Category Archives: Strategies For Advancing Liberty

The Problem With Today’s ‘Conservatives': They’re Not Really Conservative

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When Republicans took control of the Congress in the 2014 elections, they did so without an agenda or alternative vision for the country. In spite of this, they hold their largest majority since before World War II.

It seems they achieved this, not because they laid out a clear alternative, but simply because the American people perceived Democrats and the left, as having failed to govern the country (or having done so poorly).

However, a couple of long-term problems for the Republican Party have developed since November’s elections. The first being that President Obama’s approval ratings have begun to rebound. The second, is that Republicans are fighting amongst themselves, again, instead of laying out any credible alternative agenda for the country. The Republican Party seems to be strongly divided between it’s “establishment” wing, and a more conservative Tea Party-aligned wing.

The biggest problem however, is that the Tea Party, and many of the self identified “conservatives” aren’t really conservatives at all. They’re really populists, ideologues, and radicals, that have abandoned traditional conservatism.

Ultimately, this is bad for the entirety of what could be called the “center-right”, because these people frankly make us look insane. When you try to build a movement purely on rhetoric and rabble rousing, without a solid foundation, history has shown that bad things happen.

During the French Revolution, there was a faction of revolutionaries called the Jacobins. The Jacobins were fiery populists, who aligned with the mobs on the streets of Paris, and eventually took over the revolutionary government, installing what came to be known as “The Reign of Terror“. Under the Jacobins, the revolutionary councils known as “committees of public safety”, targeted essentially anyone who disagreed with the Jacobins in the slightest, as “enemies of the people”. This demagoguery resulted in the deaths of thousands, in mob led mass executions.

Eventually, the French Revolution collapsed into near anarchy and was devoured, when in reaction to Jacobin misrule, Napoleon seized power in the Coup of 18 Brumaire.

An English member of Parliament, Edmund Burke, warned that the French Revolution would descend into tyranny. In his famous book “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke argued for gradual change; emphasizing the necessity of specific, concrete rights and liberties; and essentially that society could not be, or should not be, molded or reshaped by government, in the name of “reason.” It was an argument against central planning and utopianism before they became more developed political concepts. Burke’s work is regarded as one of the founding documents of Anglo-American conservatism. and even Freidrich Hayek was heavily influenced by Burke.

Fast forward to today’s American er…..”conservatives”. What generally poses for conservatism these days is the Tea Party movement. To be perfectly blunt, the Tea Party isn’t very conservative at all. The Tea Party are demagogues who seem to want to launch a revolution against the “establishment”. Except, the problem is, they’re not too sure what the “establishment” is. They’re populist radicals and reactionaries, who have no idea what conservatism is.

The latest case in point, the silly and failed attempt to remove John Boehner as Speaker of the House, launched by Tea Party-aligned Congressmen, and egged on by various Washington D.C. and West Coast-based “grassroots” organizations who never miss an opportunity to fundraise over manufactured outrage.

The challenge to Speaker Boehner began when Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine announced he wasn’t going to vote for Boehner. He cited his opposition to the so-called Cromnibus which was passed in order to keep the government open, late last year. Bridenstine, like many conservatives, was opposed to the bill because it funded the Department of Homeland Security and President Obama’s immigration executive amnesty until February, and because it spent too much. Tea Party opportunists and other irrelevant backbenchers, saw an opportunity for self-promotion and self aggrandizement through the entertainment wing of the Tea Party (talk radio, bloggers who specialize in the daily “outrage”), and decided to “challenge” John Boehner.

Eventually, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Florida), threw their tin foil hats into the ring and challenged Boehner for the position of speaker. In a way, both men are a perfect microcosm of everything wrong with the Tea Party movement. Congressman Daniel Webster (R-Florida) also entered the race, but he’s generally an unremarkable backbencher (as well as one of the most liberal Republicans in congress).

A quick Google search would quickly tell you that these are not serious men, let alone serious alternatives to Speaker John Boehner. No one outside of Florida knows who Daniel Webster is, and sadly that probably makes him the most qualified out of the three. Ted Yoho’s big claim to fame is that he’s a birther who wants to find Obama’s secret Kenyan birth certificate in order to nullify Obamacare or something.

Finally, we have Louie Gohmert who is truly little more than a demagogue with no philosophical foundation. Gohmert once took to the floor of the U.S. House to warn about terrorist babies. Oh and Gohmert is also a birther. Gohmert has a long history of demagoguery both as a judge and a Congressman. There’s crazy and then there’s Louie Gohmert. 

Even those who dislike John Boehner (and there are many) would have to concede that, if they were honest, these three men were not qualified to be second in line for the office of President.

The problem, is that instead of presenting a coherent alternative to progressivism, the Tea Party and its allies have resorted to base demagoguery and reactionary populism. Further, they are imposing strict purity tests (the true mark of a Jacobin) to identify who they see as “the enemies of conservatism” and “Betrayers of the American People”. Only their ideas and positions are allowed, all must conform perfectly, there can be no dissent.

Take, for example, the case of Congresswoman Mia Love (R-Utah) a conservative rock star who voted for Boehner to continue as Speaker, and how she was vilified on social media:

There are many other examples like these on Twitter. Essentially, anyone who voted for the Speaker of the House, who oversaw at the very least a freeze in government spending; is being portrayed as some kind of a liberal, or worse, as having “betrayed the American people”.

The enlarged Federal state was not built in a day and it will not be dismantled in one election, especially when Democrats hold the White House. That’s not how I want things, but that how the world is. Conservatives are supposed to look at the world, understand and accept it for what it is, and understand that radical change rarely works out well.

In the meantime, we must seek to develop a credible, coherent, and comprehensive, alternative agenda for the country. We must get back to first principles and turn away from populism and demagoguery. We must rediscover traditional conservatism and combine that with some Milton FriedmanCharles Murray, and finally add some Hayek to the mix*.

Most importantly, conservatism is a philosophy, and a mindset, not an ideology. Gradual, incremental change, is always a better approach than radical change, because radicalism so often leads to failure at best; at worst, the guillotine or the Killing Fields.

While building a movement with popular appeal is important to the advancement of liberty, we must not let that become the sole focus. Winning without a solid philosophical and intellectual foundation, a principled moral focus, and a realistic view of the world, may ultimately lead to tyranny. That’s why the mindless populism and demagoguery of the Tea Party and the far right must be rejected.

*There are many great conservative/classical liberal thinkers and writers, but those three, along with Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, and Edmund Burke are the ones you should get started with.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

NYC Cop Rebellion Highlights Complicated Interplay Between Freedom and the Rule of Law

MLK

Some laws are so egregious they ought morally be resisted, however destabilizing such resistance might be. Only the most mindlessly authoritarian would disagree.

The hard part is knowing where to draw the lines.

New York City cops are in rebellion, taking a de facto hiatus from policing victimless “crimes.” Whether this is an “important step” toward improved safety and constitutional policing, or a dire threat to the rule of law, seems all a matter of perspective. Cops being as diverse as humans generally, their motivations presumably range from “[a]cting like a bunch of high-school jocks protesting a ban on keg parties” all the way to heartfelt questions about the legitimacy of a system that leaves a man dead for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes.

Either way, the reduced issuance of petty crime summonses and parking violations will starve the city of revenue, while endangering no one. This strategy, of hurting the mayor’s budget without turning a blind eye to real crime, exposes an unpleasant truth about modern policing: that cops are sent out armed with guns to risk their lives ginning up revenues needed to cover budget shortfalls.

Let that sink in.

I understand the importance of the rule of law. But morality dictates consideration of a system that encourages forceful interaction over such trivialities as selling loose cigarettes, and for the purpose of insulating politicians from the consequences of overspending.

The rule of law is but a means to an end, not an end in itself.

A provocative law review article entitled “The Myth of the Rule of Law” asks the reader to consider the following:

“Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; . . . .”

On the basis of your personal understanding of this sentence’s meaning (not your knowledge of constitutional law), please indicate whether you believe the following sentences to be true or false.

_____ 1) In time of war, a federal statute may be passed prohibiting citizens from revealing military secrets to the enemy.

_____ 2) The President may issue an executive order prohibiting public criticism of his administration.

_____ 3) Congress may pass a law prohibiting museums from exhibiting photographs and paintings depicting homosexual activity.

_____ 4) A federal statute may be passed prohibiting a citizen from falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

_____ 5) Congress may pass a law prohibiting dancing to rock and roll music.

_____ 6) The Internal Revenue Service may issue a regulation prohibiting the publication of a book explaining how to cheat on your taxes and get away with it.

_____ 7) Congress may pass a statute prohibiting flag burning.

After exploring ways in which seemingly clear rules of law are malleable to reach different ends, based on the perspective of those with the power to apply them, the piece returns to those initial questions:

If your response to question one was “True,” you chose to interpret the word “no” as used in the First Amendment to mean “some.”

If your response to question two was “False,” you chose to interpret the word “Congress” to refer to the President of the United States and the word “law” to refer to an executive order.

If your response to question three was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to the exhibition of photographs and paintings.

If your response to question four was “True,” you have underscored your belief that the word “no” really means “some.”

If your response to question five was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to dancing to rock and roll music.

If your response to question six was “False,” you chose to interpret the word “Congress” to refer to the Internal Revenue Service and the word “law” to refer to an IRS regulation.

If your response to question seven was “False,” you chose to interpret the words “speech” and “press” to refer to the act of burning a flag.

Why did you do this? Were your responses based on the “plain meaning” of the words or on certain normative beliefs you hold about the extent to which the federal government should be allowed to interfere with citizens’ expressive activities?

My own answer would have been that the First Amendment neither permits nor prohibits anything. The First Amendment is nothing more than words on paper, incapable of doing anything. It is only our collective willingness to enforce, expand or modify it that has any function; that sufficient numbers of us agree, consciously or not, to permit the exercise of collective force to do one or the other; and that sufficient numbers more passively do not resist.

We are unavoidably a nation of both laws and men, and needed change comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes because democratically elected representatives vote for it. Sometimes it comes because one person stops allowing her complicity to lend legitimacy to a bad law.

It bears remembering that enforcing the rule of law was what five New York City officers were doing when they placed Eric Garner in a grapple hold for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes. As Professor Stephen L. Carter eloquently wrote:

It’s unlikely that the New York legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.

*    *     *

Of course, activists on the right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate.

That’s too bad. Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. There are many painful lessons to be drawn from the Garner tragedy, but one of them, sadly, is… : Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.

Some of the loudest complaints about police misconduct are from the same people who demand a leviathan government exercising control over vast areas of our lives. Such control must of necessity be exercised in the form of laws, laws that must be enforced at the point of a gun.

We all draw lines somewhere, between the laws we think ought be enforced, however misguided they might be, for the sake of preserving the legitimacy of the system; laws so egregious and vile in nature, that they must morally be resisted; and those that fall somewhere between, the close calls and grey area where good faith disagreement can be tolerated. The criteria we use, the lines we draw, are inherently subjective.

We should not ask cops to enforce laws that we are unwilling to have them kill to enforce. We should not risk lives enforcing prohibitions against victimless crimes.

If a rebellion by New York City cops is how this change comes—I can live with that.

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

The Minimum Wage Lie

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When “progressives” say “the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation”, they’re lying.

Not shading, the truth, exaggerating, or interpreting things differently… they are flat out lying.

… And what’s more, the ones who made up the lie in the first place, know they’re lying (the rest mostly just parrot what they’ve been told).

What exactly would “keeping up with inflation” mean?

The minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009.

In 1938, when the federal minimum wage was established, it was $0.25 an hour. In constant dollars (adjusted for inflation) that’s $4.19 as of 2014.

So, not only has the minimum wage kept up with inflation, it’s nearly doubled it.

Ok.. well what about more recently?

Minimum wage 15 years ago in 2000: $5.15, or $7.06 in constant dollars

Minimum wage 20 years ago in 1995: $4.25, or $6.59 in constant dollars.

Minimum wage 25 years ago in 1990: $3.80, or $6.87 in constant dollars.

Minimum wage 30 years ago in 1985: $3.30, or $7.25 in constant dollars.

Funny… that’s exactly what it is today… How shocking.

So, for 30 years, the minimum wage has not only kept up with inflation, for most of that time it’s been ahead of it.

So, how are they lying?

The way “progressives” claim minimum wage hasn’t been “keeping up with inflation”, is by comparing today, with the highest level it has ever been; almost 50 years ago, in 1968, when the minimum wage went to $1.60 an hour ($10.86 in constant dollars).

This was a statistical anomaly.

There’s a long and loathsome tradition of lying with statistical anomalies.

At $1.60 an hour, the minimum wage in 1968 was a huge 20% spike from what it had been just 3 years before in ’65, more than 40% above what it had been in 1960, and nearly double what it had been 12 years before in 1956 when politicians started throwing minimum wage increases faster and bigger (again, all in constant dollar terms. The minimum wage at the beginning of 1956 was about $6.30 in constant dollars)

In constant dollar terms, the minimum wage today, is about the same as it was in 1962 (and as I showed above, 1985).

It just so happens that from 1948 to 1968 we had the single largest wealth expansion over 20 years, seen in the history of the nation (about 5-8% annual growth)… Which then crashed hard starting at the end of ’68.

From 1968 to 1984, the U.S. had 16 years of the worst inflation we ever saw, and the purchasing power of ALL wages fell significantly, as wages failed to come even close to keeping up with inflation (we saw 13.5% inflation in 1980 alone, which is about what we see every 4 years today).

It took until 1988 for real wages to climb back to their 1968 constant dollar level, because we were in a 20 year long inflationary recession, complicated by two oil shocks and a stock market crash (actually a couple, but ’87 was the biggest one since ’29).

However, the minimum wage was boosted significantly in that time period, far more than other wages rose, and stayed above the 1962 water mark until the end of that high inflationary period in 1984, declining slightly until 1992, then spiking and declining again until 1997 etc… etc…

By the by… household income in 1968? appx. $7,700, which is about the same as today in constant dollar terms… About $51,0000 (about 8% more than it was in 1967, at $47k). Which is almost exactly what it was in 1988 as well. Household income peaked in 1999 and 2007 at around $55,000, and troughed in 1975 at around $45,000

Of course, income was on a massive upswing from 1948 to 1968 (and in fact had been on a massive upswing overall since 1896 with the exception of 1929 through 1936). In 1941 household income was about $1500 ($24,000 constant), in 1948 $3,800 ($37,000 constant).

Like I said, it was the single greatest expansion in real income and wealth over a 20 year period, in American history.

1968 was a ridiculous historical anomaly… Not a baseline expectation.

So, From 1964 to 1984, the minimum wage was jacked artificially high (proportionally far above median wage levels), and “progressives” chose to cherry pick the absolute peak in 1968 from that part of the dataset, in order to sell the lie.

A living wage?

As to the minimum wage not being a living wage… No, of course its not. It never was, its not supposed to be, and it never should be.

The minimum wage is intended to be for part time, seasonal workers, entry level workers, and working students.

Only about 4% of all workers earn the minimum wage, and less than 2% of full time workers earn the minimum wage.

Minimum wage is what you pay people whose labor isn’t worth more than that. Otherwise everyone would make minimum wage. But since 98% of full time workers can get more than minimum wage, they do so.

What should the minimum wage be?

Zero.

Wait, won’t everyone become poor suddenly?

No, of course not. Literally 98% of full time workers already get more than minimum wage. If we abolished the minimum wage, most of them wouldn’t suddenly be paid nothing.

Wages should be whatever someone is willing to work for. If you’re willing to work for $1, and someone else isn’t, you get the job. On the other hand, if an employer is offering $10 and no-one is willing to take the job for that, they need to offer $11, or $12, or whatever minimum wage someone is willing to take.

If you don’t want to work for $7.25 an hour, don’t take the job. If nobody offers you more than that, too bad, but that’s all your labor is worth.

If you are willing to work for someone for $7.00, and they’re willing to pay you $7.00, what right does some “progressive” have to tell either of you, that you can’t work for that much?

No-one is “exploiting the workers”, if those workers took the jobs voluntarily, and show up for work voluntarily… If all you can find is a job for less than what you want to work for, you’re not being exploited, THAT’S ALL YOUR LABOR IS WORTH TO THOSE EMPLOYERS.

You may think your labor worth more, but things aren’t worth what you want them to be worth, they’re only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them.

But let’s be generous…

All that said, I don’t think we’ll be able to eliminate the minimum wage any time soon.

So, to those “progressives” who would say “let’s make the minimum wage keep up with inflation”, I agree wholeheartedly… Let’s make it $4.19.

Oh and if you don’t believe me on these numbers, they come from the department of labor, the department of commerce, and the census. If I’m lying to you, it’s with the governments own numbers… the same ones “progressives” are lying to you with. 

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

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

Know Your Rights

Before going out this New Year’s Eve, check out this infographic. The cops will be out; be sure you know your rights.

(Click to enlarge)

Know Your Rights
Source: Online-Paralegal-Programs.com

Happy New Year!

Gun Control and Electoral Math – The Scoreboard

Two years ago, I wrote a piece about electoral math and gun control, and how it was unlikely that we would have any serious national level gun control… and we have not (state level is another story unfortunately).

In that, I included a list of democratic senators who were up for re-election this year, their position on gun control, and how “at risk” their seat was:

Stupidity, Politics, and Electoral Math

So, now that we have the results of all of their elections, let’s see what the last two years hath wrought among them:

XX = Unelected (or resigned and replaced by Republican)

  1. XX – Alaska – Mark Begich – Very Pro Gun – very unsafe seat
  2. XX – Arkansas – Mark Pryor – neutral – very unsafe seat
  3. XX – Colorado – Mark Udall – neutral – not a safe seat
  4. Delaware – Chris Coons – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  5. Hawaii – UNKNOWN (special election to replace Daniel Inouye) – safe seat
  6. Illinois – Dick Durbin – Very anti-gun – safe seat
  7. XX – Iowa – Tom Harkin – Very anti-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  8. XX – Louisiana – Mary Landrieu – neutral – very unsafe seat
  9. Massachusetts – UNKNOWN (special election to replace John Kerry) – safe seat
  10. Michigan – Carl Levin – very anti-gun – safe seat
  11. Minnesota – Al Franken – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  12. XX – Montana – Max Baucus – very pro-gun – iffy, can’t afford to screw up
  13. New Hampshire – Jeanne Shaheen – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  14. New Jersey – Frank Lautenberg – very anti-gun – safe seat
  15. New Mexico – Tom Udall – slightly anti-gun – safe seat
  16. XX – North Carolina – Kay Hagan – very anti-gun – not a safe seat
  17. Oregon – Jeff Merkley – very anti-gun – safe seat
  18. Rhode Island – Jack Reed – very anti-gun – safe seat
  19. XX – South Dakota – Tim Johnson – very pro-gun – very unsafe seat
  20. Virginia – Mark Warner – very pro-gun – not a safe seat
  21. XX – West Virginia – Jay Rockefeller – moderately anti-gun – very unsafe seat

Lotta XX’s there… 9 actually, out of 21 (10 of those 21 were considered safe seats, barely challenged by Republicans). Pretty much every anti-gun democrat that wasn’t in a safe seat, except Shaheen and Franken (and they’re kinda weird cases).

And THAT folks, is why we will not have any significant gun control on the national level any time soon.

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

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

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