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.

 

 

 

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.

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)

 

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.

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.

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.

 

The Left’s Re-Messaging of ‘Post-Truth’

Last week, The Oxford English Dictionary announced that its choice for the 2016 Word of the Year is post-truth, defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Andrew Calcutt recently explained the leftist origins of post-truth here:

“(T)he connotations embedded in “post-truth” commentary are normally as follows: “post-truth” is the product of populism; it is the bastard child of common-touch charlatans and a rabble ripe for arousal; it is often in blatant disregard of the actualité.  But this interpretation blatantly disregards the actual origins of “post-truth”. These lie neither with those deemed under-educated nor with their new-found champions. Instead, the groundbreaking work on “post-truth” was performed by academics, with further contributions from an extensive roster of middle-class professionals. Left-leaning, self-confessed liberals, they sought freedom from state-sponsored truth; instead they built a new form of cognitive confinement—‘post-truth’. More than 30 years ago, academics started to discredit “truth” as one of the “grand narratives” which clever people could no longer bring themselves to believe in. Instead of “the truth,” which was to be rejected as naïve and/or repressive, a new intellectual orthodoxy permitted only “truths”—always plural, frequently personalized, inevitably relativized.  Under the terms of this outlook, all claims on truth are relative to the particular person making them; there is no position outside our own particulars from which to establish universal truth. … “Post-truth” is the latest step in a logic long established in the history of ideas, and previously expressed in the cultural turn led by middle-class professionals. Instead of blaming populism for enacting what we set in motion, it would be better to acknowledge our own shameful part in it.”

As a word, ‘post-truth’ has been in usage since at least 2004 when it was incorporated in the title of a book by Ralph Keyes, The Post-Truth Era; Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life.

Notwithstanding Calcutt’s historical explanation and the fact that the word has been in usage for at least a dozen years, the left is hard at work to ensure the public interprets ‘post-truth’ only as an epithet on Donald Trump; as a new term used to define a new and awful circumstance which he and his supporters brought about with the help of an enabling media.

Examples:

  • The Washington Post in a November 16 article titled Post-truth’ named 2016 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries“It’s official: Truth is dead.  Facts are passe. … Throughout a grueling presidential campaign in which accusations of lies and alternate realities flowed freely, in every direction, hundreds of fact checks were published about statements from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Dozens of media outlets found that Trump’s relationship with the truth was, well, complicated.”
  • Ann McFeatters, syndicated columnist, in a November 20 column titled Nothing’s sacred in ‘post-truth’ USA, spends the entirety of the column deriding Donald Trump.  The implication raised by the title is obvious; Trumps victory has marked the beginning of ‘post-truth’ in America.  She wrote, “…we live in a post-truth world where the president of the United States (referring to Trump) has lied repeatedly, pathologically and, apparently, without consequence. And, undoubtedly, will continue to do so.”  In a remarkable exposure of her own ability to ignore objective facts and operate comfortably in the post-truth arena she wrote, “Trump has named as his chief White House adviser Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart “News,” a white supremacist-supporting outfit that is mainly known for spewing hate and intolerance.” 
  • Margaret Sullivan, syndicated columnist, in a November 17 column entitled Three ways the press must cover Trump in the abnormal days to come, also implies that ‘post-truth’ is a new term appropriately used to describe the US after the election of Donald Trump.  “In this post-truth universe, where established facts often don’t matter as much as appeals to emotion and partisan ideology, we also hear another word a lot: “normalize.” The question behind the word is this: In covering President-elect Trump and his presidency, should the traditional news media treat this like any other transition, and like any other run-of-the-mill administration?”  Incredibly, she suggests that it is Trump’s post-truth presidency (as opposed to sound journalistic principles) which gives rise to a new “formulation” for a new media approach she has been hearing about “recently”; “scrutinize, don’t normalize”.  How interesting that leftist media types are warming up to the notion that maybe they should do their job in fulfilling their constitutional role as a scrutinizing check on the government now that their party is leaving the White House.

 

As I wrote here, “in our self-governing society, the usurpation of language has always been a favored tool of the left.  By controlling language, they affect messaging and ultimately thought. … Sometimes they co-opt words which have gained favor with the public and redefine them, presumably in the hope that the positive connotation will continue even after it has been redefined.  There is perhaps no better example of this tactic than the progressives’ theft of the word “liberalism”.   Once, “liberalism” defined a political perspective which valued individual and economic liberty, private property, very limited government and the strict application of the rule of law.  Because the progressive movement stole the term and redefined it for its own purposes, this original conception of “liberalism” is now typically referred to as “classical liberalism” in order to distinguish it from modern liberalism.”

The left is now running the same play in the opposite direction.  They stole the word ‘liberalism’, redefined it and co-opted it for their own use.  Now they seek to redeploy ‘post-truth’, a word brought about in large part as a result of the left’s historical efforts to avoid objective truth and reality, and impose it as a permanent epithet upon Donald Trump and his supporters.  It’s reasonable to suppose that they would like to see it forever tied around Trump’s neck; a descriptive albatross crafted by the left, amplified by the leftist media’s megaphone and drummed into the consciousness of the public as an adjective only applicable to Trump’s presidency.

 

 

In Defense Of The 2nd Amendment

In response to the Orlando terrorist attack, David S. Cohen penned this article which was published on Rolling Stone’s webpage.  It’s title, “Why It’s Time to Repeal the Second Amendment” is refreshing for its honesty.  Statists who wish to further empower government at the expense of individual liberty usually do so in small doses, with suggestions of ‘reasonable’ impositions on our liberties in order to give the government ‘just a little’ more authority over us in order to fix some perceived problem.  The goal is usually to induce us to take that first step out onto a slippery slope where we will then be expected to acquiesce to further incremental losses of our liberties.  Cohen’s call for the complete repeal of the 2nd Amendment is refreshing because it is honest.  No slippery slope here – he wants you to agree to an outright repeal of your right to keep and bear arms.

Unfortunately, the honesty is confined entirely to the title.  The body of this short article is filled with unsupported leftist propaganda.  Included are inaccurate criticisms of the Founders (they “enshrined slavery into the Constitution in multiple ways”); straw-man arguments against the perpetual perfection of the Constitution (no one seriously argues that the Constitution is perpetually – or temporarily – perfect); a leftist checklist for how the Constitution might be improved (an equal rights amendment, Senate representation based on population); and misdirecting arguments about gun control which avoid discussing the reason the 2nd Amendment was proposed and ratified (firearms are capable of more damage than the founders could have imagined; the risks of the right to keep and bear arms now outweigh the benefits; though Cohen offers no analysis or comment on what the benefits are).

Though Cohen has posited several assailable propositions in just a few sentences, one who wishes to clearly and demonstrably refute them is forced to do so in substantial detail.  The refutation necessarily takes more time, and words, than does the statement of the simple proposition.  For that reason, I’ll limit my criticism to only one aspect of Cohen’s article…the conflation of ‘liberty’ and the ‘right’ to be safe and secure.

Statism cannot prevail for long where liberty is understood and appreciated.  Statists know this.  For that reason, they’ve gone to great effort over the years to muddle the definition of the word ‘liberty’ in order to introduce confusion. We see this tactic utilized in Cohen’s article.  He wrote:

“Gun-rights advocates like to make this all about liberty, insisting that their freedom to bear arms is of utmost importance and that restricting their freedom would be a violation of basic rights.  But liberty is not a one way street. … It includes the liberty to…go anywhere and feel that you are free to do to so without having to weigh the risk of being gunned down by someone wielding a weapon that can easily kill you and countless others.  The liberty of some to own guns cannot take precedence over the liberty of everyone to live their lives free from the risk of being easily murdered.”

Cohen misunderstands and therefore misrepresents liberty.  ‘Liberty’ connotes the relationship between government and citizens.  It involves the question of what impositions the sovereign can place on the freedom of citizens.  It has no place in any discussion regarding citizens’ actions among each other. The usage of the word ‘right’ in the context of interactions both between and among individuals and between individuals and government has possibly helped to further this confusion.  A good case in point is the 2nd Amendment itself which provides that “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.”  Thus, the right to keep and bear arms, like the right not to incriminate oneself, and the right to free speech, is a liberty because the government is restrained from limiting or regulating our autonomy in that regard.  In contrast, the right not to be murdered by a fellow citizen is not a liberty because it does not involve the misplaced force of government.

When Cohen attempts to place the ‘liberty’ to keep and bear arms in the same context as the ‘right’ not to be murdered, he implies a false equivalency between liberties (from government intrusion) and rights (vis-a-vis fellow citizens).  These concepts are not one in the same.  Statists hope that the casual or uncritical reader will accept this false equivalency and perform their own balancing test between a real liberty (the government can’t infringe on gun ownership) and a right mislabeled as a ‘liberty’ (not to be murdered by a fellow citizen).  Faced with that deceptive choice, some would quickly determine that that the ‘liberty’ not to be murdered is more important that the liberty of keeping and bearing arms.  Thus, statists hope that the failure to understand and appreciate the difference between liberty from governmental intrusion and a right not to be murdered by a fellow citizen will lead one to embrace the notion of voluntarily yielding liberty in exchange for a mere promise of better security and safety.  While some would suggest that such a trade-off is advisable, one should come to that conclusion only after coming to a full understanding of what the tradeoff is – real liberty for a mere promise of security – rather than what Cohen portrays it to be – yielding one liberty to enhance or protect another.

Once properly understood, the proposition that the 2nd Amendment should be repealed gives rise to some obvious questions which should be carefully considered before yielding a liberty which has been held inviolate since the founding of the country.

  • How will the government meet its promise of providing better security?
  • What basis does the government have to suggest that we will be safer without the right to keep and bear arms?
  • If we yield our right to keep and bear arms, we’ll be less secure in our own homes.  How will the government replace the personal security we can now provide for ourselves and our families?
  • Once we amend the Constitution to eliminate our right to keep and bear arms, it will be very difficult if not impossible to turn back.  What if it doesn’t work and we end up less secure as a result of the fact that we may be prohibited from owning guns to protect ourselves?

Finally, we must keep in mind the real reason the 2nd Amendment was ratified in the first place – not for hunting, target shooting or even home defense, but to safeguard against tyranny.  Just a few short decades ago authoritarian tyranny was rampant in the world.  Today it still exists, though in smaller, often ignored pockets.  But throughout all of human history, authoritarian tyranny has prevailed.

Over the course of the decades since World War II, democratic governments across the world have acted to restrict the liberty of their citizens to keep and bear arms.  As such, America stands as the last major western democratic nation where the people have retained that liberty.  We once learned and should now remember the horrible consequences that can befall an otherwise free people when their liberty to keep and bear arms is breached.  We should not be so cavalier as to yield our liberties when times are such that they may not seem to be crucial.  The liberty to keep and bear arms is crucial and will always be crucial because times change. History is not static.  We must maintain that particular liberty in order to have any hope of maintaining all our other liberties should the day come when it is necessary to defend them.  If we yield the liberty to keep and bear arms, all others will be placed in a state of perpetual jeopardy and we will have willingly exposed ourselves to all that history should by now have taught us to guard against.

 

Beyond The Right To Carry Firearms

Judging from social media comments, there is a lot of misunderstanding concerning the recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Peruta v. County of San Diego.  The purpose of this article is to clear up the some of the confusion and to call attention to a potential scenario whereby the question of the 2nd Amendment ‘right to carry’ might ultimately be used by the left in an effort to damage the Constitution beyond the 2nd Amendment.

In Peruta, the 9th Circuit ruled that there is no 2nd Amendment right to carry a firearm in public.  The states comprising the 9th circuit are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.  Because Peruta is a decision by the 9th Circuit, it affects only those states.  Importantly, it does not make carrying a firearm illegal in those states.  It doesn’t nullify or void or de-constitutionalize any 9th Circuit member states’ laws permitting citizens to carry.  It merely states that there is no individual 2nd Amendment right to carry a firearm.  Thus, states may choose to disallow carrying a firearm, but they are not required to do so.  Any state in the 9th Circuit which chooses to permit carrying may do so.  That has not changed.  And the 9th Circuit decision has no direct legal effect at all in any state outside of the 9th Circuit.

Of course, that is not so say that the Peruta decision is no cause for concern outside of the 9th Circuit.  If a citizen’s rights are infringed, we should all be concerned.  Similarly, anytime an American court attempts to justify perceived impositions upon constitutional rights, we rightfully worry about the rule of law and the continued diminishment of our Constitution.  Finally and most importantly, the practical ramifications of the 9th Circuit decision might be more profound and much more imposing than would initially appear.

In the event the Peruta decision is accepted on appeal by the Supreme Court, or a similar case from another Circuit results in such an appeal being accepted by the Supreme Court, then the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to decide for the entire nation what, if any constitutional right individuals have to carry firearms.  Were the Supreme Court to issue a decision in accord with the holding in Peruta, there would be virtually no individual constitutional right to carry a firearm, whether concealed or open carry.  Any state could legislate stringent restrictions or virtual bans.  But again, they would not be obliged to do so.  A rights respecting state would still have the ability to enable individuals to carry firearms despite the ruling that they have no 2nd Amendment right to do so.  There is however a larger concern in the event all three branches of government align.

‘The Supremacy Clause’ of the Constitution is contained within Article 6 which provides in part that the “Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”  The Supremacy Clause made perfect sense when drafted because there was an expectation that the powers of the Federal government, limited as they were by the Constitution itself, would remain limited.  The founders expected that any significant attempt by the Federal government to illegally expand its power would by rebuffed by the states and by the people.

The New Deal era ushered in a new age in Federal Government power.  As I wrote more extensively here, a Supreme Court which had been a stalwart protector of the Constitution against overreaching New Deal legislation, became compliant to Congress and FDR almost overnight.  Where it had typically used judicial review of federal legislation to limit the Federal Government to its constitutional sphere, it began reinterpreting the now ‘living’ Constitution so as to enable a massive expansion of Federal Government power.  One of its favorite and well-worn avenues for doing so was the misinterpretation of ‘The Commerce Clause’ of the Constitution.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution specifies Congress’s powers.  Included is the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”  The Commerce Clause was intended to enable Congress to regulate trade among the states so that it could be normalized and in order to avoid trade conflicts between and among the states.  For decades that’s how it was utilized and interpreted.  Only after the advent of the ‘living’ Constitution, did the Federal Government use the Commerce Clause to justify the widespread intrusion upon myriad private economic and personal relationships between and among individuals – and the Supreme Court rubberstamped virtually every expansion for decades.

Finally, in 1995 the Supreme Court decided the case of Lopez v. United States.  In Lopez, the Court considered the constitutionality of the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990.  The Act made it a crime to knowingly possess a firearm at a place that the person knows, or has reasonable cause to believe is a “school zone”.  The statute in no way purported to regulate a commercial activity, nor did it require any link between the possession of the fire arm or the fire arm itself, to interstate commerce.  The sole basis asserted for constitutional authority was that possession of a firearm in a school zone ‘substantially affects’ interstate commerce.

In its effort to defend the statute, the government argued that a firearm may result in violent crime and that violent crime in and around a school could be expected to affect the national economy in two ways.  First, the costs are substantial and those costs are ultimately spread throughout the entire population.  Second, violent crime reduces the desire or willingness of individuals to travel to areas deemed unsafe.  Also, guns in and around schools could damage the learning environment ultimately resulting in a less productive economy.  Based on this reasoning, the government contended that Congress had a rational basis to conclude that the statute would substantially affect interstate commerce.

The opinion was authored by Justice Rehnquist.  Justices Thomas, O’Connor, Scalia and Kennedy joined in majority for the decision.  The opinion  identifies several prior cases where the Court found Federal legislation to be authorized under the Commerce Clause and argues that each involved an economic activity that substantially affected commerce.  Specific examples provided are Hodel (“intrastate coal mining”), Perez, (“extortionate credit transactions”), Katzenbach (“restaurants utilizing substantial interstate supplies”), Heart of Atlanta (“inns and hotels catering to interstate guests”) and the infamous Wickard v. Filburn (“consumption of homegrown wheat”).  The distinguishing factor in the Court’s decision to disallow the Gun-Free School Zones Act was the notion that the activity regulated was not commercial or economic activity.  With Lopez, the Court finally drew a line in the sand beyond which it would not permit to Congress to use the misinterpreted Commerce Clause to legitimize an expansion of Federal power.  If activity isn’t commercial or economic, the Commerce Clause won’t be read to authorize Congress to regulate it.

To be sure, the statists who desire an ever expanding Federal Government would like nothing more than to overturn Lopez and return the misinterpreted Commerce Clause to its former status as an infallible and infinite source of federal power – which brings us back to Peruta and its potential aftermath.  One can foresee a two stage effort statists might employ to simultaneously achieve two goals; erode the 2nd Amendment and overturn Lopez.

The first stage would employ an appeal to the Supreme Court in an effort to nationalize the Peruta decision or some variation of it.  The end goal would be a Supreme Court decision declaring that there is no 2nd Amendment right to carry a firearm, whether concealed or open carry.  If that effort succeeds, the second stage would employ Federal legislation, purportedly authorized by the Commerce Clause, to make concealed carry illegal nationally.  Because of the Supremacy Clause, any such legislation would override any state legislation recognizing the legality of concealed carry.

Of course, the Federal law banning carrying nationwide would necessarily result in an appeal to the Supreme Court based on Lopez.  It’s one thing for the Supreme Court to have ruled in the first stage that there is no 2nd Amendment right to carry.  It’s another thing altogether for Congress to assert the authority at the Federal level to ban carrying firearms.  Lopez established that there is no such authority under the Commerce Clause.  Thus, the left would seek to overturn Lopez.  If successful, the statist effort could result in a Supreme Court decision that both recognizes the legitimacy of Federal legislation outlawing the carrying of firearms and overturns Lopez thus reopening the font of illegitimate federal power that was the misinterpreted Commerce Clause.

I’m not predicting this scenario will come to pass or even that statist forces will make the effort.  But if the day comes when statists judge that the Supreme Court would seriously consider nationalizing the Peruta decision and overruling Lopez and that Congress would pass national concealed carry legislation, it would be extremely naïve to believe that they wouldn’t make the effort.  The left is nothing if not patient and should be expected to make this effort when the time is right even if not for many years.  Those who would defend the Constitution, federalism and individual liberty should be mindful of such a strategy and vigilant if circumstances develop which tend to indicate such an effort is underway.

 

 

 

 

The Good In West Virginia’s Budget Dispute

I live in West Virginia where state government is embroiled in a budget battle.  Tax revenues have dropped substantially.  Through the regular legislative session and 12 days of a special session, the legislature could not agree on a combination of spending cuts, tax increases and/or the use of ‘rainy day’ account funds capable of gaining a majority of both houses.  Finally, on Friday, a budget passed both houses.  It’s now on the governor’s desk.  Most anticipate a veto.

Partisan positioning based on ideology has been prevalent.  For the first time in my memory, the legislature is reflective of a two-party system and the ideological divisions that come with that distinction are still somewhat of a novelty here.  In the past, whenever revenues dropped off, the only responses likely to be considered involved revenue enhancement, i.e., tax increases.  Now, a Republican disdain for tax increases is running head long into the unfortunate and nearly universal political desire to not cut spending.  That struggle is largely new to West Virginia and the legislature has floundered in the effort to find majority support for any combination of the available approaches to deal with the reality of falling revenue.

Partisan squabbling based on achieving political advantage in the November general election has been rampant; who is ‘at fault’ for the delay in achieving a budget…who should ‘have seen this coming’ and planned for it better…who doesn’t care about the state employees who may see their pay cut or might be subjected to a furlough…who doesn’t care about education…who wants to single out smokers for taxation, etc…

Social media has been very active with budget discussions and debates among the politically inclined and those who may not typically be policitally interested but are compelled to the debate in an effort to protect their personal ox from being gored.  Local newspapers and websites have been laser focused on the daily machinations, reporting every suggested resolution and each inevitable opposing response.

Though I have no data, I’m certain delegates and senators are hearing from their constituents in a loud and clear fashion exactly how they feel about various aspects of the budget dispute.  And no doubt, those delegates and senators are feeling the electoral pressure that flows naturally from an interested and attentive citizenry.

And it’s all been a good thing.  That’s not to say that each suggested resolution, each response in opposition, each transparent effort at political posturing and every hateful private debate made public by virtue of the internet has been a good.  But what has been a very, very good thing is the process – the forest, if not each of the trees.

I’m happy for the opportunity to finally live in a state where political solutions are not forgone conclusions and therefore not subjected to public debate.  I’m happy to finally live in a state where the push/pull between balancing revenue and spending is a real contest for public opinion.  But most of all, I’m happy for the reminder which witnessing this process provides as to what self-government can and should be.

The United States was founded in part on federalism.  The federal government and the states were to share sovereignty.  The federal government was to have very limited and specified powers.  James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 45 that “The powers delegated by the Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.” 

 There were a number of reasons for this approach.  Practically, the states could not be expected to ratify a Constitution that didn’t preserve for them broad powers.  Individuals generally identified the state in which they resided as where their allegiance lay.  Many were skeptical at the notion of granting the central government any additional authority beyond those anemic powers specified in the Articles Of Confederation.  Simply, the Constitution could not have been ratified were it not for the fact that the states retained substantial sovereignty.

Fundamentally, the framers recognized that there were only certain functions the central government could perform effectively.  They recognized that effective self-government implies local government and that representative government requires the people to have access to their representatives with respect to the issues that matter most in their lives.  The more local the government, the more likely the public to remain engaged, the more likely self-government would truly be ‘self-government’.  As Madison wrote, “The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

Since the 1930’s the Federal Government has acquisitioned the constitutional authority of the states through many mechanisms.  The Supreme Court has regularly and intentionally misinterpreted the Constitution in order to enable the expansion of federal power.  More directly, the Federal Government has ‘purchased’ state sovereignty by returning taxed money to the states, but only with strings attached – strings which force the states to act or refrain from acting as directed by the Federal Government.  The result is an ever more powerful Federal Government acting as puppeteer, manipulating the states to yield their constitutional sovereignty in exchange for a return of moneys previously funneled from the people to Washington via the taxing authority.

That centralization of power in Washington is rendering Madison’s vision of the states legislating in all matters most important to the people a broken promise.  And as power is moved from state capitals to Washington, it’s only natural that the people become disengaged politically.  As I previously wrote here, “Centralization of everything from healthcare to public education to speed limits on local highways slowly engenders a defeatist attitude in the mind of the civically interested individual.  Her political voice, once easily heard on a local or even state level, has become a mere whisper, taking a back seat to the special interests groups and cronies who have the financial wherewithal to amplify their voices loud enough to be heard in Washington.  The ever growing and seemingly all powerful regulatory and administrative state is even worse, often leaving individuals with feelings of helplessness and inevitability.”

The West Virginia budget debate, though difficult, fraught with political infighting and subject to varying opposing perspectives, is representative government in America as it was intended to be.  Concerned citizens can be heard and can participate.  Politicians hear the voices of their constituents and expect to be held to account.  Regardless of the outcome of the debate, West Virginians should take satisfaction in the fact that their voices and their votes matter to a degree which cannot be replicated at the federal level where individual citizens are dissuaded by design from becoming involved and, when they do decide to speak, find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard.  Citizens of every state should keep this in mind when confronted with Washington’s next, inevitable effort to usurp constitutional sovereignty from the state capitals to Washington D.C.

Current Events and Timeless Ideas Pertaining to the Societal Benefits of Liberty and the Rule of Law and the Social Destruction Occasioned By Restraint, Coercion and Cronyism

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