeavors, imbalances in the distribution of goods or labor, and a complete inability to make economically sound decisions based on the price system of a free market.
I know from first-hand experience that basic research funded by the NIH and other agencies is entirely merit-based, highly competitive, and requires results to secure further funding. The questions almost no one asks are: Merit in accomplishing what? Competitiveness in attaining what? What good are the results? Should we even reward the particular things the scientists exhibit merit in? Should they even be competing for what they’re competing for? How has it been determined that what they have accomplished is desirable and that what they are competing for is worthwhile?
In other sectors of an economy to the extent that it is permitted, the consumers who ultimately pay for the end products decide whether and how much to spend on them, and their decisions determine how much is spent on the higher-order goods that go into the production of the consumer goods. The fact that basic research itself produces no consumer goods is irrelevant because the principles of economics apply everywhere to all resource allocation problems.
Absent government involvement in scientific research, individuals in businesses, non-profit organizations, and philanthropic organizations would decide how much money, land, labor, and capital to devote to a particular avenue of research on the basis of their estimated profit (economic and psychal) from it. CEOs, investors, stockholders, philanthropists, research team leaders, and low-level lab workers would respond to some combination of their life’s goals and the market’s prices to determine how to spend their time and money. Profitable (desirable) endeavors would flourish, and unprofitable (undesirable) ones would fade away, to be replaced by new and different ones or more of the old, proven ones. The enterprises that produced the most new and additional wealth for society would be reinvested in, to both continue producing wealth in the same ways and devise new, more risky, but potentially more beneficial avenues of research.
A short-term doubling of the research budget, assuming it could even happen, would not result in untenable expansion and a failure to plan for even the near future, or if it did, the people and businesses responsible for such waste and short-sightedness would be replaced with less clueless ones. Exceptional growth during one period would be followed not by crisis and uncertainty but by swift, smooth, natural adjustments to new prices, as always. Imbalances between the supply of lower-level researchers and their job prospects would not last long because people would respond to incentives according their perceived best interest; in other words, the demand for certain types of researchers would determine their supply, instead of political funding decisions determining how many graduate students and post-docs universities can afford.
People would, largely, make the decisions that affected their own jobs and their own companies, instead of making do with the money politicians allocate for them. Consumers, the funders and supposed beneficiaries of the research, would also have a say in the direction that research takes by means of their purchasing decisions. And instead of competing for a piece of the government pie at the expense of others in a zero-sum game, scientists would engage in a competition to produce new and additional wealth and constantly increase the size of the pie. It is a metaphysical impossibility for government action itself to produce new wealth; by definition, government can only destroy wealth or rearrange existing wealth. Government-funded research and development can produce wealth, but by restricting science research to the public sphere and insulating it from the constraints and benefits of the free market, it is greatly limited in its ability to add completely new wealth to the world.
Many scientists and advocates of government funding of research might say all of these decisions and adjustments and resource allocations already happen in largely the same way, it’s just that a different type of infrastructure handles the money, the ultimate funders are actually taxpayers who decide how to fund research in the ballot box instead of the marketplace, and the scientists are insulated from nefarious private interests. This would be a complete misinterpretation of the facts. The fact is that the free decisions and private ownership that allow the more free sectors of the economy to operate smoothly, respond to price signals, allocate resources efficiently, and produce new and additional wealth are completely absent in the arena of government-funded research, and the result is that virtually nothing about scientific research today resembles a free market.
All for the better, most people would say. If scientific research were subjected to the constraints of the market, many different types of people would have to decide, voluntarily and apolitically, whether a research project is economically worthwhile to society and not just whether it has scientific merit per se. A much larger proportion of research would be focused on producing profitable, salable goods and services. I say: What of it? If the supposed beneficiaries and funders of the scientific research have different goals from the researchers themselves, who are you to say their goals lack merit? Who are you to say you know better than they how to spend their money? Who are you say they would be wrong if they wanted to spend less money—even significantly less—on basic research from which they do not benefit directly?
Contrary to the desires of most people and nearly all scientists, the research sector would benefit greatly from a replacement of socialism with laissez-faire. Scientists would not find their level of funding at the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. Avenues of research would not face the danger of being cut off because a new faction that’s politically opposed to the implications or goals of their research gained power. Younger researchers would not (typically) find their job prospects dried up after they entered the field during a great boom. Competition for all products and services would make research cheaper to conduct while simultaneously allowing for more of it. Researchers wouldn’t find themselves toiling for years in fruitless projects with questionable societal value. The career paths available to researchers wouldn’t be so limited, structured, and predetermined, as they are in academia. Endeavors that provided real, measurable value to the populace and to the economy would make a profit and secure funding in the future—but only so long as they continued to provide value. The regular consumers, the investors, and the philanthropists who funded the projects would be more encouraged and rewarded by seeing the actual benefits of their investments.
The problem with advocates of government funding of research is that they want it to be funded by government but don’t want politics to influence the funding. They want continually increasing budgets but cry “foul!” when the deficits they helped create result in a smaller budget increase than they’re used to. They want to take hundreds of billions of dollars from taxpayers but don’t want taxpayers who object to such uses of their money to be able to withdraw the funding. They want to fund research in a completely socialist manner but don’t want to suffer the consequences of the inefficiencies and price-blindness of socialism. They complain about politicians who dare to propose budget cuts when the entire economy is suffering, but it never occurs to them that the problem is the political funding of research to begin with, not the politicians themselves.
Everything that humans do in a social context is governed in some way by the laws of economics. Funding by taxation and allocation by politicians or funding by sales and allocation by businessmen are at the mercy of economic reality, even if politicizing the process distorts the effects of economic law. Therefore, scientists don’t have a choice between politics and economics; they have a choice of either economics or both politics and economics. Currently, research funding is, first, at the mercy of economics, which says all governments will be inefficient and face frequent funding crises, and, second, at the mercy of politics and all the uncertainty, pettiness, and dirtiness that come with it.
Aside from the economic problem of research funding is a moral one:
To do that, and to address the increasing demands from politicians and voters for evidence that fundamental research is useful, scientists must also find better ways to measure the effectiveness of the nation’s investments in science. The usual technique is to insist that principal investigators produce more and more reports, which tends to be a waste of everyone’s time. A consortium of six universities called Star Metrics, launched in 2010 and headquartered at the NIH, has shown that it is possible to do better by using natural language processing and other tools to mine the data and reports that the agencies already collect. But even that is just a beginning. Researchers and research institutions need to help to devise still better measures — because if they don’t do it themselves, politicians and others who know much less about science may very well do it for them. And who knows where that would end.
This touches on the moral problem of petitioning the government for more funds: those funds are taken by force from people and used to pay for things they might not have wanted to pay for. Scientists will religiously repeat the mantra, “But scientific research benefits the entire world and drives the innovation that improves everyone’s well-being.” That is obvious, but this completely ignores the immorality of forcing people to pay for something merely because it is supposedly good for them. (How many scientists, 99.99% of whom are hardcore leftists, would have liked to divert their tax dollars away from the Department of Defense and into, say, the NIH? Yet they would never allow such a choice to be extended to everyone’s tax dollars and would raise hell if a lot of people made the opposite choice. I’d bet anything that if all Americans were allowed to specify what their tax dollars funded and this resulted in increased military funding but decreased NIH funding, the vast, vast majority of scientists would say, “Well, we obviously need to raise taxes or rescind this offer, because Science is Good and the people clearly don’t know what’s good for them.”)
A good example of the morality of allowing people the freedom to spend their money how they want vs. the immorality of political funding decisions is any socially controversial research topic, say, global warming. In a simplified example, say that 51% of legislators at a given time (or over a substantial period of time, such as an entire presidential term) think global warming is not mostly anthropogenic and that even if it is, the material consequences of restricting economic activity based on global warming data are far too severe given the relatively small environmental benefit they would allow. Therefore, they vote to cut funding for research on global warming. In a free society, if 20% of the population supported global warming research and wanted to fund it, they could, and the other 80% couldn’t do anything about it. In a Statist society where politics determines funding, it doesn’t matter if 20% or even, in some cases, over 50% of the population wants to fund global warming research; if the politicians vote no, then those people’s tax dollars will go elsewhere.
Another thing about that concluding paragraph: It is almost comical how far scientists and policymakers will go and how convoluted their solutions will get, all because they insist on keeping science funding socialist. What a shining example of how one bit of government interference begets more and more government interference. The effectiveness of government-funded science is uncertain, so let’s form committees and write software to better analyze data, and if that’s not enough, we need to gather more input from more scientists to determine how to measure the benefits of all our research funding! And we also need to decide how to reorganize our bloated and inefficient bureaucracies that only exist because of historical peculiarities, but we need to make sure we get input from scientists and bureaucrats and policymakers alike! Or, you could subject your results to the true test of the free market, like all actually beneficial sectors of the economy, and the inexorable justice of the price system would constantly drive all resources in the direction of their most efficient and desirable uses.
Scientists also don’t take into account the opportunity cost of forcing people to fund the research that scientists deem worthy of funding. It is a basic fact of history that the self-interested choices of free people have enabled the explosion of wealth, technology, and productivity that have increased billions of people’s well-being astronomically, and the same voluntary choices of free people would enable a similar increase in the economic efficiency and societal value of basic scientific research. To deny this is simply to deny economic and historical fact. Free markets and freedom of choice aren’t just optimal in every sector of the economy except basic research; they are optimal always and everywhere because freedom of exchange and the resultant price system and profit-and-loss system allow people to make choices that are in their own best interest (economic and psychological), which is far better than politicians or scientists can do, regardless of the amount of data they have.
I was really intrigued by this article about the culture that Red Hat, a Linux-based open-source software company, fosters in its work environment.
Because Red Hat is a pure open source company, its culture is something between a democracy and a commune. This comes from the nature of open source, where writing software is always a collaboration.
With that kind of culture “you might be arrogant in believing that open source is the way to go,” she [Executive Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Marketing Jackie Yeaney] says, but this prevents people from becoming arrogant themselves—including executives.
“If you believe in open source, you know you don’t know best. There’s all these other people around that can provide input and make it better,” Yeaney says.
“It’s not that people think they are going to take a vote, or that all of their ideas will get in. But they want to be part of the process and be heard,” she says. “You have to build credibility and respect at a place like Red Hat, and it really doesn’t matter what your title says. It’s more what you say and do who is going with you.”
“It’s one of the only places I know where the CEO can say ‘I’d like XYZ to happen’ and it may or not happen,” she jokes.
This type of work environment is coming to every company, too, Yeaney is convinced.
“A lot of what Red Hat faced because of the open source culture all companies are starting to face because of millennials in the workplace and social media. Companies are becoming more open whether they like it or not,” she says.
I hope Yeaney is right and that this type of cooperative, collaborative work environment will spread, and fast. In such a work environment, it seems to me that people can only succeed and advance based on merit and value added, their ideas must be deemed worthy by several coworkers and collaborators for them to be implemented, ideas are more likely to be improved by collaboration before being implemented, people have to earn the respect of others instead of respect being forced on underlings, and they will have a much harder time rising to the level of their incompetence, as the adage goes.
That’s not to say other, more traditionally structured companies don’t strive to exhibit these characteristics to some extent, but my guess is that Red Hat’s advantages stem directly from its exhibiting these characteristics to a much greater extent. Red Hat seems to have a hierarchy without much hierarchy. Maybe some people would call their work culture left-libertarian. Either way, the existence (and, in fact, abundance) of non-traditional work cultures, business models, and employment situations, aside from the actual nature of any specific work environment, is libertarian because a free society would obviously have more companies structured like Red Hat because it would have more variety in all societal institutions and structures. In a free society it would be legal and feasible to at least try many business models that are either outlawed or made impractical by State regulation, and if they are profitable and attractive to employees, then all libertarians would say let them flourish.
I liked Cato’s Michael F. Cannon’s take on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s decision to suspend its partnership with and funding of Planned Parenthood:
First, this controversy provides a delightful contrast to the Obama administration’s decision to force all Americans to purchase contraceptives and subsidize abortions.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation chose to stop providing grants to Planned Parenthood. Lots of people didn’t like (and/or don’t believe) Komen’s reasons. Some declared they would stop giving to Komen. Others approved of Komen’s decision and started giving to Komen. Many declared they would start donating to Planned Parenthood to show their disapproval of Komen’s decision.
Notice what didn’t happen. Nobody forced anybody to do anything that violated their conscience. People who don’t like Planned Parenthood’s mission can now support Komen without any misgivings. People who like Planned Parenthood’s mission can still support it, and can support other organizations that fight breast cancer. The whole episode may end up being a boon for both sides, if total contributions to the two organizations are any measure. Such are the blessings of liberty.
Assume for the sake of argument that the Susan G. Komen Foundation has been hijacked by radical abortion opponents who forced the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Even if that is true, that decision did not inject politics into a process previously devoid of politics.
Millions of Americans believe that Planned Parenthood routinely kills small, helpless human beings. Believe it or not, they have a problem with that. When Komen gives money to Planned Parenthood, it no doubt angers those Americans (and makes them less likely to contribute). When Komen decided that the good it would accomplish by funding Planned Parenthood’s provision of breast exams outweighed the concerns (and reaction) of those millions of Americans, Komen was making a political judgment.
Perhaps Planned Parenthood’s supporters didn’t notice the politics that was always there, since Komen had been making the same political judgment they themselves make. But if Planned Parenthood’s supporters are angry now, it’s not because Komen injected politics into its grant-making. It’s because Komen made a different political judgment and Planned Parenthood lost, for now anyway. (Then again, if donations to Planned Parenthood are the measure, the group may be winning by losing.)
I must confess to a little bit of Schadenfreude here, as those who are complaining about Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood are largely the same folks who applaud President Obama’s decision to force everyone to fund it (and, without a trace of irony, describe themselves as “pro-choice”). I predict that when a future president reverses Obama’s decision, supporters of Obama’s policy will likewise delude themselves that the future president has “injected” politics into the dispute.
UPDATE: The Susan G. Komen Foundation has again adjusted its grant-making policies, and Planned Parenthood will once again be eligible for funding. A reporter asks me: “So what does it mean now that Komen’s reversed itself?” My reply:
It does not mean that politics has been banished from Komen’s decisions. It just means that Komen has again made a political decision that more closely reflects the values of Planned Parenthood’s supporters than its detractors. But that is how we should settle the question of who funds Planned Parenthood: with vigorous debate and by allowing individuals to follow their conscience. When Obamacare ‘settles’ the question by forcing taxpayers to fund Planned Parenthood, it violates everyone’s freedom and dignity.
That was a hell of a lot more thoughtful than the reactions of all my liberal friends and acquaintances, which all boiled down to “Stop supporting Komen for the Cure because they caved in to right-wing political pressure!”
The very same faction that pretended for years to be so distraught by Bush’s mere eavesdropping on and detention of accused Terrorists without due process is now perfectly content to have their own President kill accused Terrorists without due process, even when those targeted are their fellow citizens.
—Glenn Greenwald, on the Democrats
I had a bizarre experience yesterday: I encountered two people who were wrong on the internet who asserted that words can harm people and so their (mis)use should be punishable by law. I don’t mean using libel or slander to harm someone’s reputation, which should not be considered crimes anyway. I mean simple ignorant, insulting, insensitive, verifiably wrong or inflammatory speech.
This occurred at a relatively unlikely place, the language-focused blag Lingua Franca. Geoffrey Pullum, professor of linguistics and prolific language blagger, wrote:
The 1897 session of the Indiana General Assembly passed “A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth.” It asserted that (i) the ratio of the chord and arc of a 90-degree segment of a circle was 7/8; (ii) the ratio of said chord to the circle’s diameter (hence to the diagonal of a square inscribed in the circle) was 7/10; and (iii) the ratio of the diameter to the circumference was (5/4)/4. Pi must be equal to 3.2 for these things to be true. Yet the bill nearly made it through committee in the Senate, until one senator pointed out that it was ultra vires for the Assembly to define mathematical truth.
…when you assemble a few hundred ambitious people who managed to win elections and let them vote on proposed laws, you occasionally get silliness. Possibly about mathematical truth, or even linguistic truth.
The latter came up this past week when the French Senate passed a bill (already passed by the National Assembly in December) criminalizing a specific linguistic act: asserting that the slaughter of Armenians in Turkey during 1915 does not satisfy the definition of the word genocide.
This law (which President Sarkozy is widely expected to sign into law) makes it a crime to deny or “outrageously minimize” the number and motivation of the mass killings of Armenians. To assert the view “What happened in 1915 was not genocide” would be a prosecutable offense. The bill legislatively insists that a certain set of contingent historical events meet the criteria for use of the term genocide, and forbids asserting the opposite. If a document were found proving that all the killings of Armenians in 1915 were unintended side effects of a hyperspace bypass construction operation by extra-terrestrials, it would apparently be illegal for historians to discuss the document at a conference in France. This is legislative idiocy.
I have not expressed any opinion about the history. Since Armenian-Turkish journalist and editor Hrant Dink was murdered in broad daylight for treating the topic, I’m not exactly eager to. And my ignorance of early 20th-century Anatolian history is profound, so perhaps it’s just as well. But Mark Liberman noted on Language Log that The New York Times, after decades of demurral, reportedly decided in 2004 that “genocide” was and is an appropriate word for the events in question. (And you don’t turn the Gray Lady around easily—The New York Times still requires clause-initial whom, for heaven’s sake).
Mass killings of Armenians in Turkey as the Ottoman Empire collapsed appear to be copiously documented. My reasons for calling the French legislation crazy do not lie in any disagreement about the documentation. And I don’t care for wacky historical contrarians—nobody despises Holocaust deniers more than I do. I just think that it would be a monumental blunder to enact a law stipulating a point of lexical denotation. Insisting that you have to count the events as meeting the definition of genocide is as silly as trying to legislate the area of a square inscribed in a circle of diameter n.
The right way to handle thought crimes (or mathematical contradictions) is the American way: We grit our teeth and let people utter their loony ideas. We don’t use the criminal law to define their lexical denotations as erroneous or to forbid their ideas from being uttered.
Sarkozy isn’t Satan, and the fanatical Turkish denialism about 1915 is not virtuous or even sensible; but passing a law stipulating anything about how the word genocide is to be applied would be a stupid legislative mistake.
A commenter going by beedhamm wrote the following comment:
The main piece of support for your argument (something to the effect of it’s “legislative idiocy”) is stated here:
“The right way to handle thought crimes (or mathematical contradictions) is the American way: We grit our teeth and let people utter their loony ideas. We don’t use the criminal law to define their lexical denotations as erroneous or to forbid their ideas from being uttered.”
Now ask, what proof is there for this statement in the rest of your article? You’ve taken a serious, complex, nuanced situation and attempted to treat it in a lighthearted fashion, primarily by repeating something to the effect of it’s “a stupid legislative mistake.”
Perhaps a cognitive linguist, like Lakoff, would be better suited to comment on this issue?
I didn’t reply to this comment because I didn’t even know where to begin, perhaps largely because beedhamm failed to even make a point or state a single opinion, other than insinuating that Dr. Pullum’s conclusion is wrong and that a more detailed, in-depth, scholarly treatment of the proposed French law would lead to a different conclusion. Such a weak stance and absurdly heinous implication (that such laws aren’t mistakes and punishing speech can be desirable) were about par for the course for this morally questionable and intellectually bankrupt individual, as I discovered later.
Below that, an Armenian fellow whose name I will not paste because it was written in Armenian script, wrote:
Sound like you (the author) are one of the extremely uneducated (although have the opportunity to study whatever desired), wrongly self-confident Midwesterns that I’ve seen for years while studying there, that are no different from the uneducated (mainly cause they don’t have the choice to study), extremely ignorant immigrants whom I see every day now at the East Coast.
Please note that the language barrier has nothing to do with this Armenian’s misunderstanding of the principle of freedom of speech, as seen by the ensuing exchange. I responded:
Geoffrey Pullum: “Governments have no business legislating word definitions, any more than they have legislating mathematical relationships. We also shouldn’t silence, censor, fine, imprison, threaten, or otherwise punish people for the words they say and write that harm no one, however wrong or insulting they are.”
You: “You must be an uneducated, ignorant, privileged, out-of-touch moron.”
Nice job. You made your case really well, except I thought your Concluding Statement could have used a few more baseless insults.
This Armenian responded,
For your knowledge (since you need some): A word is the most powerful weapon existing on this planet (that is the same as religion, propaganda, etc.). So you agreeing with the thought “We also shouldn’t silence, censor, fine, imprison, threaten, or otherwise punish people for the words they say and write that harm no one, however wrong or insulting they are.” (by the way, see how it’s done? I mean the quotation) is another indicator of your low level education.
I ended my interaction with him with:
Just to clarify, you’re basically saying that it is ignorant (uneducated, stupid, wrong, unenlightened) to object to the idea that a government should define certain speech as harmful and punish users of such speech in proportion to the harm their words cause? Maybe you don’t realize how ridiculous that sounds to the English-speaking world. I didn’t think there was anyone outside of totalitarian governments who thought that way anymore. It is clear that nothing can be gained from interacting with such a sorry excuse for a human. Have a good life, and I hope you find your authoritarian police state someday.
(There was another brief exchange between us that was definitely hampered by the language barrier, but that’s not vital here.) Language barrier or no, this person’s intent is perfectly clear: The State should define certain speech or (mis)uses of words as harmful, should outlaw them, and should punish transgressors with the full force of the law.
I don’t care where you’re from, who you’re descended from, what your family or country has gone through, what your native language is, how fluent you are in the language you’re writing in, or what type of government you have lived under, there is NO EXCUSE for advocating the use of the police power of the State to punish people’s words or ideas. Boycotts, fine. Retaliatory slander, fine. Peaceful protests, fine. But this Armenian would lock you and your family in a cage for years for saying the wrong words in the wrong context. Those are monstrous thoughts written by a monstrous person, plain and simple. We (well, especially I) use all kinds of colorful language to describe people whose ideas and actions are abhorrent, so perhaps some of their meanings or effects get watered down on the internet. Well, here we have as clear-cut an example of a fascist, authoritarian, hateful, uncivilized, Statolatrist barbarian as I have ever had the displeasure of interacting with. Over the last couple years, spurred mainly by my own regret at how I responded to some people in internet discussions and the unpleasantness I felt when people were assholes to me, I have committed myself to responding politely and respectfully to others at all times, much to my and their mutual benefit, I’m happy to say. (You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, right?) However, I have no sympathy for anyone who would ever even consider taking such an anti–free speech position, and such a pathetic excuse for a human being deserves no respect, politeness, benefit of the doubt, or moderation in our condemnation of his opinions or exposure of his depraved, wretched character. As Professor Farnsworth would say, I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.
beedhamm responded to my first comment as well:
When did we agree that the deniers of genocide use “words … that harm no one”?
I suspect that we have to be a bit more careful to make sure that when we write “no one” we don’t just mean “me and the people like me.”
Again, he fails to really even make a point, other than to imply that words do, in fact, harm people, and by failing to qualify his statements with at least an admission that censorship laws can be a bad idea, he implies that they are good ideas, specifically the French genocide law. Therefore, I decided to take him behind the woodshed:
Of course words themselves harm no one, except emotionally and psychologically to the extent that the victim lets them. I guess you should be arrested and charged with a crime for harming my emotional state? Should I be arrested and charged with a crime for insulting you and the Armenian person above? How about if I said these things in the wrong locations:
The Holocaust never happened. Hitler was a great guy. No events in or around 1915 could be considered genocide, especially as concerns Armenians.
Those are all false statements and terribly offensive and ignorant, but no one was harmed by them. Yet according to German law and soon-to-be French law, I could be punished by law for typing them within their borders. That is absurd. If you disagree, I doubt either one of us will gain much by continuing this discussion.
Do you think it’s morally unjust right now, i.e., an attack that should be punishable or defensible by force, to deny that Armenians were the victims of genocide? Or is it only wrong after a government outlaws it? If it has always been harmful since 1915, then what action or recourse should victims of such denial have been taking all these years? Surely they are right to strike out in self-defense in response to such offenses. What compensation are they due? If it has always been morally wrong, then surely it is wrong everywhere, not just France or Turkey or Armenia. Plenty of Armenians live in the U.S. What punishment should the New York Times be subject to for refusing to acknowledge it as a genocide? Surely if it’s wrong, period, regardless of law or geography, then I should be put in jail or fined heavily (or retaliated against in self-defense by all my victims) for typing it to prove a point.
Furthermore, surely there is not just one word in all of the French language that the government should determine the definition of. What other words fit the criterion of requiring definition by the government? What words in the English language fit the bill?
Is denying that Armenians were the victims of genocide a punishable offense if any human sees or hears it? Or just Armenians? Should the severity of the punishment be proportional to the number of humans or specifically Armenians who are exposed to it? What about someone who copies and spreads a speech or writing with such denials? Should this person be commended for alerting the Armenians (or all humans) to such offenses, or should they be punished similarly to the original perpetrator for spreading such lies? The words themselves do harm, remember, so it can’t matter why that person was motivated to spread the offending speech or what context it was done in or what commentary the spreader appended to the genocide denial. (You can’t rob someone and say “Theft is wrong” to avoid punishment. If the words do harm, the offender must be punished, right?) If someone wrote it in a private, personal journal and it was discovered happenstance by a visitor, should that offense also become punishable? After all, the words themselves are harmful. What if no Armenians actually saw it? What if only a single half-Armenian saw it? Should the fine be reduced by half?
How about implicit denial? Is that an aggression against person or property that should be punishable by force of law? For instance, someone talks about Armenians or Turks in or around 1915 but simply fails to mention the word “genocide”. What if they use all kinds of other words, like massacre or slaughter or travesty or injustice, but implicitly deny that it was genocide by avoiding this specific word? Surely that must also be wrong, not just after Sarkozy signs the bill but every day since the genocide ended (or even during it). What if future books about genocide are published that do not mention anything about Armenians? How about any current books about ethnic cleansing or genocide that might not mention the Armenian genocide and thereby implicitly deny it? By your logic, such books must necessarily be banned in France, and unless you’d say that right and wrong depend only on the law, such books should be banned everywhere, forever, in self-defense to prevent further harm being done by the words on their pages. If anyone’s definition of right and wrong depends on what laws politicians write and pass, then they can’t carry on an intelligent conversation with me.
The reason Dr. Pullum did not offer a detailed or academic defense of his contention that this French law is the wrong way to deal with offensive speech is probably partly because none is needed. It is self-evident. One’s innate right to free speech is not bound by anyone’s sensibilities or any laws, and certainly not math or history. If you agree with such censorship and dismissal of free speech, then, well, I would certainly want nothing to do with authoritarians of your ilk. Denying someone of a part of their property and liberty for typing or saying something offensive or insulting would be a far worse crime than any the offender supposedly committed. The words themselves are not harmful, not in any way that falls under the purview of law. And to re-state Dr. Pullum’s point, it is simply self-evidently absurd to suggest that any government can or should define words and punish people for their misuse.
I could have gone much farther than this reductio ad absurdum, but I doubt he got very far into my rant or understood how the absurdities that would result from censorship laws expose the inconsistency and untenability of his position. It is not possible to retain any semblance of a principled moral or political philosophy or even to put on a show of being a civilized, respectable, intelligent human being while asserting—even failing to deny—that words and ideas inflict harm upon others in ways that should be punishable by the State.
I am saddened to learn that many European and Asian countries already have laws against genocide denial, not just Germany. You might say, “Oh, now that you see how widespread genocide denial laws are and how acceptable they are to hundreds of millions of people, do you want to tone down your attack of the supporters of such laws?” Quite the contrary. They are all objectively, verifiably, undeniably wrong, just as all murder, rape, taxation, conscription, and all other free speech–abridging laws are wrong. It is quite possible that Holocaust deniers deserve for bad things to happen to them, but I’m thinking more in a karma-driven way, not through the police power of government.
If I had to guess, based on spelling and (lack of) opinions on the merits of free speech, I would guess beedhamm is from somewhere in the Eastern hemisphere, perhaps Germany (“hamm”?) or somewhere farther east, where the innate right of free speech is less universally acknowledged than it is in North America. Therefore, it might be far past noon where beedhamm sits and longs for the kidnapping, beating, and imprisonment of people who misuse the word “genocide”, so I will take his current silence as an admission of defeat and acknowledgment of the beatdown I handed him (or her).
I was impressed by this article in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf about the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 (PCIPA), The Legislation That Could Kill Internet Privacy for Good. This article was written on August 1, 2011, and apparently the bill, H.R. 1981, is almost a year old but hopefully will never pass because it's at least as awful as SOPA and PIPA.
Every right-thinking person abhors child pornography. To combat it, legislators have brought through committee a poorly conceived, over-broad Congressional bill, The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011. It is arguably the biggest threat to civil liberties now under consideration in the United States. The potential victims: everyone who uses the Internet.
In the early 20th Century, a different moral panic gripped the United States: a rural nation was rapidly moving to anonymous cities, sexual mores were changing, and Americans became convinced that an epidemic of white female slavery was sweeping the land. Thus a 1910 law that made it illegal to transport any person across state lines for prostitution "or for any other immoral purpose." Suddenly premarital sex and adultery had been criminalized, as scam artists would quickly figure out. "Women would lure male conventioneers across a state line, say from New York to Atlantic City, New Jersey," David Langum explains, "and then threaten to expose them to the prosecutors for violation" unless paid off. Inveighing against the law, the New York Times noted that, though it was officially called the White Slave Traffic Act (aka The Mann Act), a more apt name would've been "the Encouragement of Blackmail Act."
That name is what brought the anecdote back to me. A better name for the child pornography bill would be The Encouragement of Blackmail by Law Enforcement Act. At issue is how to catch child pornographers. It's too hard now, say the bill's backers, and I can sympathize. It's their solution that appalls me: under language approved 19 to 10 by a House committee, the firm that sells you Internet access would be required to track all of your Internet activity and save it for 18 months, along with your name, the address where you live, your bank account numbers, your credit card numbers, and IP addresses you've been assigned.
Tracking the private daily behavior of everyone in order to help catch a small number of child criminals is itself the noxious practice of police states. Said an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation: "The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American." Even more troubling is what the government would need to do in order to access this trove of private information: ask for it.
I kid you not -- that's it.
As written, The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 doesn't require that someone be under investigation on child pornography charges in order for police to access their Internet history -- being suspected of any crime is enough. (It may even be made available in civil matters like divorce trials or child custody battles.) Nor do police need probable cause to search this information. As Rep. James Sensenbrenner says, (R-Wisc.) "It poses numerous risks that well outweigh any benefits, and I'm not convinced it will contribute in a significant way to protecting children."
Among those risks: blackmail.
In Communist countries, where the ruling class routinely dug up embarrassing information on citizens as a bulwark against dissent, the secret police never dreamed of an information trove as perfect for targeting innocent people as a full Internet history. Phrases I've Googled in the course of researching this item include "moral panic about child pornography" and "blackmailing enemies with Internet history." For most people, it's easy enough to recall terms you've searched that could be taken out of context, and of course there are lots of Americans who do things online that are perfectly legal, but would be embarrassing if made public even with context: medical problems and adult pornography are only the beginning. ...
You'd thing that Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who claims on his Web site to be "an outspoken defender of individual privacy rights," wouldn't lend his name to this bill. But he co-sponsored it! You'd think that the Justice Department of Eric Holder, who is supposed to be friendly to civil libertarians, would oppose this bill. Just the opposite.
I'm not the least bit surprised Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder supports (supported?) this bill. It's completely consistent with this regime's hunger for power and disregard for all civil liberties.
You know what else wasn't surprising? Lamar Smith (R-TX), who introduced SOPA in the House, also introduced PCIPA on May 25, 2011. He is a frightening, alarming, parasitic, authoritarian control freak whose every action and word seem to prove that he should have no access to power of any kind.
In my more cynical moods, I think that Westerners’ complacency in political and economic matters and their comfort levels with life in general will make their recent victories against internet censorship mere footnotes to the history of State encroachment into our online lives. In other words, lawmakers, lobbyists, and other parasites in the professional criminal class are already thinking of new ways to pass internet censorship bills that will be less noteworthy and less egregious than SOPA and PIPA, and I think most people will be too protested out to raise much of a fuss. If their cable and internet service continues to work and only gets more expensive gradually, sports continue to be exciting and widely viewable, movies and video games remain as engaging and colorful as ever, and people can continue to live a generally comfortable, entertained life, they won’t care what freedoms fade away and what destruction of potential wealth the State wreaks.
For example, Congressman Darrell Issa has proposed the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) act, which Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other powerful internet companies endorse. To the extent that it takes powers away from the federal government and nullifies previous laws, I applaud it. But I don’t trust 99% of politicians at all, and I distrust 100% of the rent-seeking corporate–State system of governance that we have. I don’t think either would allow a sustained defense of our online freedoms.
The U.S. government has already signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, and the European Union will soon follow. A bill dubbed Ireland’s SOPA is soon to be enacted without a vote in its legislature. The FBI shut down MegaUpload.com and arrested four of its employees outside of the U.S.’s borders, in New Zealand (with cooperation with foreign authorities, of course). Universal Music Group (UMG) steals people’s music and takes down their original, non-pirating, legally compliant YouTube videos with the power and privilege it has gained from its collusion with the Imperial Federal Government.
What have people’s protests done to stop governments from accruing these restrictive, violating, wasteful, wealth-destroying powers? What has “democracy” done, for that matter? What will any amount of protesting, voting, petitioning, or lobbying do to stop the future encroachments that are guaranteed to be tried this year, and the next, and the next?
The problem with Rep. Issa’s OPEN act is that the internet and the realm of IP/copyright need fewer laws, not more. Repealing old laws like DMCA, renouncing ACTA, and doing something to prevent the MPAA and RIAA from influencing law in any way would actually help. How in the world can we accomplish that in this day and age? Most liberals will never vote for a civil-libertarian congresshuman, senator, or president who also has libertarian-ish economic stances, and most conservatives refuse to vote for anyone who isn’t an authoritarian, paternalist warmonger (i.e., State worshipper). (Observe the extent to which the Tea Party has been diluted from a position of strongly advocating actually smaller government to “well, lower taxes and fewer business regulations would be preferable.” At least, that’s my perception of them.)
I also applaud the Occupy protesters and the SOPA protesters, who made millions if not billions of people more aware of their issues and sympathetic to their causes, and in the latter case, who actually seem to have influenced policy for the good.
I don’t think it will last long, unfortunately. Our ardor and stamina in defending our rights just don’t exist. Our quality of life will have to be severely, immediately, and clearly impacted by a law for widespread protests and backlash to defend us against our corrupt political system for long. There will be another SOPA/PIPA, and it will pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president, probably President Obama. It won’t be egregious and alarming to most people, but it will be bad enough. Liberal and conservative voters will pat themselves on the back for being reasonable, realistic, and bi-partisan and defending themselves against the horror of SOPA, and the professional criminal class will chuckle to themselves saying, “Stupid, gullible SOPA protesters. That’ll teach ’em what standing up to our authority will get them.”
Boston Bruins’ goaltender and last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner (Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP) Tim Thomas declined to visit the White House to celebrate his team’s Stanley Cup championship last season. His reasons were basically political, as he detailed in a Facebook message:
I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.
This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
Well, he said it wasn’t about politics or party, but what he meant was that it wasn’t about his party vs. the party in the White House. Obviously it’s exactly about politics.
I commend Tim Thomas for having the political awareness and principles to oppose both political parties, to the extent that he really does (he’s an outspoken Tea Partier), and opposing the whole political-power machine run by the Republocrats in Washington. Outside of the political discussion, though, it’s hard to say whether I think it was a good idea or a bad idea for him to skip the White House visit that the rest of his team attended. I lean towards bad, because he plays a team sport and should put his politics aside for team matters and sports-related events. On the other hand, perhaps he would say he protests the entire idea of championship teams being celebrated at the White House and congratulated by the president because, as his teammates and others have opined, there is no place for politics in sports. He or I might say, “You think there should be no politics in sports? I agree. No team should go to the White House for a celebration because we shouldn’t idolize that office and its power so much.” On the third hand, in a closer-to-ideal world, the president and the White House might busy themselves with frivolous matters like hosting sports teams instead of spending that time intruding into our lives, taking our money, and violating our rights.
The other story that was only marginally politics-related (but isn’t at everything at least marginally politics-related, thanks to the nature of all governments today?) was the decision the Indianapolis Colts and their future-hall-of-fame quarterback Peyton Manning face. The reason I think it’s politics-related is because of the employer–employee relationship between Colts ownership and Manning and the relationship between owners and the NFL Players’ Union.
Manning started every game at quarterback for the Colts from when he was drafted in 1998 through the 2010–11 season but hasn’t played a down since last season’s playoffs because of a neck injury that has required multiple surgeries. Obviously, with a neck injury, especially one that takes this long to heal, any athlete’s future is in major doubt. He has stated that he wants to finish his career with the Colts and also hinted that he doesn’t feel like he’s done playing football. However, he would have to receive a contract extension from the Colts sometime in February or early March in order to stay with the Colts. Andrew Brandt summarizes their positions nicely:
The Colts must affirmatively exercise an option clause to continue to have Manning’s services for 2012 through 2015. The window of time for which that option must be exercised is between “two days following the Super Bowl until five days prior to the 2012 League Year.” … Thus, the Colts must exercise the option to keep Manning—or not—in a one month period between February 7th and March 8th.
The structure of Manning’s contract shows a clear intent by [Tom Condon, Manning's agent] and Manning: they wanted the Colts to commit to Manning—or allow him his freedom—beyond 2011.
Manning and Condon have forced the Colts to essentially choose between two contracts for Manning: (1) a one-year, $26.4 million deal for 2011 [which has already passed and which he was already paid for], or (2) a five-year, $90 million deal with $70 million in the first three years.
Manning and Condon were determined to not allow the Colts a structure that allowed them an exit after Manning reached a certain age of expected decline, a fate experienced by accomplished NFL players every year.
Thus, if the option is exercised [by the Colts, choosing to extend Manning's contract], on top of the $26.4 million Manning made in 2011 [for not playing a down], Manning’s earnings for the two-year period of 2011-12 will be almost $62 million. He will be a Colt for the life of his career and be paid more than any player in the NFL for such career.
I often wonder, in considering the employer–employee relationship in professional sports and the role of players’ unions, what things other people with various political beliefs see wrong and right, good and bad with their employment situations, union negotiations, union and ownership power, and salaries. Obviously it’s pretty hard to ever feel sorry for someone who made $26 million in hard cash in one year or feel like they were wronged in any way, regardless of the turns his career takes.
But I could see some indignant sports-traditionalists (who wish athletes and teams would show more loyalty to each other) and some strong anti-corporatists (who think owners and management have too much power over players) criticizing many things about the Manning/Colts situation. They might say the ownership is being typically crass and greedy by not rewarding Manning for his loyalty and decade-plus of stellar service by giving him the contract he deserves. They might say it’s typical of ownership to get rid of a player as soon as he starts going downhill, revealing how much more the players need the team than the team needs the players and showing once again how unfairly power is distributed in the modern corporate world. They might even say it’s illegitimate for a single owner, company, or group of owners to own any business and that any wealth accumulated by one person into the hundred-million-dollar range must have been ill-gotten (State-assisted).
I won’t expound upon the last position here except to say the first half of it is wrong and the second half usually right. What I will refute is the assertion of greediness, crassness, or unfairness on the part of the Colts owner, Jim Irsay, and his management team. Thankfully, players’ unions in all American team sports have gained power and influence such that they can stand up for their players’ rights, legal protections, negotiated benefits, and ability to sell their services to the highest bidder on the market. Unions are the main reason athletes make so much money today, and more power to them. But with the power and the right to earn the best contract possible via free agency, the players also have to give up something(s) to the owners. Basically, the form this takes is that players treat teams as the source of their highest possible lifetime income, and owners run their teams like businesses and treat the players like numbers in an account sheet. The players have almost surely gained more than the owners with the flourishing of free agency, and possibly (hopefully) gained at the expense of a lot of owner power and money, but they can’t have their cake and eat it too. They can’t realistically sell themselves to the highest bidder almost invariably and negotiate contracts that pay them millions of dollars for not playing at all, while still being treated loyally and warmly by owners.
This reminds me of another recent free agent signing, in baseball: Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $250-million contract with the Anaheim Angels, the second-highest-paying contract in sports history, instead of staying his whole career in St. Louis, the best baseball town in America and the team he won two World Series with. I had hoped he would stay in St. Louis, but the Cardinals didn’t want to pay him that much. Slightly differently from Peyton Manning, Pujols was the one who didn’t remain loyal to his team rather than the other way around. (The Cardinals offered him a large contract, but the Angels almost certainly overpaid for him.) It would be ridiculous and inconsistent to say that a player should try to get the best deal possible but the team shouldn’t also try to maximize its value. That’s what both the Cardinals and Pujols did, and that meant they had to split ways. I’m sure Arte Moreno of Anaheim thought he was maximizing his (team’s) value, but I doubt it.
This also reminds me of Tom Glavine’s defection from the Braves to the Mets after the 2002 season. One important fact about Glavine is that he was the most vocal players’ union representative throughout the 1990s, including during the 1994 strike negotiations and strike. (I always thought he was like the highest-ranking player in the union, followed by David Cone, always at the forefront of the negotiations and speaking to the press on behalf of the players. Maybe it was less official than that, though.) After he and the players’ union negotiated so toughly and spoke out so vocally about player salaries and benefits, Glavine of all people couldn’t realistically stay with his loving and beloved Braves for a dollar less than any other team was offering him. He had to take the largest contract offered to him, despite the fact that he pretty much hated the Mets (as much as most baseball players can hate another team these days) and the fact that it would sour Braves fans’ opinion of him for a long time. But he couldn’t take such a hard line in union negotiations in favor of player salaries and benefits and then go take a lesser contract in order to remain loyal to his team. Otherwise, owners and general managers could say, “Ah! Look at your vocal, outspoken, tough negotiator, Tom Glavine! He apparently cares more about loyalty than money! So we know players aren’t so devoted to the almighty dollar as they pretend to be.” Players can’t have that, because they are devoted entirely to the almighty dollar, at least most of them, as are most owners. (It turned out that Glavine was awful with the Mets, probably because of some combination of regret and complacency, except in 2006, so the Mets also overpaid for him.)
This reminds me of yet another player-contract situation, this past season in the NFL. Tennessee Titans running back and current fastest man in the NFL Chris Johnson held out during training camp to negotiate a bigger contract/contract extension. When the Titans finally paid him and he joined the team, he had a crappy year. He might have a great next three years, but this year, they definitely overpaid for him. Johnson and many others say that this simply makes up for him being underpaid in previous years, which is also true. That’s why players have the ability to hold out and negotiate for contract extensions/improvements in the middle of a contract. The short average career of running backs in the NFL is the main reason running backs want to get paid as soon as they can, as soon after a great season as possible. If they just wait until their first contract is up, either their performance will have started to decline or owners will expect it to start declining soon, and they will have gotten underpaid for the best years of their career without ever getting overpaid after.
What the Chris Johnson holdout/huge contract/crappy season did was lower the stock of all other running backs who were in a position to start negotiating a new contract during the 2011 season and 2012 offseason. Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears will almost certainly not get a high-paying contract extension during this offseason or, possibly, at any time in the future. He sprained his MCL last month and missed the rest of the season, although it is not a career-threatening injury. All throughout the season, Forte wanted a contract extension from the Bears, but many talking heads said Chris Johnson’s shortcomings were Exhibit A among the Bears’ reasons to offer their running back considerably less money than he wanted. He was their best player and will probably get a good extension, just not really, really high-paying. Management saw what a giant contract did for the best running back in football, so they are understandably wary of a similar outcome with Forte. Who can blame them? Who can blame any team for wanting to maximize the value it gets out of its salary payments? Who can blame any athlete for wanting to get overpaid for a period of time after getting underpaid before?
All the Indianapolis Colts and owner Irsay can do is maximize the value of the salary they pay their quarterbacks. If they exercise Manning’s option, they might very well pay him $35 million in 2012 without him playing a single down. If he does play, he might be much worse than he used to be. Their team certainly sucks, which is why they are in a position to draft quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the upcoming draft. If they keep Manning and draft Luck, they will pay their top two quarterbacks $50 million in 2012 alone. They just paid their quarterbacks $32 million in 2011 for a horrible, miserable collective performance. That was partly the fault of the head coach and general manager, who have now been fired for failing to assemble and lead a team that could even function without Manning. Obviously that means he’s worth a lot—or rather, has been worth a lot—but maybe the combination of the salary he’s demanding and his uncertain future means it’s time to fire Manning, too.
If they did, it would be the result of value maximization on both sides, which basically amounts to market forces. If Peyton Manning really wants to stay in Indianapolis, he will have to do it at a salary Jim Irsay agrees upon, just as Irsay and all owners have to keep players or sign new ones by offering them the money it will take to sign them. The owner must offer the (ideally, lowest) money and contract length it takes to sign the player, and conversely, the player must offer the immediate and future value it takes to earn the (ideally, highest-paying and longest-term) contract a team will offer. It has always been like this and should continue to be like this in contract negotiations, especially when the salary recipient is supported by a union. Or maybe especially especially when they aren’t supported by a union (ideally…but we all know that’s not always likely in our current corporate–State socialist world).
Maybe if restrictive, market-perturbing labor laws were repealed, unions no longer colluded with governments, and self-employment and other non-traditional forms of employment were allowed to flourish in our society—in a free society—all workers from all walks of life would have more and better opportunities to maximize the value of their employment, in terms of both their compensation and the wealth they produce for others.
"People don’t want ‘a better clothes dryer’, they want to be able to spend less time washing clothes and thus more time writing novels or playing with their children or fishing or what have you."
—Z. Caceres on the benefits and desirability of economic growth
President Obama deserves praise for opposing the SOPA/PIPA bills in the House and Senate, respectively, but, of course, in true Republocrat fashion, deserves further criticism for qualifying that with, “That is why the Administration calls on all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders,” and, “Moving forward, we will continue to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis on legislation that provides new tools needed in the global fight against piracy and counterfeiting….”
On the bright side, the January 17 internet “blackout” day of protest against SOPA and PIPA prompted several lawmakers to withdraw their support for the respective bills, with 13 more following on January 18. As left-libertarians are fond of saying and other libertarians need to be more vocal and specific about, “public” or “community action” doesn’t have to mean voting and government action. Massive protests might very well have succeeded in killing these bills in their current forms.
Ron Paul has introduced a bill to repeal section 1021 of the 2012 NDAA, the part that authorizes the President to order the military detention, without charge or trial, of any American citizen who has been labeled as having “substantially supported certain terrorist groups”. Yet another reason I think Ron Paul deserves more attention and praise, especially among libertarian anarchists who demur over actually supporting him because of perfectly valid philosophical reasons (they don’t like his stance on immigration, for instance, so they will not actually vote for or support the candidacy of anyone they have any differences with, or anyone at all, for that matter). Still, it becomes more obvious every day that he is on our side and does a great job spreading the message of liberty from his platform, which is that of a politician. As Glenn Greenwald would be quick to point out (actually, has already been), praising a few of Ron Paul’s positions, votes, and introduced bills doesn’t mean you’re going to vote for him, hope that he wins, agree with him 100% of the time, or even support democracy as an acceptable or effective means of change (well, Greenwald hasn’t mentioned this last one). I, for one, do hope he wins the Republican nomination and would probably vote for him if he did. In fact, I’m likely to vote for him in Michigan’s primary.
The city of Detroit will soon go bankrupt and its finances likely put under the the charge of a governor-appointed (corporate) emergency manager. When Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was elected in 2010, he received much criticism for his “emergency manager” law, which would place a bankrupt city’s finances under some type of corporate manager(s) appointed by him. This criticism reached new heights recently when he defended this law in his State of the State address, said it could apply to Detroit soon, and became the object of street protests outside his home. Maybe if Detroit hadn’t recklessly run up its debt as its revenue plummeted and its idiotic citizenry, led by both unions and corporations, hadn’t twice elected that worthless, disgusting abomination of a human being Kwame Kilpatrick as mayor, the city wouldn’t be in such financial ruin.
But of course Detroit unions oppose any substantial cuts or an emergency manager and basically seem to be saying they don’t want to suffer now, regardless of what this will mean for later. Many other voters, Republicans, and Democrats in and around Detroit are saying the same thing. My perspective on Detroit’s dilemma reminds me of the battle between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and government unions: it is perfectly libertarian and principled to oppose both the public-sector unions resisting the cuts and the governor’s proposals to balance budgets. That said, the city of Detroit and especially the people responsible for its finances don’t have the option of “well, we just oppose everything” and will have to choose some course that will result in its citizens and businesses losing either more or less money. I feel compelled to opine not only on the root causes of their problem (monopolistic government, democracy, a captive tax base, corporate–government collusion, union–government collusion) but also on the situation they currently face: bankruptcy and further debt and loss of money, or bankruptcy and a governor-appointed emergency financial manager. Maybe there are more options, but it’s hard to criticize the governor too much on this point. It seems almost certain that the Detroit city government will go bankrupt, so what’s wrong with an austerity plan that will make it less bad? Medicine tastes bad, but you have to take it. The opponents of the emergency manager say that it is undemocratic and requires too many concessions by unions. Well, democracy and government-supporting (especially Democrat-supporting) unions largely caused Detroit’s problems in the first place, so they sure as hell shouldn’t be relied on to solve its problems. The only thing that seems a little inequitable about the demand that unions make concessions to balance the budget is that unions aren’t responsible for all of the city’s debt; decades of mismanagement by officials and businesses are equally responsible, and they don’t appear to be required to make concessions or any types of payments or contributions to fix the problem they helped create.
The Monster Cable company claims EBay, Craigslist, Costco, Sears, Backpages, FatWallet, PriceGrabber, and ComputerShopper are “rogue” sites that should be targeted for takedown by the Imperial Federal Government, such as by SOPA/PIPA-type legislation, which of course it supports. While I have to admit I see nothing about a free society that would prevent a company like Monster Cable from existing and succeeding, that doesn’t mean I can’t rail on it for the dishonest, conniving, exploitative, Statist, anti-consumer, piece-of-shit company that it is. Monster Cable has issued cease-and-desist letters to other cable makers for completely frivolous patent infringement reasons. It has sued a mini golf company, an automotic transmission shop, and a deer salt block company for trademark infringement. Monster Cable’s entire business model, other than using the patent system and the courts to try to bully people into giving it money, seems to be exploiting customers who think more expensive HDMI cables are even one iota better than cheap ones. Regardless of company or price, all standard HDMI cables perform identically (barring some defect, which is vanishingly rare). It is not the least bit surprising that Monster endorses fascist government takedown of any website that treats consumers well or doesn’t subscribe to Monster’s fantastical acid trip of a definition of property, theft, and criminality. Fuck Monster Cable and everyone who works for it, especially its lawyers.
Speaking of SOPA, its author, Lamar Smith (R-TX) is, not surprisingly, a hypocrite who violated provisions of SOPA that would have labeled him a criminal. Lamar Smith is a despicable scumbag on the level of Kwame Kilpatrick. He’s a clueless Republican authoritarian control freak who ought to be locked away in a nuthouse for the rest of his life as a precaution for the rest of society.
In case you doubt how much power and influence the United States professional criminal class has on policies all around the world: the U.S. ambassador to Spain threatened to put Spain on a trade blacklist if it didn’t pass SOPA-style site-blocking legislation. Of course, Wikileaks, which has all but vanished from the news in recent months, leaked the documents that revealed this. Later, “American Chamber of Commerce in Spain chief Jaime Malet wrote a cautionary letter to incoming Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. He warned of the potential flight of foreign investment from Spain and urged him to take action on the protection of intellectual property once in office.” Rajoy’s government responded by passing acceptable legislation, known as the Sinde law, within 10 days of taking office.
So far, 80% of “green energy” loans the Obama Department of Energy has issued have gone to top Obama donors, according to Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer.
Libertarians and anarchists who don’t add the “left-” moniker or some other adjective advertising how pro-union or pro-”worker” they are often get accused of opposing unions or unionization in general. Few misrepresentations of libertarians are farther from the truth. I have found myself to be quite pro-union, especially when looking back at farm and factory working conditions in generations past, precisely because I would never want a government butting in and forcing measures upon employees, employers, and companies that they haven’t agreed upon or negotiated themselves. Clearly, the only problem the principled libertarian has with unions is their collusion with the State and all of the accompanying injustices, distortions, and inefficiencies.
I often oppose the goals of unions in 21st-century America because those goals are so wholly opposed to the outcomes of wealth production and freedom. However, I found myself solidly in a pro-union position recently when reading this discussion thread on Fark.com about Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndomukong Suh being suspended for two games for unsportsmanlike conduct after a play against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. While he and several players from both teams were on the ground after a play, he slammed/pressed Evan Deitrich-Smith’s head into the ground three times, stood up, and stomped on Deitrich-Smith’s arm. Deitrich-Smith wasn’t hurt, but that type of behavior is clearly unacceptable at any time, so Suh was ejected from that game, fined, and suspended for two games.
I only visit Fark.com anymore to read the funny, punny headlines of the week, which is probably for the better because I’d had enough of debating with Farkers a long time ago. I did happen to click on the link to that discussion thread, though, for one reason or another. Possibly because the Lions are currently my “home” (i.e., geographically closest) team and I was happy they were doing well this season. Given Suh’s history of fines for dirty plays, many commenters opined that Suh should be banned for life for this infraction. Here are some of their comments:
There is no excuse for this. He should be banned from the NFL for life. Period. You act like that, you’re out.
I agree with you completely but we both know that’ll never happen. Professional sports are rarely if ever about sportsmanship or acting with class.
I fully endorse this. It is a privilege to work in the NFL and to act like a thug on or off the field should result in banishment from the sport.
Two farking games, big deal. He should have been suspended the rest of the season and if he did it again, for life.
Maybe if the punishment were a little steeper each time [it happened in the league, not each time an individual player did it], this kind of thing would stop happening altogether. [Note: The punishment is steeper each time a player does something.]
Many commenters did counter that such a suspension is somewhat standard and seems about right, and one mentioned precedent, but not a single person mentioned anything about the NFL Players’ Union or their collective bargaining agreement with the league. A search of the word “union” returns no hits among 353 comments.
Because these people are Farkers, I can safely assume that the vast majority of them are State-loving socialists who support the Democratic party and the liberal agenda in general. (I have no idea how the commenters on the sports stories of Fark differ from the general Farker population, but at the risk of oversimplification, I’ll assume they’re similar.) Therefore, it seems very likely that at least a few Farkers calling for a lifetime ban of Suh would call themselves pro-union or have taken actions in the past (voting) that are at least nominally pro-union. Did it never occur to a single one of them that it would violate the union’s collective bargaining agreement to automatically ban someone for life for an infraction that didn’t actually injure anybody? Are they completely unfamiliar with the nature of union–employer relations and the due process and protections afforded by union membership? Don’t they know that there are standard, precedent-based procedures for how, when, why, and how much to discipline transgressors? To suggest that the procedures agreed upon by the players’ union and the league, including gradually escalating fines and suspensions, should be changed to include steeper punishments for dirty play that threatens people’s health and tarnishes the league’s image would be reasonable and fair. But no one in that thread even broached that topic, much less considered the role of the players’ union in this type of punishment.
It’s probably that these commenters don’t so much care about the justice and benefits of unions per se, only how they can be used to promote a socialist/communist agenda. Their conclusion, which seems to be, “The benefits and protections afforded union members are good as long as I agree with the outcomes…and the beneficiaries aren’t rich,” is about like saying, “I approve of democracy [mob-rule] as a way of governing society, except when the majority elects someone I don’t like; then we should expel that person and replace him with someone the majority doesn’t want but I do.”
One of the most unfortunate aspects of America’s democratic process and its current state here at the beginning of 2012 is the nearly compete absence of discussion of some central issues by most people, along with their failure to acknowledge that those issues even exist and their complete hypocrisy regarding those issues and the candidates they vote for. This was obvious in 2001 when the Patriot Act was signed into law by a supposedly small-government conservative (cheered on by millions of self-described small-government conservatives) and throughout the Bush and Obama regimes as various provisions of the Patriot Act were reauthorized and extended. Now the self-righteous denial, avoidance, bias, and hypocrisy of liberal Democrats have become as obvious and pronounced as ever as Obama signs the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012, which basically authorizes the president to order the detention of any American citizen without charge or trial in the interest of waging the War on Terror.
The ACLU says of this signing,
While President Obama issued a signing statement saying he had “serious reservations” about the provisions, the statement only applies to how his administration would use the authorities granted by the NDAA, and would not affect how the law is interpreted by subsequent administrations. The White House had threatened to veto an earlier version of the NDAA, but reversed course shortly before Congress voted on the final bill.
“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield. The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.”
[emphasis in original]
These thoughts about the pathetic state of American political discourse, especially on television (but also, in my experience, within my circle of friends, mainly Facebook), were inspired by Glenn Greenwald’s absolutely masterful (as always) tirade against the vast majority of liberals and Obama supporters for their constant hypocrisy and total evasion of any acknowledgment of his failings. The essay is mostly about Ron Paul, whose every interview, appearance, press release, and sound bite do address those civil-liberties and foreign-policy issues and do criticize the supposedly “progressive” Obama for being such an abject failure on every civil-liberties issue in every possible way. Greenwald writes,
But in America, the fixation on presidential elections takes hold at least eighteen months before the actual election occurs, which means that more than 1/3 of a President’s term is conducted in the midst of (and is obscured by) the petty circus distractions of The Campaign. Thus, an unauthorized, potentially devastating covert war — both hot and cold — against Iran can be waged with virtually no debate, just as government control over the Internet can be inexorably advanced, because TV political shows are busy chattering away about Michele Bachmann’s latest gaffe and minute changes in Rick Perry’s polling numbers.
Then there’s the inability and/or refusal to recognize that a political discussion might exist independent of the Red v. Blue Cage Match. Thus, any critique of the President’s exercise of vast power (an adversarial check on which our political system depends) immediately prompts bafflement (I don’t understand the point: would Rick Perry be any better?) or grievance (you’re helping Mitt Romney by talking about this!!). The premise takes hold for a full 18 months — increasing each day in intensity until Election Day — that every discussion of the President’s actions must be driven solely by one’s preference for election outcomes (if you support the President’s re-election, then why criticize him?).
Greenwald wrote this and more to preface his positive thoughts about the candidacy of Ron Paul, who is the only Republican or Democratic presidential candidate to firmly oppose the aggressive foreign policy and civil liberties trampling that Obama has implemented, that every other Republican candidate agrees with or worse, and that liberal Democrats ignore when discussing, thinking about, and voting in elections.
Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform — certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party — who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote — Barack Obama — advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.
As Matt Stoller argued in a genuinely brilliant essay on the history of progressivism and the Democratic Party which I cannot recommend highly enough: “the anger [Paul] inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.” Ron Paul’s candidacy is a mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception.
The thing I loathe most about election season is reflected in the central fallacy that drives progressive discussion the minute “Ron Paul” is mentioned. As soon as his candidacy is discussed, progressives will reflexively point to a slew of positions he holds that are anathema to liberalism and odious in their own right and then say: how can you support someone who holds this awful, destructive position? The premise here — the game that’s being played — is that if you can identify some heinous views that a certain candidate holds, then it means they are beyond the pale, that no Decent Person should even consider praising any part of their candidacy.
The fallacy in this reasoning is glaring. The candidate supported by progressives — President Obama — himself holds heinous views on a slew of critical issues and himself has done heinous things with the power he has been vested. He has slaughtered civilians — Muslim children by the dozens — not once or twice, but continuously in numerous nations with drones, cluster bombs and other forms of attack. He has sought to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs. He has institutionalized the power of Presidents — in secret and with no checks — to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA, far from any battlefield. He has waged an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, the protection of which was once a liberal shibboleth. He rendered permanently irrelevant the War Powers Resolution, a crown jewel in the list of post-Vietnam liberal accomplishments, and thus enshrined the power of Presidents to wage war even in the face of a Congressional vote against it. His obsession with secrecy is so extreme that it has become darkly laughable in its manifestations, and he even worked to amend the Freedom of Information Act (another crown jewel of liberal legislative successes) when compliance became inconvenient.
He has entrenched for a generation the once-reviled, once-radical Bush/Cheney Terrorism powers of indefinite detention, military commissions, and the state secret privilege as a weapon to immunize political leaders from the rule of law. He has shielded Bush era criminals from every last form of accountability. He has vigorously prosecuted the cruel and supremely racist War on Drugs, including those parts he vowed during the campaign to relinquish — a war which devastates minority communities and encages and converts into felons huge numbers of minority youth for no good reason. He has empowered thieving bankers through the Wall Street bailout, Fed secrecy, efforts to shield mortgage defrauders from prosecution, and the appointment of an endless roster of former Goldman, Sachs executives and lobbyists. He’s brought the nation to a full-on Cold War and a covert hot war with Iran, on the brink of far greater hostilities. He has made the U.S. as subservient as ever to the destructive agenda of the right-wing Israeli government. His support for some of the Arab world’s most repressive regimes is as strong as ever.
Most of all, America’s National Security State, its Surveillance State, and its posture of endless war is more robust than ever before. The nation suffers from what National Journal‘s Michael Hirsh just christened “Obama’s Romance with the CIA.” He has created what The Washington Post just dubbed “a vast drone/killing operation,” all behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy and without a shred of oversight. Obama’s steadfast devotion to what Dana Priest and William Arkin called “Top Secret America” has severe domestic repercussions as well, building up vast debt and deficits in the name of militarism that create the pretext for the “austerity” measures which the Washington class (including Obama) is plotting to impose on America’s middle and lower classes.
[emphasis in original]
Perhaps one of my many failings as a purported political commentator is that I don’t regularly read any liberal blaggers or websites except Greenwald, and him not often enough (which would be every word). Therefore, I can’t judge how few liberal Democrats really acknowledge and criticize all of these heinous actions of Obama’s—one example that I’ve saved is a column by the liberal law professor and staunch civil libertarian Jonathan Turley titled “President Obama has been a disaster for civil liberties” in the mostly liberal Los Angeles Times—but I am mainly frustrated and actually quite a bit disgusted with my hypocritical, smug, liberal, Obama-supporting friends and acquaintances who share links on Facebook about this or that awful thing a Republican(s) has done or said, join in the circle-jerk with the ‘Like’ button and their comments with nary a word of dissent, ridicule Republicans at every opportunity as if they are all a single fetid mass of benighted, hateful, racist, jingoist primitivism that only exists to prevent Democrats from delivering us to Utopia, and never mention a single objectionable thing any Democrat has ever done or said.
Some recent Facebook posts from my friends include a link to the article Speaker Cuts Off C-SPAN Cameras When Dems Attempt To Bring Vote On Payroll Tax Cut with a snarky comment, an admonishment of the United States that if we only paid more taxes, we would have better health care and infrastructure like the country that person is currently visiting, and at least a half-dozen articles about why the envy-based wealth-redistribution politics of the Occupy movement are noble and desirable. None of those people has ever written or linked to a single thing critical of Obama, his regime’s relentless assault on our civil liberties, his regime’s total obsession with secrecy despite promises of transparency, his continuation and escalation of the murder of innocent civilians in Asia, the fact that Obama is obviously bought and paid for by Wall Street banksters as much as any Republican, or any other Democratic failing or hypocrisy. Where are the Facebook posts about SOPA, which Democrats are equally as responsible for as Republicans? Where are the Facebook posts about Obama’s signing of this year’s NDAA with its flagrant disregard for half of the Bill of Rights? Plenty of neutral and left-leaning sites have published articles and columns critical of these bills, and you have seen them! You are part of the problem, you stupid self-blinding morans! You are party to the murders, the imprisonments, the rights violations, the cronyist favoritism, the wealth destruction that the politicians you elected and will re-elect have inflicted and will continue to inflict upon millions of victims!
I try not to judge them for their political beliefs, but it’s hard. They define themselves so much by their total adoration of Obama and the Democratic Party and base so much of their social lives (especially online, which is the only way I currently interact with some of them) on deifying the Democrats and vilifying Republicans that I can’t help but conclude that their systematic bias, their selectively targeted vitriol, and their continuous self-deception are pretty important parts of their character and their personalities. I don’t talk about politics with my friends or write about it anywhere other than here because no one likes trying to parse radical libertarian philosophy that challenges basically every political thought they have ever had and because I don’t like stressful discussions or arguments, especially ones that will alienate me from others who all think alike. It’s true that people who would judge me for my libertarianism are not worth having as friends, but it’s also true that it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid judging others for their politics even though you know their politics rarely say anything bad about their character. Case in point: this very post, in which I judge my friends and colleagues as hypocritical enablers of totalitarian fascism from the anonymity of my blagging chair. I want to keep my friends, and I have made a conscious effort as I’ve gotten older to judge people as people only on the basis of whether they mean well, which my friends all do. This is especially true in discussions/arguments on the internet with anonymous strangers, when courtesy and respect are all too rare.
However, regardless of their intentions, the consequences of their silence about Democratic failings, especially Obama’s, cannot be ignored. There is no better example of the Red-vs.-Blue, with-us-or-against-us, the-right-politicians-will-solve-everything mentality than the average American Democratic voter. Perhaps the average American Republican voter could only equal the loyal Democrat’s ignorance, self-denial, bias, and crippling hypocrisy. What these failings are going to get us are another murderous, oppressive, secretive Obama term, more Democratic legislators who are too morally bankrupt and cowardly to stand up to the neocons for our basic Constitutional rights, and more silence on the uncomfortable truth about the state of American liberalism.
How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians' stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers'? I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.
The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad, and Mr. [Peter] Schweizer details the most lucrative methods: accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it's sickening.
Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress. Members of Congress exempt themselves from the laws they apply to the rest of us. That includes laws that protect whistleblowers (nothing prevents members of Congress from retaliating against staffers who shine light on corruption) and Freedom of Information Act requests (it's easier to get classified documents from the CIA than from a congressional office).
The corruption isn't confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It's an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It's an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests.
—Sarah Palin, "How Congress Occupied Wall Street"
Hat tip: Roger Ebert
I liked this column by T.J. Rodgers in the Wall Street Journal, Subsidizing Wall Street to Buy Chinese Solar Panels. It explains how American consumers are not the ones who benefit from the Obama administration's subsidies on the purchase of household solar panels. It's a nice, short economics lesson on the Law of Unintended Consequences. He summarizes at the end:
Here then, is a practical guide to the Obama administration's nonsensical solar policy: Washington gives tax breaks to Wall Street to fund LLCs [limited liability corporations] that buy solar panels from the Chinese to "help" the American solar industry, while the ITC [United States International Trade Commission] threatens to levy a tariff on those solar panels, which would raise the price of solar energy to U.S. homeowners. In short, Wall Street pockets the money and consumers get higher solar-energy prices.
We should stop reflexively indicting Wall Street "greed" and focus instead on Washington as the disruptive force in one market meltdown after another. Solyndra, the poster child of the Law of Misguided Subsidies, borders on irrelevancy compared to the full impact of bad economic policy.
The latest attempt from the parasites in Washington to limit the freedom of the internet and all of the benefits that stem from it is called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Its more official, full name is Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation (E-PARASITE). As I understand it, it would provide much broader powers to the professional criminal class to limit freedom of speech, information, association, and exchange than its (more or less) complementary Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act. SOPA was introduced in the House of Representatives by Lamar Smith (R-TX), and PROTECT IP was introduced in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT), so that tells you about how much bi-partisan concern for our freedoms and rights exists in the Democratic and Republican parties.
Nate Anderson of Ars Technica says SOPA would kill the internet as we know it by replacing freedom and chaos with order and restrictions. He says that if SOPA were passed into law, the internet of the 1990′s wouldn’t “sound like something from a foreign country so much as something from a foreign planet“. He quotes the violent, aggressive, indecent, anti-social, anti-civilization RIAA: “‘An Internet of chaos may meet a utopian vision but surely undermines the societal values of safe and secure families and job and revenue-creating commerce,’ said the music group in 2010. It later called for ‘an Internet predicated on order, rather than chaos.’” He continues, “The trends have been present for years, but if SOPA passes, it will make them explicit: the chaotic, unfilterable, borderless Internet of the 1990s is truly dead, replaced by an Internet of order, filtered connections, and national borders.”
Larry Downs at CNet.com says SOPA “creates vague, sweeping new standards for secondary liability, drafted to ensure maximum litigation. It treats all U.S. consumers as guilty until proven innocent. If passed, the bill would give media companies unprecedented new powers to shape the structure and content of the Internet.” Downs’s column contains numerous other highlights:
“Rather than give up on the idea of legislating a fast-changing Internet, the House authors have instead built in as many alternative definitions, open-ended requirements, and undefined terms as they could.”
[SOPA includes] “new authority for the attorney general to cut off access and funding for “parasite” foreign Web sites. (SOPA requires the U.S. copyright czar to determine the extent to which these foreign infringers are actually harming U.S. interests….”
Search engines (a term broadly defined that includes any website with a “search” field), along with payment processors and advertising networks, can also be forced to cut ties with the parasites. Operators of innocent sites have limited ability to challenge the Justice Department’s decision before or after action is taken.
SOPA also includes its own version of another Senate bill, which would make it a felony to stream copyrighted works. The House version allows prosecution of anyone who “willfully” includes protected content without permission, including, for example, YouTube videos where copyrighted music is covered or even played in the background.
While supporters deny that such minimal infractions would meet the bill’s definition of “willfully,” the actual text suggests otherwise. Prosecutors need only demonstrate that the use had a total “retail value” of more than $1,000.
The House bill also makes significant changes to provisions in the Senate bill that afford new enforcement tools to private holders of copyrights and trademarks. This “market-based system,” as SOPA calls it, greatly extends existing provisions of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, under which copyright holders can easily issue takedown notices for unlicensed use of protected content.
SOPA’s “market based” provisions are not limited to foreign Web sites. Indeed, they apply to any site or “portion of” a site that is “dedicated to theft of U.S. property”….
Unlike the DMCA, SOPA provides little penalty for wrongly targeting websites turn out not to be “dedicated to theft of U.S. property.”
SOPA may represent the most intrusive and dangerous effort yet to micromanage Internet infrastructure and services. A wide range of technology-oriented advocacy groups were quick to cry foul. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in its initial review of the bill, determined the legislation would cause irreparable harm. “This bill cannot be fixed,” the organization wrote on its Web site; “it must be killed.”
The Center for Democracy and Technology’s David Sohn, similarly, called out the bill’s broad and vague new standards for “facilitating” copyright and trademark infringement.
He argues that SOPA effectively introduces new monitoring requirements for all websites that allow user content, even comments posted to blogs.
Downs’s report contains so much more information that I’m not even done reading it yet.
The more you hear about Congress’s attempts to govern, restrain, regulate, cleanse, police, and secure the internet, the more obvious it becomes that what our professional criminal class really seeks is to choke our freedoms, destroy the internet’s openness, control our activities and exchanges (and even eventually our speech), and protect wealthy, well-connected, campaign-contributing copyright holders at the expense of the common people. To make this observation is not conspiratorial, it is not kooky; it is obvious. It’s as plain as day. Reading about the input that copyright holders had in writing the E-PARASITE and PROTECT IP acts and the immense support copyright holders are giving them underscores the now-obvious fact that any nominally “private” corporation or person that has an active, interested role in violating people’s rights, diminishing their well-being, or carrying out the State’s depredations belongs squarely in the professional criminal class alongside the politicians.
The fact that these conniving parasites even want such power is proof that they shouldn’t have it.