Archive for the 'Liberty' Category

Amazing Hoodwinking

December 23, 2009

It’s amazing to me that we continue to let Congress go down this path of rushed legislation.  “We must do this now!”  “We have to sign it before Christmas!”  They’ve used the same pattern for every piece of rushed legislation this year since the initial TARP programs last year.   TARPS I and II.  Stimulus.  Overextended budget.   Cap and trade (though not signed yet).  Health care.  “We can’t afford to stop and think about this.  We must act now!”

It’s the same argument global warming believers use with the planet.  “It will only happen gradually for the 50 – 100 years, but if we wait 5 more minutes it will be too late.”

In a former job we had a lot of “fire drills.”  The bosses would come with these important pieces of work that had to be done now!  They would get us all frothed up so that we were cranking out absolute crud until 2:00 am.  I coined a term for those projects:  JALJA (Jumping Around Like Jackasses).  “Here comes another JALJA,” became common lingo in my group.  Most of us eventually wised up and realized the JALJA’s weren’t important and moved onto to work for bosses who could use their resources effectively.  The JALJA leaders couldn’t figure out what was important and what wasn’t, so everything was, even when it wasn’t.  They didn’t know what they were doing, so they did a lot of it to keep people guessing.

The Congressional pace over the past year reminds me a lot of those good ole JALJA’s.  People seem to be wising up, based on Obama’s declining poll numbers.  I hope it will translate into results at the 2010 Congressional elections to restore a balance of power in Congress.

At the very minimum, maybe we will get back to the days where Congressman and Senators would at least read, if not come to fully understand the stuff they’re voting on.  It seems like such a basic expectation.


Senator Jim DeMint on Dennis Miller

December 21, 2009

I listened to the podcast of Dennis Miller interviewing Republican Senator Jim DeMint.  DeMint was plugging his new book, Saving Freedom.

While I enjoy Dennis Miller’s show, some of his beliefs remind me of a younger, more naive version of myself.   He said a few things that I would take him to task on.

First, he said that he doesn’t mind giving up some of his money to help the poor.  It’s the clueless he doesn’t want to help.

DeMint responded well in stating that he understands his desire to help the poor, but that government is an ineffective way to do that.  If Miller didn’t have to pay as much money to government, then he could voluntarily give it to the poor how he see fit.

Miller then responded that if he didn’t give some money to the government, then he would be giving the poor money through bars because they would wind up in prison.

Miller should read more from Walter Williams.  He explains how government programs and intervention have unintended consequences that hurt the poor.  He actually explained this rather well in a PBS video series circa early 1980s.

I don’t think Miller has developed the appreciation for the positive outcomes of voluntary activity that I have.  Many good things come from voluntary activity be it voluntary trade in the purchase of goods and services or voluntary contributions to charity.

Voluntary activity encourages profit and non-profit activity alike to run better.  Poorly run businesses and charities will not sell or attract donations and they go away.  The well run organizations that  truly deliver valuable and positive results stick around.

Government is ineffective because it doesn’t have that natural incentive structure of rewarding the outcome.  Government rewards intentions.  Well intended, but poorly run government organizations often stick around and grow so they can “be fixed”, when the best fix of all is to get rid of the poorly run organization.

But, that rarely happens.  It’s easy to sell why well intended program must not be abandoned.  In fact, it’s tempting ever so tempting for politicians to use these very same sales pitches to remind us of all the good they are doing.  The populace buys it.

“We  must have public schools.  We can’t abandon the kids.”  Most people buy that.  They don’t bother to look around at all the goods and services not provided via government that don’t have the problems of public education.

What people don’t consider is the problems with public education are caused by public education – the system.

Thomas Jefferson

December 15, 2009

Leno and Conan O’Brien took cheap shots at McCain’s age.  Very clever.   I believe it was Leno who said that they recently found some letters from Thomas Jefferson thanking McCain for his support.

Those jokes reminded me of this quote from Thomas Jefferson.  Timeless and yet it seems to be very timely at the moment:

The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.

The Speech Obama Should Have Given

December 10, 2009

This is exceptional work from Jamie Weinstein.

Disproportionate Power

December 6, 2009

I found the excellent response from Lee Jamison in the comments section of this post on Cafe Hayek.   Thanks Lee Jamison.  Very well said.

Martinbrock makes a comment down the way that clssical liberals oppose disproportionate power. It is a measure of the fog in which they live that their political solution to diproportionate power is… disproportionate power.
Professor Boudreaux makes a great point here. Political liberals are essentially gullible fools, convinced that there is an easily identifiably group of better, more intelligent people to whom we may grant vast political power for the healing of the world. No such group of people exists. In every group of people promising the salvation of the world and the economy through their auspices there are equal populations of avarice and criminality.

I am as much, if not more, of a classical liberal than the vast majority of political liberals but I recognize political liberalism as a sham, a means of getting disproportionate power without even having to prove the posession of any practical skill. I also recognize in mega-corporate capitalism the exact same grasping for a consolidation of disproportionate power. What politcal liberals fail most completely to recognize is that these two strains of power-mongers have far more in common with each other (else no company would be too big to fail, would it, Martin?) than they have with the common population.

The genius of the American political system as it was designed was not that it handed power to the right people. It was that it understood the powerful could be used to counter each other’s greed for even more power. Fools now take the fruits of that balance for granted, seeing only flaws, and seek to eliminate the balances that hobble those who flatter us and promise us paradise, if only we will let them lay a few chains on us.

I share Lee Jamison’s appreciation for the genius of the American political system or more specifically, the Constitution.  The Founders wanted to creat a government that protected against disproportionate power from others and itself.  They did this because they had experienced government with disproportionate power and felt it hurt its citizens .

However, the reality is that we’ve moved far beyond the Constitution.  We’ve given more power to the government than the Founders ever desired.  Part of the problem is with speical interests.  Much legislation has been bought by special interests.

The other problem is the igorance of the electorate of the purpose of government and the reasons the Founders attempted to design a limited government.  This ignorance also comes in the form of hubris that we know better than the Founders.

James Madison

December 6, 2009

Our country has come a long way in the past 200 years.  But, the nature of man is very much the same.  Many political skirmishes are driven by the fundamental disagreement in the purpose of government.  I think it’s wise to understand why the men who had in writing the Constitution put those words to paper.  Over the past 100 years or so, the purpose and power of our government has diverged widely from their intentions.

Here’s something to remember of anyone who finds themselves putting a great deal of trust in anyone they vote for:

The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.

Here’s the purpose of government, in 20 words:

The rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted.

Thanks to this page of quotes at George Mason University.

On losing freedom:

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.

And this isn’t a good thing…

If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one….

Remember, he’s considered the Father of the Constitution:

With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators. If the words obtained so readily a place in the “Articles of Confederation,” and received so little notice in their admission into the present Constitution, and retained for so long a time a silent place in both, the fairest explanation is, that the words, in the alternative of meaning nothing or meaning everything, had the former meaning taken for granted.

If only:

[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.

This is just a good one.

Philosophy is common sense with big words.


November 30, 2009

I saw a piece on 60 Minutes last night about the blood tainted gold from the Congo that reminded me of why I have such little regard for journalism.

The story: There’s gold and political instability in the Congo, which lead to heinous power struggles and gangster violence, rapes and other human rights violations.  The culprits?  It must be those darned gold dealers.  Walmart and such.  They don’t track the gold back to the source, so they buy (by some “best estimates” provided in the story, 1%) of their gold from Congo sources which fuels the bloody power struggles.

Typical journalism.  Blame the end user.  Here are some questions or data I would have provided  if I were the reporter on this story:

1) What is the form of government in this country that allows such human rights abuses (that would be the killing and rapes) and power struggles for mineral rights to take place?

2) What is ineffective about Congo’s government compared with the governments of countries that apparently supply the other 99% of the world’s gold that doesn’t appear to be subject to such chaos?

3) Why do people stay in the Congo if it’s so bad?  Why don’t they leave for a better a life?

4) How would a gold dealer be able to tell if gold came from the Congo or not?  Do they simply take the gold seller’s word for it?  Do you honestly think that would be an effective way to end the violence in the Congo?  Even if gold could be traced to the source, you don’t think a black market would keep that gold flowing?

Politicians nor the Media Can be Trusted

November 25, 2009

Stossel gives us perfectly valid reasons to distrust our government officials in his piece, We Pay Them to Lie to Us.

…when Harry Reid says he’ll give 30 million additional people health coverage while cutting the deficit, improving health care and reducing its cost, it’s not entertaining. It’s incredible.

The politicians have a hat full of tricks to make their schemes look cheaper than they are. The new revenues will pour in during Year One, but health care spending won’t begin until Year Three or Four. To this the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner asks, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could count a whole month’s income, but only two weeks’ expenditures in your household budget?”

From the start, Obama has promised to pay for half the “reform” cost by cutting Medicare by half a trillion over 10 years. But, Tanner asks, “how likely is it that those cuts will take place? After all, this is an administration that will pay seniors $250 to make up for the fact that they didn’t get a Social Security cost-of-living increase this year (because the cost of living didn’t increase). And Congress is in the process of repealing a scheduled increase in Medicare premiums.”

Walter Williams asks a great question in his, A Minority View: Voluntarism or Self-Interest?

Say you want a nice three-bedroom house. Which human motivation do you think would get you the house sooner: the generosity of builders or the builders’ desire to earn some money?

Just about everyone would agree that there would be massive shortages and discontent if there were a congressional mandate that we must depend on our fellow man’s generosity for our home, our car, our food and thousands of other items that we use. Why then must a person depend on his fellow man’s generosity for an item like bone marrow that might mean the difference between life and death? There is no rhyme or reason for the congressional prohibition of bone marrow other than arbitrary unconstitutional abuse of power that far too many Americans tolerate and would like to see extended to other areas of our lives.

Thomas Sowell gives us more reason to distrust politicians in, Solving Whose Problem?

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems– of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.

Many of the things the government does that may seem stupid are not stupid at all, from the standpoint of the elected officials or bureaucrats who do these things.

The current economic downturn that has cost millions of people their jobs began with successive administrations of both parties pushing banks and other lenders to make mortgage loans to people whose incomes, credit history and inability or unwillingness to make a substantial down payment on a house made them bad risks.

Was that stupid? Not at all. The money that was being put at risk was not the politicians’ money, and in most cases was not even the government’s money.

No one pushed these reckless mortgage lending policies more than Congressman Barney Frank, who brushed aside warnings about risk, and said in 2003 that he wanted to “roll the dice” even more in the housing markets. But it would very rash to bet against Congressman Frank’s getting re-elected in 2010.

Very few people are likely to connect the dots back to those members of Congress who voted for bigger mortgage guarantees and bailouts by the FHA. So the Congressmen’s and the bureaucrats’ jobs are safe, even if millions of other people’s jobs are not.

Congressman Barney Frank is not about to cut back on risky mortgage loan guarantees by the FHA. He recently announced that he plans to introduce legislation to raise the limit on FHA loan guarantees even more.

Congressman Frank will make himself popular with people who get those loans and with banks that make these high-risk loans where they can pocket the profits and pass the risk on to the FHA.

As I read through Sowell’s piece, the question “where’s the missing check and balance?” kept rolling through my mind.  How can the citizen’s of Barney Frank’s district continue to elect him?  Why aren’t others checking and balancing him in Congress?   I keep coming back to the media.  The media isn’t doing its job.  We simply don’t know.

The media carries stories that fit its mental model and weeds out stories that don’t.    The work John Zeigler did after the Obama election keeps surfacing in my mind.  You can see his work here.  Ziegler demonstrated through interviews just how much effect the media’s story lines have.   It’s very subtle.  It’s incubated in my mind for the better part of six months.

The people Ziegler interviewed knew negative facts about McCain and Palin cold.  They might as well have been reciting the alphabet.  They didn’t know the negative fact about Obama or Biden nearly so well.  I didn’t know those facts well and I’m plugged into conservative media.

I’m reminded of the Ziegler work when I see an ACORN story bust and then vaporize quickly with no ties to Obama.  Had that been an organization that W or Cheney was affiliated with in the past, we’d still be hearing new information from different angles.  Or when I saw the long lines waiting for H1N1 flu vaccine or Wall Street getting a hold of the vaccine early.  Under W, that would have been panned as Bush not liking poor people, but I never saw an angle linking that to Obama.  If the global warming e-mails that surfaced this week turn out to be legit, I wonder which media outlet will dare call Gore out for being a snake oil salesman?  Palin releases her book and gets 11 fact checkers assigned by the Associated Press, while Obama didn’t have one.

The media has completely lost its objectivity – if it ever had it.  It’s finally losing its credibility with the masses.  The question is, will it try to restore by starting to ask the tough questions and doing the investigative work on its own?

Sarah Palin Lacks Spark

November 22, 2009

Writing in the Kansas City Star, E. Thomas McClanahan explains what Sarah Palin is missing.  I agree. Writes McClanahan:

What I found ran for a mere 13 pages, written in prose that was utterly dead. She believes in America and our free enterprise system. The market should be allowed to work. Our foreign policy should be peace through strength. Energy independence is critical. We need to get federal spending under control.

OK, agreed. But where’s the insight, the persuasive spark that might make a skeptical reader say, “I hadn’t thought of that”? What I read only reinforced the perceptions Palin created with her disastrous Katie Couric interview and the jarringly disjointed speech she gave this year when resigning as Alaska’s governor.

I wrote this e-mail to McClanahan in response to his column:

Good column today on Sarah Palin.

You articulated it well.  I think conservatives like Palin because we don’t have a Reagan, we desperately want one and nobody except for her seems even remotely interested in taking the charge. I think another reason we like her is that she doesn’t give the Left home field advantage by accepting their premise.  Many others make that mistake and end up looking like sell outs to conservatives.  John McCain and even George W Bush come to mind.  She keeps the conversation on her turf and takes a great deal of abuse for it (something Reagan did as well).

I think your key insight in today’s column was that her conservative-speak doesn’t have a spark.  It’s like she’s reading from something she doesn’t quite understand.  To give it that spark, she needs to take it a step further and explain why free markets work, why foreign policy is peace through strength and why Federal spending needs to be controlled.  She also needs to explain why conservatives want limited government. That’s what Reagan could do in a few short, easy sentences that made perfect sense to moderates.

Great Write-Up of Elinor Ostrom’s Work

October 28, 2009

John Stossel provides the best write-up for lay people of Elinor Ostrom’s work that I’ve read so far in his column today, Self Governance Works.  Elinor shared the Nobel Prize in Economics this year.

If I take fish from a common fishing area, I benefit completely from those fish. But if I make an investment to increase the future number of fish, others benefit, too. So why should I risk making the investment? I’ll wait for others to do it. But everyone else faces the same free-rider incentive. So we end up with a depleted resource and what Garrett Harden called “the tragedy of the commons.”

Except, says Ostrom, we often don’t. There is also an “opportunity of the commons.” While most politicians conclude that, depending on the resource, efficient management requires either privatization or government ownership, Ostrom finds examples of a third way: “self-organizing forms of collective action,” as she put it in an interview a few years ago. Her message is to be wary of government promises.

She has studied, for example, self-governing irrigation systems in Nepal and found successes never anticipated in the textbooks. “Irrigation systems built and governed by the farmers themselves are on average in better repair, deliver more water, and have higher agricultural productivity than those provided and managed by a government agency. … (F)armers craft their own rules, which frequently offset the perverse incentives they face in their particular physical and cultural settings. These rules may be almost invisible to outsiders. …”

“These rules may be almost invisible to outsiders…” reminds me of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.  The Invisible Hand is why we do what we do.  Smith wrote more about this subject in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.  In addition to economic incentives, our actions are influenced by prudence, propriety, benevolence and justice.   These four governors of behavior are under appreciated.  I consider economic incentives along with prudence, propriety, benevolence and justice to be the five fingers of the invisible hand.

Government intervention can screw up economic incentives and it can also screw up the other four fingers.  Something a German lady told me comes to mind.  She said that while East Germany was freed 20 years ago, the culture of a heavy handed slave master statist government is still there.  The people are rude.  They live to meet the codified rules and not much else.  The government rules replaced a person’s sense of prudence, propriety, benevolence and justice.  DMV anyone?

I also love this passage: “While most politicians conclude that, depending on the resource, efficient management requires either privatization or government ownership, Ostrom finds examples of a third way.”

By examples, he means real world examples.  Real world examples are all around us, yet I find that those examples are often under appreciated by people who box themselves into theoretical confines.   I’m the Elinor Ostrom of my workplace.  Whenever we have a grand new idea, I look for real world examples that are similar.  It is darned difficult to get people to accept those real world examples.  It’s also darned difficult to get those people to admit that they should have more carefully considered those real world examples when they get similar results.