Hegemony Christmas

In spite of my atheism, I still celebrate Christmas.  Some Christians may see this as an affront to their religious holiday, but that's just tough.   I really dig the core message of peace, goodwill and the process of gift giving; I'm just not game for the mysticism.  It's a time to reflect on the year and count our blessings.  It is equally a time to recognize the unfortunate and wicked things in our lives and make plans to right past wrongs and walk the straight-and-narrow.
Those of us who live in one of the united States should thank our lucky stars for the chance to live in the first nation explicitly formed on the basis of ideas as apposed to national boundaries and ethnicity.  The freedom to trade and innovate that grew from those principles of individual liberty has made this the most prosperous nation in history. Tragically, complacency in our views on the role of our union has eroded those core values.  Misguided policies of nation building, entangling alliances and perpetual foreign and domestic wars have stretched the purview of our government far beyond its mandate of ensuring domestic tranquility.  Global hegemony of our paper money and the expanding range of our military muscle have, if we are not unthinkably responsive, sown the seeds of their own destruction.
Like the unfortunate souls who have mistakenly come to see the material outcome of Christmas, the gifts, as the purpose of the holiday, we have come to see our hegemony as the goal that must be maintained.  The cliched consternation over the commercialization of Christmas is the result of the failure to see that the beauty of the holiday is the act of giving a thoughtful and appreciated gift without obligation to those we love.  The guiding principle of our national affairs should not be prosperity but freedom.  Let freedom ring and prosperity follow.

Merry Christmas.

What Kind of Libertarian are you?

I think it is fun when interacting with other libertarians/classical liberals/anarcho-capitalists to discuss our intellectual heritage.  It is interesting to note the event that started to change your mind, whether it was a book, a movie or a speech.  Since so many of us can trace our roots to a particular thinker, I have tried to lay out a few categories of libertarianism based on a few prominent thinkers and institutions.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, and if you feel that I have left anyone out, please let me know in the comment section.  The format of the list will be: "Individual/Institution" - "Character".  
  • Ayn Rand  - The Hero
    • In spite of the fact that Ayn disavowed libertarians and the libertarian movement because she felt that they had stolen her ideas without giving her proper credit, I have to include her in this list.  She was my first introduction to classical liberalism, and I considered myself to be a pure objectivist for several years after first reading Atlas Shrugged and most of her other fiction and nonfiction.  So many of us were converted based on her skill in distilling the moral attributes of individualism and capitalism to their most readily grasped concretes that I think she has to be near the top of any such list.  
  • Ludwig von Mises Institute - The Teacher
    • While the institute was founded by Lew Rockwell and dedicated to von Mises, I am going to lump Hayek and Rothbard in this category as well.  Even though this group includes an organization and individuals and spans from the minarchism of Hayek and Mises to the anarchism of Rothbard and his followers, the unifying theme of this group is evangelism.   These guys focus on spreading the good word about capitalism and limited or no government and really seem to concern themselves with little else.  This is not to disparage them.  I think they play a critical role in our cause.  I have probably consumed more high quality, low cost information from LvMI than I ever have from any other organization.  
  • Cato Institute - The Leader
    • The Cato institute seems to be our big-dog, well capitalized, boots-on-the-ground think tank.  It's full of libertarian-minded policy wonks who publish numerous books, academic articles and policy briefs.  There will sometimes be little jabs back and forth between them and the LvMI guys because the Cato guys are more mainstream and often host politicians from all stripes at their events.  These are minor squabbles, but entertaining.  Cato is more aimed at influencing policy and provide no umbrella for the anarchist wing.  
  • Reason Magazine / Stossel  - The Journalist
    • This group is the most mainstream by far and probably most visible to the laymen.  As a result they are just as important as the other categories because they do so much to spread the word.    They are distinct from The Teacher in that they are not primarily concerned with any purely academic pursuits in addition to being more mainstream.  These guys are masters at pointing out past and present failures in central planning and are by far the most likely to say the phrases "unintended consequences", "invisible hand" and "there are no free lunches".  

Please let me know to which category you belong in the comments section.  I started out as a Hero, then went Journalist.  Now I would have to place myself in Teacher.

Helicopter Government

Paternalism in governance has taken on a whole new meaning.  The Obama administration is the latest in a long line of over-achieving parents.  This conjures up the modern trend of helicopter parenting, aptly displayed recently by the modern intellectual Homer Simpson.  The operating principle of the helicopter parent is maintaining a close eye on a child's day-to-day activities and being ready to jump in to mow down any obstacles that my stand in the child's way.  Though the actions may be misguided, the motivation is a noble one.  Every parent wants to see their child succeed, and most cringe at the thought of their child's failures, even the small ones.  Insofar as the parent has the means to help the child, he or she is the only one likely to be harmed by the process.

The motivation and operating principle translate directly to helicopter governance, but the nobility of the motivation does not.  The Obama administration wants to make college and healthcare "affordable"  to all of its children, even if the immutable laws of finance get in the way.  Putting aside the obvious fallacy of considering the citizens of the several states to be the children of the federal government, the most insidious lie behind these utopian promises of milk and honey is that the parent in this case has no resources of its own to make good on them.  The mother who desperately wants her daughter to attend private school may take on a second job, and we may look upon this as laudable.  But, the mother who steals from the church collection plate to pay for her son's violin lessons should get no such praise from us.  The father who raids Peter's savings to win Paul's affection with an Xbox deserves a special sort of shunning.  Our sovereigns cannot work overtime, get a second job or put on a bake sale to mold the world closer to their heart's desires.  Their only wealth is a claim on our sweat, and they've shown little aversion to spending it.  They take the high moral ground in that they are merely securing the right to education and the right to healthcare, but these are no different than Paul's right to an Xbox.  There is no such thing as the right to take a ride on your neighbor's back because rights are those things to be respected by others not provided by them.        

Healthcare Spending Catastrophe

It seems to me that we should expect a society to spend more on healthcare as it grows more affluent.  At one end of the spectrum there is the primitive hunter-gatherer who neither has the medical knowledge to treat injuries or infections nor the expendable wealth to administer it were it available.  As we move up the scale we have developing countries who have either developed or imported medical knowledge and technology.  In such a country there may be sufficient wealth to pay for antibiotics for some and chemotherapy for others, but by no means is there sufficient wealth to treat the ailments of all.  When there is a trade off between treating cancer in its early stages and eating, eating always wins.  This is the central issue that must be kept in mind when thinking about healthcare spending; prices do not exist for the sole purpose of enriching healthcare administrators but rather - as they do for any other product - to communicate preferences.  As medical skill and technology continue to expand and as our wealth increases, our propensity to spend that wealth on healthcare approaches infinity.  After all, who doesn't want to live forever?  The problem comes, as you might expect, when those who wish to govern our lives attempt to collectivize risks and preferences while ensuring that everyone can have everything they want at an "affordable" price. For any society, as for any individual, operating within a delusion can be quite dangerous.

"The Cartel" Exposes Dangers Of Central Planning In Education

I just finished watching The Cartel which was a brilliant documentary of the state of publicly run schools in the US.  As much as I may disagree with the notion that public funding of education is a necessity, there can be little doubt that the administration of education must not be left to the public sector.  In the public sector there exists no robust mechanism for evaluating and communicating performance, and the greatest motivation against failure - the fact that it might happen - is entirely absent in a system where a school's revenue is determined solely by the population within its fiefdom.  

There are few situations in American life more disturbing than that our youth are used by powerful unions and political machines to further their narrow interests.  I consistently struggle to give union organizers the benefit of the doubt, but as they pay lip service to the educational interests of students I hear their most well crafted rhetoric and feel their greatest passion directed toward defending their monopoly.  I am simply out of sympathy for them.

The Cartel is highly recommended viewing.

Some Obvious Interpretations of the American Language

I was 20 years old when I realized that a quart is named as it is because it is a quarter of a gallon.  I had known since grade school that there were four quarts in a gallon, but I had just never made the connection.  Similarly, I realized just recently, at the age of 26, that we have States in the US and they have Provinces in Canada for a reason.  It had not occurred to me that we still refer to them as States today because the founders of our federal government considered the States to be sovereign entities.  The federal government was established as a peaceful agreement between these sovereigns to promote their general prosperity and provide for a common defense.  This all seems fairly obvious in hindsight, and maybe it was to all of you reading this.  But it has always been difficult for me to look beyond the historical framework in which we live, where the federal government is seen as the ultimate ruling power of the nation with the final say in whether we go to war, who pays what tax and what actions are legal and which are against the law.  Maybe, in spite of all the clear language in the constitution and other documents of the time period, I never recognized the origin of our reference to States because in today's world they are more accurately described as provinces of the Federal government.

Similarly, I never paused to consider why the States of the "rebellion", who seceded from the Union leading up to the war between the States, referred to themselves as a "confederacy".  Ostensibly, this is a manifestation of their disdain for a strong central government and their struggle to free themselves from one them as their fathers had.  This leads me to my final epiphany that the difference between a "rebellion" and a "revolution" is whether or not you win.
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