Category Archives: Politics

Progressivism & Liberty

The narrative of the American experience throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century is marked by a steady increase of the scope, cost, and weight of government. The trend — marked by the birth of the welfare state, of extensive economic regulation, and supremacy of the concept of social justice — is defended by subscribers of a particular umbrella ideology called Progressivism. Such an ideology depends for its coherency certain political, moral, and philosophical assumptions which, as will be argued in this paper, are antithetical to the philosophy of America’s founding; that of Jeffersonian liberty.

Thomas Jefferson, in drafting the Declaration of Independence, enshrined a particular political philosophy congruent with man’s nature; that individuals were, by right of their nature as rational animals, endowed with inalienable rights to the destiny of their own lives. From that axiom grew corollaries like the right to be free of compulsion (liberty), to engage life as one sees fit (happiness), and to keep that which was rightfully earned (property). Thus, “government was instituted among men” for no other reason than to defend man’s natural right to his own life from any corner that may wish to infringe upon it. It was with this philosophical understanding that government was inconsequential to all rights-respecting individuals who kept to themselves or made voluntary agreements with their neighbors. Government’s role was negative in nature; to stop injustice, so justice itself could remain.

This philosophical foundation was reassessed however by the Progressive movement beginning in the late nineteenth century. The Progressive “consensus” was born by discontent with the first “big business,” the transcontinental railroad. Soaked in government subsidies by the passage of the Pacific Railways Act of 1862 [1], the railroad industry was encouraged to over-produce railways so much so to the point where supply far exceeded demand. Yet, instead of prices reflecting this new equilibrium, the monopolistic status granted to railroad corporations by the government assistance, allowed them to arbitrarily set prices.

From this experiment (of meddling in a free market), grew general discontent with the railroad industry in particular and laissez faire capitalism in general. It seemed at the time to many that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor; that unregulated capitalism had led to monopolistic conglomerates in the industries of rail and oil and now consumers were paying the (higher) price.

A call for reform echoed across the American landscape in favor of regulation at the Federal level, instituting welfare programs for the poor, and price controls in the forms of laws and tariffs. Herbert Croly, a Progressive intellectual and editor of the magazine The New Republic wrote in his seminal treatise The Promise of American Life:

…the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth. [2]

How, one might ask, could a country in the span of a century go from such staunch individualism as exemplified by the writings of Thomas Jefferson, to varying flavors of Progressivism exemplified by author Herbert Croly?

This fundamental change came from the redefining of liberty as a concept. With the backdrop of the late 1800s, capitalism had seemingly left a majority of the people behind. Liberty as defined as the freedom from force seemed to lose favor. After all, went the narrative, it was the hands-off approach which led to monopolies and wealth inequality. Liberty then seemed not so passive; it required adjustment, adaptation, and progression to deal with changing realities of time. “Life is complex;” Woodrow Wilson would put it in 1912.

[T]he individual is caught in a great confused nexus of all sorts of complicated circumstances, and that to let him alone is to leave him helpless as against the obstacles with which he has to contend; and that, therefore, law in our day must come to the assistance of the individual. [3]

Liberty became a state of being, a standard of living. It became not just the ability to be left alone, but the ability to employ one’s own energies successfully. Wilson likened liberty to a perfectly operating machine, contending that liberty was achieved only when all parts were “associated most skillfully with the other parts of the great structure.” Thomas Jefferson’s “chaotic individualism,” as Croly put it, was far too focused on the wrong side of liberty’s equation. Paradoxically, according to the Progressives, the results of liberty, as opposed to the mechanics and architecture of liberty, defined liberty itself.

From this fundamental assumption (that individuals were entitled to equal results) came a series of policy prescriptions which included the promotion of the poor through welfare programs and the subjugation of the rich through regulation and high taxation; in other words, wealth redistribution. This was completely justified under the holistic reasoning; in order to save the many, a few needed to be sacrificed. To the Progressives, wealth was not tied to productive effort, but was a zero-sum game. The rich could only be so at the expense of the poor, and so these policies were justified in the new definition of liberty.

The year 1913 saw a wave of Progressive reforms on the national level take place; the establishment of the national income tax, direct election of U.S. Senators, and the establishment of the Federal Reserve system just to name a few. During World War I, the Progressives nationalized industries such as railroads and banned alcoholic beverages, two initiatives that would be overturned later by popular discontent — all in the name of fine-tuning the “great structure.”

The Federal Reserve would go on to artificially inflate the money supply which led to speculative bubbles throughout the rest of the century. The direct election of Senators largely removed the states’ ability to check the federal government. The national income tax, despite being reduced after the end of World War I, remained higher than before the war and remained the federal government’s primary source of income. [4]

Some of the consequences of this new chapter of government activity were obvious, like higher taxation and the meddling of natural economic forces. Some of the lesser known consequences however were the introduction of the apparatus for the state to choose winners and losers. By adopting the premise that the government could morally redistribute wealth, competition emerged to secure government favors, benefits, and privileges. J. Brian Phillips writing for The Freeman magazine put it perfectly.

In a capitalist society, in which the government has no control over the economy, there is no benefit to be derived from pressure group politics; in a collectivist society, in which the State controls the economy, pressure groups are a matter of economic survival. [5]

To illustrate this, consider the influx of lobbying in Washington between 1900 and 1920. During this decade known as the Progressive era, the U.S. saw the most interest group organizations form, including the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Medical Association. [6] Moreover, and in particular, the growth rate of non-profit interest groups was greatest during this period. [7]

Progressives, by expanding the state into the business of handing out taxpayer money, would cement the domination of capital to reign over and iniquitously influence politics (which they would later come to despise) giving legitimacy to bribery, blackmail, and cronyism.

These consequences have come to define the recent political discontent with Wall Street and Washington. Despite diverging policy prescriptions, the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement have a general agreement that over the years, the government has picked winners and losers, whether they be the petroleum or the “green” industry, and that such behavior is no longer desirable. But I digress.

The Progressive era reforms that came about during this period marked a tragic scene for liberty’s cause. Now subject to the premise that we were all our brothers’ keepers, that the individual lacked the rational faculties to navigate the complexities of life, and that capitalism was a force to be contained through regulation, liberty’s torch was drenched in a sea of taxation, wealth redistribution, and regulation. The American family would find its hard-earned wealth taxed away, now less free to invest in their future. The poor were rewarded with federal-assistance programs funded by taxes meant to pay for the legitimate roles of government, like a military and the police. Businessmen were now expected to burn the candle on both ends — to increase wages and benefits while simultaneously increasing employment, regardless of economic realities. They were now less free to operate their business as they saw fit.

Egalitarianism inherently circumvents liberty. By ignoring the natural heterogeneity of the human race, Progressives sought to impose equality where it naturally could not fit. Humans are unique in talent, skill, and culture. This uniqueness has allowed a division of labor into specialized groups that has brought untold wealth and prosperity to the entire race. It is this uniqueness, along with our rational faculties, that makes our race what it is. Circumventing that uniqueness has a substantial cost: the liberty of others.

Jeffersonian liberty, the bedrock of America’s founding, rests on the idea that individuals are means to their own ends, never the ends of others; that individuals should be free to engage in voluntary acts of mutual agreement with each other; and that they deserve that which they produce. Progressivism represents the antithesis of these simple concepts. Its dawning on the American polity during the turn of the nineteenth century brought about structural changes that gave rise to iniquitous lobbying that dominates politics even to this day; to the administrative state that continues to circumvent natural economic forces; and to a fundamentally new and perverted definition of liberty and America’s founding philosophy.

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[1] Library of Congress. Primary Documents in American History. June 30, 2010. http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/PacificRail.html (accessed November 2011).
[2] Croly, Herbert. The Promise of American Life, 21. Northeastern, 1989.
[3] Wilson, Woodrow. The New Freedom. 1912.
[4] National Taxpayers Union. History of Federal Individual Income Bottom and Top Bracket Rates. 2009. http://ntu.org/tax-basics/history-of-federal-individual-1.html (accessed November 2011).
[5] Phillips, J. Brian. “Capitalism at a Crossroads: 1875-1900.” The Freeman 37, no. 9 (September 1987): 348-351. http://www.thefreemanonline.org/columns/capitalism-at-a-crossroads-1875-1900/ (accessed November 2011).
[6] Hrebenar, Ronald J., and Bryson B. Morgan. In Lobbying in America: A Reference Handbook, 15. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
[7] Walker Jr., Jack L. In Mobilizing Interest Groups in America: Patrons, Professions, and Social Movements, 63. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

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Collectivism and the OWS Movement

The architecture of liberty is comprised of the same simple concepts illustrated by the Declaration of Independence — that man has a right to his own life, that individuals are sovereign entities entitled to the pursuit of their own happiness so long as such pursuits heed to the sovereignty of others. This individualism defines the standard for which society is to be evaluated. This is why the saying goes “justice is blind” in that the rule of law applies equally to all men, regardless of race, creed, religion, or stature; why we are free to buy or not buy goods based on our own needs and desires (i.e. free market capitalism); why we value such ideas as privacy, free speech, and uncoerced association. All of these stem from one singular concept: the sovereignty of the individual.

But the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement seems to have done away with individualism in their rhetoric. Instead, they plead for the alleviation of society’s needs, the woes of the 99%, the voice of the community. To the occupiers, it seems, America is a homogeneous organic body working in harmony towards a goal of loosely defined progress. Society is thus much like a symphony with individuals working together towards a single composition. When this holistic thinking becomes the standard of evaluation, it doesn’t seem so outrageous to sacrifice some parts to save the whole. After all, wouldn’t any sane person opt to surgically remove a cancerous tumor in order to keep living if given the choice?

We see this today with the words echoed in metropolis centers across America by the OWS — that the top earners in this country have unfairly acquired too much wealth; that corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars worth of capital they should be spending; that more social services like free Health Care are readily practical if only taxes were high enough, and so they should be — all in the name of society’s progress.

In the wake of Progressivism lies the shattered rights of individuals. The rich man suffers from the premise that he is not entitled to his wealth, society is. Businesses suffer from the premise that the jobs they provide aren’t theirs to adjust in times of economic turmoil, they are entitlements to society. Every taxpayer suffers from the premise that if they sacrifice their own happiness and an ever-growing portion of their paycheck to the state, its for the (morally) greater happiness of society.

Progressivism views individuals as a collective and treats it as such. As a result, liberty’s true definition gets muddled, sacrifice becomes a moral virtue, and individual rights become easy to brush aside. America was founded on the ideal of individualism because man’s right to his own life was an axiom based in nature, not a dated and malleable concept. Until the OWS movement embraces that axiom, their message will always be hard to swallow by individuals who value liberty.

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The President’s Half-Truths & Expired Theories

On Wednesday, Harvard’s campus newspaper The Harvard Crimson ran an opinion piece by the President addressing the economy and student loan debt. Unfortunately, the op-ed was riddled with flawed logic, inaccurate statements, and deficient ideology that the American people shouldn’t endure.

First of all, it is worth noting that state-centric approach the President has taken to solve the woes of our time. Speaking to his jobs proposals that did not fair well on the hill, the President said “the best way to attack our economic challenges and put hundreds of thousands of people back to work is through bold action in Congress.” The idea, and the hubris needed to accept it, that the federal government wields sufficient power over the fourteen and a half trillion dollar U.S. economy and can, at will, micromanage it back to health is a bit disconcerting. Such ideas stem from overconfidence in government action and a flawed understanding of a market economy.

Hubris aside, the President bolsters the case for his jobs bill by repeating a faslehood tackled by the watchdog group FactCheck.org. He says:

[…] it’s been so disappointing to see Republicans in Congress block jobs bills from going forward—bills that independent economists say could create millions of jobs though the kinds of proposals supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past.

According to FactCheck.org, “the median estimate in a survey of 34 economists showed 288,000 jobs could be saved or created over two years under the president’s plan.”

Secondly in his piece, the President addressed student loan debt with this:

Living with that much debt forces you to make some tough choices. And when a big chunk of every paycheck goes towards student loans, it isn’t just painful for you—it’s painful to our economy and harmful to our recovery.

Here, the President is insinuating that the economy is suffering from a lack of spending in the private sector as graduated college students make down payments on the loans with money they would have otherwise spent. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama (and for his Keynesian cohorts), that is not the case. According to economic data, personal consumption is at much higher levels today than prior to the recession. And furthermore, consumption is not the engine of an economy, it is production that makes wealth. We should be removing all barriers for the producers of this economy to continue and expand production. With one of the highest corporate income taxes in the world, mounting regulation, and massive deficit spending, accompanied with a growing movement in the downtown regions of many U.S. cities which demand further sacrifice from producers, it is no wonder why the economy is stagnant.

Progressives, such as President Obama believe in a perverted understanding of liberty.  According to them, liberty was not just the freedom from oppression by others, it was the freedom to achieve the most in one’s life — that all peoples were entitled to explore themselves and grow to be the best they can be. From this shore, progressives justified extraordinary breaches of individual liberty including the establishment of the welfare state, extensive regulation of commerce, and atrocious distributions of wealth.

The President seeks to accomplish the same thing as he echos the cries of the Occupy Wall Street hippies for the wealthy to “pay their fair share” in taxes in order to help the country eliminate its deficit problems; as he designs to spend more money we do not have on stimulus projects that do not work.

The President should not get carte blanche to propagate half-truths and expired economic theories. The President can do us all a favor by doing two things: instruct the federal government to move out of the way of the producers of this country and let the marketplace restore itself, and reconcile his progressivism with Jeffersonian liberty in favor of the later.

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Dogs, Ponies, & Gas Prices

All week this week, the federal government has focused on gas prices and oil industry subsidies in lieu of the summer driving season beginning this month. The House of Representatives has given themselves a stage for some ground thumping:

  • The House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing today entitled “Making the Gulf Coast Whole Again: Assessing the Recovery Efforts of BP and the Obama Administration After the Oil Spill.” Quite a mouth-full title to disguise an ear-full of saber rattling amounting to pretty much nothing.
  • Also today, the House Natural Resources Committee will demand the Obama Administration quicken the approval of air permits needed for Arctic drilling in Alaska. Never mind the fact that even with the approval of new permits, it takes at least a few years to get all the extraction equipment setup and ready for production… also amounting to very little for gas prices now.
  • The Energy Department is holding hearings on different natural gas extraction methods for on-ground sites. Not sure what this will accomplish either other than act as a soapbox for politicians.
Not to mention a whole slew of other pointless hearings that will serve nothing and no one:
  • Congressional Natural Gas Caucus Co-Chairmen Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.) held an event on Wednesday on the role of states in regulating natural-gas drilling.
  • The Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on electric grid reliability.
  • The Transportation Committee held a hearing on Wednesday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s nutrients policies.
  • The Natural Resources Committee will hold a second hearing aimed at “identifying roadblocks to wind and solar energy on public lands and waters.”
  • The Science Committee examined “harmful algal blooms” on Wednesday.
  • The Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Friday on legislation to ensure the country has a domestic supply of key minerals.
  • The Energy and Commerce Committee will take a closer look Friday at the administration’s regulatory review plans.
But, at the end of the week, at least we’ll have heard our elected officials make grandiose claims, some of which aren’t even true; claims that they will use in reelection campaigns to bolster their preferred stance on energy policy. So please do not be fooled by the dog and pony show on exposé in Washington. Do, however, understand that there is little Congress or the President can do to effect oil prices. As Lon Anderson said to Capital News Connection, “Really, there is very little that Congress can do. The price of fuel is really driven on the world market.” And remember, like I’ve pointed out before, speculators are not to blame either.
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Obama’s Energy Solution: More Government

President Obama took his weekly radio address to speak towards the growing gas prices across the country and offered a variety of solutions. The common denominator of most of his solutions however, was the direction of, funding from, and oversight by the federal government.

At the onset, President Obama announced the creation of a task force to search and destroy “manipulations in the market that might affect gas prices” with particular focus on speculators. Speculators have been the go-to escape goat on oil prices by both the left and right. Unfortunately, the President’s efforts are misguided. Speculators are those trained individuals who — with advanced knowledge of supply, demand, and the effects on each by current events — buy and sell oil at risk to themselves. If they speculate that in light of a new fervent uprising in Iraq or Nigeria will shake the production of oil, they will buy oil, increasing its price. If an oil company strikes a new bountiful oil well, they will sell, and prices will decrease. We rely on speculators’ insight and knowledge of the oil market to give us oil at its market price.

President Obama seems to view things differently. Such high gas prices shouldn’t be so, facts or market signals be damned. Instead, he seeks to root out, regulate, or annihilate the very components of the oil market that make it tick. Just as a contractor has the experience and know-how to complete a project on time and on budget, so too do speculators have the skill to buy and sell oil based on the facts of production. To assume the federal government could “resolve” anything related to speculation is an insulting irony.

Secondly, Obama seeks to expand domestic oil production, a step forward, but caveats such production with more regulation and misguided incentives, two steps backwards. The President wants to unleash new permits to oil companies for drilling off the coast of Alaska, but says in order to make the process streamlined, a new government organization is required. Such logic seems counterintuitive; how is it that more government bureaucrats and red tape will quicken leasing and not in fact slow it down? Moreover, the President wants to incentivize companies to drill in unused leases — leases that do not have production-worthy quantities of oil or gas. So while the president pushes for the end of oil subsidies, he’s more than willing to subsidize unproductive oil wells. Seems a little two-faced. The only thing different between “incentives” and “subsidies” is the name. The money still comes from you and me.

The President has taken a statist approach to solving the “problem” of high gas prices. Yes, gas prices are high, but oil is a limited resource subject to an infinite array of market conditions, current events, weather, and simple luck of the draw in drilling. To demand a set price based on nothing but wishes is anti-capitalist speak. Dictating prices didn’t work for Stalin, Lenin, or Brezhnev; it wont work for Obama.

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Time to End All Corporate Welfare

It’s of little surprise that House Speaker John Boehner rejected attempts to end oil subsidies, considering the entrenched ties the GOP and the oil industry share. Companies like Chevron, Exxon, and ConocoPhillips all donate large sums of money to overwhelmingly Republican candidates and PACs. Make no mistake, I believe campaign donations are a form of free speech, a right of which a company should not be excluded from. Further still, Republicans are not the only party tainted by special interests. Democrats themselves have invested interests in maintaining the favorable position of labor unions and green energy companies. My contention here is the perverse incentive that exists as a result of oil subsidies.

Consider this model: politicians use their political power to expropriate taxpayer money towards favored interests causing a cyclical phenomenon of continual handouts for continual electoral support. Not too hard to comprehend or deny, is it? But look further and find a inherently immoral and unconstitutional weave.

First of all, on what moral basis does the government have to donate our tax money to a specific industry or company? Aren’t businesses a competent of  the economy? Of a free market? Of capitalism? Shouldn’t those businesses succeed for fail based on the level of satisfaction they provide to their customers (as opposed to their preferred politician)?

Corporate welfare, then, undercuts you and I, the taxpayer and customer. For example, AT&T, the nations largest telecommunications provider, is in the process of eliminating its unlimited mobile data service plans. Call them indulgent, but many Americans (including myself) have become accustomed to not paying by the bite and will find little reason not to switch to one of AT&T’s competitors that does offer unlimited plans. In large enough quantities, customer drops in turn might persuade AT&T to upgrade or expand its infrastructure to compensate for larger bandwidths. But introduce federal subsidies into the equation and AT&T can compensate for this hypothetical precipitous drop in customers.

Subsidies distort market signals and rest on the premise that the government can invest capital better than the private market could. Government, however, lacks the same market signals that private capital markets benefit from. Private investors are much more capable in determining what products and services have the greatest return on investment.

Take a quick glance over the Constitution and you might have a hard time finding Congress’ ability to fund businesses or form public-private ventures with financial behemoths or automakers. Such moral hazards are a gift from the Supreme Court’s generous and far-reaching interpretations of the General Welfare clause (to which we tip our hats) which has allowed Congress to expropriate money that is rightfully supposed to go to little things like protecting our rights as Americans.

It’s high time we end corporate welfare; not just for oil companies, but for all companies; not just because of times of austerity, tough choices, or constitutional reawakening, but because morally, the government has little sanction to spend our money on favors.

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The Immoral Royalty: Why the Monarchy in the UK is Immoral

In case you didn’t know, Prince William and Kate Middleton just recently got married. I suppose it would be in good character for me to wish them the best, which I suppose do, but I seem to have a deficiency of interest in the UK Royal Family. I guess it stems from my fervent belief that they represent an entirely immoral political class; a self-imposed elite that feeds off of tradition; an illegitimate family of rulers who circumvent the proper notion of government. To explain my thinking here, we must first ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of government?” and “Which form of government is best?” I will tackle these two questions separately.

The Purpose of Government

Because man is a rational animal – and in most instances desires to live – he has the right to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. In other words, by man’s very nature, he has the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Man’s rights are not gifts bestowed by God, or granted to us by a benevolent government, nor conferred to us by a gracious society. They are inherently ours and inalienable.

I lack the moral authority to do violence against another man’s rights. The forbiddance of the initiation of force is a cornerstone principle if man is to successfully live on earth. However, if I were mentally ill or overcome by emotion I may transgress – I may commit injustice. For those who would, a collection of individuals must defend themselves. As Thomas Jefferson said “It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all.”

So then, the only moral purpose of government is to defend those rights. It’s sole task: to stop injustice so justice itself remains.

The Best Form of Government

Clearly, the best form of government is that which defends the rights of man – his life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The Founding Fathers of the United States understood this moral imperative when they crafted the Constitution and its limiting mechanics imposed on government. More fundamentally, they understood that government cannot carry legitimacy if it is not powered by popular sovereignty. Such was what Jefferson spoke of when he referred to the individuals that composed society to be the “safest depository of power.”

Unfortunately political theory  is an endangered interest in the United States. Few question the authority of government because for the past century, altruistic politicians have laid moral claim on more and more quadrants of life. Government’s role has been expanded in the name of all sorts of daemons, be them charity, civil defense, or environmentalism. It is only with a solid philosophical and ethical foundation can a political structure stand.

The British Monarchy

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. While most political power is delegated to parliament and the Prime Minister, the royal family still holds substantial power over the state. The constitution of the United Kingdom, and uncodified set of laws and procedures, acts as the only barrier between the Monarchy and the state. The Monarchy’s remaining powers include the power to maintain or dissolve Parliament, to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, and to grant or refuse Royal Assent to legislation passed in Parliament. These powers are very rarely used in the negative however. The decline of Royal Assent was last used in 1708 and the dissolution of parliament in 1835.

However, let’s review Monarchy in principle. In a monarchical system political power resides in a family chosen by God to govern. Such is the case in the United Kingdom. There is however something distasteful to make the claim that God has chosen a particular family to rule an entire country. First of all, how do we know this divine decree to be true? By what authority does God have to chose the governance of mortal men? Is the King or Queen in direct contact with God? Are they familiar with God’s will? Is there even a god?

Claims to the right to govern derived from a god are inconsistent with the proper role of government, and in fact perverts the very definition of a government. Government is a reluctant enterprise among free individuals to protect their rights from those who would trespass them. It’s very nature presupposes the consent of the governed. Unfortunately, the Monarchy benefits from no such consent. The Royal Family are not voted for. Their political power is inherited. It is derived not from votes, but from blood. This represents an entirely illegitimate form of leadership, and immoral system of government. The mere concept of royalty defies individual rights and the precept that men are born equal. Such was the very reason the American colonists rebelled from the British crown.

Incessant clamoring over the ‘majestic’ and ‘magical’ place the Royal Family enjoys feeds a perverted sense of governance. It does violence to the very nature of man. I would hope one day the English people will realize the transgression that has been imposed on them by tradition. It is high time for them to shrug off centuries old concepts and become acquainted with a political theory and system that respects the individual, holds him to be sovereign, and the state to be his rights’ defender.

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“Progressive” News Site Marries Rand to GOP

Reposted from OActivists:
Take a look at this abysmal portrayal of Objectivism and Ayn Rand.

The article seems to equate conservatives’ superficial approval of Ayn Rand’s political ideas with principled conjoining. The record needed to be set straight. My comments:

The author of this article has made the atrocious mistake of equating conservatives’ superficial approval of (some of) Rand’s political ideas with a principled agreement between Objectivists and Conservatives. I’d like to set the record straight.

Let me first make clear that Ayn Rand viewed conservatives as a greater threat to the survival of the American country and idea. She saw conservatives to be more willing to shackle the rights of individuals for their cause, slightly more so than their counterparts on the left. She laid considerable condemnation to both the left and right for their adherence to predatory altruism, their dedication to anti-reason in the form of faith and mysticism, and their complete lack of philosophical underpinning.

Rightfully however, the author depicts Social Security, Medicare, and other welfare programs as burdensome violations of an individuals’ liberty according to Objectivism. It is the forceful confiscation and redistribution of wealth that Objectivists view as morally impermissible. Of what right does any other have to the earned wealth of some? Of what right to a certain standard of living – regardless of personal effort or lack thereof – do others have? By what standard are you to deny an individual his right to the pursuit of his own happiness?

Ayn Rand’s philosophy begins with recognition of the individual as a sovereign entity with inalienable rights derived from his unique ability to reason. She refused to view humanity as a homogenous whole capable of being prodded, controlled, and manipulated into performing grandiose tasks. Rather, she viewed man for what he was – a heroic being capable of incredible feats, feats made possible by his ability to use his mind.

This article wrongly portrays Objectivism as a savage system of anarchy, of a cold and dark lawless night with no individual safe from mindless gangs of greed and profit. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth. It’s Objectivism that recognizes – by virtue of his nature – the individual’s right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It’s Objectivism that rests responsibility upon the individual yet it does not forbid acts of kindness and charity. It’s Objectivism that grants man choice, not moral and social pressure. It’s Objectivism that grants man freedom.

It wasn’t Objectivism this article spoke of.

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U.S.-Columbia (Not So) Free Trade Deal

This past Wednesday, April 6th 2011, President Obama announced the long-awaited initiation of a U.S.-Columbia free trade agreement (FTA). The agreement, which was expected to be reached back in 2006, had been held up originally by unfounded notions that free trade during a recession is a bad thing, but since the advent of a Democrat-controlled White House and Senate, the treaty has been stalled on grounds that Columbia must enact labor union protectionist policies.

According to the The Wall Street Journal:

Over the past couple of years, the biggest hurdle in Washington to a trade deal shifted from trade deficit fears to complaints by congressional Democrats over the frequent killings of labor leaders in Colombia by right-wing groups, some of which were alleged to have ties to the Colombian government.

The killing of innocent life is obviously abhorrent. As a philosophical Objectivist and political Libertarian, I see the initiation of force as a moral failing and a clear violation of an individual’s right to life. However, I also see intrusive economic policies with attached stipulations as a violation of an individual’s right to liberty and the pursuit of their own happiness. By presenting conditions upon which free individuals may trade with each other hardly seems like a province of state concern. However, that presupposes the government recognizes the individual as free, competent enough to trade, and not a warren of state policy.

The Democrat’s claims that the violence against labor union leaders in Colombia were the hurdles that blocked the FTA, are overblown. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, “homicide rates are nearly three times higher in the United States (5.4 per 100,000) than among Colombian labor union members (1.9 per 100,000).” Furthermore, a study over at the Cato Institute concluded that “the overall murder rate in Colombia has declined dramatically in the past decade, and the murder rate against members of labor unions has declined even more rapidly. A union member in Colombia today is one-sixth as likely to be a victim of homicide as a fellow citizen who does not belong to a union.”

It should come to no surprise that the political left in this country will, in all instances possible, defend their historical voting blocks. The recent Wisconsin hoop-la over union powers and their degree of leverage over government had unearthed the entrenched relationship between the Democratic Party and domestic labor unions, but the Colombian FTA sheds a new light. It is now obvious that the Democrats see no reason why they should not dictate their own labor policies upon other sovereign nations. Claude Barfield recognized this fact over at the American Enterprise Institute:

[I]n many ways these provisions represent a callous trampling on Colombia’s sovereignty and the right to determine for itself specific priorities and obligations in the domestic labor market. Among the more egregious demands, Colombia has acquiesced to “criminalize” (with prison terms of up to five years) any acts that “undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively.” It must also pass a law dictating prison terms for anyone who “offers a collective pact to non-union workers that is superior to terms for union workers.” No definition of “undermine” or “superior terms,” of course, is set forth.

It has become more and more clear that this free trade agreement has very little to do with freedom. Sure, trade between our two countries will grow, but it seems that as a result, the Colombian people have become less free to organize themselves the way they wish to (or not organize for that matter).

This unfortunate display of economic foreign policy by the Democrats should make it clear that they are ill-equipped – ideologically – to represent the United States’ interests. It also illuminates the flagrant disregard for the individual rights of both Colombians and Americans. While I support free trade, I oppose intrusive expeditions of the state into the lives of free people, and I hope Colombians recognize what is being perpetrated upon them by their government and ours.

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A Separation of Economy & State

When Ayn Rand wrote “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal” in 1967, she had no illusion that even then (and most certainly today) the American economy was not worthy of the term capitalism. That had not always been the case however. In the early years of America’s founding, interactions among free men were unfettered by government regulation to the scale it is today. But the failure of the United States to maintain its once pure and honest economic system is not the fault of capitalism itself. It is oft claimed by those on the left that capitalism’s inherent characteristics of competition and greed are paradoxically the ingredients for its destruction. This has been exemplified best by none other than Karl Marx himself, but also by lesser intellectuals like Michael Moore in his documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”

It was with the recent economic recession that rocked Wall Street and financial institutions abroad which brought capitalism’s doubters to rear their ugly head. Attacks on high-payed CEOs and cloaked bankers of unmeasurable prestige were leveled, their pay criticized, their business practices judged immoral. What lacked fervor, however, was the conversation on just how the American government had twisted and droved its way into almost ever crevice that had begun to fall apart. What seemed to be ignored was the nature of the relationship between politicians and banks – a cronyism of colossal magnitude that fell like the house of cards it was.

We do not live in a capitalist system. We live in its mongrel, starved, and unshaven cousin. We do not enjoy the receptivity of free markets. We suffer from a foggy swamp of state direction.

To exhibit such dismay would be the work of a voluminous text. But take for example the sobering news reported by the Wall Street Journal that 1 in 4 Americans needs permission by the government to work, or that the ethanol industry is pushing for more federal subsidies with sured promises of campaign assistance, or even the deplorable admission that the Federal Reserve hid from the public the fact that it lent millions of taxpayer dollars to foreign banks during the peak of the financial crisis.

The United States government has interjected itself into sector after sector in the name of the “common good.” Subjective regulation, birthed in the closed doors of Washington D.C., is hailed as a necessary axiom to our complex economic system. Because if this, we live in a state of crony capitalism, a mixed economy of heavily regulated markets and unaccountable controls of our money. It would behoove us all to reconsider the term capitalism and its moral implications.

Capitalism rests the responsibility and consequences of trade on the private sector. It is a system where free men may exchange goods for valued currency or other goods at their own discretion. It is the only system that recognizes  the sovereignty of the individual and the rights he has been endowed with by his very nature. The moment government instills the use of force upon the individual in his array of choices presented to him by the market, it has transgressed on his right to pursue happiness. The moment government bans the production of a product in the name of “public safety” it has transgressed on the right to liberty. The moment the individual is no longer seen as sovereign in the eyes of the state, it has transgressed on his right to his own life.

What is the solution to these pressing problems? It is not to just deregulate, but to withdraw the state to its only moral purpose, to stop injustice so justice itself remains. We must reevaluate the meaning of government as the protector of our rights, not the purveyor of them. We must remember that government is powered by the engine of popular sovereignty, and that if it grows beyond the confines laid out for it, we have the right to change it.

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