“An Extreme Free-Market View”

As I write, sunrise is a few short hours away. But, as I was checking the papers for the baseball updates, I came across Jason Salzman’s latest column for the Rocky Mountain News. He writes:

In response to my last column documenting how Denver journalists love and embed the conservative/libertarian Independence Institute, some people asked whom I’d quote instead of institute President Jon Caldara. …

For an extreme free-market view, there’s Ari Armstrong (ariarmstrong.com) [hey, that’s me!] and Brian T. [Schwartz] (wakalix.com), among others.

So, before heading to bed, I wanted to welcome Salzman’s readers who may have wandered this way. Because extreme exhaustion in defense of liberty is no vice! (Or something like that.)

Unlike most politicians and commentators these days, I don’t get ruffled when somebody suggests that I’m “extreme.” If this strikes you as odd, allow me to ask you a few questions.

Do you want to be extremely happy, or just sort of happy? (I’m not talking about a superficial giddiness, but a deep enjoyment of life.)

Would you like to live in an extremely just society, or a society that’s just only some of the time?

Should we strive to be extremely good, extremely virtuous, extremely moral, or just pretty good?

The alternative to extreme happiness, justice, and goodness is some amount of unhappiness, injustice, and destructive vice. (Please don’t confuse “vice” with activities that can be healthy in the right context, such as moderate drinking.)

Imagine yourself in the mid-1800s. The abolitionists called for the abolition — the complete abandonment — of slavery. They took the extreme position that slavery is morally wrong and should be completely outlawed. The moderates, on the other hand, argued that slavery should merely be restricted. Would you have been on the side of the abolitionists or the moderates?

Just as I would have been proud to call myself an abolitionist in the mid-1800s, so I am proud to advocate an “extreme free-market view” today.

What is a free market? An individual market is any space or network in which people can exchange goods or services. E-bay is a market. The market in the broader sense is the sum of such networks and transactions. A free market is one in which people interact voluntarily, free from the initiation of force. For example, if you and I agree to swap an apple for an egg, that’s a free-market transaction. If one party takes something by force, threat of force, or fraud, then the market is no longer free. Force has replaced voluntary association. Buying groceries is an example of a free-market trade. Robbing a grocery store is an example of force.

The proper and necessary function of government is to protect each individual’s right to control his or her own life, resources, and property, as consistent with the equal protection of the rights of others. You have the right to control your property and trade the fruits of your labor with others, so long as you don’t violate the property rights of others in the process.

An extremely free market is one in which people’s rights are consistently protected. The alternative is a society in which some people exert force against others.

Obviously I’ve given only the briefest overview of the basic theory. But that should give you a basic sense of where I’m coming from.

Here are some examples, again in brief, of how my “extreme free-market view” plays out with respect to particular issues. People have the right to control their own resources, so politicians should not force them to fund the health care of others. Voluntary charity is fine, but forced wealth transfers are not. People have the right to control their own property, so they should be left free to set smoking policy there. Company owners have the right to run their businesses and offer goods and services to willing customers, so businesses should not have to seek permission from the FTC or other bureaucracy to merge or otherwise operate. People own their homes, so local governments should not be able to take those homes away by force.

I realize that many of you have been trained since you could walk to compromise for the sake of compromise, reject any position that dares invoke a principle (except the “principle” that “there are not principles”), and always seek the centrist position, regardless of who defines the boundaries.

“Compromise.” Even if you’re compromising the good for the sake of the bad, the just for the sake of injustice?

“Be reasonable.” But how can you reason apart from principles?

“Why go to extremes?” Do you wish to be moderate in pursuit of justice? Sanction the violation of only some rights?

A consistently or “extremely” free market means that individuals’ rights are consistently protected, that people are free to control their own resources and associate voluntarily. The alternative is that some people control others by force.

I’ve written quite a lot more about political issues for the Colorado Freedom Report. For more about compromise, please see Ayn Rand’s essay, “Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?” in The Virtue of Selfishness. See also Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which sees its fiftieth anniversary this month.

Claire Danes Shines

At first I resisted seeing the film Stardust because it looked like a fantasy movie geared to kids. Well, it is a fantasy movie, and it is the most delightful film I’ve seen this year. I’m grateful for my friends’ recommendation. I notice that it’s still playing on a few movie screens. I expect to see it a third time before it disappears, then wait expectantly for the DVD.

A young man, trying to win the heart of the local beauty, sees a falling star and pledges to fetch it in exchange for the girl’s hand. But to retrieve the star, our hero must cross the wall that separates England from the magical world beyond. In that world, a fallen star is not a hunk of metal and ash — it is a lovely young lady, in this case portrayed by Claire Danes. Our hero must learn to become a man, save the star, and figure out whom he loves.

The entire cast of the film is spectacular, but the real, er, star of the film is Danes. Hers is a joyous performance.

By the way, my wife and I also saw Danes in Evening. I do not love the story, and Danes’s character is not consistently drawn (perhaps because a screenwriter worked over the original novel). But the film has its rewarding moments, usually when Danes is on screen.

“He Went to Live with Two Homosexuals”

When criticizing James Dobson, I wrote, “I agree with many of Dobson’s criticisms of Giuliani’s personal life.” But I don’t want to leave the wrong impression. Many of Dobson’s criticisms of Giuliani are positives in my book. And some of Dobson’s criticisms are ridiculous:

Here’s why I cannot vote for Rudy Giuliani. He’s pro-abortion. He’s never repudiated gay marriage in New York City or at least the civil unions in New York City. He’s called a champion of gay rights. Rudy is opposed to school choice. He’s in favor of open borders. He lived with a mistress in the mansion in New York while he was married to his wife — and she was in the same house. He’s been married three times. When his second wife got sick of it she threw him out and he went to live with two homosexuals.

I don’t want abortion outlawed, I support domestic partnerships for homosexuals, I oppose school vouchers (because I support real free markets in education), and I favor open immigration (except for criminals and those with contagious diseases). I agree that Giuliani ought not have had a mistress (assuming that Dobson’s claims are correct); that was wrong of him.

But what is that last bit? “[H]e went to live with two homosexuals.” That’s the sort of line that gives me the surreal sense that somebody must be playing an elaborate practical joke. Why would it even occur to anyone to check to see whether Giuliani ever lived with two homosexuals? I mean, huh? When Dobson comes up with lines like that, parody is beside the point.

I keep having to remind myself that there are people in this country who take this guy seriously.

Candidates’ Mailing Addresses

So I’m sending a copy of the letter, “Church/State Separation Endorsed by Colorado Voters,” to candidates at the national and state level. Since I’m looking up the addresses, I’d thought I’d pass them along (even though only some of them will be relevant to most voters).

Of course, the 2008 elections are still more than a year away. But I wanted to introduce the letter early in the political season. There’s not much activity in the state legislative races at this point, but next year I’ll mail a copy of the letter to those candidates, too.

President

It turns out that there are a ridiculous number of people who think they’re running for president. The number just for Republicans approaches 100. So I’m going to send the letter only to candidates who are leading. I’m working from Vote Smart.

Rudolph W. Giuliani
1585 Broadway
New York, NY 10036

Mike Huckabee
Carter Wamp
Policy
Post Office Box 2008
Little Rock, AR 72203

John McCain
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Mitt Romney
585 Commercial Street
Boston, MA 02109

Fred Thompson
Friends of Fred Thompson
Incorporated Post Office Box 128349
Nashville, TN 37212-8349

Joe Biden
201 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Hillary Clinton
476 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

John Edwards
1201 Old Greensboro Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Barack Obama
713 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Bill Richardson
490 Old Santa Fe Trail Room 400
Santa Fe, NM 87501

U.S. Senate for Colorado

Bob Schaffer (I couldn’t easily find a mailing address.)
team@BobSchaffer.org

Mark Udall
8690 Wolff Court, #200
Westminster, CO 80031

U.S. Congress for Colorado’s Second District

(The following two candidates are Democrats, as Democrats always win this Boulder-centered race.)

Joan Fitz-Gerald
9975 Wadsworth Parkway – Unit K2 #401
Westminster, CO 80021-6814

Jared Polis
PO Box 4572
Boulder, CO 80306

Colorado Republicans and Democrats

Republican Party of Colorado
5950 S. Willow Drive, Suite 220
Greenwood Village, CO 80111

Democratic Party of Colorado
777 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, CO 80204

The Dobson Divide

Two days ago I signed a letter stating: “In coming election cycles, we will vote against any candidate who does not explicitly and unambiguously endorse the separation of church and state.” The letter asks candidates to respond to five questions, one of which is about abortion.

Today I read an interview with James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Here’s what he has to say:

[T]here was an informal meeting of about 50 pro-family and pro-life leaders that had come together [in Salt Lake City]. The purpose of it was to talk about what we would do if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate…

There were about 50 people there and, to my count, 44 of them stood saying we will not vote for Rudy Giuliani or whoever it is we’re talking about that’s pro-abortion. And that got covered all over the nation and, as you can imagine, I was inundated.

So I wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying why we would not do that — because you start with a moral principle. You have to make your decisions about who’s going to lead you not on the basis of pragmatics — not on the basis of who can win or who’s ahead in the polls or who has the most money or who’s the most popular. You begin by saying what are the irreducible minimums that I believe in, that I care about; what are the biblical values I cannot compromise.

At least Dobson doesn’t dodge the issue: he explicitly says he wants to base American politics on Christian doctrine.

Dobson wants to outlaw abortion and prevent marriage or domestic partnerships for homosexuals because that’s what he believes is the will of God. If Dobson has his way, what other policies might Christians try to impose? I have not researched Dobson’s particular views, but here are some policies that various Christians have proposed: censorship, criminal sanctions against homosexual acts among consenting adults, a ramped-up drug war including renewed alcohol prohibition, tax-funded religious education, tax-funded welfare, and bans on all sorts of medical research from cloning to stem cells. Certainly these policies, and many others involving a heavy hand of government, have found support in “biblical values.”

Dobson poses the typical false choice between pragmatism and religion. For what it’s worth, I agree with many of Dobson’s criticisms of Giuliani’s personal life. But Dobson’s “principles” are not grounded on any objective morality; they are merely arbitrary constructs, ultimately as subjectivist as what he claims to criticize. Dobson wants to govern America by his reading of an inherently ambiguous book of popular mythology. Giuliani has his personal faults, but at least he seems to be somewhat oriented toward reality.

I think that the Republican Party remains in deep, deep trouble. On one side, the religious right threatens to work against any candidate who does not pledge to govern according to Christian doctrine (as interpreted by the religious right). On the other side, voters more concerned about economic liberty and limited government are increasingly alienated by the religious right. (This is essentially the issue that handed Colorado to the Democrats.) Various leaders within the GOP have called for a renewal of vows, but the wedding was always one born of a shotgun. I suppose that one eventual possibility is for the free marketeers to seek out the civil libertarians of the left, even as the religious right and religious left grow closer together.

But Dobson is right about one thing. Politics is not primary. Ethics is primary. That is the real cultural battle today.

Atlas Shrugged — The Game

Often I come across tidbits in the popular media and think, “Wow, that could have come straight out of Atlas Shrugged.” Indeed, Ayn Rand’s ability to read and predict cultural trends can seem uncanny. So, as a fun way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the publication of the novel, I’m suggesting Atlas Shrugged — The Game.

It’s simple to play. Just blog the best example you can find from (let’s say) the past eight weeks of commentary that sounds like it could have been lifted straight from the pages of Atlas Shrugged. I imagine that nearly all examples will sound like the voice of a villain, unfortunately. Edit out specifics and leave only the general points. Let’s give it, say, till the end of October. Here’s my entry for the sort of mealy-mouthed gibberish common among Atlas’s political “reformers:”

It’s heating up. The debate… is picking up speed… Unfortunately, this naturally leads to polarization of opposing views regarding a critically important issue for all of us. And this cheapens and oversimplifies the discussion.

Our [industry] can’t be corrected with one liners and political scoring points.

We need cooperation. We need compromise. We don’t need political hoopla.

Thankfully, the continued work of the… Commission is a good example of how a group of people with differing views can work together on a critical issue. It would be premature to grade their efforts. However, they are making progress and we all should support their endeavor.

Source: Dr. Michael J. Pramenko, “Time to find people ‘medical homes’,” Grand Junction Free Press, September 28, 2007.

Celebrating Atlas Shrugged

From the Colorado Freedom Report:

“Today marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s seminal novel about producers who go on strike to oppose their treatment at the hands of political plunderers. The novel celebrates the greatness possible to the freed human mind in pursuit of life-enhancing values. The work unabashedly endorses the moral doctrine of rational self-interest. …

“Atlas Shrugged lays out the vision of heroic people who refuse to compromise their principles — and thereby refuse to compromise their happiness. Such people realize the full value of life on earth, and they therefore apply their reason and efforts to the goal of living. They hold productiveness as a moral virtue, and they seek to protect the political liberty that allows individuals to act, create, and trade according to their own judgment.”

Shift Happens

Thanks to an article from the Rocky Mountain News, I found a short video created by Karl Fisch of Arapahoe High School in Centennial.

Fisch’s first video was so popular that he created a second version. Both videos summarize various trends in education and the advance of technology. These videos brought tears to my eyes. Human achievements in the computer age are astounding.

I have two minor criticisms. First, the videos do not distinguish between “new information” and universal truths. It remains the job of philosophy to teach us how to organize information conceptually and hierarchically. Second, the videos make it seem as though the advance of technology is inevitable. It is not. Human productivity is inextricably linked to political freedom. Technology can be smashed much more easily than it can be created. A socialized economy will grind to a halt and then deteriorate. A virulent theocracy will systematically destroy the freedom of the mind and the technology that flows from it.

What Fisch’s videos demonstrate is how much we humans have achieved — and how much there is worth fighting for.

Church/State Separation Endorsed by Colorado Voters

Church/State Separation Endorsed by Colorado Voters

The signatories offer the following announcement as a non-exclusive letter to the editor.

As advocates of individual rights and free markets, we are deeply concerned about attacks on economic liberty and property rights. However, we also believe that the greater modern threat to individual rights is the attempt by some religious groups to make politics conform to their faith.

In coming election cycles, we will vote against any candidate who does not explicitly and unambiguously endorse the separation of church and state. We ask that candidates declare whether they:

1. Endorse the separation of church and state.

2. Oppose the spending of tax dollars on programs with religious affiliations, such as “faith-based” welfare.

3. Oppose the spending of tax dollars to teach creationism and/or intelligent design as science.

4. Oppose efforts to restrict the legal right of adult women to obtain an abortion.

5. Oppose bans on embryonic stem-cell research.

Signed,
Ari Armstrong, Westminster
Tom Hall, Louisville
Diana Hsieh, Sedalia
Paul Hsieh, Sedalia
Mike Williams, Denver
Leonard Peikoff, Colorado Springs
Richard Watts, Hayden
Cara Thompson, Denver
Hannah Krening, Larkspur
Erika Hanson Brown, Denver
Bill Faulkner, Broomfield
Cameron Craig, Denver
Bryan Armentrout, Erie

Version for Individual Voters

Note: Voters have permission to reproduce and distribute the following declaration. The document may be signed by individual voters and sent to the candidates for whom they will have an opportunity to vote. The names and addresses of candidates generally can be found through regional newspapers and Secretaries of State.

Dear Candidate,

I hereby add my name to the following declaration:

As an advocate of individual rights and free markets, I am deeply concerned about attacks on economic liberty and property rights. However, I also believe that the greater modern threat to individual rights is the attempt by some religious groups to make politics conform to their faith.

In coming election cycles, I will vote against any candidate who does not explicitly and unambiguously endorse the separation of church and state, whether on his or her web page or in direct correspondence. I ask that candidates declare whether they:

1. Endorse the separation of church and state.

2. Oppose the spending of tax dollars on programs with religious affiliations, such as “faith-based” welfare.

3. Oppose the spending of tax dollars to teach creationism and/or intelligent design as science.

4. Oppose efforts to restrict the legal right of adult women to obtain an abortion.

5. Oppose bans on embryonic stem-cell research.

Signed,

Subverting Free Speech in the Name of Free Speech

A few days ago I wrote the entry, “McSwane Is No Defender of Free Speech.” J. David McSwane, editor of Colorado State University’s Rocky Mountain Collegian, published what I described as “a four-word, nonsensical, profane utterance in place of an actual editorial” — “Taser this? F– Bush,” spelling out the F-bomb. (I’ve seen the punctuation between “this” and “F—” published three ways — a question mark, ellipses, and a dash — but that’s an irrelevant detail.)

Unfortunately, various journalists and commentators continue to completely misunderstand the concept of free speech. Indeed, by setting up a false conception of “free speech,” they are actively undermining real free speech.

Free speech, as I wrote in greater detail previously, means that you are free to say and write what you want, with your own resources, without suffering any force or threat of force from the government.

Free speech implies that you are free to start a newspaper and establish policy for that newspaper. It means that you are free to hire and fire writers at your discretion. If you are forcibly prevented from hiring and firing writers at your discretion, then your rights of free speech are being violated. If you choose to fire a writer, then you are certainly NOT violating the free-speech rights of that writer, who may continue to say and write whatever he or she wishes, only not with your resources.

There are three complications.

First, generally newspapers are owned by corporations. This just means that policy is set according to the legally established governors of the corporation (the voting stock holders acting through a management team).

Second, typically newspapers hire writers according to a contract. Most assuredly, newspapers do NOT offer contracts that allow writers to write whatever they want. If writers violate the terms of their contracts, then they may be fired before the contract (otherwise) expires.

Third, college newspapers are affiliated with tax-funded institutions, a condition that, as I discussed previously, generates all sorts of intractable problems, as the tax-funded advocacy of any idea automatically violates somebody’s rights of free speech. Nevertheless, as I also discussed, this issue is irrelevant in the case of McSwane, because McSwane failed to uphold the clear, published policies of the paper that are in accordance with normal standards of professional journalism. The tax funding of colleges does not imply that all standards fly out the window.

With that context established, I’ll take a look at a new article that was brought to my attention by a reader.

UCLA’s Daily Bruin published an article on the matter today (October 8). The story is by Jessica Roy:

Since it ran, the [four-word] message has sparked a nationwide dialogue about freedom of speech and the rights of college newspapers.

“Even though I think that it was in bad taste, it’s certainly their right to go ahead and express whatever views it is that they have,” said Arthur Lechtholz-Zey, chief executive officer of L.O.G.I.C. (Liberty, Objectivity, Greed, Individualism and Capitalism), a UCLA student group associated with the Ayn Rand Institute, which promotes objectivism and the value of philosophy in general.

“Certainly I don’t think anybody should be punished for this,” he added.

The Board of Student Communications at Colorado State is an independent group that oversees the newspaper, which relies on advertising rather than student fees for its funding. …

But Ryan Dunn, a third-year law student at UCLA, said he believes the paper overstepped the boundaries of freedom of speech and the press.

“I think there’s obviously a limit (to freedom of speech). They need to be aware of what their words can cause,” Dunn said. …

Lechtholz-Zey said advertisers were well within their own freedom of speech rights to cancel any affiliation with the paper. …

What the article reveals is that these American college students have no idea what is the significance or meaning of the First Amendment or the right of free speech.

It is debatable whether the CSU paper is truly “independent” or a part of the tax-funded institution. However, if it is “independent,” then any possible First Amendment concern about firing McSwane evaporates.

I was most disappointed to read the comments of Lechtholz-Zey; Objectivists should know better. Lechtholz-Zey makes two errors. First, he confuses the paper’s right to publish what it wants with the paper’s right to fire McSwane. Second, he conflates getting fired with government-backed punishment. Only the latter actually violates First Amendment rights. At least Lechtholz-Zey gets it right when discussing the rights of advertisers.

But Dunn’s comments are far worse. Dunn first suggests that firing McSwane would have somehow violated his rights of free speech. It would not have done so. More seriously, Dunn outright endorses the limitation of free speech. The right of free speech is absolute — within its context. For example, prohibiting somebody from yelling “fire!” in a theater, when there is no fire, is no limitation of that person’s rights of free speech. The person has no such right. Instead, the prohibition protects the theater owners’ rights of property and expression. When people start talking about limiting free speech, then actual abuses of free speech are just around the corner.

What is frightening is that many of tomorrow’s journalists and lawyers — the people who should be most concerned with defending the First Amendment and the right of free speech — have no idea of what rights are.