All posts by Jeff Kimble

State Sanctioned Make-Believe

Children love to play ‘make-believe’.  Younger children are often enamored with inanimate but active objects like bulldozers and tractors.  We’ve probably all seen toddlers zoom around the room with their arms straight out to the side pretending to be an airplane.  As they get older, make-believe becomes more complex and social.  Children join together in groups of two or more and pretend to be cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians or mommy or daddy.

Though not perfectly accurate, ‘make-believe’ is very descriptive of the cognitive process involved.  Children use their imaginations to ‘make’ (as in, to create or fabricate) a ‘belief’ for their purpose of play and entertainment.  What they create isn’t really a belief so much as a fiction which they will themselves to accept on a temporary basis as a predicate to their preconceived plan to have fun.  Adults naturally understand what they’re doing and often play along to be helpful and encouraging.  Importantly, neither the children nor the adults have any misconception about what is real during any part of this process.  The children always remain aware that they aren’t actually airplanes, cowboys or parents and the adults understand that the children are not deluding themselves or anyone else.

The ‘make-believe’ associated with the gender identity issue is quite different.  The belief created isn’t a temporary acceptance of an acknowledged fiction.  Rather, it is the embracing of one’s personal feeling or desire as a proxy for objective reality. The ‘belief’ created is long term and adopted as an individual’s chosen ‘reality’ rather than momentary and adopted only to serve a passing purpose.  Regardless of what one might think of an individual’s decision to delude himself in such a manner, those who value liberty and individualism have little problem leaving him to his decision so long as it isn’t being imposed on anyone else.  But the calculus changes when he or his agents take action to impose his chosen false sense of reality upon others.

California recently enacted the “Gender Recognition Act” which will allow citizens of that state to change the gender on their birth certificates and driver’s licenses without having undergone any treatment or surgery.  Further, those who do not identify as either male or female will now be able to choose a third option – “nonbinary” – essentially declaring themselves to be genderless or gender ‘neutral’.

Some may suggest that California is doing no more than the adults in the childhood make-believe scenarios – trying to be helpful or encouraging to those who’ve chosen to delude themselves as to the biological reality of their gender.  But the State of California is not an individual adult acting only for himself in the context of an isolated event of childhood play.  It is the state and experience well demonstrates that the actions of the state often have much wider implications than might first appear.  The state’s willingness to give its imprimatur to that which is objectively untrue rightfully gives rise to questions about what might follow with respect to policy initiatives, funding, or even the potential of protected class status for those who ‘believe’ themselves to be that which they are not.  Should such wider implications materialize, the liberties of citizens who choose not to affirm such objective falsehoods may be jeopardized or disadvantaged.

Winston Smith, the lead character in George Orwell’s “1984”, got into trouble with the government because he wrote that “freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four.”  His antagonist and representative of the state was a party official named O’Brien.  O’Brien showed Winston four fingers and tortured Winston until he finally acknowledged an objective falsehood – that O’Brien was holding up five fingers.  It’ difficult to imagine that California will resort to torture to force it’s citizens to acknowledge the objective falsehoods it has chosen to countenance as reality.  The potential coercions we could more realistically envision are gentler but no less an affront to individual liberty.  Torture isn’t necessary for tyranny to exist.  Torture is only one means of denying a person his individual rights.  It would be tyrannical for California to take any action to affect an individual citizen’s willingness or ability to affirm objective reality.  Just as “freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four”, freedom is the freedom to say that a boy is a boy or that a girl is a girl.

California’s residents should be on guard.  Now that it has officially sanctioned make-believe on official documents, its citizens should be alert for any indication this official position may spill over into other government actions which aren’t as benign as gender designations on driver’s licenses and birth certificates.

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The Anthem: What Do We Stand For?

Like so many, I have a negative visceral reaction when I see athletes refusing to stand for the national anthem as a form of protest.  I like to try to understand my visceral reactions if I can.  Understanding them helps me to come to a logical, reasoned decision as to whether they’re warranted or not.  I realized though, as I considered the question, that my answers were still mostly instinctive rather than well-reasoned.  “It’s just not right” or “they’re just trying to stir up trouble” don’t really cut it.  I had to dig much deeper than that.  It occurred to me that it might be easier for me to determine why I’m motivated to stand-up for the national anthem than why I’m angry and frustrated at others choosing not to do so.  Perhaps that process might lead me to the answers I was looking for.

I’ve heard a lot of reasons some folks have said they think people should stand for the anthem.  They don’t generally ring true to me and I often find myself frustrated, shaking my head and thinking “that’s not right…that’s not why I stand for the anthem”.  Some say not standing is disrespectful to soldiers and veterans who have served under the flag and risked their lives as directed by the commander in chief, sometimes for our very freedom from an encroaching tyranny.  While I respect and appreciate soldiers completely, and have no complaint with them whatsoever on those occasions when I disagree with policy decisions that may send them in harm’s way, my respect and appreciation for them is not why I stand.  I still get a swell in my chest and once in a while, even goosebumps, when I hear the anthem and see the flag presented at a ball game.  Those reactions don’t come merely from respecting and appreciating soldiers and veterans.  There’s something deeper going on there.

More generally I’ve heard some suggest that it’s simply unpatriotic not to stand.  The idea is that one should stand for the anthem in order to demonstrate fidelity to the country, no matter what.  Though this probably comes a little closer to my personal perspective, I can’t quite get there either.  I think in particular the “no matter what” bit gives me pause and prevents me from jumping on board.  I’m sure there must be hypothetical circumstances in which I might decide not to stand for the anthem anymore, though I’d prefer to avoid the discomfort of considering what those circumstances might be.

Like most of us, I started standing for the anthem because that’s what I was taught to do, and I don’t discount that factor as a motivation for why I think it’s important to stand now.  I suspect that a general respect and appreciation for the country legitimately known as ‘the land of opportunity’ as well as good old fashioned tradition are not insignificant factors motivating most of us to stand for the anthem.   But I don’t think they’re sufficiently moving so as to account for the sense of pride or the goosebumps.  There has to be more.

As I grew up, learned, and gained a deeper understanding of the American experiment and what it had accomplished, I came to a real appreciation of America and an understanding of how very fortunate I am to have been born here.  In later years as I read and studied even more about the principles upon which the country was based such as limited government, a strict adherence to the rule of law, equality under the law and the unalienable rights of individuals, my appreciation grew more profound.

Not everything in our history has been perfect, nor could it have been.  We call this planet we inhabit ‘Earth’ rather than ‘Heaven’ for a reason.  Only delusional Utopian dreamers have ever suggested that the perfectibility of mankind is even approachable.  No human institution will ever be perfect.  But in the span of history, we’ve seen only one society become such a desired destination and such a consistent source of human hope and happiness.  That society was created as a direct result of the institution of those founding principles.  Such a society could only exist in an atmosphere of individual freedom, autonomy and responsibility, conditions which only existed because of those founding principles which informed the creation of limited, rights respecting governments.

When I feel pride in my chest or goosebumps on my skin, it’s because of those principles and the wellspring of goodness and happiness their implementation created.  Those principles and the common creed we once shared which allowed those principles to remain in place and essentially unadulterated for so long, are truly what gave rise to American exceptionalism.  Should ever the sad day come that I conclude those principles are dead from sea to shining sea, I’ll probably still stand for the anthem for the sake of tradition and a nostalgic appreciation for what once was, but instead of pride in my chest, or goosebumps on my skin, I’ll have a tear in my eye.  Over the years, those principles have been tortured.  They’ve been re-defined by those who have tried to hijack them for purposes contrary to their actual meaning.  Sometimes they’ve even been vilified outright.  And they’re in danger of fading into obscurity as we fail to teach them to our children.  But they’re not gone yet.  The ideal of small government and big individual liberty is alive in the hearts and minds of millions, if not in the halls of Congress or our state capitols.  If embraced and re-implemented, that ideal will return society to the exceptionalism of which we are so proud.

In the end, my reaction to those who refuse to stand is no longer visceral, but it’s as negative as ever.  I see those who started the effort as petulant and self-aggrandizing and the more recent tag-alongs as drone-like, choosing the ease of capitulation over the effort of exercising their own judgment.  In any case, the effort further obscures the greatness of what America once was and could be again.  It works to push that greatness a few pages further back in our history book and, I fear, toward being excluded altogether from a future edition.  Their kneeling serves as a stark reminder of how under-appreciated and much endangered are our founding principles and what our long term fidelity to them achieved for humanity.  The unique and successful idea of America warrants much more.

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Citizens, Government And Big Data

Classically, the only proper functions of government are 1) to provide security from outside threats, 2) to administer justice and 3) to secure individual rights.  A more recent development has been the general acknowledgment that government also has a significant role with respect to infrastructure such as road, airports and utilities.

Of course, our government has gone far beyond these well-defined limits and has inserted itself into virtually every aspect of our personal and economic lives.  Practically everything is regulated in some manner –  the rate of pay for which we may agree to work, the specifications of our homes and vehicles, the information we must be provided on food and merchandise, the types of light bulbs we can use – the list is so long it’s beyond the capacity of any one person to complete.

As frustrating as such examples are, there are circumstances in which government interference in society goes beyond such typical meddling, big brotherisms and into a nightmarish arena where the concept of who is to serve whom is turned upside down.  As troublesome as they are, most government regulations are ostensibly intended for the benefit of society and the citizenry.  But there is a unique class of government regulation in which the citizenry is regulated/controlled/manipulated, not for its own good, but for the good of the government.

One example is the proliferation of testing in public school systems, not to monitor the advancement of individual students, but to create, record and utilize ‘big-data’ in the service of the school systems and the governments that run them.  It short, millions of students spend millions of hours doing work, not for their own benefit, but to create data for the government to use.

Even more recently, as this article explains in more detail, the “Commission On Evidence-Based Policymaking” was created by a bi-partisan Congress to analyze how to use data collected by governmental agencies including educational and workforce databases in order to determine how well government programs are working.  It’s a classic “tale wags dog” story.  Government overreach results in innumerable programs and agencies doing the unlimited work of government.  In order to measure, evaluate and improve these myriad functions of government, the Commission wants ‘big data’ on citizens.  A current ban prevents gathering such data but the Commission would like to see the ban lifted.  It’s justification is an eerie example of how, under the guise of improving government, the citizenry can be transformed from the ‘served’ to the ‘servers’.  “(B)ans on data collection and use create a serious impediment to evidence-based policymaking, and could make it difficult or impossible to hold government activity accountable.”

Get it?  Our behemoth government says it needs your personal information so it can monitor itself and make itself better.  So questions arise.  Are there any impositions upon the citizenry which are not permissible in the interest of monitoring or improving government?  If so, what are they?  Are there limits upon which the people will insist?  Or should privacy concerns always come second to whatever the government decides will make itself more efficient?  More broadly, government is already largely unmanageable, corrupt and incompetent.  Why would anyone think it is a good idea to turn over all our personal information to its great computers to be sliced, diced, examined and manipulated to God only knows what ultimate purposes?  Who serves whom?

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Distracting From The National Debt

The accumulated U.S. debt recently breached the $20 trillion mark.  Those who have remained concerned over the debt have viewed that coming milestone with alarm over the past many months.  Now that it has been reached, there’s nary a mention of it from the national media.

Once upon a time, the national media recognized the dangers involved in the U.S. accumulating too much debt.  I can recall major magazine articles and network nightly news broadcasts addressing the growing debt and deficits as early as the 1970’s.  At the end of the 70’s, the U.S. accumulated debt had not yet surpassed $900 billion.  We crossed the $1 trillion threshold in late 1981.  It took about 14 years to get to $5 trillion in the mid-90’s.  After another 13 years we reached $10 trillion in 2008.  It only took another 4 years or so to reach $15 trillion in early 2012.  Now here we are, a mere 5 years later sitting at $20 trillion.

As a percentage of our gross national product (GDP), the accumulated debt maintained in the 30% to 40% range through the 1970’s and to about 1985.  Since then, it hasn’t gone straight up, but the trend has been unmistakable.  It crossed the 100% mark in late 2012.  Since then it has ranged between 99% and 106%.

The national media has largely lost interest in the accumulated debt over the course of at least the past decade or so.  It’s bad enough that it is failing to fulfill its roll in alerting the public to such an important public problem but there are many examples of the media actively working to dissuade the populace from any immediate concern over the debt.  Many acknowledge that excessive debt can ultimately be a problem but argue or imply that there is a lengthy road ahead, down which the debt ‘can’ may be kicked for years or even decades before it becomes necessary to address in a serious fashion.  This article suggest we have up to three decades before there will be a significant problem.  This column in the NY Times suggests that the debt should be even larger than it is.  Forbes ran this column in 2012 in which the author plays word games by arguing that there can be no ‘debt crisis’ in the U.S. because we can always print as many dollars as we need to pay our bills.  He didn’t bother explaining what we should do about the ‘crashing dollar’ crisis and the economic catastrophe that will ensue if the ‘powers that be’ ever resort to overtly monetizing the debt in the manner he suggests.

This column, published just today, applauds the notion of a permanent removal of the debt ceiling because it would “wrench the job of raising the debt ceiling from the hands of Congress”.  Why would that be a good thing? Because “(Raising the debt limit) should be a lawmaker’s duty, not a concession.  Letting the United States go into default for any reason would destabilize the global economy, with disastrous results…”

A better example of a non sequitur can’t be found.  The inference (that the U.S. will default on its obligations) does not flow from the premises (that Congress might choose not to raise the debt ceiling).  This fallacy has been so widely used and oft repeated by politicians and the media it is unfortunately widely accepted.  But in fact there is nothing about refraining from increasing the debt limit which necessitates a default on any government obligation.  What it would necessitate is that the government make choices – that it decide how to spend its (now) limited funds.  It could choose to default on obligations.  But it could also choose to raise taxes or cut spending in order to come into balance.  In no sense is a default inevitable or necessary in the event the government stops borrowing.

The broader public’s lack of interest or understanding regarding the debt is a problem which must be overcome if the debt is ever to be addressed.  It empowers do-nothing politicians to continue borrowing as a tool to enhance their power and status and it discourages those politicians who might otherwise be willing to pick up the banner of fiscal responsibility and lead us out of the madness that will cripple future generations – generations who will rightfully look with disdain upon those who left them such a painful legacy.  The media has an amplified voice capable of influencing society’s perspective and understanding with respect to the debt crisis.  It should be using its megaphone as a force for good, inducing good citizenship and stewardship of our national fisc.  Instead it is too often disinterested or worse, complicit in justifying our generational theft of our children’s future.

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Restraint & Occupational Protectionism

This bill pending in the Maine Legislature would prompt a review and recommendations regarding the removal of licensing, permitting and certification requirements for various occupations.  It’s a good development.  According to the Institute for Justice, “Maine licenses 39 of the 102 low- and middle-income occupations studied.  Residents seeking to enter these occupations can anticipate, on average, paying $206 in fees, losing 226 days to training requirements and taking one exam, making Maine’s the 30th most burdensome licensing laws.”  Paring the list of occupations requiring licensure thus stands to remove barriers currently restraining residents from entering the job market in Maine.  Occupations which currently require residents to be licensed and slated for review include animal breeders, debt collectors, veterinary technologists, security guards and massage therapists.

According to this article“members of the public who came to testify on the bill were all either neutral or in total opposition to the bill.  It is not unusual for licensing reform bills to be met with strong opposition by bottleneckers. The book Bottleneckers: Gaming the Government for Power and Private Profit defines a bottlenecker as a person who advocates for the creation or perpetuation of government regulation—particularly through occupational licensing—to restrict entry into his or her occupation.”

The lack of any public testimony in favor of this bill illustrates an important point about liberty – liberty requires vigilance.  If there does not exist a sufficient number of people to guard against it, coercion and restraint will inevitably seep into the legislative process.  Coercion and restraint go by many names and forms.  Whether patronage, favoritism, cronyism, or outright graft, they are an ever present danger waiting for any opportunity to affect the legislative process.  Human nature being what it is, they will inevitably prevail unless liberty’s guardians are sufficiently vigilant.

Though there are certainly legislators and other government officials who are committed to the cause of liberty and understand its societal benefits, we see that their efforts too often fall flat for lack of support from the populace.  The public response to the Maine law is illustrative of the point.  Because its benefits are immediate and focused, there is no lack of support for the licensing law which restrains others from entering protected occupations.  Those who benefit from the restraint see that those benefits are tangible and immediate and are thus willing to spend time and resources advocating it.  Accordingly, “members of the public who came to testify on the bill were all either neutral or in total opposition to the bill.”

Because liberty’s benefits are often indirect and dispersed, good public policy based in individual freedom too often finds itself without a champion to argue on its behalf.  An individual who might consider seeking employment as a security guard if he became aware of the opportunity might not even know that a law exists requiring security guards to be licensed.  That individual would also not likely be aware of legislation pending which might relieve him of the obligation to become licensed in order to qualify for a position as a security guard.  And even if he had all the knowledge of the underlying circumstances, as a single individual he’d be less likely to make the necessary effort in order to speak out regarding the bill than would existing security guards who may well be organized and represented by formal organizations or unions.

So it is that bad public policy based in coercion or restraint often succeeds where good public policy based in individual liberty flounders.  This paradigm can change only when a sufficient percentage of the populace is both persuaded to the societal benefits of individual liberty and committed to outspoken and active citizenship.  Legislators who espouse constitutionalism and first principles require the outspoken support of the citizenry in order to combat coercion and restraint in the legislative process.  Likewise, candidates who demonstrate a commitment to those principles require the active and financial support of the citizenry in conducting their election campaigns.

 

 

 

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NPR, Robot Guy, and Econ 101

I heard a story on NPR this morning about small wagon sized robots that may soon deliver takeout food in Washington D.C.  It’s already being tried out in town.  Once up and running it is said to be able to pick up and deliver food in a two mile radius.  It uses the coordinates provided by the purchaser via a smart phone to identify the location for the delivery.  Very cool if it all works out.

What wasn’t so cool was a question asked by the reporter which revealed her ignorance of economics and worse, the answer given by the interviewee (robot guy).  The reporter asked whether the robot will eliminate jobs.  The robot guy’s response was “absolutely not”.

Huh?  How can something so obvious be beyond the grasp of such really smart people?  Why doesn’t the reporter know instinctively that if the robot works as planned and does so more inexpensively than hiring human labor it will end up doing the designated work rather than humans?  And why would the robot guy be so positive that somehow, this labor saving device, designed for the very purpose of saving human labor, will not save human labor?

Because we think, humans have been discovering and inventing ways of doing less work since the beginning of humanhood.  Domesticating horses reduced by orders of magnitude the time and human labor it took to move people and materials from one place to another.  Locomotives, motor vehicles and airplanes again did the same.  The first shovels reduced by orders of magnitude the time and human labor it took to dig a hole.  Motorized digging equipment again did the same.  Wash boards reduced by orders of magnitude the time and human labor it took to wash clothes.  Electric washing machines again did the same.  Each time a labor saving technique or device is created, guess what it does?  It saves labor. 

This robot was invented for the very purpose of eliminating labor.  Right now, some human, either the purchaser or the seller or an independent delivery service has to transport food purchased at a restaurant for take out to the place where it is to be consumed.  The purpose of the delivery robot is to eliminate that human labor.  The reporter should have known the answer to her question before she asked it.  Unless the robot is only to be utilized on behalf of purchasers who, but for access to the robot, would have left their house, driven to the restaurant, picked up the food and returned home with it, jobs will necessarily be eliminated.  And if the robot is so relatively inexpensive that purchasers choose to use it rather than other human oriented delivery services, what will happen to those delivery service jobs?

If the robot works as expected and is cost effective, i.e., cheaper than the alternatives, it will thrive and the alternatives will not.  This is the nature of a free economy and the nature of creative destruction.  It’s quite simple, even elementary.  The troubling thing is that it apparently isn’t understood by two people who are sufficiently intelligent and well educated to be an NPR reporter and a robot guy.

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Repealing The Poop Eating Law

A farcical allegory of a farce: the repeal of Obamacare.

March 2010:

Obama: We’ve passed a new poop eating law. From now on, you will eat poop every day. Now, eat the poop.

2016:

Pre-election Trump: On Day 1, I will repeal and replace the poop eating law. You will never eat poop again. Shame and curses on those who have made you eat the poop.

Electorate: What do you mean by “replace”? What are you going to replace it with?

Pre-election Trump: Something you will absolutely LOVE. It will be wonderful. But it won’t involve eating the poop. Elect me and you’ll never eat the poop again! I will see to the repeal of the poop eating law!

March 6, 2017:

Post-election GOP leadership: We‘ve crafted modifications to the poop eating law.  We need to pass it for the benefit of the people.  Otherwise, the people will have to keep eating a lot of poop. The people are now accustomed to eating the poop…a lot of the poop. It’ll be nice for them to eat less poop. This bill is a vast improvement. 

Liberty/Constitution minded citizens:  What about repeal?  You were going to repeal the poop eating bill.

President Trump: This is a great bill. It’s wonderful. From now on you’ll eat less poop. And my agencies will be able to relieve you from eating some poop too.  And I promise…one day, you’ll all be able stop eating the poop FOREVER!

March 24, 2017:

Trump: We don’t have the votes to pass the modifications to the poop eating law.  ON TO TAX CUTS!

Liberty/Constitution minded citizens:  GREAT!  How are you going to cut spending so that the country doesn’t go trillions more into debt?

Trump and GOP leadership: 

(TO BE CONTINUED)

 

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The ‘Obligation’ Of Self-Sacrifice

A friend recently told me about a situation at work that could have turned out badly for her.  She had scheduled a matter on behalf of her boss which required the services of an outside vendor.  She got a call from her boss when the vendor didn’t show up at the appointed time.  Fortunately she had made the necessary arrangements and was able to forward her boss an earlier email she had sent to the vendor confirming their phone conversation and the date and time of the event.

Having recently read several excellent essays on individualism and the value of self-interestedness to society in the economic context, my thoughts turned to my friend’s self-interested behavior with respect to making sure the responsibility for this scheduling mistake fell where it belonged – with the vendor rather than with her.  It made me wonder, why does society seem to readily accept the contention that there is societal value, even rising to the level of a personal moral obligation, in selflessness in the financial or material context but not in others?  If sacrificing for the benefit of others is an inherent good or even a personal moral obligation when it comes to money, why not other, less tangible things like credit for good work or blame for mistakes?  Why doesn’t society expect my friend to selflessly accept the blame for the vendor’s mistake?

Some might argue that money and material goods are different than credit or blame and it is that difference which justifies a societal moral mandate that money should be sacrificed for the benefit of others but credit and blame need not.  Let’s examine some of the potential bases for such an argument:

  1. The distinction lies in the severity of consequences of the unmet need.  Some need money for the very necessities of life such as food, clothing or shelter.  Because it’s potentially a matter of life and death, self-sacrifice of money is required where self-sacrifice by yielding unearned credit for good work or accepting blame which is the responsibility of another is not.

Such a response might be worthy of consideration if expectations of financial selflessness were limited to meeting only the most minimum needs of the most unfortunate among us, but that is not the case.  Self-sacrifice for the benefit of numerous endeavors and causes is approved if not lauded by society at large.

  1. Credit or blame are often objectively earned by virtue of the actions of the persons involved.  In the example of my friend, the responsibility for the scheduling mistake was clear and therefore should be attributed to the person who made it.

This argument fails in the financial context anytime the money involved is ‘objectively earned’ by the potential giver or the ‘responsibility for earning it’ is clear.  Moreover, I have never heard or read that society’s endorsement of financial self-sacrifice is dependent upon how money was acquired, i.e., that financial altruism is a moral obligation only when the ‘giver’ came by his money by means other than his own effort, labor or inventiveness.  To the contrary, financial self-sacrifice is most often supported on the basis of relative need, e.g., ‘those who have more than they need should give abundantly to those in need.’  This raises the second basis for the argument that money is just different than credit or blame…

  1. It makes no sense to attribute credit or blame on the basis of need. No one ‘needs’ unearned credit and no one ‘needs’ to avoid blame.  Conversely, some people have more money than they need and some don’t have enough.

Setting aside for the purpose of this discussion the question of who is to determine the type and degree of ‘need’ required to trigger the moral obligation of self-sacrifice, the premise of the argument is faulty.  It is every bit as ‘reasonable’ to attribute blame or credit based on need as to do so with money.   It takes little effort to come up with hypotheticals to illustrate the point. For example – one new employee is on an initial probation period and has already made a few minor mistakes while a second has been employed for fifteen years during which he has built a record of top performance and near perfect accountability.  If the second employee performs an important and difficult task without any assistance from the first and the employer asks who accomplished it, the ‘relative need’ argument would dictate that the second employee defer to the first because he ‘needs’ the credit more.  Experience tells us that most of society would not accept this reasoning.  Thus, ‘need’ does not explain why society has expectations of altruism as to money but not with respect to attributing credit or blame.

  1. Money is different than credit or blame on a fundamental level.  Money is impersonal while getting credit and avoiding blame are very personal.

Money is no less ‘personal’ than getting credit for a job well done.  Indeed, money is the ultimate ‘credit’ for a job well done.  To an individual who works for three hours to earn $50, the loss of that $50 represents three hours of his life.  The loss of three hours to a task for which he foregoes remuneration is at least as personal as losing the praise for doing it, arguably more so.  If you work for three hours, which would you rather do without, the pay you earned, or the pat on the back?

  1.  Money is very important to a comfortable life while getting credit and avoiding blame are not. 

This argument is merely a modified version of the ‘necessities of life’ argument but it extends the contention beyond the necessities of life to ‘a comfortable life’.  The argument can be extended even further to illustrate its ineffectiveness, e.g., ‘It might be argued that ‘money is very important in acquiring a major league baseball team while getting credit and avoiding blame is not’.  Ultimately, the premise of this argument conflicts with the common understanding of society’s expectations with respect to self-sacrifice.  Society at large would balk at the notion that some owe a moral obligation to provide a ‘comfortable lifestyle’ to others.  Society’s acceptance of the concept of financial self-sacrifice does not go that far.  So yes, money is different than credit or blame.  In the abstract, most would acknowledge that money is more necessary to achieving a comfortable life style than obtaining credit or avoiding blame.  However, since society generally does not acknowledge an obligation of some to provide a ‘comfortable lifestyle’ to others, this argument does nothing to answer our question.

Perhaps the reason society has come to view financial self-sacrifice as beneficial to society and a personal moral obligation but has not done so with respect to the attribution of credit or blame has little if anything to do with the differences between the two.  Perhaps the answer lies in what the progressive movement has always sought to achieve in the realm of redistributive politics.

The original notion of a ‘safety net’ has greatly expanded beyond assuring the necessities of life because the government has acted in accordance with progressive principles of egalitarianism rather than classically liberal principles which permit individualism and personal responsibility to flourish.  Over the decades, the progressive and collectivist notion that ‘we’ have an obligation to provide any number of goods and services to those who can’t afford them or won’t conduct their personal affairs or modify their spending priorities so that they might acquire them for themselves has only spread and become more prevalent.  Thus, the safety net has morphed into a welfare state that imposes the rank redistribution of wealth upon society.

In order to dissuade the populace from outright rejection of this long term program of egalitarianism, leftist forces in government, academia and some religious institutions have systematically inculcated the people to accept the notion of an obligation toward financial self-sacrifice without any logical, well-reasoned support for the obligation itself and without any definition as to its limits.  The lack of any defined limits in the societal context then extends to egalitarian policy making…government is not constrained by any limiting principles when redistributing wealth in advance of egalitarian goals.  Accordingly, it is by this undefined but ever growing and widely accepted obligation of financial self-sacrifice that government is able to undertake its egalitarian wealth redistribution activities without so much societal push back and often with societal approbation.  Society having been inculcated to accept the obligation in the abstract, is effectively conditioned to acquiesce when the government implements specific redistributive policies.

In contrast, inculcating society to the notion that credit or blame should be selflessly reattributed would do nothing to precondition society to accept wealth redistributing policies.  To the contrary, as I hope I’ve demonstrated in this essay, inducing the populace to consider altruism with respect to the attribution of credit and blame would likely have the opposite effect by illustrating, rather than obfuscating, the lack of any rational basis for such an obligation.  It is by comparing and examining the difference between society’s amorphous but seemingly ever widening expectations of financial self-sacrifice to society’s lack of such expectations with respect to other, less tangible things like credit for good work or blame for mistakes, that we can more readily see the lack of any well-reasoned basis for a moral obligation toward the financial altruism with undefined or nonexistent limits society seems to countenance.

Notwithstanding the counterproductive nature of such a program to progressive and collectivist egalitarian goals, we are seeing instances of redistributive policies taking effect with respect to credit and blame.  Such policies are being manifested in public schools in the form of group work or working in teams.  The group is graded as a group, regardless of the amount or quality of the contribution of the individual group members.  The hardest working contributor gets the same grade as the laziest slacker.  The ostensible reason for group work is often said to be an effort to teach students to work collaboratively since collaborative work is necessary in many jobs.  But I fear there may be some who intend that group work lacking in individual accountability will be the next step in conditioning society to extreme collectivism.  Such efforts could conceivably lead successive generations of students to accept that they will not be blamed for failure, nor credited for success, other than in a group context.  It is hard to imagine a more successful intermediate step toward the ultimate societal acceptance of wholesale collectivism.

We should think more about the supposed moral obligation of self-sacrifice in any context.  Is there a logical and well-reasoned basis for such a moral obligation?  If so, what is it?  What are its limits?  If there are none, what should they be?  Why should we accept that we have a general and undefined moral obligation to give away money and material items but no corollary obligation to reattribute anything else that might also be needed or helpful to others?  Coming to grips with these issues is important to understanding and reversing our decades long trend toward bigger, more redistributive government and collectivism and away from first principles, individual liberty and personal responsibility.

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Gorsuch, Filibusters and Politics

Last night President Trump announced his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  Even before the selection, the media outlets were abuzz over the potential of a Democrat filibuster in the Senate.  Upset at the fact that President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland was denied a hearing by the GOP controlled Senate, Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley stated prior to the nomination that he would filibuster any nominee.  Once the Gorsuch nomination was made known, the focus turned to the question of whether other Democrat Senators who were not committed to filibuster regardless of the nominee, might be persuaded to filibuster Gorsuch based on his record.  No doubt, there will much more on that question in the days to come.

Democrats might want to proceed with caution when considering whether to filibuster Judge Gorsuch.  Having used the ‘nuclear option’ to eliminate most filibusters of nominees when they were in control of the Senate in 2013, they opened the door to a ‘tit for tat’ response by the GOP controlled Senate with respect to Supreme Court nominees.  Some would argue that the country isn’t well served in the long term by eliminating the 60 vote supermajority required to defeat the filibuster when it comes to Supreme Court appointees.  But the underlying reasoning which supports that perspective was just as strong when the Democrats eliminated the supermajority requirement with respect to lower court appointees.  The McConnell led GOP Senate may be loath to extend the mistake made by Harry Reid and the Democrats, but the current Democrats should be leery at the prospect.  Once triggered, all future Supreme Court nominees will be subjected to Senate approval upon the vote of a bare majority, effectively neutering the minority party from blocking any nominee, no matter how objectionable.

When it comes to Judge Gorsuch, there’s little for the Democrats to find objectionable.  No less than President Obama’s solicitor general has penned an article entitled “Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch” wherein he extols the virtues of Judge Gorsuch writing that “if the Senate is to confirm anyone, Judge Gorsuch…should be at the top of the list” and adding that “he brings a sense of fairness and decency to the job, and a temperament that suits the nation’s highest court.”  Though both parties should be concerned at the prospect of having no effective control over rogue nominations in the future, the Democrats concern in that regard should be more urgent because the GOP holds the Presidency now.  When faced with the prospect of a second Trump nomination, they should be particularly wary of inducing the GOP to exercise the nuclear option thus depriving the Democrats of any leverage whatsoever should the opportunity for a second Trump nomination arise.  So long as the Senate is still Republican controlled, President Trump would not have to consider the Democrat response to his next nomination.  He’d need only be confident that his nominee would garner at least 51 Republican votes to confirm.

Finally, the Democrats should consider the ramifications if McConnell and the Republicans don’t exercise the nuclear option as well.  McConnell may conclude that it isn’t necessary to stain the GOP with any responsibility for permanently eliminating the filibuster in the future.  He may calculate that a Democrat filibuster which effectively kills the Gorsuch nomination is likely to backfire.  President Trump is popular.  He has made a very reasonable choice for the open seat on the Supreme Court. He will be in a position of political strength, not weakness, if the Democrats kill the nomination.  President Trump could make life for Senate Democrats particularly difficult at that point.  He could nominate any number of legitimate jurists the Democrats would like less than Judge Gorsuch.  For example William Pryor is an excellent judge and was on Trump’s short list of potential appointees but it’s been widely acknowledged that the Democrats would find him less palatable that Judge Gorsuch.  Not on his short list was, but eminently qualified, is Janice Rogers Brown, an African-American female jurist with a strong libertarian bent and a tendency toward outspoken criticism of the Supreme Court’s past abdications of its responsibility to safeguard the Constitution, particularly with respect to economic liberties.  Do the Democrats really want to spend the next 12 to 18 months defeating the appointments of a popular president?  Or will they smartly consider the damage such obstructionism might do to their chances in the 2018 mid-term elections?

President Trump’s nomination of Judge Gorsuch would seem to leave the Democrat minority in the Senate no good option other than to capitulate, after some lengthy posturing to placate its leftist grass roots, of course.  A serious filibuster is likely to initiate one or the other of two scenarios, neither of which look to end well for the Democrat Party.

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Why Do I Like Trump?

As an advocate of individual liberty and constitutionalism, I find a lot to dislike, or at least distrust, about Donald Trump’s coming presidency.  Though he and his closest advisors pay lip service to a smaller Federal government, there aren’t many indications that he’ll really do much in that regard.  Obamacare is an atrocity and should be repealed outright, but Trump’s repeated insistence on replacing it at the Federal level doesn’t instill confidence in his understanding of the constitutional limits on the Federal government’s power.  Further, using the bully pulpit to coerce businesses to do that which they don’t deem to be in their best economic interest isn’t the hallmark of one who genuinely believes in economic liberty or the benefits free markets render to society at large.

I hear the oft repeated mantra’s…‘he’ll be far better than Hillary’ and, ‘it’s all about the Supreme Court’.  I get it.  But I’ve long recognized that the U.S. has, since at least the 1930’s, always taken at least two steps toward statism for every opposite step towards a return to constitutionally limited government.  If one were to construct a graph with the horizontal axis representing time from 1936 to the present and the vertical axis representing the relative degree of statism, the graph would reflect a clear trend to greater degrees of statism.  Sure, you would see momentary diversions representing brief respites, but they’d all be followed by a return to the trend line which has consistently led to bigger and more intrusive government and less individual liberty.  Nothing I’ve heard from Donald Trump suggests to me that he’s going to do anything to change that trend line.  In order to change it, the American people must be persuaded to the societal benefits of liberty and dissuaded from the false promises of supposedly well intended coercion founded only on the immoral premise of democracy.  Donald Trump is not the President who will lead that effort; not because he isn’t capable, but because he doesn’t believe in it.  I’m happy that Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected.  And I’m glad at the prospect that Trump’s judicial appointments will likely be better by comparison.  But these will be among the many respites; comforting, but fleeting. Ultimately, a return to the trend line awaits.

So why have I enjoyed the Trump pre-presidency so much?  This question has perplexed me.  The very substantial degree to which I’ve enjoyed Donald Trump’s post-election period as president elect isn’t warranted by my assessment of his ultimate effect on our ever rising trajectory into greater degrees of statism.  So what’s going on?  What is it that I like about Trump?

I’ve come up with two primary factors.  The first is obviously important and a credit to Trump – he is a constant and vocal opponent of global government and we need leadership on that point right as never before.  Though nationalism has understandably earned a bad connotation in many contexts, it has taken on a crucial legitimacy as a response to governmental globalism.  When ‘nationalism’ means respecting the Constitution and American statutory and common law as the only legitimate law of the country and rejecting efforts of globalist to allow treaties or United Nations pronouncements to effectuate even the subtlest of influences on our unalienable rights, nationalism is a very good thing indeed.  Preserving the United States as a nation state, sovereign and unyielding in the face of any global efforts to infiltrate our substantive law is critical.

Though important, Trump’s anti-global government stance isn’t enough to explain the pleasure I’ve had in witnessing his pre-presidency.  It’s the second factor I’ve identified which appeals to my base human impulses and thus better explains my enthusiasm. Better yet, on reflection, it may actually provide some hope for a future different than I would have supposed just a few months ago.

In short, I like how he’s sticking it to the worst elements of the left.  Those watching the media and the public reaction to it over the past decade may reasonably have concluded that too many of the American people have stopped thinking for themselves.  The left leaning national media seemed to have an almost magical ability to define the issues worthy of public attention and then set the narrative as to those issues.  Similarly, leftist academic speech police and self-appointed enforcers of political correctness seemed to have acquired the ability to thwart the free exchange of ideas whenever their personal sensibilities were offended or the legitimacy of their perspectives were threatened.

Trump has demonstrated that the national media doesn’t necessarily control the narrative and that perhaps the ‘thought police’ are all bark and no bite.  Just maybe there aren’t quite so many stupefied citizens who blindly follow the prompts of the national media and leftist elite.  Maybe good people just needed a champion to give them a voice.   I understand the concerns over his sometimes heavy handedness but I have to wonder whether he would be so successful in foiling the leftist machinery without the entertainment factor.  Let’s face it, people like it when bad actors get called out and exposed.  Trump’s brashness may be a necessary ingredient in his recipe for success.

The important question for the future is this: has Trump set a workable example for how others might successfully neuter the national media and leftist elites?  If we ever manage to elect a President who will work to persuade people to the societal benefits of liberty and constitutionalism, can he or she learn from Trump’s example in order to deny the left the power to control messaging and impose sanctions on those with whom they disagree?  If so, that may ultimately be the prevailing legacy of his presidency, and a worthy legacy that would be.  If the Trump experience permanently exposes the fallacy of the leftist elite’s ‘authority’, if he enables the American public and those in positions of power and influence to not only see, but comfortably declare, that the emperor’s new clothes are imaginary and the leftist elites are naked of the power which they have presumed for themselves and in which too many have acquiesced for too long, then he will have provided at least one great and lasting service to his country.

In the meantime, I hope to continue to enjoy watching the leftist elites flounder as they employ their old playbook over and over again to no avail while I wait with fingers crossed to see what Trump’s presidency actually brings.

 

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