Author Archives: Sarah Baker

Jeb Bush, Greece Crisis, and How to Help the Workers

That week where you’ve obliterated all previous fundraising records and amassed a campaign war chest of $114 million, but get yourself into trouble for saying other people need to work harder.

Oh you don’t have weeks like that?

Jeb Bush did.

…[W]e have to be a lot more productive. Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we are going to get out of this rut that we’re in.

Hillary Clinton Jeb Bush barb

Bush has clarified he did not mean full time workers needed to put in more hours, but that people looking for more work need to be able to find it. That has not stopped the campaign of newly revealed political mastermind Hillary Clinton from sending some well-aimed Twitter barbs Bush’s direction.

I have an idea.

Let’s ask Greece.

Greece is currently in the end stages of a long social experiment in massive, unprofitable jobs programs, political graft, and crony capitalism. In addition to soul-sucking tax rates, Greece also ran up colossal debt during the loose lending years of the pre-2008 boom.

Podesta Bush barbNow Greece’s foreign debt is 177% of its GDP. Its unfunded liabilities are 875%. Its unemployment rate is more than 25%, and its labor participation rate 53%.

Despite taking in 50% of GDP in taxes, its government does not earn enough to fund its basic functions. And because Greece is incapable of paying its debts, no one is particularly interested in lending it any more money.

Its national railroad loses $4 million a day. Its citizens receive free university educations, but there are no jobs waiting for those who graduate. As a result, many of its best and brightest have already fled the country.

Its banks have been closed for two weeks and no one can take more than €60 per day out of the ATMs (which due to a shortage of €20 bills results in an effective limit of €50).

Hey, I have an idea, John Podesta. Let’s just pay them more!

Greeks agree! They rejected by a decisive margin a proposal for paying back all that debt that allowed their free university education, their jobs-program national railroad, their jobs-program schools and their generous early-retirement pension programs.

Tellingly, Greek’s hard left Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras almost immediately turned around and offered the same concessions anyway.

“The ‘No’ in the referendum appears to be turning into a ‘Yes’ from Tsipras,” Commerzbank analyst Markus Koch said.

Even Tsipras has seen the writing on the wall, glimpsed the final stages of a national government that has run out of other people’s money.

What does a government do when it doesn’t “earn” enough (in taxes) to fund its basic functions, much less make payments against its overwhelming debt, and cannot find new lenders to keep that financial house of cards standing?

Not work more hours! That would be mean.

Jeb Bush mean.

Well, Greece could just default. Of course, it won’t get any more loans after that, so it would have to live within its means: only spend what its citizens can afford to pay in taxes.

That’s mean too!

They could go off the Euro and print as much as their own currency as they want. At least one economist has argued that periphery Euro-nations like Greece have been harmed by the monetary policies of the European Central Bank, and that non-Eurozone nations able to set their own monetary policies fared better during the financial crises that began in 2008.

Moving to the drachma, however, is not without its difficulties. The drachma will fall in value against the euro. The more drachmas “printed” to service the debt, the more its will fall. Greece will still face the problem of wary lenders and having to live within its means.

Printing currency to service debt or grow an economy has limitations.

Perhaps Greeks could raise taxes. On the rich, natch.

But Greeks already face punishing tax rates. In addition to paying 22-45% in income taxes and another 44% in payroll taxes, they also pay a 23% VAT.

Why even look for a job?

It turns out Bush v.3.0 might be onto something.

His focus on “hours” was regrettable only because over the long run, advances in technology, innovation and specialization should theoretically allow increases in labor outputs without corresponding increases in hours worked. But he was right that the only way to increase the wealth of a nation is to increase the outputs of labor.

Simply infusing money into a system is not sufficient.

Don’t believe it? Imagine sitting on a virgin planet with all of Earth’s gold in the cargo hold of your space ship. Or being castaway on an uninhabited island with a duffle bag full of bank notes.

Are you rich?

It is not currency that makes people wealthy, but the outputs of labor that can be purchased with that currency. Increasing the available currency relative to the outputs of labor only precipitates a rise in prices (while real wages lag).

So what would it look like for the Greeks to be more productive? Half-clad single mothers chained in mines as sweat drips down their faces and IMF overlords crack whips over their heads? Children toiling in sweat shops as flies buzz around their demoralized brows?

No.

It means getting rid of the entrenched bureaucracy, bloated government, and corrupt police and political regimes that keep investors from making investments that result in jobs that allow people to work more hours. It means lowering the effective 90% tax rate individuals pay so that working those hours is remunerative. It means fewer cartels and licensing requirements that keep would-be entrepreneur sidelined leaving no jobs for all those free university graduates. It means getting rid of the minimum wage and price controls that prevent the economy from responding to supply and demand.

I’m not sure the Greeks have the political will for any of the foregoing, or whether the ECB/IMF negotiators have the imagination to focus on the necessary fundamental reforms to the Greek economy. Without them though, there is no way out of the morass. More loans in the lean years cannot help a country that overspends in the fat years.

Interestingly, even as the Eurozone debates Greece’s future, here across the pond, the national campaign spokesperson for Ted Cruz also took a swipe at Jeb Bush:

“It would seem to me that Gov[ernor] Bush would want to avoid the kind of comments that led voters to believe that Governor Romney was out of touch with the economic struggles many Americans are facing. The problem is not that Americans aren’t working hard enough. It is that the Washington cartel of career politicians, special interests and lobbyists have rigged the game against them.”

Paging the Syriza party, paging party of Syriza.

The Greeks don’t need higher taxes, more austerity or more bailouts. What they need is a functioning economy.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

SCOTUS Decision in Horne v. Department of Agriculture Scores Victories for Private Property Rights

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the federal government must pay private property owners just compensation if it seizes their real property for the purpose of maintaining artificially high prices for consumers.

Worded that way, it seems surreal that there was ever any question.

But that is precisely what happened to Marvin and Laura Horne, the plaintiffs in Horne v. Department of Agriculture, and thousands of other farmers like them who have been forced to turn over portions of their crop yields year after year since 1937.

That year an act was passed allowing the Department of Agriculture to promulgate “marketing orders” to maintain stable markets for U.S. produce. That is newspeak for using a government-enforced cartel to maintain high prices. One such marketing order established a Raisin Administrative Committee. Think of the RAC as like the State Science Institute. The RAC sets annual “reserve requirements,” pursuant to which growers must turn over a percentage of their raisin crops to the government.

The government then disposes of those “reserve raisins” by selling them in non-competitive markets or donating them to federal agencies or foreign governments. The proceeds of the government’s sales pay for the administration of the program. Profits left after that, if any, are distributed back to the growers.

In 2002-2003, growers had to turn over 47 % of their crops to the government. In 2003-2004, it was 30%. In one of those years, they received no distribution of net proceeds at all. In the other, the distribution was less than the costs incurred in producing the raisins.

Starting in 2002, the Hornes refused to turn over any raisins to the government. The government sent trucks to their facility to take the raisins. The Hornes refused entry. The government assessed a fine equal to the RAC’s calculation of the fair market value of the withheld raisins, which was approximately $480,000, plus more than $200,000 in penalties for the Horne’s disobedience.

The Hornes sought relief in federal court, arguing that the fines and penalties were unlawful because the raisin reserve orders constituted unlawful takings without just compensation in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The Ninth Circuit sided with the government. The Hornes appealed.

In a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court found 8-1 for the Hornes, reaching several holdings of interest to those concerned with private property rights.

Physical Appropriation of Private Property

All of the justices except Sotomayor agreed that the Fifth Amendment requires just compensation when the government takes personal property (just as when it takes real property) even if the property taken is a “fungible” commodity like raisins.

In reaching this holding, the Court distinguished between regulatory takings (requiring compensation when a regulation goes “too far”) and physical takings (where as in Horne title actually transfers to the government). Regulatory takings cases acknowledge different standards and expectations with respect to real and personal property. Physical takings cases do not.

The parties and the Court agreed that the government might achieve the same ends without running afoul of the Constitution by placing regulatory caps on the amount of raisins that producers could grow. The government attorneys and the dissent (Sotomayor) were baffled then that anyone could object to the reserve requirement on takings grounds. The majority responded (citations omitted):

A physical taking of raisins and a regulatory limit on production may have the same economic impact on a grower. The Constitution, however, is concerned with means as well as ends. The Government has broad powers, but the means it uses to achieve its ends must be “consist[ent] with the letter and spirit of the constitution.” … “[A] strong public desire to improve the public condition is not enough to warrant achieving the desire by a shorter cut than the constitutional way.”

This may not be the jenga block that topples Wickard v. Filmore as some libertarians no doubt hoped. But it is an important holding. The distinction—between taking a percentage of crop yields versus placing a regulatory cap on production—is more than formulaic. The latter does not involve the same perverse incentives as the former, which for 75 years subsidized a bureaucracy that eventually existed for no better purpose than to perpetuate itself.

This issue was illustrated by the Hornes’ evidence that contrary to the government’s account of massive oversupply, the RAC was able to sell the vast majority of the 2003-2004 reserve raisins for more than the field price, resulting in RAC income of over $99,800,000. This income was spent on exporter subsidies, administrative costs and other RAC expenses. In other words, the RAC appropriated raisins that, according to the government’s own numbers, could have been sold in an unregulated market for $747 per ton, and it paid the producers nothing. Similarly in 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09, the RAC also sold reserve raisins for tens of millions of dollars but distributed no proceeds to the growers.

The Supreme Court’s holding in Horne will function as a restriction on this perverse incentive. Limited to regulatory caps, rather than confiscatory takings that fund the administrative bureaucracy, we can allow ourselves a glimmer of hope the government will finally end its maintenance of the raisin market cartel.

Quid Pro Quo

In an effort to avoid the foregoing result, the government made an argument that the Court characterized as the “let them sell wine” argument: If raisin growers did not like the nice, orderly market the RAC had created, they should grow other crops, sell their grapes as table grapes, or use them in juice or wine. But if growers voluntarily chose to enter the raisin market, they could be required to cede their private property as a condition of engaging in that market, pursuant to the vast authority Wickard gave the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

If this argument had succeeded, it would essentially have disposed of the constitutional requirement of just compensation for physical and regulatory takings. The Takings Clause would have been swallowed by the broad power of the Commerce Clause as interpreted by Wickard.

If this does not keep you up at night, I don’t know what would. Only eight individuals (individuals whom candidates like Mike Huckabee want to disempower) stand between private property owners and Congressional failures of this magnitude.

Those eight agreed that business owners cannot be required to cede their constitutional right to be compensated for takings as a condition of engaging in interstate commerce. Property rights “cannot be so easily manipulated,” and basic and familiar uses of private property cannot be treated as “government benefits” for which one must pay with his constitutional rights.

Selling produce in interstate commerce, although certainly subject to reasonable government regulation, is similarly not a special governmental benefit that the Government may hold hostage, to be ransomed by the waiver of constitutional protection.

Just Compensation

The fines levied against the Hornes had been based upon the RAC’s assessment of the fair market value of the reserve raisins. The government nevertheless argued that, if the Court found a taking, it had to remand the case for a calculation of just compensation. It further contended that said calculation should take into account what the value of the reserve raisins would have been without the existence of the price support program, as well as all the other benefits of the regulatory program. The government actually suggested that it might turn out that the Hornes had actually received a “net gain” from the program.

The Hornes presented evidence challenging the government’s rosy assertion of benefits generated by the regulatory program. In some of the years, said the Hornes, raisin growers could have sold their entire yields at prices not much below and in some cases higher than those set by the RAC. Moreover, even where introducing additional yields to the market would have driven down prices, growers still would have made more money as a result of the additional sales, benefitting both growers and consumers (citations omitted):

Take the 2003-04 crop year as an example. That year, the field price for raisins (the price that handlers paid to producers for free-tonnage raisins, and the amount the USDA assessed the Hornes for their undelivered reserve tonnage raisins) was $810 per ton. The government’s brief tells us that according to the Secretary’s econometric model, the price would have been $63 per ton less without the reserve, or $747 per ton. … We believe the $63-per-ton figure is greatly inflated. But accepting the Secretary’s calculation for heuristic purposes, a producer of 1,000 tons of raisins in that crop year could have sold them in an unregulated market for $747,000, from which should be deducted the state mandatory advertising fee of almost $5 per ton. Under the marketing order, however, the producer could sell only 70% of his crop, yielding $567,000. He received nothing for his reserve raisins that year, meaning he was worse off by $175,000. This, again, is under the government’s own numbers.

Ultimately, the Court held the benefits of the program were irrelevant. The government had already calculated the amount of just compensation when it fined the Hornes $483,843.53 as the fair market value of the raisins. In any case, the reserve requirement was unconstitutional, so the Hornes could not be fined or penalized for failing to comply with it. The appropriate remedy was to relieve them of said fines and penalties.

On this issue, the breakdown of votes was different.

Breyer, Ginsburg and Kagan bought the government’s argument. These justices would have remanded the case to allow the government to demonstrate that it had already “paid” for the taking via the benefits generated by its regulatory scheme.

Sotomayor did not reach the issue at all. She found that the raisin reserve requirement did not constitute a taking and therefore did not require any compensation.

Only five justices—Scalia, Thomas[1], Alito and Kennedy, joining Roberts—stood between individual property owners and the notion that the benefits of regulatory activity could constitute just compensation for a physical taking of private property.

 

 

_________________________________________________

[1] Thomas wrote separately to argue that the RAC’s conduct was an unconstitutional taking irrespective of just compensation because the taking was not “for public use.” Instead the government gave the confiscated property to exporters, foreign importers, and foreign governments.

 

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Men, Women and Rand Paul

Since the issue is getting a lot of coverage now, I will explain why libertarians are “mostly dudes” and why women are not as statistically likely to support Rand Paul.

Let me begin by explaining why it does not matter.

People are not representatives of the groups to which they belong. We are all individuals in a category of one. Denying differences between broad classes of people, like “men” and “women,” is to deny reality. But it is also a denial of reality and a logical error, to generalize differences between those broad groups to the individuals within them.

The male and female bell curves of any trait encompass wide areas of overlap. They do so for height. They do so for mathematical ability. Other than whatever criteria is used to assign the individual data points to their respective categories in the first place, there is literally nothing true of all men, but not true of any women.

It is therefore almost never accurate or productive to say things like “men think or say or do or feel xyz, but women think or say or do or feel the opposite of xyz (or xyz to a lesser extent).” That is taking differences at the extremes and generalizing them in a way that obscures the wide areas of overlap for the vast majority of traits.

So headlines like “Women Don’t Like Libertarianism Because They Don’t Like Libertarianism” (which I will not link to here) are just insulting and inaccurate.

Two-thirds of libertarians are men.

I know math is supposedly hard for us ladies (hey, like libertarianism!). But by my calculations that means female libertarians are not exactly unicorns. They are 33 out of every 100 libertarians.

And I am one of them.

My mother and sister may not call themselves libertarians, but their political views are virtually indistinguishable from mine. I have a female second cousin who is a libertarian. I have worked in a small town in a ten-person office, unrelated to politics, where one other woman was a libertarian, and yet a third voted for Gary Johnson in 2012. My social media feeds are filled with libertarian(ish) women like Julie Borowski, Libertarian Girl, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Shikha Dalmia, Cathy Reisenwitz, Veronique de Rugy, Lucy Steigerwald, Cathy Young, and more.

So I am not really perceiving this massive shortage of libertarian ladies.

But if I had to guess why there are not as many women as men who are libertarians, two answers seem intuitively compelling:

  1. Women as a group (not as individuals) are more likely to prefer belonging to in-groups and acting under established norms. They are less likely to be comfortable in out-groups or as outliers to established norms. Similarly, for example, women are only 36% of atheists.
  1. Women as a group (not as individuals) are more likely to have moral hierarchies that focus on empathy and connectedness, over liberty and autonomy.

(I hope since I am a libertarian, and since I spelled it out up above, it is clear that I recognize these things are not true of all women.)

So, no, Jeet Heer, it is not because libertarianism reflects nostalgia for a time when white men were freer, but women and minorities were less so.

We libertarians are more futurist and optimistic than such cynicism admits.

Various women commenting on Rand Paul’s “gender gap” have intuitively landed on one or both of the same explanations as I posited above. Mollie Hemingway pegs libertarian discourse as “high systemizing and low empathizing.” Julie Borowski notes:

Most libertarian women that I have met are very different than your “average woman.” I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t intimidated by a lot of them. They’re strong and independent. They don’t give a *beep* what you think about them. Mess with them and they’ll kick your butt. Basically, they do what they want.

In order to speak out about “unpopular/marginal” ideas, you need to have that kind of personality. If you have a great desire to be liked, ha, don’t get involved in libertarianism. Or at least hide your views. If you post about it on Facebook, get ready to get defriended or uninvited to Thanksgiving dinner this year.

But what to Do About It?

First, do not succumb to handwringing. Libertarianism does not need an even split of men and women to be a worthwhile political philosophy. Neither liberalism nor conservatism are split evenly either.

Ideas should be judged on their merits, not by quotas.

Second, there is nothing we can do to make women (as a group, not as individuals) more comfortable being outliers, “going it alone,” or belonging to fringe groups. As libertarianism becomes increasingly mainstream, however, more women (and men) will be comfortable venturing into our territory and supporting candidates like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson.

Third, what we can do to nurture the process along is get better at explaining how our political philosophy is about empathy and fairness. Yes, we oppose minimum wage hikes because we care about the property rights of business owners. However, we also oppose minimum wage hikes because we understand how they hurt people, and hurt poor people most of all.

Too often we fail to defend the moral high ground when by rights it should be ours.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Free Speech Aside, Why We Must Defend Those Who Draw Muhammad

Free speech aside, why would anyone do something as provocative as hosting a ‘Muhammad drawing contest’?”

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi asked that question on Twitter at 8:08 p.m. on May 3, within hours of gunmen opening fire at a “draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas.

It is tempting to answer Callimachi’s question dismissively. Speech needs no why. Freedom of expression is its own raison d’être.

That is in fact what I believe.

I am a freedom fetishist.

But perhaps we have strayed so far from our classically liberal tradition, become so complacent inside the bounds of our own civility, that we must deign again to explain the why of it.

Free speech aside, why depict Jesus Christ floating in urine? Why paint the Virgin Mary splattered by dung and surrounded by hovering vaginas? Why fake an interview wherein Jerry Falwell confesses to losing his virginity with his mother? Why produce the musical The Book of Mormon?

Free speech aside, why does anyone, ever, do or say or think or draw or write anything profane or blasphemous or provocative or controversial or impolite or mean-spirited or harsh or unkind?

Do only certain answers to that question justify the exercise of such freedom? Insulting to Christianity 15-0505

I sit as I write this in a crowded coffee shop. The tables are small and closely spaced. There are men seated at the two tables on either side of me. All three of us have matching disposable cups of overpriced coffee sitting precariously on the edges of our small tables crowded beside our silver laptops.

There is no way for me to turn my laptop to prevent them both from seeing the screen. After reading the Wikipedia entries for the artwork I mentioned above, I peruse galleries of Charlie Hebdo covers looking for examples of images targeting Christian and Judaic ideas.

Ideas. Not people.

CircumcisionI wonder to myself, what do these men sitting so closely beside me think of these images? By now, they have surely glanced over and seen them on my screen. What meaning have they ascribed to them, to my perusing of them here inside the narrow confines of this crowded coffee shop?

I find my mind flowing back through the years to another table in another time. It is more than a decade and a half ago. The table is bigger, square instead of round. In a lunch deli, not a coffee shop, and not at all crowded. I am having lunch with a friend. It is before the days of smartphones. We are reading different sections of a shared newspaper.

An article captures my attention. I summarize it aloud for my friend. A couple struggling with fertility sought help from a fertility clinic. Ultimately the wife was implanted with embryos that were successfully fertilized using her eggs and donor sperm. A baby was born.

Only there had been a mix-up with the donor sperm used by the clinic. The baby does not have the right look to her parents’ way of thinking.

Her skin is too dark. Her hair is too kinky.

The parents are suing. The article closes with a quote in which they insist they are not racist.

“Right. We aren’t racist,” I mimic, sarcastically. “We just don’t want this baby. For entirely nonracist reasons.”

My friend snickers. We both get it. We are young and smug and sure of ourselves, signaling our mutual membership in the best of all possible tribes. We start riffing off each other, back and forth, mimicking all the things we imagine people blissfully unaware of their own contrivances say in such circumstances.

We’re not racist. We just don’t think the races should mix.

We’re not racist. This is about the children.

We’re not racist. We have black friends.

A man at a corner table looks up from behind his own newspaper and frowns at us.

Jerk. I immediately assign him to one of those other, less desirable tribes. One whose members remain fatuously assured of their enlightened values right up until the moment they are handed that baby. The swaddled bundle of Other that forces them to confront the things they had until that point been able to deny existed inside their own minds.

Or—

Wait.

Wait!

Does he think we are the—?

Did he misunderstand? We were only…

What? I struggled to think of the right words to describe what we were doing.

Making fun.

Mocking.

Satirizing.

I am fifteen years away from knowing what Charlie Hebdo is.

Poe’s Law is not yet a thing.

All of sudden I see how the view might look from his table. I am no longer sure which of us belongs in which tribe. Which of us is blinded by our own contrivances.

It is not always obvious.

It is not always possible to find a single objective truth in satire, in mockery, in fiction, in art. It is not always easy to define the line between the thing mocked and the mockery itself. Between racism and the illustration of racism. Between targeting ideas and targeting people. To avoid the place where laughter collides with conscience. To know if we are punching up or down.

To avoid the inherent limitations of the views from our own tables.

But it is in those moments when self-doubt obliterates contrivance that paradigms shift. It is in the moments when we finally sense the chinks in our own armor of righteousness that we fully appreciate the limitations of our perspectives. It is where we straddle those lines that cannot be drawn that real debate occurs and social change is worked.

There is inherent value in the speech that drives us to the place where the curtain is pulled back.

And that is why.

As Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors, writes on his Steam Thing blog:

It’s possible, of course, to see the antiracist message of one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as no more than a cover for an underhanded relishing of the racist imagery deployed in it. Parody usually does participate to some extent in the energy of what it parodies; that is one of the risks it runs. Humor is not pure. It speaks to us through our flaws, as well as speaking to us about them—envies and hates, as well as greeds and lusts—and it can’t exist without the license to work with dark materials.

Last year at the University of Iowa, a visiting professor created a sculpture of a Ku Klux Klansman papered with articles about racial tension and violence over the last 100 years. Some people complained that it was racist, and the sculpture was removed. Its creator, Serhat Tanyolacar, intended the sculpture to confront the comfortable assumption that our racial frictions are all safely in the past.

Can one of these interpretations be pronounced objectively correct to the exclusion of the other? They are like conjoined twins—one good, one evil—and you cannot kill one without killing the other.

And that is why.

If the message cannot always be nailed down, neither can the direction of the punch, though that was a criteria for meritorious satire recently advocated by cartoonist Gary Trudeau. An LGBT couple denied photography, floral or catering services will undoubtedly perceive the balance of power differently than the Christian business owner bankrupted for expressing religious values that amount in others’ eyes to politically incorrect discrimination.

Which side controls the narrative about campus “rape culture?”

Does Paul Nungesser have more or less power than Emma Sulkowicz?

Are the targets of Charlie Hebdo’s satirical barbs victims, as Trudeau suggests, or are they oppressors, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others might argue?

[T]o portray an institution that mocks any religion’s sacred cows as villainously “punching down” ignores that religious institutions are very much part of the power structure and have been throughout history.

When you’re challenging the gods, and those who claim to speak for the gods, you are always punching up.

Can we say with certainty that Charlie Hebdo’s (alleged) punching down in France does not help people like Raif Badawi punch up in Saudi Arabia?

Like shifting sands, our perceptions of the balance of power change from setting to setting, issue to issue, moment to moment, always influenced by the view from our table. If we refrain from swinging except in the clear cut cases, satire is sidelined precisely at those moments when we stand on the brink, when social upheavals make the scores too close to call.

And that is why.

But it is not all.

Circumscribing speech based on the sensibilities of out-groups marginalizes and infantilizes the members of those groups. It treats them as children who must be shielded from the harsh confrontations that members of other, more superior groups might be expected to handle. As David Frum noted in responding to Trudeau:

It’s almost as if he thinks of underdogs as literal dogs. If a dog bites a person who touches its dinner, we don’t blame the dog. The dog can’t help itself. The person should have known better.

In this manner, Trudeau and his cohorts would return fierce debate to the exclusive province of those—white, male and Judeo-Christian—who by dint of their power and privilege can be expected to handle such heady and taxing matters responsibly.

Out-groups are not comprised of children. Nor are they homogenous. Among their many victims, extremists who call themselves Muslims kill moderates who also call themselves Muslims. Is Charlie Hebdo punching down against the latter—or punching up on their behalf?

People of good faith can reach different answers.

And that is why.

Finally, and here is the crux of it, we cannot make the world safe for the people who would punch up unless we find it our hearts to defend those who will use the same freedom to punch down.

I used to differentiate between government censorship and private consequences for unpopular speech. It was the wrong distinction. The meaningful difference is between non-forceful responses to speech—firing, boycotting, bankrupting, and shunning, all of which are fair game—versus forceful responses, which never, ever are.

It is not functionally different whether the thugs suppressing expression are the official ones we call “government” or a renegade band of religious zealots. If we give in to the latter on the theory that they are somehow exempted from the resistance we would put up against the former, the zealots simply become a shadow government of censors.

We are no less unfree.

Bosch Fawstin's  winning entry in the Garland, Texas "Draw Muhammad" contest.

Bosch Fawstin’s winning entry in the Garland, Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest.

If we want freedom to exist for the Raif Badawis of the world, we must defend its exercise by the Pam Gellars.

The peaceful way to do that, to render violence counterproductive to its own ends, is by mirroring the speech that would be suppressed. Even when it is offensive. Even when it is blasphemous. Even when it is rude, childish, stupid, unpopular, pointless or unnecessarily provocative.

Even when we don’t agree. Especially then.

And that is why.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Trigger Warnings and a Police Escort for Christina Hoff Sommers

Christina Hoff Sommers, equity feminist, classical liberal and author of the books Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys, gave a speech at Oberlin College earlier this week. The week before that she made a similar appearance at Georgetown University.

Anticipating Sommers would use the occasions to speak words in freely exited auditoriums no one was required to enter, tomorrow’s greatest minds concerned students at Oberlin and Georgetown rallied to face the psychological trial of…hearing words in freely exited auditoriums no one was required to enter.

Of course, they could have just not attended.

That would seem an ironclad way to avoid being subjected to the dangerous trauma of this shaming, violent, misogynistic, rape-y…uttering of words.

Instead, they wrote a “love letter” to themselves in the Oberlin student newspaper calling Sommers a rape “denialist,” referring to her upcoming speech as “this violence,” and evincing an odd fixation on Sommers’ Twitter followers.

They posted “trigger warnings” around the speaking venue. The signs said loving, “safe,” non-triggering things like:

“Christina Hoff Sommers & OCRL [Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians] support rapists.”

“RAPE CULTURE is REAL and YOU are a PARTICIPANT.”

And:

“FUCK ANTI-FEMINISTS.”

These were obviously thoughtfully and carefully crafted to help rape survivors who might be attending the speech to feel safe and avoid being “triggered” as they entered.

The objecting students also created “alternative safe spaces” for anyone who felt triggered by Sommers’ words (but not the signs). These were in addition to the “alternative safe spaces” of: 1) one’s own dorm room or apartment; 2) the library; 3) the coffee shop; 4) the entire rest of the world; 5) just not going; 6) doing whatever one would have done if Christina Hoff Sommers had never been born; and, 7) hiding under the bed at mommy and daddy’s house.

The existence of the “alternative safe spaces” (the special ones with the vapors and fainting couches, not the seven I listed above) was announced ahead of the speech. This was to help the adult college students who, despite being old enough to vote and go to war, otherwise might not have known they could get up and leave the unlocked auditorium they had voluntarily entered to hear a non-mandatory speech.

Despite their insistence that listening to Sommers speak words was so fraught with peril it required trigger warnings and alternate safe spaces, many of the objecting students nevertheless attended the speeches.

Is anyone surprised?

At Oberlin, they interrupted, booed, and mocked a professor who asked them to be civil. Well, that is, except for the ones with the duct tape over their mouths…

Folks, this isn’t about dangerous words.

This is about tribal signaling and performance art.

As anything more, it is at best dead on arrival. Such mindset cannot empower its adherents to compete with women like Sommers, capable of confronting auditoriums of angry protestors, engaging in unfettered debate, examining deeply held beliefs, considering contrary evidence, and revising paradigms and refocusing energy where appropriate.

Deep down they know it.

The echo chamber is guarded so shrilly precisely because of how deeply its occupants fear subjecting their beliefs to scrutiny. But choked off from sunlight and oxygen inside those rigid walls, their ideas wither into limp and lifeless shades of ideas.

At worst, they have become bullies. They are the ones suggesting that rape survivors are participants in the “rape culture” if they attend the wrong sort of speech. They are the ones trying to stifle disfavored speech. They are the ones making people feel unsafe.

They are the reason Oberlin College gave Sommers a two-man police escort.

After the speech, some of them followed her to the restaurant where she was having dinner in order to confront her.

Is that how we do safe spaces? Or is it that Sommers is not entitled to safe space because she’s the wrong sort of woman?

Some women just deserve what they get, I guess.

Students who think they see something dangerous in speakers like Christina Hoff Sommers should consider the possibility that what they are actually looking at is their own reflection.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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