Saturday, July 2, 2011

In Praise of Social Security and Welfare

Story Number One:
An eight year old girl spends every day of her life subject to seizures. Sometimes, she would experience a dozen a day, making any kind of normal childhood impossible. She cannot go to school, or play dates, or sleep overs. The doctors have no answers, though they try every drug they know to relieve the symptoms. The approved treatments are useless. The parents are getting desperate.

They stumble on a report that says stem cell treatments may provide a permanent solution to the seizures. However, the treatments are not available in the U.S., and the insurance company will not pay for a trip to Germany. The total bill for the first round of treatments is expected to be around $40,000, but it may as well be $40 million as the parents are strapped and already deeply in debt. What to do?

There are no government agencies to turn to. No programs. No institutions. No charities. The family is all alone with their plight, it seems.

Not entirely. The parents put out a call for assistance. They organize events for family and friends, and friends of friends, to attend and help pitch in toward the little girl's treatments. Through extended connections with hundreds of people, some of whom only have a passing connection with the family, donations start coming in. Event upon event the bank account grows until the total amount needed is assembled.

The little girl goes to Germany, receives treatment for two weeks, and comes back to the U.S. No more seizures. She begins to make developmental progress. She has a chance at a real life.

Story Number Two:
An elderly woman is living alone a dozen miles from the nearest town. She has been blessed with a lifetime of good health, but she is beginning to feel the frailty of her years. One evening, during a particularly bad snowstorm, she has the overwhelming feeling of being trapped and experiences her first panic attack. Since all of her grown sons are out of town, she calls the one who is driving a truck somewhere in Midwest and asks for help. The son calls a neighbor who then runs a snowplow through the old woman's driveway to help ease her mind. When a fuse blows that night, another neighbor stops by to change it. A third neighbor stops in with some cooked food. The woman's mind is eased, her house is lit, and her food needs are met.

The Web of Connections:
In both stories, it was the rich web of social connections that identified the need, assembled the resources, and solved the problem. One was a sustained event that took months to complete, the other was an instant problem that needed prompt attention. Human beings, one at a time, some with only a minor relationship with the victims, stepped up to fill the gaps until the needs were met. No institutions or government programs were contacted, applied to, or enlisted to assist. This was man helping man.

I tell these stories partly because we forget that real social security comes from our social network. We can, and often we do, watch out for one another. That natural compassion that we all (except perhaps sociopaths) feel for each other is our surest, most effective, and most dependable form of security. Government programs can be cut, modified, re-defined, understaffed, defunded and otherwise made unreliable, but the human social network is always there. Indeed, the social network doesn't take a day off. Nor does it have application fees or waiting periods. There are no queues, nor are there waiting lists. The network does not rely on one politician, or one bureaucrat. The network is a sticky web of intersecting concern and compassion by an unknown and unknowable number of people.

The network of social security and welfare has one vulnerability, however. It is susceptible to apathy, the feeling that it's not my problem...that's what we have (name your favorite institution) for. The more powerful the institution (the Church, United Way, the Federal Government) the more apathetic the network. An apathetic network of friends and family is like having no friends or family.

The irony of a compassionate people setting up institutions, especially government institutions, is that it tends to remove the need for the individual to act on behalf of a person in need. Let the government do it, we think. That's what we pay taxes for. But then little girls aren't sent to Germany for needed treatment, and old women don't get their driveways plowed out, their fuse changed, and a hot meal delivered to them late at night.

Privately funded organizations, like the United Way, at least have private commitment to their missions to help people. While an individual contributor may feel that 'they gave at the office' when their assistance is most needed, it takes a conscious effort to agree to support them and their mission. In a pinch, contributors may be tapped to give some more, or to volunteer, or assist in some other way. Government run institutions do not have public participation. They are funded by forced extractions that are often resented by the taxpayers, and they exercise their power rigidly and bureaucratically. They form a wide grid that, while very sturdy, has major gaps between the girders. What's more is that the typical taxpayer comes to believe the government institution has plenty of resources at its' disposal, no matter how meager that funding really is or how dire the needs really are. The people, though concerned about their fellow man, become apathetic about becoming personally involved. The web is no longer sticky. It becomes slick with apathy and needy people start falling through.

Ironically, if there were fewer institutions, and in particular government programs, to deal with human problems, we would naturally have to watch out for each other more. Each and every one of us would become another sticky strand of the network that would catch people as they fell. True caring. True compassion, and determination to use it.

That is what I call real social security.

I wonder how my neighbor is doing...I haven't seen him for a while.

(p.s.--both stories are 100% true)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Faith Based Economics

A person makes an product he doesn't need but that he is willing to trade for things he does need. There is a faith, a deep assumption, that there will be other people making products for which he can swap. He offers his products and other people offer theirs. Trades are made, and everyone is richer. Repeat, and the economy rolls on.

I have just turned Keynesian Economics on its' head.

How so? Because I have not relied on the manipulation of the money supply to make trades possible. I have simply concentrated on a simple truth: there must be production before there can be trade. Keynesian theory holds that there cannot be production without demand, and thus the need for a surplus money supply to always be hunting for more goods to buy, which then 'stimulates' production. Get it? Keynesianism says production comes second, and the clammoring for goods comes first.

But that is not how it really works. People may say they need or want a good, but, until they actually lay their money down to buy it, producers can only guess. Consumers rarely contract for their purchases in advance of production. The farmer does not take orders and prepayment first, then plant the crops to be delivered in the future. No, the farmer takes a chance...he has faith...that he will be able to exchange his crops for money or goods someone else produced that he wants more. The demand is in the production; the demand is the supply.

But the Federal Reserve, and the Keynesian academics, have said that they must manipulate the money via low interest rates to spark consuming in order to encourage production. One can make the observation that goods not sold or exchanged will clog the market place and cause the producers of those goods to stop producing, thereby causing the entire chain of production to slow down or cease altogether. People will lose their jobs. Companies will go bankrupt. So the Federal Reserve must provide 'liquidity' via inflating of the money supply to keep the goods flowing through the marketplace.

But think about their theory traders are coming to the market with nothing to trade. They have no goods or services to offer, just pieces of paper with which they garner some of the marketplace's goodies. They have a sweet deal. No need to sweat to produce, say, a chair to trade for a wheelbarrow. Instead, they can cheaply print up (or borrow) some paper with numbers, and exchange that paper for the wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow makers is impressed with the quick sales. The market seems to be booming, but in fact it is short one chair. The traders who accepted the new money have less to choose from, as there is no chair in sight. As the wheelbarrow maker tries to spend his new money on the limited numbers of goods available, he will bid up prices and end up with less than he expected from his original trade.

The faith that underlies the entire market is an expectation of the availability of tradable goods. To produce a wheelbarrow with no hope of trading for a chair means there is no reason to produce the wheelbarrow in the first place. Production is an act of faith in other's production. If that faith is disrupted, then the amount of produced goods dwindles and the economy declines.

Ahem...I just Googled "supply side economics" on a hunch that I was not the first to think of the market economy as a place where people brought their goods to trade. Sure enough, the description for 'supply side economics' in Wikipedia is almost exactly what I have written above. I was pleased to see that the article referenced the Austrians and Classical economics as the ultimate 'supply siders,' but I was less happy with the general impression that the theory had been disproved. In fact, a tertiary belief, that tax revenues would go up as tax rates went down, was pretty convincingly disproven except in certain circumstances. The rest of the theory, stands.

So much for my 'original' thoughts.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Adam Kokesh Is Dancing

Adam Kokesh is dancing.

We are surrounded, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 360 degrees by a multitude of tiny incremental stupid rules and taxes. Not a single one of them is cause for going to the barracades, but taken together they are more oppressive than the worst dictates of the worst dictators. And our police forces enforce these tiny stupid rules with a violent relish that any tin-pot dictator would approve.

If we think that a fascist state will arrive at our doorstep wearing full riot gear and demanding our obedience, we will be wrong. It will arrive, instead, by stealth and by almost imperceptible increments. It will, almost unnoticed, filch an extra penny from our pockets or require one more line of information on our applications. We think we will see it coming and that we will confront it like free men...with force if necessary. But it is already here, and despite our determination to resist, we cannot identify a single entity to resist against. The mailman who delivers the tax bill? The TV anchor who reports on the new ID rules? The Congressman who doesn't answer mail or phone calls, and whose vote only accounted for 1/3 of 1% of the votes that established the bureaucracy that hired the employees who contracted for the consultant who wrote the regulations that were published without a name?

There is no one to resist against.

The police, better known as Law Enforcement, are 'just doing their jobs' when they see that the rules are followed. They may even sympathize with your plight, but they have mouths to feed just like you. To keep their jobs, they will do whatever they have to, including the ocasional body slam or choke hold against a person who refuses to follow the tiniest of rules. It's not their fault, they say. They are just enforcing the rules. All the rules, no matter how stupid. That's their job. If you don't like the rules, change them. In the meantime, put your hands behind your back, and give them your name, address,....

Those of us who are advocates of liberty are more sensative than most to these restrictions on human freedom. Every little new rule grates on us, but we generally act like most people and learn to adapt. We may complain, but we pay the new taxes, show our ID's when requested, and stand in line for our new permission slips. We do this because it does not seem worth the effort, indeed it seems silly, to confront The Man over another dollar, or a five second flashing of ID card, or one more line asking for gender, date of birth, or race.

But there comes a point when the last indignity is the last one you can bear. To 'normal' people, your defiance is inexplicable. Why not go through the full body scanner? It just takes a few seconds; you're worrying about nothing and inconveniencing everyone.... You are making a mountain out of a molehill, they say. But you see it differently: you see the molehill is on top of the mountain.

So you break. And you do something silly, or at least seemingly silly to others. But it is important to you because, despite all the repressions you have put up with throughout your entire life, you will not take this last one. This last stupid, stupid, stupid rule. You protest, stupidly, doing something silly and over-the-top and out of proportion and crazy.

Adam Kokesh is dancing.

I can see from my life that the line in the sand is behind me, not in front. I should have Just Said No long ago. What will the trigger be that will make me the laughing stock of the neighborhood and an embarrassment to my family? I know it's coming, but I don't know what it is.

What's yours?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Letter to Russ Carnahan

I usually write letters to Russ Carnahan to bash him for his bafflingly stupid votes. Today, however, I found something to congratulate him for:

I would like to commend Rep. Carnahan for voting against the renewal of the Patriot Act. The invasive provisions in that act provide a rich opportunity for various law enforcement agencies, as well as politicians, to collect information on, intimidate, manipulate, and persecute otherwise peaceful citizens. The Fourth Amendment is being violated daily with hardly a peep of concern by our representatives.

I supported Rand Paul's principled stand against government encroachment on our right to be secure in our persons and our papers, unless there is credible probable cause for the commission of a crime, and unless there is a warrant signed by a neutral third party judge who certifies there is legitimate probable cause. In our current fear-based environment, even the most innocent of citizens is subject to suspicion, harrassment, and surveillance, all in the name of making us 'secure' against a real, but vastly overblown, threat of possible 'terrorism.'

There is always a risk that someone may do something violent to others, but the compensating factor in a free society is that at least we have our freedom. However, when a society focuses on absolute security, it never succeeds in acheiving that goal, and in the process it takes away our freedom, too. Terrorism may be bad, but terrorism coupled with a police state is much much worse.

I hope Rep. Carnahan will continue to vote against the destruction of our civil liberties and help support measures that will remove the heavy hand of government from our daily lives.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mr. Paul Goes To Washington

Just a short note: Freshman Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has taken a principled stand against the renewal of the infamous Patriot Act. Despite the general inclination of the Senate to 'go along to get along,' Rand Paul has begun a fillibuster to prevent the Senate from rubber stamping the Patriot Act without a debate. He apparently held the Senate floor for seven hours yesterday in order to frustrate Harry Reid's (D-Nevada) attempt to rush the bill through for a vote.

Good for Rand.

The Patriot Act is an unreadable mishmash of legalese that handed to the FBI, CIA, and NSA extensive powers read and listen to our personal communications, as well as to pry into our personal lives via the issuance of secret National Security Letters and draconian penalties for disclosing to anyone the fact that one has been issued to you.

The Fourth Amendment prevents the Federal government from intruding into our personal lives without probable cause and without a search warrent signed by a neutral judge. The Patriot Act does away with any such niceties. Instead, it has given the National Security State license to run amok with no effective recourse for citizens to stop them.

Rand is proving to be the greatest champion of traditional American liberties, possibly even eclipsing his father.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bin Laden Is Dead, Remember The Maine!

I waited patiently for the President's big announcement. The talking heads on TV had assured me that Mr. Obama would momentarily appear at the podium and deliver some startling news. Some great news. OK, some news about Bin Laden. Earth shattering news about Bin Laden having been...captured or killed! Captured or a Pakistan...

And so the news dribbled out over the next hour while we waited for the procrastinator-in-chief to appear and tell us what we already knew. Thousands of young people gathered outside the White House, many waving little American flags, chanting 'USA, USA, USA,' having been informed by tweets and a spontaneous desire to show support for our President and our Global War On Terror.

The actual speech was mercifully short. It had few details. It was, after an hour of prepping by every talking head that ever drew a paycheck from a network, anticlimactic. Bin Laden had been killed in a firefight in Pakistan. We were in possession of his body.

From the moment I heard the words, I had two conflicting thoughts: I was wrong to believe Bin Laden had been dead since 2001, and this latest announcement was one great big fat lie. The only way to resolve this was to wait for the evidence.

A photo of the dead Bin Laden quickly appeared on Pakistani TV, and was published in the UK Guardian. It was not, as far as I know, issued by the U.S. government, and the photo was quickly exposed by bloggers as a photo shopped fake. Another photo appeared yesterday, again quickly exposed as fake.

By the morning after the announcement, the body had been dumped into the sea. Hmmm. Then it was said the body had been positively identified as Bin Laden through DNA tests, yet skeptics noted that DNA tests generally take a couple of days. The comeback was that the tests are new, faster, and done aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier. Hmmmm. Not verifiable at this time. Then the White House said the photos might be too gruesome to publish, with brains hanging out and all. I don't doubt that, and I personally don't really want to see it...but how else am I to assess the truthfulness of Mr. Obama's claims?

Today, May 4th, the government is backtracking and saying the events did not unfold exactly as originally announced. Bin Laden was not armed. Nor did he use a wife as a shield. Both were shot dead. Hmmmm. What else will we learn in time?

So here I am, once again thinking...this is all a big fat lie to be lined up with all the other big fat lies that have caused the world so much harm in the last 100 years.

A short history of lies:

1. Sinking of the USS Maine: Caused by a coal fire, not the Spanish navy. Tens of thousands of innocent Filipinos are put in concentration camps or die in our dirty war sparked by a lie.

2. Sinking of the Lusitania: Was carrying munitions, which made it a military target, but the U.S. government didn't tell the civilian passengers they were at risk. The Germans were within the rules of war to torpedo it. Nevertheless, the U.S. uses the sinking as the reason to get us into WWI, which extended the war, killed millions more, resulted in the punitive Treaty of Versailles, and gave Hitler something to rally the German people around.

3. Pearl Harbor: Hardly a sneak attack, it was the calculated result of U.S. foreign policy to push the Japanese into making the first "overt act." Our soldiers and sailors were left, undefended and blind, as bait for a trap set to ensnare the Japanese and allow the U.S. to enter WWII. Millions died.

4. Gulf of Tonkin: The attack never happened. The President knew it, but he used it as an excuse to send ground troops into Vietnam. 58,000 Americans died, and about 2 million Vietnamese.

5. Gulf War I: We green lighted Iraq's attack on Kuwait, then we were shocked, SHOCKED, that Iraq invaded Kuwait. The rest is history. Hundreds of thousands died.

6. Gulf War II: No weapons of mass destruction. But that was the official reason for our attack on Iraq, with a little Bin Laden fear mongering thrown in to sweeten the story. All lies. About a million Iraqis died.

I could go on about the Jessica Lynch story, the Pat Tillman fable, and the most recent proven complete fabrication by Susan Rice that the Libyan army was issuing Viagra to it's soldiers as they went on a killing and raping spree. All completely made up stories intended to manipulate the American public. Sadly, Ms Rice still has her White House job.

Our government has lied repeatedly. Pathologically. That is not to say they don't sometimes tell the truth, but for god's sake, we can't be expected to know the truth from the fabrications unless we see evidence. "Because we said so" just doesn't cut it anymore.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hate Mail?

I received my first piece of...hate mail? I'm not sure how to interpret it. Maybe not hate for me...certainly hate for Ayn Rand...but by association, me too? I'm just not sure.

I had read an anti-Rand article in the Post Dispatch in which the writer mistated Rand's philosophy. I subsequently sent a Letter to the Editor to clarify the 'selfish' versus 'unselfish' issue, noting that Rand's philosophy did not prohibit donating to causes and helping people who you felt you wanted to help.

The response in the on-line discussion was swift and brutal from one particular detractor. I learned I was trying to keep the poor man down and enrich the rich. I wrote a couple of follow-up notes to my critic (I kept it clean, no name calling, no insinuation that his dog had more brains), and left it at that.

A couple of days later I received, in the mail, an small envelope with my name and address hand-scrawled in messy block letters on an angle across the front. No return address. When I opened it, I found a single sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper, folded mutiple times to fit the small envelope, with the following message written in the same hastily drawn block letters:


That was all. No name. No 'Sincerely.' I'm not sure why the writer took the time and effort, and the 44 cent stamp, to express that particular message. Not exactly an argument. Hell, I don't know what to make of it, other than that it was supposed to make me think otherwise about Rand.

Maybe I would have, if the writer could have told me why Rand is a 'phony and a fraud.' I'm open to new evidence. But none was offered, so I am left to wonder what information the writer had that I do not.

Rand, and anyone who speaks well of her, elicits these kinds of responses. To some extent, Rand deserved it, as I noted in an earlier post. She was abrasive and she enjoyed labeling people in uncomplimentary ways. So she got back what she gave. Still, the over-the-top emotionalism of her detractors is puzzling.

Oh well, this letter goes into my 'keepers' as a kind of trophy. The menacing quality of it is discard.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: a Reconsideration

I am rereading Atlas Shrugged.

When I was in high school, a couple of self-described 'socialists' verbally pinned me to the wall and peppered me with questions to which I had no answers. My mile wide/inch deep opinions were quickly exposed, and my stuttering confusion was obvious to everyone. Growing up in a conservative Republican household does not really prepare one to do intellectual battle with the forces of evil...hell...I would have lost an intellectual fight with a stone.

So, in my embarrassment, I had three choices: shut up, accept the 'socialist' arguments (this was during the Cold War and this was NOT going to happen), or find some answers on my own. My visit to the local library yielded almost nothing on the subject of free markets or capitalism. The only book I found in the card catalog, circa 1973, was "Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal," by Ayn Rand.

What a mind-blowing treasure trove! The book was not just a defense of capitalism, it was an attack on all non-capitalist systems. The logic was direct and powerful. It gave me live ammunition to use against my socialist tormentors...but it also opened up a divide between myself and mainstream conservatives.

At seventeen, I took on "Atlas Shrugged." If any book ever ruined a young man, this was it. The novel is over 1100 pages long, but I remember being so caught up in the story that I was disappointed when I had finished it. I had gotten sucked in. Life in the book was more real than the life I was living. This is not an uncommon phenomenon among young readers of Rand...that's how most 'Randoids' are created. I spent several years believing the answers to damned near any question could be found in one of the innumerable speeches, especially Galt's speech. I was insufferable to my friends and anyone unfortunate enough to be caught around me. I had the worst intellectual disease one can have: absolute certainty.

The circles I travelled in, however, did not think highly of Rand. She, her philosophy, and her novels, were denigrated as elitist, doggerel, simplistic, and unreadable. Though I initially vehemently disagreed, I faced three of decades of dismissive statements by uncountable academics, friends, pundits, and family. I ultimately came to believe that Rand was a flawed philosopher with mediocre writing skills. Whenever I dared to come to the defense of Atlas Shrugged, I usually started with "I know it is a deeply flawed novel, but...."

Let me apologize to Rand, post mortem. Atlas is a wonderful story. It is written with power, and color, and depth, and sensitivity. Contrary to what her critics claim, the story is internally consistent, the characters are complex, and the prose is direct...with pejorative power. This latter trait...the derogatory words used to describe commonly accepted political, economic, moral, and philosophical positions...makes her entertaining and enlightening to those who agree with her, but utterly disgusting to those who do not. Thus she is a lightning rod.

While I am always surprised at the intensity of the venom directed at Rand and her writings, I should not be. To a great extent, Rand gets back what she gives. She labels those who advocate for a welfare state "looters." Ok, I get it. Just like looters, they take from rightful owners, so they are morally and functionally little different from a common thief, albeit with the goal of "helping" people. Nevertheless, using the term "looters" virtually guarantees that advocates of the welfare state will cease to seriously consider the arguments put forward and instead strike back with their own put-downs. If Rand was intending to win over the people she thought were wrong headed "looters" with the force of her logic and the power of her words, she might have considered reading 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' before deciding how to label them. "Looters" and "moochers" was not a good place to start, because the push back resulted in similar name calling, such as "fascist," "Darwinian," "power worshipper," "egotistical," and "cult leader." Discussion of Rand usually gets no farther than this. The vocabulary gets in the way.

Her abrasiveness toward the people she believed held a faulty ideology aside, what about the other accusations? Prose style? Character development? Plot line?

Rand's writing style is unique. Some people don't like it. I do. Hemingway had economy of words. Carlyle had biting verbosity. Shakespeare had poetry. Rand had an argument. She worked her ideas over with argumentative insistence, drilling down, down, through her characters and through their language to find the underlying premises. The style, therefore, seems to be direct, and as I said earlier, pejorative. If you agree with her, her language is celebratory. Yes!, you say, finally someone calling a spade a spade! If you disagree, however, it is doggerel. Eleven hundred pages of doggerel.

I used to believe Rand wrote two dimensional characters. Good guys. Bad guys. Stick figures spouting philosophy. Upon rereading Atlas, however, nothing could be further from the truth.
How did the critics miss it? How did I miss it? The self-torture of Hank Reardon. The crushing loneliness of Dagny Taggart. The conflicting loves of Francisco d'Anconia? One must understand their inner lives if one is to understand the things that they do and say. Far from being purple prose, the language these characters use provides the clues to their thoughts as they attempt to reconcile their inner conflicts. Rand leaves us the bread crumbs to follow, but we, the readers, must be willing to follow. Without understanding the inner conflicts, we cannot make sense of Hank's coldness and his inexplicable insults toward Dagny, the woman he loves, at Wyatt's house. Or Francisco's aloofness punctuated by tears. Or Dagny rejecting Hank. Many readers will refuse to follow, for reason's mentioned above, so the characterizations seem strangely stiff and bizarre. For example, they often refer to the sex scenes as sadistic/masochistic rape scenes because they cannot understand the push and pull going on in the characters' psyches. There is more to the characters than appears on the surface. It's a pity it has taken me many years to fully appreciate the depth of the characterizations, and it is unlikely the negative critics will ever discover it.

When viewing a play, it has been said that an audience member has an obligation to suspend belief or the play cannot work. I think the same is true for reading a novel. I will admit that I have read novels that I could not 'get into' because for one reason or another I refused to suspend my disbelief. I never had that problem with Atlas Shrugged. Viewed from the inside, the plot development is internally coherent. Actions and events flow from their antecedents and further the story and the themes. I find the plot to be illustrative of the process by which societies go into decline, and so from that standpoint it is also coherent outside the story. Critics have dissed the plot as 'contrived' because it involves things that haven't happened (the collapse of the economy), or unlikely to happen (new source of energy from static electricity, or the disappearance of the most productive members of society...correction...that DID happen in Eastern Europe during the Brain Drain after WWII). Yet critics forget that fiction can do this...all it demands is internal consistency, not scientific proof. I cannot fault the plot. I find it an acceptable frame on which to hang the characters and the themes.

My new-found, or re-found, appreciation of Atlas Shrugged, and Ayn Rand, comes at a time when much of what she warned of is coming true. The corporatism, or crony-capitalism, of our modern society (Think G.E., Halliburton, Boeing) looks eerily like Orren Boyle's Associated Steel, or Paul Larken's mines. Government 'experts' on energy, the environment, and technology sound like Dr. Ferris from the State Science Institute, and the executive orders of Barack Obama sound like the pronouncements of Wesley Mouch. Is life imitating art? Or was Rand onto something when she said the primary evil in the world is the acceptance of the creed that we must give up our selves for the good of our communities and the country. President Obama recently opined how it is good to sacrifice some people (the rich) for the common good (a balanced national budget). This could have come directly out of the pages of Atlas...but the critics would have considered it nothing but exaggerated 'tea bagger' paranoia. Rand anticipated Obama because she recognized, and named, the principle under which he operates. Obama is just the latest in a long line of men who saw it as their right to demand sacrifice from others...then to stand there and collect the booty.

If Rand was right, and I believe she was, then the lessons of Atlas Shrugged have not yet been learned. Collectivism is still on the march. Our lives are not our own, from the assertion of government power to extract any tax they wish, to the power to regulate any behavior they don't like, to the power to lock away and torture people they fear (Bradley Manning?). I know we will not have learned our lesson until we can say "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will not live for the sake of another man nor ask another man to live for the sake of mine."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sharing a good piece of writing

I wrote a pretty good piece over at the Daily Paul. Unfortunately, I'm not able to cut and paste to put it here, so below is the link.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Light Came On

A light came on in my head. A moment of insight that still has me reeling. No, it's nothing profound that has never been thought of or said before. It's my own little spark of connection, simplification, and...awe.

My entire adult life has been spent reading about, thinking about, and talking about libertarianism, always struggling with the issues of public policy and 'how we get there from here' kind of subjects. The reason for all of the study, thought, and discussion is that the world is full of people who discount libertarian ideas as false, impractical, or idealistic. Of course, my argument has been that the ideas are true, eminently practical...and what's wrong with idealism if the ideals are right?

With a few notable exceptions, hardly anybody changes their minds during an argument or discussion. Usually people, especially poorly informed or misinformed people, bury themselves deeper into their belief system when they are challenged. I suppose this is natural. Nobody wants to be wrong. It strikes too close to our definition of ourselves, and we fear recanting, looking foolish, losing face, and believing we are lesser persons for having been corrected by another. The longer we hold a position, the harder to admit it has been proven false.

I have been operating under the assumption that if I could just find the right comfort and convince, and...and...convert. So I played with words and arguments, forming them the way a never-satisfied wannabe sculpture artist tortures clay, to make all men into libertarians like me. Always failing. Always trying again. And again. I can be a bore at parties.

It was all so unnecessary. The light that came on was the realization that, without any argument, all men were already libertarians. All men and women, universally, around the world and across cultures and across national boundaries and regardless of religion, race, occupation, or gender, are naturally libertarians. Civil society could not exist if they were not, for libertarianism is nothing more, and nothing less, than treating other people and their property with respect. We all do this everyday and everywhere. Human interactions are overwhelmingly made up of personal contacts between equals. We live near, sell to, buy from, trade with, and leave alone others every single day. At no time do we feel it is our right to steal, maim, intrude, or kill. Those things are wrong in all cultures and all political systems. A society in which killing and stealing is every one's right is doomed to failure as it descends into war and flight. A non-libertarian society will not be a civil society, it will be a wasteland.

The struggle is not to sell libertarianism, but to illustrate the disconnect between our personal morals and our political convictions. It is no more right for me to put a gun to my neighbor's head and demand forty percent of their cash than it is for me to vote for someone to hire someone to put a gun to my neighbor's head and demand forty percent of their cash. Proxy politics removes the thought of moral culpability, but it does not remove the reality. Voting for politicians who vote for an aggressive war in which ninety percent of the casualties are civilians has the same moral dimensions as personally shooting an innocent, cowering Afghan peasant woman. We cannot be excused from the crime because our vote was filtered through politicians, generals, layers of military officers, until it arrived in the hands of a half-boy-half-man with an attitude and a gun.

Personal libertarianism must be reconnected to public libertarianism. That is our most urgent task and our moral duty.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Robert Parker

I met Robert Parker in the Spring of 1983 at a Hillsdale College graduation party. He was the father of Lisa, a classmate of mine. Mr. Parker, a slight man with white hair and an openly friendly expression on his face, approached me and struck up small talk about how I liked Hillsdale and how my year went.

He was aware that I was going to school for a semester, then taking a semester off to earn money, then going back for another semester, etc. I had already done that twice and was prepared to do that two more times in order to get my degree. Four years to finish my last two years of college. He asked if I liked doing it that way. I replied that it wasn't a matter of liking or disliking it, it was a fact of life and I had accepted that. Mr. Parker asked the same question again in a different way, then again, and each time I answered that it really wasn't up for was what it was. He pressed...would I continue that way if I had access to enough funds to complete my education in one year?

I paused, confused. What was he proposing, I asked. Well, he said, how about a $4000 loan repayable after graduation. That would be the equivalent of about $12000 in today's money. Not an insignificant sum for a seasonal roofing laborer.

I was dumbfounded. Mr. Parker barely knew me. We had only just met, yet based on stories from his daughter and from our brief discussion, he and his wife were willing to float me a loan, with no collateral, so I could finish school earlier than planned.

Cutting to the chase: I took the loan. I finished school in the Spring of 1984, got a job with May Company, and repayed the loan in about eighteen months, a year earlier than planned.

I can't say I was good at staying in touch with Mr. and Mrs. Parker over the years, but that does not mean I did not think of them regularly. They came to my wedding in Cleveland in 1988. The Parkers dropped off a guitar once, while passing through Cleveland on their way to Pittsburgh where their daughter was living. Mrs. Parker would write letters every few months to keep me updated with what was going on in their lives. I dont' really remember, but I hope I wrote back. She passed away suddenly in the 1990's, and I think of her every time I pick up the guitar, which is almost every day.

My contact with Mr. Parker continued in the form of yearly "He Said/She Said" letters that my wife and I stuff into our Christmas cards. Mr. Parker would respond with a short friendly note, or through a comment included on one of Lisa's letters. (They are wonderfully funny letters, by the way, and I have kept every one of them.) I noticed in his letter from 2009 that we, he and I, shared deep misgivings about our country's direction and our current crop of political leaders. To have Mr. Parker in my foxhole seemed...comforting.

I was always aware that time was not my friend, and that one day I would have to deal with the inevitable loss of people who have been important to me. My father died in 1999. My wife's extraordinary Aunt Dot passed away around that time. This year, when addressing the Christmas card to Mr. Parker, I had the passing thought that one year the card would come back...

Shortly after Christmas, I received a large envelope in the mail. It was from Lisa. I knew, just knew, what it was going to tell me. I opened it. Read it. Sat and cried.

Robert Parker had passed away in the Spring of 2010. His passing was painless, and his daughter was with him. She detailed how they spent the last few weeks together, preparing, remembering, laughing, being happy. His eulogy, delivered by Lisa at his memorial, was typical of her: funny, insightful, deeply touching. Of course I wish I could have been there. But reading it, by myself, and letting the emotions flow, was in some ways better.

There are people who, without meaning to, teach life lessons by example. More than anything, I was affected by Mr. Parker's gentility. He was refined but not haughty, thoughtful but not didactic, and generous but not foolhardy. I can only hope to conduct myself in a similar manner. If, one day, I come upon a young person who deserves a bit of help, and if I am in a position to make a difference, I hope to have the, the do a good thing.

p.s.--My father and Mr. Parker met at my college graduation. In discussion, it turned out both men were the same age, both had been drafted in World War II, both men served in the South Pacific, and both men were on the same island on the same day, at the same place. They determined this because they both remembered being present when a ship exploded in the harbor. After the War, Mr. Parker went to college and became a lawyer while my father went to work as a truck driver, then a commercial fisherman, and finally as a self-employed logger. One man became a man of letters, one man could barely read. It was a study in contrasts, but it was also a study in similarities. Both men were admirable for their integrity and doing the best they could. That, in my opinion, is what gives meaning to life.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Simple Statement

The core idea of the libertarian philosophy is simple:
That all persons are equally free to live their lives as they see fit.

The "equal freedom" principle has a corollary: no person is entitled to initiate force against another.

Both statements, taken together, form a philosophical yin and yang, an image of positive and negative in the same way the dark image in an Escher print is the outline of the exact same image in the white space.

As an organizing principle for a society, libertarianism supports the rule of law, limits on government power, fairness in jurisprudence, and property rights. If a society attempts to operate without this as an organizing principle it leads to unlimited government power, pressure group politics, plastic rules of fairness in court, and no security of person or property. Many of the great democratic/republican convulsions of the 1700's and 1800's had a strong libertarian core. They were revolting against the despotism of kings and dictators who respected no rules of human fairness. Today, there is only a faint shadow of libertarian principles in old words, barely understood, written on faded parchment. The recent reading of the Constitution by the House of Representatives was a concrete demonstration of pious recitation without comprehension.

On a personal level, however, libertarianism is alive and strong. I would go so far as to say that most people, regardless of where they live, understand and practice libertarianism in their personal lives. In fact, I doubt any civil society can long survive without a firm foundation in the interpersonal respect for each other's person and property.

Wherever you go, the rules of interpersonal relations are the same:

Don't hit, don't hurt, don't murder.
Don't steal.
Don't cheat.

The world continues to function because people everywhere practice these rules. A homeowner can keep a nice lawn because of the reasonable assurance no one will drive on it and do 'donuts' in the middle of the night. A shop owner can put goods in easy reach of strangers because he is reasonably sure the strangers will pay for them instead of steal them. An employee will do work for an employer for two weeks because of reasonable assurance they will be compensated at a specified time in the future. A pedestrian will walk down a sidewalk with the reasonable assurance he will not be accosted by thugs.

All of this is possible because each person carries within him a small voice saying: treat others and their belongings with circumspect respect. When enough of a society practices this principle, there is civil tranquility.

There are examples, however, of places where 'reasonable assurance' is not so reasonable. East St Louis. Detroit. Liberia. Why? It's not because people in general have rejected the idea of personal libertarianism. If that were the case, there would be a free-for-all of stealing, assault, and murder without a regret expressed. But because the majority of people living in those cursed places recognize the gross unfairness imposed on them by crooks and thugs, it can be said that their repugnance at the violence and criminality is their statement of desire for libertarian civility. Even most crooks realize what they do is harmful to others and try to hide their actions from view. Only the sociopaths have no consideration for others.

If people took their personal libertarianism and extended it to politics, the resulting government would concern itself only with protection of persons and their property from violence, theft, and fraud. The courts would focus on restitution to victims where possible, not vengeful punishment or coercive behavior modification. Incarceration would be limited to those who cannot be safely allowed to walk the streets: sociopaths. Unless a society is dominated by sociopaths, it is unlikely to need much of a government.

Why is it our politics is so unlibertarian? Because the people have been taught for over 100 years that there is something magical about governments and government officials. The Progressive Era included a faith in experts, bureaucracy (not always a pejorative word), and concentrated government power. The result was a disconnect between our personal lives and our political lives. We would never, personally, put a gun to our neighbor's head, take half of his money, and consider it our right to do so. However, we have accepted the idea that we are justified in doing the same thing as long as we have our 'representative' do it for us. We know it is not our business to force our neighbor to live only in a manner that we approve of, but we feel righteous demanding that our representative licence, tax, regulate, and punish personal lives. We would call it murder if we personally pulled the trigger to intentionally murder an illiterate farmer on the other side of the earth who has never done us harm, yet we demand our representatives put in motion a killing machine that accomplishes the same thing, and we wave flags and 'support the troops' in their misbegotten mission. Personally we respect each other and our property, politically we cancel that respect by endorsing government theft and murder.

(It should be no surprise that the people who tell us these actions are right and justified are themselves sociopaths. See the parallels between politicians and sick sociopaths below:

I will blog on this angle another time.)

Personal libertarianism, practiced consistently, leads to a political system and policies very different from the ones we currently live under. I venture to say that only personal libertarianism can save us from the continued confiscation and despotism we are enduring.