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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Friday, November 27, 2009

TGIF: The Power to Tax is the Power

The authority for forcing us to buy health insurance is said to be the Commerce Clause and the taxing power. TGIF looks at these claims.

Read TGIF here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

America: Corporate State

At ThinkMarkets, Gerald O’Driscoll, building on a Wall Street Journal column by George Melloan, describes how Fed policy is leading America further down the corporatist road. Here’s a sample:

Melloan doesn’t state it, but there is a name for this economic policy: corporatism. Big government favors selected big business and rewards big labor as a junior partner. It’s not socialism, but the economic component of a fascist political program. Credit administered on a favorable terms is the narcotic that anesthetizes businessmen to the creeping government control of their firms. To paraphrase Lenin, government seizes control of the commanding heights of the economy.

After the loss of economic liberty, can political liberty survive? As Melloan concludes, “it’s not unlike what we witnessed in the depression of the 1930s.”

Serious stuff with far-ranging consequences.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mysteries of the Universe

If I bribe a congressman, it’s a crime. If a congressman bribes a congressman, it’s glorious democracy in action.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Want to know how the politicians justify forcing us to buy health insurance? I discuss their screwball grounds in this week’s TGIF.

"She Left Me for Jesus"

Hayes Carll's great song and video

Progressives Against Free Speech?

I have no desire to take Glenn Beck's side, but there's something noteworthy here nonetheless. Last night on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post suggested that Glenn Beck might properly be silenced by the State. She claimed that an exception to the free-speech doctrine is yelling "fire" in a crowded theater and that Beck every day commits the political equivalent of yelling "fire." A few minutes later she sort of backed off, saying that while he may not be legally liable if his viewers commit violence, he would be morally liable. Olbermann ate this stuff up.

Of course, Huffington got it wrong. The "fire in the crowded theater" matter is not an exception to free speech but a recognition of property rights, of which free speech is but a derivative. There's no right to "free speech" on someone else's property. If you buy a theater ticket and then endanger the audience by falsely yelling "fire," you have (among other things) violated the terms of your being in the theater. There's no need to claim an exception to the free-speech doctrine. Properly conceived, free speech is ultimately a property right.

What's with the progressives? Now that their guy is in power, are they ready to throw out civil liberties so flagrantly?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Freeman, December 2009, Now Online

Click on the cover on the right. For a blowup of the cover click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Trial for Cory Maye!

From a Facebook note by Radley Balko:

"Cory Maye gets a new trial!"

We're awaiting details.

If you want background on the case, click on the "Free Cory Maye" link in the right column.

War Crimes or Only Crimes

Why are conservatives (and some others) so bent on treating the atrocities committed on September 11, 2001, as acts of war rather than monstrous crimes? They don't look like acts of war. They were not launched by an aggressor nation with the intention of invading and conquering the United States, or overthrowing the government. Despite the enormity of the crimes, the viability of our society is not at risk in the least. Life has gone on rather normally, even allowing for all the ways politicians have exploited the situation in their quest for power. There just seems no good reason to respond by pretending "America is at war." Indeed, the reasons against this response could fill volumes.

So why the insistence that this is war? I think one big reason is that conservatives are, first and foremost, nationalists, and nothing makes nationalism (a form of collectivism) more real than war. Throw in the doctrine of "American exceptionalism" and you have a rationalization for an open-ended "war on terror" in which the world is the battlefield and civil liberties are a luxury we just can't afford.

The war footing also makes it easier to take attention off U.S. interventionist foreign policy, which has seeded the ground for terrorism directed at Americans. One need not excuse the inexcusable acts of September 11 to see how they fit into the big picture. Every empire was struck by terrorists because terrorism is the only low-cost means of retribution available to those who feel aggrieved by imperialism. Most Americans have no clue about what "their" government has been doing in the Middle East for the last couple of generations. It takes shocking ignorance or willful blindness to regard the United States as a gentle sleeping giant until September 11.

So . . . try the criminals in civilian courts. Meanwhile, bring the troops, the CIA, and the meddling diplomats home so this doesn't happen again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Health Insurance Scam

How can you get insurance for a volitional act? Regardless of one’s position on abortion, there is no denying that it is something a woman chooses. It doesn’t happen without her initiative and consent. My objective here is not moral judgment but precision. For all kinds of reasons a pregnant woman might feel she needs an abortion, but that does not change the fact that it is an action not a happening (as Thomas Szasz would put it).

The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

As I've done many times before, I quote a passage from the great antiwar movie The Americanization of Emily.
I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices....

My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud. . . . [N]ow my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave. [Emphasis added.]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Insurance for Abortion: What’s Wrong with This Picture?

The health-insurance nationalization bill that passed the House Saturday night has a lot of enemies. One reason for this is that in order to get a majority to support the bill, House Speaker Pelosi had to accept an amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak that would ban tax-funded abortions (except for rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) under the “public option.” It would also bar people who get government insurance subsidies from buying policies with abortion coverage. However, AP reports: “Under the Stupak amendment, people who do not receive federal insurance subsidies could buy private insurance plans in the exchange that includes abortion coverage. People who receive federal subsidies could buy separate policies covering only abortions if they use only their own money to do it.”

To all those people who are upset by the amendment, I say: That’s what you get for inviting government to become involved in a personal matter like medical care.

But there’s a more fundamental point: How can there be such a thing as insurance coverage for elective abortions? Insurance emerged to protect one’s financial well-being against unlikely catastrophic happenings (as Thomas Szasz likes to call things that befall people). But an elective abortion (whatever your position on the issue) is not a happening. It’s a volitional act (which follows previous volitional act). How does a company insure against a volitional act? It can’t, but that doesn’t mean firms which we call insurance companies aren’t willing to appear to cover abortion by collecting payments from customers in advance. They are happy to do so, but only under the right circumstances. The key factor is that someone other than the insured person, such as an employer, must be willing to pay the premium. Of course when an employer pays the premium he reduces the employee’s cash wages, but most employees don’t understand that. So they think their insurance is paid for by someone else. But if the employee had to pay for her own insurance against elective abortion, I suspect she wouldn’t think it worth the price. That’s because the premium would consist of prepayment for possible future services plus costly administrative overhead. It would be a bad deal. What would she do if she decided she wanted an abortion? She’d pay out of savings or borrow the money. Insurance is a costly way to pay for things you (and the insurance company) know you may choose to buy one day.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Two Decades Since the Fall

From "Perspective," The Freeman, November 2009:

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall effectively ceased to exist. Remember the sequence: Communist Hungary started letting people pass into Austria and to freedom. Captives of the Soviet bloc left in droves. East Germans, too—thousands of them. The Hungarian government tried to stanch the flow, but the dam had been breached. With one dictator having resigned, a panicky East German regime began making concessions, hoping to mollify the people. They would not be placated. Thousands—and in one case, a million—took to the streets, shouting, “We want out!” Things were getting out of hand. So, on November 9, the government fumblingly announced it would lift travel restrictions to West Berlin and West Germany. It was all over but the demolition.

I don’t know why it seems so much longer ago that we saw those inspiring celebrations, when East Berliners, joined by their countrymen from the western side, danced on the wall while others whacked at it with axes and sledge hammers. The crowds, the singing, the joyful cries of “Freedom!”, the sections of wall toppling—I remember watching the scenes on television with my then-six-year-old, Jennifer. If you can watch them on YouTube today without tearing up, I don’t know what to say.

It’s hard to believe that today’s 19-year-olds were born into a world without a Berlin Wall and 17-year-olds were born into a world without the Soviet Union. When my generation was growing up, the Iron Curtain and USSR seemed like permanent fixtures of life.

Yes, we really did have air-raid drills in school. (Looking back, I can see they were insidious, ridiculous propaganda stunts.) Some of us wished, at most, for what was called peaceful coexistence. Others thought “we” could roll “them” back. War—which a few, amazingly, actually welcomed—would have been catastrophic beyond imagination. We dared not hope for a bloodless dissolution of totalitarianism. Yet that, more or less, is what we got.

Those of us who believe in full individual liberty have been dismayed to learn that revulsion with dictatorship does not equate to a wholehearted embrace of freedom. None of the former Soviet-bloc countries has thoroughly foresworn state-capitalist welfarism, and some have traveled only a short distance along the road from serfdom. Central planning is dead as an ideal, but the regulatory state lives, as does what Thomas Szasz calls the Therapeutic State. This is disappointing, but it would be difficult for a resident of the United States to criticize others for failing to resist overbearing government. The longing for security, combined with the absurd notion that only ignorant and force-wielding bureaucrats can provide it, dies hard.

The fall of the Iron Curtain has been heralded as the failure of socialism, but this is a more complicated matter. Strictly speaking, there has been much less socialism in the world than it might appear since Lenin gave it up for the New Economic Policy in 1921. Remember, Marx envisioned the abolition of the market, including money and exchange. The economy was to be centrally planned—literally. But when the Bolsheviks tried it, they ended up, as Trotsky said, “staring into the abyss.” Lenin was savvy enough to back away from oblivion and reintroduce aspects of the market, including a gold ruble. What followed for the next seven decades was a heavily bureaucratized, de facto quasi-market economy, existing in a world of prices in which The Plan was adjusted ex post to reflect reality and black-market “corruption” kept things going. Ludwig von Mises could not have been surprised.

Such an economy was doomed to fail, but perhaps with a little less intervention and a dollop of political freedom, it might have muddled through a bit longer. The market can put up with a lot of harassment, which means people can resourcefully get around a lot of government obstacles when they want to. Look at the U.S. economy.