Sunday, July 22, 2018

Universal Basic Income: a Terrible Idea

It's difficult to understand how a guaranteed income "provided by the government" (that is, taken from taxpayers who earned it) could be promoted as a "libertarian" solution to the expanding welfare state, but apparently it is.  Just as an example, Cato Institute's Michael Tanner finds Universal Basic Income (UBI) an intriguing idea.  Intellectual Takeout's Andrew Berryhill notes some recent experimenting with UBI in California and summarizes some recent arguments pro and con.

Many people, including Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg, have endorsed UBI.  But the "libertarian" arguments for UBI are what are intriguing.  The gist of this "libertarian"argument is that the UBI would replace the rest of the welfare state.  It would be less expensive to administer and be less distortionary, having fewer perverse incentive effects.  And the welfare state hasn't ended poverty, so maybe this would work.  (These are from Tanner's piece.)  Prof. Michael Munger of Duke University proposes it as the solution to  economic dislocation and -- tellingly -- compares it to Otto von Bismarck's welfare state, which Munger seems to think was a great success.

A number of people claiming to be libertarians have either endorsed UBI, e.g. Munger, or, like Tanner, suggested we contemplate it.  Berryhill takes no discernable position and simply reports, concluding his piece, "what do you think?"

OK, here's what I think.  This is a terrible idea, it's anti-libertarian and would have catastrophic moral and economic effects if adopted.  Here's why:

1. The argument that this could replace the many welfare programs and streamline the welfare state is one of the stupidest arguments I've ever heard. "We libertarians will agree to UBI and in return you agree there won't be anything more." There is no way such a deal could be enforced, and it would not be. The welfare state would expand. Anyone who disagrees is welcome to explain how once a national UBI was put in place, future politicians could be prevented from introducing more welfare programs. And since with a UBI most people would become accustomed to the false idea that it's a proper role of govt to provide everyone with income, it's hard to imagine what arguments could be used against such expansion.

2. If we were to have a UBI, how much should it be? Like minimum wage, it "obviously" would have to be high enough to allow people to live in dignity, right?  I'd suggest about $55,000 per person (roughly the US per capita GDP) should be fair, right? Why should some have so much when many others have so little? (I hasten to remind readers I believe the UBI should be zero, but once one agrees to UBI, I have no idea how to argue against making it ever bigger.)

3. The UBI would not end poverty.  People are not poor because they don't have enough money -- "not enough money" is just the definition of "poor," not the cause.  People are poor because they are unproductive and don't care for themselves, and in most cases, I think, this is because they won't care for themselves.  But whether they cannot or will not, handouts stolen from others do not solve the problem, and only reinforce it.  Teach a man to fish, and he can take care of himself.  Give a man a fish, and you turn him into a hopeless dependent.

4. Relatedly, guaranteeing people an income just for existing would reward indolence.  "You can spend your day taking drugs, watching TV, playing video games -- don't worry, the state is taking care of you."  We'd get more helplessness, not less.  What a great way to build a strong society of free, self-reliant people.  Much as I despise socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her proposal for "guaranteed jobs" makes more sense. It's a terrible proposal too, but at least it would not subsidize and reward people for being irresponsible, since they'd at least have to go through the motions of working.  (Incidentally, John Stuart Mill argued that "severe and irksome labor" should be the price for accepting welfare for an able-bodied adult.  How bizarre that Comrade Ocasio-Cortez should be closer to the classical liberal position than a Cato senior fellow is.)

5.  Suppose we do get a UBI.  Recall that Cato-ites and many other contemporary libertarians (including Munger) also promote open borders.  If we tax productive people so we can pay unproductive people to hang around, what kind of people will we attract?  A UBI combined with open immigration would be fiscal suicide.  (I note that UBI advocates like to cite Milton Friedman and his negative income tax idea in support.  I never hear them favorably noting his point that free immigration is utterly incompatible with the welfare state.)  Of course, once one accepts the UBI logic, there's no apparent reason why the UBI shouldn't be truly universal and apply to everyone in the world.  Why should something so "arbitrary" as national borders matter?

6. Why aren't libertarians championing abolition of the welfare state, instead of trying to make it better? As long as we have a welfare state, we'll have a massive government that controls people by manipulating their livelihoods.  To be blunt, if you are in favor of the welfare state, you are not a libertarian.  These two things aren't compatible.

Berryhill notes that Chris Hughes (of Facebook), Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk are promoting UBI and helping finance the California experiment.  Musk is practically a recipient of a personal UBI himself, given his government subsidies.  But if these billionaires want to spend their own money on this, that's fine. I do not want to be taxed to pay for their "bright" idea.  The UBI is a terrible idea that is devoid of principle and ignores morality, incentives, and economics.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Trump, Putin, and what is *really* going on

Nothing has done more to convince me that facts and reason are irrelevant to people's beliefs than watching reactions to the Trump Presidency, and there's no better example than the reactions to the Trump-Putin press conference in Helsinki today.  The reactions are outrage and hysteria.  Conservative Ben Shapiro called it "disgraceful."  A bunch of Republicans were incensed.  Democrats, as always, were insane, with traitor and oath-breaker John Brennan calling it "treason" and some random Democrat Congressman calling for a military coup against Trump.  (The Congressman should be arrested and charged.)

I carefully went over the entire transcript of the press conference.  There's nothing objectionable at all.  The vast majority of things people are complaining about are complete misrepresentations of what was said.  Quite a few of the critics seem to have wanted Trump to do something like condemn Putin and threaten him, or maybe just turn and punch him.  Instead, both Trump and Putin said they completely disagreed on a number of issues, and Trump denied -- understandably -- the utterly unfounded "collusion" charges.  It's shameful that this stupidity was even brought up, when it is obvious that the FBI leadership attempted to sway the election and then bring down the winner, and that the "collusion" claim is an artifact of this effort.  As for Russian meddling in the "election" (actually in the campaign, which is not the same thing), Putin shrewdly asked why it is that law enforcement rather than the judiciary gets to make the final conclusion on what happened.  Good point.

I don't trust the Russians, and I hate Putin, but all the current Russophobia is fake.  The current Russophobes tend to be the same people who, when Russia invaded Crimea, pretended not to know who the "little green men" might be, and when Russia then invaded eastern Ukraine, accepted the general refusal of Obama and other western leaders to provide weapons to Ukraine.  These are same people who were silent when Barack Obama canceled missile defense for Eastern Europe, and when he told Dmitry Medved to relay to Putin that he (Obama) would talk tough about Russia during the election campaign but afterwards be cooperative.  These are the same people who said nothing when Obama allowed Russia to effectively invade Syria and then claimed Russia eliminated Syria's chemical weapons, a claim that turned out to be a lie.  And when Obama's Iranian deal "went through" (somehow neither the U.S. nor Iran actually ratified it) Russia immediately began sending anti-aircraft systems to Iran, and allowed stepped-up Iranian involvement in Syria.  Few of Trump's critics cared about all that.  These current Russophobes actually don't care at all about Russia.  They simply want to get Trump and their claims that he's soft on Putin and maybe even Putin's agent make no sense at all.

Contrast what has happened under President Trump.
These are facts.  If a person notes them and still believes Trump is "disgraceful" or "treasonous" or a "Russian agent," they are beyond facts and reason.

And all this is crucially important.  For the first time, Putin is dealing with a western leader who isn't an unprincipled pantywaist.  For all his nice talk, Trump has been willing to get tough with Russia, including killing a few hundred Russian contractors.  There's one other tough leader Putin recently faced -- Benjamin Netanyahu, who happens to have a very strong relationship with the Trump administration.  It's hard to overestimate how important this is.  Everything I read from the Middle East suggests that Putin has agreed to sell out his Iranian ally.  In Moscow, Netanyahu drew a line, insisting Syria will not become an Iranian base.  Since then, Russia has acquiesced to Israeli air raids on Iranian and Hezbollah targets, and Iran is being crowded out of Syria.  This undercutting of Iran is crucial for non-proliferation and reducing risk of nuclear war.  Russian cooperation -- or acquiescence -- is crucial for this.

Trump's masterful foreign policy has energized the Saudis, who under MBS' guidance are reforming internally, explicitly weakening the Wahhabist Islamist influence, and deepening their connections with the Israelis.  The criminal regimes of the PA and Hamas are tottering, and with pressure from the Saudis, Egyptians, and Emirates, it's conceivable there could actually be some sort of peace deal.  The Iranian regime is likewise tottering.

How is it that people cannot see all this?  Instead, they are outraged that Trump didn't get into a spitting match with Putin at the press conference.  If you're playing hardball -- as Trump is -- there's no room for stupid gestures.

I've seen two good non-TDS analyses of Trump-Putin, and I highly recommend them.

The first is from American Thinker's Gary Gindler.  He argues that Trump dislikes Putin and is boxing him into a corner.  I think Gindler is right.  I've always said Putin has a very weak hand but plays it well against feckless Western leaders.  Trump is not feckless.

Not as serious but quite fun is Toni Williams' piece on Victory Girls Blog. She suggests Trump and Putin were in part trolling the press.  That's certainly true.  I particularly liked that Putin kept everyone waiting - a technique he regularly uses to dominate those waiting for him -- and that Trump beat him at the game.

But I especially liked Williams' comment that "Putin and Trump should have refused to come into the room until a few reporters with an IQ above that of hamburger showed up."  Of course, if they did that, we'd still be waiting for the press conference.

Photo: Trump grabs Putin's ball.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Needed: More Cowboys, fewer Social Justice Warriors

In fact, we don't need any social justice warriors.  SJWs are morally confused pantywaists who promote socialism.  They're what Stalin called "useful idiots" ...useful to a tyrant like Stalin, but not to anyone else.  Cowboys, on the other hand,

1) Live each day with courage.

2) Take pride in their work.

3) Always finish what they start.

4) Do what has to be done.

5) Are tough, but fair.

6) Keep the promises they make.

7) Ride for the brand.

8) Talk less and say more.

9) Remember that some things aren’t for sale.

10) Know where to draw the line.

What's all this about?  U. Wyoming has a new slogan "The World Needs More Cowboys."  SJWs are incensed, poor babies.

Victory Girls Blog covers the story.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Fourth of July and more good news for Liberty!

Federal judge Gloria Navarro to federal persecutors  prosecutors to go take a hike.  They were asking for a retrial of Cliven Bundy.  She found their behavior "prejudicial" and "in violation of a universal sense of justice."  They had evidence that showed Bundy was not guilty and tried to hide it.  Daily Caller's Tim Pearce has the story.

I particularly enjoyed reading this because Tim Pearce is one of my former students at [redacted].  He took several courses with me, and I served as the advisor on his senior thesis, an excellent analysis of the negative consequences of federal ESA "protection" of sage grouse in New Mexico, "protection" that turns out to be harmful for sage grouse, ranchers, and liberty... although it does  at least promote the sinecures and power of federal bureaucrats.

Great work, Tim, and thank you, Judge Navarro, for upholding the rule of law!

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

American Independence Day: Freedom is for Everyone

On the Fourth of July, two hundred forty two years ago, the American colonists declared their independence from Britain, and The United States of America were born.  Each year I commemorate this with a blog post.  It's one of my very favorite holidays, for the creation of the United States is one of the most important events in human history and the greatest political achievement.

Unlike any nation-state before it, America was founded on philosophical principles.  Most notably, America was founded on the principle of the inherent rights of every individual.  In the American conception, the individual human being is primary -- not the state, nor the collective, nor the king or any other government official.  The state exists only as means to serve the legitimate common ends of the people -- the preservation of their rights, their liberty.  Government officials have their positions not to govern, not to rule, but to serve.  We are sovereign individuals, superior to the government.

If America had never been founded, or if the American Revolution had been crushed by the British, history would have been very different.  The existence and success of America created an environment where freedom could grow elsewhere, and in many respects individual liberty has become the world norm -- even when watered down as nebulous "human rights."  The modern world of liberal "democracy" and of market trading and economic growth was made possible by the success of the American Revolution and America.  America's philosophical principles were only partially understood and absorbed, but even a flawed implementation has built modern civilization.  America is, in an Invisible Hand sense, the architect of world civilization.  For that reason, everyone, everywhere, ought to celebrate American Independence Day.  It isn't just about Americans breaking free from control by a European power, it's about people breaking away from an old and awful idea that people exist to serve the rulers.  It's about freedom of the individual -- and freedom for the individual means freedom for everyone.

It was never the case that everyone believed in freedom.  There are those who wish to dominate, to control, to rule.  But this has been so out-of-fashion and so discredited, at least in the West, that few have been willing to openly declare their hostility to freedom.  This is an interesting Fourth of July, because some on the left are now openly declaring their hostility.  New York Times just ran a front page "news article" declaring hostility to free speech.  ACLU helps sue bakers to compel obedience. Conservative and libertarian speakers are banned from college campuses, or harassed and shut down.  Jennifer Rubin (yes, she's a fellow-traveller) writes in WaPo that Sarah Sanders should be harassed for life because of things she's said.  NRA members, Trump voters, and like "deplorables" are condemned as murderers and terrorists and Nazis, who are to be driven from society.  Antifa shut down an annual civic parade in Portland, Oregon because Republicans were going to be in it, as usual.  In short, a segment of American society is now explicitly condemning liberty and demanding conformity.

The ones preaching violence are largely on the left (and so far it's mostly preaching, thankfully).  These are the radical left and their progressive followers.  They're abetted by patrician conservatives on the right -- the George Wills, the Jennifer Rubins, the Bill Kristols, the Jeff Flakes, the David Brooksies (that's plural for Brooks).  None of these believe in individual liberty.  All of them -- the radical left, the progressives, the patricians -- are driven by visions of how things ought to be, and they intend to make us conform.  (Well, maybe not the patricians; they don't intend to make anything happen.  They seem to be political eunuchs.)    But for all of these, if they had ideas of how to actually make the world better, they'd do it -- they'd be entrepreneurs, but they aren't.  They are tyrant wannabes.

They'll lose -- at least this round.  (It's an eternal struggle, of course.)  They'll lose because their only hand to play is emotional outrage, and this loses when things aren't outrageous.  They haven't the character to govern and they are showing it.  These are a class "whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant..." and "unfit to be the ruler of a free people," much like King George.  They condemn themselves, and will fail.

What we need today is not better refutations of the enemies of liberty.  We all need better understanding of the principles of liberty.  A good place to start is with the Declaration of Independence.  I read it in its entirety every Fourth of July.  I recommend you, too, do this.

And from all of us at Unforeseen Contingencies, Happy American Independence Day, to everyone everywhere.  Cherish and promote freedom!

Monday, July 02, 2018

One more good #WalkAway article

From Epoch Times.

An excerpt:

A man adjusts his video camera and sits back. The walls behind him are a tasteful grey-blue. He’s a gay, affluent, native New Yorker, and he’s coming out of the second closet of his life. For Ricky Roberts, the moment came after the Orlando nightclub shootings.

“Trump said he was going to protect gay men, and he did, [with] the travel ban. Hillary was telling Americans not to ‘pick on all Muslims because of this,’” and that did not feel like protection, Roberts says. “I swear to God, wanted to throw my shoe through the TV.

“At that point I was like, I can’t do it anymore. I really can’t.

“You know, listen, I’m a gay guy from New York City, but before that, I’m an American, I’m a patriot. I’m now an uncle.”

His assessment of the Democrats: “From immigration to everything, they are just a disaster.

“They’re anti-American, anti-common sense, rational—anything good, they’re against it.”

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Hopeful News (part 3)

Two #WalkAway tweets that deserve re-posting, because they expose so well the radical left's venom:

I was a left leaning liberal for a long time until I was started being called a racist, a nazi, a fascist for just disagreeing with other leftists. The left has become the enemy of free speech. That's why I left the left.

Hopeful News: #WalkAway (part 2)

I know a number of people on the political left -- friends and acquaintances -- who are decent people.  I've wondered how they'd respond to the growing irrationality, nastiness, and flirtation with violence that increasingly characterizes leftist leadership (including the Democrat party) and the more vocal activists.  Well, here's good news -- the #WalkAway movement seems to be growing.

Imagine what it must be like to be a decent person who leans left because one thinks a bigger safety net program for the poor and unemployed is a good idea, who is concerned with pollution and thinks some regulation is needed to protect us from disasters, believes in protecting rights of women and racial minorities, and thinks a fairly robust government can be a useful counterweight to opportunistic behavior in the private sector, and also believes in free speech for everyone, civil behavior by all, and treating everyone decently... and suddenly is told that since they are of the left they've signed on to a campaign of perpetual rage, closet Marxism, screaming "racist" and "Nazi" at everyone who dissents, vile incivility and open threats of violence... what is such a person to do?

Walk away from all that insanity -- that's what any decent left-liberal would do. The gent in the video I just posted seems a very decent and reasonable man.  I suspect I disagree with him on many political issues, but I can easily imagine having a useful discussion with him.  I hope there are many, many more among the left who are like him and that the #WalkAway movement grows.  The enraged closet Marxists, terminal TDS victims, and politicians who prostitute themselves catering them -- they need to be marginalized, their hateful and destructive voices should not be dominating our political discussions.

Some of the tweets from "Walkers" about why they walked are really interesting and illustrate the tendency of the radical left to purges.  I've read samples on various sites -- this one from twitchy is representative.  And here's another good one from Legal Insurrection.

Let's hope many, many more walk away from the radical left.  That sure beats having a civil war.

Some hopeful news: #WalkAway

# WalkAway: the video... Brandon Straka explains.

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