Category Archives: Democracy

Should Governments Promote Religious Holidays?

A perennial question that comes up this time of the year is the question of how Christmas should be celebrated in public places, with a significant amount of anger and heated accusations being traded between proponents and opponents of the idea.

The Argument For

Christmas is a major part of American culture, especially since it was heavily commercialized in the late nineteenth century by nascent department stores and mail order businesses. Since the majority of the citizenry in nearly every polity on the local, state and federal levels that make up the United States are self-described Christians, governments universally make concessions to their holy day by refusing to conduct public business on or around that day. In order to maintain vital services, fire-fighters and police-men are paid bonuses for working on that day. Since governments are already marking this Christian holy day, since they are spending extra public monies for it, so why not go the extra step? After all, Christmas is a cheerful celebration marking birth and life, and God knows generally when the state shuts down business to mark an anniversary, it usually is about death; the day a war started or ended, or the day some war-maker was born or something.

Argument Against #1

Of course, a substantial minority of Christians don’t celebrate Christmas as it actually has little to do with Christianity itself. Jesus was not born anywhere near the Winter Solstice. The earliest recorded celebration of Christmas on or about the winter solstice as a Christian holiday occurred in Egypt. Their worship of the holiday bears a strong resemblance to the celebration of the resurrection of Osiris, which were also celebrated on the winter solstice. It is very clear that the leaders of the late Roman Empire folded the popular festival of Saturnalia into the new imperial Christian religion. Much like Jews making a big deal about Hanukkah, and black Americans celebrating Kwanzaa, it is clear that the early Christians made up the holiday to basically have an excuse to participate in the holidays of the non-Christian cultures they were embedded within. The Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas and view its observance as a heresy, are quite understandably upset to see it promoted anywhere. This would have included many of the colonists in new England. As frequent Reason Hit and Run commenter joe observed:

Here is Massachusetts, they had a fight a few years ago about whether the Town of Lexington should be paying to put a nativity scene on the town common. One of the arguments often made was, “What would the Minutemen say if they found out we couldn’t have a nativity scene for Christmas?”

The desired answer was, they would be aghast at the hostility of the government towards Christianity.

The correct answer was, they would be aghast at such a blatant display of papist idolatry, and smash it to bits with the butts of their muskets.

Why should people be forced to pay for blasphemy?

Argument Against #2

Some people pay taxes but don’t like to see the money spent on things that they don’t like, including Christmas celebrations. The reason they don’t approve is immaterial, perhaps they are not Christian, perhaps they are but think that Christmas should be a private matter. These folks are, of course, aghast at the misuse of money. It is one thing to compel people to pay for a good like fire-prevention. It is another to force people to pay for something frivolous like a manger scene. They want their tax money spent on other things, perhaps ensuring that children have adequate health care or for more policemen or better radios for firefighters. If they were in charge the public monies would go to those things and not be frittered away on displays.

Argument Against #3

Of course, a significant number of people aren’t Christian, yet they too have their own ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice. Why shouldn’t they have their traditions celebrated as well? Where should one draw the line? At having the 49% of the population who are non-believers subsidize to 51% who are? 25%? 5%?

Again, why should a man be forced to pay for another religion’s celebrations?

Christmas at Disney-world: Where’s the Controversy?

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” [asked Inspector Gregory]

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” [answered Holmes]

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Every year, Disney-world has a massive extravaganza in celebration of Christmas. This celebration elicits little or no controversy. People don’t file lawsuits or get in shouting matches over their choices of how to celebrate the holiday. Why is that? It’s not that a single individual or sect owns the property. Disney’s board of directors answer to the shareholders, and there are millions of shareholders who own Disney, more than the thousands of voting taxpayers living in Lexington, MA. Surely there must be atheists, Jews, or people opposed to ostentatious displays of Christmas cheer in their ranks. Why do these millions not get angry while a mere ten thousand or so get into shouting matches? The answer lies in the fact that people who are unhappy with Disney’s decision are free to end their involvement with the company. They can sell their shares. They can refuse to give their custom to Disney-world.

But when it comes to government, people are denied that freedom. In his wonderful 15+ hour Commentaries, Robert LeFevre recounts the story of an exchange he had with a town commissioner. At the time, he was a newspaperman, and he was asked to publish an announcement on behalf of the town government to the effect that a local park would be closed to public access on a certain night. The commissioner explained that they had invited a youth group from a neighboring town to have a party of some kind in the park. LeFevre, apparently feeling a little mischievous, challenged the commissioner and asked him by what right he could make such a decision. The commissioner explained that he had been appointed by the townspeople who collectively owned the park. “Aha” LeFevre said, “you see, I know something about the guests you have invited, and they are rough customers.” He told the commissioner that he feared the guests would damage the park, and as an owner he would be on the hook for repairs. Since he thought his ownership share in the park was about to become a liability, he told the commissioner that he would like to sell his share. The commissioner, of course was apoplectic at the idea; “you can’t sell your share!” he cried. Regardless or Robert LeFevre’s concerns, he was a prisoner. So long as he lived within the commissioner’s zone of control, he was yoked to the wagon of state, compelled to go where the commissioner directed it, and forced to yield his back to the commissioner’s whip. As LeFevre predicted, the guests caused a significant amount of damage to the park. The damage was repaired at cost to the taxpayers.

Government Action Inevitably Causes Conflict

By forcing people to bear the costs of government, government officials are setting people at each other’s throats. Rather than being a force for peace and civilization, the government becomes a divisive entity, weakening the bonds of fellowship. People who otherwise would get along and have good relations with each other find themselves driven into conflict.

If the fans of Christmas really which to honor the Prince of Peace, they should eschew government-funded displays in favor of privately funded ones. Otherwise they are nudging society in a more conflict-prone, violent direction.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

A Religious Test For Office

Doug has posted over the last day or so about Mitt Romney’s speech on religion and politics… Romney, as a Mormon, is facing some interesting attacks from the evangelical wing of the Republican party, who don’t regard Mormons as “true Christians”. Doug’s opinion is that such a worry is pointless, and that voters should spend more time worrying about his policies than his piety.

Such an idea is echoed by the founding fathers, and enshrined directly into the Constitution.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Now, in another comment thread, Doug and I both believe that what’s going on is not a religious test as described in the Constitution.

But should voters consider religion when they decide who to vote for?

In a democracy, I would think that voters would most definitely consider religion when voting. After all, religion is a core belief system tied at the root level to morality for most voters, and putting someone into a position of power who shares your morality is the best way to ensure that your morality is that which is law.

As an example, look at the fight between those who desire sharia law and those who do not. Many Muslims in the mid-east regard Islam as a religion that cannot be separated from law. Even in Western society, artifacts such as blue laws show that there is a desire within human nature to mandate or prohibit that which follows your core beliefs, as described by your religion.

Humans, by their very nature, will gravitate to politicians that agree with their own religious beliefs. I, of course, am no different. I am an atheist, and believe in a secular, reason-based justification for individual liberty and natural rights theory. Thus, my religious test for a candidate is one that puts his own reason and respect for individual rights above that of his religion, at least as it pertains to his goals for governance. I realize that in America in 2007, I am not going to find a candidate in any major party that self-describes as an atheist. But at the same time, in America in 2007 there are many people inside and outside of politics who view their religion as less of a driving force in their lives, and more of a social activity. Thus, I do not fear electing theists to office, but I certainly fear those who I believe would decide policy based on faith, and not on reason, like Mike Huckabee (and George W. Bush).

One may suggest that evangelicals should not automatically rule out Romney due to his Mormon faith, and that is true, if one considers reason and liberty to be the goal of America rather than upholding a Christian society. However, that belies a misunderstanding of the evangelical movement. An evangelical may not be primarily in favor of the sort of liberty someone like I might favor. After all, I’m in favor of civil unions for gays and pro-polygamy. I have no problem with drinking, gambling, or the legalization of drugs. I think that Sunday is a great day to buy beer, because the last thing I want to experience is a Super Bowl party without beer!

For me, I will vote for a politician who I believe will vote for liberty, regardless of whether he’s a Christian or a Scientologist. As long as I believe that a politician will place the value of individual liberty above his personal religious beliefs (given the non-piety of most Americans, usually this is not a difficult test), I can vote for him.

But this says that I value individual liberty more than religious beliefs, not surprising for a self-described atheist. This is not the case for many devoutly religious people. They value piety to the Lord above individual liberty, and thus have a much different calculation when they head to the polls. They would never vote for an atheist, a Muslim, a Wiccan or a Scientologist, because they view the goals those politicians to follow as opposite to the goals they want to achieve.

To argue that one should not take this into account when voting is a futile argument. The fact that Romney is or is not a viable candidate is an effect of a change in American society, and not a cause. To argue with current evangelicals whether they should vote for Romney is bound to be fruitless; it’s like arguing with a vegetarian whether you should get your steak medium rare or well done. At best, the argument that many are making to the evangelicals about voting for Romney is like arguing to a vegetarian that eating fish is okay, because fish isn’t quite like a normal animal (and thus that Mormonism is “close enough” to their brand of Christianity to vote for him over some godless heathen Democrat).

The simple fact is that we’re talking about core principles here. I refuse to vote for someone like Mike Huckabee, because I believe that he is guided primarily by his religious principles, and his interpretation of religion guides him far away from individual liberty (as his nationwide smoking ban proposal shows). For an evangelical, someone like Mitt Romney may be simply too far away from their core principles in order to receive a vote, as they view Joseph Smith as a heretic to their true religion, not a prophet.

When you’re talking about core principles, the only way to argue is on the principle level. That can’t be done in the sound-bite world of today’s politics.

Chavez Suffers A Setback

In what can only be characterized as a surprise, Venezuelans narrowly defeated President Hugo Chavez’s latest bid to amend the country’s Constitution to expand his power:

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 3 — Venezuelan voters delivered a stinging defeat to President Hugo Chávez on Sunday, blocking proposed constitutional changes that would have given him political supremacy and accelerated the transformation of this oil-rich country into a socialist state.

Hours after the final ballots were cast, the National Electoral Council announced at 1:15 a.m. local time Monday that voters, by a margin of 51 to 49 percent, had rejected 69 reforms to the 1999 constitution. The modifications would have permitted the president to stand for reelection indefinitely, appoint governors to provinces he would create and control Venezuela’s sizable foreign reserves.

(…)

The victory for the “No” vote represents the first electoral setback for Chávez, 53, a former lieutenant colonel who won the presidency in a 1998 landslide and, until now, had trounced his opponents in one referendum and presidential election after another. Political analysts had said last week that the populist leader had lost standing this year after implementing unpopular policies, such as canceling a television station’s broadcast license and displaying increasingly erratic behavior in verbal spats with foreign leaders.

The extent of the public’s frustration with Chavez became clear a few weeks ago when an offhand remark by the King of Spain became the rallying cry for opponents of the constitutional changes that Chavez was advocating.

This isn’t the end of Chavez, of course. He remains in office through the end of 2012, which is more than enough time to stir up trouble at home and abroad.

Federalism vs. Individual Freedom

The Constitutionalism of Ron Paul has ignited a debate that’s sorely needed in this country. The Founding Fathers envisioned a nation of individual States, each with its own quirks and ideas, and each with wide latitudes to set its own internal laws and policies as it saw fit. The central government was tasked only with foreign affairs and acting as arbiter of inter-state matters. The individual States had nearly full sovereignty with most other affairs. In many ways, the United States was set up and that is why the American symbol is of freedom with a roughly similar mix between central authority and State sovereignty as the current EU.

Ron Paul and many libertarians reflexively yearn for a return to such an idea. The central government we have now is a behemoth, trampling our freedoms under its oppressive taxes and mountains of regulation. Even worse, the system is largely out of control, and citizens have almost no power over its workings. Devolving power to the States and local governments would counter the dilution of power that naturally occurs when one is a single voice out of 300 million. Petitioning your city or state representative is much more effective than some Senator who may represent several million people.

Inherent in the assumption by these libertarians, though, is that moving power to smaller levels of government will improve individual freedom. I’m not sure that assumption is accurate. There are pros and cons of both systems.

Federalism:

On the positive side, federalism allows for experiments in freedom. States and localities compete on a whole host of aspects, such as taxation, regulation, and social policies. In many instances, it allows those states to do things that would not be allowed in a true top-down structure. In some cases, that may be liberalized policies such as California allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, the city of Galveston, Texas to opt out of social security for their retirement plans, or states like Massachusetts recognizing gay marriages. These are all things that individual states or localities are doing to increase personal freedoms.

But there’s a big negative. Many policies undertaken by individual states inimical to individual freedom. For example, the trend to outlaw smoking in private businesses would be a simple example. Another fairly innocuous example would be the crazy alcohol “blue laws” dotting the nation, many of which have absolutely no justification and are simply a way to appease special interests at the expense of freedom. On a more serious note would be the “Jim Crow” laws, or if you’re looking for a modern incarnation, Massachusetts’ new health-care plan. States are laboratories for new policies, but those policies are not always pro-freedom.

Central Government:

The benefit of central government mandates are simple: if the central government does something right, it can immediately apply that across the country. Many of our Constitutional amendments have followed this path, such as the 24th, eliminating a poll tax. It was a way to end an immoral form of discrimination in a place which sorely needed it. Similarly, while the 14th amendment may have opened the door to some very strange unintended consequences, the idea is purely in favor of liberty: to make sure that individual states and localities cannot engage in unfair discriminates against individuals based on things such as race or gender.

But again, there’s a big negative. As co-contributor tarran quoted Barry Goldwater to me in a discussion on this topic, “The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away.” Look no further than the government’s failed attempt at Prohibition, a distinctly anti-freedom policy that might have been proven to be damaging if done in individual states that was instead foisted on the entire nation. Even worse, our central government has the potential to cut down individual states’ pro-freedom policies at the knees, as we saw in Raich.

So what’s best?

Well, the ideal government would be a single world government that was only powerful enough to protect freedom but disciplined enough not to infringe on individual freedom for the “common good”. However, such a government has never existed, will never exist, and with the incentives inherent in government, can never exist. So looking at the ideal government is not a useful way to answer this question.

The best way to answer this question is to ask how federalism relates to individual freedom. I used “vs.” in the title of this post for a reason. Of course, I don’t believe that federalism works contrary to individual freedom. However, I don’t think it necessarily works FOR individual freedom either. Federalism is only a tool for individual freedom if the people in a region believe in individual freedom, likewise a strong central government is only as damaging to individual freedom as the populace allows it to become.

Where federalism does shine, however, is in giving individuals choice over what mix of freedom and of taxation/regulation they prefer. However, as the differences in politics between the “liberal” and “conservative” states show, federalism does not automatically equal liberty. In states like California, there are large degrees of personal freedom, but not much economic freedom. In states such as Georgia, there is a large degree of economic freedom, but the level of social conservatism circumscribes personal freedoms. All this occurs in the spheres of control outside those of the central government, and I see no reason to believe this would not be the case if the central government were weakened.

The problem, whether you look at the central government or individual states, is that the government will only be as pro-liberty as the populace it represents. If you’re in Massachusetts, you just might get a weak version of socialized medicine through “mandatory coverage”. If you’re in Alaska, you may find nearly non-existent government that actually pays you out of oil revenues to live there.

But as I mentioned, if you then have a choice between Massachusetts and Alaska, you have a lot more choice than between America and Australia. The closer in proximity those choices become, for example between Taxachusetts and the Free State, and the better it will be for lovers of liberty. And the weaker the central government is, the more differentiation there will be between more-free and less-free states.

Federalism is not a panacea that will solve our nation’s problems. It’s a step in the right direction, but it must always be remembered that the message must be about freedom, not about federalism. Federalism is a potential means to the end, but it is not the end in itself.

Liberty and Racial Discrimination: Responding to David Duke

An earlier post of mine concerning members of Stormfront who are publicly supporting Ron Paul generated some very heated responses and a number of comments from people who are part of various movements that are generally tarred as being racist. Some of them made some very good points, and others raised questions that I think warrant an answer. This post is intended to acknowledge the good points and to answer those questions, especially the ones which were raised by David Duke.

The first point was made by commenter Drena who said,

I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to equate modern white supremacists with Nazism. The Nazis were anti-capitalist, protectionist, and in favor of central economic planning. There is nothing to stop a white supremacists from actively supporting laissez-faire capitalism. It is quite a leap to assume that because a person who thinks that his race is superior to another race, that he is in favor of Nazi economics. Nazis were economic fascists who just happened to be white supremacists. Modern day white supremacists may be more sophisticated than you think.

This is true, to a point. It’s quite possible to be a person who discriminates racially, but because you respect the rights of others and refuse to aggress against the people against whom you discriminate against. And certainly, I don’t have any problem with such forms of racial discrimination. I consider it to be stupid, but a person can chose whom he or she does business with, and I won’t try to prevent him or her from exercising his or her freedoms in ways that I consider stupid.

I say it is possible, but does not seem to happen much in practice. People who wish to practice racial discrimination often want to practice aggression against those whom they don’t approve of. Sometimes it’s out of an unwillingness to respect the rights of the people whom they don’t like, such as the Stormfront poster who claimed that the only thing certain black members of Congress were good for was target practice. Often, though, it’s the result of the economic disadvantage that people practicing racial discrimination place themselves in.

Discrimination Defined

At this point, I should digress to define discrimination. A lot of people have no understanding what it is, other than being told that it is bad. Discrimination is the act of judging someone by a quality they possess.

When is Discrimination Economically Beneficial?

Now, some discrimination is justified. For example, if a person wanted to hire someone to prepare a new translation of the 1001 Nights from Arabic into Swahili, he would almost certainly refuse to hire anyone who didn’t speak both languages. This form of discrimination against people who do not speak both Swahili and Arabic is entirely appropriate.

When is Discrimination Economically Harmful?

On the other hand some forms of discrimination are economically disadvantageous; for example, if the person refused to consider any candidate who wasn’t blond haired and blue eyed, he would be discriminating against people for reasons that have nothing to do with their abilities to do the job.

Why is this harmful?

Effects on the ‘victim’

For the “victim” of the discrimination, a dark-haired job applicant, the harm is quite obvious, since he cannot get the job. In fact, if such discrimination is endemic, he would have to settle for a job that does not fully take advantage of his wealth-creation potential, and thus his earnings will be less, his life less-fulfilled, etc. I should point out, though, that our dark-haired translator is not truly a victim; he has not been aggressed against – rather, an employer has merely declined to hire him.

Effects on the ‘oppressor’

But what harm to the employer?

Well, in my blatantly contrived example, he has limited his pool of applicants dramatically – whereas there might be fifteen applicants in the city who know both languages, there might only be one or two blond ones. The two guys can charge a much higher price for doing the work than they could command competing against a larger pool of talent. Additionally, the blond guys might not be the best in the field, and the employer could end up producing a very poor quality translation, and have to sell fewer books at a lower cost, reducing the return on his investment.

Effects on the ‘beneficiary’ of the discrimination

What about the blond Arabic/Swahili translator? Well, he might get a cushy job, but if the discrimination is widespread, the economic inefficiencies described above means that he will pay more for goods of less quality than he would in a society that did not discriminate against non-blonde people.

Using Government to Evade Economic Costs

The disadvantage suffered by those who practice racial discrimination was the historical impetus behind many Jim Crow laws. A racist who refused to hire black laborers had to pay a premium for his labor, while his less picky competitor would pay a discount for black workers and be able to undercut the racist. These people, unable to compete without sacrificing their cherished desire to racially discriminate often call for laws to prevent their competitors from taking advantage of the untapped pool of workers.

Note that this only applies if the racial discrimination is unwarranted. If one’s race truly is a determinant of one’s abilities, than the guy who uses race as a determinant in deciding whether to do business with someone could be making a great decision. In such cases, the person who refused to racially discriminate would be the one at a competitive disadvantage. I personally feel that racial discrimination is, generally, a dumb idea, as evidenced by the many laws passed to promote segregation and racial discrimination throughout history (and not just in the U.S.).

Now these laws were acts of aggression against innocent people. Primarily these laws targeted the freedom of association preventing people from conducting business with whomever they wish, for example when a school is forbidden from hiring black teachers., or a businessman is forbidden from hiring a black foreman or a bus company is required to segregate its customers by race.

Make no mistake, these laws are collectivist. In the end, they force people to trade goods and services not with the partners they would prefer, but with other people selected for them by the state. It really does not matter that the selection is performed impersonally.

The Difference Between Modern ‘White-Nationalism’ and German Nazism

Which now brings me to a point made by many respondents who posted comments to the effect that they were not “white supremacists” but rather “white nationalists”, and that their views diverged very radically from that of the German NDASP (the original Nazi party). » Read more

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.
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