Sunday, July 31, 2011

Is Ron Paul a libertarian?

No, at least not if "libertarian" has any any real meaning to it. CLS of the "Classically Liberal" blog has done a great job of exposing Paul as a cranky religious conservative. My exposé won't match his, and is derivative of his work, but I'll take a shot at it nevertheless. (The link goes to just one of CLS' exposés of Paul, he has a number of them, all well-reasoned.)

I think Paul once was libertarian, and I suppose most of his devoted followers think he still is (most, but not all). But he's become a rather cranky theocrat, and a surprisingly totalitarian one at that. Here's something rather startling he wrote back in 2003: "[T]here clearly is no right to privacy nor sodomy found anywhere in the Constitution. There are, however, states' rights — rights plainly affirmed in the Ninth and Tenth amendments. Under those amendments, the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards."

No right to privacy or to choose one's own sexual behavior? But the Ninth and Tenth Amendments give Texas the right to regulate social matters? Good grief!

Here's the text of the two amendments:

IX. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Denying and disparaging individual rights on the basis of non-enumeration is exactly what Paul is doing.

X. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

From this Paul somehow derives invents a state's "right" (states do not have rights, only individuals have rights, and the Constitution never refers to "states' rights," only to powers granted to states by individuals, the people) to regulate private behavior using "local standards." But no such right or power is mentioned at all, and his insistence that there is one is about as unlibertarian as one can be. But wait, there's more.

In 2004 Paul co-sponsored the "Marriage Protection Act" that would prevent federal courts from examining the constitutionality of states failing to recognize marriages conducted in other states. Paul lamented that failure to pass the act would allow a few states to define marriage for the nation, and particularly that same sex marriages would receive legal standing. His position has nothing to do with defending individual liberty, and everything to do with an imaginary "right" of states to impose the standards of religious conservatives on all of us.

Somehow in Paul's head by denying same-sex couples access to marriage, he's protecting marriage from tyranny. I can't help but apply his "reasoning" to Loving v. Virginia, in which the "tyrannical" Supreme Court ended the power of states to deny the legal status of mixed race marriages. In the Loving case, a mixed-race couple was legally married in DC, and then their home in Virginia raided in the middle of the night by policemen, who arrested them and confiscated their marriage certificate as evidence of the "crime" of violating the state law prohibiting mixed race couples from marrying. The Virginia state legislature was, after all, simply regulating "social matters...using local standards." The right to mixed race marriage is found nowhere in the Constitution, either. Paul's argument does indeed apply directly to Loving. In Paul's logic, the racists of the Virginia legislature who passed the Racial Integrity Act had a perfect right to do so, and the judicial activists who defended the rights of Mildred and Richard Loving to be left alone were "tyrants." Re-read Paul's speech before Congress, substituting "mixed-race" for "same-sex" and see for yourself.

Good grief. There's no way Paul can claim to be a libertarian -- he's a religious conservative, and a dishonest one at that, since he often pretends to be a libertarian in order to appeal to a part of his base. There are number of other things about Ron Paul's politics that make him look increasingly kooky -- his close association with 9/11 Truthers (including the Lewdwig von Rockwell Institute), his strange proposals for dealing with the debt limit impasse (which include eliminating the ability of the Fed to drain the excess reserves currently held by banks, thus guaranteeing a future hyperinflation), some of his odd foreign policy pronouncements (he claimed an American missile strike led to the Detroit underwear bomber attack two weeks after, even though the underwear plot was months in the making). He doesn't even seem to be able to bring himself to condemn the neo-Nazi portion of his base.

It is unfortunate that this odd religious conservative is popularly portrayed as a libertarian. He does use libertarian rhetoric at times, but his ideas are not libertarian. I think many libertarian supporters of Paul don't get this -- even I supposed as late as 2008 that he was basically libertarian.

Well, he's not.

Update: here's a particularly thoughtful review of Ron Paul that reaches similar conclusions, and provides numerous quotes from Paul himself, along with other evidence. Worth reading!

Defending Liberty, and Libertarianism!

"We" at Unforeseen Contingencies are setting aside the month of August as "Defending Liberty Month." Liberty, and the political philosophy that of liberty, libertarianism, are certainly under attack these days, from leftists and rightists, "liberals" and conservatives, and even from self-described "libertarians." We at UC think this would be a great time to celebrate and defend liberty from these critics.

Most of the criticism of libertarianism is misrepresentation, in our view, and frequently intentionally dishonest misrepresentation. We're going to take on some of these misrepresentations, including a good deal of the crazy nonsense spouted by Lew Rockwell and his band of fellow travelers. This should be both instructive and fun.

Because I'm about to embark on a backcountry trip for a few days, "we" at UC are also proclaiming that "Defending Liberty Month" begins today so that we can get our first post up in timely fashion.

As always, comments welcome. Enjoy!

Picture: "Sergeant William Jasper Raises the Fallen Regimental" at Fort Moultrie, 28 June 1776.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

John Stuart Mill -- Terrorist?

The best essay I've yet seen on the mad killer in Norway is this one, by Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post, certainly worth reading in its entirety. She warns of the dangerous tendency of the illiberal left to use attacks perpetrated by rightwing extremists to demonize and try to silence anyone who political opponents.

We saw this in the cases of Tim McVeigh and Jared Loughner, and now Anders Breivik. Breivik cited the great libertarian and economist John Stuart Mill as an inspiration, so I suppose now Mill's work is now suspect and should be stifled. Perhaps this is a good time to see what Mill himself said on the subject. How about this...

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and even if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

and this...

Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.

and this...

If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

J.S. Mill -- his words should indeed strike terror in the hearts of totalitarians everywhere.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Does a tax increase necessarily harm the economy?

That's what the op-ed title should have read. A friend sent me this op-ed from the Boston Globe and asked my opinion. Here it is...

The op-ed is fundamentally correct. I'm no fan of higher taxes, but if the government is going to spend, the least destructive way to pay for it is through taxes. And the tax system should be designed to be as painless, low cost, and predictable as possible -- that's been established at least as far back as Adam Smith. Yes, taxes have deadweight losses, and in that sense reduce income and wealth. On the other hand, so do borrowing and inflation. And so do failures to provide public goods that could be provided. Ideological positions that fail to recognize these facts are simply blinders that prevent their proponents from seeing reality.

This problem is exemplified by the title of the op-ed, "Tax Increases Don't Harm Economies." Presumably the editors came up with it, for it's not what the author himself argues. Any statement that begins "tax increases have such and such effect" is almost assuredly wrong. Tax increase can reduce growth, Tax increases *can* increase govt revenues. Tax increases can decrease govt revenues. Presumably tax increases can increase growth. It depends on the kind of tax, the magnitude, and what the status quo is. Republicans latch onto the Laffer curve (a perfectly sound concept) and then falsely argue that all tax increases/decreases behave as if we are on the bad side of the curve. This is simply nonsense. Even worse, some of them have gone so far off their rockers as to claim that an effort to abolish subsidies to ethanol production is a tax increase, simply because of the way the subsidy legislation was written. If the firms receiving the tax breaks for ethanol production instead were to be taxed, but then received subsidy payments in the amount of the taxes, presumably Norquist would oppose the program, instead of favoring it, simply because they were called subsidies instead of tax cuts. Go figure.

OTOH, Democrats argue as if there are never deadweight losses. This is a lunatic's position. If you tax something, you get less of it, as a general rule. Taxes can indeed deter entrepreneurship, reduce investment, and block capital formation -- yes, they can harm the economy. Don't believe it? Impose a tax rate of 100% on all income and see what happens. The Laffer curve is reality.

Today's mainstream political views on taxes are nonsense, and so there's almost no intelligent discussion of tax policy. But Republicans sound particularly crazy these days since they argue that you can cut taxes without cutting spending while running a deficit. You cannot. You only transfer the tax burden to someone else, who will pay it later in interest and principle payments on the debt, or perhaps indirectly via inflation or default.

And now they insist that hastening this "later," by provoking an unnecessary financial crisis over raising the debt ceiling, is good policy. Well, they're wrong... it will only increase costs.

You cannot cut taxes without cutting spending while running a deficit. A "cut" will only transfer the tax burden to someone else, who will pay it later in interest and principle payments on the debt, or perhaps indirectly via inflation or default.

Sorry for repeating myself, but no one else seems to be saying this, and it needs saying.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The debt limit shenanigans

I've not been posting on economic matters here of late, but have commented on the debt limit debacle on the Steele-Wolfram blog. To summarize, I think it is crucial that the U.S. government get the debt problem under control, and the primary way to do this is to cut spending. Rationalizing the tax system is important as well.

As for the debt limit, anyone who thinks it is a good idea to not raise it has no idea what they are talking about. Not raising the limit runs the risk of triggering another financial crisis... hardly the way to balance the budget.

Hamas flotilla, 2011

Is this to be an annual event, some sort of deranged celebration of support for terrorism? I'll comment in more detail later, but here's a good piece on how these acts of war might be halted.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More great news...

Even though Congress and the Obama administration seem hell-bent on driving the federal government into default, and the Middle East continues on its course to Armageddon, there's again great news.

New evidence suggests antiretroviral drugs can prevent HIV infection. In two separate studies conducted in Africa with heterosexual couples in which one partner was HIV positive, the non-infected partner were given either antiretrovirals or placebos. In both studies, antiretrovirals reduced the rate of transmission of the infection by well over 50%!

But that's not all! There's even more great news...

Some time back, Pew Research posted a recent finding that the number of Americans who believe the crazy idea that AIDS is God's punishment for immoral behavior has dropped precipitously. Today they released a study that finds that an increasing number of Americans now say that they wouldn't be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate if s/he were homosexual (64%). (Scroll down.) In every single category -- black, white, conservative, liberal, even evangelical protestant -- the percentage who think homosexuality isn't an issue increased noticeably.

I find all of this very heartening. If we human beans use our heads, think positively, and don't let ourselves be driven by irrational fears and mysticism, we can solve problems and make the world a better place. It's great to see evidence that we're succeeding in this.

Note: I've used the term "human bean" for a number of years; probably picked it up from Walt Kelly's comic strip "Pogo." I've only just now stumbled across Chip Walter's use of it (linked above) which happens to largely captures my thinking. His All Things Human project looks promising.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Something entirely different!

...for Unforeseen Contingencies, at least.

This past June I was listening, as usual, to my favorite radio station, KGLT FM Bozeman MT, an independent alternative station at Montana State University. ("Alternative" means that they play all sorts of extremely interesting, often obscure stuff you'll never hear anywhere else.) The DJ was doing a show of live music being performed in-studio, all of it played on didgeridoos. The primary musician was Kyle Bert, proprieter of Desert Mountain Didgeridoos. Bert lives in Bozeman and in Tucson AZ, and crafts his didgeridoos from agave stalks he harvests in the Arizona desert. The performance was captivating, and when it finished I called in and got the URL for his website. I called him, set up meeting and - suffice it to say I am now the proud owner of the instrument pictured here.

I've been playing for a little less than a month, and am really enjoying it. The didgeridoo is an odd instrument, in that it really only plays one note, yet you can get (and I'm starting to get) an amazing variety of sounds from it. It is extremely fun, sounds great, and playing it is extremely satisfying. It's also gorgeous to look at.

So... another unforeseen contingency occurs, as "we" at UC take a musical turn here. At some point I may even post a short performance (just have to figure out how to record & post MP3 files...and play to a standard that doesn't scare the dog...)

Friday, July 08, 2011

Teenager beats up Michele Bachmann!

...figuratively, of course.

A Lousiana high school student, Zack Kopplin, has been organizing a very effective campaign to repeal Louisiana's idiotic and unconstitutional law that mandates the teaching of creationism, i.e. religious myth, as science. He's managed to get over 40 Nobel laureate scientists to endorse his campaign.

And now he has written an extremely eloquent challenge to presidential wanna-be Michele Bachmann and her inane claims that there's serious scientific controversy over evolution. It's well worth reading.

This has me thinking that we'd be much better off if, instead of debates among candidates, we had each one of them grilled by well-informed citizens of various political & philosophical stripes. I'd love to see Kopplin vs. Bachmann. In this particular debate, she wouldn't stand a chance.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

4th of July and American exceptionalism

Happy Fourth of July -- American Independence Day!

I realize most of my readers aren't Americans, but bear with me. I was reading one of the leading academic historical journals recently, and came across a short piece introducing a symposium on "the question of modernity." The main point I gleaned from it is that modern historians work from the foundation of a philosophical morass, with no clear, coherent framework for analysis. (The essay observed that Marxism -- economics' equivalent of young earth creationism -- had been popular but now they'd moved on to other fads.)

But one thing that the essay noted was that for some, the concept of modernity is as discredited as that of American exceptionalism. It went without saying that American exceptionalism is utterly discredited nonsense, of course.

I strongly disagree... and it is historically inaccurate, as well as politically dangerous, to ignore what is exceptional about America. Here's something that sums it up well:

[H]ere in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people.

Fundamentally, there are only two ways of seeing the relationship between the individual human being and the state: the traditional one is that the state is superior to the individual, who must be subservient to it. In the old monarchical setting, this simply meant being a subject of the king (l'etat, c'est moi). In more modern forms -- socialism, communism, fascism, the modern welfare state -- the state plays the role of a parent, and the subjectcitizen the role of the child, who is to be cared for cradle to grave (and in the latest thinking, "nudged" in the "right" directions).

The alternative view, the truly revolutionary and radical one, is that the individual is sovereign, every individual, and the state only a means to the end of defending this sovereignty. The state is subservient to the individual. This view is the explicit basis of America's Declaration of Independence. It is the basic founding principle of this country, but it is far more important than that. It is a fundamentally different way of looking at society and government. And if civilization is to have a future, it will be based on this. It is the only principle that can limit the growing power that civilization gives us, and limits it in such a way that we do not self-destruct.

Americans have not consistently followed this principle, and have permitted too many exceptions to this exceptionalism (any exceptions are "too many"), but that's no reason to deny that there's something different here. Humans almost never do anything perfectly, and particularly when they do things together. Americans have applied this founding principle very imperfectly, but they have applied it, and it has shaped the world into a very different place.

I don't know whether we will preserve this principle, our exceptionalism. Left-liberals have abandoned individual rights for "human rights," i.e. entitlements granted by the parental state. Conservatives have abandoned it for the strange doctrine that America is simply God's chosen country, automatically moral by definition. If we give it up, who will defend liberty as the fundamental political value? The Chinese? The Europeans? The Indians? The Russians? hah! That's why America matters, and why America's exceptionalism is something to protect and nurture, not deny or mock or twist.

You don't have to be an American to appreciate the principles of the Declaration, or to celebrate its signing.

Happy Fourth of July!

Note: the quotation is from an Independence Day speech given by Ronald Reagan. You can read the whole speech -- it's short and sweet -- here in this post by Buz Mills of Gunsite Ranch.

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