Ritter the Leader

Chris Barge wrote an amusing article November 8 for the Rocky Mountain News. He reports:

Gov. Bill Ritter said Thursday he may ask voters to approve a tax increase next year to pay for either health care, transportation or higher education.

But he emphasized that while all three priorities need extra funding, only one of them should wind up on the ballot. Colorado voters are too fiscally conservative to approve more than one tax increase at a time, he said.

Barge reports that Ritter told the Joint Budget Committee, “I don’t think we can go for all three. That would be unfair to voters and would demonstrate a lack of leadership on my part and on the part of the legislature.”

We wouldn’t want a lack of leadership! Because, you know, promoting a tax increase for an unspecified goal, that’s real leadership. Especially when we’re still in the initial phase of the spending hikes from Referendum C. And, assuming that Ritter can figure out which tax hike to promote next year, when can we expect requests for the other two items? And how much will he ask for? The “208” Commission promotes health controls that will cost over a billion dollars of new taxes every year (and those are according to the figures bought by the Commission). Is that the end of the list? Even if Ritter got more tax dollars for health care, transportation, and higher education, would he be satisfied, or would he ask for still more?

Apparently, Ritter thinks that leadership consists of expanding the power, scope, and spending of government. The particulars of how that happens are of secondary concern.

Sure-Fire Plan to Reduce Emissions by 80 Percent

Vincent Carroll wrote a very nice critique of Bill Ritter’s “Climate Action Plan.”

[F]rom Page 20: “We are not prepared today to address what the state’s position should be with respect to permitting new conventional coal-fired power plants that would serve Colorado consumers.” But they promise a verdict within 12 months.

Permit me to puncture the suspense: Under this administration, the state’s position will be to oppose the permitting of any new conventional coal-fired power plants — or to impose so many conditions that the end result is the same.

Carroll also notes that the plan discusses the possibility of nuclear power, though the “plan seems to dismiss current technology as inadequate while implying that it’s unsafe.” Carroll notes that nuclear plants successfully provide large amounts of electricity in many regions of the world.

What future awaits us if Colorado politicians prevent the building of new electrical plants? Kevin R. Collins, “president and CEO of Evergreen Energy Inc., a Denver-based refined coal producer,” rushes to assure readers that he’s on the side of fighting global warming in an article for the Rocky Mountain News. Yet he offers an uncomfortable warning: “Yale professor Charles Perrow, who follows power-supply shortfalls, says ‘I’m prepared to see many more blackouts occurring. … it’s really going to be a freight train running into disaster’.”

But then it struck me: there is a sure-fire way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses in Colorado by 80 percent! If the state’s politicians keep jacking up taxes, putting the screws to business owners, and imposing higher costs through economic controls, they might eventually succeed in driving out 80 percent of the state’s population. Then emissions will go down by 80 percent! Problem solved.

Colorado has been a growth state. One government agency predicts that the state’s population will increase to 6.3 million by 2025 — around a 35 percent increase. So we’re supposed to increase population by 35 percent and reduce emissions by over 20 percent. Obviously, something’s got to give here.

“Freedom Has Failed”

This quote from Atlas Shrugged, from the villain Wesley Mouch, chilled me. The context is that Mouch and his gang have passed directive after directive, slowly strangling the economy. Mouch is considering the imposition of new, more expansive controls:

Freedom has been given a chance and has failed. Therefore, more stringent controls are necessary. Since men are unable and unwilling to solve their problems voluntarily, they must be forced to do it. (page 503, 35th Anniversary Edition)

This quote immediately made me think of the health-policy debate in Colorado. How many times have “reformers” blamed the allegedly “free market” in medicine — for the problems caused by decades of federal and state political controls? Since men are unable and unwilling to purchase “comprehensive” health insurance “voluntarily,” they must be forced to do it.

FreeColorado.com—Gov. Ritter’s “Climate Action”

From The Colorado Freedom Report:

Doubts About Ritter’s “Climate Action”

“Yesterday Governor Bill Ritter released a press release titled, “Gov. Ritter Releases Climate Action Plan.” But I wonder whether Ritter’s “ambitious call to action” will accomplish much, other than to force Coloradans to spend more money for cars and electric bills. …

“[T]he only way that we could reduce our emissions by ‘80% by 2050,’ assuming that we are not prepared to descend into mass poverty, is to take advantage of yet-to-be-invented technology and/or nuclear power that is able to mass produce cleaner energy that is less expensive than the energy we now use. …

“If there is no technological revolution in energy, then how does Ritter know that the best response is to reduce greenhouse emissions, rather than simply adjust to the slightly warmer temperatures? …

“Ritter’s plan will have essentially no impact on global warming, yet it could prove deeply destructive to the state’s economy. Realistically, the only way that global emissions of greenhouse gases will be dramatically reduced is if productive advances allow the mass production of cleaner, cheaper energy. To facilitate that goal, the best thing that Ritter and all politicians can do is stay out of the way and stop interfering with the economy.”

Recovering from Rationalism

I am a recovering rationalist. I thought I was pretty smart, back in 1992 (it must have been), when I first got my copy of Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. I read it, understood it, and was even ready to start correcting it. Or so I thought. In fact, I did not understand Objectivism, at all. Or, rather, I understood only a few of its tenets, and those poorly. I was certainly not prepared to apply Objectivist principles consistently in my own life. My main problem was rationalism. I understood the philosophy as an interconnected system of ideas, but I did not understand how those ideas were related to the real world.

Take, for instance, my (lack of) understanding of “life” as the standard of value. I wrote thousands of words over the internet explaining the problems with that position. For example, how is one to choose between length of life and strength of life? I created long, rationalistic chains of arguments that (I thought) demonstrated the absurdities of holding “life” as the standard. Of course, what I was not doing is looking at what life really is. I was not drawing the principles from the facts; I was trying to derive principles from floating deductions.

Another example may be found in my interaction with libertarianism. Within a few years, I went from enthusiastically promoting libertarianism to denouncing libertarianism. In 2002, I was still defending libertarianism, though I was starting to pay more attention to certain of its problems. I made two basic arguments in defense of libertarianism. First, “If libertarianism is roughly wanting government only to protect property rights, then Objectivism is a type of libertarianism…” In other words, I was starting with (dubious) definitions and then proceeding deductively, rather than looking at the content of libertarianism. Second, I argued that the Objectivist case against libertarianism makes little sense, because Objectivists interact with others who are not principled. I was attempting a reductio ad absurdum, rather than looking at the relevant facts about libertarianism.

I revisited the issue in 2004. I was becoming much more aware of the problems within the libertarian movement, but I still tied myself to libertarianism using rationalistic arguments. I again tried to point out the internal contradictions of criticisms of libertarianism, to reduce those criticisms to absurdity. And I remained stuck on definitions as a starting point: “a single term can[not] be used to name only a single concept. … [W]e frequently assign the same word to multiple concepts, and we rely upon context and explicit definitions to make clear our meaning.” In short, I thought I could re-define libertarianism into respectability. A bit later I wrote of “two libertarianisms” and declared that, by the correct “definition, I am a libertarian, I have been a libertarian for many years, and I anticipate I will always be a libertarian.”

By 2005, I was deeply alarmed by goings on in the libertarian movement, and I was beginning to look at what libertarianism is, rather than attempt to reconstruct it according to my prior definition. A month later, I declared, “I am not a libertarian.” I summarized my reasons: “For I do not want to be lumped together with the pragmatists, reactionaries, tribalists, nihilists, hedonists, rationalists, subjectivists, idealists (of the Platonic variety), propagandists, utopians, and kooks of the libertarian movement.” This was a big development for me. I had finally beat my head against enough concrete problems to begin to abandon my rationalistic view of libertarianism. However, I did not at that point explicitly understand that what I was starting to do is replace rationalism with an inductive approach. I continue to struggle with overcoming rationalism.

Unfortunately, the best Objectivist material about using induction to learn philosophy is not easy to access. A lecture by Darryl Wright helped me to understand the ethical significance of “life.” (Unfortunately, I cannot at this point recall the title of that lecture.) Far and away the most helpful material for me has been Leonard Peikoff’s “Understanding Objectivism” lectures. This outstanding material explicitly deals with the problems of rationalism. It is quite expensive; those who have a problem with the cost might consider finding a loaner copy or buying a copy to share. I’ve started Peikoff’s “Objectivism Through Induction,” which so far is also quite good. He discusses how to inductively approach issues such as causality, reason as man’s means of survival, egoism, and other critical topics.

I am thrilled that Peikoff is making available on his web page a podcast in which he answers questions. He has not so far dealt explicitly with the topic of rationalism versus induction in philosophy, but his answers explode the rationalistic premises of various questions. For example, in his new podcast, he explains why the possibility of human instincts cannot be derived from evolutionary history. Instead, he suggests, we should look to see whether people in fact have instincts. So those trying to overcome rationalistic tendencies can listen to Peikoff’s answers at the level of how they treat rationalism versus induction.

Doctors Need Freedom

What’s up with The Denver Post? At least in the Sunday edition of the paper that appeared on Saturday — I haven’t yet seen the paper as printed for Sunday — the paper published another front page editorial. (It also published a front page editorial in favor of Referendum C.) I don’t mean an editorial masquerading as a news story; I mean an editorial labeled as such, on the front page. A disclaimer appeared at the bottom: “The Denver Post’s editorial board operates independently of the paper’s news coverage.” But who approved a front-page editorial? Wasn’t it the same guy who manages the “paper’s news coverage?” So the front page editorial is odd, but, hey, it’s The Denver Post.

After calling Governor Bill Ritter “Jimmy Hoffa” for giving unions of state employees more power, the Post laments that Ritter’s move might alienate “business”. (Not particular businesses, just “business.”) The Post fears:

Without business in his corner, we fear Ritter won’t be able to effectively shepherd a comprehensive health care solution through the statehouse. And any plans he may have for a new revenue stream for higher education are dangling by a thread, too.

Perhaps more importantly, we’re concerned he’s lost whatever business support he had to reform Colorado’s budget process. … Ritter will be rudderless if he tries to convince voters to approve an extension of Referendum C.

So the Post (or at least its independently operated editorial board) is worried that, if Ritter favors unions too much, he won’t be able to spend more tax dollars and impose new government controls on medicine. Wow. That’s definitely worthy of the front page of The Denver Post. (I do agree that Ritter’s favoritism toward unions was bad.)

For now, though, I want only to reflect on the Post’s call for “a comprehensive health care solution.” What does that mean? It means that state legislators would spend more of other people’s money in order to expand the political control of medicine. Leading plans call for an expansion of health welfare and for health-insurance mandates. Who will decide how these welfare dollars are spent? Who will decide what the mandated insurance must cover? Some combination of politicians and bureaucrats, no doubt with plenty of input from special interests.

“A comprehensive health care solution” would further erode the ability of patients and doctors to associate voluntarily. It would further replace the judgment of doctors with the whims of politicians and bureaucrats. It would expand the political controls that have created current problems in American medicine.

A recent release from the Ayn Rand Institute makes clear the fundamental importance of restoring liberty in medicine. The release quotes a doctor from Atlas Shrugged:

Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I would not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, or the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward. I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything — except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the “welfare” of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only “to serve.” … I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind — yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands?

GOP: Dems Spend Too Little

Recently I pointed out that Republicans want the government to spend more money. They really mean it. Just today Colorado Republicans blasted Democrat Bill Ritter, the governor, for proposing to spend too little more on higher education. The release states:

Senate Republican leaders said they were underwhelmed today after the governor proposed only a modest funding increase for higher education next year rather than the significant, long-term revenue stream that the state’s campuses need.

The idea that Republicans support free markets or limited government is a laugh. They support spending more of other people’s money on education and subjecting colleges to more government controls.

But do the Republicans really think they can out-Democrat the Democrats to win elections? I’m sure the state’s Democrats will be only too happy to implement — and take credit for — the Republican schemes to expand the power of government.

Hillman Opposes Health-Insurance Mandates

Recently I’ve mocked The Denver Post for its stance on Halloween, and I’ve criticized Republicans over health policy, tax spending, and investment controls.

But on October 26, The Denver Post published an outstanding op-ed by Republican Mark Hillman that criticizes health-insurance mandates. The article is part of the “Colorado Voices” series, which often produces duds, but on this occasion the Post has found somebody who writes very well and who has something interesting to say. (Note: the publication dates noted on the Post’s web page sometimes precede the dates of print publication.)

Hillman writes, “Ironically, despite the abysmal record of lawmakers and bureaucrats to produce lower prices or create greater choice, the public still clamors for government to ‘do something.’ Perhaps the more logical outcry should be: ‘undo something’.”

Hillman offers the following main reasons to oppose health-insurance mandates:

* “[A]nother law won’t produce universal coverage,” because some people won’t obey the mandate or will be exempted.

* Mandated insurance would be a bad deal for many consumers, because “special interests perennially lobby the legislature to require you to buy things you don’t need, don’t want or can’t afford.”

* Politicians tend to require insurance to pay for care that “you could more easily and less expensively pay for… yourself…”

Hillman summarizes, “The end result is that you and I are no longer allowed to choose the insurance coverage that best fits our needs, and insurance companies can’t respond to what we want.”

Hillman perfectly captures the state of today’s health-care “reform” movement: “[L]awmakers and lobbyists control the health care market, as they have increasingly for the past 40 years; then they react in amazement when the product is something you and I either do not want or cannot afford.”

Hillman’s article demonstrates that both The Denver Post and Republicans can produce good work.

I do have one criticism of Hillman. I recognize that short newspaper articles cannot cover every aspect of the issue. Sometimes the moral argument is not the focus. But Republicans often seem to be allergic to pronouncements that hint of the morality of rights in property and income — probably because most Republicans are so busy violating those rights. To date, and as far as I can remember, I have not heard any Republican other than my dad (who I’m pretty sure is a Republican) endorse the argument: “Insurance mandates are morally wrong because they violate the rights of individuals to control their own lives and resources.”

“Plan Five” from the 208 Commission

The Rocky Mountain News is rightly skeptical about the “208” Healthcare Commission’s plan to “reform” health care by expanding government control of it. The News writes in an October 28 editorial:

Is the Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Reform going to lay an egg in January, when by law it must offer its recommendations to the legislature?

It’s too early to say, but prospects for the commission’s success dimmed somewhat the other day when the price tag was announced for the panel’s own proposal – we’ll call it Plan Five because the commission will submit four others, too, written by outside groups.

Plan Five’s cost: between $1.4 billion and $2.1 billion a year, according to the Virginia-based Lewin Group.

The News continues to explain why such a hefty tax hike is unlikely in Colorado.

I particularly like the title, “Plan Five.” For some reason, it reminded me of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The comparison is doubly fitting, because the movie is about the goofy plans of extraterrestrials, and the movie is one of the worst ones ever made. But at least it’s funny. Not so with “Plan Five” from the 208 Commission.

Investment by Force

Americans don’t save very much. According to a 2006 article, “The number-crunching folks at the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis dished out some discouraging news recently, saying that Americans spent more than they earned in 2005 — a negative savings rate of 0.5 percent for the year. That’s the first time that’s happened since the Great Depression.”

Hmm… Why might that be? Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that the federal government lops off 15 percent of every single paycheck? And that’s before income tax, property tax, and state and local taxes. I once saw a documentary about African tribes that keep cattle, not for the milk or the beef, but for the blood. They stick bamboo shoots into the cows’ neck arteries for a warm drink. The payroll and other taxes are the bamboo shoots in the necks of American workers. My wife and I are “saving,” but only in the sense that we’re climbing our way out of debt. We would have had a positive net worth years ago but for the fact that our life’s blood — our labor — is siphoned off to feed the welfare state. And the only reason we’ve been able to make progress is that we’ve put off having children, purchased a tiny condo rather than a house, and kept our spending low. It’s hard to save when so much of our labor is lost to taxation.

Our society punishes the responsible in order to reward the irresponsible, taxes productive effort in order to subsidize vice. What’s the point of saving when your welfare check is proportional to your irresponsibility? If you earn less, save less, learn less, waste more, and have more children you can’t afford, you get more welfare. And what’s the point of saving for old age when the federal government promises to continually transfer ever more wealth from workers to the retired?

Hillary Clinton’s answer to the deep social pathologies generated by the welfare state is, of course, to expand the welfare state. An October 9 article from The New York Times reports:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York unveiled the second biggest domestic policy idea of her Democratic presidential campaign today, proposing to spend $20 billion to $25 billion a year to create 401(k)-style retirement accounts for all Americans and provide federal matching money of up to $1,000 to middle-income people.

Under the plan, the government would give a dollar-to-dollar match for the first $1,000 saved by Americans who earn up to $60,000 annually. For those who earn $60,000 to $100,000, the government would provide a 50 percent match, or $500 for the first $1,000 saved.

Mrs. Clinton said she would pay for the program by freezing the estate tax at its 2009 level of $7 million per couple. A campaign analysis of the plan said that the freeze would affect about 10,000 of “the wealthiest estates” in the United States and provide a new retirement savings systems for an estimated tens of millions of families. …

As with her biggest policy plan for universal health insurance, Mrs. Clinton cast her savings proposal in terms of choice…

Reduce the payroll tax on working Americans? Not a chance. Instead, Hillary wants to forcibly take more wealth away from the people who earned it in order to give it to others who did not earn it. But this is not just a straight subsidy: it is meant to “encourage” people to do what federal politicians know is best for them. It is social engineering.

Where might Hillary have picked up such an outlandish, unjust, and anti-American idea?

Donald Lambro complains for the conservative TownHall.com: “The lure of a refundable federal tax credit from general revenues is a government subsidy, pure and simple. The worker who receives it doesn’t have to work for that matching money in order to save it.”

Yet Lambro continues: “President Bush offered a bipartisan plan to provide private-investment accounts that would let workers invest a small percentage of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds and build wealth.” Never mind the fact that this does nothing to address the spending side, at least for several decades.

When did we get to the point when the alleged opponents of subsidies for savings are talking about the federal government “letting” workers invest their own money? You’re going to “let” my wife and me save some small portion of the money that we earned? Gee, thanks.

The simple fact is that Republicans, conservatives, and the Cato Institute are the ones who long advocated the idea of using federal force to socially engineer more “private” (read, government-controlled) investment. Hillary’s plan is merely a variation of the conservative plan.

Thankfully, at least some people are actually talking about restoring economic liberty by reducing the payroll tax. Yaron Brook said in a recent press release from the Ayn Rand Institute:

The basic principle behind Social Security is that individuals have a right to unearned retirement income. To pay for these unearned benefits, the government seizes money from workers and transfers it to the elderly. This is a perverse injustice. Why should a twenty year old who is struggling to make ends meet have to finance someone else’s retirement? Why is it parasitical for a young person to live on the dole, but an inalienable right if he waits until he’s 65? Why should those who conscientiously save for retirement be forced to sacrifice a chunk of their income to support those who were not as responsible?

There is no such thing as a ‘right’ to someone else’s labor or money. The ‘needs’ of the elderly do not justify turning the young into part-time slaves. Instead of looking for ways to save Social Security, we should be designing a plan to phase it out entirely.

Some claim that without Social Security the streets would be lined with senior citizens unable to pay for their homes or their food. But this fantasy ignores the fact that, before Social Security, there was no epidemic of starving old people. Individuals planned and saved for their own retirement. Those few who genuinely couldn’t support themselves relied on their families and on private charity — they did not demand the government reach into other people’s pockets to provide them with goodies.

We don’t need the federal government to “encourage,” subsidize, force, or micromanage our investments. We need the federal government to leave us the hell alone so that we can invest our own money as we see fit.