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.

7News Features Food-Stamp Debate

FreeColorado.com Update — I just posted a new article, “7News Features Food-Stamp Debate, at FreeColorado.com. Here are some quotes:

“Denver’s 7News featured a substantive if brief debate over food stamps in a story that aired October 14. My wife and I took the position that food-stamp subsidies should not be increased and that voluntary charity is a better alternative to food stamps. The station also interviewed a woman who takes food stamps and who argues that the payments are not enough. …

“The main reason that my wife and I have put off consideration of children (and denied my mother the possibility of additional grandchildren) is that we cannot afford them. And the main reason that we cannot afford them is that we are forced to pay considerably over $10,000 per year in federal taxes, most of which goes to subsidize other people. So, while we’re sitting with a negative net worth, slowly and painfully paying our way out of debt, pinching pennies for our own food budget, we are forced to pay for other people’s children, while we are prevented from responsibly having children of our own.”

CU’s Brown Offends with “Ghetto” Remark

Republicans support more tax spending. Republicans support political control of education. They brag about it.

We begin with a very strange article from the Associated Press (dated October 19):

CU President Hank Brown warned today that the way the state allocates college and university funding could “ghettoize” some programs, upsetting the only black member of the Higher Education Commission.

Brown said inadequate funding for expensive research institutions like CU could mean that only rich families and low-income students who qualify for grants and scholarships can afford them.

“You ghettoize them in effect, because you make it impossible for middle-income kids to make it,” Brown told the commission. …

Brown’s spokesman, Ken McConnellogue, said Brown was referring to the middle class students who were left out and not the low-income students who were left in the programs.

Offensive indeed!

Unfortunately, the AP article never explains why Brown’s remark might be offensive. The article intimates that Jim Stewart, “the only black member” of the Commission, took offense because the term “ghettoize” is somehow offensive to blacks. But that’s ridiculous.

The word “ghetto” was around long before it was used to describe poor black neighborhoods. The top definition from Oxford’s dictionary says, “The quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted.” Maybe we can check to see whether there were any Jews on the Commission who also took offense. The second definition includes the generic meaning, “an area, etc., occupied by an isolated group; an isolated or segregated group, community, or area.” As a verb, “ghetto” means, “To put or keep (people) in a ghetto.” Obviously, Brown meant that he doesn’t want to see middle-income students kept out of better schools. It has nothing to do with race.

Brown’s comment is actually offensive because it’s not true that “you make it impossible for middle-income kids to make it” by failing to increase tax subsidies. Middle-income students, and not only poor students, can qualify for grants and scholarships. They can also save their own money, work part time and attend school part time, ask their parents for money, and/or take out loans.

The people who should be offended are those of middle incomes who believe they can make it without government handouts. (It would help, of course, if such large portions of their paychecks weren’t forcibly taken from them in order to subsidize still others.)

In theory, a college education is valuable to the student. If that’s not the case, then there’s no point in attending college. If it is the case, then there’s no reason why the student shouldn’t pay for it. Indeed, there’s no reason why the government should play any role whatsoever.

It is possible, of course, that uneven tax subsidies make some programs artificially appealing to some students. But then the proper solution is not to increase select subsidies, it is to eliminate all the subsidies.

But it is no surprise that Brown, a former Republican Senator (and my one-time boss) endorses tax subsidies for education; i.e., forcing some people to pay for the education of other people.

Seriously, Republicans love spending taxes. It’s like they’re in their own little tax-spending ghetto. Consider an October 23 release from Colorado Republicans, titled, “GOP to bolster higher ed with more funding, greater accountability.” Republicans wish to “establish a reliable funding stream for higher ed by drawing on surging revenue from oil and gas development.” The money comes from leasing fees, “mineral royalties and state and local energy taxes.” Because Republicans see that money as theirs to spend by right, never mind what the people who produce the wealth might think about it.

Republican Mike May says, “We are using a carrot-and-stick approach” toward colleges. The carrot is other people’s money, taken from them by force. The stick is legislative control.

Yet how many students simultaneously bitch about “academic freedom” and too little state funding? What politicians fund, politicians control. Real academic freedom means getting politicians out of the education business. And that means getting politicians out of the business of funding education with other people’s money.

Return to Civility

I have no problem with knock-down, drag-out debate. But the key word is debate, which implies arguments invoking reason and evidence. For example, I let Bob Beauprez have it over his endorsement of health-insurance mandates. And I make a strong case against mandates. I don’t even mind some good, old fashioned name-calling, so long as the name has some plausible justification given the evidence presented. For instance, I suggested that some of the arguments of animal rights groups are dishonest, but only after I subjected those arguments to a lengthy critique that demonstrates my conclusion.

But too many people, especially in comments on blogs, are just nasty, without any justification. (That’s why I allow only moderated comments on my web pages.)

Consider the following e-mail that I received on October 21. It’s not worth quoting, except to offer an example of the sort of comments not worth quoting. Crandallsaz**ATSIGN**msn**DOT**com writes regarding a 7News piece featuring my wife and me:

I am so sick of people going on t.v. and saying, “It’s not enough, we cant live off food stamps”.

It was NEVER intended to be the full budget for any family. Food Stamps is intended to HELP pay for groceries, not pay for ALL groceries. It is a subsidy.

On the other hand, I just saw the piece on 7 News, and I don’t believe for a second that those two lived on their claimed budget. We don’t get food stamps, and follow the ads & coupons carefully, never even considering buying higher end things like steak, etc. and there is no way in hell a couple could live off of less than $200 per month. I consider that claim a bold-faced lie. And one more thing, what an IDIOTIC statement that was, to eliminate food stamps all together and rely on hand outs. That moronic idiot needs to spend 12 months working at Social Services to get a grip of reality. That little man is FAR out of touch with reality. Like a spoiled child.

Brian in Evans.

I replied:

You are quite mistaken, and your rudeness is uncalled for.

You can see every single food receipt, and an itemized list of all food items purchased, for the month of August, at the following web page.
http://www.freecolorado.com/2007/08/challenge.html

Please do not write to me again unless you can communicate civilly.

Thank you,
Ari Armstrong

Brian in Evans replied, “You are an ARROGANT IDIOT. You’re Arrogance is sickening.”

So, after calling me a liar without a shred of evidence, and after receiving from me overwhelming proof of the veracity of my claims, Brian accuses me of sickening arrogance. I mean, come on.

Unfortunately, gratuitous rudeness is not restricted to e-mails and blog commentary. Here are some choice quotes from Doug Giles from his recent column at Townhall.com:

How to Shut Up an Atheist if You Must
By Doug Giles
Saturday, October 20, 2007

… Suck, for you thick atheists, is a slang word which means to make or to be really, really crappy (kind of like how our culture becomes anytime you guys mess with it). …

…prissy anti-Christs… pissy God haters… no-God numb nuts… comfortable and cocky atheist…

[E]verywhere I go and speak — be it in conferences, on the radio, on television or in print — I’m going to encourage the tens of thousands of Christians I address that every time and everywhere they get crapped on by an atheist with unfounded arguments to open their mouths and slam dance them with facts found in these two new brilliant books from Regnery [by Dinesh D’Souza and Robert Hutchinson].

Yes, I can feel the love of Christ descend upon me through the words of Doug Giles.

At least Giles does offer some arguments presented by others. (They aren’t very good arguments, but that’s a subject of another post.) For Giles, though, these arguments become weapons of propaganda, intended not to win an honest and spirited debate, but to “shut up” the other side.

Dr. Pritchett on Freedom

Inspired by the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, I decided to read the great novel again. I’m nearly a third of the way through. The novel is a magnificent accomplishment — and it’s as though I’m reading it for the first time. The first third focusses on the characters of Dagny Taggart, the great railroad executive; Hank Rearden, the steel producer; and Francisco d’Anconia, the copper owner who has apparently fallen to depravity. The dramatic tension, as when Dagny and Hank meet at a party or celebrate an accomplishment, is gripping.

I thought that I would include a few quotes on this web page. They’re not necessarily the most central quotes; they’re just what happen to grab me. Here’s what Dr. Pritchett has to say about the Equalization of Opportunity Bill, which forces business owners to sell off all but one enterprise:

But I believe I made it clear that I am in favor of it, because I am in favor of a free economy. A free economy cannot exist without competition. Therefore, men must be forced to compete. Therefore, we must control men in order to force them to be free. (page 129)

Ridiculous? Nobody would ever actually say that? But my previous entry quotes just such a statement.

Beauprez Battles Liberty in Medicine

Conservatives routinely use the rhetoric of free markets, free enterprise, liberty, and choice to impose political controls.

Bob Beauprez, the conservative whose campaign for governor self-destructed last year, published a new article this week titled, “Health Care Reform – The Battle is Joined.” Not surprisingly, Beauprez has joined the wrong side.

First comes the rhetoric:

By some estimates as much as 30% of health care cost is administrative overhead, so undoubtedly savings could be realized by streamlining and consolidating paper work. But, where did all this paper work and regulation come from? Right! From the government with a big assist from trial lawyers hungry for a lawsuit. Do you think doctors and hospitals intentionally create more paper work for themselves?

And, now how do they propose to fix it? With more government! Remember that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Either they are crazy, or they believe we are to believe this stuff.

Then come the controls:

Required coverage: I reluctantly come to the conclusion that just as motorists are required to have auto insurance, and lenders require homeowners insurance, citizens should have to have health insurance.

My dad and I describe the basic problems with mandated health insurance in a recent column. In brief, such mandates violate the individual’s right to control his or her own life and resources, put politicians in (greater) control of our insurance policies, and fail to fix the underlying problems that are caused by existing political controls.

Beauprez’s many confusions and distortions call for a more detailed reply.

Beauprez’s comparisons to auto insurance and homeowners insurance do not hold. The reason that “motorists are required to have auto insurance” if they wish to use government-run roads (even though many do not obey that law) is that the roads are socialized. It is telling that Beauprez holds up a socialized industry as the standard for medicine. Yet people are not forced to buy auto insurance if they do not use government-run roads. Beauprez wants to force everyone to buy health insurance.

If a lender requires the borrower to purchase homeowners insurance as a condition of the loan, that is properly a matter of voluntary contract, not political controls. But Beauprez is not talking about any sort of voluntary agreement with respect to health insurance: he is talking about legislating new political controls that force everyone to buy health insurance.

Beauprez continues:

Of the 15-17% of the population that is uninsured, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 56% are 18-34 year old young adults. It is impossible to know for certain, but many of these are no doubt uninsured by choice. Believing they are either permanently healthy, bullet proof, or both, they choose to spend their money on other things than health insurance. If they do get really sick or injured they know that they can go to any emergency room and get treatment whether they can pay or not because of federal law known as Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). Some are certainly uninsured because they cannot afford the cost of insurance, but most could afford at least a portion of a monthly premium.

The reality is that when someone doesn’t have insurance the cost of their health care is shifted to those that do in higher premiums, and to taxpayers who fund government programs. Cost shifting from the growing number of uninsured to the insured is a huge reality. The biggest challenge hospitals face is to adjust prices to insurance companies for paying customers to cover losses for services to non-paying uninsured patients they are required by law to treat. That invariably is reflected in higher insurance premiums.

It is simply not true that “when someone doesn’t have insurance the cost of their health care is shifted to those that do in higher premiums, and to taxpayers who fund government programs.”

Beauprez insults my wife and me, who were uninsured for several years. During that time, we paid for routine medical care out of pocket. Not once did we ask any other party to pay for our medical care. Yet Beauprez unjustly insinuates that we were freeloaders.

Why were we uninsured? Was it because, as Beauprez claims, we thought we “are either permanently healthy, bullet proof, or both?” No, Bob, it was not because we were stupid or deluded. I don’t need some failed politician to inform me of my motives, thank you very much.

The reason that we chose not to purchase health insurance at that time was that employer-paid insurance was a horrible deal for us. Because of government controls, such insurance acts to transfer wealth away from healthier workers to those with higher costs. We were having a hard enough time paying bills without financing other people’s health care to boot.

We made a calculated decision not to purchase health insurance. We looked at our realistic health risks given our age and state of health, took steps to independently maintain our health, planned to buy health care out of pocket, and considered how to handle possible (but unlikely) high-cost treatments.

In other words, our motive was the exact opposite of what Beauprez alleges. We were not trying to push our health-care costs onto others. Instead, we were paying our own way while refusing to finance the health care of others.

Here’s how politicians have turned employer-paid insurance into a wealth-transfer scheme. Politicians have entrenched high-cost, non-portable, employer-paid health insurance through federal tax distortions. Because of the tax distortion, such insurance serves as pre-paid medical care, not actual insurance to cover unexpected, high-cost treatment. Our hope with term life insurance, auto insurance, and home insurance is to never need to make a claim. We happily pay our routine auto and home expenses out of pocket. Why, then, do most people expect health insurance to cover all or nearly all of their health costs? It is because of the tax distortion. That’s fundamentally why health insurance is so bloody expensive.

And, of course, when practically every purchase of medical care goes through insurance, that adds a lot of processing costs.

When insurance acts as pre-paid medicine, it transfers wealth to insurance companies and to those who often visit the doctor (whether the visits are needed or not). It costs everyone who visits the doctor only occasionally.

Politicians have also required that employer-paid insurance accept all comers, regardless of health, within tightly controlled rates. That’s the equivalent of forcing a life-insurance company to charge the same rate for the same policy for a healthy 25 year old and an 80 year old with cancer. What happens is that some people put off buying insurance until they get sick. This increases the rates for everyone (as Beauprez suggests).

In addition, politicians have added all sorts of additional controls that act to transfer health-insurance dollars to members of special interests. In a comment beneath Beauprez’s article, Brian T. Schwartz writes:

The rationale for compulsory insurance is the “cost shift from uncompensated care” provided to the under- and uninsured, “which makes private insurance more expensive.”

Yet, Health Affairs reports that such uncompensated care is “only 2.8 percent of total personal health care spending.” …

Indeed, politicians have already succumbed to special interests by forcing insurance plans to cover many benefits that you may not need. These mandated benefits laws increase your premiums by 21 to 54 percent. (Council for Affordable Health Insurance, www.tinyurl.com/32ozs6)

So is the result of mandated health insurance to reduce “cost shifting?” On one hand, some people who would otherwise shift their costs onto others would be forced to instead purchase insurance. (However, those most likely to shift their costs onto others are also the ones most likely to avoid the mandate.) But on the other hand, insurance mandates increase “cost shifting” by forcing those with low medical costs to subsidize those with high medical costs. Notably, if some people pay only “a portion of a monthly premium,” as Beauprez suggests, then that means somebody else must pick up the rest of the tab.

One result it to screw young, working families, at the very point in their lives when they’re trying to pay off debts, keep up on bills, start families, and buy homes.

The only just way to reduce “cost shifting” is to remove the political controls that cause it. Beauprez’s plan is to “solve” the cost-shifting caused by political controls by adding new political controls that will expand cost-shifting.

Beauprez also claims, “Insured are far more likely to avail themselves of preventative care, get treatment earlier, and avoid serious acuity and expense.”

Beauprez’s claim is false. When my wife and I were uninsured, we knew that if we didn’t take care of ourselves, we’d face higher expenses down the road. We made sure that we ate healthy foods, exercised, avoided unnecessary risks, and checked up on our health. Now that we have high-deductible insurance that we hope never to need, our incentives are basically the same. On the other hand, when people are “insured” for everything, they have less incentive to minimize their long-term health costs.

Again, the problem is political force that allows the uninsured to demand medical care at the expense of others. The proper solution is to repeal those controls, not impose new controls that force people to buy insurance.

Some of Beauprez’s proposals (none of which are original to him) are fine, such as reducing the tax distortion that has entrenched employer-paid insurance. But his call for mandatory health insurance overwhelms anything positive he might have to say. “Both Ways Bob” simply does not understand the nature of individual rights, the meaning of free markets, or the proper purpose of government.

It is typical for such conservatives as Beauprez to follow a call for more political force, more state interference in the market, with a sentence like this:

“Any objective observer with even minimal experience with our free market system understands that private competition with limited government interference works.”

Belching Cows and Global Warming

The temperature fluctuates every day and every season by dozens of degrees. Average temperature has fluctuated many times between ice ages and warming trends over hundreds of thousands of years.

If humans continue their current emissions of greenhouse gasses, the temperature of the earth might increase by a few degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. If humans destroy their modern industrial society and revert to barbarism, the temperature of the earth might increase by a few degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Is it conceivable that environmentalists are using global warming as a pretext to denigrate industrial society and socialize vast tracts of the economy? Rousseau managed to condemn technological achievements and promote statism even before industrialization really took off. If it were not for global warming, would environmentalists advocate free markets and praise industrial society, or would they continue to advocate political controls and reduced human use of resources?

Yet people can most effectively deal with changes of weather and other problems when they are free to innovate within a free market — i.e., within the context of private property rights, voluntary association, and economic liberty. The environmentalist “solution,” to put politicians and bureaucrats in control of more of the economy, will waste vast resources and slow the rate of technological innovation. (Gus Van Horn discusses this issue.)

Keith Lockitch explains why some environmentalists blast even “green consumerism:” “the goal of environmentalism is not any alleged benefit to mankind; its goal is to preserve nature untouched — to prevent nature from being altered for human purposes.”

In his October 16 column for the Rocky Mountain News, Vincent Carroll discusses the latest environmentalist attack on human activity:

When an ultra-establishment voice such as the Los Angeles Times devotes a 1,600-word editorial to the perils of “Killer cow emissions,” not as parody but as serious analysis, you know that concern over porterhouse steaks has elbowed its way into the mainstream.

After noting that “livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the U.N. — more than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet,” the Times slogs through a variety of tactics that might reduce the impact of the methane gas that cattle produce (mostly through belching). It then concludes, however, that none of these measures would be enough.

The only alternative: “eating less meat.” As a result, “the government should not only get out of the business of promoting unhealthful and environmentally destructive foods, it should be actively discouraging them.”

Let’s be clear what the Times is saying: The government should actively discourage eating beef in order to combat global warming.

The Times’s October 15 editorial is worth quoting at greater length:

It’s a silent but deadly source of greenhouse gases that contributes more to global warming than the entire world transportation sector, yet politicians almost never discuss it, and environmental lobbyists and other green activist groups seem unaware of its existence. …

Most of the national debate about global warming centers on carbon dioxide, the world’s most abundant greenhouse gas, and its major sources — fossil fuels. Seldom mentioned is that cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, are walking gas factories that take in fodder and put out methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases that are far more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane, with 21 times the warming potential of CO2, comes from both ends of a cow, but mostly the front. … [I]t’s estimated that a single cow can belch out anywhere from 25 to 130 gallons of methane a day.

Now, I do agree that possible subsidies of beef production should be eliminated. And I’m fine with voluntary efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through new technology.

But when environmentalists advocate expansive political controls of cows, they risk making themselves laughingstocks. I have no doubt that some environmentalists will continue to push the anti-cow line, though, in part because it fits so beautifully with the animal-rights agenda.

The environmentalist movement wants to tightly control human activity and reduce human energy use. The shame is that, if environmentalists are successful, they will destroy the market dynamism that would otherwise enable the rapid development of technology. In a truly free market, people would be free to produce and trade unshackled by government controls, capable of dramatic advances in energy production (and other fields) well before the year 2100. Does anyone really believe that politicians, bureaucrats, and political moochers are the ones capable of directing technological revolutions? But the path of liberty would enable people to use dramatically more energy and exploit many more resources (eventually off-world as well), and environmentalists can’t have that.

Government Financing is Not “Private”

Here is yet another example of how advocates of individual rights and free markets must fight both “liberals” and “conservatives.”

Diane Carman writes for the October 16 Denver Post:

For conservatives, the belief that private industry does everything better and at less cost than the evil government is the sacred 11th commandment of politics.

And, the debacle with Blackwater USA notwithstanding, there’s no question that some jobs are done best by private contractors.

On that everyone can agree.

Trouble is, a whole back-slapping system of financial rewards has evolved to corrupt the process. …

Here in Colorado, private firms supply everything, even bus drivers and prisons. Former Gov. Bill Owens was a believer in the 11th commandment, so contracts for public services during his terms exploded.

One result was a $300 million computer system that never worked, Carman notes.

In Carman’s world, then, you can either work directly for the government or indirectly for the government. If you work indirectly for the government, then that’s “private” enterprise.

What’s missing from this picture? Hmm… I know it’s a toughie! How about the possibility of not working for the government at all?

Let’s take the example of bus drivers. Is it true that bus drivers either have to work for the government directly or work for companies that contract with the government? Obviously not. The alternative is to get government out of the business of running busses and allow bussing companies to operate independently, with the ability to set their own rates and routes and compete on a free market.

Carman actually knows that it’s possible not to work for the government — after all, she works for The Denver Post — yet she packages government contracting together with real free enterprise as “private.” But a company that’s paid by the government — i.e., by tax dollars taken forcibly from citizens — is not really “private” at all. A truly private enterprise earns its revenues from willing customers.

I’ll take another example to drive home the point. Currently, book publishers decide which books to publish and then sell the books to readers who buy them. That’s private enterprise. But what if the government published books? (In fact, the government publishes government reports already.) If the government pays a contractor to print and distribute books, is that “private” in the same sense? To take an extreme example, if the government taxed everyone at a rate of 100 percent, then hired contractors for every job, then, by Carman’s reasoning, that would be an entirely “private” economy.

So it is rather important to maintain the distinction between a real free market — actual private enterprise — and government contracting, which relies on the forcible transfer of wealth.

Is there a legitimate role for government contracting? Yes — but only for tasks essential for the government to fulfill its job of protecting individual rights (which need not involve coercive taxation). For example, the government may properly hire contractors to build military equipment. However, when it comes to prisons, I think employees should work directly for the government, not for contractors, because of the perverse incentives created by indirect financing.

Carman makes another crucial mistake. She presumes that one must hold one of two views: either the government should finance bus drivers and all sorts of other occupations, or the government is “evil.” What this leaves out is the view that government plays a crucial and essential role in protecting individual rights, but that government should be restricted to that role. The fact that government is not evil does not imply that government should restrict, compete with, or push out (actually) private enterprise.

Unfortunately, Carman draws her errors directly from the conservative movement. Conservatives often fail to distinguish between the proper and essential role of government and the misuse of governmental power. Conservatives usually endorse the forcible transfer of wealth, though for “conservative” aims. Conservatives also pretend that government contracting means the same thing as “private” enterprise.

Here’s a recent example. A Colorado Republican release from October 16 states:

Leadership and members of House and Senate Republican caucuses gathered on the west steps of the Capitol today to unveil a comprehensive education package…

Among the GOP proposals addressing those priorities: a uniform, statewide curriculum standard to graduate high school; a general proficiency exam before any student could graduate; a requirement to display English proficiency before a student could graduate, and a plan to reward and retain the best teachers through performance bonuses. …

Assistant Senate Republican Leader Nancy Spence… the ranking GOP member of the Senate Education Committee, showcased two of her education-reform bills at the conference. One of the bills would offer parents tuition assistance for special-needs children, and the other offered performance incentives to teachers.

She said that students with special needs are particularly vulnerable when their educational options are limited and that their parents ought to be able to choose a program, private or public, that addresses the unique challenges their children face.

There’s that word “private” again, this time used by Republicans to mean government-financed schools for “students with special needs.”

But what does a real “private” or free-market school look like? It does not accept any tax dollars. It earns its revenues from willing customers. It sets rates of tuition, perhaps including sliding scales to accommodate the poor, in cooperation with its customers. It might accept charitable donations or even (actually) private vouchers, meaning vouchers funded voluntarily, rather than through tax dollars.

But, with a few rare and quiet exceptions, conservatives will not endorse free markets in education. Government-run education is conservative orthodoxy. True, some conservatives want the government to control education via tax-funded vouchers, and they pretend that this is the same thing as “private” education, but this is merely a minor variation on the theme of government force.

Indeed, Colorado Republicans have proudly assumed the role of central planners. They want to micromanage every government-run school in the state. And why do government-run schools require such micromanagement? Because of the perverse incentives created by tax financing. Government-run schools face little incentive to serve their “customers.” These Republicans have no problem with government-run schools; they just want the government to run the schools their way.

Here is another example. This evening, the El Pomar Foundation is hosting a talk with Thomas Krannawitter of Hillsdale College. Here’s what Krannawitter has to say about government-run education:

In Ohio, as in the rest of America, taxpayers for years have poured billions of dollars into failing public schools. Dissatisfied with dismal results, the citizens of Cleveland decided to try something different. Parents would be given a voucher — tax dollars, that is — they could use to send their children to any school of their choice, public or private. By making choice available to more parents, schools would compete to attract students, providing a powerful incentive for all schools to strive for educational excellence. …

Contrary to the ACLU, the men who framed and ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights rightly believed political freedom and good government require moral citizens capable of governing themselves. And they thought religion a powerful means of moral education that ought to be promoted by government.

Krannawitter confuses government-financed schools with “private” schools, thereby helping to obliterate the very idea of an actually “private,” free-market school. He enthusiastically endorses tax-financed education. And he suggests that government should also spend tax dollars to promote religion.

The broader critique is that Krannawitter conflates religion and morality, when actually objective morality can only be derived independently of religion. Religion undermines morality. But that debate is too broad for this post. For now, I need merely point out that Krannawitter does not advocate the right to control one’s own resources with respect to education or even religion; he believes the government should be in control.

The modern contest between “liberals” and “conservatives” is merely one to seize government control over our lives.