Stripper Welfare Illustrates Why Charity Should Be Voluntary

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

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

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 It adds strip clubs to the list of other establishments where the funds may not be withdrawn: racetracks, bingo clubs, gun shops, and liquor stores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Guarantee to Unions the Same Rights the Rest of Us Have

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published March 4 by Grand Junction Free Press.

Union battles in Wisconsin spilled over into Colorado February 22 as union supporters and Tea Party groups held opposing rallies at the capitol. See for Ari’s videos. The clash offers a great opportunity to review the proper functions and legal protections of unions.

The essential principle is that individuals have the right to associate voluntarily with others, whether as friends, union supporters, or corporate investors. Our First Amendment recognizes the fundamental “right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

The great irony and hypocrisy of the left is that it seeks to deprive people of their rights of assembly and speech when they join corporations. People have the right to speak, try to persuade others, and contribute their funds to whatever (nonviolent) causes they want, whether as individuals or as voluntary participants in unions, corporations, or other groups.

“Corporations aren’t people,” the left continuously cries. True, and neither are unions. However, all groups are composed of individuals, and people don’t lose their rights (or acquire any new ones) by virtue of joining some group.

Employers too have the right to associate freely by seeking to hire whomever they please, on whatever terms both parties agree to adopt. Whether employers want to hire no union members, only union members, or some combination, that is properly their right. Thus, we oppose so-called “right to work” laws restricting the voluntary association of unions and employers.

The problem with the Wagner Act (also called the National Labor Relations Act) signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935 is that, in conjunction with subsequent legislation, it violates the rights of employers and their employees to associate freely. Today’s unions use political force to drive wages for a select few above market rates, thereby contributing to unemployment and the degradation of American industry. And often government has permitted outright violence by union thugs, who have forcibly shut down businesses and viciously attacked nonunion employees.

Just law neither grants to unions special political advantages nor impedes their formation. Properly speaking, there are no special “union rights” or “corporate rights” or rights for any other group. There are only individual rights, which are the same for everybody, and which people retain when they consensually join together.

Note that when people form unions solely by voluntary consent and eschew violence and political force, those unions become part of the free market economy. The free market simply describes all the networks of individuals who respect each other’s property rights and interact voluntarily.

What about political-sector unions, which are the cause of all the fuss in Wisconsin? We might note that the obvious way to resolve the problem in many cases is to restore those jobs to the free market, but then we’d be accused of radicalism.

Government employees don’t need special legal protections for “collective bargaining.” Union members are free to rally, argue, campaign, and vote. And taxpayers have every right, through their elected representatives, to say no to union demands. The right of the taxpayer to his own earnings is what the political-sector unions blatantly disregard.

At the Denver rally, various union supporters claimed that unions are responsible for shorter workweeks, higher wages, and the rise of the middle class. In fact, insofar as unions have resorted to political force, they have thrown others out of work, undermined American business, and stunted the middle class.

The fundamental driver of higher wages is worker productivity. People in an economy as a whole cannot earn more than they produce. And productivity depends on capital formation. People can produce a lot more with computers, tractors, high-tech factory equipment, and automobiles than they can with crude iron tools and horse-drawn plows. Higher productivity is what enables people to earn more. Thank the capitalists, not the unions, for increasing wages.

True, in a small fraction of cases, unions might, without resorting to political force, persuade an obstinate business owner to pay market wages. In such cases the owner is better off paying more, or he’ll soon lose his best workers to competitors. Yet it is fundamentally this competition for labor, not union pressure, that drives up wages as productivity increases.

We were shocked to hear the blatant class envy of many of the Denver union supporters. “Eat the rich,” “tax the rich,” “tax those bastards up in Aspen,” stick it to corporations, we heard. How shameful.

True, some people in our largely politicized economy enrich themselves by gaining favors for the politically connected. That’s how newly elected Chicago mayor and Democratic favorite Rahm Emanuel gained his money, as Tim Carney pointed out a couple years ago in the Washington Examiner.

But big earners in the free sectors of the economy produce their wealth through years of dedication, hard work, long hours, and foresight. They drive our prosperity. Their money belongs to them, and their rights should not be sacrificed to destructive and hateful envy.

Grand Junction Could Use Some Common Sense Economics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

How About School Choice for Everyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Controversial ideas such as evolution.

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

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

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

Please allow me to completely opt out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” Based on Old Fallacies

The following article originally was published January 11 by the Independence Institute. The Institute’s Jon Caldara offered additional commentary. The article also was published by Denver Daily News and Colorado Daily.

If you think corporate welfare “creates jobs,” you might be an outgoing Colorado governor.

As governor, Bill Ritter signed “an unprecedented 57 clean-energy bills into law,” a January 5 release from Colorado State University reviews. Now Ritter will join the university’s Center for the New Energy Economy, drawing a privately funded $300,000 annual salary.

Whether wind and solar energy actually can significantly reduce carbon emissions remains debatable. The online news source Face the State recently reported that an $11 million “new energy” project in Fort Collins actually relies partly on dirty diesel. The irregularity and wide dispersion of wind and solar energy make them difficult to harness.

But advocates of the “new energy economy” do not merely claim that alternative energy reduces carbon emissions. They claim it benefits the economy as well. Such claims about the alleged economic benefits of “new energy” rest on basic economic fallacies.

In a free market, consumers turn to new energy sources when they offer lower costs and better quality than the competition. For example, in the late 1800s consumers turned from whale oil to the “new energy” of petroleum. Advances in nuclear power or some other energy source may in turn largely replace coal and oil without political interference.

Political interference in the market is precisely what Ritter advocates, and that is why his policies harm the economy rather than help it. Ritter’s “new energy economy” relies on a combination of political controls and corporate welfare that raise your energy bills and your taxes.

Last year Ritter signed a bill “requiring that 30 percent of electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020,” a release from the governor’s office notes. The fallacy is that the bill “will create thousands of new jobs.”

Ritter’s claims about jobs rest on what 19th Century French economist Frederic Bastiat called the “childish illusion” that such measures do anything other than reallocate wealth and wages. Bastiat urges us to consider the unseen as well as the politically obvious. Ritter’s controls will destroy jobs in the oil and coal industries, and they will destroy jobs that consumers would otherwise finance, if they weren’t paying higher energy costs.

Another document from the governor’s office claims, “Ritter’s vision and strategies are helping to create and save jobs, support small businesses, increase manufacturing and spur innovation.” The document lists various businesses subsidized by the state, including Vestas Blades, IBM, and Abound Solar. Ritter conveniently neglects to mention the costs.

Corporate welfare does not just fall from the sky. It comes from taxpayers. That money is no longer available to those who earned it to create jobs and support businesses in other sectors. While Ritter creates jobs with one hand, he destroys them with the other. The difference is that the jobs Ritter creates serve political interests rather than the interests of consumers.

Consider, as Bastiat might do, the logical absurdities of Ritter’s position. If mandating “new” energy creates jobs, then why stop at 30 percent? Why not 100 percent? Why not expand subsidies 1,000 fold? Why not outlaw all coal, oil, and natural gas in Colorado, and force every property owner to install solar panels and windmills? Think of all the new jobs that would require!

Of course, Ritter could argue that, insofar as he has attracted federal funding for “new energy,” he has helped forcibly transfer wealth and jobs from citizens in other states to citizens in Colorado.

But that would seem to be a losing game. Last year the Denver Business Journal noted that “Colorado ranked 33rd among the 50 states in the amount of per-capita federal spending.” If Ritter can “create jobs” in Colorado by bilking the citizens of other states, then politicians elsewhere can do the same to us. The net result is not more jobs, but more political favoritism and more economic waste.

Ritter’s “new energy economy” is built on old economic fallacies about the alleged benefits of central planning and corporate welfare. For productive employment, we should instead turn to a subsidy-free New Liberty Economy that favors free markets and rewards companies that seek to please customers instead of politicians.

Ari Armstrong, a guest writer for the Independence Institute, publishes and moderates Liberty In the Books.

Listeria Outbreak Cries for Changes, Not Hysteria

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published November 11 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The cantaloupe-caused outbreak of listeria created a tragedy for those infected by the bacteria and for their families. As of the end of last month, the death toll had risen to 28, the number of reported illnesses had climbed to 133, and one infected woman miscarried.

Though less important, the outbreak also created a tragedy for Colorado agriculture. Jensen Farms, responsible for spreading the bacteria, sits on the opposite side of the state. Yet Grand Junction has long been the home of fruit growers, and no doubt everyone associated with the industry can imagine the horror of getting caught up in something like that.

Colorado cantaloupes are among the best in the world. We have not seen good estimates on how much money the outbreak cost the growers of healthy cantaloupes, nor how much it may weaken the market for Colorado cantaloupes into the future.

While there is good reason to believe that Jensen Farms contributed to the outbreak through irresponsible practices (more on that below), it is also important to keep in mind the context of the illnesses. As of the 28th victim, the median age was 84. Prior to modern detection methods, such deaths often would have been chalked up to old age. In many cases, the listeria must be considered a contributing factor of death.

Bacteria are everywhere; the human body contains around ten times as many bacteria as human cells. We run into contact with potentially dangerous bacteria on a daily basis. Usually, our bodies fight them off.NPR ran an informative story last month pointing out that thousands of people probably ingested the listeria from the cantaloupes, and in most cases stomach acids killed these bacteria. Note too that some 128,000 Americans check into the hospital every year because of foodborne illness, and 3,000 die.

However, even though listeria mostly attacks people with already compromised immunities, obviously farmers should strive to take reasonable precautions to avoid the spread of dangerous bacteria. Jensen Farms seems not to have done that.

For example, “the farm had stopped adding a chlorine-based agent to its wash water,” reported the Denver Post‘s Michael Booth (who has done a generally good job covering the story and sorting through the relevant reports). Tap water gets chlorine treatment to kill pathogens, and it’s reasonable to think it could have helped prevent listeria growth. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration raised concerns about Jensen’s cooling systems, sorters, and more, Booth reported.

The question is what should be done to improve safety. Merely the financial risk of lawsuits may sufficiently motivate cantaloupe growers to double-check their safety procedures. Booth reported that Jensen “and its distributor, Frontera Produce of Texas, already face multiple wrongful-death lawsuits.”

What didn’t seem to work is a private audit; one of Booth’s headlines reads, “Private audit at Jensen Farms before listeria outbreak failed to flag woes.” Primus Labs gave Jensen Farms high scores just before the bad mellons shipped. We haven’t looked into the incentive structure of such deals or the details of that particular inspection enough to determine what went wrong; we do, however, wonder whether the inspection lab also opened itself up to tort liability.

Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar, formerly the area’s Congressional representative, wants to expand state oversight. (See Booth’s coverage of this story as well.) We appreciate Salazar’s relatively light touch here (not that he had much choice given state law): he suggests a possible “Colorado Proud” label that would require meeting certain guidelines.

We like the idea of a certification process, and we understand why other cantaloupe farmers support the idea. Responsible farmers want a good way to distinguish their products and separate themselves from their less-reputable competitors. However, we don’t see why the state needs to get involved in it. We think an independent agency, comparable to Underwriters Laboratories or Consumer Reports, can handle the job without bureaucratic assistance. No doubt grocers who sell the melons would look to such certification standards with great interest.

If we have one complaint about Booth’s reporting, it is that it seems to sometimes veer off into editorial waters by promoting more federal oversight. We don’t think the listeria outbreak warrants that, though we recognize the federal government’s Constitutional authority to “regulate” interstate trade. Frankly, the lawsuits alone will likely fix the problems, though we’d also like to see the improved certification.

Life is filled with risk. The only way to totally prevent foodborne illness is to stop eating. (We are, however, also intrigued by the potential to irradiate more food to kill pathogens.) If government regulators overreact, they threaten to raise food prices — something that creates its own health problems — and destroy certain businesses or even industries. Eating listeria-infected cantaloupe is dangerous, but so is throwing people out of work.

Remember not only those who recently got sick, but the multitudes who have enjoyed eating healthy Colorado cantaloupes, still among the best in the world.

[Update: Jennifer Brown and Michael Booth wrote a great article for the November 14 Denver Post discussing the wider problem of foodborne illness and offering some common-sense advice about it.]

Resolve to Expand, Use, and Produce

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published January 7 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The number of people living on our planet has nearly quadrupled in the past century, expanding from 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations.

For many environmentalists, all these people provoke woe and despair. People keep growing crops, building structures, having babies, and — horror of horrors — using energy from sources like coal and oil. Various environmentalists pray for some plague or catastrophe to wipe out much of the human race. They decry the alleged environmental harm of having children. In short, they hate people.

We happen to like people, and we think the more the merrier. Given continued technological advances possible with free markets and political liberty, our planet can comfortably support many times the current human population.

True, where violence and political corruption reign, as in much of Africa, often people cannot produce enough to support themselves. But this is not fundamentally a problem with the number of people; it is a problem of bad politics, cultural decay, and the ubiquitous violation of individual rights.

Environmentalists preach, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” The people-haters want fewer people to use less energy and fewer natural resources. Those who love life and cherish people reject such environmentalist pablum and instead embrace the motto, “Expand, use, and produce.”

Our goal should not be to reduce the amount of energy we use, but to radically expand it. The point is not to waste energy, but to use more of it as efficiently as possible to meet human needs.

Energy enables us to control the temperature, humidity, and other elements of our immediate environment in the structures we build. Energy lets us light our homes and cities and travel around the world, whether for health or vacation. Energy empowers us to produce the vehicles, buildings, computers, and other things we need to live well.

We look forward to the day when technological innovations allow the average American to use many times the amount of energy as today. We also gleefully anticipate people in other parts of the world catching up with U.S. energy use. To achieve such advances, people need economic liberty and political systems that protect individual rights. Only freedom enables people to use their minds to the fullest to produce the wealth we need to thrive.

When it makes economic sense, we should indeed reuse and recycle things. But we should not squander what Julian Simon called the “Ultimate Resource” — the human mind and our time spent using it. The major goal is to produce things. Recycling is valuable only insofar as it improves human life, as indicated by price signals showing that the rewards of recycling merit the time spent doing it.

We hope that, in another century, many more people live on the Earth, and even more live places other than our home planet. People should colonize the moon, space stations, and asteroids. How glorious will be that day when the human population of Mars reaches a billion.

Thankfully, some people are working toward that end. Various private space companies have launched crafts into space for commercial purposes. Here in Colorado, one space scientist has coauthored a novel about homesteading Mars. Thomas James, a cofounder of People’s Press Collective (to which Ari contributes), helped pen “In the Shadow of Ares.”

James’s novel is about the first family to homestead Mars. At age fourteen, Amber Jacobsen, the first person born on Mars, moves with her parents to a settlement that operates mines and builds greenhouse domes. James discussed the novel in a recent video interview; see for his complete comments.

James hopes the novel will inspire young readers. He said, “We did aim it toward kids, to get some of these ideas in front of kids that they’re not seeing from other sources.”

James worries that the fantasy so popular today “is not driving kids into math and science careers. It’s not getting them to think about things rationally and logically the way you would with science.”

Beyond the science, what sorts of ideas does James explore? “Capitalism is good, honesty is good, reason, integrity, they’re all good things, and if you follow these good principles,” you’ll ultimately achieve good ends.

“Along the way we throw in lessons about economics,” James adds, noting that one problem of the novel is “how you would set up an economy on a blank-slate planet.”

The novel embraces controversy, as any visionary work must. The Mars settlers depend on nuclear energy as well as genetically modified organisms for their basic needs.

James predicts: “We’re starting to see the beginnings of what we describe in the book, as the commercial development of space. And once that takes off, it could be sooner than we think.”

Space settlement is the next step in the human effort to expand, use, and produce, in order to thrive.

Christmas Could Be Challenging for Colorado’s Old Timers

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published December 24, 2010, by Grand Junction Free Press.

These days at Christmas most of us enjoy the opulence of the season. We might drive our shiny automobiles past sparkling lights on our way to the movies, the mall, or a restaurant. Under the tree many of us will find video disks and games, iPods, Kindles, or maybe even a new flat-screen television.

We owe our wealth and comfort today largely to the hard work of Colorado’s pioneers. This Christmas, it is worth remembering the challenges and struggles our forebears overcame and the more modest holiday celebrations they enjoyed.

We found several Christmas stories in a two-volume work from 1982, “Long Horns and Short Tales: A History of the Crawford Country,” by Mamie Ferrier and George Sibley. It covers the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“At a typical one room schoolhouse there was one teacher for all eight grades,” Ferrier and Sibley tell us. Apparently it is not the case that today’s students cause more trouble. At Maher (near Crawford) the school board hired John Stafford, who brought a bull whip to class to keep the unruly older boys in line.

“In the days before the automobile, movies, TV, and the like,” Ferrier and Sibley write, the school houses were used not only for class but for church, elections, and business meetings. Twice a month the local residents held a “literary” where people would sing, debate, and perform skits. To raise funds for the school, women would auction off boxed dinners and their company, and the “young ladies brought… as much as $25.”

Christmas brought a “gift exchange, singing of Christmas carols, and a program that included every child in the school.” Despite the modesty of the celebration, “a good time was enjoyed by all,” our authors assure us, and we do not doubt it.

Ferrier and Sibley nicely summarize the spirit of Christmas in those ground-breaking times. “In the homes Christmas was celebrated with a big dinner and lots of company. Gifts were much different from those of today. Most children received only one gift and the hand knitted mittens and stocking caps.

“There might be a few oranges which was a real treat as they were not purchased during the rest of the year. Home-made rag dolls were common. Older boys might be given a single shot .22 rifle; older girls got things for their hope chest, hair ribbons, and handkerchiefs. The men were sure to get neckties or socks. Today children are given so many toys that they don’t appreciate any of them. In pioneer days the few things were treasured.”

The book about Crawford contains the brief autobiography of Laura Piburn Pace, who arrived in Colorado as a girl in 1884. She describes her home after her marriage: “The house was a two-room log cabin. The kitchen had a dirt floor and one small window. My furniture was wooden boxes nailed to the wall and stacked on top of each other… I made curtains out of flour sacks, embroidered them and crocheted edges on them and they were quite clever.”

One May Laura’s house burned down. “By August, 1911, the new house was near enough finished so we could move into it,” and “by Christmas Day we had a lovely farm home.”

Of course, some people today are struggling this season, hit by unemployment or the housing crunch; the Denver Post reports a rise in poverty. But today’s economic troubles pale in comparison to those of the Great Depression. Yet even in those dark days Coloradans found a way to enjoy and celebrate Christmas.

Writing for the Winter 1986 edition of “The Journal of the Western Slope,” Mesa State professor Paul Reddin describes how Grand Junction women coped with the Depression. He bases much of the article on interviews he conducted.

“During the Depression, the residents of Grand Junction worked hard, but they also found time to enjoy life. Much about their entertainment reflected the rural aspects of the region and a conviction that good times centered around family and friends,” Reddin writes. He adds that people then had the attitude that you should “make your own fun.”

The professor’s comments on Christmas are especially poignant: “Holidays, especially Christmas, brought family together. All enjoyed the fellowship of such occasions. If funds for gifts were short, grown-ups did not exchange them, using the available cash for presents for the children. Parents could practically always afford gifts for youngsters because a small toy car might cost as little as 15 cents, and a dollar would buy a nice present. For adults, the chance to visit with inlaws was more important than gifts.”

Earlier Coloradans, rugged of spirit, maintained a good outlook even in rough times, and generally they appreciated the things they had and made do with them. As you enjoy your glorious feast and the amenities of modern life, spend a moment to reflect on what has been made possible by Colorado’s hearty pioneers.

Time for a Free Market in the Alcohol Industry

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

Has Colorado’s liquor enforcement finally become so absurd that legislators will reform the laws to allow free markets? The point of Prohibition was to stop people from drinking. Now laws stemming from Prohibition will force people to buy higher-alcohol beer in restaurants and taverns.

Jessica Fender wrote up the sad story for the Denver Post. While grocery stores can sell only low-strength beer, new rules will prohibit restaurants and taverns from selling anything less than “4 percent alcohol by volume or 3.2 percent by weight.” Fender adds, “Beermakers will have to test their suds and submit an affidavit stating their alcohol content to authorities.”

Apparently, in this time of economic trouble and budget cuts, it is a pressing state priority that people get as drunk as possible at bars and that small business owners spend more resources fighting through red tape.

Unfortunately, the state does far more than control the potency of beer. Politicians ban liquor stores from opening franchises. They ban liquor stores from selling food, except for “liquor-filled candy” and “cocktail garnish in containers up to sixteen ounces.” They ban nearly all grocery stores from selling wine, liquor, and regular-strength beer; only one store in a chain can sell those products.

The state’s liquor laws make a mockery of justice and the law. They benefit some special interests at the expense of consumers, and they ensure that liquor lobbyists perpetually kiss the backsides of legislators.

Perhaps a glance at history will help put the matter in perspective. When Ari lived east of downtown Palisade back in the 1970s, that area was called “Vineland,” though it was covered in fruit trees. Where did the name come from?

In his book “The Story of Colorado Wines,” Abbot Fay writes, “By the spring of 1882 settlers were bringing fruit and grapevine stock” to the Western Slope. adds, “Governor George A. Crawford, who founded Grand Junction in 1881, plant[ed] sixty acres of grapes and other fruit on Rapid Creek above Palisade.”

But anti-liberty activists and politicians soon destroyed the wine industry. “The Women’s Christian Temperance Union became very active in Colorado at the beginning of the twentieth century,” Fay continues. Mesa County “went dry in 1909,” and “by 1916 the State of Colorado as a whole had adopted Prohibition.”

Fay writes, “As a result of Prohibition, many grapevines in the Grand Valley were uprooted, and the Palisade area was re-planted — mostly in peaches.” And “it took almost half a century before” farmers started growing grapes again. So that explains why, for several decades, Vineland featured practically no vines.

We are heartened that Colorado, once an early adopter of Prohibition, now blossoms with wineries and brew pubs. The Colorado Department of Agriculture reports that the number of wineries in the state has reached 100. As of 2008, the wine industry generated over $17 million in revenues and sold around 100,000 liters. Vineland is back!

For beer, the Colorado Brewers Guild reports that Colorado is home to 130 breweries, giving the state high rankings in terms of numbers of breweries and volume of beer produced.

Unfortunately, some of those producers have forgotten the history of oppression in their own industry and have turned to oppressing others. For example, earlier this year the Brewers Guild opposed a law to allow grocers to sell regular-strength beer to willing customers.

To get back to the basics, the proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights to produce and interact voluntarily with others. Colorado’s liquor laws instead violate people’s rights by restricting production and people’s ability to trade.

The government does play a legitimate role in alcohol and other industries: to ban the use of force and protect the right of consenting adults to contract freely.

The government may properly restrict the sale of certain potentially dangerous items to minors, on the grounds that minors are not mature enough to reasonably consent to the exchange. (However, we would add, once a person turns 18 and can vote, go to war, and sign contracts, that person is no longer a minor.) And, so long as the government controls the roads, part of its role must be to keep people safe from drunk drivers.

All the statutes beyond those basic functions should be repealed. The liquor enforcers should be released and allowed to seek useful employment at a real job. Working at a meaningless, socially destructive job at taxpayers’ expense must take a mental toll on those enforcers. The tax money currently wasted enforcing stupid liquor laws should be returned to those who earned it.

Colorado made a bit of progress toward free markets in allowing Sunday liquor sales. It is time to finish the job and establish consistently free markets for wine, beer, and liquor.