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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Sunday, December 30, 2007

On Amnesty

Ron Paul says he's against amnesty for migrants without government papers. I am too. Amnesty is a pardon for wrong-doing. Why would migrants without government papers need a pardon? They've done nothing wrong. But in the spirit of the season, the migrants might consider granting amnesty to the government thugs who have hounded them since they got here.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ron Paul and Immigration

I still think there is value in Ron Paul's campaign, but this commercial sure doesn't make it easy. Note that he takes the Tancredo position that earlier immigrants "followed the rules" and came here legally. But back then you had to have an infectious disease to be denied entry. Virtually everyone else could come in. Illegal immigration was unnecessary since there were essentially open borders. I continue to be appalled that Ron Paul is parroting the line of the worst opponents of immigration.

By the way, where does the U.S. Constitution give Congress the power to control immigration? Or is that an implied power?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ron Paul and David Schuster

Ron Paul's MSNBC appearance with David Schuster, in which Lincoln and the Civil War were discussed for seven minutes, was a disaster. Why Ron Paul let it go on, rather than insist that they should be discussing a war that he could actually do something about if elected, is beyond me. No one who was not already a Lincoln revisionist would have been impressed. Schuster and his producers wanted to convey the message that Ron Paul is not a serious candidate (a "crackpot," as Jack Jacobs called him to his "face") -- and Ron Paul played their shameful game. A very big mistake indeed. Who's calling the shots in that campaign?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More on Ron Paul and "Meet the Press"

Interesting that Tim Russert didn't ask Ron Paul about the Iraq war, but did ask him about the Civil War. Didn't that end about 140 years ago?
MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. "According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery."

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn't have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the--that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We'd still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I'm advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn't sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

He might have emphasized that Lincoln did not forcibly prevent southern secession to end slavery but rather to preserve the Union and said that he would have maintained slavery had that been necessary to keep the Union intact.

But let his sink in. Russert didn't ask Ron Paul about Iraq but he asked him about the Civil War? What the hell is going on?

Here's the transcript.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ron Paul and Me

Here's a 1990 televised panel discussion about the impending first Gulf War, with Ron Paul as host and guests Joseph Sobran and me.

Hat tip: Scott Horton

Is Ron Paul Inconsistent on Earmarks?

My local newspaper ran an item about Ron Paul's answer to Tim Russert's asking him how he can seek money for his congressional district while attacking big government. (See AP story here.) I believe there is no inconsistency here. Ron Paul says he votes against spending programs that in his view exceed the authority specified in the Constitution. (I'm taking him at his word, problems of constitutional interpretation aside.) If so, can he in good faith add earmarks to spending bills that would benefit his constituents?

Yes, he can. There is a difference between making choices at the rules-selection level and making choices within rules you are stuck with. In other words, it's one thing to try to channel flood-insurance money to your district, but quite another to vote to create or renew the program.

As Ron Paul pointed out on "Meet the Press," the government taxes people, then ladles out the money to particular groups. If one group of potential recipients doesn't get a particular appropriation, another one will. The result of not seeking or taking the money is not a cut in taxes and spending. So, as Ron Paul asked, why shouldn't people try to get some of their money back? Is it unlibertarian to accept a tax "refund" or Social Security? Must one tear up the checks (leaving the money in the U.S. Treasury)?

The hidden premise behind the criticism of Ron Paul on this matter is that taxation and spending would be lessened or eliminated if one refused the largess. Does anyone really believe that? The state taxes and borrows all it believes it can get away with. So any money that doesn't go into, say, disaster relief is available for the military or something else. Ron Paul's refusal to play the earmark game would make no difference to the size of government or its burden on the American people.

Thus, as a congressman, Ron Paul does not contradict himself when he tries to get some of his constituents' money back for them -- as long as he also opposes the spending programs and votes against them when he gets the chance. The moment he votes for the federal disaster-relief program he is caught in a contradiction.

A similar principle applies to Ron Paul's answer about term limits. He told Tim Russert that one who favors mandatory term limits is not in any way obliged to impose terms limits unilaterally on himself. Again, it involves picking rules versus acting within a rules system. I don't like the designated-hitter rule, but if the rule is in effect and I am manager of a baseball team, my position on the rule does not oblige me to put my pitcher in the batting lineup. Similarly, because I think all congressmen should be term-limited, it doesn't follow that I think I alone should be term-limited. If only congressmen who believe in term limits are term-limited, the most statist congressmen will tend to become entrenched, which is the opposite of what term limits is intended to accomplish.

I concede that under the pressure of a television interview, where the host is trying to throw the candidate on the defensive, it may be hard to be persuasive on these issues. But that doesn't mean the response is wrong. It may mean that television is not the venue for a serious political discussion.

Finally, what does this have to do with anarchism? Not much, I concede. Maybe the state can be dismantled completely from the outside. I don't know. My musings here assume that there is nothing intrinsically immoral in trying to dismantle the state from within. My hunch is that it will take work on both the inside and outside. I say this while inclined toward the view that the heaviest work will occur on the outside.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ron Paul on "Meet the Press"

I just finished watching. I'm afraid I had my usual reaction. I felt let down, like something was missing. For one thing, Ron Paul talks too much about the Constitution and too little about liberty and justice. War in Korea would okay if Congress wanted it? When was the last time Congress voted for a declaration of war without the president asking for it?

He also sounded unprepared. If he is going to call for ending the income tax (why that one and not the others?) and for bringing all the troops home, he should know the numbers. He looks like he's winging it. No excuse for that.

The immigration answer was a disaster. He persists in speaking of an invasion. How offensive! He's lucky Russert wasn't better prepared. How does Ron Paul know we'd have fewer immigrants if the welfare state were abolished? I think we'd have more, considering how attractive the economic environment would be. But would he open the borders then? I'm not convinced he would. I am more and more suspicious of this welfare-state rationalization for immigration control. It has worn so thin there is virtually nothing left of whatever credibility it had.

I think I'll stop watching news of the campaign. I'm tired of being disappointed.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Anarchism, Limited Government, and the Surveillance State

The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.
--Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2007
This story raises a question for advocates of limited government. It's easy for an anarchist to oppose the construction of this Orwellian database. The state is illegitimate per se -- it cannot exist without violating the nonaggression principle -- and thus cannot be trusted with such power. Even if we assume the database could be used legitimately and confined to catching criminals, the state can be counted on to abuse it.

The libertarian advocate of limited government will agree that the state is likely to abuse the power, and he will therefore oppose the FBI's plan. But ... he also believes the state is necessary -- indeed, indispensable -- to protect individual freedom. That puts him in the awkward position of opposing the end but not a means. When his conservative opponents chide him for wanting to leave Americans vulnerable to terrorism or other crime, the minarchist will have little to argue in response except to say that the database won't be work as promised. But how does he know this? Even if the state uses the database against noncriminals, that doesn't rule out the chance that it will also be used to catch real rights violators.

Anarchists are not subject to this criticism because they embrace a full free market in protective services. We know that entrepreneurs in a free market will devise innovative ways -- consistent with liberty -- to protect people from criminals, including terrorists. Comprehensive private property is an essential institution for preventing crime without violating rights. Considering John Robb's thesis in Brave New War, the state is increasingly unsuited to protect us because potential enemies are highly decentralized, flexible, and entrepreneurial. Only free-market protection is up to the task.

What say you, limited-government advocates?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tucker Carlson on Ron Paul

In case anyone missed it, Tucker Carlson's sympathetic New Republic article about Ron Paul is here. Why doesn't Carlson know that anarcho-capitalists and acolytes of Murray Rothbard are the same thing?

Hat tip: Emily Richman

Friday, December 21, 2007

Immigration and Welfare

Libertarian-leaning folks who oppose free immigration often point to the welfare state as the reason for opposing what looks to me like the consistent libertarian on the borders question. But they also invoke national sovereignty as a reason for wanting the government to control "the borders." Question: if the welfare state went away, how many of these people would really favor open borders?

My guess: none to not many.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Torturing the Language of Torture

Is waterboarding, known during the Spanish Inquisition as tortura del agua, really torture or not? The question seems to answer itself, but the Bush administration says No. Its critics disagree, noting that the “interrogation technique,” which makes a subject physically and mentally react as though he is drowning, has long been regarded as torture by international agreements and outlawed in the United States.
The rest of this week's op-ed, "Torturing the Language of Torture," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Matter of Priorities

'Tis the political season, which means the season to bash immigrants. This goes especially for so-called illegal aliens, i.e., residents without government papers. (As if that's a big deal.) Candidates and others who are so set on securing the Mexican border -- the Canadian border seems of less concern -- and expelling those who had the audacity to come to the land of the free without permission mainly rely on two arguments: jobs and welfare. If those are the best arguments they've got, they haven't got much.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "A Matter of Priorities," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Coming Soon

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Much anti-immigrant sentiment, even among some libertarians, appears fueled by resentment that non-citizens might get tax-financed welfare benefits. This gives a curious amount of offense, especially when it concerns so-called "illegals," whom I prefer to think of as residents without government papers. (Like that's a big deal.)

I can only say this: There are things that offend me far more than foreign-born people's going on welfare. Here are two in no particular order:

1. Native-born Americans' going on welfare. (They were born in the "land of the free" and are supposed to know better.)

2. State-police tactics, including the witch-hunting of employers who have the audacity to hire "illegals," designed to catch or prevent the migration of people who are merely exercising their natural liberty.

Let's get our priorities straight.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

The Constitution or Liberty

If the foundation of our case for liberty is nothing more than the Constitution -- rather than natural-law justice -- we will continue to be trumped by our opponents. After all, the Constitution was in effect all during the time the national government expanded and liberty shrank. As Lysander Spooner wrote, the Constitution "has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it." Liberty's champions have to come to terms with that logic.
The rest of the newest TGIF, "The Constitution or Liberty," is at the Foundation for Economic Foundation website.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Virginia Primary Voters Won't Have to Pledge GOP Loyalty

The voter pledge referred to below has been canceled. See the story here.