Or take the health care debate we’re presently having: members of Congress have recessed now so they can go home and “listen to their constituents.” An urge they should resist because their constituents don’t know anything. At a recent town-hall meeting in South Carolina, a man stood up and told his Congressman to “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways.
I’m the bad guy for saying it’s a stupid country, yet polls show that a majority of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, or explain what the Bill of Rights is….
Can Bill Maher explain what the Tenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights is?
That practice has bothered me for a while now. It’s true, I definitely fall into the “open borders libertarian” camp, but that’s not really the point in this post.
If someone says, “I am concerned that there are so many immigrants coming in, and I think that wouldn’t happen if the border lands and roads were all privately owned,” then OK let’s have that discussion. (Anthony Gregory does a great job laying out the view I endorse.)
What I’m complaining about is when a person says, “Our government no longer listens to the will of the people! We clearly told them we want border enforcement, and they don’t listen to us. Instead they let in these millions of illegals, and educate their kids for free.”
I’ve been trying to put my finger on it, and I think my problems are twofold. First, to call an entire group of people “illegals” is the same dehumanizing trick as to call others “birthers” or “truthers.”
Second, a lot of these people using the term don’t really care about the official statutes coming out of Washington. If the politicians suddenly voted to turn all the “illegals” into “legals,” the rabble rousers wouldn’t be placated. No, they would call back in to the talk shows going nuts because, “Those fools in DC gave amnesty to all the illegals!”
So it’s not really their illegal status per se that is at issue. I’ve never heard anyone call in to Sean Hannity and refer to the signers of the Declaration as “illegals.”
An unanticipated drawback to writing this unorthodox book review is that Amazon now suggests some very childish books when I visit the site. (When I wrote the review, I had to get the picture of the Smash! Crash! cover from Amazon.)
Picture this: An Iranian man finds himself washed ashore a California beach. He stands up, dusts himself off, and starts announcing to people that they are going to die because of their fornication. He delivers the message with such conviction and lack of sympathy that it just clicks and people actually believe him. He’s not trying to reform them; if he were, then they would think he was bluffing. But no, he’s just informing them that they are going to be wiped out for their iniquities. He actually convinces all of Hollywood to empty their liquor bottles down the drain. The Iranian man’s warnings were just that compelling.
The above scenario would be impossible, right? Well, it’s true, it would be impossible for any man we’ve ever encountered to pull off such a stunt. But what if it were a man, who had just spent three days inside a whale?
Jonah must have been terrified of what the Ninevites would do to him, if he actually carried out God’s instructions. But after realizing his predicament, and knowing that God had every right to punish him by making him die of thirst over the course of days inside a pool of whale bile, Jonah was no longer so afraid. It was only after experiencing his aquatic trauma that Jonah had the ability to execute God’s plan for him.
Even God’s rebukes are designed to improve us.
The government (including the Federal Reserve) has paralyzed the credit markets. It has attacked the markets in many ways, but one particularly insidious move was the inject a massive amount of new reserves, and then pay interest to keep them bottled up.
This is one of the most perverse outcomes of the Fed’s combination of decisions. Because nominal interest rates have been pushed so low, it is relatively cheap for the Fed to turn itself into the ideal place for banks to park reserves. In a booming economy with nominal interest rates at 7%, it would be very expensive for the Fed to bribe backs into restricting their loan portfolio. But not now, with the fed funds rate hovering at 0%.
In yet another case where the government creates the very problem it was (supposedly) trying to solve, check out this graph. Remember, the unprecedented actions were justified as a way to patch up the “credit crunch” and to unclog or unfreeze the credit lines on which businesses rely.
Isn’t it ironic, then, that–as the graph shows–bank lending didn’t go down until after Bernanke shot the moon? There was no “credit crunch” before that intervention.
There is one group of people in America who truly care about social injustice, but they don’t consider the violation of property rights to be high on the list. That’s why they approve government programs that involve redistribution.
On the other hand, there are Americans who take property rights seriously; they get tingles when they watch Russell Crowe tell his boy in Cinderella Man(paraphrasing) “We don’t take food from the butcher that isn’t ours, because that’s stealing, and we don’t steal. Not ever.” And yet, these same people don’t really get all worked up about police brutality, or the fact that some people are living under bridges while others eat filet mignon.
(Note that the above two groups aren’t exhaustive–there are Americans who care about property rights and want to help the sick and the poor. But the above two groups catch a lot of people.)
What’s ironic is that both groups would see their objectives better satisfied, if they paid more heed to the concerns of the other. If the first group really took property rights seriously, and therefore couldn’t support any government “social” programs that relied on coercion, then as if by magic there wouldn’t be so many people living under bridges, and there wouldn’t be millions of people who couldn’t afford health insurance.
By the same token, if people in their capacity as private citizens got more involved with “making the world a better place”–through voluntary means–then their opponents on Election Day might be more willing to let things run their course, rather than voting in a political “solution.”
==> Related to the above musings, Anthony Gregory has an article at LRC explaining how the power elites have used the two-party system to constantly grow the size of government with every successive administration. (Those are my words, not his.)
Someone who is working on these matters emailed me in regard to this article. Here is a self-explanatory portion of my response. I’m trying to show the problems of “treating our grandchildren as just as entitled to happiness as we are.” In other words, I’m trying to show why you need to use market interest rates when comparing present costs of emission cutbacks, with future benefits of averted climate damage. (You might want to do a rights-based approach, not a cost/benefit. That’s fine, but if you are going to do a cost/benefit, then you need to use a discount rate, arguably the market’s.)
OK so let’s say that we have decided we’re going to limit GHG
emissions today and this will cause our (conventional) GDP to drop by
$1 billion. Someone says, “Wow, that’s a lot of money. Is the program
worth the high cost?”
The proponent says, “Yeah, it sure is! Our scientists tell us that our
policy will spare our grandchildren climate change, and our economists
tell us that the damage we are thereby averting would be priced at $3
billion at the time it occurs. So we’re spending $1 billion today to
spare our kids $3 billion in damages, as they would have appraised
Then the critic says, “Are you nuts? Instead of cutting back our
output, let’s go ahead and produce that $1 billion in extra GDP, but
then we’ll put $200 million of it into a safe investment earning 3
percent (after inflation) per year. One hundred years from now, that
will be worth $3.7 billion, which we’ll bequeath to our grandkids. So
everyone is better off! We only lose $200 million this year, instead
of the $1 billion you suggested. And our grandkids are happier too.
Sure, they’ve got $3 billion in climate damages to deal with, but
they’ve got an extra $3.7 billion in wealth to deal with it.”
As Oprah-esque as it sounds to say this, I think there were really just a handful of teachers who really influenced the way I now view the world. And one of them was Gary Wolfram, in his Public Choice class at Hillsdale College.
I am still amazed at Wolfram’s abilities. If my memory serves, he had to give an opening lecture in the big auditorium to the incoming freshmen class. And not only was he hilarious, but he was hilarious in the midst of giving a lecture on political economy. In particular, he pointed out the crazy, unintended consequences of government measures.
For example, seatbelt laws can actually do little to reduce traffic injuries, while they definitely put bicyclists and pedestrians in more danger. (I leave the proof as an exercise to the reader.)
But my favorite example of the night, was his discussion of “three strikes and you’re out,” some feel-bad (get it?) law-and-order gimmick that had recently been put into effect. This was a while ago, but I think I have the details right: Under this new rule, a federal judge had to automatically give life in prison to anyone convicted of his third felony. At first that sounds OK, but then somebody informs you that a high school senior was charged with a felony for bringing a smokebomb to school. I found that story after 45 seconds of googling.
Do you really think it’s right to take away all discretion from judges during sentencing, if someone has committed the equivalent of three smokebomb pranks? Is it really just that that person gets life in prison? Because that’s what will happen, if “three strikes” is in place. You can’t hope that “oh they’d override the rule” to prevent that outcome. That’s the whole point; you’re taking away the judges’ ability to use commonsense, to realize that the statutes as written were not intended to yield this massive punishment on this particular defendant, and so the judge will ignore the sentencing guidelines. “Three strikes” takes away this power, so as to keep those effete liberal justices from legislating from the bench. “Three strikes” removes yet another buffer between the people and the raw, arbitrary actions of the federal government. I feel much better knowing that the mandates coming from the 535 members of Congress first get refracted through the prism of scores of “activist” judges who don’t do as they’re told. Yes, in a free judicial market, where judges competed for clients who wanted to have cases heard in a reputable court, the judges would likely be extremely fastidious and could back up every decision with precedent. Their reputations–and hence livelihood–would depend on it. But when the federal government has a monopoly on the entire judicial system in the country, I’m not sure that you want the people applying the rules to do what their told.
But I digress. Wolfram’s main argument against “three strikes” was that it gives the guy with two felony convictions an incentive to kill all the witnesses if he decides to hold up a liquor store. That person knows that if he gets arrested again, he’s spending life in prison. So he’s going to make darn sure he does what he can to prevent that. The marginal cost, if you will, of killing an additional person is zero, at least in a state with no death penalty.
So even from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, if the goal is to minimize “crime,” we have to realize that the deterrence effect may indeed reduce the commission of many types of felonies. But it will probably push up the number of homicides. It’s not clear, a priori, whether “three strikes” actually decreases crime. When you throw on all the injustices that it will occur in terms of harsh penalties, it seems an obviously bad policy.
And just to round out the title of this post, let’s not forget that if you lock someone up for life, then you have to siphon yet more money from the taxpayers, to keep the slave, er, prisoner, alive. The third and final strike against “three strikes.”