All posts by Jeff Kimble

Why Don’t We Care About Stormy Daniels?

According to a recent poll, 73% of voters do not believe President Trump’s alleged affair with pornographic actress Stormy Daniels is an important news story.  I agree.  And that saddens me.  We once had the luxury of concerning ourselves with the personal character of candidates for elected office.  Unfortunately, those days are gone.

When government was small and its powers constitutionally limited, it’s capacity to influence the individual lives of its citizens was marginal compared to today.  Because the government could only do so much, it made sense to seek people of high character for public office.  It’s nice to be proud of elected officials.  It’s good when our children can look up to them as role models.

With the systematic and incremental deconstruction of the Constitution’s limits on government power came bigger government.  That government now inserts itself into our everyday lives to a degree never imagined at our country’s founding.  The halls of government have been thrown wide open to influence peddling, special interests, patronage, protectionism, and innumerable coercions and restraints over the citizenry.

Where the Constitution provided limited government with enumerated powers coupled with textual and structural protections of individual liberty, the deconstruction of the Constitution has resulted in comparatively limitless government and a subjugation of the citizenry to the will of the majority as expressed through our elected representatives.  Where we once enjoyed the constitutional republic the founding generation gave us, we now suffer the representative majoritarianism which has resulted from the incremental diminishment of the Constitution’s limits on government power as well as those structural and textual protections of liberty.

Because representative majoritarianism has resulted in a government that has an expansive capacity to exert influence over our lives and seems determined to do so with reckless abandon, it is no longer prudent to place much importance on the personal character of elected officials.  Given a choice between a loud mouthed lout with a long and open history of philandering who is a stalwart constitutionalist and a highly trustworthy, intelligent, competent, family oriented, church goer who is seeking office in order to mold society through his or her legislative efforts, I’ll take the lout every time.

This isn’t to suggest that Trump is a stalwart constitutionalist by any means.  But the principle applies – because of the myriad permutations of what might be imposed by the government under a system of representative majoritarianism implemented as a result of the hollowing out of our Constitution, a voter’s concern over a candidate’s character is dwarfed by the concern over what a candidate will do once in office to affect the voter’s life.  Accordingly, our perception of a candidate’s character is now only important to the extent that perception relates to our evaluation of how he or she will govern.  Promiscuity and infidelity have little if any bearing on the decisions an elected official will make.  As a result, it’s natural that the public would not find instances of promiscuity or infidelity to be particularly important.

The fact that we can no longer afford the luxury of concerning ourselves with a candidate’s character is just another in a long line of sad outcomes which necessarily result when a society opts for statism and collectivism over liberty and individualism.

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The 2nd Amendment’s Forgotten Value

Calling to mind the 2nd Amendment’s original purpose broadens the gun rights debate to include the societal benefit of widespread gun ownership.

 

Type A – Scenario 1

A family with a 4 year old toddler pays a visit to friends.  The child wanders into the bedroom and finds a loaded pistol in the end stand drawer.  After a short time, he pulls the trigger and is killed.

Type B – Scenario 1

A mother who always picks up her 9 month old from day care in the late afternoon has a rare travel day at work and won’t be home until later in the evening.  Her husband makes arrangements to pick up the baby. It’s late July and the baby falls asleep on the way home in the air conditioned car.  The husband, anxious and focused on a late afternoon business call he needs to make from home, forgets the baby in the back seat of the car parked in the driveway. The baby is discovered two hours later but dies from heat exposure in the summer heat.

 

Type A – Scenario 2

A 45 year old man commits suicide with a shotgun.

Type B – Scenario 2

A 45 year old woman commits suicide with an overdose of prescription medication.

 

Type A – Scenario 3

An 18 year old man with a .45 caliber pistol sneaks into a school and kills 6 students before turning the gun on himself.

Type B – Scenario 3

An 18 year old man gets drunk at a party and, driving his new sports car at approximately 110 miles per hour, loses control in a turn and collides with an oncoming car occupied by 6 high school age students in a small SUV on the way to back from a ball game.  All occupants of both vehicles are killed.

 

Type A – Scenario 4

An isolated gunman perched in a hotel room above an outdoor concert in Las Vegas shoots and kills 58 people and injures hundreds more.

Type B – Scenario 4

Terrorists hijack two airplanes and crash them into New York City skyscrapers killing over 2600 people and injuring thousands more.

 

The public response to these two types of scenarios is different.  Type A scenarios, involving guns, meet with criticism and debate over gun policy and the value of certain types of guns for uses considered to be legitimate in contemporary political discussions.  Type B scenarios, involving automobiles, prescription medications, alcohol, cars specifically designed to attain speeds far in excess of any legal speed limit, and airplanes do not meet with any similar criticisms or debates about public policies addressing those instrumentalities or their value to society at large.

Discussions involving gun rights almost always focus on the value that individuals place on guns whereas the value of automobiles, airplanes, medications and even alcohol to society at large are not questioned.  Thus, when guns are instruments of human suffering, those who do not appreciate the right to keep and bear arms critique the ‘need’ for guns for individual purposes such as hunting and self-protection.  In contrast, because cars, planes, medicines and alcohol have achieved a broader recognition as being valuable to society at large, they are accepted as a fact of modern life as are the pain and suffering their use sometimes brings about.  The value of those devices to individuals is not subjected to the same scrutiny as guns.  Rarely, if ever, do we hear anyone question an individual’s ‘need’ to drink alcohol or drive many miles per hour in excess of the speed limit as part of a larger discussion related to alcohol or automobile deaths.

This is unfortunate.  The Second Amendment, like most of the Bill of Rights, was ratified because it was deemed necessary to society at large as a mechanism to preserve liberty.  The First Amendment right of a free press was ratified not to arbitrarily institutionalize the rights of newspapers, but because a free press was deemed necessary to preserving liberty.  Thus, the founders understood that a free press was a value to society as a whole.  The right against unreasonable searches and seizures wasn’t ratified to protect the rights of individuals to conduct criminal enterprises in their homes, it was ratified because arbitrary acts by government against its citizens cannot be condoned in any free society.  Barring unreasonable searches and seizures was understood to provide a benefit to society as a whole.

Somehow the debate over the Second Amendment has almost completely ignored its original “constitutional” purpose.  That purpose should be reintroduced into the debate.  Doing so will illustrate that the right to keep and bear arms is on par with the rest of the Bill of Rights as having been ratified because the founders recognized its value to society as a whole.  The right to keep and bear arms has at least as much societal utility as other common instrumentalities of death and severe injury such as cars, planes, medicines, and alcohol.

Like many highly intense political debates, the gun debate has often tended toward hyperbole, emotion, intellectual dishonesty and fallacious argument.  This might be even more the case with guns since the right to keep and bear arms is presently exercised and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of citizens for uses that are not directly related to the initial purpose for which the Second Amendment was constitutionally preserved.  The debate is made even more convoluted because the initial response to atrocities involving guns is almost always emotional rather than well-reasoned, and always amplified by the national media who seek to capitalize on that emotional response to trigger the policy response they desire – severe restrictions on gun capabilities and on gun ownership.  Perhaps that’s why so little of the discussion ever finds its way to a primary focus on the actual reason the Second Amendment was adopted and ratified.  I hope a discussion of those issues will bring clarity and reason to the topic.  We need to start by being perfectly honest about what the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is all about.

 

The Second Amendment was ratified so that the people could have the means to defend against any effort to defeat their new constitutional republic.

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The Second Amendment wasn’t adopted and ratified to protect individual uses such as hunting, sportsmanship or even personal defense.  It was ratified because the right of the people to keep and bear arms was deemed “necessary to the security of a free state” – to ensure that the populace remained armed in order to secure freedom in America.  It was ratified by the founding generation out of a sense of vigilance to defend against tyranny from any source, including from within our own new government.

Therefore, those who argue that a particular firearm isn’t necessary or useful for hunting, shooting sports, or personal protection are arguing against a false premise.  Their argument implies that the reason for the right to keep and bear arms relates to one or more of those uses.  Though these are understandably the reasons many contemporary citizens now so strongly support the Second Amendment, they primarily benefit individuals.  Hunting benefits the hunter and his family.  Shooting sports provide fun and healthy activity for the participants.  And personal defense benefits primarily the gun user and his or her family.

Couching the debate in terms of hunting, shooting sports or even personal protection diminishes the societal importance of the right, making it seem to be about individual prerogative, personal preference and individual freedom to partake in fun or personally useful activities.  This in turn slants the argument.  It’s relatively easier for Second Amendment opponents to make a case against gun rights if those rights are founded upon individually beneficial uses rather than upon the broader societal benefit of defending liberty itself.  In the ability of a free people to defend their freedom, the founders recognized that widespread gun ownership would benefit society at large.  Any contemporary debate regarding the Second Amendment should start with an analysis of its constitutional, socially beneficial purpose.

 

Keeping and bearing arms is a right of “the people”, not the militia.

Some argue that the language of the amendment implies that only members of a “militia” have the right to keep and bear arms.  This is a silly argument demonstrating either a willful attempt to confuse the question or a lack of knowledge of history combined with poor reading comprehension.  By the clear meaning of its plain text, the Second Amendment doesn’t bar the government from infringing on the rights of militia members to keep and bear arms. Rather, it bars the government from infringing on the right of “the people” to keep and bear arms, which makes perfect sense, because…

 

Everyone was “the militia”.

The militia was generally understood throughout colonial times up to and including the ratification of the Bill of Rights to include all citizens.  James Madison drafted the Second Amendment.  His initial proposed language was referred to a committee for review and revision.  That committee’s notes confirm this understanding of what constituted the militia. “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed…”  Any seeming inconsistency within the text of the Second Amendment arising from the apparent juxtaposition of the terms “militia” and “the people” evaporates once it is understood that the term “militia” referred to the whole of the people.  The founders sought to preserve the people’s right to keep and bear arms because it was the entire people who would naturally constitute any militia needed to defend their liberty from tyrannical threats.  Thus, it was “the people” who needed to be armed in order to defend freedom.

Having come to an understanding of what the right to keep and bear arms is really all about and why it was important enough to be included in the Bill of Rights all those years ago, we next need to examine and evaluate the right of the people to keep and bear arms in a modern context.  There are two questions that should be addressed before all others in any debate over the Second Amendment and what limitations might be placed upon it.

  1. Is the widespread ownership of firearms by citizens still an effective defense or deterrent against tyranny, and
  2. If so, what arms would be necessary, useful or potentially helpful to an armed citizenry pitted against unforeseeable tyrannical forces seeking to destroy their constitutional republic?

 

The right of the people to keep and bear arms remains an effective mechanism for achieving the goal of securing our freedom.

Simple common sense should be enough to convince any open minded person that an armed people are less vulnerable to tyranny – from within or from without – than an unarmed people.  By definition, millions of firearms in the possession of millions of citizens renders a nation more capable of defending itself against tyranny – and a much less appealing target – than a nation defended only by its standing army.  Moreover, should tyranny arise from within, a standing army might prove unpredictable, possibly even becoming an instrument of tyranny, rather than a defender of liberty.

Widespread gun ownership provides us with two simultaneous protections which we unfortunately don’t think about or recognize often enough.  First it provides the people their own independent defensive capacity in the event it is ever needed.  Second, that capability naturally constitutes a silent disincentive to anyone considering efforts toward imposing a tyranny between our shores.  Just as a large standing army with effective and modern equipment and weaponry is an effective deterrent to any potential foreign invader, widespread gun ownership in the hands of our citizens constitutes an effective deterrent to anyone scheming to divorce us from our constitutionally preserved liberties.

Detractors argue that an armed but largely untrained citizenry couldn’t hope to withstand the onslaught of a well-armed military force.  This argument exhibits a contemporary normalcy bias.  Who’s to say when a threat to American liberty will come and in what form?  Are we so arrogant as to think that in fifty or a hundred and fifty years we will still have the most powerful military forces on earth?  Do we assume that history will not march forward, changing societies as it has always done?  We cannot know the future.  It could unfold in many ways which would leave a well-armed population very well prepared to defend itself and thankful for the ability to do so.

Even if we were to assume a modern day effort by our own government to usurp the Constitution and impose a tyranny, why would we assume that the entire military would support such an effort?  Isn’t it more likely that many, if not most military personnel would join ranks with the people?  Assuming the unlikely worst case scenario – a modern day government usurpation completely supported by the military – is it not likely that they would be dissuaded from their effort by the widespread ownership of guns across the nation?  How might the fact that the people are well armed affect the decision making processes of a would be tyrant and what he thinks he can accomplish?  And if this contingency were to occur, are there really those among us who are such sheep that they wouldn’t prefer to be armed?

An armed population is obviously less vulnerable to tyranny.  The real question is how much we should value this protection.  Certainly there are many who don’t understand or appreciate the potential to the same degree as others.  If we were to have a national debate, those people could be expected to argue that the relative value of this protection as compared to the value of disarming the public in an effort to reduce incidents of mass shootings comes out in favor of disarmament.  This would be an honest debate, pitting the Constitution’s purpose and usefulness of the Second Amendment against modern eventualities that didn’t exist at the time the Second Amendment was ratified.  Upon examination, the anti-Second Amendment argument doesn’t hold up.

 

The societal costs of the right to keep and bear arms are substantially outweighed by the societal benefits that right provides.

The advent of mass shootings in schools is obviously big problem.  It is one indication that the societal costs of maintaining a widespread right to keep and bear arms is significant and seems to be growing.  Another is the ever increasing incidents of inner-city gun violence.  The reasons for the advent of this increased gun violence are often debated but for purposes of this discussion, not important.  The key point is that, for whatever reason, we have arrived at a point in society where what were once almost unimaginable atrocities involving guns are becoming more common at an alarming rate.   It’s therefore no surprise that those who don’t recognize a substantial value in the societal benefit of widespread gun ownership would favor restricting or eliminating gun rights.  But when that value is recognized and truly appreciated, it outweighs the suffering caused by accidental and intentional misuse of firearms.  That may seem harsh but it’s no different than the calculations we subconsciously make with respect to many tools and devices we use on a day to day basis and which are often instruments of death or injury.

There are many things that bring great convenience and benefit to society but are often instruments in human suffering or the loss of human lives.  Automobile accidents kill thousands annually.  Misuse of modern medicines results in hundreds of deaths and untold human suffering.  Plane crashes kill many dozens at a time and many hundreds over the course of a few years.  Modern machinery and equipment for work, home use and recreation maim and kill hundreds of people every year.  Yet no one suggests that automobiles, modern medicines, airplanes or modern mechanical equipment should be eliminated or even seriously restricted.  We intuitively understand that the value of these things is worth the pain and suffering their use sometimes brings about.

Moreover, the pain and suffering they help to avoid, though not seen, is generally understood.  We know that modern equipment makes work easier, helping workers to avoid repetitive injuries and wear and tear on their bodies.  We know that motor vehicles and airplanes make it possible to transport sick and injured people to hospitals quickly, distribute medicines all around the world efficiently and deliver food so regularly and timely we rarely even think about how we would function if we didn’t have them.  We know that the benefits of modern medicine outweigh the pain and suffering that results from their accidental or intentional misuse

Because we recognize this value, no one seriously suggests these devices should be banned or their ownership or use seriously curtailed.  Instead, we focus on training people to use such devices as properly and safely as reasonably possible and to continuously improve the safety of the devices themselves.  Unlike the argument against certain calibers of guns or large magazine capacities, no one argues that cars should be made safer by limiting their ability to travel faster than say, 25 miles per hour or by making them bigger and heavier so that they become far more expensive to produce and to operate.  Indeed, our governments often take the opposite approach requiring smaller and relatively less safe vehicles in order to save energy or limit carbon emissions.

In contrast, the value of widespread gun ownership in protecting a nation against tyranny is difficult to see and not so intuitive.  How we might ultimately fair as a free society without an armed citizenry isn’t so obvious, especially when most of us never bother to think about it at all.  The liberty preserving benefits of widespread gun ownership are largely invisible to us unless we make a conscious effort to think about it, teach it to our children, and appreciate it.

The right to keep and bear arms works its primary value to society somewhat like an insurance policy.  Once purchased, we don’t need to think about it much.  We can take it for granted, knowing that it’s there and will do what it was designed to do if we ever need it.  Similarly, a commitment to maintain the right to keep and bear arms, enables us to take for granted that we will have a built in force to defend our liberty if ever needed.  If we allow ourselves to forget about the importance of that benefit, it becomes far easier to discount the value of gun ownership in the face of gun atrocities.

The consideration of only individually beneficial uses such as hunting, shooting sports and personal protection makes the argument for Second Amendment opponents relatively easier.  Imagine how we might react to a plane crash killing dozens of people if we allowed ourselves to forget or ignore the broad societal benefits of air travel.  Anyone who values the role of the right to keep and bear arms for potential defense of liberty should try to force themselves to remember and appreciate that role whenever faced with the question of whether we should do something to restrict firearms in an effort to stem the tide of gun related violence.

Finally, it’s important to remember that those who want to eliminate or restrict the right to keep and bear arms don’t often make supportable arguments for their suggested restrictions.  We have every reason to be suspicious about their ultimate goals.

 

The concern that “common sense” gun reforms will set the right to keep and bear arms on a slippery slope is legitimate.

Second Amendment proponents fear that every move to effectuate new regulations or restrictions is only the first of many to come.  That fear is demonstrably justified.  Those who favor state power over individual liberty are nothing if not patient.  Incrementalism is a favored tool of the left and they wield it with expertise.

Statists wanted more government intervention in health care for decades.  They tried many times.  They were patient.  They never gave up.  With the Affordable Care Act, they finally got what they wanted.  What happened next?  The ink was barely dry on President Obama’s signature when the ACA’s inherent problems started to reveal themselves.  That was enough to trigger immediate calls from the left for a single payer system.  Those calls grow louder every day.  You can be sure single payer will be their focus for months and years to come.

As recently as a couple of decades ago, the gay rights movement was primarily about eliminating laws that were perceived to inhibit homosexuals’ ability to conduct themselves and live normal lives without interference from government.  The movement was focused on eliminating government imposed limitations or impediments in their lives.  In a relatively short period of time, it has completely morphed and is now focused on using the force of law to coerce others to act against their will at the risk of losing their livelihoods.  In just a handful of years, the focus of the movement went from eliminating laws that imposed unfair impositions on homosexuals to passing laws placing impositions on everyone else.

The well justified concern over a potential incremental chipping away at the right to keep and bear arms is redoubled when Second Amendment detractors are seen to so quickly pick up the banner of “SOMETHING MUST BE DONE” in the aftermath of every atrocity.  “Something must be done” almost always implies some form of rights restricting legislation with no clear affect on the atrocities sought to be addressed.  Shouting out in a knee jerk fashion for government restrictions on constitutional rights is no way to engender confidence that the measures being suggested are deeply considered, as minimally restrictive as possible and, perhaps most important, well-tailored to address the problem.  There is often no basis in reason or experience for the new restrictions they suggest.  Such thoughtless responses give Second Amendment proponents every reason to distrust those who urge the passage of restrictions which, on their face, would do nothing to ensure any reduction whatsoever in the number or severity of these atrocities.

Apparently President Trump has unfortunately embraced just such a response in advocating that persons under the age of 21 not be permitted to purchase rifles.  It’s difficult to imagine a better example of an emotional, “just do something” response which is as unlikely to have any recognizable effect whatsoever on the number or severity of gun crimes.  The personal characteristics of the most recent violent perpetrator cannot be the basis for the next restriction to be imposed.  Stripping all adults under the age of 21 of their Second Amendment right to purchase a rifle merely because the most recent perpetrator was under 21 and used a rifle is a response completely divorced from reason.  If this time we cede the rights of those under 21, who will be next?  Postal workers?  People who wear baseball hats?  The left handed?

The emotional, knee jerk reaction to strip adults under the age of 21 of a constitutional right merely because one of their number has committed a gun atrocity perfectly illustrates why every Second Amendment supporter should be wary that any new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms are just the first of many to follow.  What reason is there to conclude otherwise?

Because we can’t know what atrocities have been avoided by existing legal restrictions, the focus is always on the atrocities that still do happen.  Were we to implement the restrictions often suggested in response to these atrocities such as eliminating under 21 purchases, AR-15’s and magazine capacities over 7, there would still likely one day be a scenario were a person over the age of 21 commits an atrocity with 3 or 4 concealed pistols and a dozen or so preloaded 7 round magazines.  He would have access to dozens of rounds and could kill or injure dozens of people.  Such an event will be followed by calls for further restrictions on magazine sizes and/or the number of pistols one individual can own.  This process of incrementally restricting gun rights would lead ultimately to the death of the Second Amendment by a thousand cuts, rendering firearms difficult to obtain, prohibitively expensive and/or of substantially reduced utility.

 

To be effective for its constitutional purpose, the Second Amendment must protect the rights of citizens to keep and bear high capacity arms and to do so without intrusion and substantial oversight by the government. 

In any defense against modern armaments, slingshots are better than throwing stones, .22 caliber single shot rifles are better than slingshots, a lever action 30-30 with a six cartridge capacity is better than a .22, and an AR-15 with a 30 round magazine is better than the 30-30.  Depending on the threat, other guns with varying capacities and capabilities may be the best suited tool for the job.  Because of advancements in armament technology a responsible citizen with the means might want to acquire sniper rifles and fully automatic weapons as well.  The constitutional purpose of the Second Amendment can only be weakened with each move to limit the types and capacities of firearms the law abiding public can obtain.

 

Conclusion

Gun atrocities justifiably give rise to a call for action.  But the answer isn’t to yield more of our liberty to the government by giving up or weakening the right to keep and bear arms.  We need the advantage that widespread gun ownership has always given us in remaining a free people, not to mention the added value of protecting ourselves and our families as needed.

Rather than yield our right to keep and bear arms, we should unleash American ingenuity and can-do spirit to protect potential victims and known targets of those who wish to perpetrate mass violence.  We should virtually eliminate “gun free zones”.  We should harden our schools including, as necessary, new building design to eliminate or minimize the opportunity for outsiders to gain access without vetting, metal detectors, permanently stationed officers and/or well-trained and armed teachers, custodians and administrators.

For whatever reason, times have changed.  What were once unimaginable atrocities are now our unfortunate reality.  Rather than arbitrarily and senselessly eliminating the constitutional rights of those under 21 to keep and bear arms, we should implement strategies and protocols which have a rational basis in preventing these atrocities or enabling them to be addressed more immediately when they do happen.  We have no hesitation in implementing such strategies for the protection of many other government owned buildings that have no similar history of being targeted by evil forces hell-bent on death and destruction.  At a minimum, those same measures should be employed in schools.

Finally, the primary constitutional utility of the right to keep and bear arms is the preservation of liberty.  Second Amendment supporters should boldly embrace that original purpose and advocate widespread gun ownership as a protection against tyranny.  Only when the debate over the Second Amendment includes the original constitutional purpose of the Second Amendment will the broader public begin to consider that the right to keep and bear arms provides benefits to society at large far beyond the individual benefits it provides to those who own guns primarily for their personal defense and enjoyment.

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The Teacher Pay Debate In W. Va.

West Virginia is currently in the throes of a teacher pay debate.  The teachers want raises and a cap on their exposure to increasing health insurance premiums.  Much of the debate has centered around the insufficiency of past pay increases, the comparative pay of teachers in surrounding states, and the effective diminution of their disposable income if it is subjected to market based health insurance increases.  The debate misses the larger problem with the manner in which teachers’ salaries and benefits are determined in West Virginia.

We’ve unnecessarily eliminated all free market pricing mechanisms from the process of setting teachers’ salaries and benefits. The free market would set the price of teacher labor by virtue of what actual consumers would be willing to pay for a particular teacher’s services and benefits. That function of the market having long ago been eliminated, there is no way to determine the ‘correct’ price for an individual teacher’s services.  Instead, it’s left to political (rather than market) processes, where price is determined by the political pull of teachers’ unions weighted against representatives’ mandate to balance the budget while (as always) operating under the perpetual influence of the next election.

Good teachers would undoubtedly benefit immensely from a system that determined teacher pay based upon free market mechanisms rather the ‘one size fits all’ deals cut by unions on behalf of all public educators.  Teachers unions will never support free market initiatives because they 1) necessarily result in higher pay for more effective teachers and therefore, 2) create a class of teachers who perceive themselves to be unfairly treated and thus not adequately served by the unions and thus, 3) erode the unions’ power and influence.

This political issue over teacher salaries and benefits is a good context in which to see this inefficient paradigm at work first hand.   Elected representatives are trying to cope with a budget that must be balanced and an electorate that is clamoring to be heard from both sides of the issue – but particularly from the side advancing the cause of teacher pay raises and increased benefits packages.  Why particularly the teachers?  Because they have the political pull, a perceived vested interest, and the most to gain from winning the issue.

On one hand there is a self-interested political power base in the teachers’ who, for the most part, individually had nothing to do with creating or maintaining this system, but have operated within its paradigm their entire careers.  They’re organized and they want what they want.  They perceive that they wear the white hat in this political battle and they’ve taken that mantle for themselves in the press and in the public statements made by their union leaders and by many political officials who either truly agree with them or are willing to patronize them in hopes of gaining their political support in the future.

On the other hand there is everyone else – the mass of citizen tax payers who have varying experiences with their respective employers and health insurance. No doubt, many have long suffered the experience of seeing their disposable income reduced annually by increasing annual health insurance premiums. As a result, this group is naturally somewhat unmoved by teacher complaints that their disposable income may now suffer because of their own health insurance premiums increasing.  Many who are not employed in government jobs have been laboring under that harsh reality for years.  But as a group, they are not sufficiently organized to take a strong position in opposition to unions who are demanding benefits for members which non-government employees cannot get in the private sector.  The individual benefit or detriment regular citizens will realize from whatever pay scheme the system ultimately puts in place is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify.  Their perceived individual interest in the outcome of the issue pales in comparison to that of the teachers.

Everything about this problem ultimately lies in the fact that that there is no market based pricing mechanism for teacher pay and benefits in West Virginia.  As a result, the teacher faction makes appeals as to what the universe of all teachers in West Virginia “deserve”.  If free market mechanisms were employed we would see that some teachers deserve a raise and some don’t.  And some deserve a bigger raise than others.  Rather than implementing market mechanisms to determine what individual teachers actually deserve, the entire question gets dumped into the arena of representative majoritarianism – can a political faction persuade or threaten a sufficient number of elected representatives to their side of the issue to get what they want as a collective group from the public fisc.  That is no way to set the price of labor in a free society, regardless of how much flexibility West Virginia has, or doesn’t have, in the budget.

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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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