Fearless Reason

Fearless reason in an age of frightened absurdity.

Tag: libertarian

Big Problems, Little Solutions

It is often said that America has big problems that require big solutions. To this, I would say they are half right. We as a country have much to overcome, not least of which is getting our financial house in order. However, as the fiscal cliff looms, and one “big deal” after another gives way to temporary solutions and the kicking of the can down the road, these problems seem ever more insurmountable.

At a time when neither party seems to be able to agree on anything, both appear to agree that the federal government is and should be primarily responsible for addressing the country’s woes. I would contend however, that the fate of this nation should not be left in the hands of a few men with enormous power. The hope of our country, as always, lies in the vast resource of our people.

In the face of insurmountable problems, I propose our federal leaders take radical action. In fact I propose they do the hardest thing anyone with power can do, which is to relinquish that power. America learned long ago that free market capitalism is most conducive to an efficient, innovative and prosperous economy. When people are free to make their own decisions and prosper from them, they innovate, solve problems and by their individual actions create a better more prosperous world. On the other hand, the end of the Cold War and the decline and fall of the Soviet Union taught us that a centralized command economy becomes unsustainable when it reaches a certain level of complexity. A handful of bureaucrats cannot match the efficiency, innovation and flexibility of the invisible hand of the free market.

It is time we recognize that these lessons are not limited to the economic functions of government, but are applicable across the board. Centralization of policy and decision-making at the federal level has resulted in a bloated inefficient federal government, which is incapable of innovation or even carrying out the basic functions of governing. Therefore, I would urge our federal leaders to step aside, and restore to state and local governments the power to govern their people.

We must free the hands of local and state leaders, who understand the problems facing their people. Let the federal government do only that which the federal government can, and leave to the states all else. This was the original vision of our founders and constitution, before the Court rendered the tenth amendment moot. That is not to say I am advocating a return to Lochner, where industry was allowed to run amuck; what I suggest is a return to localism, and re-establishing state and local governments as the focal point of American political life. Let the most ardent red states and blue states realize their most radical ideological excesses, and let the rest of the country learn from their follies and follow a middle path incorporating their successes.

Give to the states the management and control of social security, medicare and medicaid, and give them the power to fund them. Those states that walk a wise and compassionate path that balances the needs of the most vulnerable with economic growth will prosper, while those who chose another path will fail. Those who do not vote at the ballot box will vote with their feet, and the ideological winners and losers will quickly become apparent by the success or failure of their states.

America is a large and diverse country, filled with talented people with different values and ideas. Yet the fate of all has been hitched to the decisions and faults of a few men in Washington, who with their narrow scope of experiences and ideas go about making policy for all. Where the wisdom of a few fails, perhaps the wisdom of the many can do better.

Liberty Revisted

Liberty is a word that has become a rallying cry for both the left and right. Liberals evoke it in the name of their personal sense of justice, while some conservatives use it narrowly, to express their right to be free of moochers and freeloaders, and to impose their personal sense of morality. But liberty is more than a catchphrase to be pulled out of a politician’s pocket on the Forth of July. Liberty is the cornerstone of American identity, and its meaning must be defended as vigorously as the thing it represents.

At its core, liberty is the power or scope to act as one pleases. This absolute freedom is then limited somewhat when we agree to live socially, so that liberty comes to mean the power to act as one pleases, without interfering with the freedom of others. In this respect every law and regulation should serve the purpose of expanding overall freedom, and not curtailing it. If a law does not meet this simple maxim, it must fail.

Our current social order has moved far away from this simple notion. We regulate in the name of humanity, morality and the desire to control. We diminish liberty, little by little, because we believe doing so serves a greater good. But there is no greater good than the right and ability to be free.

A key component of conservative thought has always been to differentiate between government action and private action. Simple reason will tell you that we are “in it together,” and that “no man is an island.” These are simple truths of the civilized man. The liberal does not have the corner on humanity or justice. The real and often obfuscated difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals consider government to be the only legitimate arbiter of justice, and the soul provider of human dignity. The conservative on the other hand realizes that a government cannot create a right in one person without creating an obligation that must be borne by everyone else – an obligation, which carries the force of government coercion. Government mandated humanity is not humanity – it is coercion, and no amount of platitudes or high minded intentions will ever change that. Humanity can only be exercised by humans, who undertake such action of their own free will, and humane intentions. It is true, not every person will live up to the high standard of what is to be human, but certainly no inanimate governmental machine ever will.

The liberal would impose justice and humanity, through the inhuman means of government coercion. The conservative puts the burden on the individual, to create with their own free action the world they wish to live in. Only when one lives with the consequences of their own freely taken actions can one learn and grow.

Dually Damned

Every election cycle our respective political parties wage holy war on one another, and do their very best to convince the electorate that the other party’s victory would be a calamity of doom’s day proportions. This dualistic version of the two party system has caused our political discourse to devolve into the broadest and most fundamental ideological propositions possible, with each party painting the choices as an all or nothing proposition.

As the race for the White House heats up, the political discourse is entering the familiar contour of a basic choice between justice or liberty. The just, it is said, will vote Democratic, while the free will vote Republican. Therefore, depending on your perspective, a vote for one or the other will lead to tyranny and/or injustice.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this false and dualistic picture of American politics is that the candidates and parties both seem to encourage this farce. Every election is portrayed as a mortal struggle of good versus evil, and each time, the parties and candidates ask us to chose or forever be damned, between right and wrong, and freedom or justice.

There was a time in our political history, when the welfare of our country and people was the paramount concern of politicians and parties alike. Politics still had the element of duality seen today, but there seemed to be an understanding that once the election was over, the farce would be put aside, and everyone would undertake the nuanced task of governing. While elections may be portrayed as referendums on good versus evil, governing is compromise, nuance and consensus building. Our leaders seem to have forgotten the most fundamental rule observed by conmen and hucksters alike – and that is, never believe your own lie.

Political duality is no longer just the rhetoric of the politician trying to mobilize his base, it is the political reality of our dysfunctional and gridlocked political system. Regardless of who takes the White House, don’t expect anything to change. Obama and Romney have each defined themselves and this race in terms of duality – of good versus evil, and wrong versus right. Yet what few seem to acknowledge is that what may be virtue to one man is vice to another, and that calamity of voices and opinions is expressed in the body of our congress and senate. One party will never capture all three branches of power, nor should they. This dream of total control, which has become the obsession of both parties, has no place in this Republic.

We are a nation of different interests, opinions and values Рeach with a voice in deciding how we should be governed. We are a nation of many, all with different values and idiosyncrasies that cannot be expressed in a black and white picture. Our choices are limited, but we as a people are not. The electorate must reject the childish and false dichotomy in which our political choices have been painted, and instead, demand nuance, variety and compromise.

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union, must remember that we are both a just and free nation.

Blinded by Humanity

The word “humanity” is widely used to describe the noblest and most uniquely human qualities one can possess. One with great humanity is often admired for their charity, compassion and empathy. Those who best exemplify these characteristics are sometimes held out as saints, while those deficient in them are derided as inhuman. Though personal humanity is admirable, too much charity, empathy and compassion on the part of governments leads to inhuman results.

Unemployment in the United States is at 8.6%, with real unemployment thought to be much higher. Though this number is lower than the previous 9% unemployment, this slight drop is largely credited to the fact that many people have simply stopped looking for work. Of the 13.3 million American’s out of work, 5.7 million are classified as long-term unemployed, accounting for 43% of all unemployed persons. In addition to the 7.6 million Americans unemployed, 1.1 million people are classified as “discouraged workers,” which means they have not looked for work in 4 weeks of more, because they believe there is no work for them.

These startling numbers lead one to wonder how these people are supporting themselves if they are not working. The long and short answer seems to be government assistance. One in six Americans is receiving some kind of assistance from the government. Enrollment in Medicaid and food stamp programs are at record highs, while unemployment insurance rolls remain at elevated levels. With many people depending on more than one program.

Approximately 46 million people receive food stamps, and in 2010 a record 18.3% of the nation’s total personal income was a payment from the government for Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other programs. Also, in 2010, wages accounted for the lowest share of income – 51% – since the government began keeping track in 1929. With Americans recieving an average of $7,427 in benefits each, up from an inflation-adjusted $4,763 in 2000 and $3,686 in 1990. In 2009 American dependence on government grew by 13.6%, with American dependence on government being 14 times greater than it was in 1962.

In a very real sense the Federal government has insulated the American people from the worst of the “Great Recession.” But at what cost? The United States’ debt currently stands at $15 trillion, and is expected to increase an average of $3.96 billion per day. In May of 2010 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked the United States second among the countries that must reduce their structural deficit or risk financial calamity. The IMF predicts that U.S. public sector debt will equal 100% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015 unless immediate action is taken to cut the deficits by an amount equal to 12% of GDP. Even Greece needs to cute its deficits only by 9% of its national output.

As you can see there is a very strong correlation between unemployment, government assistance and the national deficit. When people do not work they become dependent on the government, and as more people collect benefits instead of paying taxes the government must go in ever more debt to pay the benefits. The result is a very real and dangerous disconnect between the real economy and people’s everyday lives, which postpones economic hardship for the present only to face exponentially greater hardship in the future.

Our modern sensibilities have lead many to believe that it is the government’s duty to protect us from economic hardship, pain, and suffering. So it is with sympathy and understanding that the Democrats assume their traditional role of supporting the “working man,” and advocate the extension of long-term unemployment benefits and other government assistance, while Republicans grudgingly give into these demands – fearing the political fallout if they do not. Our general sense of humanity causes us to prompt the government to intervene and protect us from hardship, but this humanity also blinds us to what must be done.

Social safety nets like long term unemployment benefits give people a luxury they previously did not have; which is to wait for work they want rather than take the jobs available. The liberal inclination is to say this is a good thing. That it allows people to spend their time looking for a job suited to their skill set, rather than work short term in a job they are ill suited for. However, I would argue this seeming act of humanity engenders dependence, is fiscally irresponsible, and obstructs economic recovery.

Ironically, in this time of economic stagnation news stories abound of employers with jobs but no employees to fill them. Though it is true many of these jobs are difficult, dirty or in undesirable locations, they nevertheless are good jobs at which one can make a decent living. However, the fact that these jobs are difficult and dirty is a deterrence for many, who grew up in a service economy with the belief that manual labor is somehow beneath them. So, rather than take one of these jobs that they are “unsuited for,” many sustain themselves with unemployment benefits and other government assistance while searching for that clean and easy office job that their college degree or upbringing has caused them to expect.

There is something to be said for the motivating power of desperation. Being faced with the possibility of an empty stomach and no way to keep a roof over your head tends to make people willing to take any job, no matter how “ill suited” they may be for it, or how undesirable the location. As seen in books like Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” during the Great Depression people were willing to do whatever was necessary to survive. They went to where the work was, no matter how menial or how far away.

Providing people with the luxury of foregoing available jobs in order to wait for their ideal job adversely effects the larger economy in several ways. For one, it allows people’s expectations of what the economy should be dictate their vocation rather than economic demand. That means rather than work at what is needed, people are inclined to forgo available work in order to search for a job in their desired field. Simple logic and economics will tell you that without demand for a product or service there can be no economic return. Another adverse consequence of people letting their expectations get out of touch with demand is that the parts of the economy that would normally recover first after a recession will be unable to do so for lack of sufficient workers. Only stagnation can result when a society allows expectations to trump actual supply and demand.

A better use for the money being spent on long-term unemployment benefits and other social safety nets would be economic policies that encourage people to take the jobs available, either through training or a tax credit to businesses that would encourage them to pay the relocation costs for new employees. In this way, rather than paying people not to work, we would be paying people to move to where the jobs are.

We are blinded by our humanity, and it is our collective good intentions that will pave the road to economic hell. European countries have had high unemployment rates and robust social safety nets for decades – a trend that is now causing economic calamity amongst their governments. The path to economic recovery lies in the American traditions of self-reliance, entrepreneurship and innovation – not dependence and debt. We must show that we have the stomach to bear the short term pain of our current economic hardship if we are to achieve long term prosperity. It is a delusion to believe you can insulate people from the real economy through government spending. This leads only to crippling national debt and stagnant economies. Human suffering is a tragedy, but governments cannot and should not be the guarantors of every individual’s happiness and prosperity.