Author Archives: Chris Byrne

“Bad” or “Wrong” or “I don’t like it” is not equivalent to “Unconstitutional”

In a comment on someone elses post, another reader wrote “The DEA is an unconstitutional and illegal agency”.

This bugs me… We frequently see these sorts of statements made about the DEA, the ATF, the federal reserve (where ok, there’s at least a rational and reasonable though flawed argument to be made… most of the people shouting stuff like that above aren’t making those arguments, but still)… Basically any federal agency that they don’t like, or which enforces laws, or uses delegated powers which they personally don’t like.

No, the mere existence of the DEA is not unconstitutional or illegal. It is perfectly constitutional in that it is an executive agency chartered to enforce the laws promulgated by the legislative branch.

The fact that the federal government has no constitutional authority to outright ban or criminalize such substances as the DEA is chartered to regulate, or to ban or criminalize their manufacture, use, or possession (and only limited power to regulate their sale. No, sorry, regulating interstate commerce and making such laws as necessary for the general welfare does not grant them such broad and deterministic powers… and Wickard v. Filburn is bad law and needs to be overturned), does not mean that all laws relating to such substances are illegal or unconstitutional. There are legitimate regulatory powers that such an agency may lawfully and constitutionally exercise.

AS CURRENTLY EXTANT AND IN THEIR CURRENT ROLES AND ACTIONS… The DEA often engages in unconstitutional behaviors, and acts to enforce unconstitutional laws. That much is certainly true. But they are not inherently unconstitutional, or illegal.

Those are actually really important distinctions. Not just semantics or distinctions without difference.

This is so, because you go about addressing the issues, and solving the problems, differently. Things which are blatantly and directly illegal or unconstitutional are best addressed in one way. Things which are peripherally so, are best addressed in a very different way.

You have to shoot at the proper target, with the proper ammunition.

Also, it’s really important to remember, that “bad and stupid” or “harmful” or “undesirable”, or “pointless”; does not necessarily mean “unconstitutional”. Nor does “constitutional” mean “good”, or “useful” or “effective”.

That’s not even a matter of judges discretion or interpretation… The constitution actually provides far less protection of rights, and limitation of powers, than people believe it, expect it, and wish it to (at least explicitly… the 9th and 10th amendments… there’s much bigger and messier issue).

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


Windowpanes, Pencils, and Paperclips

A few days ago I wrote something on facebook that bears repeating here:

A comprehensive understanding of the pencil problem, combined with a thorough understanding of the broken window fallacy (and its inputs and corollaries… Hazlitt for example), makes a pretty good inoculant against socioeconomic lies and stupidities.

Although they are implied by the conditions above, perhaps one should also specifically reference the scale and complexity problems, the perfect information fallacy, the perfect man fallacy, and the law of unintended consequences…

Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the pencil problem.

In comments, the novelist Ryk Spoor provided a decent explanation, which I’m going to paraphrase here, with my own edits and revisions (and the addition of the last bit, about planning and control):

No one man, can make a pencil, or at least a pencil which could be sold economically.
In general terms, the pencil problem, is that even simplest and most common objects in our civilization generally require an immense number of people and inputs; to not merely build, but manufacture and sell in sufficient numbers, to make it worthwhile to build them cheaply (or at least so that they can be sold economically).

The applies to everything from cars and computers, to pencils, to paperclips.

If you wanted ONE paperclip, it would be an epic undertaking, from locating the appropriate ores, refining them, turning them into steel, figuring out how to draw the steel into the appropriate size of wire, and then finally producing the paperclip from that wire. The amount of effort involved in it would be months of your labor, assuming you had the talent and resources to do it at all.

Instead, you go to a store and buy a 100ct box of them for a dollar; or even at minimum wage, a few minutes of your time for a hundred of the things.

Multiply that by all the different types of goods and services in a modern civilized society, and it starts to become clear just how many people, in how many different specialties, with how much infrastructure, are needed to keep everything running.

Given that scale and complexity, it should also be clear how impossible it would be to plan, control, and manage, anything approaching a national economy or infrastructure centrally; or in fact in any way other than as devolved and decentralized as possible.

The original statement of the problem in this way came from an essay by Milton Friedman (which was a restatement of an earlier essay, “I, Pencil” from Leonard Read, which was a restatement of Hazlitt, which was a restatement of Bastiat and back down the chain).

A video of Friedman explaining the problem:

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 problem with “Wouldn’t it be…” and “Wasn’t it…”

Progressive ideas usually begin with:

“Wouldn’t it be great if…” (progressives are generally theorists)

Ok, right there with you so far…

Conservative ideas usually begin with:

“Wasn’t it great when…” (conservatives are generally empiricists)

Yup, that works for me too…

The complication is the next step, taken by both progressives and conservatives:

“Since that would be great, it is our moral obligation, to use the force of government to MAKE it that way”

… and that’s where we part ways.

The problem, is that I believe I have no moral right to force MY personal beliefs, preferences, or ideas on anyone else (no matter how “great” or “right” they may be).

I also believe that we have a moral obligation to use the force of government as little as possible (even if doing so may be “for the greater good”).

Of course, that’s where the kicker hits, from both left and right…

“Since you oppose something which is great, and which is a moral obligation, you must either be stupid, or evil”

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

Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere.

First thing… THIS is how you do a kickstarter.

This is the kind of thing that kickstarter can be great at, and do great things with; being done by people who understand their medium and their audience, and who design their campaign properly around it.

If this doesn’t become one of the most overfunded kickstarters in history, I would be amazed.

I’ve been watching it for about 2 hours, and it’s gone from $100k to over $500k in that time.

… And this is something I’m backing… even as little as I can afford right now. It’s a good idea, and it’s something I’d like to see done. I can’t do much, but I pledged… It’s the price of a cup of coffee or a little more than a gallon of gas. You should too if you can.

Anything we can do to increase the net level of education, intelligence, and reading in this country… on this planet… we should be doing. If it’s a smart, well designed, well implemented way of doing so, even better.

Long term, I’d like to see what their fee schedule and sustainability model is, are they organizing long term as for profit, not for profit etc… but let’s get this off the ground at the very least.

Now… for my more skeptical, and more conservative friends and readers… yes, liberals, education blah blah blah.


This is an essentially libertarian thing, using the power of private enterprise and initiative, and the power of market preference, to fund education.


There is one specific issue that I personally have a problem with… but I can get over it, because I understand the issue, and why it’s presented as it is.

So for my fellow skeptics, and numbers geeks…

Ignore the claim that 25% of children don’t learn to read in this country…

That is not an outright lie… it’s also not the absolute truth. It’s a matter of how we define literacy, and to what degree we count someone literate based on that definition.

That’s a concept that takes more than 30 seconds, and more than one paragraph to explain… so it gets simplified here as “1 in 4 children don’t learn to read”.

It a political number, not a real number. A classic example of using definitions to make things scarier, to emphasize the problem.

Don’t let that stop you from the core message here, or from supporting what looks to be an excellent idea.

Oh and, be sure to watch the video to the very end… priceless…

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

Reframing the Hierarchy of False Dichotomies

This image is one way of reframing the common conception of the left/right false dichotomy… and it’s an important first step of reconceptualizing the false dichotomy to reveal the true dichotomy… but if you stop there, you have failed, and will continue to fail.

Reframe the statement further…

Neither work for the corporations.

“Both” work in furtherance of their own power over the people. They do so through the same types of tactics and manipulations, largely paid for by the same corporations (or similar if theoretically oppositional positioned interests), presenting a hierarchy of false dichotomies.

The true dichotomy is control over others, vs. liberty.

It’s a rather important distinction, with difference… because the core issue and the motivation behind it are both different, the potential solution sets are different.

Both potential solution sets include the “get corporate money out of politics” point within them…

…but for one way of framing the issue, it’s the primary… even the only meaningful point in that potential solution set (thus dooming it to inevitable failure, as doing so is functionally impossible without a complete transformation in the nature and structure of our politics).

For the other, it’s just one of the many possible points within the potentially viable solution set or sets, and importantly is recognized as neither necessary nor sufficient.

One cannot proceed to successful resolution of complex issues, without understanding the second and third order issues which underly them. This increases complexity and multiplies the problems of imperfect information, imperfect reason, and unintended consequences… again, dooming such efforts to failure by their nature.

Only by reducing the problems to first principles, and their associated core motivations, can true dichotomies be resolved… Or even perceived or realized.

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

Why I am not a libertarian…

I am not a libertarian because I think I’m smarter than you

I am not a libertarian because I think I’m better educated than you

I am not a libertarian because I think I’m morally or ethically superior to you

I am not a libertarian because I think I have better ideas about running things than you

I am a libertarian, because I recognize that no matter how smart, educated, experienced, informed, and competent I THINK I am…

…I KNOW that I am ALSO stupid, uneducated, inexperienced, ignorant, incompetent, and fallible…

…just like everyone else.

I am a libertarian, because I recognize that I do not have all of the information, knowledge, education, experience, judgement, and wisdom; to always make good decisions about MY OWN life, business, or circumstances.

I am a libertarian, because I understand that in fact it is impossible for me to do so.

I am a libertarian, because if that’s true of my OWN life… Then I absolutely and certainly do not, and can not; have the information, knowledge, education, experience, judgement, and wisdom; about YOUR, or ANYONE ELSES life, business, or circumstances, to make anyone elses decisions for them.

And neither do you…

And neither does the government…

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

Freedom, Group Identification, and Consequences

To anyone trying to make the Cliven Bundy issue, or the Donald Sterling issue, or the Brendan Eich issue about freedom of speech…


They are unrelated, and MOSTLY irrelevant, to free speech.

None are a question of freedom of speech.

All three are a question of bad PR and violating contract terms.

These idiots are not victims of oppression… at least as far as speech goes.

“Well, that’s just your perspective… this is mine”

No… You can have your own opinions, you cannot have your own facts.

This is not an opinion or a perspective, it is a fact. In making this argument, you are entirely and completely incorrect, in both fact and in principle…

That’s not so bad… it’s OK to be wrong… everyone is wrong about many things, every day.

What IS so bad, and why you must be corrected, is that by passionately advocating such a patently false viewpoint, and making weak and specious arguments to support it, you weaken the very important ACTUAL battle to restore and maintain free speech.

Using bad arguments for your cause HURTS your cause, it does not help it.

There are some very serious threats to free speech in this country, particularly on college campuses and in schools. There are supreme court cases in this session, and coming up addressing these issues right now… and the picture is decidedly mixed.

    We are dangerously close to criminalizing, or at least accepting some kind of official sanction, on “hate speech” in this country. We already HAVE criminalized “suspect motivations”, through “hate crime” law.
    The Government is spying on and intimidating reporters, with the DOJ going after those it perceives as enemies.
    Witnesses are being suppressed out of fear of government retaliation.
    The IRS has gone after conservative political groups, simply for being conservative.
    We have enacted insane regulations about who can say what, when, and with how much and whose money, when it comes to politics and elections.


By equating things which are not about rights and freedoms, to things which are, you weaken rights and freedoms, and make them more difficult to defend.

Freedom of speech means you have the right to say as you damn well please and the government can’t stop you or punish you for it (except in some very strictly limited ways).

It doesn’t mean that private persons or organizations have to publish you, support you, employ you, associate with you, provide you with a forum or an audience, or listen to you.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.

If you can’t back everything you say, and accept the consequences, then perhaps your problem is not one of lack of freedom, but of lack of courage.

“But… but… political correctness… thought police… BAD”


I never said that political correctness WASN’T a chilling force on freedom of speech and even freedom of conscience… Of course it is.

…But that is not the same as government using force against you because of it (though with “hate speech” and things like campus “speech codes”, we have to be very careful of that).

The problem with believing in freedom is that you have to believe in it for everyone, including people you don’t like, or whose ideas you don’t like, or who do bad things with it.

Private individuals and organizations can choose who they wish to associate with freely, and who they wish to support or oppose freely (or at least they are supposed to be able to).

That means both things and people that you like, and things and people that you don’t.

That means you can be fired for expressing yourself. It means you can be fired for your political and social views. It means you can be fired for your private behavior. It means you can lose your customers, your money, your reputation…

In fact, everything but your life, and your freedom.

A free society means we have to put up with that.

We don’t have to like it, but we DO have to put up with it.

And many of us actually have very little problem with it… so long as it’s aligned with THEIR personal beliefs.

Frankly, I don’t see very many “social conservatives” complaining very much when it’s “progressives”, gays, atheists, muslims, “perverts” etc… who experience negative consequences for their beliefs (admittedly, that is certainly not true of all. Some do decry all of this as suppression of free speech and freedom of conscience).

Most “social conservatives” aren’t complaining when church groups or conservative groups try to get certain things banned, or removed from libraries or schools, or have teachers, or school administrators, or abortion providers fired…

…because you don’t like their ideas or how they express them.

…Really, most anyone who you would identify as the enemy, or the “other side” or whatever other outgroup identification it may be…. seems it’s ok to you if THEY have to live with the consequences of their choices, actions, and words…

Most of you are only complaining when it’s happening to those you identify as YOUR ingroup, or for people whose opinions and ideas you agree with.

Again, not always, not everyone… but most.

The same of course is true of “the other side”… starting to see the point yet?

So really… What you’re asking for is not “freedom of speech”, it’s “freedom of speech that you like”, and freedom FROM both speech, and consequence that you don’t.

That’s not freedom. That exactly the same as “the other side”… you just like the opinions better.

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 Problem With Freedom…

Here’s the problem with supporting liberty and freedom… You have to support peoples liberty and freedom to be assholes and idiots.

I think discriminating against gays or blacks or anyone else for some arbitrary characteristic that doesn’t harm you is fucking idiotic, and proof that you are a total asshole.

However, I think you should be free to associate with, or exclude, anyone you want to from your private property, or private business.


Because that’s what freedom of conscience, and true property rights are.

The right to associate with those you wish, and not associate with those you do not, is inherent to freedom of conscience.

The right of exclusion IS one of the three fundamental rights of private property (the others being the rights to use and dispose of the property as you see fit, and the right to the outputs, proceeds, and benefits accrued on or by the property).

Arbitrary discrimination by private businesses is wrong, stupid, offensive, and just bad business.

But it shouldn’t be illegal.

Note: At least not for truly private businesses.

There is an argument to be made that public corporations, because of the legal protections they receive from the government, and their “public ownership” through equities; should not be allowed to discriminate. Some even argue that by obtaining a business license, a business can be prohibited from discrimination.

Unless such prohibition is written into the law for licensure of these businesses, or for the foundation and governance of a company, I disagree with this argument (and I have issues with the concept of making anti-discrimination part of the law, again on the grounds above), but there is at least a basis for it.

Oh and for those of you who think this is just about gays… it applies equally to guns. I think that businesses that exclude lawful bearers of arms from their premises are idiots, and that it’s bad business… but its THEIR property, and they have the right to exclude me if they want to.

The GOVERNMENT should NEVER be allowed to discriminate, nor should any public utility, or any organization with a lawful monopoly. Any organization with which interaction is mandatory, or their power over you is involuntary, can never be allowed to discriminate.

Private individuals, and private property though, can never be prohibited from doing so… at least if we value and wish to preserve freedom and liberty (and in this country, frequently and unfortunately, we do not).

Freedom of conscience though, is a wonderful thing… They get to discriminate. Guess what, so do you. You can choose not to patronize their business. You can organize all your friends… and the entire world if everyone else is so inclined… to not patronize that business.

That’s freedom for ya…

Oh and by the by, these laws currently proceeding in several states explicitly legally authorizing business to refuse to serve people on the basis of their sexual orientation, are part of the blowback I predicted would result from the current strategy many in the gay rights movement have of “suing our way to normalcy”…

“Dammit, if they don’t want to make my same sex wedding cake, I’ll SUE”.

Or worse “We’ll get married in Massachusetts, and then move to Kansas and sue for them to recognize our marriage”.

Many lied saying that would never happen. Many more well intentioned supporters honestly believed the lie, and repeated it.

When I raise this issue with my liberal friends, they often say that I am being ridiculous.

It HAS been happening, from the first legally recognized same sex marriages in this country.

It’s a bad strategy, and it has and will continue to backfire.

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

Bye Bye 4th and 5th amendment: Obamacare info may be used for Law Enforcement and Audit activities

Well… we knew that the 4th and 5th amendment meant nothing to them… never mind HIPAA… but really?


Obamacare Marketplace: Personal Data Can Be Used For ‘Law Enforcement and Audit Activities’

Maryland’s Health Connection, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, has been plagued by delays in the first days of open enrollment. If users are able to endure long page-loading delays, they are presented with the website’s privacy policy, a ubiquitous fine-print feature on websites that often go unread. Nevertheless, users are asked to check off a box that they agree to the terms.

The policy contains many standard statements about information automatically collected regarding Internet browsers and IP addresses, temporary “cookies” used by the site, and website accessibility. However, at least two conditions may give some users pause before proceeding.

The first is regarding personal information submitted with an application for those users who follow through on the sign up process all the way to the end. The policy states that all information to help in applying for coverage and even for making a payment will be kept strictly confidential and only be used to carry out the function of the marketplace. There is, however, an exception: “[W]e may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.” Here is the entire paragraph from the policy the includes the exception [emphasis added]:

Should you decide to apply for health coverage through Maryland Health Connection, the information you supply in your application will be used to determine whether you are eligible for health and dental coverage offered through Maryland Health Connection and for insurance affordability programs. It also may be used to assist you in making a payment for the insurance plan you select, and for related automated reminders or other activities permitted by law. We will preserve the privacy of personal records and protect confidential or privileged information in full accordance with federal and State law. We will not sell your information to others. Any information that you provide to us in your application will be used only to carry out the functions of Maryland Health Connection. The only exception to this policy is that we may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.

The site does not specify if “appropriate authorities” refers only to state authorities or if it could include the federal government, as well. Neither is there any detail on what type of law enforcement and/or audit activities would justify the release of the personal information, or who exactly is authorized to make such a determination. An email to the Maryland Health Connection’s media contact seeking clarification has not yet been answered

The second privacy term that may prompt caution by users relates to email communications. The policy reads:

If you send us an e-mail, we use the information you send us to respond to your inquiry. E-mail correspondence may become a public record. As a public record, your correspondence could be disclosed to other parties upon their request in accordance with Maryland’s Public Information Act.

Since emails to the marketplace could conceivably involve private matters regarding finances, health history, and other sensitive issues, the fact that such information could be made part of the “public record” could prevent users from being as free with their information than they might otherwise be. However, as noted, any requests for such emails would still be subject to Maryland’s Public Information Act which contains certain exceptions to the disclosure rules.

Read the fine print eh?

 These are such clear 4th and 5th amendment violations I can’t believe anyone didn’t immediately say “uh guys… we cant actually do this”…

… but as I said, we know that our elected and selected “lords and masters” don’t give a damn about the 4th or 5th amendments (or really any of the others ones any time they become inconvenient).

So while I’m sure they were told they couldn’t do it, I’m sure they said “ahh well the disclaimer and release is enough, we’ll be fine”.

 Yeah no.

 And as far as HIPAA goes… In reality these terms of use are not anywhere near an adequate HIPAA disclosure release, so using any of this data in any manner other than for healthcare purposes would be a federal offense.

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

Don’t you wish YOUR job had raises like this?

This whole government “shutdown” thing has brought out a lot of talk about federal pay.

A liberal of my acquaintance posted something on facebook a couple days ago:

“A Republican I know said, ‘If you got furloughed because of the shut down, maybe you should get a real job.’
Yeah… about that…”

‘pon which he linked to a story about the cops, border patrol agents, etc… who were not being paid while protecting congress, and our country.

It’s a good point. There are plenty of people doing real, important jobs, who are not being paid… Some of them have gone home, but a LOT of them… actually about 2/3 of the federal non-military workforce, hasn’t. They’re still doing their jobs, they just aren’t getting paid for them.

I don’t have a problem with good people doing as best they can at their job…

The problem I have is… there’s too damn many of them… And they are doing too many things, that they don’t need to be, or shouldn’t be doing.

So, I said something which I think is fairly well known in libertarian circles:

“A good friend of mine is a border guard with ICE… yeah, he’s got a real job.

That said, there IS a point when the most liberal liberal in America has to think ‘why in the hell do we have 50% more federal government payroll than 1998… we’re not getting more than we got then… at least not more good useful stuff….’ That’s just non-military federal staff payroll by the by, not any other spending…”

His commenters didn’t believe me, or just said inflation or homeland security etc…

I clarified, no, federal non-military payroll; meaning the total compensation (wages/ salaries, non-cash compensation and benefits) of full time permanent non-military federal workers, has increased, by at least 50%, in constant dollar terms, from 1998 to today.

Oh and homeland security is only a fairly small portion of that increase (Only 9% of the federal workforce, though it is the single largest federal agency – excluding the civilian employees of the military and veterans affairs – in terms of manpower).

To which he said, quite reasonably Would you care to source that?.

Gladly sir….

Congressional Reporting Service report on trends in the federal workforce:

Congressional Reporting Service report on average wages etc… in the federal workforce:

Several other primary sources in the footnotes of this article, notably from the Bureau of Economic Analysis:

So… let’s break it down shall we?

The CRS reports there was a 17%… actually 16.7% increase in the federal workforce between 2000 and 2010.

I don’t have the numbers from 1998, 1999, 2011, 2012, or 2013, but other sources indicate that it’s probably not much, because there were hiring freezes and reductions that make it pretty much a wash. 17% is probably good for 1998 to 2013.

So, a 17% increase in non-military federal staff from appx. 1.8 million to appx. 2.1 million (excluding the civilian employees of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Veterans Affairs; currently about 900,000).

Oh and it’s important to note that these numbers do not include contractors. Contractors compensation does not count against federal payroll, and they are not counted as federal workers… which is one of the major reasons there are so many of them…

How many?

In 1998 there were approximately 1.8 million federal workers, and only 6.5 million contractors.

Well, as of 2013, there are appx 2.1 or million federal non-military workers… and appx 17 million contractors.

Contractor compensation DWARFS the federal payroll. It’s well over 20 times federal payroll in fact… though we really have no exact idea how much, because it’s buried in hundreds… or possibly thousands… of different budgets, and literally millions of line items (many of which are gray, or black).

So, let’s talk money…

First, let’s talk about total compensation.

Total compensation includes both wages and other cash compensation, and non-cash compensation such as benefits.

Bureau of Economic Analysis reported average total compensation for federal employees went from appx. $67k in 2000 to appx. $115k in 2012.

In constant dollar (that is, adjusted for inflation) terms that is a 29% raise.

Oh but that’s just from 2000-2012 I don’t have the exact numbers here from BEA for ’98,’99, and 2013…

Purely from a trendline analysis, you see a 2.15% annual average constant dollar compensation increase. Extend the trendline from 1998 to 2013, and instead of 29% it’s about 38%.

A 17% workforce increase and a 38% raise, is a 60% increase in total payroll…

Now… even if you just take cash compensation, BEA reports an increase from $56k to $82k; a constant dollar increase of 16%.

That’s much lower than the increase in total compensation, but still quite respectable… And remember, this is in constant dollar terms, so that’s over and above inflation and cost of living increases.

Again, thats 2000-2012. Extending the trendline from 1998 to 2013 and you get 21%.

21% raise times a 17% workforce increase, is a 41% total increase in constant dollar terms; for just cash compensation.

Now… those are BEA numbers, what about CRS numbers?

Hmm… I don’t have the exact numbers on total comp increases from those years… But I do have their percentages… in fact I have every percentage increase, and the inflation percentage, for every year since 1969…

Federal Average salary and wage increases year over year, 1999-2013 (1998 would reflect increases from 1997):

1999: 3.4% over inflation
2000: 2% over inflation
2001: 0.3% under inflation
2002: 0.4% under inflation
2003: 0.2% over inflation
2004: 2.0% over inflation
2005: 0.2% over inflation
2006: 1.4% over inflation
2007: 1.6% over inflation
2008: 1.8% under inflation
2009: 1.6% over inflation
2010: 1.9% over inflation
2011: 1.8% over inflation
2012: 1.8% over inflation
2013: 1.8% over inflation

Official numbers have not been released for 2011, 2012, and 2013; the 1.8% is from news reports and other websites stating that though federal salaries have been in a base rate freeze, the average salary has increased 1.8% over inflation in each of the last 3 years. This is consistent with previous increases.

So, from purely federal internal sources, we have an average wage/salary only, increase of 24.8%. Times a workforce increase of 16.7% (also from the CRS), we have a 45.6% increase.

So… there’s the CRS’s own estimate, of average wage and salary alone.

Unfortunately, the CRS doesn’t estimate total compensation, but if we assume the BEA numbers are reliable, non-cash compensation has increased from appx 22% of cash compensation in 1998 to approximately 40% of cash compensation in 2012.

This estimate is not out of line with other trends and percentages well known in HR (noncash compensation, particularly benefit costs, have doubled or more in the last 15 years)… so I think it’s a good and reasonable approximation.

Oh… might be useful to summarize here.

I’ve got two different sets of numbers, which are different enough to be noticeable, but not enough to completely contradict each other.

Note: The difference between the BEA and CRS may include slight differences in the way they calculate compensation; and they definitely include differences in the way inflation is calculated. The BEA numbers used BLS inflation adjustment. CRS uses CPI based inflation adjustment (CPI is a component of the BLS inflation adjustment, but there are other elements included as well).

Workforce increase 16.7%

BEA: cash compensation increase 21% total comp increase 38%
CRS: cash compensation increase 24.8% total comp increase 42.8%

Total payroll increase cash/comp

BEA: 41%/61%
CRS: 46%/66%

So… no matter which numbers you believe, total comp increase is WELL over 50% in 15 years, and according to the CRS cash comp is up nearly 50%; and the lowest estimate is 41%…

Over and above inflation…

Yeah… don’t you wish your job had raises like that?

Oh and one more thing…

From the late 1960s, through the 80s and into the early 90s, federal workers as a whole were actually paid quite poorly, as compared to comparable private sector jobs. Their wage scales were originally set at bottom of market to begin with (generally though of as a tradeoff for their better job security and benefits), and the unusually high inflation from 1968 to 1984 had private sector wages rapidly increasing, while federal cost of living adjustments were significantly under the rate of inflation.

This left a population of workers who were dramatically underpaid in comparison to the private sector, all the way through the early 1990s.

Many still are. Those in the bottom 2/3 of the federal pay scale are generally still significantly UNDERPAID, not overpaid as compared to private sector; sometimes dramatically so (permanent non-contractor federal IT staff make less than half industry comparable salary for example).

Those in the top 1/3 though make quite a lot more than comparable private sector jobs.

…Well, that is, until you get to the “senior executive” level, where, once again, they make 1/2 or less what they would in the private sector ($190k a year is the top out. Private sector workers at those levels of education, experience, responsibility etc… typically make anywhere from $200k to over a million, with $400k+ not uncommon).

It is only from the mid 90s that the federal payroll, and specifically average pay (skewed by the top 1/3), began to dramatically outpace private sector pay.

The bottom 2/3 of the federal workforce didn’t get very much of that increase.

The top 1/3 of the federal workforce got much larger increases.

Also, there are far more workers in the top 1/3 of the pay scale than there were in 1998. Far more making more than $100k a year, and far more making more than $150k a year.

The middle 1/3 shrank significantly.

So there’s more low end, more high end, and less middle…

Not exactly shocking…

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 scope and scale of the fraud… and the misconception that allows it to continue and worsen

So, once again, telling people the truth about Social Security produces indignation, and the expression of common misconceptions… to wit:

“Hey wait a second. I paid into Social Security for 47 years. I’m just getting out that I paid in, and the return on my investment. It’s not my fault congress didn’t do what it was supposed to, and raided the trust fund”.

Actually, no, you’re not. Not even close.

The first thing is, as noted in the pieces “The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race“, and “It isn’t, wasn’t, aint ever gonna be…“; there is no investment, no insurance, no pension, no annuity, and no “trust fund”.

The payments to current retirees are entirely and exclusively paid out of the taxes of current productive workers. Nothing else.

Further, retirees actually get far more out than they put in.

As of 2010, the average retired worker received $1180 per month, or $14,160 per year. This is, in theory properly inflation adjusted etc… So can be dealt with in constant dollar terms.

In constant dollars, the average individual salary has almost doubled over the working life of the current retiree, from somewhere around $13,000 (constant dollars remember) in 1963 to around $25,000 in 2010.

The FICA tax rate is currently 12.4%, currently split equally between the worker, and the employer. Meaning that the average annual FICA contribution is currently about $3100, $1550 by the employer, $1550 by the employee

That’s about 1/5th the amount paid out to the average retiree…

If we assume a 47 year working life (actually, the average is 39 years for women who work, and 44 years for men who work, with a national average of 37 years – including non-workers – but we’ll be generous), that would, presuming constant wages in constant dollars, mean a total contribution of about $146,000.

Against an 11 year average retirement, that would be about $13,200 a year… Only the average is actually $14,160, a difference of about $1000, or about 7%.

However, because constant dollar wages have actually almost doubled over the life of the average retiree (meaning that their FICA taxes were much lower for much of their working life; particularly prior to 1984) and because the average working life is approximately 44 years, not 47 years (for men who work… we’ll exclude women, as they didn’t make up a major percentage of the full time workforce until the 1980s), the actual numbers are much worse…

In constant dollar terms, given inflation (particularly the inflation that occurred from 1968-1984), and the current average lifespan after taking retirement of 11 years; the average social security recipient actually receives 2.7 times in benefits as they paid in (this is the SSA’s estimate).

This is primarily the result of inflation, and dramatically increased lifespan. Unfortunately, as no actual return earning investments have been made, it takes the increasing contributions from new and more productive workers, to keep paying down the current payments.

This tells the tale:

Total benefits paid, by year
Year – Beneficiaries – Dollars

1937 – 53,236 – $1,278,000
1938 – 213,670 – $10,478,000
1939 – 174,839 – $13,896,000
1940 – 222,488 – $35,000,000
1950 – 3,477,243 – $961,000,000
1960 – 14,844,589 – $11,245,000,000
1970 – 26,228,629 – $31,863,000,000
1980 – 35,584,955 – $120,511,000,000
1990 – 39,832,125 – $247,796,000,000
1995 – 43,387,259 – $332,553,000,000
1996 – 43,736,836 – $347,088,000,000
1997 – 43,971,086 – $361,970,000,000
1998 – 44,245,731 – $374,990,000,000
1999 – 44,595,624 – $385,768,000,000
2000 – 45,414,794 – $407,644,000,000
2001 – 45,877,506 – $431,949,000,000
2002 – 46,444,317 – $453,746,000,000
2003 – 47,038,486 – $470,778,000,000
2004 – 47,687,693 – $493,263,000,000
2005 – 48,434,436 – $520,748,000,000
2006 – 49,122,624 – $546,238,000,000
2007 – 49,864,838 – $584,939,000,000
2008 – 50,898,244 – $615,344,000,000

You can see that:

from 1950 to 1960, beneficiaries increased by a factor of 4.5, payments increased by a factor of 12
from 1960 to 1970, beneficiaries doubled, payments tripled
from 1970 to 1980, beneficiaries only increased by 30%, while payments increased by 400%
from 1980 to 1990, beneficiaries only increased by 11% while payments more than doubled.
from 1990 to 2000, beneficiaries increased by about 11%, payments increased by about 50%
from 2000 to 2010, beneficiaries increased by about 11%, payments increased by about 50%

These are reflective of the huge jump in expected lifespan between 1950 and 1990, and the massive inflation from 1968 to 1984.

We are about to hit another inflection point however. Or rather, we already have, it’s just not reflected in the numbers yet. In the 2000s, beneficiary growth slowed down, because the 1940s were a relatively low birth rate period for the U.S.

In 2007, the baby boomers started hitting minimum retirement age of 62. In 2010, they started hitting 65. The peak of the baby boom was from 1946 to 1959, where we maintained, on average, more than double our previous normal population growth year over year. This is combined with an expected increase in lifespan over previous generational co-horts of 3-7 years; and an increase in real income of almost 30% to 50% over previous cohorts.

So, the REAL fun, is the 10 years from 2010 to 2020… when instead of the typical 1 million or so additional beneficiaries, and 30 billion additional dollars in payments per year, we are expecting 2.5 million additional beneficiaries, and over 100 billion additional dollars in payments per year.

Then from 2020 to 2025, the increased slow down, to just 1.75 million additional beneficiaries… but still over 100 billion additional payouts.

Basically, we’re looking at increasing the beneficiary population by about 50%, and about tripling the annual payments, in the next 12 years.

This is happening, just as the earners in peak earning years fall off precipitously. From 1964 to 1975 the birth rate dropped by 30%, and has pretty stayed there ever since.

By 2025, we’re looking something like 75 million beneficiaries, and 2 trillion a year in payouts; against probably 125 million productive workers (this is accounting for population growth, as well as retirement growth).

That’s $16,000 per year, per productive worker.

Presuming todays average salary per productive worker of appx $25k with a real dollar increase of 3% annualized (the average over the past 100 years) over 12 years, you get appx $37k.

It would require a 45% payroll tax rate to cover that… Which is about 4 times what it currently is.

That’s JUST for social security, never mind all other taxes… and that’s a fairly optimistic growth rate for both worker population, and worker wages.

… and its obviously completely impossible.

We literally cannot tax our way out of this… We’d have to increase taxes to 100% of income… and then expect to actually get it (which we won’t. We’ve never been able to extract more than 22% of gdp for more than a few years even in WW2, and never more than 19% average over any rolling 10 year period); and it isn’t going to fixed by “modest reform”.

We are going to have to cut social security dramatically AND raise taxes dramatically… there is literally no other possibility.

Oh… and it gets worse for the following 11 years… well, that’s based on todays average survival after retirement… it’s estimated that average goes up by 4 years over the same time period… before it starts to get any better… and it’s not for 15 years after that, that retirements actually slow below the rate of worker increase…

… and then another 15… or given increasing lifespans probably 20 years at that point… before wages actually increase at a rate higher than retirement payouts.

Oh and the “trust fund”? Yeah, even if it actually existed, it would only be about 2.7 trillion… which is only about 4 years payments at current levels, and 2 years payments at expected future levels. So, even if the “trust fund’ hadn’t ever been raided, we’d STILL be in this situation.

So… it’s 2013… We’re already below zero, and if we don’t do anything to fix it, we’re basically hosed until about 2070.

And it isn’t because “you’re getting your fair share of what you put in”… You’re actually getting 2-3 times what you put in.

Well… for now anyway…

We’ve already run out of money… The question now is, what happens when we run out of debt, and excuses.

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

It isn’t, wasn’t, aint ever gonna be…

I mentioned Social Security as an entitlement payment in my post on the government shutdown, and it raised a fairly common objection in several who read it:

They don’t think of Social Security as an entitlement, or a welfare payment; they view it as their right, by virtue of having contributed to the system for their entire working life.

So, time to correct a very major, and unfortunately common, misconception.

Social Security, is NOT a pension, nor is it insurance.

Now, I realize that the majority of the American public believe this is so, because they have been deliberately defrauded by our government…

First read this to understand the scope and scale of the fraud, and the problem it (now only vestigially) masks:

The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race

Ok… so, by now, most people understand that Social Security, as it is, is essentially a legal Ponzi scheme (whether they accept that, or admit it… if they can do basic match, they at least understand it).

What I really didn’t fully appreciate until recently, is that often, even people who understand this is true, don’t understand why or how it got that way.

There is a very common misconception, even among otherwise economically, historically, and legally well informed and educated people, that the current state of Social Security is somehow a twisting of what it was intended to be, or taking advantage of loopholes etc…

Many people believe that Social Security was set up to be an annuity based insurance and pension plan. That paying FICA contributions was supposed to buy you into a long term annuity, or investment plan, and that your Social Security payments were intended to be the product of that investment.

They think that the “trust fund” exists, and was set up to collect and invest the contributions of the workers who paid into it, so that the investments would fund the workers retirements.

They believe that the problem with Social Security is that congress has been raiding the trust fund since 1958 (most don’t know it was since ’58, but they are sure that’s why Social Security is broke).

Unfortunately, every bit of this idea is entirely incorrect… and people who hold that idea generally do so, because they were deliberately misled.

I’s simply not true… though many… perhaps most… people believe it is; but in fact, Social Security was always nothing more than a pyramid scheme, and an entitlement.

They misunderstand entirely… Because they have been deliberately deceived; as has been the majority of the population.

Social Security was NEVER, EVER, an annuity, pension, or insurance.

Actual insurance, annuities, pensions etc… were not part of the legislation that created it, or anything thereafter.

Also, there never was an actual “trust fund” as such… simply an accounting of surplus contributions which were, in theory, to be placed into low yield “no risk” treasury bonds.

Note, I said “surplus contributions”… this means contributions in excess of payouts to existing recipients. Because benefit payments are not made from the proceeds of investment, they are made using the payroll taxes of those currently paying in today (this is why we call Social Security a ponzi scheme… When Bernie Madoff does it, it’s fraud and he goes to jail. When the government does it, it’s… well it’s still fraud, even worse fraud… but no-one goes to jail sadly).

The sham of it, particularly the sham of the accounting trick they called the “trust fund” was publicly proclaimed as early as 1936 (by Alf Landon in his presidential campaign).

Social Security is, and always has been, a tax and entitlement distribution scheme.

The government lied, and called it insurance, but in fact it has never been anything other than a payments and distributions pool, funded by taxes.

You can look it up, in 42usc (the section of U.S. code defining the various programs known as Social Security).

The programs collectively known as Social Security are referred to as insurance several times, but in fact they very clearly are not. The legal definitions and descriptions make this very clear. Social Security is a tax and entitlement disbursement scheme, by act of congress.

There is no individual ownership, no accrued value, no capital gain, it cannot be transferred, and it can be changed (or removed), at will, by congress; without being construed as a taking without due process.


Perhaps I am not explaining this properly…

It’s not that congress went against the intent, or written provisions of the law, and changed Social Security from what it was supposed to be, to what it is…

It’s that in fact, the law was NEVER what they told the American people it was.

In fact, if the law HAD been what they sold it as, then that law would have been declared unconstitutional by the supreme court (as had the earlier railroad pensions act, which actually DID created a property based pension scheme). It was specifically because it WAS a tax and distribution, that congress had the power to do it; and was argued thus before the court in 1937.

Helvering v. Davis clearly defines Social Security “Contributions” as a tax, and social security “benefits” as welfare payments. This is the basis for it’s constitutionality.

Fleming v. Nestor in 1960, reaffirmed that FICA is a tax, and that the “contributions” are government property, to be done with as the government sees fit; and that “contribution” through FICA did not cause one to accrue a property right to any asset, pension, or insurance scheme, nor did it create a contract consideration, right, or obligation on the part of the government. Further, it affirmed that “benefits” were NOT insurance or pension disbursements, but entitlements by act of congress, and that congress could change them at any time in any way they chose, without being construed as a taking under the 5th amendment (though they did say that they must have cause and due process to do so… but any legitimate cause within their purview would do).

Justices Black and Reich, specifically dissented from the majority opinion, explicitly and expressly addressing the issue of property rights. They believed that such contributions, to such a program, SHOULD as a matter of moral and public good, be considered property, and have property rights attached. They acknowledged however that the law as written did not, and that by strict interpretation the majority was correct… They just thought it was better to make it property anyway.

Unfortunately, it’s not… It is neither a pension or insurance, and never has been, from the very beginning.

However, almost every explanation ever given the public, and in most documentation, it is referred to as insurance, or even a pension.

All as part of the greatest fraud in the history of the human race.

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

Defunding and Debt Limits and Shutdowns Oh My!

Welcome to the sideshow folks…

Step right up and enjoy the posturing, rhetoric, and antics of our congressional clown crew…

Over to your right you’ll see the amazing vocal endurance of Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz as he tosses red meat to the base…

… To be serious, there are a large group of people, who don’t understand why the rest of us consider what Ted Cruz did (a 21 hour “filibuster” of a motion in relation to items within a continuing resolution for funding the federal government for the next six months), both harmful to the country, and nothing more than grandstanding.

For them, it looks like Cruz was (in the composite words of many Americans on the right):

“Taking a brave and principled stand against the funding of a bad law that will harm our country.”

In reality, he was doing no such thing.

Cruz is being maligned by his own party because he was being a clown. This “filibuster” was nothing but a clown show.

It may be viscerally satisfying, but it’s idiotic. It will do absolutely NOTHING for the Republicans, of for those against Obamacare, except throw red meat to the stupider side of the base.

This is underpants gnomes strategy.

Step one: “Non-filibuster a piece of already passed legislation that I can’t stop by doing this… but that’s OK I wasn’t really trying to, really I was just trying to get media attention and attract donations from the less intelligent and aware side of my political base”.

Step two: … uh….

Step three: Electoral Victory?

“But, one brave man, standing up for what he believes in, can do amazing things. A small group of patriots can change the world, just look at the American revolution.”

No, they can’t. No guns involved in this one. No big foreign war distracting the occupying power. No actual fight going on among the actual fighters… just a series of bargaining and trading; while the rhetorical fight goes on among the spectators.

It may be emotionally satisfying rhetoric, but that’s all it is, rhetoric.

You are not a member of the patriotic few, bravely standing up against the despotic elite, risking all for freedom.

In fact, unless you support drug legalization, getting the state out of marriage…and almost everything else… giving up legislating morality and goodness entirely… You AREN’T EVEN ON THE GOOD GUYS SIDE.

You’re just another guy on the badguys side, who wants the badguys to tax the tea a little differently.

Oh and as “just another guy”, you actually aren’t on their side at all…

You’re a spectator rooting for your team from… not even the stands… from the comfort of your own home; with the game streamed lived via satellite into your living room.

“But what would you have us do? Just give up, let the Democrats run the country into the ground”

Nope… Not at all…

I’d have you stop assuming the rhetorical mantle of revolutionary patriot because it makes you feel good; and stop supporting things which reinforce that feeling, without actually DOING anything.

If you buy Ted Cruz’s stunt, you are perpetuating this crap.

If you want to actually do something… ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING. Get involved with your political party on a local level. Get onto policy committees. Become a subject matter expert for the party on something you know, and use that position to help steer the party, and the politicians in the party, in the right direction.

That’s actually doing something. This thing with Cruz? It’s just something you can say you supported so you can feel morally vindicated while not actually doing anything.

“You’ll see… Cruz was right, this is bad law and we must stop it. Cruz will be vindicated, time will tell”

Well of COURSE he’s RIGHT, we all know that… it’s AWFUL law… even Jon Stewart thinks it’s bad law… but that doesn’t mean he was doing any good… or even try to for that matter.

Vindicated how?

Sure he’s increasing his own fundraising, and certainly he’s right about Obama care… but to be vindicated you have to have done or said something substantive, and then been proven right later.

How has he done that?

He’s hurt the Republican party badly with the center, and provided yet another target for mockery and ridicule… and to scare those who think this sort of thing is either stupid or crazy…

Yes, he’s increased his own fundraising… and tripled that of everyone on the left.

This is not some brave heroic last stand. This was a foregone conclusion. Obamacare would never, under any circumstances, be defunded. This wasn’t a filibuster. This wasn’t moral courage.

If it was a serious attempt to stop Obamacare, fine, that would be great. Even if it were a futile attempt, if it were even structurally capable of stopping it, sure… it wasn’t and isn’t.

It wasn’t really even a symbolic gesture.

It was pandering, to the lowest common denominator. It was Ted Cruz setting himself up to be the poster boy for the low information voters of the right.

And he knew EXACTLY what he was doing… By all accounts Cruz is a brilliant man.

“It doesn’t matter if he was doomed to fail, it was the right thing to do anyway. Standing up for what’s right is never wrong”

If that’s what he was actually doing, I wouldn’t be so irritated by this.

I’m irritated because this is what they do instead of something useful. “I supported Ted Cruz’s filibuster but those nasty democrats and RINOs passed it anyway”

The people who believe this, don’t seem to understand that what Cruz did actually hurt us. Us being those of us who really fight against government overreach, and bad law.

It gave cover to the people who wanted to do nothing anyway, it encouraged a few whackjobs to make spectacles of themselves, and it INCREASED the morale and assumed moral authority of the other side.

Do you not realize how stupid and ridiculous this makes anti-obamacare people to the middle? How hysterical it makes them appear to the other sides donors? How this is a permanent harmful soundbite/video clip?

It’s idiots like this that made them able to paint Mitt Romney as an ultraconservative ultra right damn near American Taliban…

When in fact, he wasn’t conservative enough for a lot of people to bother even coming out, and they just stayed home rather than vote.

This is NOT a dedicated small group of principled people fighting against government overreach… That would be excellent.

This is the Republican equivalent of a college student “sticking it to the man” by wearing Che Guevara t-shirt an shouting about oppression and justice, out in front of the admin building.

“You don’t understand… Cruz is different… he’s the only one of the Republicans with the guts and the principle to stand up and do something”.

If he had actually done that, I would more than agree… I’d be cheering him on too.

But he didn’t.

If he were actually different… I’d be 100% behind him… Hell, I think he’s a good man, and in general he will probably be a good senator, though it’s a bit early to tell. If nothing else, he’s a LOT smarter than most Senators.

But really… other than that… he’s not much different than any other professional politician.

I’ve read the mans bio, read some of his speeches, hell I was even on a conference call with him and Marco Rubio at some party event during the campaign last year.

Yeah, he’s accomplished, and he’s got a hell of a back story (great family tale), but… what is it you think makes him so special?

He’s a smart guy, apparently a great legal mind, clerked for Rehnquist, editor of the Harvard law review… which are great things sure… but but I don’t see what you seem to see that makes him particularly exceptional among senators. He’s been a politician basically since law school; either full or part time.

He spent less than a year in private practice before going into an administration job, then less than 4 years out of the fedgov, where he ran for office twice, before going back to the fedgov.

He’s a professional politician.

I think he’s probably going to be a good senator (kinda hard to tell 9 months in), but I don’t see anything there that says anything other than professional politician… He’s a smart man and seemingly a good man… and those are great things… but he’s still a professional politician, and has never been anything but a professional politician.

I mean… he actually voted… in fact the senate voted unanimously 100-0… for the motion he was supposedly filibustering…

How can you even call it a filibuster if you’re going to vote for it?

So… In the next show, we have the “Government Shutdown”.

As of right now, the Republicans in congress have refused to sign any continuing appropriations bills that require the raising of the U.S. federal debt ceiling, and which fund Obamacare.

Therefore, the Republicans are trying to pull a repeat of 1996 and “shut down the government”; again to foster the illusion that they are taking a principled stand against excess spending and government waste etc… etc…

They aren’t.

“Why can’t they just balance the budget, instead of raising the debt ceiling again… That’s not a solution, that’s just making the problem worse?”

That’s the question of a well meaning, intelligent person, looking at this problem from a rational perspective…

So it’s completely irrelevant to anything they do in Washington of course.

First thing, the whole “Defund Obamacare” spiel is, and always has been, a sham. It’s more redmeat for the base. It’s not going to stop Obamacare, never was going to, never could; and even if it could, the republicans couldn’t get it past the senate, or a presidential veto, or an override etc… etc…

It’s just PR.

The Republicans saw what happened to Mitt Romney. They know that a large portion of the electorate doesn’t think they’re conservative enough and so won’t bother to vote for them… This is how they’re trying to address that issue. Nothing more substantive than that.

This still leaves the debt ceiling issue… and of course, incurring yet more federal debt is a bad thing. We are already at more than 105% of GDP (of course, that’s far lower than most other nations, but it’s still quite bad).

However, since it is quite literally impossible for any continuing appropriation to be passed that doesn’t require increasing the debt ceiling… In fact, even without a continuing appropriation the debt ceiling will need to be increased (because of credit payments, entitlements, and other already legislated spending); the debt ceiling is GOING to be raised.

Either that, or an accounting trick will be used to do the same thing.

It’s not a solution. It’s a requirement of the circumstances.

Balancing the budget… that’s a joke; given that we haven’t actually PASSED a budget or OPERATED under a budget , since 1997. From 1998, the government hasn’t been funded with a passed budget, it’s been funded with omnibus spending and special appropropriation bills, and continuing resolutions.

In fact, since Obama was elected, we haven’t even managed to pass an omnibus spending bill, and have exclusively funded the government with special appropriations and continuing resolutions.

The reality of the “debt ceiling” is, the U.S. is NOT going to default on its credit payments, under any circumstances.

In the first place, a U.S. credit default would trigger a world wide economic collapse and long term depression the likes of which have not been dreamed of outside of dystopian fiction.

So yeah… that’s bad… let’s not do that.

Even if that weren’t true, the politicians in this country are not going to let people miss entitlement payments… which is the whole reason why we don’t have a budget in the first place…

Every politician in America knows that if they get blamed for their constituents missing a social security check, they are done… dead… never to be elected to anything, even dog catcher, again.

So, any threat not to raise the debt ceiling, or to have a true and complete government shutdown, really is just grandstanding.

Until we make serious cuts to entitlements, we are not going to have anything close to a balanced budget. No politician in this country who has actually managed to get elected and wants to be re-elected is going to EVER under any circumstances, vote to cut entitlements. Therefore we are never going to have a balanced budget again… or at least not until there is a real unavoidable crisis, where they can cover themselves by saying “we had to do it to save the country”, and their opponents can only look like irresponsible liars if they try to say otherwise…

Of course, if this country weren’t filled with economically and politically ignorant “citizens”, then perhaps the electorate as a whole would understand that we’ve long past the point at which such a crisis could be avoided, and that something really needs to be done right now…

Unfortunately, what looked like it was going to be the first major group of voters working for entitlement cuts in this country, the “tea party”; was quickly overrun by a huge number of these idiots who, completely un-self aware were saying, with complete sincerity “get the government out of healthcare and welfare… but don’t touch my social security and medicare”.

The politicians noticed this… Particularly the smart ones… Like, say, Ted Cruz.

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

Because it’s the Right Thing… and Because it’s Tactically Sound

A few days ago, an NBA player of no particular note came out as gay…

Which, really, should also be of no particular note.

But then ESPN decided to put a moronic bigot (whose name I won’t mention and whose video I won’t bother linking to here… why publicize idiots like this) to discuss the issue… and predictably he spouted moronic bigotry all over the screen, and made it an even BIGGER spectacle…

Now, the intarwebs are full of folks reacting against the reaction against the reaction against etc… etc…

They’re caught up in the noise, and not the issue.

I try not to do that… and to smack it down when I can.

I take issue with the way issues surrounding homosexuality in public life are covered by the media, and often with the strategy and tactics employed by activists… but I believe in, and work for equal rights and equal protection for homosexuals (and before anyone gets offended by my use of a single word… you’re an idiot… YOU are part of the problem… because you are offended stupidly by nothing, and not working towards a real solution).

Chris Kluwe, NFL Punter, wrote a post in support of the gay community in HuffPo yesterday… I normally don’t link to them, but I think this is a rational and correct position, reasonably well put…

Really, my position and reasoning are simple…

I speak in support of equal treatment for homosexuals, not because I am one, but because it is the right thing to do.

Because I believe in equal rights and treatment for EVERYONE.

Whether I approve of them or not.

Further, I do so, because anything which can be used against those you disapprove of… can also be used against those you DO approve of…

…or YOU.

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

Titles Wrong, Concept’s Right

This illustrates the fundamental flaw of all authoritarian philosophies quite handily… The author titles is as “anarchy in one lesson”, but actually it’s liberty in one lesson.

This is the problem with people who consider themselves anarchists… They don’t actually understand what anarchy is (and that it is in fact one of the WORST and LEAST fee states of man).

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

Take Back Your Government

Tuesday night, I spoke before the Bonner County Republican Party Central Committee (all elected county officials in Bonner county are Republicans right now), in support of a resolution (which I had a small part in writing) supporting the second amendment and:

“Strongly urging” the county commission (all commissioners are Republicans) to enact an ordnance

1. Declaring all federal firearms laws in violation of the second amendment

2. Requiring the Sheriff (also a Republican) to refuse to enforce, or allow to be enforced, and to prevent enforcement in the county; any laws abrogating, violating, or substantially limiting our natural and pre-existing right to keep and bear arms for defense of self and others.

This resolution was adopted by acclimation by the county party, and was forwarded to the Idaho state Republican party, so that they can include it (and the similar resolutions of all 44 counties in the state) in the statewide resolution of the Idaho Republican party (which will be substantially similar):


A Resolution of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee to be known as
The Second Amendment Resolution

WHEREAS, The United States Constitution guarantees the natural and pre-existing right to keep and bear arms, and

WHEREAS, Only laws made “in Pursuance of” the Constitution are deemed valid, and
WHEREAS, The State and The People of Idaho possess and retain all powers not granted to the federal government, including the powers mentioned in the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution, and

WHEREAS, Bonner County being a duly recognized political subdivision of the state of Idaho, has the authority of the State of Idaho to honor Constitutional laws and disregard laws not made “in Pursuance of” the Constitution,

BE IT RESOLVED THAT, The Bonner County Republican Central Committee strongly urges the Bonner County Commissioners to enact the following Ordinance; following the example of the Founders and many States, Sheriff’s and local jurisdictions throughout the United States to wit:

AN Ordinance, which shall be known and may be cited as the “2nd Amendment Preservation Ordinance.”

To prevent federal infringement of the right to keep and bear arms; nullifying all federal acts in violation of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.


SECTION 1: The Bonner County Board of Commissioners finds that:

A. The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

B. All federal acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms are a violation of the 2nd Amendment


A. The Bonner County Board of Commissioners declares that all federal acts, laws, orders, rules, regulations – past, present or future – in violation of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, are not authorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate its true meaning and intent as given by the Founders and Ratifiers; and are hereby declared to be invalid in this county, shall not be recognized by this county, are specifically rejected by this county, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this county.

B. It shall be the duty of the Sheriff of this County to take all measures as may be necessary to prevent the enforcement of any federal acts, laws, orders, rules, or regulations in violation of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.


A. This act takes effect upon approval by the Bonner County Board of Commissioners

We have been winning this issue on the federal issue for a number of years. With Heller and McDonald; and the great work of Alan Gura (of Gura and Posesskey), Alan Gottleib of the Second Amendment Foundation, the NRA, JPFO, and others; we are going to keep winning this in federal courts.

But we have to do more. We have to make it clear that we will no longer accept the ratcheting violation of our rights and our liberty.

Further, the most restrictive laws, and the biggest dangers aren’t at the federal level; they’re state by state, and in some cases city by city. The way to win the country is to win state by state. The way to win each state, is to win county by county, and city by city.

We need to win these issues locally. We need to take back our government.

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

History, Moral Philosophy, and Libertarianism

I’ve written fairly extensively about the philosophy behind my particularly type of libertarianism… and how there are a LOT of different schools of libertarian thought… and a lot of pointless, anal, wonky, yet often completely epically vicious… argument and disagreement between them.

A selective overview of these pieces can be found here: A Refresher on Philosophy

Being a libertarian, I do love to argue philosophy… and I do so on several other blogs, and libertarian subforums of various other web sites not dedicated to politics or libertarianism (most actual libertarian forums are… impossible to tolerate… unless you ENJOY drinking bilious idiocy from a firehose ).

In a “neverending thread that will not die”™  about the oxymoronic concept of “libertarian socialism” (in actuality a deliberate socialist linguistic distortion to further a fraudulent concept), a commenter asserted:

Libertarianism is the belief in the non-aggression principle. That’s it. Everything else follows from that. 

Now, I disagree entirely with such a blanket statement… It’s simply untrue, and in fact ignorant.

I mean that literally by the way, not as a characterizing statement. Someone who believes such a thing must be ignorant of the much larger sphere of libertarian history and philosophy.

My response:

Actually the non-agression principle is only one school (actually several related schools) of libertarianism. There are others that are not based on non-agression/non-initiation. 

Our correspondent countered with:

If there were a form of libertarianism not based on the non-aggression principle, wouldn’t you have been able to name it? 
In fact, since the founding of the Libertarian Party in the 1970s–which was the start of the modern libertarian movement– until recently they required all members to sign a pledge promising to uphold the non-aggression principle. 
In my experience, those who say they are libertarians but don’t support the NAP, are usually not libertarians at all, and are simply trying to coopt the word… but hey, please feel free to show me some examples of genuine libertarians who don’t support the NAP. 

Well now…

Again, I have to say that this viewpoint, while not uncommon, is incorrect; and in some very significant ways, ignorant of history and philosophy.

While the Libertarian Party was founded as a non-aggressionist organization; non-aggression is neither necessary, nor sufficient, for a libertarian philosophy.

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; it’s not… in fact it’s generally a very good idea. But the concept that libertarian philosophies MUST, ALL, ALWAYS, be predicated on non-aggression; and that anything which isn’t, is not actually libertarian…

…That’s just plain wrong.

…As for that matter, is the suggestion that the Libertarian Party is the authority, or even a reasonable exemplar, of what libertarianism is.

The LP is simply a collective of theoretically libertarian individuals who have been able to agree sufficiently on goals and process to form an organization (sometimes… barely… ).

Again, I don’t think the libertarian party is a bad idea, or that they aren’t actually libertarian; just that they are not an organization encompassing all libertarian philosophy, or systematology.

…or that there even COULD be such an organization…


The reason I didn’t name specifics in my initial response to our correspondent, was because to do so would require a HUGE, long, detailed, and wonky explanation of the history and moral philosophy of libertarianism, and the nature of rights.

Several thousand words worth, and several hours writing, at a minimum

I wasn’t going to bother… and then I decided that if I didn’t the pointless tangenital arguments and arguing around each other would just go on and on…

Basically, it would become more irritating to me, than actually writing this damn piece.

So I wrote the damn piece… all… 3000 or so words I guess?

note: I’ve expanded and clarified somewhat here from the reply I posted in the other thread

Let’s start with the historical question

since the founding of the Libertarian Party in the 1970s–which was the start of the modern libertarian movement– until recently they required all members to sign a pledge promising to uphold the non-aggression principle. 

Libertarianism, *including the modern libertarian movement*, has been around a lot longer than either the libertarian party (1971), or the formal codification of the non-aggression/non-initiation principle as a foundational libertarian principle by Murray Rothbard (1963).

There is no clear date for the modern libertarian movements “founding”, but it was clearly in existence by the time of Nock’s “Our Enemy, the State” (1935), Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” (1943), Von Mises “Omnipotent Government” (1944) and “Human Action” (1949), etc…

Hayek and Von Mises were clearly libertarian in their philosophy, though primarily (but not entirely) of the consequentialist/utilitarian school (as is typical of economic philosophers).

Then there’s the objectivists, both pre and post Randian; including both those that self identify as libertarian objectivists, and those who claim to be opposed to libertarianism (but who mostly are opposed to Rothbardianism, and strict non-aggressionism; as reducing maximum utility).

There was a pre-Rand objectivist/utilitiarian movement, primarily based in the rule utilitiarianism school, proceeding from John Stuart Mills book “Utilitarianism” (1861), Henry Sidgwicks “The Methods of Ethics” (1876), and the various works of David Hume (published 1734-1779). This movement was well established in moral philosophy by the interwar period.

Randian objectivism (which you may or may not call libertarian) has existed in an organized way since the late 1950s.

There was a reasonably coherent self identified libertarian movement by the time of Rothbard, Tullock, Block et al (the late ’50s and early ’60s)

Clearly, the “Modern Libertarian Movement” is neither bounded, nor defined, by the Libertarian Party.

Now, the question of moral and political philosophy

Libertarianism is the believe in the non-aggression principle. That’s it. Everything else follows from that. 
In my experience, those who say they are libertarians but don’t support the NAP, are usually not libertarians at all, and are simply trying to coopt the word… but hey, please feel free to show me some examples of genuine libertarians who don’t support the NAP. 

This comes down to the question, what exactly IS libertarianism?

That is, what would be a single, entirely inclusive definition of all things which may be reasonably and properly considered libertarianism?

Frankly, I don’t believe that there IS such a single definition; nor CAN there be.

There are schools of libertarian thought that have conflicting… in fact mutually exclusive… core principles, which cannot be reconciled philosophically (though they may be reconcilable practically or pragmatically; focusing on outcome not rationale for example).

Using the non-aggression principle as a sole determinator… Libertarianism’s John 3:16, or Shibboleth as it were…

… It’s simply insufficient.

The non-aggression principle is neither necessary, nor sufficient, for libertarianism.

Libertarianism is a set of moral, political, and ethical philosophies intended to preserve, promote, and expand, human liberty (under whatever rationale). The non-aggression principle is a moral concept that is generally associated with those philosophies.

In fact, simply declaring it as the “non-aggression” principle is incorrect. There are five closely related principles, which serve the same essential function but which are different in detail (which differences can have important consequences):

  • Non-Aggression
  • Non-Initiation
  • Non-Intervention
  • Non-Interference
  • Anti-Coercion

Going into the differences between those principles can (and has) take its own book(s), never mind a (comparatively) short piece here. Even within the specifics of each term, there are disagreements as to their definition and meaning (both semantic and philosophical).

For convenience and a (nearly futile) attempt at clarity, I will refer to these various principles as “non-agression” for the remainder of this piece

Normally I don’t like using wikipedia as an authoritative source, but I don’t happen to have a copy of the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” handy, and wikipedia cites it directly:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines libertarianism as the moral view that agents initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things. 

That isn’t actually an inclusive definition of libertarian philosophies, because it  describes the root of propertarian principles; and there are schools of liberty which do not include the propertarian principle as a first principle (for example, “endowed rights” based philosophies).

That said, in general, much of the wikpedia page on libertarianism is decent. For example, it includes discussion of propertarian vs. non-propertarian, and consequentialism vs. natural rights.

These are all fundamental or primary principles on which a libertarian philosophy may be based.

So, “the” fundamental principle of libertarianism is NOT non-aggression.

The non-aggression principle IS fundamental to many schools of libertarianism; but not to all of them.

What our correspondent is declaring to be the only “true” libertarian philosophy (arguing from both a “no true scotsman” fallacy, and an “appeal to authority” fallacy in the process) is essentially Rothbardian libertarianism.

Rothbard and Block argue textually, that non-aggression/non-initiation/non-coercion is an irreducible first principle; but contextually (even in their own writings) it is clearly a derived principle (it is reducible). Essentially, they declare it irreducible as a fundamental moral precept a priori. Therefore it should be taken as a primary principle (for those schools of libertarianism which subscribe to it), but not a first principle (which are irreducible).

I am not a Rothbardian, but I am very definitely a libertarian.

I am a propertarian, natural rights, minarchist, libertarian (and to an extent non-aggressionist, but not strictly so… depending on definitions).

This is a combination of moral and ethical philosophies, and a school of government (though not a specific system of government).

Rothbardian libertarianism is itself a propertarian, natural rights (depending on your definitions), essentially minarchist (depending on your definitions), non-aggressionist, libertarian school; and in part a specific system of government…

..It’s just a slightly different one from that which I subscribe to.

Minarchism is a pragmatic, utilititarian, and consequentialist school of government (NOT a political or moral philosophy) with a few basic principles (all of which are derived principles, proceeding both from political and moral philosophy, AND from the practical and pragmatic reality of human society):

  • The only legitimate purpose and function of government, is to provide for organized collective action to maximize human liberty; by resolving disputes between individuals as a disinterested arbiter, and by protecting the rights, liberties, and physical persons and property, of a polity
  • Government, by its nature, must have a monopoly of initiation of legitimate collective coercive force. All else is tyranny or anarchy.
  • Therefore all government must engage in the coercive restraint of human liberty as part of its function.
  • Therefore, all government is an evil (greater or lesser)
  • Anarchy however is not a stable order respecting of liberty. All anarchy will eventually result in the tyranny of the strong over the weak, and the many over the few.
  • Therefore, although all government is an evil; government is necessary to protect the rights of the few and the weak against the will of the many and the strong, and must exist
  • Given that government must exist, but is an evil; human liberty must be protected from that evil to the greatest extent that is practical
  • Given that liberty must be protected from the inherent evil of government; the optimal government, is the smallest, least intrusive, least pervasive, most limited government; that is practical, functional, effective’ and can protect the rights, principles, and physical persons and property, of a polity.

In propertarian/natural rights libertarianism, the first principles are that of private property and of natural rights (both of which are irreducible); the synthesis of which is the principle of self ownership.

The natural rights principle is that sentient beings have certain rights, which are not contingent on any other individual or collective (except where they are limited by conflict with the natural rights of others); and which are those principles or components of the state of being, which cannot be limited or abrogated but by force, fraud, or willing consent (exact lists and definitions thereof vary and conflict widely)

The propertarian principle is that the right to private property exists, and that you have the rights of exclusion, protection, determination, and product; for your own legitimately held private property.

The intersection of these principles is the principle of Self Ownership. You own yourself, in the entirety, including all rights of property.

Essentially, the first principle of this moral philosophy, is that the right of private property is the ultimate fundamental right, from which all other rights are derived; and beginning with the ownership of self.

This is also called the principle of “the sovereign man” (though technically, there are multiple interpretations of what that means as well).

In this interpretation of moral and ethical philosophy, non-aggression isn’t even a first principle; it is one of a set of derived principles, which are internally justified and consistent (without endowment, appeal to authority, or a priori assertion of second order principle).

This set of principles can be described thusly:

  • You own your entire self (body, mind, and soul).
  • Because you own yourself in the entire, you have the absolute right to:
  1.  Self determination
  2.  Freedom of conscience
  3.  Your own property legitimately acquired and held (which includes your entire self)
  4.  The efforts, products, outputs, and rights inherent to or proceeding from all the above
  • You have the absolute right to defend those things, and the product or output of them; up to and including lethal force (except where limited by conflict with the rights of others).
  • There are no other rights. All other privileges, powers, and immunities, are less than rights; and are either derived from, or in opposition to them.
  • You may not initiate force or fraud against any other to abrogate their rights; or for any reason other than the defense of those rights; but including defending those rights for others who either cannot defend themselves, or those who delegate that defense to you.
  • None may initiate force or fraud against you to abrogate those rights, or for any reason other than the defense of those rights; including defending others rights from you.
  • There are no rights, privileges, powers, or immunities which are not derived from the rights of the individual.
  • A collective cannot arrogate rights, privileges, powers, or immunities on itself which are not delegated to it by individuals; therefore no collective may exercise more or different rights, privileges, powers, or immunities than any individual, nor may it exercise those things which have not been explicitly delegated to it.
  • You have absolute responsibility for all of the above. All consequences are yours, good or bad.

Only ONE of those core principles (expressed as two entries in this list, describing the principle and its reciprocal) is non-aggression.

There are many other schools of libertarian moral and political philosophy, some of which don’t include the non-aggression principle at all (or do so in a significantly different, or  nearly unrecognizable form).

I make no judgement here as to what the “best” form of libertarian moral, ethical, or political philosophy, or school of government, might be.

I have a system which is internally consistent, and works for me. You may disagree with it; in fact, your beliefs may directly conflict with or contradict mine. They may even be mutually exclusive.

So long as I don’t attempt to use coercive force on you to make you believe in or follow my system, and you don’t attempt use coercive force on me likewise; we may both be “true” libertarians (or maybe not, depending on what else we may believe).

On first glance, you might say “well, that’s just the non-aggression principle again”… but if you think about it for a minute you should realize that it isnt.

The statement is not exclusionary or deterministic. In either of our belief systems, there may be circumstances under which the initiation of coercive force on another is acceptable, or even required. Or, both of our belief systems may allow for a disinterested arbiter to resolve disputes (mine certainly does).

So… Non-aggression is a generally good principle… but it isn’t absolute, it isn’t deterministic, and it isn’t universal.

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 Basic Premise Behind Campaign Finance Laws

A great deal of ink (or film, or bits) has been expended this election cycle, primarily on the far left (though some on the right… particularly with the more populist factions), decrying the actions of “independent” political action committees, superPACs, and “issue advocacy groups”; as somehow corrupt, evil, anti-democratic etc..

The rhetoric on the left, is that the “citizens united” decision has basically given “shadowy actors” like say, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers, effectively a blank check to “buy elections”.

Of course, the idea that we need to “get the money out of politics” has been a political meme for approximately as long as politics has existed…

… and to a degree, there is a point there. ACTUAL political corruption, in the sense of directly buying influence or buying votes; is certainly something we need to combat as much as possible.

We’ll never eliminate it of course, humans have an endless capacity for venality, greed, and self interest. That’s just the way it is…

Frankly, the only way to get money out of politics; is to get politics out of money.

By which I mean, that so long as politics has an impact on my business and my life (and it always will); if I have money, I’m going to have a strong incentive to spend it, to make the political process work to my advantage… Or even just to hurt me less.

And that’s the way it SHOULD be… I SHOULD be able to spend my money to reduce the harm that government does to me, or to try to make government come out to my advantage; so long as I am not actually bribing a legislator to vote the way I want, committing fraud etc…

There’s a simple way of combating this; and that’s reducing the power of government to impact the individual, such that they no longer have any incentive (or really, so that their incentive is lower… since you’ll never get that little political interference) to spend their money in that way.

But that’s not what these folks are decrying from the hilltops.

What they are screaming about, is essentially free speech they don’t like.

Make no mistake, money IS speech. If you don’t have money, you can’t buy media air time. If you can’t buy media air time, then you can say whatever you want, but you’ll be speaking to an empty room.

One of the basic principles of free speech, is that you have the right to say whatever you like (short of libel, slander, fraud, or incitement to crime); so long as you are not infringing on others rights by doing so.

Another one of those basic principles is that you have the right to say it… But I don’t have to listen to it, and you don’t have the right to make me.

It’s up to me, to decide who and what I listen to, and to use my own judgement and experience in doing so.

So, you may not like what these people are saying; but so long as media companies are willing to sell them airtime, you have no right to restrict that. By attempting to do so, you are attempting to regulate free speech (conversely, you also have no right to force those media companies to sell time to opposing viewpoints; another leftist canard about “fairness”).

Makes sense right?

Well, it does to me… and to the supreme court; and when it’s causes that leftists agree with they’re perfectly OK with it.

The REAL argument, comes down to this:

“We can’t allow these bad evil people and groups to speak, because although I’m smart enough to know the difference between lies and truth, the general population are too stupid to do so”

So, rather than actually convince the people of their own side of the argument, they seek to prevent the other side from even speaking.

It’s entirely consistent with the historical leftist narrative that the “proletariat is fooled by the comfortable goods of the bourgeoisie and the lies of the ruling class” etc… etc…

Their basic premise here being that if the people could only hear and understand the truth, that the leftists ideas would be universally acclaimed as true and necessary, and immediately put into place (with the leftist elites themselves in charge of course… after all, who better to lead than those who understand the ideas the best).

They can’t accept the idea that maybe people don’t WANT more government, with more power over everyone’s lives and businesses… Because that would go entirely against the ideas they have based their entire lives and identities on; and that simply can’t be possible.

…but that’s another argument entirely.

Oh and I should note that there is a “right wing” authoritarian narrative that is nearly identical in principle, that the people are too stupid, lazy, corrupt etc… To be trusted to make their own MORAL decisions; and that the force of government must be used to make people “do the right thing”. That’s equally as bad; it’s just not what we’re talking about right now.

Now… I hate these ads as much as everyone else… But not because I decry “those fools actually believe these foul lies” (though they may be foul lies, and “the people” may believe them); simply because they’re REALLY IRRITATING.

If the people actually are so stupid that they believe “foul lies”; and the other side isn’t smart enough, or doesn’t have a good enough argument to convince them otherwise…

Well, so be it.

That’s the problem with a democratic representative republic. You have to live with the representatives the electorate choose, and the things they vote for.

It’s also why it’s so critical that we have a strictly limited government of enumerated powers only… Or rather, that we return to that; as we haven’t actually had such a government since 1861.

Our government was intended to provide protection against the tyranny of the majority… Unfortunately from the first day that government was put in place, people with “good ideas” have attempted to (often successfully) use the force of government, to have those ideas implemented, without regard to the legitimate powers of government, the desire of the people, or the rights of those being governed.

The left are perfectly willing to crow about how great democracy is… until the people refuse to vote for what they want; at which point they try to get the courts to make the people do what they want anyway.

Because, as we all know, when it comes to leftist causes, they are all “moral imperatives”…

Or as a very smart man put it once “The ends justify the means”.

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

Accountability, responsibility, risk, metrics, unions, markets… What about education?

As has been discussed here recently, Chicago teachers are striking, even though they already make an average salary nearly double that of the average Chicago family, and are being offered a 16% raise over four years.

I dunno about you, but as a free market partcipant in our economy today, that sounds like a pretty good deal.

Well, first thing is they’re asking for a 30% raise over four years… but that’s really just a negotiating point, and one they don’t expect to get. If it were just about the raise, I’d guess they’d take the 16%.

It’s not.

It’s not really about the money; it’s that the teachers new contract attempts, in even the tiniest way, to add some accountability and performance measures to the teachers contracts.

… and the teachers unions can’t give even a millimeter on this issue. Not one millimeter, not ever. Because if they do, their rigid seniority system collapses, and they lose power.

Here’s a fun fact: a lot of younger teachers don’t mind the idea of performance standards, and they actually LIKE the idea of merit pay, performance bonueses etc… It’s not a foreign idea for them, because all their friends who live in the real world market economy have that sort of thing.

Recently, in Idaho, the commissioner of education managed to get teacher tenure eliminated, and performance based bonuses (note, not performance based salaries or hiring or firing, just bonuses) passed as commission regulations, and then when they were challenged in lawsuits, via statute approved by public referendum.

In response, the teachers unions sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to have the commissioner (who is now serving as one of the two lead advisors on education to the Romney campaign) recalled. So unsuccessful in fact the numbers indicate basically no-one voted for the recall but teachers and their immediate families.

This year, they managed to get enough signatures together to get a repeal effort on the merit pay rules on the ballot as a referendum; polling on which indicates it will fail miserably. Meanwhile, the teachers unions are both suing to prevent the policies from being implemented AND SIMULTANEOUSLY suing to force the department of education to distribute the bonus money, but on a seniority basis.

Trying to have their cake and eat it too.

I don’t understand how much more clear it could be that this has nothing to do with the wellbeing of our children, or about good teachers; it’s about protecting union rules, and union rule…

BUT, there are certainly good, well meaning people, who really do believe that we shouldn’t put performance standards on teachers… That it’s somehow “unfair” or impossible, or just not a good idea etc…

“You can’t hold teachers accountable for the performance of their students, there’s too much they can’t control. Their home lives, their parents, poverty… Good teachers could be penalized simply for having bad students). It’s not fair”

Common refrain from teachers, and from those who support their position in this… After all you wouldn’t want to be evaluated on someone elses efforts and abilities right?

Well… I am. Most likely you are too.

In the free market, we are held accountable for other people performance and decisions etc… all the time.

As an individual contributor, my performance is measured not only by my own efforts, abilities, and success; but that of my group, my manager, and my company as a whole.

As a manager, I am held entirely accountable for someone elses performance. I have tools to motivate them, help them perform better etc… But still, I have to deal with the performance that other people give me. I have to have the skill to use that performance in the best possible way.

“But you can fire your low performing employees”.


Ever worked in corporate America? Or had a real job of any kind?

So long as my employees meet bare minimum standards, and don’t actually commit a crime (or violate major HR policies), I’m not getting rid of my low performers. It’s up to me, to make them meet the standards I need for my group to be successful.

In sales, you are held accountable for other people actions, decisions, and performance as well. You don’t get to control your customers decisions, and how much they buy from you is dependent more on their performance than yours.

Yes, a skilled salesperson with a good support team will sell more than an unskilled one; and that’s as it should be… but its still entirely dependent on someone elses performance and decisions. A good sales guy can’t get a customer who doesn’t have the money for the product, to buy the product… or at least not more than once.

Good sales managers understand this. They set account and territory sales expectations based on a reasonable evaluation of the possible performance of those accounts. If they don’t then they won’t get any decent sales people to work for them, and they’ll constantly churn sales people making these accounts and territories perform even worse.

What matters in evaluating your ability as a salesperson isn’t your absolute sales, it’s your performance in comparison to other sales people with a similar situation. IF you perform well, then good managers will put you on difficult accounts that have the potential to perform better, and reward you if you make them perform up to potential.

At least if you have a decent management team.

At that point you’re at the mercy of having a good boss, who understands that relative performance is a better judge of your capability than absolute performance…

Just like teachers need to be.

Holding teachers accountable, doesn’t mean that all teachers should be held to arbitrary and universal standards. Teachers that teach all “remedial” students can’t be held to the same standard of performance as those who teach all honors students…


Or at least no-one serious, with credibility, who should be listened to.

Calling for “standardized testing and accountability” isn’t calling for teachers to make poor students perform at the level of honors students. It’s calling for teachers of all levels of students to perform no worse than average against other teachers of similar levels of students; and to measure improvement in those students over time, compared to other teachers of the same level of students.

How is that unreasonable?

Only those with the irrational… even stupid… belief that teaching is some kind of special “calling” performed only by special people who must be protected from the market forces that the rest of us must cope with; could possibly justify that sort of thinking, with any kind of intellectual honesty.

They generally apply the same sort of thinking to artists, who must be protected from the horrible taste of the masses etc…

Yeah… If we did that, then teachers would be at the mercy of having competent managers, who knew how to evaluate performance.

Just like the rest of us.

In fact… The only time I ever see a serious proposal that teachers should be evaluated by absolute and arbitrary standards… It’s coming from lefties or teachers; because they are trying to “avoid bias” or “avoid subjectivity” etc… etc… etc…

Holding teachers accountable also means holding administrators and school systems accountable. It means making them participate in the market that the rest of us are forced to.

If you have a poorly managed school, good teachers won’t go there.

IF good teachers won’t go there, then good students won’t go there… IF they’re given the option that is…

Oh… wait a second… Hey… that might just be…

And of course, if we allowed that, then the unions would lose…

Oh… hey, that might just be…

Ya think maybe…

Teaching is a job, just like any other. It’s a job that has more benefits than most. These days, it’s even a job that pays more than most. It’s a job that has a lot more security than most. It’s a job that has more garbage and BS and heartbreak than most. It’s a job that’s harder than most. It’s a job that’s a lot more important than most…

Great teachers can do more to help children be successful than anything other than great parents…

But it’s still a job.

Teachers aren’t superheroes, they aren’t artists, they are workers… just like the rest of us.

Teachers don’t need to be protected from the real world, they need to be a part of it, and accountable to it… just like the rest of us.

Maybe if they were, there would be a lot more good teachers, and a lot less bad ones.

Maybe if they our were, our children would be a lot better off.

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

Two Libertarians Walk Into a Bar

Actually four libertarians (an two larval stage libertarians), and it was a restaurant; but the potential for humor is about the same.

Mel and I just had the pleasure of dinner (and Coldstone ice cream afterwards) with Aretae and his wife, and children.

No, there wasn’t some long winded intellectual libertarian singularity, or formalist/structuralist matter/antimatter type explosion; though much philosophical geekery did most certainly ensue.

The only problem was that they had an early morning flight back to Texas, so we only had two hours or so to hang out, and barely got past introductions.

Aretae’s lovely wife ran out of steam just around the time we (just barely) started talking about compatibilism, utilitarianism, determinism, associationism, the veil of ignorance, the social contract, and the fundamental nature of rights.

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

1 2 3 4 9