Monthly Archives: December 2009

I’m Going To Turn My Grandmother Into A Radical Libertarian

Okay, maybe not. But I sure have a great way to do so (and maybe to turn a few readers).

I’m in Chicago visiting family, sadly with little internet access (sitting outside Panera Bread Co in the car with my napping son in the back). Today we celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. This is a woman who lived through the Great Depression, raised three sons during WWII, lived on the south side of Chicago up until a year or so ago after her sister died, and is generally one of the tougher old ladies I’ve ever known. My other grandmother spoiled me rotten when I grew up; Grandma Ann — as the father of three boys — didn’t let me get away with squat!

My grandmother doesn’t have a driver’s license. My grandfather was the only one who drove up until he passed about 15 years ago, and then she was still tough enough to walk or take transit pretty much wherever she needed to go (when she couldn’t get a ride from a neighbor).

So why am I throwing out all this backstory?

Because a few weeks ago, she got a ticket.

No, before you ask, she wasn’t joyriding out in my dad’s minivan. She was sitting in the passenger seat, with the audacity to ride without a seat belt.

Surely, you’d think that a cop would understand that a 90 year old woman was competent enough to make her own decisions. That at most, if he has to pull my dad over, that perhaps he could give her a warning. After all, it wasn’t illegal for most of her adult life. Maybe, you’d just think that a cop would have the common decency not to give a 90 year old woman a $75 dollar ticket for a completely victimless crime in the middle of the holiday season. In fact, my father tried to argue these points — and yet the ticket still came.

Most non-libertarians view the state as helpful and friendly, and believe that it only hassles the type of people who deserve it*. To those non-libertarians I ask one question: does your grandmother deserve it? Because mine sure as hell doesn’t.

So I might not have enough time to change my grandmother’s views. I’m only in town for another 25 hours or so, and she’s spent a lifetime building those views. But I am going to try to convince her not to pay the ticket, and not to go to court. If they want to come after a 90 year old woman, I’d like to think I know enough people in the greater libertosphere to rain down hell (in the form of letters, emails, and phone calls) on the local police force.
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Just because people make bad choices…

…Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have any choice at all. The first freedom is the freedom to fail…

And when it comes to choosing our leaders in this country… whoooo boy have we failed big time, for a long time.

So fellow gunblogger Tam, being an Ovarian American, got a bit tweaked at a comment over at Travis Corcorans site (for those who don’t know, Travis is a somewhat radical libertarian… and for that matter so is Tam) t’other day:

“I think that female suffrage has been an unremitted disaster – all of the socialism that we’ve experienced in the US has happened since, and because women have been allowed to vote.”

Excluding snark, Tams comment boiled down to “correlation does not equal causation”; which normally I am one of the first to trumpet… but in this case there is a causative link… Or at least most major studies of voting demographics seem to show one.

The other part of her comment was that she (nor anyone) shouldn’t be denied the right to vote (which is not, in fact, a right; but a privilege as a member of society. It can be granted by society, taken away by society, and does not exist in any context without society, therefore is not a right.) because of the choices some might make.

And in that, I’m entirely with her.

But we really do need to look at why women, in the significant majority, vote for the nanny state; and on the larger scale in general, why people who vote for nannyism do so.

The three major events or major societal changes in 20th century that did more to advance the nanny government than all other events combined were:

1. World War 1
2. Womens suffrage
3. Massive expansion of university education

I note “directly” above, because indirectly the 16th and 17th amendments (income tax, and direct election of senators) may have had an even greater effect; and enabled and encouraged such nannyism… in fact the current nannystate would be impossible without them… but were not direct contributors to voting for nannyism.. In fact income taxes tend to push voting away from nannyism… at least for those who actually pay those taxes.

I’ve talked about point 1 before (along with about a hundred scholarly books, phd. dissertations etc…). By depriving most of Europe of a full generation of its healthiest, most aggressive, and most ambitious men; an environment was created that was dominated by the risk averse, and those who were hurting and suffering… and the entirety of Europe has never really recovered. Basically, the ’14-’18 war took the guts out of the continent, and they haven’t come back, (bar a minor resurgence for the second great war… and it sadly was a minor resurgence. Just look at England).

Everyone and their uncle has looked at point 3.

Point two though… it’s one of those third rail topics. You can’t talk about it publicly or you risk being eviscerated by… well by Tam for example, never mind the lefties.

So first things first. Point two is true, by all available statistics. Historically speaking, women vote for more nannyism at about 2/3 to 1/3.

HOWEVER, just because item two is true (and some rather exhaustive demographic studies have been done showing that it is) doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

American blacks and hispanics are more likely to vote for leftists idiocy too (over 80% to 20% for blacks, hispanics are highly variable), that doesn’t mean they should be barred from voting either.

The first freedom is the freedom to fail. That includes the freedom to make bad choices; even if those bad choices effect other members of society (this is where the anarchists, Spoonerists, and Rothbardites usually jump up and down and start yelling).

The thing is this: It’s not that women, blacks, or hispanics are inherently more socialist than white males; or are less capable of making good political judgments. It’s that they perceive (I think, in general, wrongly) that their interest is better served with leftist policies.

In general, over the long term, and free of interference or distortion; people will vote their perceived interests.

The “more vulnerable” of society (which up until recently included the majority of women, blacks, and hispanics) will almost always vote for more “safety” than more freedom; because as I said above, the first freedom is freedom to fail, and they have historically been more likely to suffer under the negative consequences of failure, and therefore perceive the risk/reward metric differently than white males have historically.

Also, both the most wealthy, and most educated members of society (who believe either that the negatives impacts of leftism wont effect them greatly; or that they can benefit more from the “system” if more government control is in place, at the expense of the slightly less educated risk taking capitalists that would otherwise dominate), and the poorest and least educated members of society (who generally believe that they will not be able to succeed to a greater degree than the government would provide largess), generally, vote for more protectionism, socialism, leftism etc…

This is true even in rural “white” “bible belt” America, where protectionism, unions, government works projects and the like are seen as good business economically; even while voting for socially conservative policies and politicians.

Also, this split is by no means stable. As I said, people will tend to vote their perceived interests. Men will vote left and women will vote right, if the positions floated match their perceived interest. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected by landslide four times. Reagan was elected by landslide twice.

The problem then is not that women, minorities, and the poor vote left, or vote for socialism necessarily.

The problem is that they perceive (generally incorrectly) that their interests, and at least to some extent the interests of society, are better served by leftism.

So the task for us, is making the large majority of the people understand that leftism, even in the soft and limited forms of it like public works projects, job protection policies, tarrifs etc… is not in their interest, or the interest of society as a whole.

That’s a rather difficult task; because for someone who is naturally risk averse, capitalism (and specifically libertarian free market based capitalism) seems very risky… Heck, it IS very risky, that’s the point. You take risks, you fail, and you have the freedom to get back up and take more risks and succeed (or fail again).

Many people out there would happily vote for a “guaranteed” living, even if it was less than half what they could be making without a “guarantee”, and even if you could prove to them the “guarantee” was really false. It’s just the way they’re wired, and no amount of facts or logical arguments are going to convince them.

Many others are willing to accept a bit of risk, but they want a great big “safety net” underneath them for when they fall.

These people, even if they are shown it isn’t really true… they WANT it to be true bad enough, that they are willing to try and force that vision on the rest of us.

Those people (and by conventional estimate they make up about 40% of the population) are ALWAYS going to vote for the “safety and security” lie. They are going to vote for the nanny no matter what.

On the other hand, there are about 40% of the population who are always going to vote for the riskier path, that they can reap more reward from.

Even in Reagans 49 state landslide vs. Mondale, he only got 58.8% of the popular vote.

Nixon crushed Mcgovern 49 to 1 as well, and it was still a 60%/40% split.

Even in Roosevelts “New Deal” landslide against Hoover, he only got 57.4% of the popular vote (in ’36 against Alf Landon, 60.8%, the biggest landslide since the civil war. In ’40 against Wendell Wilkie, 54.7%. In ’44 against Thomas Dewey, 53.4%).

The 40% on either side is a pretty stable number; barring major events in society that temporarily distort it, like wars and disasters…. And even then, in the last 110 years, in every national election, the left has never had less than 35%, and neither has the right… And neither have had more than 60.8% either.

The fact is, some people will believe what they want to believe, or what they’re afraid to believe, over the truth; no matter how clear the truth is made to them.

It’s the remaining 20% that we need to get to, and teach them that it is ALWAYS a lie.

In a society where the government does not artificially force the private economy into failure, the government cannot possibly do better for you than you can do for yourself. Giving the government more power, and more control, is NEVER in your best interest, or in the interest of society.

Saying that “womens suffrage caused socialism” (which isn’t what Travis said exactly, but it’s certainly what a lot of people would hear from what he said) isn’t exactly helpful in that.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The real right to health care

Democrats are addicted to saying that there is a right to health care, and subsequently hammering anyone who opposes their disastrous reform bill as opposing that right. The truth is, there is a right to health care, and it is consistently opposed by the left, not the right.

Put simply, each person has the right to seek the health care he deems appropriate for him and his family within the limits of his budget or insurance. A corollary to this is that each person has the right to seek the health insurance that he deems appropriate. This same right applies when buying TVs, cars, dinner, books, etc., and is fundamental to a free existence.

First, an example from Britain of a grievous violation of this right:

If health care is a fundamental right, equality under the law would seem to require that everyone have the same level of care, regardless of their resources. That principle was illustrated by the case of Debbie Hirst, a British woman with metastasized breast cancer who in 2007 was denied access to a commonly used drug on the grounds that it was too expensive.

When Hirst decided to raise money to pay for the drug on her own, she was told that doing so would make her ineligible for further treatment by the National Health Service. According to The New York Times, “Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.” The right to health care is so important, it seems, that it can nullify itself.

Mrs. Hirst was forced into a system where the right to seek appropriate care was appropriated by the government. When the National Health Service exercised a right that did not belong to it, Mrs. Hirst tried to use the resources available to her to reassert her right to seek health care. She was told if she were to do so, she would be forced out of the program that provides the only affordable health care for the lower and middle classes in the UK.

Take that example and apply it to the Reid bill. Centralized authority regulating what health insurance can and can’t cover, can and can’t cost, how much doctors will get paid by the public option… From Richard Epstein in the Wall Street Journal:

Normally, insurers have the power to underwrite—to choose their line of business, to select and to price risks, and to decline unattractive risks. Not under the Reid bill. In its frantic effort to expand coverage to the uninsured, the bill will create state health-care exchanges supported by generous federal subsidies to unspecified millions of needy and low-income individuals. Any health insurance carrier that steers clear of these exchanges cannot keep its customers. Any insurance carrier that enters Mr. Reid’s inferno will lose its financial shirt.

Here are some reasons why. Initially, all insurers have to take all comers and to renew all policies except for nonpayment of premiums. Insurers are not allowed to take into account differential risks based on pre-existing conditions. And the premium differentials based on such matters as age and tobacco use are smaller than the market spreads. If too many customers demand coverage from a given insurer to insure efficiently, it’s the government that will decide how many they have to keep and who they are.

Next, it’s the government that requires extensive coverage including “ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse disorder services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative and habilitative [sic!] services and devices, laboratory services, preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management, pediatric services, including oral and vision care.” The price squeeze gets even tighter because in every required area of care a collection of government standards will help set the minimum level of required services.

Ostensibly, the Reid bill does not impose any direct price controls on what health insurers can charge for this veritable cornucopia of services. But the bill’s complex, cooperative federalism scheme authorizes state regulators, after recommendations from the federal government, to exclude insurers from the exchanges if their prices are too high, which would again be a competitive death knell. Exile from the exchange does not, however, restore traditional underwriting controls, as the Reid bill and other federal and state regulation continue to apply to these firms.

The bill is designed to turn the health industry from servants of payers (primarily employers, insurers, and the government) into a servants of Congress and the President.

We are headed towards a day where our fundamental right to seek health care is non-existent, replaced by a state of submission where our betters in Washington decide what health care we should get. Anyone who equates a right to health care with taxpayer subsidized health care is mounting an assault on the real right to health care. Call them out, prove them wrong, and shout them down.

UPDATE 12/23: Added the section from Richard Epstein.

Why Cash For Caulkers Is Good [If Not Libertarian] Public Policy

As a libertarian, I spend a lot of time railing against idiotic government giveaways. The TARP, the Porkulus Stimulus, and Cash For Clunkers all took copious levels of heat. I derided them for various reasons:

TARP: Notwithstanding the wide-ranging areas this money was targeted to (i.e. auto bailouts) and the fact that when it was determined it would lose less than planned the difference would be spent elsewhere, this was nothing more than a bald-faced attempt to shore up balance sheets to forestall economic reality. I said at the time that much of this activity was designed to slow down the contraction and hope that the economy could grow out of the doldrums in the meantime, but that it risks causing rampant inflation when money velocity actually picks up. Worst, it had the potential for the government to buy the worst garbage paper the banks had on offer, essentially being an economic sinkhole of major proportions. Luckily it has not been as bad as anticipated, largely because government meddling in the internal affairs of banks has caused them to try like hell to pay it back quickly and get themselves out from under its terms.

Stimulus: The stimulus was billed as a way to jumpstart shovel-ready infrastructure projects, but it was quickly apparent that the only thing shoveled was a load of BS. Stimulus was little more than a giveaway to state and local governments to continue spending beyond the ability of their states to support and reward them for overspending the proceeds of economic expansion as if the bubble would never pop. While employment has plummeted in the private sector, government is growing — never a good sign to a libertarian. Here in high-tax California, we need to slash our state public sector, not bail it out.

Cash for clunkers: Billed as a stimulus and environmental program, cash for clunkers was pure destruction of economic value. Cars with an average market value of roughly $1500 — productive, useful assets — were rendered completely inoperable. In a perverse unintended consequence, it dried up the supply of older used cars (and thus increased the price of said cars), hurting some of the poor who might not be able to afford better vehicles. Paying people to dig and then fill up holes would have been economically stupid, but cash for clunkers is the equivalent of asking them to put uranium in those holes so that hole could never be safely dug again. Pure economic insanity.

But Cash for Caulkers is somewhat different. For those unfamiliar with the proposed program, it gives tax subsidies to people who work to make their homes more energy-efficient. The draft would provide a 50% rebate on materials and labor up to $12K per household. As a libertarian, I don’t much believe that the government should have the responsibility to fix economic burst bubbles. But this particular policy has several features that make it much more effective and efficient economic stimulus than much of what the federal government has done.

  • This policy primarily targets those in the building/construction trade, arguably the hardest hit of the economic downturn. Since the housing bubble was partially created by bad government policy, it is at least preferable to help these folks find a more orderly transition than the welfare line.
  • Home weatherization and energy efficiency is often a large initial expense with a long time horizon to pay back. Due to increased social and geographic mobility, it is often ignored by homeowners who don’t know if they’ll be in their homes long enough to make the efficiency gains worth it. Thus, improvements in home energy efficiency are underproduced by the market.
  • Because this will reduce energy consumption in some homes, it may have the positive externality of reducing demand on energy for all users (thus hopefully lowering price). Again, this positive externality suggests that energy efficiency improvements are underproduced by the market.
  • Finally, unlike Cash-for-clunkers, which destroyed and replaced useful economic assets, Cash for Caulkers actually improves existing economic assets. There is a lasting economic benefit to reduced energy usage for the present and future owners of these homes.

Of course, I cannot claim that I’m in favor of this program. The positive aspects I list above are ascribed to my ideal cash-for-caulkers policy, which I am certain will not closely resemble what comes out of the sausage-factory on Capitol Hill. Waste, fraud, and abuse are certain to be rampant. In a cost-benefit analysis of the size of the program, one can’t assume Congress will determine either cost or benefit rationally. It is picking economic winners and losers, which is partly responsible for getting us into the Great Recession in the first place. And finally, while it might have been an interesting idea BEFORE the TARP, stimulus, and cash for clunkers, I think we’ve already gone so far into deficit spending that it’s a good idea to stop while we’re only a few trillion behind. It appears that the country has hired Barack Obama to dig a deficit hole and [hopefully] fill it back up, but he simply refuses to stop digging.

So if I’m not in favor of the program, why am I writing this post? Frankly, it’s because I saw the level of derision that the policy got on several fronts (including from Jon Stewart). Done properly (which I don’t expect Congress to be capable of delivering), it would have been a timely program that helps those who are most affected by the housing crash while improving existing assets that might not be otherwise improved. Done properly, it could actually be seen as an investment in our future — and by that I mean an actual investment, not simply “spending”, which is politicospeak for that word.

It might sound silly, but home weatherization actually has potential at being smart policy. After a year of horrible, bad, not-very-good-at-all government spending and giveaway programs, to see one that actually has promise shouldn’t cause scorn and derision as its primary reactions.

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