Author Archives: Doug Mataconis

Coming Next Week At Reason TV: Honoring Ayn Rand And Her Ideas

This promises to be very interesting:

Coming November 2, Reason.tv will debut “Radicals for Capitalism: Celebrating the Enduring Power of Ayn Rand’s Ideas,” a new video series featuring segments on the novelist’s continuing presence in American culture and exlcusive interviews with Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Reason Foundation founder Robert W. Poole, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), and many others.

For more details and an archive of recent Reason-related stories on Rand, including reviews by Brian Doherty and Nick Gillespie of two new biographies of Rand, go to http://reason.org/rand

Quote Of The Day

We all know youths who have changed for the better. When I was a lawyer in Cody, the court sometimes appointed me to represent juvenile offenders, and parents who knew of my history often asked for help with their children. I once handled the case of an 18-year-old who stole a car and drove it to Seattle. I later hired him as chief of staff for my Senate office, and he turned out to be one of the most able of the people I put in that job.

I was lucky that the bullets I stole from a hardware store as a teenager and fired from my .22-caliber rifle never struck anyone. I was fortunate that the fires I set never hurt anyone. I heard my wake-up call and listened — and I went on to have many opportunities to serve my country and my community.

When a young person is sent “up the river,” we need to remember that all rivers can change course.

Former Senator Alan Simpson (R., Wy) on the upcoming Supreme Court arguments on the Constitutionality of life imprisonment for youths convicted of crimes that don’t involve death

Memo To Libertarians: Unite Or Die

one

Over at United Liberty, Crystal Gross argues that Libertarians (and libertarians) need to back off from their doctrinaire attitudes:

[M]y day-to-day experience with card-carrying members of the Libertarian Party indicates a considerably different perspective on the libertarian philosophy: “Live and let live … or else.”

Why would members of a “Party Of Principle” with the aforementioned philosophy exclude other people from their little club because they disagree on a few matters? Why is a platform more important than a fresh idea? Why is youthful intellectual curiosity discouraged among a group of people who profess to want YOU to THINK?

The more “radical” Libertarians — the biggest L’s among us — play a major role in the advancement of the Party in the future. Unfortunately, the readiness and enthusiasm with which they attack their own people distracts them from constructive efforts which only they are capable of carrying out. Like attacking politicians and bringing about actual change.

(…)

It’s high-time Radical Libertarians backed off. Otherwise, you’re going to have a lot of room in that tent.

Of course, as some of us know all too well, purging of the insufficiently orthodox is something that’s as common to libertarians as the sun coming up in the morning.

But, Crystal has a point here.

Considering that libertarians are such an extreme political minority, it seems incredibly stupid to kick people out of the movement for being insufficiently orthodox on, say, the Non-Aggression pledge, when there are so many other battles where we could unite with others — including, in some cases, Republicans and Democrats — who agree with us on specific issues.

It’s largely the reason that the Libertarian Party, nearly 40 years after it’s founding is a non-entity in American politics, and why the most effective libertarian organizations are groups like The Cato Institute who see the value in reaching out beyond the relatively small echo chamber of libertarian debating societies.

There’s room for the radicals and the moderates in the fight for liberty, and if we don’t unite we’re destined to lose

Is An Individual Health Insurance Mandate Constitutional ?

Over at Findlaw, Cornell University Law Professor Michael Dorf criticizes the libertarian argument that a government requirement that every citizen purchase health insurance is unconstitutional:

A federal statute that was already in effect in 1994 provides that “all citizens shall have . . . an obligation to serve as jurors when summoned for that purpose.” To be sure, the mechanisms used to assemble a pool of prospective jurors enable some people to slip through the cracks, but then, that surely would also be true of the individual mandate to obtain health insurance. No law can be perfectly enforced. The important point here is that jury duty, like draft registration, serves as a precedent for the imposition by the federal government of an affirmative duty on citizens.

The difference, of course, between a jury duty mandate or the draft and a law requiring every citizen to purchase health insurance is that both of these obligations of citizens predate the drafting of the Constitution and therefore it’s simply illogical to say that they are barred by the Constitution today, or that the Framer’s contemplated that in allowing the state to compel people to serve on juries, the were opening the door to a whole host of mandates that, if enforced would make freedom a mockery.

Since there doesn’t seem to be much precedent in Federal law, though, Dorf quickly moves on to state law:

Consider that states may impose an affirmative obligation of vaccination on residents. Even in an era when the Supreme Court was otherwise vigorously enforcing libertarian constitutional principles, in 1905, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the Court rejected a constitutional challenge to mandatory vaccination.If the government interest in public health is sufficient to overcome libertarian objections to injections into the very bodies of citizens, then surely the public health interest–which is, at bottom, what is at stake in the health insurance reform bills–should suffice to require Americans to buy health insurance or else pay a tax.

Again, it’s clear that Dorf makes the mistake here of finding an exception and turning into a rule. The important thing to note about Jacobson is that it dealt with mandatory vaccination of children for smallpox which was, until defeated by aggressive vaccination, a highly contagious, virulent disease with a high rate of mortality. Which there is a long argument on both sides of the mandatory vaccination issue, the argument in favor is certainly stronger when it involves combating the spread of a disease that poses such a severe risk to public health when balanced against the individual liberty interest in not getting vaccinated. It’s by no means clear, for example, that the result would be the same if the disease in question were something far less threatening to public health, like the seasonal flu.

Unless Dorf can make the argument that lack of health insurance poses an imminent threat to public health on a par with a smallpox epidemic, the Jacobson precedent would seem inapplicable.

The question of the Constitutionality of a health insurance mandate was addressed in a Washington Post Op-Ed by lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey and their argument bears repeating:

The Constitution assigns only limited, enumerated powers to Congress and none, including the power to regulate interstate commerce or to impose taxes, would support a federal mandate requiring anyone who is otherwise without health insurance to buy it.

Although the Supreme Court has interpreted Congress’s commerce power expansively, this type of mandate would not pass muster even under the most aggressive commerce clause cases. In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the court upheld a federal law regulating the national wheat markets. The law was drawn so broadly that wheat grown for consumption on individual farms also was regulated. Even though this rule reached purely local (rather than interstate) activity, the court reasoned that the consumption of homegrown wheat by individual farms would, in the aggregate, have a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce, and so was within Congress’s reach.

The court reaffirmed this rationale in 2005 in Gonzales v. Raich, when it validated Congress’s authority to regulate the home cultivation of marijuana for personal use. In doing so, however, the justices emphasized that — as in the wheat case — “the activities regulated by the [Controlled Substances Act] are quintessentially economic.” That simply would not be true with regard to an individual health insurance mandate.

The otherwise uninsured would be required to buy coverage, not because they were even tangentially engaged in the “production, distribution or consumption of commodities,” but for no other reason than that people without health insurance exist. The federal government does not have the power to regulate Americans simply because they are there. Significantly, in two key cases, United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000), the Supreme Court specifically rejected the proposition that the commerce clause allowed Congress to regulate noneconomic activities merely because, through a chain of causal effects, they might have an economic impact. These decisions reflect judicial recognition that the commerce clause is not infinitely elastic and that, by enumerating its powers, the framers denied Congress the type of general police power that is freely exercised by the states.

That’s the question that Dorf fails to answer — where in Article I Section 8 is Congress authorized to pass this mandate ?

The fact that he doesn’t address it suggests that there isn’t really an answer in the affirmative.

End The Fed, Save America

It seems improbable that monetary policy could become a “sexy” political topic, but Ron Paul has done it. It started during his 2008 Presidential campaign when he continually talked about the Federal Reserve when asked about the economy, continued through his oft-entertaining interrogations of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and most recently has culminated his sponsorship of H.R. 1207, a bill to conduct a General Accounting Office audit of the entire Federal Reserve System. It’s all pretty amazing actually; who would have ever thought that people would be getting excited over the Federal Reserve Board ?

In his new book End the Fed, though, Paul provides a clear, concise explanation for why we all need to be worried about the fiat paper money system that we’ve lived under for decades. As Paul says, the system itself is unsustainable over the long term, and Federal Reserve itself has contributed to economic instability in the 96 years since it’s founding.

This isn’t a detailed economic treatise, it’s a call to political action, and Paul does an excellent job of making his case for the argument that we need to bring an end to the monetary system that is, slowly but surely and inevitably, destroying us and destroying freedom. Instead, he argues that we need to return to the days of the Gold Standard, which doesn’t even need a central bank to function properly. You may disagree with the end scenario that Paul proposes, but it’s hard to disagree with his assertion that liberty in money is as necessary for a free society as liberty in thought or property.

Paul’s most important insight in this book, though, comes in his concise demonstration of how the “magical printing press” monetary system that we have today makes possible the leviathan state that is threatening to bankrupt us. Without a central bank with the ability to create money at will and in secret, it’s highly unlikely that the welfare-warfare state would be able to exist. Without free money, the state would be forced to either raise taxes or borrow money to finance it’s ventures and adventures and it’s unlikely that either taxpayers or bondholders the kind of unlimited spending that fiat money makes possible.

What this means is this — you’ll never have a truly limited government as long as you have a central bank with the power to create “money” at will.

That’s why it’s important to End the Fed, and that’s why this book is one that everyone should read.

Supreme Court To Rule On Second Amendment’s Applicability To The States

One of the issues left unresolved by the Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller was whether the Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment as an individual right applied to state and local governments. The last time the Court had the opportunity to rule on the issue, in 1886, in the case Presser v. Illinois, it specifically held that the Second Amendment only limited the national government, and no subsequent case has applied the doctrine of incorporation to the Second Amendment.

Today, the Supreme Court announced that it had accepted a case from Chicago that should resolve that issue once and for all:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would decide whether an individual’s right to own guns for self-defense — as articulated by the high court in 2008 when it struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns — also covers states and other cities with gun-control laws.

The question of whether the Second Amendment only applies to the federal government and federal enclaves like the District is one that was not addressed in the decision in Heller v. District of Columbia.

The case that the court accepted Wednesday concerns the city of Chicago’s law, which bans most handguns

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog provides further details on the issue now before the Court:

The Court had three cases from which to choose on the Second Amendment issue — two cases involving a Chicago gun ban, and one case on a New York ban on a martial-arts weapon. It chose one of the Chicago cases — McDonald v. Chicago (08-1521) — a case brought to it by Alan Gura, the Alexandria, VA. lawyer who won the 2008 decision for the first time recognizing a constitutional right to have a gun for personal use, at least in self-defense in the home (District of Columbia v. Heller). A second appeal on the Chicago dispute had been filed by the National Rifle Association (NRA v. Chicago, 08-1497). Presumably, the Court will hold onto that case until it decides McDonald; the same is likely for the New York case, Maloney v. Rice (08-1592) — a case in which Justice Sonia Sotomayor had participated when she was a judge on the Second Circuit Court.

Given that the makeup of the Court has not appreciably changed since Heller, it seems likely that the Court will rule that the Second Amendment does apply to the states, but that’s something we can’t really be sure of until the decision is actually issued.

The Nanny State In Action — School District Bars Kids From Riding Bikes To School

I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore because district boundaries in my hometown changed a long time ago, but when I was a kid I used to ride my bike to school nearly every day that weather permitted it.

It’s a good thing I didn’t live in Saratoga Springs, New York:

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The first day of school, already a happy and trying event for any student, saw a little additional stress for Maple Avenue Middle School student Adam Marino.

Marino and his mother, Janette Kaddo Marino, left for school by bicycle on Wednesday morning, as they often do in good weather, despite a phone call placed to students’ homes by school officials, asking parents not to allow students to walk or ride bikes to school.

(…)

One section of the school policy states: “The Board of Education forbids the riding of bicycles by students to and from Maple Avenue Middle School.” Another section also prohibits riding to elementary schools.

In an apparent contradiction, a third section states: “Secondary school pupils may ride their bicycles to school and shall park them in the racks provided.”

The policy was written when the Maple Avenue school opened in 1994, and has never before been reviewed, Superintendent of Schools Janice White said.

Remember, they’re from the government and they’re here to help you.

Republican Senator Expresses Support For Mandatory Health Insurance

Former Republican Senator Bill Frist starts out the U.S. News And World Report article in which he comes out in support of a government requirement that each American have health insurance with what can only be described as a fair degree of irony:

I believe in limited government and individual responsibility, cherish the freedom to choose, and generally oppose individual mandates—except where markets fail, individuals suffer, and society pays a hefty price.

Or, to put it another way, I believe in individual government and individual responsibility, cherish the freedom to choose, and generally oppose individual mandates — except when I don’t.

While Frist spends much time in his article talking about the alleged benefits that an individual mandate would bring, he spends no time whatsoever addressing the fundamental issues that need to be talked about if we’re seriously going to pass what amounts to the Health Insurance Industry Subsidization Act of 2009.

First, there’s the issue of why a mandate is necessary. Frist does not address at all the “market failure” that he claims exists which would be remedied by forcing everyone to purchase health insurance. What he does do, though, is reveal what the individual mandate is really all about — forcing young, healthy people who otherwise might choose to forgo the several-hundred-dollars-a-month worth of premiums they’d have to pay:

When healthier people opt not to carry insurance, only those with poorer health, and thus higher costs, remain in. This leads insurance prices to spiral up. And it further impedes markets’ ability to mitigate risks and prevent personal economic catastrophe. The “free-riders” who do not purchase insurance and the “voluntarily uninsured” who depend on emergency room care paid by others would then pay their fair share for services received.

What Frist doesn’t address, of course, is the fact that an individual mandate is likely to create upward pressure on premiums for one very simple reason — once insurance companies know that you have to buy their product whether you want to or not, they have zero incentive to keep premiums down. That’s the reason why, for example, auto insurance rates (which in most states are mandatory if you want to own a car) are higher than most other forms of insurance that individuals typically purchase.

What the individual mandate really does is to force the young and healthy to subsidize the older and sicker. It’s worth noting that hat’s the same logic that Social Security and Medicare are built on, and they’re in the process of going into an demographically inevitable bankruptcy. One can foresee much the same thing happening under an individual-mandate health scenario.

First goes on to cite Massachusetts as an example of an individual mandate plan that “works,” but that isn’t necessarily true:

The Massachusetts experiment with the same scheme has left the state with the nation’s most expensive insurance, with program spending up 70 percent in just three years and with a third of the uninsured remaining so. The cheapest insurance we can find in Massachusetts for an average family of four is $906 per month. In Iowa, it’s $145. Different coverage, certainly, but at least in Iowa cheaper coverage choices exist.

That’s what could come to America if we adopt the individual mandate.

Frist also fails to address a more important issue — what right does the Federal Government have to force me or you to buy health insurance ? I don’t just mean to ask what Constitutional provision authorizes it, although that is certainly important, but also why should the government be allowed to do this at all, even if it technically had the power to do so ? As a Republican who claims to “believe in limited government and individual responsibility, cherish the freedom to choose, and generally oppose individual mandates,” that’s a question that should be relatively easy for Frist to answer.

His silence, and the silence of other Republicans, is deafening.

Updated to reflect my failure to note that Frist is in fact a former Republican Senator

Are Health Insurance Mandates Constitutional ?

After a piece last month in the Washington Post, which I wrote about here, lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey are back with a piece in the Wall Street Journal expanding on their argument that a requirement that every American buy health insurance would be unconstitutional. This time, they argue that, even under current commerce clause precedent, there is no Constitutional authority for a Federal health insurance mandate:

The Supreme Court construes the commerce power broadly. In the most recent Commerce Clause case, Gonzales v. Raich (2005) , the court ruled that Congress can even regulate the cultivation of marijuana for personal use so long as there is a rational basis to believe that such “activities, taken in the aggregate, substantially affect interstate commerce.”

But there are important limits. In United States v. Lopez (1995), for example, the Court invalidated the Gun Free School Zones Act because that law made it a crime simply to possess a gun near a school. It did not “regulate any economic activity and did not contain any requirement that the possession of a gun have any connection to past interstate activity or a predictable impact on future commercial activity.” Of course, a health-care mandate would not regulate any “activity,” such as employment or growing pot in the bathroom, at all. Simply being an American would trigger it.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution sets forth Congresses commerce power:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

Strictly construed the Commerce Clause would not seem to be that broad of a grant of power. After all, the chief ill that it was aimed at was to allow goods and business to flow easily between the respective states, something that was not possible under the Articles of Confederation. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted the clause so loosely that it has gone far beyond the point where it actually imposed any limits on Congressional authority. For example, in 1942, in Wickard v. Filburn, the Supreme Court ruled that a farmer who grew wheat on his own land for his own consumption affected interstate commerce and was therefore subject to the regulations of Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. Once that happened, the door was open to allow Congress to use the Commerce Clause to justify extensions of Federal power into areas that the Founding Fathers would never have conceived it would be exercised.

The post-Wickard history of the Commerce Clause has been one of expanding federal power and increasing regulation of activities that have only a tangential relationship to interstate commerce. But there have been some bright spots recently.

As the article notes, in 1995, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Lopez that the commerce clause could not be used to justify a Federal Law that made it a crime to carry a gun with a certain distance from a school. In 1996, it ruled in Seminole Tribe v. Florida, that the Commerce Clause did not give the Federal Government the right to abrogate the soverign immunity of the state. And, most notably, in a dissent in Gonzalez v. Raich, the 2005 case that upheld the supremacy of Federal drug laws over state medical marijuana laws, Justice Thomas said the following:

Respondent’s local cultivation and consumption of marijuana is not “Commerce … among the several States.”
Certainly no evidence from the founding suggests that “commerce” included the mere possession of a good or some personal activity that did not involve trade or exchange for value. In the early days of the Republic, it would have been unthinkable that Congress could prohibit the local cultivation, possession, and consumption of marijuana.

Given this trend, the a Constitutional challenge to an individual mandate would seem to be a potentially successful argument. However, as Eugene Volokh pointed out in a post responding to the original WaPo article, that isn’t necessarily the case:

As much as I oppose the various health care reforms promoted by the Obama Administration and current Congressional leadership (and as much as I would like to see a more restrictive commerce clause jurisprudence), I do not find this argument particularly convincing. While I agree that the recent commerce clause cases hold that Congress may not regulate noneconomic activity, as such, they also state that Congress may reach otherwise unregulable conduct as part of an overarching regulatory scheme, where the regulation of such conduct is necessary and proper to the success of such scheme. In this case, the overall scheme would involve the regulation of “commerce” as the Supreme Court has defined it for several decades, as it would involve the regulation of health care markets. And the success of such a regulatory scheme would depend upon requiring all to participate. (Among other things, if health care reform requires insurers to issue insurance to all comers, and prohibits refusals for pre-existing conditions, then a mandate is necessary to prevent opportunistic behavior by individuals who simply wait to purchase insurance until they get sick.)

At best then, this would seem to be a very close call and, given almost 200 years of Supreme Court precedent it seems unlikely that a Court would overturn something as far reaching as a health care reform plan — although as the National Recovery Administration learned in 1935, it’s not impossible.

1 3 4 5 6 7 81