Monthly Archives: November 2008

Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Association

California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure aiming to outlaw same sex marriage, passed on a very close vote. Prop 8’s supporters* pushed a campaign of fear, misinformation, and a complete distortion of the meaning of individual liberty. This campaign commercial is typical of the intolerance and hysteria being promoted from the “yes” campaign.

Argument #1: Churches could be forced to marry gay people.

Argument #2: Religious adoption agencies could be forced to allow gay couples to adopt children; some adoption agencies would close their doors as a result.

Argument #3: Those who speak out against gay marriage on religious grounds will be labeled “intolerant” and subjected to legal penalties or social ridicule. Careers could be threatened.

Argument #4: Schools will teach students that marriage is between “party a” and “party b” regardless of gender. Schools also teach health and sexuality and would now include discussions of homosexuality.

Argument #5: There will be “serious clashes” between public schools and parents who wish to teach their children their values concerning marriage.

Argument #6: Allowing gays to marry will restrict or eliminate liberties of “everyone.” (Example: Photographers who do not want to work at same sex weddings)

Argument #7: If Prop 8 fails, religious liberty and free speech rights will be adversely affected.

My response to these arguments is that we should be advocating for more freedom for everyone rather than restrict freedom of a group or class of people. The state should recognize the same contract rights** for a gay couple as it would between a man and a woman. To get around the whole definition of marriage issue, I would propose that as far as the state is concerned, any legally recognized intimate relationship between consenting adults should be called a “domestic partnership.” From there the churches or secular equivalent to churches should have the right to decide who they will marry and who they will not (just as they do now).

Rather than subject an individual’s rights to a vote or either party forcing their values on the other, we should instead advocate freedom of association and less government in our everyday lives. Somewhere along the way, we as a people decided that the government should involve itself more and more into the relationships of private actors. The government now has the ability to dictate to business owners quotas of who they must hire, family leave requirements, how much their employees must be paid, and how many hours they work (among other requirements). For the most part, businesses which serve the public cannot deny service to individuals for fear of a lawsuit.

A return to a freedom of association society would remedy arguments 1, 2, 6, and 7 from this ad. As to Argument #3, the anti-gay marriage folks are going to have to realize that in a free society, they are going to have to deal with “social ridicule”*** or being called intolerant. Anyone who takes a stand on any issue is going to be criticized and called names. In a freedom of association society, an employer would have every right to decide to layoff individuals who hold views or lifestyles they disagree with.

While we’re on the subject of intolerance, perhaps we should take a moment to consider if people who would deny equivalent rights which come with marriage are intolerant. This ad is exactly the same as the previous ad except that the words “same sex” and “gays” have been replaced with “interracial.”

Believe it or not, there was a time in this country when there were such laws against interracial marriage. Those who argued against interracial marriage made very similar arguments to what the anti-gay marriage people are making now. Today most of us would say those people were intolerant.

Intolerance aside, Arguments 4 and 5 can also be answered by reducing the role of government in our lives. What the “yes” people should be arguing for is a separation of school and state. While we as a nation are trending toward more government involvement in K-12 education, those who do not want the government schools to teach their children the birds and the bees or enter into discussions of homosexuality can put their children in private schools which share their values or home school. School Choice is the obvious answers to these concerns.

Prop 8’s supporters have turned the whole idea of individual liberty on its head. They claim that in order to preserve the rights of the greatest number of people a minority of people necessarily must sacrifice their rights. This is absurd and dangerous. Perhaps it is this complete misunderstanding of individual rights among Californians which contributed to Prop 8’s passage.

When explained properly, the rights of life, liberty, and property is the easiest concept to understand.

Hat Tip: The Friendly Atheist

Posted Elsewhere:

Dan Melson @ Searchlight Crusade has written a very thought provoking post on this issue. Some of his arguments I agree with, others I don’t but all of his points are well argued.

» Read more

Elected Officials Fail Civics Quiz

In today’s bread and circuses world, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Americans overwhelmingly fail a quiz on civics. What is slightly surprising is that our elected officials do even worse:

Are most people, including college graduates, civically illiterate? Do elected officials know even less than most citizens about civic topics such as history, government, and economics? The answer is yes on both counts according to a new study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). More than 2,500 randomly selected Americans took ISI’s basic 33 question test on civic literacy and more than 1,700 people failed, with the average score 49 percent, or an “F.” Elected officials scored even lower than the general public with an average score of 44 percent and only 0.8 percent (or 21) of all surveyed earned an “A.” Even more startling is the fact that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Now, I went to their website, and took the quiz. It’s surprisingly harder than I thought it would be. I do have one criticism, in that several of the questions are very confusingly worded, and several appear to be free-market biased, which I agree with but may not be entirely objective. But if you have a basic understanding of American history and civics, you should be able to do fine.

It’s striking, though, that our elected officials are unable to pass this quiz. These are the people responsible for our government, and they don’t know the history or role of government. The questions are somewhat difficult in a few cases, but there’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be easy knowledge for anyone who would have the temerity to run for political office.

If these guys can’t be bothered to know about America, why is it that we grant them the power to run it?

Check out the quiz, and feel free to post your scores in the comments section. I was a bit disappointed, as I only answered 32 of 33 correctly…

Outrage Of The Week: Interrogating An 8 Year Old Without Counsel And Without Miranda Warnings

The story of an eight-year old boy who police say committed a double murder is raising the eyebrows of many legal analysts:

(CBS/AP) The 8-year-old boy accused of killing his father and another man in Eastern Arizona was subjected to an “absurd” police interrogation, a legal analyst told CBS’ The Early Show Thursday.

“What we know is that children under 12 are especially susceptible to questioning by an adult,” legal analyst Lisa Bloom said.

The roughly 12-minute video posted Monday night on Phoenix television station KTVK’s Web site shows what police say is a confession to the Nov. 5 shooting deaths. The station said it got the video from the prosecutor’s office in Apache County, where the shootings occurred.

“I think I shot my dad because he was suffering, I think,” the boy said toward the end of the hour-long interrogation, though Bloom notes that the admission comes only after repeated officer questioning.

“Children tell authority figures what they think the authority figure wants to hear,” said Bloom. “This child was not Mirandized; there was no attorney for him in that room; there was no parent or legal guardian. He was simply answering questions by two police officers in uniforms with guns.”


Children this age believe in the tooth fairy, they believe in magic … it’s absurd,” said Bloom. “This child should not be in juvenile court or adult court, in my opinion. He should be a ward of the family court and get some social service attention.”

Prosecutors have 15 days to decide if that’s the route they want to take.

How this can be allowed to happen is beyond me. Eight year olds don’t have the mental capacity to understand what a police interrogation is all about. Even if they had read him his Miranda rights, he probably wouldn’t have understood them. The fact that the police continued to question him, and basically led him down a path that resulted in him admitting to murder is, quite frankly, outrageous.

Here’s a CBS report on the story:

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

Time To Scrap The Libertarian Party ?

Brian Doherty’s piece in Reason about the relative failure of Bob Barr’s Presidential campaign, which I commented on earlier this week, leads Volokh Conspiracy contributor Ilya Somin to wonder if the Libertarian Party should even exist anymore:

Brian’s article discusses numerous possible causes of Barr’s failure that were specific to his particular campaign. Some of these theories may be correct. In truth, however, Barr’s failure is of a piece with the more general failure of the LP throughout its entire 36 year history. In that time, the Party has never gotten more than a miniscule share of the vote, and has failed to increase its share over time (the LP’s best performance in a presidential election was back in 1980, and its performances in state and local races have also stagnated over time). The LP has also failed in its broader mission of fostering greater acceptance of libertarian ideas. There is little if any evidence that its efforts have increased public support for libertarianism to any appreciable extent. Such consistent failure over a long period of time can’t be explained by the personal shortcomings of individual candidates. Barr’s performance undercuts claims that the LP can do better simply by nominating a candidate with greater name recognition and more political experience than its usual selections.

For reasons that I explained in this post, the truth is that third party politics simply is not an effective way of promoting libertarianism in the “first past the post” American political system. That system makes it almost impossible for a third party to win any important elected offices. And such a party also can’t be an effective tool for public education because the media isn’t likely to devote much attention to a campaign with no chance of success.

Libertarians have had some genuine successes over the last 35 years. These include abolition of the draft (heavily influenced by Milton Friedman’s ideas), deregulation of large portions of the economy (of which libertarians were the leading intellectual advocates), major reductions in tax rates (facilitated by libertarian economists, libertarian activists, and the legislative efforts of libertarian-leaning Republicans), the increasing popularity of school choice programs, increases in judicial protection for property rights, gun rights, and economic liberties (thanks in large part to advocacy by libertarian legal activists), and heightened respect for privacy and freedom of speech (promoted by libertarians in cooperation with other groups). Libertarian academics and intellectuals have also done much to make libertarian ideas more respectable and less marginal than they were in the 1960s and early 70s.

What all these successes have in common is that they were achieved either by working within the two major parties or by efforts outside the context of party politics altogether. The Libertarian Party didn’t play a significant role in any of them.

Libertarians often emphasize that failed enterprises should be liquidated rather than kept going on artificial life support. That enables their resources to be reinvested in other, more successful firms. The point is well taken, and it applies to the Libertarian Party itself. For 35 years, the Party has consumed valuable resources, both financial and human. The money spent on the LP and the time donated by its committed activists could do a lot more to promote libertarianism if used in other ways.

Somin echoes something that small-l libertarians have been arguing for several years now.

Back in 2006, Bruce Bartlett argued that the LP should be replaced by an advocacy-group strategy:

In place of the party, there should arise a new libertarian interest group organized like the National Rifle Association or the various pro- and anti-abortion groups. This new group, whatever it is called, would hire lobbyists, run advertisements and make political contributions to candidates supporting libertarian ideas. It will work with both major parties. It can magnify its influence by creating temporary coalitions on particular issues and being willing to work with elected officials who may hold libertarian positions on only one or a handful of issues. They need not hold libertarian views on every single issue, as the Libertarian Party now demands of those it supports.

I believe that this new organization would be vastly more influential than the party and give libertarian ideas far more potency than they now have. As long as the party continues to exist, unfortunately, it will be an albatross around the necks of small-L libertarians, destroying any political effectiveness they might have. It must die for libertarian ideas to succeed.

And Brad Spangler made the same argument Somin does back in March:

The libertarian movement predates the Libertarian Party and will survive after it is gone. There was a time when radical libertarians like Samuel Edward Konkin III denounced formation of a “libertarian” politicial party as incompatible with libertarianism properly understood. With evisceration of the LP platform in recent years by “small government” statists longing to join the ruling class, the Ron Paul GOP presidential campaign has served not to shout out the irrelevancy of the Libertarian Party so much as serve as the heavy duty exclamation point punctuating that death cry that the LP already delivered to itself.

A shutdown of the Libertarian Party would get radicals and moderates out of each others hair. Radicals could pursue the long neglected non-electoral strategies for long-term radical change and moderates could apply their energies to seeking small reforms inside the major parties, as Ron Paul does. Sufficient social space for needed overlap between wings and their ideological cross-fertilization would exist organizationally in groups like ISIL and the Advocates for Self-Government, as well as out on the internet in political discussion forums of all sorts generally.

And I find it hard to disagree what I wrote back then as well:

A look at how the world has really worked since the Libertarian Party was formed in the early 1970s would seem to add credence to Spanlger’s position. Aside from the Election of 1980, which was largely financed by the family fortune of the LP’s Vice-Presidential candidate, no Libertarian Party candidate for President has been able to gather anything close to 1,000,000 votes and none have garnered what would be considered a statistically significant amount of the vote in any election. And, except for one or two notable exceptions, no Libertarian Party candidate can be said to have had a significant impact on a contested election.

But winning elections, some people will say, is not real why the LP exists. It’s purpose, they contend, is to educate the public about libertarian ideas.

Well, if that’s the case, then I don’t think it can be said that they’ve done a very good job there either. If they had, then 35 years of education should’ve been something that Ron Paul’s campaign could have tapped into. Instead, the major party candidate that came closest to libertarian ideas was soundly rejected by the members of his party.

You can blame that on the media. You can derisively call the voters “sheeple” — thereby insuinating that the reason they didn’t vote for your candidate is because they’re stupid. But, in the end, the fact of the matter is that the public wasn’t receptive to libertarian ideas. So much for the education I guess.

Were there flaws in the Barr Campaign ? Most certainly, but there weren’t any worse than the flaws that have existed in practically ever Libertarian Party Presidential campaign for the past 20 years. And yet, despite that, Barr received more votes than any LP candidate in 28 years. Yes, there were promises and predictions of 1 million to 3 million LP votes this year — but these are the same promises that LP candidates make every four years, and they never come true.

Regardless of what standard of success you use — election result, education campaigns, or influence in the public policy arena — it’s fairly clear that after 36 years the Libertarian Party has been an abject failure.

How many times are libertarians going to continue bashing their head against a wall before realizing it’s not really accomplishing anything ?

Cross-Posted From Below The Beltway

Financial Armageddon Follow-Up

Back in March of 2007, I posted this:

So here’s what I see. The slowdown in the subprime mortgage and building industries will increasingly push the default and foreclosure rate up. As a result, the mortgage-backed securities market and other housing-based stocks, which are reaching insane levels of “irrational exuberance” and are often highly leveraged (particularly derivatives), will crater, increasing the pressure. I think recession is on the way, and perhaps worse.

The above doesn’t sound very pretty. I don’t see any way out of it, though. The problem occurs with what happens after this, which is where it has the potentially to get really ugly. As I said, what I wrote above is what I predict. What sits below is a worst-case assumption of what might happen.

After the 2001 recession, when the government was coming off small surpluses, we had very low interest rates, and the political will to cut taxes, we were able to protect against a major economic crisis. We don’t have the same situation now. The government is running enormous deficits (and has added several trillion to the debt), the politicians are debating raising taxes, and interest rates likely won’t be able to hit the rock-bottom levels we had in 2002.

What does this mean? I don’t think we can spend our way out of this. I don’t see any way for us to have liquidity in a stagnant housing market and a tight credit market. In a tighter credit market, with rising interest rates, the cost of borrowing to cover deficit spending will not be feasible for the government. I don’t see an engine for economic growth appearing to cover the recession. There’s only one way for this liquidity to arrive, and that’s for the government to print money. Loads and loads of money. Helicopter drops of money. And the result is stagflation. This is quite possibly the worst thing our government can do, but I don’t trust any politicians to take the tough medicine– I expect them to print money.

Further, if things get bad, you can expect a quick increase in the level of socialism in this country. In an effort to placate both American big business and American voters, you’ll see the government take over health care. As a result of the inflation government will cause, you’ll quickly see them try to institute price controls and wage controls, like the 1970’s. All the while, they’ll blame scapegoats like outsourcing companies, while their own inflationary policies are causing the problem.

It looks like most of my nightmare scenario is already coming true.

I was wrong on a few things, of course. I suggested that the Fed wouldn’t be able to cut rates. What I didn’t expect was that credit markets wouldn’t simply tighten, but would disappear completely, making the enormous rate cuts ineffective. I chalk that up to some lack of understanding that I had on monetary issues, that I [hopefully] have significantly improved in the last year and a half.

Then, I talked about inflation. I have to temper that. We’re not going to see inflation. We’re either going to see a deflationary crash, or a hyperinflationary depression. I just don’t see us having a smooth way out of this one.

But one thing about sitting where I do today and looking back on that struck me… I was a lot more optimistic then than I am now!

We’re screwed, folks. There are going to be economics textbooks written about what we’re going through — assuming we don’t all go Mad Max instead.

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