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.

Baseball Brings “External Malicious Attack” and Scalping

Never mind the fact that “all of California is burning.” We have real problems in Colorado: we can’t buy World Series tickets!

(Seriously, I offer my deepest sympathies to Californians who have lost property in the fires.)

Here’s the extraordinary story, as told by 9News:

The Colorado Rockies say tickets for the World Series will again be sold online starting Tuesday at noon after an attack brought down the Web site on Monday.

Rockies Spokesperson Jay Alves said on Monday night that ColoradoRockies.com was the victim of an “external malicious attack” that caused a system-wide outage with Paciolan.

Paciolan is Major League Baseball’s ticket vendor. The outage impacted all of its North American customers.

The Rockies suspended the sale of tickets on Monday after noon because of the system outage. …

The Rockies initially said the system went down because of the heavy traffic to the Web site. They said there were 8.5 million hits on the Rockies Web site after the tickets went on sale.

I was one of the people unable to purchase tickets at 10:00 a.m. on Monday.

But talk about some bitter fans! Sheesh! I read some of the stories in the papers and listened to some of the comments on the radio. More than a few people were outraged.

We might draw a couple lessons from this incident.

First, look at the context. The Colorado Rockies — whom a roommate of mine once mocked as the “Rookies” — are in the World Series! Even if you are forced to watch it on a big-screen TV with surround sound while sitting on a couch drinking beer and eating pizza, which, admittedly, is a sorrowful existence, it’s still pretty darn cool.

Second, be a little slower to cast blame. I assume the Rockies have good evidence about an “external malicious attack,” given that they’ve announced it to the media. So it turns out not to be the fault of the Rockies or of Paciolan. Indeed, the story could get even more interesting if legal action is pursued against the attacker.

That said, I do like the idea of an on-line lottery. The problem with physical lines is that they waste time. A lottery would be easy to enter and easy to decide, and it would give everybody a fair shake. Next time the Rockies get to the World Series, I’m sure the organization will consider such alternatives.

But isn’t it strange that a large percentage of the final ticket sales will go to scalpers? The baseball teams have created this value, yet millions of dollars will go into the pockets of ticket redistributers. Moreover, the process of redistributing tickets costs additional time, which could otherwise be spent in other work. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against scalpers, given the current system of ticketing. But why is that system set up to benefit scalpers?

If the Rockies sold tickets for what scalpers will eventually get for many of them, the Rockies would be accused of greed. So, apparently, it’s less greedy to knowingly redistribute millions of dollars to scalpers. (I assume that ticket prices are in some way regulated by Major League Baseball.) But, if the Rockies wanted to price out scalpers without seeming “greedy,” there’s another solution: they could sell tickets at market value and donate the “excess” proceeds to charity.

What about the fans who “deserve” to buy cheap tickets? The Rockies have already made tickets available to season ticket holders, so those fans are taken care of. But the Rockies could also, for example, hold a “spirit contest” to make true fans show their dedication before they’re allowed to buy less-expensive tickets. Or they could donate tickets to hard cases.

Offhand, though, I can think of no reason why baseball clubs should not simply sell tickets at their market value, and keep the proceeds. If they wanted, clubs could literally auction every single ticket, sort of like ebay (with unsold tickets available at gametime for the minimum price). But baseball involves many complex relationships between clubs, players, and fans that I do not pretend to understand.

Leonard Peikoff’s Podcast

Outstanding! Leonard Peikoff has just released his first podcast. He says he’ll produce a new one every week or two. He does an excellent job answering difficult questions in a way accessible to a general audience. In his first podcast, he answers four questions sent to him via e-mail (in my wording):

1. Is “non-initiation of force” the main ethical principle?

2. What should one do if one’s relatives are upset about one’s atheism?

3. What is the theme of mystery and adventure novels?

4. Do religions as such tend to become militant? How should a country defend itself against terrorist states where good people live?

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.

Harry Potter’s Success

The Harry Potter books have been phenomenally successful. CNN reports, “The last installment of the Harry Potter series sold a record-breaking 11.5 million copies in the U.S. in the first 10 days on sale… To date, more than 350 million copies of the seven books in the Harry Potter series have been sold worldwide.”

And Potter is very much an international phenomenon. The Guardian reports:

Publisher Bloomsbury [of Britain] revealed [on September 18, 2007] that its English-language version of the boy wizard’s final tale has sold as many copies overseas as in the UK. In Germany alone [one million] copies were sold in the last month. Pre-orders in China were more than 200% higher than those of the previous book…. [T]he untranslated Harry Potters have seen huge demand from impatient fans who want the books as soon as they come out.

The books have sold so well in part because they are very well written fantasy stories with richly drawn characters. Even though Harry and his friends can do amazing things, it’s easy to imagine living in their world while reading the books. But part of the reason the books have sold so well is that Rowling presents a strong moral message of courage and strong character that children are obviously hungry for.

Rowling’s sales figures are indeed impressive. By way of comparison, Ayn Rand wrote some of the most influential novels of the 20th Century. Yet, according to a biography from 1995, “Every book by Ayn Rand published in her lifetime is still in print, and hundreds of thousands of copies are sold each year, so far totalling more than twenty million.” Even assuming robust sales since then, Rand’s books have sold less than ten percent the numbers of Rowling’s books. (No doubt sales of Atlas Shrugged will get a boost when and if the movie ever reaches the screen.)

But numbers don’t mean that much. What will be the lasting cultural influence of, for example, The Da Vinci Code? The reason that Rand’s books have had such influence is that they present in dramatic form philosophic ideas of profound personal importance to the reader. The Harry Potter books present some important ideas, but they are not as profound, as original, or as integrated into the story.

The main reason that Rowling has had and will continue to have such profound cultural influence is that she is reaching millions of children when they are first exploring ideas and first thinking about moral choices. Harry and his best friends belong to the school house of Gryffindor, the house of the brave, and Rowling presents an inspiring image of moral courage. (I’ll have more to say about Rowling’s themes at a later time.)

But perhaps the best thing about Rowling’s books is that they have encouraged children to grapple with a complex story and difficult themes. The children who have graduated from those books will be prepared to read — and eager to find — other great and inspiring works of literature, such as Rand’s novels.

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.

Religious Motivation: Reply to Jamelle Bouie

In reply to my post, “Religious Right, Meet Religious Left,” Jamelle Bouie writes:

I’m not sure if you can equate religiously motivated politics with trying to “use the force of government to advance their religious agendas.”

Having a theologically based political belief is no different then having a philosophically based one. So for example, there are Christians who believe that Jesus’ admonitions about caring for the poor compel them to advocate — politically — on behalf of the poor.

They aren’t necessarily trying to impose a religious belief, but their actions are motivated by said belief.

Bouie distinguishes between advocating a policy from religious motives and advocating a policy that advances religious doctrine. This can indeed be a useful distinction.

Here are some examples of advocating a policy from religious motives, when the policy itself does not explicitly promote a religious doctrine. Various Christians want to outlaw abortion, because they believe that abortion is forbidden by God’s will, yet a law outlawing abortion need not explicitly mention any religious belief. Other Christians want to politically restrict the human emission of carbon dioxide, because they believe they have a religious duty to “save the earth” from such emissions, but those restrictions themselves do not necessarily promote Christian beliefs. Notably, many people who aren’t Christians also want to politically restrict such emissions. Many theists want to forcibly redistribute wealth to the poor, because they believe such redistribution is demanded by their religious precepts, yet statutes enforcing such redistribution need not mention religion. Many atheists also advocate the forcible redistribution of wealth to the poor.

Here are some examples of “trying to impose a religious belief” in the sense of using politics to advance a religious doctrine. Many “conservatives” (as noted) want to divert tax funds to schools that teach particular religious doctrines. Many conservatives also want government-run schools to teach creationism as science. In times past, various countries have passed statutes requiring people to attend some particular church. In the Middle Ages, the Inquisition murdered people for expressing beliefs heretical to Christianity.

However, as useful as this distinction is, it does not accomplish what Bouie thinks it does. I am not concerned merely with criticizing instances of political force that advance particular religious doctrines. I am also concerned with criticizing those who would “use the force of government to advance their religious agendas” in the broader sense. For example, I oppose the outlawing of abortion because it involves the illegitimate use of governmental force. In other words, I oppose the (initiatory) use of governmental force across the board, not merely when that use of force advances some particular religious doctrine.

Those who wish to outlaw abortion are indeed “trying to impose a religious belief” in the sense that matters. No, those who want to outlaw abortion are not trying to force me to say, “I accept that God forbids abortion,” but they are trying to interfere with the liberty of my wife and me to control our own lives. (As a side note, it turns out that my wife and I have discovered this wonderful invention called “birth control,” but we would not rule out an abortion if, for example, a pregnancy threatened the life of my wife. Of course, some Christians also want to outlaw birth control.)

In other cases, bad policies can be motivated by religious or secular ideologies. In such cases, does it really matter what the motivation is? Yes, it does, for two reasons. First, a full refutation of the case behind the policy is impossible without an understanding of what’s motivating the policy. A Christian and a Marxist might both advocate the forcible redistribution of wealth to the poor, but they’ll have different reasons for doing so (even though I agree with Leonard Peikoff that leftist collectivism is basically derived or borrowed from religious collectivism). Second, one cannot assess the potential cultural power of a particular policy proposal without knowing what’s motivating it. For example, in his June 12 post, Peikoff argues that the “anti-industrial Greens” will have “short-lived” success, but that religion is capable of much stronger and longer-lasting cultural influence.

As a side note, I strongly discourage writers from using the construction “advocate on” or “advocate for.” What does it mean to “advocate on behalf of the poor?” Advocate what? It is possible to advocate the forcible redistribution of wealth to the poor. It is possible to advocate Policy X. Let us stop this empty “advocating for” positions that are never specified. I oppose this egalitarianism of advocacy, this presumption that all forms of advocacy are created equal, regardless of what is being advocated. If you have the guts to advocate a particular policy or idea, then have the guts to name that policy or idea.

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.