I have made this point before, and been denounced by atheists and theists alike: This really is the best possible world. Yes, “free will” is involved in understanding why, but when the atheist critic says, “If your God is so good, why does He allow suffering?” it is correct to say, “Because it’s better that there is suffering.”
No, I don’t know exactly how that “works,” but that’s what the answer has to be, in my mind, or else you really can’t say that God is good and omnipotent. The atheist has a compelling point, and I think Pangloss has the appropriate answer.
My pastor at church today said as much (though I don’t know if he’d endorse the way I phrased it above) when he said something like (I’m paraphrasing slightly):
“It’s not that God made creation, it was good, then there was the Fall, and He had to turn to Plan B. No, He’s God, He never lost control for a moment. God made all of creation, and that was good and illustrated His glory, but only through the Fall, Redemption of Christ, and the coming re-creation when Christ returns, will God fully demonstrate His glory. The re-creation will be more glorious than the initial creation.”
Then he went on to say (I really like this guy, by the way) that he doesn’t understand how that can be, and it doesn’t make sense, but: “It’s the truth.”
How can you not like her? I really hope this is her real personality.
Editor’s note: I recently carpooled with Adam on a trip from Nashville to Atlanta to see a performance by Jordan Page. I asked Adam how he had come to his current political views and thought his answer–which centered on his time in the military in Afghanistan–was quite profound. I asked him to share his thoughts, which he has written up below. His full bio appears at the end of the article. For a similar story, see Joseph Fetz’s guest post on his time in the Navy. –RPM
by A.G. House
God bless America–the land of the free, and the greatest nation to ever exist on the face of the earth. Peace, freedom, and prosperity are part of what make America the world’s bastion of opportunity. America has the freest form of government, the best intentions for the freedom of people around the world, and the most sincere, trustworthy public servants who stand for the rule of law which protects our freedom and safety.
The above are all sentiments that we hear and sometimes blindly accept and even parrot. They are popular statements which usually bring cheers from the crowds who like the sound of what they hear. But, are these jingoistic sentiments even accurate reflections of America? As good as being told that we’re exceptional and made to feel part of an exceptional demographic (like “Americans”) may be, what part of the “greatness of America lore” is simply the wishful thinking of people with an affinity for freedom?
Time and again, we’ve heard politicians use the rhetoric of liberty to appeal to the voters who wish to vote for freedom–only to be disappointed when any given politician is then elected to office and we quickly realize that all that freedom rhetoric doesn’t seem to mean to the newly-elected public official what it means to you and me, or what we thought it meant to the candidate for whom we voted. Truly, American elections are a futile exercise in wishful thinking. These elections may also be the height of insanity, as we continue to repeat the process while possibly expecting different results. Maybe we go to the voting booth with the stars & stripes on our chest and the Constitution in our hearts for what we hope and wish it meant, but failing to realize we’re voting for illusions while the reality of the encroaching state only continues to balloon regardless of which new politician takes office.
Who could blame us for wanting the things politicians promise us when wooing the vote? A politician says, “America is the greatest country in the world,” and the crowd cheers. Who wouldn’t vote for that? A politician says, “I want America to remain the most free nation on earth, and with the strongest military to protect it.” Flags wave in approval and people get emotionally charged when we hear someone wants to help us be free, safe, and strong. Who wouldn’t vote for that? Isn’t it only human nature to want to be able to do what you want as an adult with your own opinions and ways of doing things? Isn’t it only natural for the human animal to want to feel strong enough to meet life’s challenges, and to be able to hold on to a sense of security (sometimes even if one knows it is a false sense of security)? Politicians on the campaign trail often speak in generalities which they know will appeal to the positive emotions of the voters, much like an emcee at a pep rally preaches to the home-team choir and raises all the fans and supporters to their feet for standing ovations with soaring but meaningless rhetoric like, “those pansies in Ruralville are going to piss their pants when they see the red and blue colors of the Urbanopolis Skullcrushers coming!” People then line up at the gates and spend money to watch their beloved team put the hurt on an opposing ball-club, and it’s not so dissimilar when politicians rant about how military and police personnel are going to “kick the bad guys’ ass.” If only reality were that simple and clear-cut.
It can be an earth-shattering proposition for one who is willing to challenge his/her own cognitive dissonance that maybe all the wonderful things we wish (and maybe were even taught at one time) that America stood for were actually true. First of all, it is important to understand that there can be a difference between loving your government and loving your country. It is in this vein of thought that we more accurately understand the sentiment that a patriot is someone who loves his country enough to defend his fellow countrymen from their own government (things may have been very different if the Germans had stood up to the Nazi state before it was too late to save millions of lives). It is not the symbols, buildings, entitlement programs, uniforms, military might, bureaucracies, and political parties which make America great; whatever “greatness” means, and whatever America has of it, comes only when decisions are made which respect the natural rights and civil liberties of the people therein residing. Very seldom does any politician or bureaucrat anywhere make such a decision. Whatever may be the level of “American exceptionalism,” it only manifests when the size, scope, power, budget, and authority of the state shrinks–and most of us have never seen this phenomenon take place in any meaningful way in American government in our lifetime. To the contrary, the recent history of America has been one of global military dominance and imperial overseas occupations, irresponsible budget-busting quick-fixes in classic corporatist fashion, endless new wars declared on the American people by our own government in the name of the “war on drugs” and/or the “war on terror” or whatever, and a massive unbridled police state to harass and intimidate the American people and throw us in jails and prisons for non-violent victimless “crimes” in record numbers rivaling any tyrannical empire to ever exist on the face of the earth. In the face of all the assaults on our freedoms by our own government on so many fronts, the patriot is not the one who stands with the latest whims of the mindless and oppressive state–the patriot is the one who stands with the people and our inalienable right to live free, to follow one’s own conscience, and to peacefully pursue each their own individual version of happiness without violating the same rights of others. To the true patriot, no man/woman is forced to bow before the president, a king, a flag, a god, or anyone/anything else. This is partially why the patriot whose work you’re reading right now has changed perspective so much, and why my patriotism leads me not to defend the State, but to defend myself and fellow freedom-loving Americans and our rights from the assault by the State.
I was recently asked to explain a bit about my political evolution by a certain economist who was part of the inspiration for the piece of writing you’re now reading. Though my over 20 years of habitual obsession with learning about all things political could fill volumes, I gave a few brief high points which helped me see things from a different angle which I will touch on here.
While serving with the 173rd Airborne in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan 2007-08, I became keenly aware that the police were not always the well-meaning and respectable public servants we all want to believe are trust-worthy and with the best intentions. As much as some may want to give the patrolman on the ground the benefit of the doubt, it is irresponsible and even dangerous not to keep a watchful and critical eye on the people we send out in uniforms with badges and guns to enforce the laws on the peaceful American people whose rights are supposed to be inalienable. In Afghanistan, the Afghan National Police are the prime policing force but most of the officers have committed or at least have been accused of crimes.
You need not look far to find examples of Afghan police setting up rogue checkpoints to shake down peaceful unarmed travelers for money, even stealing basic essentials, and forcing travelers to perform sexual favors for safe passage. If you were an American soldier who was expected to protect your “ally” Afghan National Police partners in the event of a village uprising against your police allies, how might you feel knowing that the uprising may have something to do with Afghan police stealing from and raping villagers under the color of law? Putting on the uniform comes with responsibility to protect, serve, and exercise restraint of force. Regardless of any difference one wants to use to poke holes in this American/Afghan police comparison of apples and oranges, the fact still remains that humans with uniforms, badges, and guns in America are just as susceptible to becoming drunk with their authority as humans with uniforms, badges, and guns in Afghanistan. This realization has opened my perspective from the one learned as a child to respect police officers as friendly professionals, and to remember that narcissistic megalomania is drawn to positions of authority and power such as might be found wearing the colors of the government’s own “gun-toting gang of the state.”
Another eye-opener for me came when first returning from Afghanistan to my post in Italy in August of 2008, at the height of the TARP [Troubled Asset Relief Program] debacle and 2008 presidential race. Though I hadn’t yet taken a lot of interest in understanding the particulars of how monetary policy works in the United States, I understood enough to know that a massive inflationary injection into the market by the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” was blatantly contradictory to every principle of free market capitalism and sound monetary policy imaginable. Just on the surface, it was morally reprehensible to me to see that people who had worked hard and made sacrifices to squirrel away a little money for retirement for many decades were going to have their nest-eggs broken and scrambled and divided out via the value lost by the ensuing cost of living increases. I was glued to the news over the course of several months watching in horror as politicians who had previously claimed to believe in free markets and capitalism came out in defense of TARP and other bailouts which nobody who has a basic understanding of free-market capitalism could possibly reconcile.
When the MIAC [Missouri Information Analysis Center] report was released, which was a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document identifying returning war veterans as high risk candidates for domestic terrorism, it felt very much like I had entered the Twilight Zone and trapped in a real-life version of George Orwell’s 1984 or some other dystopic alternate reality. Talk about a slap in the face to millions of service-members who risked life and limb to “fight terrorists.” If 2+2 = 4, then does 2+2 actually equal 5 if the government passes a law that says so? Or, does 2+2 = 4 regardless of what ridiculous law some foolish bureaucrat passes? While I was doing what I believed to be my part to defend the chance for freedom of my country in a combat zone, the political elites who sent me were literally auctioning off our freedom on the government block to the highest bidder for personal gain (follow the money), and calling me and the other people fighting a war for our country possible enemy suspects.
My childish and naive illusions about American exceptionalism and unparalleled freedom have only been further challenged since then. One of the most recent and unbelievable turn of events in my opinion is the arming of Al Qaeda in Syria by the United States government. It is absolutely unconscionable to me that the Obama administration (with the help of Republicans like Senators John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), & Bob Corker (TN) I might add) is literally handing over small arms and other weapons to Al Qaeda in Syria while Al Qaeda is in a hot war with the United States and are still exchanging gunfire with American soldiers all over the globe in places like Afghanistan. As much as I admire the honorable intentions of many who consider joining the military, and I don’t consider it my business to interfere in such a huge personal decision, it seems to me that now may be the time for anyone and everyone in the military to be a conscientious objector. When the commander-in-chief is giving guns to the guy shooting at you, you may want to reconsider working for that commander-in-chief, as he is a treasonous oath-breaker possessing no integrity or moral authority with which to lead.
If one still insists on defining patriotism in blindly obedient and collectivist jingoistic terms, you can count me out. On that definition of “patriotism,” I’m a proud seditious enemy of the State. But, if one defines patriotism as a passion for the shared freedom and liberty of all of humanity (even from corrupt oppressive governments), then color me patriotic.
A.G. House is an Afghanistan war veteran and former licensed minister (UPCI), who has become an outspoken skeptic, peace advocate, and involved himself in many other issues which he believes affect the individual freedoms of the people whose constitutional rights he took an oath to defend. He currently resides in the heart of Tennessee with his companion dog ”Liberty,” where he is recovering from PTSD, enjoys the therapeutic hobbies of gardening, creative writing, playing drums in the heavy metal band OUTLAW SERENADE, and other forms of artistic expression \m/
Scott Sumner has a hilarious analysis of the New York Times’ views on filibusters over the years. Here’s Scott (and I’m not indenting it because it would get too confusing):
============ Start Scott Sumner quotation ==========
PPS. Here’s the NYT endorsing the Senate’s filibuster vote:
In a 52-to-48 vote that substantially altered the balance of power in Washington, the Senate changed its most infuriating rule and effectively ended the filibuster on executive and judicial appointments. . . .
This vote was long overdue.
And here’s what the NYT said in 2005:
A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the “nuclear option” in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton’s early agenda. But we were still wrong. To see the filibuster fully, it’s obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide.
That’s right. During the Clinton Administration the NYT opposed the filibuster. When Bush took over they realized they’d made a horrible mistake, and that the filibuster actually was a wise policy. No, it was more than a wise policy:
But its existence goes to the center of the peculiar but effective form of government America cherishes.
And now that the Dems are back in power the NYT recognizes that they were right all along, and that their 2005 apology was misguided.
============== End Scott Sumner quotation ============
So I think we can all appreciate the humor in the above. However, let me raise a concern: When we teach basic economic principles, Austrian economists often stress “methodological individualism” and may even use examples such as, “Japan bombed the United States” to illustrate sloppy thought and language. We stress that it is always individuals who act.
So, does that present a problem for Scott’s analysis above? In other words, before we chuckle, do we have to (at least) go make sure it’s the same group of people who wrote the three editorials in question?
What about more generally, if a libertarian wants to say something like, “You don’t think the USG would round up militia people and put them in detention camps because they’re threats? You know it locked up Japanese Americans during World War II, right?”
As with my ill-fated link to Pamela Stubbart’s comment, I’m not here “blowing up” standard Austro-libertarianism, I’m just pointing out what is at least (but perhaps at most) a surface tension in the typical discussion of certain topics.
I am going to regret this with 99% confidence, but I was intrigued by a Facebook post from Pamela J. Stubbart (reprinted with her permission). She wrote:
Dear Libertarians Who Are Squabbling About Rape,
N.b., if “tacit consent” isn’t a satisfactory standard for the state’s moral legitimacy, then maybe it’s not good enough for the moral legitimacy of a sexual encounter, either?
I think she really did put her finger (snarkily) on something that is problematic in the standard libertarian responses on these two issues. On the one hand, I think most (male white heterosexual) libertarians would say, “It’s not obviously rape unless the woman really makes her objections quite explicit. She can’t go through the motions, then complain about it later on, after the fact.”
Yet, the same libertarians would probably say, “Just because I send in my taxes, obey traffic cops, go through the TSA scanners, and so on with my head down, doesn’t mean I consent to any of this stuff. It’s just not worth me fighting it individually.”
Last thing, before all hell breaks loose in the comments (and I’m serious, I am going to be deleting stuff if it’s obscene/outrageous): I am not claiming that it’s impossible to reconcile the two things. All I’m saying is that there is an apparent tension between the way a typical (white male heterosexual) libertarian would talk about each issue, if he didn’t realize they were being compared to each other for consistency.
We were all in Chile, they were serving some sort of alcoholic drink, and well, this happened…
Here’s the website.
UPDATE: In all seriousness, I should clarify that those of us promoting “JUSTUS” (or some of them spell it “JUST US”) are not telling people to mislead attorneys when they ask you questions, and we’re certainly not recommending that people vote a certain way in a case. (In my plug above, I was assuming the people who subscribe to my YouTube channel are against the drug war, so I was illustrating with that example.) Rather, we are just letting people know about the concept of jury nullification. Thus people who want to “do something” about what they view as an unjust legal system have the option of not running from jury duty.
I don’t normally like to just copy and paste somebody else’s blog post, but Chris Rossini at EPJ penned a work of brilliance. I had read all of these Krugman posts, but didn’t think to lay them out this way:
I’m proud to announce that Truth and Paul Krugman have crashed into one another. It’s in regards to Healthcare.gov, but hey, when worlds collide, it’s only right to recognize it.
So let’s look at the timeline (my emphasis):
Oct. 1 – “The glitches will get fixed.”
Oct. 14th – “Obviously they messed up the programming big time, which is kind of a shock. But this will get fixed…”
Nov. 6 – “If the bugs in healthcare.gov get fixed…”
AND NOW …. Drumroll please!
Nov. 20 – “But the future of the reform depends not on policy per se but on whether the IT issues can be fixed well enough soon enough, a subject on which I have zero expertise.”
There we go…Krugman has no clue. He had no business saying that anything would work. It took almost 2 months, but he got there.
UPDATE: According to a frequent commenter, the above doesn’t really mean much; it is hardly a good “gotcha.” I don’t know what else Krugman would need to say, to show he is completely full of it and shows no remorse in his twisting opinions. Does it matter if I point out, that the first sentence of his November 20 post was: “I haven’t been writing about the healthcare.gov thing, for the simple reason that I have nothing to say.” ?
I mean, that’s an outright lie, unless you append the phrase, “Starting at the point at which I stopped confidently telling my readers healthcare.gov would be fixed, I haven’t been writing about the healthcare.gov thing…”
In his presentation at IER’s Carbon Tax conference earlier this year, Ken Green argued that it was a misnomer to refer to “taxing bads” in this context, because (given our current technology and infrastructure) carbon emissions are an unavoidable feature of our economy.
Here at Free Advice, we got into an argument over this rhetorical move. In a separate post, I asked if there were a qualitative difference between bank robberies and carbon emissions, in the sense of being an economic “good” or “bad.” For the purposes of the argument, I stipulated that we were relying a neoclassical cost/benefit framework (as opposed to, say, a Rothbardian framework of libertarian property rights), and that the “consensus” approach to understanding the physical impact of carbon emissions was correct.
Because I deal with climate policy so much in my “day job,” I am very interested in thinking this thing through. So here are some comments to bolster my original claim that there is a legitimate sense in which Ken Green can say carbon emissions are a “good” while something like a bank robbery is indeed a “bad.”
==> If you define the terms to render carbon emissions a “bad,” then you need to be careful that you haven’t just classified labor and investment as “bads” as well. After all, labor carries disutility, and investment requires abstinence from consumption. If that happens, then the standard pro-carbon tax claim that we should do a tax swap in order to “tax bads, not goods” falls apart. So to really pounce on Green, it’s not enough to define “bad” in a way that includes carbon emissions. You also have to define “bad” in a way that excludes labor. I’m not saying this is impossible, just pointing out that the task is trickier than it might first have seemed.
==> Given the IPCC-type values, a government with perfect and costless enforcement powers would set the amount of carbon emissions ABOVE zero. The total (private plus social) benefits of the early units of carbon emissions vastly exceed the total costs. The (alleged) problem is that the total costs exceed the private costs, and so in a decentralized market, carbon emissions will exceed their (positive) optimal level.
==> Given plausible preferences, a government with perfect and costless enforcement powers would set the amount of bank robberies at zero. The social benefits of the even the first unit of bank robberies is (I imagine) well below the social cost. To see this, consider: When a bank robber steals $1,000, he gains $1,000 and the bank loses $1,000. On that score, it’s a wash. Beyond that, the psychic thrill to the bank robber is (presumably) lower than the cumulative anxiety to the people in the bank experiencing the robbery. (Austrians, give me a pass on this; we’re measuring it in dollar terms according to “willingness to pay” and I’m just thinking through the mainstream logic here.) It’s true that we can also describe the problem as the social costs exceeding the private costs in the decentralized outcome, but it’s because the equilibrium level of bank robberies will exceed their optimal level of ZERO.
==> In a more realistic setting where the government’s powers of enforcement are imperfect and costly, it is true that the “optimal” level of bank robberies is now positive. However, this is a qualitatively different type of analysis from the typical Pigovian treatment of carbon emissions. In the latter, the “costs of further reducing carbon emissions” is due to the economic harm imposed by restricting output; it’s not the the carbon emitters are dodging EPA agents, and the government is spending vast sums trying to hunt them down. In contrast, with bank robberies, when we say “it would be too expensive to further reduce the level,” we aren’t talking about the forfeited production of goods that are now not possible, because that marginal bank robbery didn’t happen. No, we’re talking about the channeling of more resources into the punishment of bank robberies.
==> There are various ways of approaching the matter, and some of them would indeed spit out the answer that carbon emissions and bank robberies are both economic “bads” (or “goods” for that matter). My point in this post is that I think there is a legitimate approach in which carbon emissions end up being classified as “goods” and bank robberies remain “bads.”
==> A clarification: According to some models (such as Richard Tol’s, which was one of the three picked by the Obama Administration Working Group), manmade climate change will confer net benefits through the year 2060 or so. However, this beneficial warming is already baked into the cake. As Tol describes it, these are “sunk benefits.” Thus, you wouldn’t (in this framework) subsidize carbon emissions now. The marginal emissions of CO2 right now still carries a social cost. (But remember, even if the first unit of CO2 emitted today has a positive social cost, that doesn’t imply that it is a “bad.” Because the private marginal benefit could be much much higher than the private marginal cost on that first unit of emissions today, the private marginal benefit is stil much much higher than the [private MC + social MC].)
==> In conclusion: It’s bad to rob a bank, but don’t feel guilty using a getaway car.