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

How the Left Paints the Right as Anti-Woman

The following article originally was published March 16 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The birth-control mandate that forces insurance companies to provide “free” birth control is an extensive forced wealth transfer scheme, compelling everyone who doesn’t use birth control to pay for others to use it. It is blatantly unjust, violating the rights of women and men as consumers as well as the rights of religious organizations that condemn the use of birth control. So how is it that Republicans are losing the issue so spectacularly? How is it that the left so successfully paints the right as “anti-woman?”

Some have suggested that the Obama administration shoved the birth-control mandate down the throats of religious institutions specifically to get a rise out of Republicans. It was a conscious political strategy, in this view. Whether or not Democrats intended that result, they achieved it. The Democrats left the animal skins and clubs lying about, and many Republicans gleefully dressed the part of troglodyte.

Rather than clearly and consistently answer, “Women have every right to purchase and use birth control, but they don’t have the right to force others to pay for it,” Republicans managed to come up with a rather different set of claims. Consider:

• Rick Santorum said that birth control is “harmful to women” and “harmful to society.” Birth control is “not okay,” he added; it is “counter to how things are supposed to be” because sex should be “for purposes of procreation” and not “simply [for] pleasure.”

• When law student Sandra Fluke publicly endorsed the birth-control mandate, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” and suggested that she make sex tapes available. (He later apologized.)

• Newt Gingrich condemned “post conception birth control”—which notably can include the standard birth control pill—and endorsed banning it.

• Gingrich, Santorum, and Ron Paul all have supported the so-called “personhood” movement, which would totally ban all abortions from the moment of conception, ban the birth control pill, and ban standard types of in vitro fertility treatments.

The reason the left is able to paint the right as “anti-woman” is that there is more than a grain of truth to the claim.

The left successfully used the “anti-woman” tag in 2010 against Ken Buck, who lost the U.S. Senate race in Colorado. After Buck endorsed a “personhood” measure in Colorado (before backpedalling), Planned Parenthood ran ads proclaiming, “Colorado women can’t trust Ken Buck.”

Given the background debates, many voters found it easier to interpret even Buck’s innocuous comments in a sinister light. In response to the blatant gender-based attacks by his opponent Jane Norton, Buck joked that people should vote for him he doesn’t “wear high heals.” Attacking Buck over that comment was a cheap shot, but it was also a shot that Buck himself invited by entertaining the “personhood” agenda.

Now the Democrats are trying to beat the Republicans by “Ken Bucking” the lot of them. Democrats think that by winning the votes of independent women, they can win. And they’re probably right. As Rachel Maddow writes for the Washington Post, “Today’s Republican candidates are all Ken Buck now.” If Democrats can make the charge stick—and Republicans are making that all too easy—the Democrats win.

Unfortunately, rather than focus on individual rights, distracted Republicans allow the left to get away with various absurd lies about the mandate. One lie is that birth control paid through insurance is “free.” It is certainly not free for those forced to pay higher insurance premiums.

Another lie is that declining to force people who don’t use birth control to pay for others to use it somehow limits “access to birth control.” We think red wine is good for our hearts, but that doesn’t mean we should be able to force others to stock our wine cellars or that our “access” to red wine is limited if they don’t. There is a huge difference between having the freedom to buy something and having the “freedom” to help yourself to somebody else’s cash.

Yet another creative lie is that not forcing religious institutions to provide birth control would somehow impose “theocracy.” Every person, including those who join religious groups, properly has the freedom to voluntarily enter into contracts. Theocracy means imposing religious doctrines by force of law; the birth-control mandate imposes the comparable injustice of forcibly interfering with religious groups. (Of course, much of the controversy regarding religious groups arises from the phenomenon of employer-paid insurance, a relic of inane tax policies. But that is a separate discussion.)

The unfortunate fact is that neither the left nor the right defends the rights of individuals to control their own resources and bodies and contract by mutual consent. Where is the political leader who will take a pro-choice, pro-individual rights stand across the board?

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.

Take Responsibility When Carrying a Gun

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published January 6 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Colorado residents suffered several horrific murders recently. In one case,a man shot his ex-wife to death outside a restaurant in Parker as their two children sat inside. She was pregnant and engaged to be married. Besides the murders, two five-year-olds died from unintentional shootings.

In the wake of such horror, those with an aversion to guns may wonder why interest in gun ownership and concealed carry remains so high. Practically every day someone asks Linn (a National Rifle Association instructor) his opinion of various training programs required to obtain a concealed carry permit in Colorado.

CBS (of all sources) published a recent article, “More and more women embracing gun ownership.” We especially enjoyed a quote from Deirdre Gailey: “I’m a yoga instructor, I work at a vegan bakery — and I also like to shoot guns.”

Yes, some people do very bad things with guns. But stripping law-abiding citizens of their ability to keep and bear arms only further empowers the bad guys. Particularly in cases of domestic violence, attackers often can physically overpower their victims. Besides their sporting value, guns are extremely useful for self-defense.

Horrible stories get the most media attention. Often the defensive use of a gun results in the bad guy running away without a shot fired or a drop of blood spilled. Thus, while papers typically devote many follow-up stories to each murder, usually they give defensive gun uses little or no mention.

The ability to carry a concealed handgun constitutes an important part of the right of self-defense. It’s worth reviewing the history and benefits of concealed carry (CCW) here in Colorado.

Mesa County gun owners and officials became important leaders in the effort to achieve a more fair and objective permit process.

Former Sheriff Riecke Claussen ran his first campaign in 1990 by promising to institute a concealed carry permit in the county. True to his word, Claussen worked with different training groups to develop a permit. One of these groups later evolved into the Grand Valley Training Club (which Linn cofounded).

Initially Grand Junction would not sign off on any city resident applying for a county permit. Linn and others pointed out the problem to then-Police Chief Gary Konzak. The city even denied a permit for a firearms instructor who had certified several Grand Junction police officers for a Utah CCW. The chief conferred with the sheriff to resolve this problem.

However, while the county permit was valid throughout Colorado, other states recognized only state-issued permits. When former Governor Bill Owens signed a state-wide CCW bill in 2003, that system looked remarkably like what Claussen had established years before. See [the NRA’s web page] for a description of states that offer CCW reciprocity. We think Bill Buvinger was the last local to offer classes for the Utah permit for its validity in other states; now the Colorado permit offers the same advantages.

Colorado’s constitution strongly supports the right to keep and bear arms, though it is ambivalent about concealed carry. Denver outlaws open carry anyway. In some cities open carry may result in a conversation with law enforcement. Once you get a CCW permit, then, you’re freer to carry a gun for self-defense.

Carrying concealed offers several tactical advantages. If you carry openly, not only might a criminal target you first, he might try to capture your weapon. Criminals often are deterred when they think somebody may be carrying a gun but they don’t know whom.

Carrying a gun concealed offers protection outside the home (except where legally restricted). Moreover, if your handgun is secured to your hip, it cannot be picked up by a criminal, child, or irresponsible adult. Concealing a gun may be important especially for women, who tend to be smaller and who may have children and grandchildren to care for.

One of the debates over the CCW bill was whether to mandate training. Our attitude was that, while training should not be mandatory, if a mandate allowed the bill to pass it was an acceptable compromise. A relative asked Linn what he thought of classes that promised only four hours of instruction with no live shooting. To some surprise, Linn responded, “I do not have a problem with it.”

Don’t get us wrong: we’re all for extensive firearms training. We agree with the NRA that those who own defensive guns should take the responsibility for getting trained. Grand Valley Training Club offers over 16 hours of instruction with numerous live-fire exercises. True, in an emergency, having a gun with little training usually trumps having no gun. But don’t let it come to that: get your training before an emergency arises.

Ultimately, the goal is to prevent emergency situations. Thankfully, the more people carry guns for self-defense, the less often people need to use them. Criminals hate the thought of their intended victim pulling out a gun and knowing how to use it.

Read more about this issue:

Joey Bunch Misstates Gun Statistics in Denver Post
(The Post corrected the article in question.)

The Tragedy of Fatal Hazards for Children

Prop. 103. Would Hurt Working Families, Kill Jobs

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published September 30 by Grand Junction Free Press.

They’re ba-a-ck, and they want to raise your taxes, again. They always do. Yes, it’s “for the children.” It usually is.

But Proposition 103, the tax hike brought to this fall’s ballot by Boulder Democrat Rollie Heath and the teachers’ unions, is really about taking more money out of the pockets of working families to enrich those unions. Throwing more tax dollars at government-run schools hardly would improve the quality of education.

If you really want to help “the children” (and everyone else), you will vote no on the job killer Prop. 103. Taking even more money out of the voluntary economy would only make it harder for working families to put food on the table and afford other necessities.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the economy remains weak, with unemployment nationally hovering at around nine percent and Colorado not far behind. The mortgage bust and the bipartisan political bungling that followed hit Grand Junction especially hard. Politicians have already burdened the economy with myriad taxes and reams of controls — how much more can it take?

Taking more money from working families for taxes would dry up private-sector jobs. While the cost of the tax hike would depend on the state of the economy, Legislative Council estimates the measure would suck around $2.9 billion out of the voluntary economy by raising sales and income taxes for five years. Think about how many salaries that represents.

Prop. 103 devotes the money to “public education” from preschool through college, taking the 2011-12 budget as the base level. Legislative Council estimates that base at about $4.3 billion (which includes only state funding, not local and federal). Thus, the added taxes would raise state spending by around 12 to 15 percent per year. Of course, how the legislature would adjust education spending absent the tax hike remains anybody’s guess.

Even those who want to raise taxes may question a hike specifically for education. If you think state government should spend relatively more on roads and criminal investigations instead, you may not like Prop. 103 so much. On the other hand, those with particular ideas about how the state should fund education may not see the measure as specific enough.

We think state legislators should prioritize better, cut spending, and lower tax rates so people can keep more of the money they earn. Then people could spend their own money on what they find most important, whether education, a new business, health care, or whatever.

Would spending more tax dollars on education even improve the quality of education? We think not. The Joint Budget Committee notes total Colorado spending on education has jumped from just over $5 billion in 2004-05 to $7.2 billion in 2011-12, a 44 percent increase, while student enrollment has climbed 10 percent. Has education gotten proportionately better over that period? Hardly.

Taking a longer view, Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute notes, “Since 1970 per-pupil spending in Colorado and the U.S. have more than doubled after counting inflationary changes — even given the real modest freezes and cuts many Colorado K-12 schools have experienced over the past two years.” (Note: Ari has written for the Institute, in one case on a contract basis.)

Coloradans already spend tons of money on education. The NEA recently estimated per-pupil spending here at over $9,500. Education spending already consumes around 37 percent of the state’s total operating budget of $19.6 billion, dwarfing spending for corrections and transportation combined.

What do we get for all that spending? “Adding more tax dollars to K-12 systems on a large scale has no connection to improving academic results,” DeGrow summarizes. As Andrew Coulson reviews for the Cato Institute, as U.S. per-pupil funding has skyrocketed over the last few decades, reading, math, and science scores have virtually flatlined.

Rather than throw more tax dollars at the teachers’ unions and the political cronies they finance, we need to instead find better value for our education dollars. Schools need greater ability to fire dud teachers without incurring union lawsuits. Most districts can get by with fewer administrative paper-shufflers. Schools should stop following the latest expensive fads and get back to teaching the basics.

Over the longer term, we should look at ways to reduce political involvement in education, not expand it. We are heartened by the success of various charter schools throughout the state. Ultimately we’d like to see real choice in education. We prefer universal tax credits over vouchers. Eventually we’d like to see truly free markets emerge in education, with parents, educators, and voluntary charities assuming the basic responsibility for organizing and financing education. Get politicians and bureaucrats out of it.

This fall, though, we face an immediate choice. Should we divert even more money from the hard-pressed voluntary economy to the teachers’ unions, or should we demand greater accountability and better prioritization for the tax dollars we already turn over? Only the latter option comports with economic sanity and your liberty to spend your money as you choose.

The Saul Alinsky Connection: Obama’s Unprincipled Class Warfare Threatens the Nation

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published September 16 by Grand Junction Free Press.

President Obama proves difficult to pin down. On the campaign trail, he opposed mandated health insurance; as president, he sought to impose it. He decried deficits even while ramping up federal spending. Obama answers the domestic jobs crisis by throwing ever more money at it; he answers the Iranian nuclear threat mostly with evasion.

What explains Obama’s slipperiness? After all, this is the man who succeeded a wildly unpopular Republican president on the vague and still-undefined platform of “hope and change.”

A hint to Obama’s character comes through an examination of the original Chicago “community organizer,” Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicalsfrom 1971, the Bible for many on the left. As Peter Slevin writes for a 2007 Washington Post article, Alinsky once offered Hillary Clinton a job (she turned it down), and “a group of his disciples hired Barack Obama” to implement Alinsky’s vision.

We have nothing against radicals per se; indeed, many rightly see in us a radical bent. The term comes from the Latin word for roots; a radical is somebody who tries to get to the root of the matter. Our two favorite radical quotes come from Barry Goldwater — “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” — and Martin Luther King — “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

But the term “radical” doesn’t reveal which roots a person seeks. On the good side, America’s Founders became the best sort of radicals in their struggle for liberty.

But radicals can also bear deadly poison. A radical racist dyes the whole world a race-tinged hue; radical socialists slaughtered scores of millions of people during the 20th Century.

Our problem with Alinsky rests in his particular sort of radicalism of class warfare and character assassination.

Beneath his platitudes about democracy and the “importance and worth in the individual,” Alinsky reveals his core goal: to “use power for a more equitable distribution of the means of life for all people.” As Obama reformulates it, the goal is to “spread the wealth around” through political force.

In Alinsky’s world, “Mankind has been and is divided into three parts: the Haves, the Have-Nots,” and those in between. “Rules for Radicals,” he explains, “is written for the Have-Nots on how to take [power] away” from the Haves.”

Observe the unmentioned premises behind Alinsky’s project. He presumes that wealth just somehow arrives around us, and some people unfairly grab it first. On such a premise, class warfare becomes inevitable, and forcibly redistributing “the wealth” becomes the radical’s goal.

But in a free society that protects people’s rights, individuals create wealth by reshaping aspects of the natural world using their intelligence and hard work, then trading on a voluntary market. In such a society, the “Haves” earn their wealth through productive effort, and they provide the employment (and at times the voluntary charity) that enables the “Have-Nots” to get ahead in life.

In a free society, some people produce vastly more wealth than others, and profit accordingly, while all remain free to live their lives by their own judgment and participate in a broadly prosperous economy. In a free economy all can prosper, though to different degrees. The mark of a free economy is peaceful and voluntary association, not the power struggles of class warfare.

Unfortunately, in the power-controlled world created by the presumptions that both Alinsky and Obama share, politicians forcibly transfer wealth from those who justly earn it to the politically-favored “Haves.” We call such programs things like “bailouts,” “stimulus spending,” “quantitative easing,” and “entitlements.”

Alinsky preaches the dogma of class warfare while pretending he opposes all dogma. The community organizer, Alinsky writes, “does not have a fixed truth — truth to him is relative and changing.” You may read Obama’s campaign slogan in Alinsky’s line: “Man’s hopes lie in the acceptance of the great law of change.”

Alinsky’s ever-changing world lacking timeless truths gives rise to his unprincipled pragmatism. He openly mocks those concerned about whether the ends justify the means. “The real arena is corrupt and bloody,” he writes, so “one does not always enjoy the luxury” of upholding “individual conscience.” Moral rhetoric on this view becomes a political weapon; “Moral rationalization is indispensable at all times of action,” he writes.

Guided by such views, the left continually employs character assassination against its opponents; note the groundless demonization of Tea Partiers as violence-prone racists. Alinsky explicitly encourages such tactics; he writes, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” He adds, “One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other.” As for the truth, well, there’s no such thing, and all that matters is the “moral rationalization.”

Everyone who wants to restore American liberty should read Alinsky’s book, not only to better understand Barack Obama and his allies, but to learn the tactics of the left and how to fight them.

Spending Limits Protect Against Factions

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published June 10 by Grand Junction Free Press.

“Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.” It’s mob rule; fifty-one percent of the population voting to enslave the rest. “Democracy is a form of government in which you can vote for a living instead of working for one,” adds Lawrence Reed.

America’s Founders feared the inherent pitfalls of direct democracy, which is why they established a constitutional republic. The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights (in its text, if usually not in its modern interpretation) tightly controls and limits the powers of the federal government.

The Constitution establishes a purely representative government at the federal level. We vote on elected officials, and (as outlined in Article V) congress or state legislatures must initiate constitutional amendments. Moreover, Article IV, Section 4 states, “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government.” So, for instance, Colorado could not impose a hereditary line of state kings.

Does the federal guarantee of republican government render state-level popular votes void? Specifically, does it clash with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), passed by voters in 1992? That’s the claim of a lawsuitfiled in district court and signed mostly by elected officials. The suit hopes to overthrow TABOR and allow state and local governments to tax and spend more without voter approval.

The suit favorably quotes James Madison, who argued against pure democracy in the tenth Federalist paper. However, in an article for theColorado Springs Gazette, legal scholar Rob Natelson notes that republican governments easily accommodate some direct participation by the people.

Natelson explains, “What Madison actually was saying was that a type of mob rule identified by Aristotle (and called, in English translation, ‘pure democracy’) was not republican. Madison clearly thought a republic could feature direct citizen lawmaking, since in Federalist No. 63 he referred to ancient Athens, Sparta, and Carthage as ‘republics.'”

In other words, TABOR, as part of Colorado’s constitution, remains fully compatible with the U.S. Constitution. The politically motivated lawsuit presents a sham.

Moreover, TABOR actually helps protect against the sort of factionalism that Madison warned against. The lawsuit quotes Madison, “It may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.”

The lawsuit conveniently omits Madison’s next line: “On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.”

This describes precisely the state of the modern Colorado legislature. “Factious tempers,” “local prejudices,” and “sinister designs” often rule the day at the state capitol.

For example, the legislature continues to finance corporate welfare, despite the explicit prohibition against doing so in the state constitution. And the legislature continues to impose protectionist legislation, as with the beer laws, rewarding interest groups at the expense of consumers and entrepreneurs. Most modern legislative functions involve forcibly seizing money from those who earn it to give it to those who do not.

Thus, the state legislature epitomizes the evils of faction. While Madison clearly saw the dangers of mob rule, he also warned against the comparable threat of an unrestrained legislature.

The essential characteristic of republican government becomes, then, its constitutional form, which limits the powers of government and protects the rights of the individual from abuse by factions, whether democratic or legislative. A legislature unbound by constitutional rule becomes the rapacious tool of special-interest factions.

The individual rightly claims among his essential rights his ability to work for a living, in voluntary association with others, and to dispose of the fruits of his labor by his own judgment. This is the fundamental human right most often threatened and abused by legislators, many of whom essentially institute legalized theft in exchange for political bribes.

TABOR helps to mitigate precisely this danger. Far from undermining a republican form of government, TABOR augments the constitutional protections of the individual and limits the threat of unruly factions. In requiring voter approval for new taxes, TABOR does not impose mob rule; it checks legislative abuses by the approval of the people. TABOR does not free the majority to abuse the rights of the minority; it allows the voters to stop the legislature from abusing people’s rights.

We can argue about whether Colorado voters too easily amend the state constitution. We can debate whether proposed constitutional changes should first meet a test of conformity to federal and state bills of rights. But as to the status of TABOR, far from undermining our republican form of government, clearly TABOR helps to protect it.

Stripper Welfare Illustrates Why Charity Should Be Voluntary

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published March 18, 2011, by Grand Junction Free Press.

Do people have a right to food, shelter, and other basic needs? Or do people who earn wealth have a right to use it as they see fit, to donate to charity (if they wish to do so) on a voluntary basis?

An Associated Press headline last month nicely illustrates a major problem with modern welfare programs: “Colorado bill bans welfare cards at strip clubs.” Bill 1058 pertains to “public assistance payments and food stamps” that can be accessed through ATMs. It adds strip clubs to the list of other establishments where the funds may not be withdrawn: racetracks, bingo clubs, gun shops, and liquor stores.

Apparently even the Colorado legislature grants there is no fundamental right to stuff tax dollars into the garters and panties of strippers. Yet somehow we do not find the so-called “Responsible Family and Taxpayer Stewardship Act of 2011” very reassuring. What’s to stop the same welfare recipients from cashing out down the block (or illegally selling tax-funded goods) and using the money at the same establishments?

Those who would trivialize such problems need only turn to the pages of the Los Angeles Times, where we find the following headlines and summaries from last year. “$69 million in California welfare money drawn out of state: Las Vegas tops the list with $11.8 million spent at casinos or taken from ATMs, but transactions in Hawaii, Miami, Guam and elsewhere also raise questions.” “Thousands in welfare cash tapped at California strip clubs.” “California welfare recipients withdrew $1.8 million at casino ATMs over eight months.”

When politicians hand out “free” cash, there’s no way to ensure the money is spent on basic needs. But even programs that provide goods and services, such as food or health care, allow the recipients to redirect their own dollars to wasteful spending. How often do people use food stamps for food and spend their own cash on cigarettes and booze?

The bureaucrats who distribute welfare benefits cannot possibly know whether the recipients use the benefits prudently or wastefully. Even outright fraud is difficult to detect. Moreover, because political programs operate by formulas and reams of rules, bureaucrats usually couldn’t do anything about wasteful spending anyway. And, because the bureaucrats spend other people’s money, they have little incentive to provide accountability for the resources.

Contrast forced welfare with voluntary charity. Somebody who voluntarily contributes to a cause has a strong incentive to make sure the money achieves its purpose. Voluntary charity is much more flexible, ranging from helping out a family member or neighbor to funding a major nonprofit. Voluntary charities are diverse, meeting a variety of needs through different approaches. Thus, the failure of one charity will have little impact on voluntary giving as a whole.

Voluntary charities are better able to ensure recipients actually benefit from the donations, and they have an interest in improving recipients’ condition. A local charity organizer is more likely to know whether a recipient is trying hard to get back on his feet or squandering the resources on booze and strip clubs.

A local food bank is more likely to provide economical, healthy foods, as opposed to the high-sugar processed foods often obtained with food stamps. And voluntary charities are more likely to function well, as opposed to Colorado’s failed computers that caused years of welfare backlogs.

If a charity performs poorly, donors can quickly redirect their resources to more effective organizations. By contrast, the contributers to tax-funded welfare have little ability or incentive to provide any oversight for those programs.

The greatest harm of forced welfare programs is not the wasted resources, but the cultural decay they foster. When people donate voluntarily to charity, they share a sense of goodwill with the recipients and hold a sincere desire to help them achieve a better life. Forced welfare more often causes animosity and anger.

The recipients of voluntary charity are more likely to realize that the help comes with the expectation of becoming responsibly self-sufficient. Forced welfare fosters the notion that recipients somehow deserve the help simply by virtue of failing to earn a living. Recipients with this attitude are more likely to squander the resources, live irresponsible lifestyles, and grow perpetually dependent on government handouts.

Those who advocate forced welfare confuse a need with a right, ignoring the fact that a “right” to material assistance implies the ability to force somebody else to produce those resources. Welfare benefits do not come from some magical pot of gold in the sky; they must be paid by individual producers.

People have the right to use the product of their labor as they deem best. A free society is a wealthy society in which the successful majority, freed from onerous tax burdens, gladly helps those truly in need. Voluntary charity respects the rights of the donors while best ensuring the well-being of the recipients.

***

Evil Red Scandi commented March 25, 2011 at 3:43 PM
Well, since many of these girls swear they are paying their way through college, it could just be viewed as another government educational fund.

For decades we’ve had the G.I. Bill; now apparently we have the G-String Bill.

Anonymous commented March 27, 2011 at 9:15 AM
Check out this new study.

The chart is quite revealing. A one-parent family of three making $14,500 a year (minimum wage) has more disposable income than a family making $60,000 a year.

http://www.zerohedge.com/article/entitlement-america-head-household-making-minimum-wage-has-more-disposable-income-family-mak

Grand Junction Could Use Some Common Sense Economics

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published February 18 by Grand Junction Free Press.

“The first law of economics is scarcity, and the first law of politics is to disregard the first law of economics.” So opines Thomas Sowell, as quoted in the recently revised book, Common Sense Economics. It is a book Grand Junction officials would do well to read.

Yes, government should protect individual rights by operating police departments and courts. But the city of Grand Junction does far more than keep the peace and protect property rights. It runs a variety of businesses that should be left to the private sector.

At the city’s web page (GJCity.org), the department with the most subcategories listed is Parks and Recreation. This includes aquatics; the city “provides year-around programming at two aquatic facilities.” It includes the Avalon Theatre, Convention Center, and “Cultural Arts,”which offers tax dollars to politically favored art. It includes golf as well as “Recreation,” a department “dedicated to providing high quality, affordable leisure experiences.”

The city also provides ambulance service. This might change; a January 18 media release from the city notes that, after a bidding process, “City Council will decide whether to continue providing the service through the [fire department] or switch to a private provider.”

We have nothing against golf or those other activities. But just because some service is a Good Thing doesn’t mean government should help provide it. Groceries and shoes are good things, but we don’t want the city running the stores that sell them. We like peaches, wine, beer, and movies, but we don’t want the city taking over all the peach orchards, vineyards, breweries, and cinemas.

The first problem with city-run businesses is that some of them are subsidized. So taxpayers who do not use those services, however poor, are forced to subsidize those who do use them, however wealthy. (We don’t think politicians should forcibly transfer wealth from rich to poor, either.)

Traci Wieland, the city’s Recreation Superintendent, said of the city’s services, “Some are self-funding, and some are not;” the question of subsidies “ranges from program to program.” She added, “Any shortfall that we have would obviously come from the general fund of Grand Junction.”

We’re all for charitable contributions to make certain services more widely available. Indeed, Wieland noted that various local businesses already donate funds for some projects. We just don’t think the city should subsidize them with forcibly confiscated tax dollars.

Perhaps the brilliant French economist Frederic Bastiat best addressed the matter: “When we oppose subsidies, we are charged with opposing the very thing that it was proposed to subsidize and of being the enemies of all kinds of activity, because we want these activities to be voluntary and to seek their proper reward in themselves.”

The city’s golf courses are self-funding. Parks and Recreation Director Rob Schoeber said, “All of the salaries pertaining to the golf courses are covered by the golf fees. The courses operate as enterprise accounts. Their budget is separate from the city general fund, and they cover their own capital and operating expenses annually.”

At least the golf courses cover their basic costs. But Schoeber notes that, while “items sold in the golf pro shops are subject to sales tax,” the “golf course land is not subject to property taxes.” That’s a huge competitive advantage over free-market recreational businesses. Government should treat every business equally, not favor some businesses over others with discriminatory taxes.

Even if, hypothetically, a city business paid for itself and paid the same taxes as everyone else, still the city should auction off the business and use the proceeds to reduce people’s tax burden.

The core principle is that the purpose of government is to protect individual rights. When city government instead does things like run golf courses, it muddles its mission and opens the door to all sorts of illegitimate activities.

Moreover, even a self-funding city business is not fully subject to the market forces of profits and loss. Only ownership of the resources, which city officials never experience, can fully provide the incentive to devote those resources to their best use. Maybe the golf courses should be run differently, or maybe they should be converted to some other use entirely. Such decisions are rightly made by people interacting voluntarily on a free market.

Perhaps city councilors should contemplate how they’d feel if the city went into direct competition with their businesses. Members of the council work in the fields of accounting, investing, realty, banking, and security. Should the city open real estate offices, banks, and alarm installation centers? Should the city convert part of the Avalon Theatre to an accounting office that gets special tax breaks?

The city cannot provide services without reducing services offered by others. Resources are scarce. Trying to defy this basic law of economics is like trying to defy the law of gravity. City government should focus on protecting people’s rights, and leave recreation to the free market.

***

Mike Dial commented February 26, 2011 at 4:10 PM
Ari, the same kind of nonsense is going on here in Montgomery County, Maryland. The county council is forking over $300,000 to keep open a county-owned golf course that is not self-supporting because few use it. The county is also building a theater to be used as a music venue. The cost was originally supposed to be $8 million, but of course with overruns, it’s now over $11 million. I wrote to my county councilwoman to point out that theaters and golf courses that people actually want don’t have to be subsidized by the county. I also reminded her that the county budget is so bad that cuts are being made, even to police and fire departments. She didn’t even bother to reply to me. In the local newspapers, the head of the county council claims that the theater will actually make the county money, so we citizens should not oppose it (!). How do we rein in spending in a deep-blue state like Maryland with idiots like this in power? If you work for a living, like me, you can’t even attend council meetings, which are all during the day.

How About School Choice for Everyone?

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

While President Obama delivered the State of the Union address in the District of Columbia, pundit and author Michelle Malkin discussed school choice at Vanguard charter school in Colorado Springs. They had rather different ideas about the state of American education and how to improve it.

Obama pointed out that, even though many American schools lag in graduation rates and math and science outcomes, some politically operated schools perform relatively well. Obama mentioned Bruce Randolph school in Denver, where community involvement and administrative reforms dramatically improved performance in recent years.

Obama believes federal programs play a central role in the functioning of American schools. The president looks for marginal reforms within the context of the traditional public school system.

Malkin, whose mother taught in New Jersey public schools, moved to Colorado largely because of the strong charter system here. She told the crowd at Vanguard, “I am your neighbor, and I’m so proud to be a resident of Colorado Springs. But more importantly, [I am] an incredibly fortunate beneficiary of people’s commitment to excellence in education here in this city.”

Malkin painted a disturbing portrait of American education, saying, “One in ten high schools in America is a ‘drop out factory.'” Mind-crushing fads sweep through many of the rest. Despite some noteworthy exceptions, generally American schools suffer stagnant test scores even as their funding soars. Malkin said the typical leftist approach of throwing more money at education has bought us “cash for education clunkers.”

In response to Obama’s line about our “Sputnik moment,” a reference to the 1957 Soviet space launch, Malkin said the real similarity between us and the Soviets is that “we still have a Soviet-style, government-run schools monopoly.” So what do we do about it?

Many Colorado parents have turned to charter schools, still funded by taxpayers and governed by politicians but granted relatively more autonomy. Parents here can choose among all public schools relatively easily.

But the fundamental barrier to meaningful choice in education is that parents are forced to finance public schools. If they choose a private school, they must pay double: once for the public school they do not use, and once for the private school.

That is the reason why many conservatives, notably the late economist Milton Friedman, advocate vouchers. Recently the Douglas County school board caused a commotion by promising (or, as the left would put it, threatening) to study voucher programs.

A voucher allows a parent to direct a portion of the school tax funds to any school that qualifies under the program. The basic problem with vouchers is that they spend tax money on otherwise private schools, which might teach controversial ideas like religion.

An alternative to vouchers is a tax credit for education. This allows parents to enroll their child in any qualifying school and reduce their state tax burden by an amount determined by law. A more expansive tax credit allows any taxpayer to save on taxes by funding a scholarship for any child. This year Republican legislators Spencer Swalm and Kevin Lundberg introduced Bill 1048 to create such tax credits.

We propose giving taxpayers even more choice. Each taxpayer pays a certain amount for education through various taxes. Whatever that amount is, the taxpayer should be able to decide where that money goes. A taxpayer could decide to direct all the money to a single private school, a single public school, or any combination of schools.

Our plan would give people the incentive to evaluate schools and direct their money to wherever they think it will be spent most effectively.

For example, we are outraged that tax dollars support the Denver Green School, which indoctrinates children into the cult of environmentalism. As the Denver Post recently reported, teachers at this school led children in creating a power-point presentation condemning energy use. (Nevermind the fact that the presentation consumed electricity; this cult hardly values consistency.)

Under our proposal, those who wish to finance the leftist indoctrination of children could do so, while the rest of us could direct our resources to schools that teach children things like math and history.

Note that our proposal does not really give the taxpayer full choice over his or her resources. Even our plan falls short of the standard of individual rights and free markets, for it requires people to direct a portion of their resources to schools. Real liberty means people can spend their earnings however they wish, whether for schools, medical research, a new business, or a trip to the Bahamas.

The left recoils at the very mention of real liberty. Even legislation allowing taxpayers to direct all their school-related taxes to the schools of their choice would give the teachers’ unions heart palpitations.

Nevertheless, we’ll go ahead and say it: each individual has the right to control his own earnings, and he should be able to fund any school he wishes, or no school at all. Call it a Liberty Moment.

***

Anonymous commented February 4, 2011 at 12:12 PM
Vouchers are *anti*-liberty. It sounds good to say that people should be able to use their money as they see fit, but what does its use entail? More government control of private schools.

We already have school vouchers in a major sector of American education: higher education. Federal student financial aid, in the form of loans and grants, is now ubiquitous.

Once a school accepts federal aid, it is obligated to comply with a variety of federal regulations, everything from anti-discrimination requirements to Title IX athletic regulations, and everywhere in between.

At least in higher education, there is a tradition of “academic freedom,” which gives professors nominal control over the curriculum. But in publicly funded K-12 education, states have long exercised curriculum oversight. Do you really want to see that oversight extended to private K-12 schools?

The only hope for education in America is a competitive private K-12 alternative that is completely unfettered by the latest educational methodology fads, such as are usually mandated in public schools. We see this today in the success of schools like the Van Damme Academy and the LePort schools. This innovation would not last long if private schools began to rely on federal funding, and took the strings that would inevitably be attached.

Perhaps you mean only to be arguing for something like tax credits for education, which might not entail the same amount of likely government control over curriculum. But vouchers, at least as they are typically touted by conservatives, offer no barrier to the kind of abuse I cite above.

Indeed it is not characteristic of conservatives to tout anything other than vouchers, because mostwant to control schools in line with conservative–i.e., usually religious–ideology. Michelle Malkin is no exception.

NS

Anonymous commented March 17, 2011 at 12:40 PM
“The basic problem with vouchers is that they spend tax money on otherwise private schools, which might teach controversial ideas like religion.”

Controversial ideas such as evolution.

We will never agree so why not less us choose what is best for our children?

If you refuse to fund parochial education then please sponsor a bill that would allow me to opt out of your secular, satanic school system.

I pay for your hell school via property taxes, vehicle taxes and a myriad of other streams.

Please allow me to completely opt out.

Ari commented March 17, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Dear March 17 Anonymous, You might help your case by first not sounding crazy. My “secular, satanic” schools? Come on, dude. (I would not ordinarily have posted such a ludicrous comment, except I thought it worth illustrating how insane the religious right often sounds.) And, if you’d bother to actually read the article before posting a comment, you might notice that I do in fact want to allow you to stop funding secular schools. -Ari

‘Citizens’ Budget’ Points Toward a Wiser, More Frugal Government

The following article originally was published January 21 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Will we live our own lives or take directives from politicians?

Or, as Jon Caldara puts the question, “Will we as a People expect only those public goods that allow for a vibrant, growing private sector, or will we demand an ever-larger, more intrusive government on which we depend for our every need and decision?”

Caldara’s organization, the Independence Institute of Golden, recently published a “Citizens’ Budget,” a detailed guide for getting state spending back under control. (Ari has written guest articles as well as a contracted paper for the Institute.)

Raiding cash funds, violating the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by raising “fees,” and whining for federal “stimulus” funds will no longer work, the authors of the paper point out. Instead, the legislature should “establish a sustainable trend line for balanced budgets into the future” through “realistic spending revisions with no increases in taxes or fees.”

While many citizens have lost their jobs or taken pay cuts, Colorado politicians have continued to spend more of other people’s money. The 2010-11 budget is $19.8 billion, the paper relates, up “6 percent from the previous year.” On average this “places a demand of $3,830 on every man, woman and child living in Colorado.”

The legislature’s shenanigans can no longer delay the day of reckoning, and now our elected officials must close a billion-dollar gap. How can they do that without further seizing the wealth of productive, job-creating citizens? The Citizens’ Budget offers a variety of ideas:

* For current state employees, raise the age to receive pension benefits. Change the pension plan for new state employees so that their benefits are based on the yields of their contributions.

* Phase out the state’s Old Age Pension Plan, for which “a recipient may qualify even if he or she has never paid any taxes in Colorado,” and allow other existing welfare programs to fill those needs.

* Move to a voucher or stipend program for higher education, “ending direct subsidies to state colleges and universities.” And give colleges the freedom and incentives to economize.

* In K-12 education, use tax credits to allow parents to choose alternative schools and save the state money. The added benefit is that more students would get a better education.

* “Reduce incarcerations, but only for non-violent offenders.” Violent criminals should be in prison. In our view, others usually should work off their crimes or, in cases of “victimless crimes,” not be arrested in the first place.

* Tighten eligibility requirements for Medicaid, increase enrollment fees for subsidized health plans, and introduce health savings plans to give patients an incentive to economize.

Moreover, the Citizens’ Budget recommends the broad implementation of “priority-based budgeting,” in which spending is evaluated against clearly defined goals rather than automatically increased each year.

We think the Citizens’ Budget is a good start. However, ultimately we would go much further in limiting political power.

Let’s return to fundamentals. Insofar as government protects individual rights to control one’s own property and associate with others voluntarily, government lays the foundation for free market prosperity.

When government surpasses those bounds, it forcibly transfers wealth, interferes with economic liberty, and dampens productive achievement. That is why Thomas Jefferson famously championed “a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

What has become clear over the past decade of Colorado politics is that, no matter how high taxes or government spending climbs, it will never be enough for the bread takers.

The animating principle of the modern welfare state is egalitarianism, the forced equality of resources. So long as anybody earns more than anyone else, wealth should be seized from the “haves” and given to the “have nots.” The fact that the end result of the doctrine is equal misery for all causes its proponents not the least hesitation.

The fundamental thing that honest, ambitious people need to succeed is economic liberty, not “help” from politicians. Indeed, politicians routinely muck up the economy with protectionist measures that hurt competition, subsidies for special interests, labor controls that cost jobs, and financial policies that create recessions.

Then, after damaging economic opportunities and thus placing people in need, politicians take further action to make people dependent on forced wealth transfers.

In a truly free society in which opportunities abound, fewer people become poor, and the prosperous many readily and voluntarily supply their needs.

Government programs that protect individual rights, most importantly the police and courts, consume a small fraction of the state budget. Projects that genuinely may be said to benefit everybody, such as roads, add somewhat more.

Most state spending involves forcibly taking money from those who earn it in order to benefit those who don’t. A just budget would respect each person’s rights to his own earnings.