Monthly Archives: April 2012

In Appreciation of Diana Hsieh

As Diana Hsieh turns the primary leadership of Front Range Objectivism (a group devoted to studying and applying the ideas of Ayn Rand) over to the capable hands of Santiago Valenzuela, it is a great time to pause to appreciate all the great things Diana has accomplished in recent years.

• After undergoing the rigors of graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Diana completed her dissertation on the problem of “moral luck.” Essentially, she demonstrated that people are responsible for their own choices, luck notwithstanding.

• Diana has become an accomplished public speaker, and she has helped others in the area (including me) improve their speaking skills. As an example of her efforts, earlier this month Diana spoke to over 50 people at Liberty On the Rocks in Denver. Drawing from her dissertation, she argued that people deserve what they earn, contrary to John Rawls’s claims that people get what they have through luck. And last month Diana gave a “Think!” talk at CU about Rand’s conception of moral perfection.

• Diana helped create several Atlas Shrugged reading groups in the Denver area, groups that have have developed into regular monthly reading groups.

• Diana developed the “Explore Atlas Shrugged” podcast series, an excellent companion to the novel.

• In other ways, Diana has helped to expand Front Range Objectivism, as by developing its web page and running the “Snowcon” conference for the past two years.

• Diana formulated the most rigorous case for abortion rights ever written from an Objectivist perspective. She also put substantial effort into defeating the so-called “personhood” anti-abortion ballot measures in Colorado. Diana and I coauthored papers on the subject for the Coalition for Secular Government and for The Objective Standard.

• Diana created the “OLists” to promote Objectivist activism and community.

• Amidst all this other work, Diana developed her “Philosophy In Action” weekly webcast, which focuses on applying philosophy to the challenges of daily living. She plans to focus her efforts on expanding this.

Diana has done far more than most to promote important ideas over the past few years, and she deserves our gratitude and appreciation.

Progress Means Respecting People’s Rights

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 27 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Last week self-proclaimed “progressives” rallied at the state capitol for higher taxes. But there’s nothing progressive about forcibly confiscating other people’s wealth. Real progress comes from respecting people’s rights and banning coercion—the initiation of force—from social relationships.

The tax-hikers build their case on obfuscation. Consider an email distributed on Tax Day by the absurdly named ProgressNow Colorado, more accurately identified as CoercionNow. This group led a “proud to pay” taxes campaign, claiming that taxes produce “smart, educated kids,” fix “potholes and shaky bridges,” leave the state better than we found it, and affirm that “we’re all in this together.”

Somehow CoercionNow failed to mention that its members are “proud to pay” taxes to finance corporate welfare, bail out banks and auto unions, finance “nation building” exercises around the world at fantastic cost to U.S. life and productivity, incarcerate fellow citizens for actions that violate nobody’s rights, persecute ebook publishers, enforce wage controls that devastate employment opportunities for the poor, stop grocery stores from selling regular-strength beer (and enforce thousands of similarly absurd “regulations”), and create widespread dependency.

But let us focus on the more positive tax expenditures that CoercionNow cherry picks. The idea that government-run schools produce especially “smart, educated kids” is laughable, especially in relation to the enormous cost. What we’re really producing are rich, politically powerful “public” unions that back the “progressive” agenda.

True, some teachers in government schools are excellent, and some classes help students learn what they need. But U.S. schools regularly lag behind those of other nations, and often they utterly fail the poorest students. If we want to see education thrive and effectively serve the needs of students, we must introduce free markets in education. Then parents, who normally will finance their own children’s education (rather than pay a lifetime of taxes to educate other people’s children), will have both the ability and incentive to ensure their children end up in great schools. And individuals can contribute to voluntary charity programs to expand the opportunities available to the poor.

As for roads, the gasoline tax is supposed to link use of the roads with their financing. Insofar as the government operates various services (and the matter of whether it should operate roads lies outside the scope of today’s column), it should finance them through use taxes. Those are far different from the redistributionist schemes of the “progressives.” CoercionNow’s reference to roads is merely a bait-and-switch: the group advertises the paving of roads for the purpose of expanding the welfare state.

Beyond education and roads, CoercionNow turns to bromides and vague generalities. “I want to leave Colorado better than I found it.” Who doesn’t? The best way to do that is to expand liberty. “We’re all in this together.” Does the “this” refer to a free republic or to the Greek-style socialist hellhole the “progressives” wish to create?

Notice CoercionNow’s biggest lie: they claim to be “proud” to pay their own taxes, but what they’re really after is to force others to pay more taxes. After all, nothing is stopping members of CoercionNow from paying as much of their own money as they want to the government. Nor is anything stopping them from financing any private charity.

Let us return to fundamentals. The source of all significant human progress has been the growing recognition of the rights of the individual, however sporadic that has been. Unfortunately, no government anywhere on earth has ever fully protected individual rights—though the United States, grounded on the individual’s “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” has come the closest. It is time for us to complete the task our Founders started.

The protection of individual rights and the banishment of coercion are flip sides of the same coin. In order to protect individual rights, we must keep the individual safe from the initiatory force of others. In a proper society, no one may murder another, rob from another, claim the property of another through fraud or broken contract, bind or restrict anyone except to lawfully protect others’ rights, or damage another’s property.

When government protects individual rights, prosperous civil society can thrive. Individuals can live their own lives by their own judgment. They can remain alone when they want and join others when they want. They can work and produce as they deem best, using their own resources and those others grant them through voluntary contract. They can keep the fruits of their labor to spend, save, invest, or give away as they deem best. The only legal restriction is that no individual may initiate force against another.

We’ll know we’ve made real progress when no one dares express “pride” in calling for the initiation of force against others. True champions of progress, prosperity, and peaceful human relations proudly advocate the abolition of coercion and the consistent protection of individual rights.

My January 2012 TOS Blog Posts

Following are links to all of my Objective Standard blog posts for January of this year. Once I catch up, I plan to publish updates every week or two. See my TOS category for a complete listing.

January 4, 2012
Santorum Stands for Big Government because He Stands for Collectivism

January 9, 2012
Who Deserves Credit for Tebow’s 316 Yards?

January 9, 2012
Even with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party Undermines Liberty

January 15, 2012
Did God Help the Patriots Beat the Broncos?

January 24, 2012
Romney Should Call for Property Rights and Lower Taxes for Everyone

January 25, 2012
To Give Americans a “Fair Shot,” Obama Should Stop Violating Our Rights

January 25, 2012
Double-Taxation Means Double Injustice for Romney

January 26, 2012
Great Producers Deserve Our Gratitude, Not Obama’s Tax Hikes

January 27, 2012
Warren Buffett Immorally Calls for Tax Hikes on Top Producers

January 28, 2012
Obama Should Help End All Energy Subsidies, Not Play Favorites

January 30, 2012
Gingrich Seeks to Violate Rights of Women and Doctors to Engage in Fertility Care

January 31, 2012
Texas Anti-Abortion Law Violates Rights to Liberty and Freedom of Speech

My 2011 TOS Blog Posts

Following are all my Objective Standard blog posts for 2011. I’ve put an asterisk by my personal favorites. See also my TOS print articles (so far). My plan is to post this year’s posts in monthly batches until I catch up, then include each week’s new posts in regular updates. See my TOS category for the complete list.

“Fair Tax” Looks Ugly in the Details
October 1, 2011

Fuel Controls Violate Rights and Stifle Markets
October 7, 2011

How to Actually “Separate Government from the Corporations”
October 11, 2011

“Fair Tax Offers Neither Fairness Nor Simplicity
October 12, 2011

The Justice of Income Inequality Under Capitalism
October 19, 2011

Yes, President Obama, We Can’t Wait…
October 25, 2011

Student Loan Scheme Just Another Rights-Violating Bailout
October 28, 2011

Call It Exuberant Friday, Not “Black Friday”
November 23, 2011

Contra Occupiers, Profits Embody Justice
December 2, 2011

To Protect Rights, Phase Out Payroll Tax Completely
December 9, 2011

Obama’s Osawatomie Shakedown: Critics’ Roundup
December 15, 2011

Newt Sides with Anti-Abortion Zealots
December 22, 2011

My TOS Articles (So Far)

No doubt many of my readers have noticed that I’ve been writing for the blog of The Objective Standard. A lot.

It occurred to me that I should be tracking my work for that publication here at my own web page. So I just created a “TOS” category specifically for that purpose.

Eventually, I want to include a weekly update of all my new posts, in addition to a summary of each new print article. But I’m behind, so I plan to spend the next few days catching up. I begin with my print articles to date:

The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties
This article, coauthored with Diana Hsieh, offers a robust argument as to why rights begin at birth, and not before.

Lest We Be Doomed to Repeat It
Subtitled “A Survey of Amity Shlaes’s History of the Great Depression,” this article reviews Shlaes’s book The Forgotten Man and highlights its major themes.

Capitalist Solutions: A Philosophy of American Moral Dilemmas by Andrew Bernstein
I review Bernstein’s book, which covers a variety of issues ranging from environmentalism to gun rights.

Capitalism Unbound: The Incontestable Moral Case for Individual Rights by Andrew Bernstein
I also reviewed Bernstein’s earlier book. Note that I also selected this book for Liberty In the Books, and everybody in that group really enjoyed reading and discussing it.

The Renaissance of Liberty Begins in Colorado

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 13 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Over the last century the federal government has claimed sweeping powers over our lives. It has spent the nation into debt that races past yearly productive output, continued its decades-long march to nationalize health care, and seized control of our economic and personal lives far beyond the powers enumerated in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the typical individual can exercise little if any meaningful control over national politics. Sure, we can try to elect better people to Congress and then hold them accountable. But congressional districts are large, the District of Columbia is far away, and national politics is dominated by special-interest groups seeking political favors. What, then, is the alternative?

Citizens of the original states created the federal government to handle national defense, prevent the states from imposing economically damaging protectionism, and handle a few other jobs beyond the capabilities of the state governments. The federal government was never supposed to turn into the monolithic power it has become. Indeed, the Tenth Amendment explicitly reserves “powers not delegated” to the federal government “to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Every school child learns that the Founders separated powers among the branches of the federal government, but, just as importantly, they separated powers among levels of government. Federalism—the separation of state and federal powers—is a central doctrine of American government. It is high time we fought to restore American federalism, not as an end in itself, but as an important means to protecting individual rights. We in Colorado can and should play a pivotal role in that fight.

A good indicator of the loss of federalism is the role of federal spending in state budgets. Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee reports that, for fiscal year 2011-12, federal funding accounts for over $5 billion of the total $19.6 billion budget, or 26 percent. Over half of that federal spending goes for health care.

But why should we in Colorado have to beg the federal government to hand over a portion of our own money to our state government? Such federal spending turns federalism on its head. Every year we witness the grotesque spectacle of Colorado’s elected officials dancing like marionettes to the demands of federal politicians who hold the purse strings.

Imagine a league of independent state governments that stood up to such federal tyranny. Imagine state legislators who grew a spine and said enough is enough. We look forward to the day when state legislatures routinely pass resolutions condemning federal abuses, then start passing laws to the reaches of their authority to stop those abuses.

To take one possible strategy, Colorado could pass a law saying that we will turn down all federal funding in our state, once a certain number of other states have passed a comparable law.* Then we can demand that the federal government reduce its tax burdens and simply let citizens keep their own money.

Of course, the goal is not to replace federal tyranny with state-level tyranny, but rather to turn all governmental entities into protectors of individual rights rather than the biggest threat to our rights. The same state governments that would stand up against federal abuses of individual rights would also be more amenable to protecting rights themselves. So how do we achieve that?

We must continue to develop a culture of liberty in Colorado. We must stand up for individual rights to life, liberty, property, and voluntary contract and association. We must unflinchingly defend freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and religious worship, and freedom to use the fruits of our labor as each individual decides. We must demand that government act to protect individuals from the coercion of others, from murder, theft, assault, fraud, and every form of force that one person might initiate against another. At the same time, government must cease acting as the primary instigator of coercion, stripping us of our wealth and our liberties.

Many of the seeds of our future liberty renaissance have already been sown. Many new liberty-oriented groups have arisen in the last few years, and older groups have gained a new vitality. As a single illustration, last week over fifty people gathered at Denver Liberty On the Rocks to listen to philosopher Diana Hsieh explain why, yes, people deserve what they earn, contrary to the nonsense of John Rawls. We are starting to return to the tavern-style, take-it-to-the-streets, energetic and principled activism that marked the work of such American legends as Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.

We must make the principle of individual rights a living force in the minds of our countrymen. We must make coercion—the initiation of force—something that the people denounce, despise, and reject. Then we must elect pro-liberty state legislatures that protect our rights and stand up to federal abuses.

As F. A. Hayek wrote, “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.”

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area. 

* Obviously we’re talking about federal funding funneled through state legislatures, not federal funding for legitimate federal programs that happen to have a presence in Colorado. Here is a related tidbit I came across: “[F]or every $1.00 the feds send to the states, states increase their own future taxes between $0.33 and $0.42.” —AA

Amazon Considering Renewal of Colorado Associates Program

I was furious when Colorado’s idiot legislators imposed the so-called “Amazon tax” in 2010, forcing the company to drop the Associates program for all Colorado residents. The basic problem is that the Associates program, which incentivizes people to link to Amazon products by paying out a percentage of the resulting sales, arguably created a “nexus” that expanded the state’s power to impose tax-collection obligations on out-of-state companies.

Now that a district court has tossed Colorado’s “Amazon Tax,” what does that mean for the Associates program? I just received the following correspondence from Amazon: “Thank you for contacting us regarding rejoining the Associates program. At this point, we’re evaluating the decision from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. We’d welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to Colorado residents. We’ll contact you if we are able to re-open the program in the future.”

Hopefully, the Associates program will again become available. Now will the legislature kindly leave us the hell alone to earn money?