Category Archives: The Nanny State

Embrace Burke? No thanks, Mr. Dionne. I’ll take Coolidge instead.

In his never-ending campaign to weaken those who oppose a progressive state, E.J. Dionne has attempted to give American Conservatives (including, in his flawed formulation, libertarians) a new idol: Edmund Burke. Embracing Burke, Dionne posits, would “clip the wings of modern conservatives”:

It’s to Norman’s credit that he recognizes how “Burke also clips the wings of many contemporary conservatives.” While he “helped establish modern conceptions of nationhood and national allegiance,” he “rejected military adventures.” He “celebrated religious observance, but despised moral absolutism.”

Norman also sees Burke as implicitly offering “a profound critique of the market fundamentalism now prevalent in Western society.” He thinks that Burke would “note the extraordinary greed and self-dealing seen over the past decade by the modern nabobs of banking and finance in a series of cartels disguised as markets.” And a Burkean conservatism would be wary of any ideology that “causes people to lose sight of the real social sources of human well-being and to become more selfish and individualistic, by priming them with ideas of financial success and celebrity.”

The second paragraph is built on an entirely faulty assumption. It is simply beyond question that the FHA and its’ regulated GSEs were the key enabler of the housing bubble of the last decade in the US. These New Deal programs socialized the risk of mortgages while allowing private players to reap the profits. True market fundamentalists always railed against these distortions of markets. It is advocates of big government, such as Dionne himself, who are to blame for the situation.

Even without the factual error, Dionne’s quote from Norman on Burke’s belief is wrought with other problems. It requires one to believe that greed is linked to individualism and ignore the parade of collectivists who sought to use the machinery of Washington to exploit others for the own gain. (Sadly, too many people actually believe this, but that’s another story for another time.) It requires one to believe that conservatives care deeply about celebrity as a part of a core ideology. Dionne perhaps missed the right’s revulsion to the concept of Barack Obama as a savior and a light worker. Or maybe he didn’t and just assumed it was a symptom of bitter clinging. In any case, he overlooks the fact that the left has a monopoly on personalizing politics in this country.

Now that we have established that Dionne’s understanding of a conservative is already tenuous, at best, let’s read his vision of a model Burkean Conservative:

Burke’s conservatism was based on a proper understanding of that word. He believed in preserving the social order and respecting old habits. He persistently warned against the destructive character of radical change. He was wary of ideology and grand ideas, rejecting, as Norman puts it, “universal claims divorced from an actual social context.” Burke saw the well-ordered society as a “partnership of the dead, the living and the yet to be born,” a nice formula for a forward-looking traditionalism — and not a bad slogan for environmentalists.

Here, Dionne unwittingly uncovers a truth. Given that the modern social order in the US is built upon the legacy of the progressives and the New Deal, to be a Burkean conservative is to be a mainstream progressive. Libertarians are seen as radicals precisely because we want a social order that dispenses with the New Deal and its legacy. Meanwhile, modern Republicans play to shape a conservative social agenda using the rules and mechanisms put in place by the New Deal. Even the Constitution, the contract between the dead, the living, and the yet to be born in the United States, is interpreted through the ideology of the New Dealers.

This insight brings us to the most laughable of Dionne’s assertions:

Conservatism will flounder unless it remembers the imperative of addressing the interests of the many, not the few.

Progressives have never done anything but address the needs of the few. Which few and to what degree are always in question. The need for an underclass of highly productive but exploitable people is not. This underclass was referred to by William Graham Sumner as “The Forgotten Man”:

It is when we come to the proposed measures of relief for the evils which have caught public attention that we reach the real subject which deserves our attention. As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X or, in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. As for A and B, who get a law to make themselves do for X what they are willing to do for him, we have nothing to say except that they might better have done it without any law, but what I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and I hope to show you before I get through that he deserves your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him.

Sumner’s appellation notwithstanding, members of this productive underclass are not forgotten by progressives. On the contrary, they are known to be a vital component of any progressive plan for society. In the Affordable Care Act, for example, they are the young and healthy who must be conscripted into the health insurance market so that their premiums might benefit the old and sick. In Social Security, they are the workers who pay taxes in so that retirees may get benefits. In Affirmative Action, they are the whites and Asians who lose opportunities granted to other minorities on the basis of skin color.

For decades, progressives maintained the illusion that it was only a demonized few who bore the brunt of this exploitation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his political acumen to identify groups for benefit or demonization. He went so far in this endeavor as to hire photographers and writers to produce propaganda about those who benefited while launching vicious legal battles against innocent men just because they were in a group targeted for demonization. (This does have a familiar ring, doesn’t it?)

However, that illusion has cracked in recent years. Eventually, millions of members of the productive underclass realized exactly what was going on. So born was the Tea Party, a so-called conservative movement. Distressingly for Dionne, this movement is far from the conservatism Burke preached and Dionne practices daily. It is radical, seeking to smash a social order built upon exploiting its members for the benefit of others.

The radical nature of the Tea Party prompted fear among the establishment. Both major parties in America are essentially progressive in mechanics, if not agenda. The angry, dismissive reaction from the Republicans and the downright punitive reaction from the Democrats highlighted how radical the idea of declaring one “taxed enough already” truly is. Since the Wilson administration, Washington has decided who was taxed enough already and who could pay more.

The Tea Party, for all the good it has done in revealing the corruption in Washington (much through its own victimhood at the hands of the IRS), is still a movement lacking a positive idea. It is essentially a movement pushing for a cessation of activity. This will cause many to ask what shall be done instead. The Tea Party has no answer for this.

Neither, it seems, do most libertarians. We tend to focus on the “no” too often as well. Government should stop doing this and not start doing that. We’re seen as a force of negativity. Unfortunately, in a world where we are opposed to both major parties and the mainstream media apparatus designed to enforce the status quo, negativity doesn’t sell.

Respect and stability, however, do. Enter Calvin Coolidge. The concept of normalcy embraced by Harding and Coolidge is both simple and elegant. Here is a description of the concept by Amity Shlaes in an interview with Ed Driscoll:

Ed, what did you learn normalcy was in school? I learned it was something kind of dull, right? Like the — normalcy doesn’t sound elevated or wonderful and that was the Harding motto.

But what they meant by normalcy is not we should all be normal and cogs. Right? What they meant is the environment should be normal so that we can have fun and play with new ideas, which is something very different. Predictability, the reduction of uncertainty. Coolidge as a candidate even used the phrase “uncertainty” which you hear so much today and which is also the subject of Forgotten Man. It’s less uncertainty, please. He really — it’s a theme all the way to the end of his life. You can find it in his columns post-presidency. He spoke of uncertainty.

If you’re reading this, you’re taking advantage of Coolidge’s concept of normalcy in a very different context. The internet is built on normalcy. Packets are packets, traffic is traffic, and different application protocols expect lower-level protocols to act as specified at all times. The creation built upon these simple ideas, upon normalcy, is easily humanity’s largest by a vast margin. Yet there is no edifice called “The Internet”, no building that makes it all work. It is a distributed network of components all playing by the same rules.*

So it was with the American economy under Coolidge. After a decade of tumult resulting from progressive leadership, the US economy got eight blessed years of normalcy. With this diminished uncertainty, companies were free to invest. The economy boomed and even the poor man was better off in 1928 than in 1920.

Then, in response to the crash of 1929, a round of “bold experiments” (to borrow FDR’s phrase) were undertaken upon the economy by Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Congresses of the era for the next decade and a half. These experiments caused untold economic devastation by distorting markets, increasing uncertainty, and causing those who had capital to hoard and protect it, eventually causing Roosevelt to pursue an undistributed profits tax to shake this capital loose from unwilling businesses. Even during the Second World War, while the US was not statistically in a depression, the standard of living was still poor in comparison to the normalcy of the 1920s.

The experiments, in every empirical sense, were a failure. But with the help of writers like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (who Dionne quotes approvingly as an admirer of Burke), these failures were pawned off on the American people as successes and the role that predictability and normalcy play in prosperity forgotten.

Today, we face an economic crisis built upon government interventions into and distortions of the private economy. Despite the Obama administration focusing on jobs, there has been no improvement for the millions who have been chronically unemployed for years. The Democrats’ bold experiment with banking, the Dodd-Frank law, has driven the poor away from banks as they killed off free services. The Democrats’ bold experiment with health care is already driving up costs for millions while making full-time jobs hard to come by for hourly workers. Look at any problem in the US economy today and at its root you will find a bold experiment from Washington, D.C.

The message I have for all Americans is to ignore Dionne (good advice in any case) and his plea to embrace Burke. It’s time to embrace Coolidge and pursue a course of radical normalcy.
.


*For those who don’t remember, one of the major arguments against SOPA and PIPA were that they legislated a change in the architecture of the internet that broke the DNS protocol. This endangered the functioning of the entire network by disrupting the rules upon which countless other technologies depended. A perfect illustration of the need for normalcy in a complex, distributed system.

Quote of the Day: Unequal Treaty Edition

For those of you who have not seen this yet, there is a really important debate about libertarian/conservative “fusionism” at Cato Unbound. Among the essays responding to the lead essay authored by Jacqueline Otto is Jeremy Kolassa’s essay entitled: An Unequal Treaty.

Here is one excerpt from his essay explaining why fusionism has failed to deliver more liberty:

In her opening essay, Jacqueline Otto makes several points about where libertarians and conservatives converge. But notice the elephant in the room: social issues. At no point in her essay does she write about gay marriage, drug legalization, civil liberties, feminism, or even foreign policy or immigration […]

[…]

For libertarians, this is a question of the individual’s right to rule his or her own life. That is, after all, what liberty is about. For a conservative, society to a great extent rules a person’s life. It is not always a question what the individual wants, but of what is right for the community. The community, in turn, is built on centuries-old traditions. Allowing gay marriage would break these traditions, which is why most conservatives are denouncing it as rampant immorality. Viewed in this light, conservatives are really just the other side of the progressive coin. Both put the community in charge.

As long as conservatives wish to use the machinery of the state to enforce their moral code, fusionism will be doomed and the so-called progressives will continue to prevail. Alliances with conservatives need to be formed but we libertarians can no longer accept this unequal treaty, as Kolassa describes it (and quite accurately, I might add).

Quote of the Day: Teach the Children Well Edition

J.D. Tuccillle over at Reason has an excellent article entitled: “Why I’m Teaching My Son To Break the Law.” Tuccille explains that when the law runs contrary to one’s conscience, s/he should disobey said law (the primary example used in the article was when in 1858 residents in Oberlin and Wellington, Ohio prevented the police from enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act).

Personally, I would say that I love liberty more than any other value, and I don’t give a damn if my neighbors or the state disagree. I will be free, and I’m willing to help others be free, if they want my assistance. Screw any laws to the contrary. […]

[…]

I sincerely hope that my son never has to run for his freedom in defiance of evil laws, like John Price. I also hope, at least a little, that he never has to beat the stuffing out of police officers, as did the residents of Oberlin and Wellington, to defend the freedom of another. But, if he does, I want him to do so without reservations.

If all my son does is live his life a little freer than the law allows, then we’ve done some good. A few regulations ignored and some paperwork tossed in the garbage can make the world a much easier place in which to live. Better yet, if he sits on a jury or two and stubbornly refuses to find any reason why he should convict some poor mark who was hauled in for owning a forbidden firearm or for ingesting the wrong chemicals. Jury nullification isn’t illegal (yet), but it helps others escape punishment for doing things that are, but ought not be. No harm, no foul is a good rule for a juror, no matter what lawmakers say.

There seems to be a number of unjust laws coming down the pike to pile on top of many other unjust laws. I think it’s time we each decide we will not obey these laws. To take this one step further, I also wholeheartedly agree with the legal theory of jury nullification. If you are selected to sit on a jury, you have the power to say “no” to bad laws.

This is what I try to teach my children anyway.

Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Association

(Re-post: originally posted November 23, 2008)

California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure aiming to outlaw same sex marriage, passed on a very close vote. Prop 8’s supporters* pushed a campaign of fear, misinformation, and a complete distortion of the meaning of individual liberty. This campaign commercial is typical of the intolerance and hysteria being promoted from the “yes” campaign.

Argument #1: Churches could be forced to marry gay people.

Argument #2: Religious adoption agencies could be forced to allow gay couples to adopt children; some adoption agencies would close their doors as a result.

Argument #3: Those who speak out against gay marriage on religious grounds will be labeled “intolerant” and subjected to legal penalties or social ridicule. Careers could be threatened.

Argument #4: Schools will teach students that marriage is between “party a” and “party b” regardless of gender. Schools also teach health and sexuality and would now include discussions of homosexuality.

Argument #5: There will be “serious clashes” between public schools and parents who wish to teach their children their values concerning marriage.

Argument #6: Allowing gays to marry will restrict or eliminate liberties of “everyone.” (Example: Photographers who do not want to work at same sex weddings)

Argument #7: If Prop 8 fails, religious liberty and free speech rights will be adversely affected.

My response to these arguments is that we should be advocating for more freedom for everyone rather than restrict freedom of a group or class of people. The state should recognize the same contract rights** for a gay couple as it would between a man and a woman. To get around the whole definition of marriage issue, I would propose that as far as the state is concerned, any legally recognized intimate relationship between consenting adults should be called a “domestic partnership.” From there the churches or secular equivalent to churches should have the right to decide who they will marry and who they will not (just as they do now).

Rather than subject an individual’s rights to a vote or either party forcing their values on the other, we should instead advocate freedom of association and less government in our everyday lives. Somewhere along the way, we as a people decided that the government should involve itself more and more into the relationships of private actors. The government now has the ability to dictate to business owners quotas of who they must hire, family leave requirements, how much their employees must be paid, and how many hours they work (among other requirements). For the most part, businesses which serve the public cannot deny service to individuals for fear of a lawsuit.

A return to a freedom of association society would remedy arguments 1, 2, 6, and 7 from this ad. As to Argument #3, the anti-gay marriage folks are going to have to realize that in a free society, they are going to have to deal with “social ridicule”*** or being called intolerant. Anyone who takes a stand on any issue is going to be criticized and called names. In a freedom of association society, an employer would have every right to decide to layoff individuals who hold views or lifestyles they disagree with.

While we’re on the subject of intolerance, perhaps we should take a moment to consider if people who would deny equivalent rights which come with marriage are intolerant. This ad is exactly the same as the previous ad except that the words “same sex” and “gays” have been replaced with “interracial.”

Believe it or not, there was a time in this country when there were such laws against interracial marriage. Those who argued against interracial marriage made very similar arguments to what the anti-gay marriage people are making now. Today most of us would say those people were intolerant.

Intolerance aside, Arguments 4 and 5 can also be answered by reducing the role of government in our lives. What the “yes” people should be arguing for is a separation of school and state. While we as a nation are trending toward more government involvement in K-12 education, those who do not want the government schools to teach their children the birds and the bees or enter into discussions of homosexuality can put their children in private schools which share their values or home school. School Choice is the obvious answers to these concerns.

Prop 8’s supporters have turned the whole idea of individual liberty on its head. They claim that in order to preserve the rights of the greatest number of people a minority of people necessarily must sacrifice their rights. This is absurd and dangerous. Perhaps it is this complete misunderstanding of individual rights among Californians which contributed to Prop 8’s passage.

When explained properly, the rights of life, liberty, and property is the easiest concept to understand.

Hat Tip: The Friendly Atheist

Posted Elsewhere:

Dan Melson @ Searchlight Crusade has written a very thought provoking post on this issue. Some of his arguments I agree with, others I don’t but all of his points are well argued.

» Read more

A Few Personal Observations From a Contentious Town Hall Meeting

This past Saturday, I decided to meet up with Colorado Libertarian Party members to take part in a town hall meeting at the Smoky Hill Library in Centennial, Colorado. Several members of the state legislature hosted the event: Sen. Nancy Todd (D-Sen. Dist. 28), John Buckner (D-House Dist. 40), and Su Ryden (D-House Dist. 36). Senate Majority Leader, Morgan Carroll (D-Dist.29) was a no show.

When I received the invitation, in my inbox, there were 11 others who RSVP’d to attend the event. I really had no idea if we would be the only individuals in attendance who would challenge these legislators or if we would be in good company. All I knew was all of these legislators would be Democrats in favor of most, if not all, of the gun control measures (at least in principle) being considered at the state capitol. I fully expected that we would be crashing their party.

As it turned out, the Colorado Libertarians who responded to the Meetup invitation were not the only party crashers (I’m not entirely clear on who was part of ‘our group’ and who wasn’t). Before the meeting, several of  us were outside with our pro-gun rights signs. Rep. Ryden and Sen. Todd were kind enough to talk with us briefly before the meeting started.

Just before the meeting started, we were advised to write down our questions on the 3X5 cards the meeting organizers provided to us rather than take random questions from the citizens. As the meeting progressed with a small number of the questions being read, many in attendance were not too pleased with this “I thought this was supposed to be a town hall meeting,” one person complained. About halfway into the meeting after several unsatisfactory answers from the legislators concerning the right to bear arms, one elderly gentleman stormed out.

Throughout the meeting, the legislators tried to steer the discussion toward other issues but a very vocal section of the crowd would have none of it, routinely interrupting their responses saying things like “Our rights don’t come from you, they come from God!” and “You aren’t tak’n mah guns!” etc.

I cannot say for sure if the majority of those in attendance were opposed to the upcoming gun control legislation but they certainly were louder than the supporters. While I certainly agreed with much of the sentiments being expressed toward the law makers and was very pleased that they made it known to them that some Coloradans aren’t too keen on the idea of registration, magazine limits, the proposed “Assault Weapon Responsibility Act” (liability for owners, sellers, and manufacturers of ‘assault weapons’ and ammunition – the most asinine of the seven bills being considered IMO), etc. I have to say that their antics probably didn’t win over anyone who was on the fence. They certainly didn’t change the minds of the legislators when they were being called “Socialists.”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is a very emotional issue and those of us who favor the right to bear arms feel like we have been backed into a corner. Before the bodies of the precious school children were even cold at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the media and the gun control advocates demanded that our elected officials “do something” to make sure this “never happens again.” They made us out to be the bad guys. I fully understand that it can be emotionally satisfying to lash out at these people in a public forum. If the goal was to give these individuals an ear full, then let me put on my flight suit ala George W. Bush and say “mission accomplished.”

My goal, however; was somewhat different. I was hoping to have an intelligent discussion with these people about these proposals. I was hoping to point out to both the legislators and those in attendance that according to the FBI, violent crime in 2011 was at a 19-year low (I believe it was Rep. Buckner who erroneously said that violent crime was increasing). I also wanted to point out that out of all the homicides in the U.S. in 2011, so-called “assault rifles” made up for perhaps 2% of the total and that every school campus will have one murder every 12,000 years. It seems to me that the Democrats, who control both the executive and legislative branches in Colorado, are proposing solutions in search of a problem.

Those were the points I hoped to get across. Fortunately, I did manage to have a civil discussion with Rep. Ryden after the meeting. She was kind enough to allow me to give her a printout of these statistics, the blog post I posted here last week, and my contact information. We shook hands and I thanked her for her time.

Did I make an impression on her? Maybe. I would like to think that  she was more open to listen to my point-of-view as opposed to saying things like “you’re not tak’n mah guns!”

Will she ultimately change her mind? Probably not. But if we want these people to take us seriously, to consider another viewpoint, and if we don’t want these people to think we are the fools the media makes us out to be, we need to stop acting like fools. We should leave that to the other side.

1 3 4 5 6 7 50