Hallowed Ground of Gettysburg

America is blessed with a history graced by phenomenal political orators.  One of America’s most prized political speeches occurred this day, one hundred and forty seven years ago (seven score and seven years ago): the Gettysburg Address.  The number of words used barely reaches three hundred, a feat that most of us at thelobbyist cannot even endure.  The length of time was said to be around two minutes, and President Lincoln was not even the featured speaker. 

One of my idols, Dr. Walter Berns, remarked in his book Making Patriots that President Lincoln was unique in American history; he helped the nation realize that the Constitution could not be properly understood without the Declaration as her foundation.  Lincoln died for this belief, earning him the somber title of  “statesman, poet, and . . . the martyred Christ of democracy’s passion play.” 

Not everyone shares these sentiments, and I eagerly await fellow lobbyist Nick’s rebuttal.  Thomas J. DiLorenzo and the other paleo-cons have rather unflattering things to say about Dr. Berns and Lincoln admirers, going so far as to make claims that Dr. Berns and other scholars of his ilk are secret fascistsI can find such slandering on the signs of Lyndon LaRouche crack-pots as I visit the MVA… but I digress.

President Lincoln penned and then spoke words that have stood the test of time, and even this day the spirit of those words transcends modern politics.  That is what made his rhetoric so powerful: he spoke in terms of the high.  This does not mean that he was apolitical, and he did not seek a depoliticizing of history like our current President.  Au contraire, he met his adversaries head on and threw the gauntlet at the feet of slavery and demanded that America be unified according to her principles and the promises she made to all men under the omnipresent eye of Providence. 

I used to give Capital tours in DC, and I used to love to talk about how it was during President Lincoln’s tenure as Commander in Chief that saw the completion of the Capital dome we see today.  Critics would reprimand him for spending the money and using the iron necessary to construct the behemoth cave, but Lincoln said that he wanted those across the river in Confederate Virginia to see that the nation would be unified again. 

Please use this opportunity to read through one of America’s most prized oratorical relics, and visit American Rhetoric the website:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.



Losing What We Don’t Have?

Christopher Hitchens and S.E. Cupp share a common denominator: they are atheists.  Of course, calling Christopher Hitchens an atheist does not do the man justice, as he can be considered anti-theistmore appropriately; and candidly so.  What I always found interesting about Hitchens, and other anti-theists, is why they spend so much time Raging Against Godif they don’t believe in a God?  Another well know writer and I were talking at CPAC about this subject, and he told me a line that went along like, “for an atheist, arguing against the existence of God is like arguing against the existence of Unicorns.”  Why would someone like Hitchens (and this anti-theistic Classical Liberal blogger) spend so much time trying to disprove the existence of something he is fairly certain, does not exist?  Christopher gives his ruminations on why religion is worth fighting in this interview, and ultimately uses trusty hyperbole to mischaracterize mainstream religion.  I would highly recommend Hitchens’ debate with Dinesh D’Souza if you want to get really dirty in the nitty-gritty about religion, morality, nihilism, and dangerous truths. 

S.E. Cupp is an atheist of another school.  I would dare say she is of the Lockean persuasion (although it is also argued that Locke was a Deist, or agnostic, or what would pass as an Unitarian today): you know, those atheists who don’t find it necessary to convert others to atheism while railing against those religious people who try to convert non-religious people to join their own ranks.  I would question the sincerity of Ms. Cupp’s devotion perhaps, especially after her appearance on Hannity where she reiterated her openness to conversion in the future, “but right now, I am an atheist.”  S.E. and Hannity’s exchange reminded me of George Will’s acknowledgement of his own lack faith in an interview on Colbert.  As a matter of fact, S.E. claims her atheism contributes to the argument in her book, because she does not “have a dog in the fight” (she’s into NASCAR, so I don’t think that was a Michael Vick jab, Eagles fans).  Who better to write on the gradual tearing down of religion (organized or not) by uber-Enlightenment types than an impartial observer?  With this in mind, S.E. Cupp went out to write about the media, liberalism (modern) and their quest to destroy religion in America in her book Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Religion. 

The crux of my own thoughts is less about the book itself, as I must admit to not having the chance to read it yet (I am just way behind on my reading list, and some of the books require re-reading and slow reading).  The question that I want to pose to Social Conservatives, Theological Conservatives, Postmodern Conservatives, any Conservative who believes that a religious element remains in our society, government, or culture is: is it to the benefit of the religious Conservatives to have an atheist at bat for them?  I think it is noble for S.E. to jump feet first into this fray, as she notes on Hannity how she finds it odd that atheists force a set of beliefs on those who are religious, when atheism is supposed to be a lack of beliefs.  John Locke noted in his Second Treatise that it is better for an atheist to go on adhering to the religion of the land, because that atheist loses nothing in doing so.  It is unjust to force a religious person to purge his or her religion from his or her life, because a religious person will believe that he or she will have to bereligious in order to reap the rewards in the afterlife (or in most cases, incur the wrath).  I do believe that S.E. does a service to popular culture by writing this book and approaching the topic from her non-religious angle; but ultimately, I believe her atheism hurts her cause.  What is the number one reason to support religion if you do not believe in it?  It is the opiate of the masses!  Surely, if religion is not true, it is still a damn fine tool in controlling those unthinking masses.  At the heart of S.E.’s argument is that tiny acknowledgement of this truth.  People who are fellow non-believers can use her atheism as fodder to make the argument that her, and people like her, only care to use religion for its utility.  Chris Hitchens makes this point to Dinesh D’Souza, how considerate of Dinesh to suggest that religion is good because it is useful.  Dinesh made many more arguments than this, but Chris Hitchens, and others like him, are very keen on singling out that one point and using it to inflame people against supporters of religion as though religious people only hope to keep their heathen compatriots in check. 

I find nothing to be of more interest than these permanent questions.  They have been going on for thousands of years, and will continue until we fade away at the conclusion of our short, seemingly meaningless existence in this moment of time.  I must admit, in the interest of full disclosure, I am rather infatuated with Ms. Cupp (how could you not be?).  I believe that she is fighting a good fight, but I also believe that for those people who are Social Conservatives, there cannot be any atheists in their foxholes.  It makes her argument a bit more hollow, not to be confused with hallow


What it Means To Be A Conservative

From Austin Russell:

At times, it can appear almost impossible to identify the fundamental philosophical precepts that define the Conservative—or, as it has come to be called by many popular news sources— the Tea-Party Movement. Many dismiss it as nothing more than a marketing gimmick employed by the Republican Party to turn public sentiment against the current administration. Indeed, some argue that the only ideal underlying the movement is outrage. Politico reported yesterday morning—without providing any direct quote—that Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) himself, a popular figure within the movement, suggested that “the GOP should be wary of aligning themselves too closely to protesters who can be unpredictable in their actions and messaging.” The obvious inference is that the Movement lacks a firm philosophical leg upon which to stand.  Additionally, The New York Times yesterday published a criticism of Governor Mitt Romney for his participation in the formation of the Massachussetes socialized healthcare program. It calls Romney “One of the most prominent supporters of the main ideas behind the health care plan passed by the Democratic Senate”—equivocating support for state government social programs with that of federal social programs in an attempt to demonstrate that “the [Republican] [P]arty’s voice has been dominated by people who make things up, and then condemn the rhetorical phantoms of their making.” While the article does not directly refer to the Conservative Movement, it does place Rush Limbaugh, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Mitt Romney, and Governor Sarah Palin into the same philosophical camp, once more implying that there is no true difference between the Conservative Movement and the Republican Party. The reality, of course, is that nothing could be further from the truth.

Barack Obama’s ascendance to the presidency, combined with the Democratic takeover of Congress did not, as many suppose, signal a desire on the part of the American people to empower, much less to expand, the size of the federal government. Rather, the continued expansion of the federal government under President George Bush and the Republican Congress, despite campaign promises to the contrary, convinced voters that the Republican Party was, at the very least, dishonest. It was upon Democratic promises of responsibility, accountability and change upon which so many relied for their vote. After all, if the previous administration had practiced a policy favoring bigger government, would not a change from such require a policy favoring smaller government? Unfortunately, the reality was not, as many supposed, a choice between big and small, but rather, big and bigger. In an effort to understand and correct their mistake, Americans have taken it upon themselves to more narrowly define what it is they actually want. And what do they want? The answer is obvious: a smaller, less intrusive, cleaner and more efficient federal government.  That is why the latest Gallup poll found that an overwhelming majority (40%) of Americans identified their political ideology as conservative.

The new movement favors principles over individuals and values what politicians do over what they say or how they present themselves. In short, conservatives care most about what happens rather than who is in power. If Barack Obama were, today, to begin supporting the ideals of smaller government, and individual liberty—and not only in word, but in deed—there is no doubt that those same conservatives that now seek his political head would rally behind him in numbers greater than those following his election fourteen months ago.

Operation: Just Cause

In December of 1989, George H.W. Bush (or Bush Senior for the liberals who do not know the proper application of a generational?suffix) sent the XVII Airborne Corps, Joint Special Operations Command and numerous other Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force units into the country of Panama.? The operation was launched in an effort by then-President Bush to depose of Manuel Noriega (the de facto leader of the Panamanian government at the time) and rescue Americans who had been trapped in the country during those turbulent times.? The operation was named Operation Just Cause, leaving some critics of the engagement to quip that the operation’s name was the only argument H.W. Bush had to justify the action (I will leave the conspiracy theories about Skulls and Bones, Mena Airport, Bush, the CIA and aliens out for the sake of time, much to the chagrin of Alex Jones supporters).

What makes a war “just”?? Surely this is a topic that has been debated and mulled over for as long as men have been around on this earth (because women do not go to war, of course; war is a bi-product if irrational manliness).? Can anyone truly justify a war to every one’s liking?? Is the nature of the state to do what is right for the population of that state, no matter what that means for other states (as the term state is understood post-Machiavelli) as we see with the realists?? Or can a state only be justified in going to war if such an engagement is for the benefit of humanity as a whole (by asking “pretty please” from the UN)?? Then again, it was once said that “those who invoke humanity on their side mean to cheat” (Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political).?

Apparently, Americans are having a sort of crisis of conscience.? According to a recent Rasmussen Poll, only 50% percent of our fellow countrymen and women feel that the War in Afghanistan is a “Just” war.? This goes along with the Quinnipiac University poll that came out about a week and a half ago, which nearly reaches the exact same conclusion.? Support for the war in the first year preceding the September 11th attacks of 2001 was close to near unanimous approval, with Gallup showing 89-93% stating that Afghanistan was not a mistake in January of 2002.? So it appears that Americans (Democrats and Republicans mind you) are waning on their support for a war that they felt was necessary in 2001 and 2002.? What has changed?

If the Afghan War was justified then, what makes it less so now?? Surely we are there for the same reason, since we did not go over and overthrow the Taliban and then leave only to return as “occupiers”.? What is it that makes this war “unjust” then?? What is “justice” to these people who?have decided that it is no more than a mere term to be thrown around in the height of passion following an attack on 3,000 innocent people?? Was it only then just because we went in and overthrew a tyrannical regime that was directly tied to forces responsible for bloodshed on our own soil?? Now is it “unjust” solely for the reason that we are being told by the news and liberal (and libertarian and some conservative) influences that we have overstayed our welcome?? Which is the more justified action: going in and sacking the regime of a country to leave it in anarchy and decay; or staying and building it up to the point that their government can run effectively and more justly than before?? Who are the 21% of voters that have obtained this retroactive prescience? and decided they are against it after they were for it?? I can understand those people who were against it from the beginning, and that is because they feel that no war is ever justified.? They should be acknowledged and applauded for their principled stand, but let us not forget the ignorance that must be evident in such a dogmatic stance.?

I must admit that it is polls like these that create a feeling of futility in the pit of my stomach.? Perhaps a majority of Americans should not be asked a question about wars and their relation to justice until they better understand what justice is.? The slow decay of support for this necessary war is a sad barometer of the fortitude possessed by the American people to support the men and women overseas, their families at home, and the mission we sent them to do eight years ago.? In the end, those 50% of Americans who now question the mission and its necessity, are not doing those soldiers or their families justice.?


Nudge and the Subjectivity of Ends

Note: The below (long) post has little to do with current politics, but it may nonetheless be of interest to some of this blog’s readers.? It is a critique of “libertarian paternalism”, the program proposed by Richard Thaler and (Obama appointee) Cass Sunstein in their popular 2008 book Nudge.? I suspect, perhaps without warrant, that libertarian paternalism is merely the latest paint job applied by progressives to socialism.

I wanted to expand on one of the criticisms of Nudge that I have made elsewhere.? Namely, I criticize Thaler and Sunstein?s inability to dispense with the fundamental fact of subjective human preferences.

The authors refer to their preferred program as ?libertarian paternalism?.? I suspect this term is insincere, (perhaps merely an attempt to woo libertarians into more state-friendly territory?) since Thaler, for example, seems quite willing to endorse clearly non-libertarian paternalism.? But for argument?s sake I?ll use their nomenclature.? After all, the authors? inability to stand by their professed principles is not a rebuttal of those principles per se (though it does undermine their pat dismissal of slippery-slope arguments).

Facially, libertarian paternalism attempts to account for subjective preferences in its definition.? Paternalism, Thaler and Sunstein say, ?tries to influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves? (page 5).? This neat trick hangs subjective consumer preferences as the goal-point of all rigid government interventions.? But it gets us nowhere.

Any of the chapters could be used to demonstrate the inability of libertarian paternalism to choose a ?correct? direction in which to point consumers.? But the discussion of retirement planning (Chapter 6 ? ?Save More Tomorrow?) struck me as the most obviously futile.

Musing whether people save enough, the authors proceed accordingly (pages 108-109):

This turns out to be a complex and controversial question.? For one thing, economists do not agree about how much saving is appropriate, because they do not agree on the right level of post-retirement income.? Some economists argue that people should aim to have retirement income that is at least as high as the income enjoyed when working, because retirement years offer the opportunity for such time-intensive expensive activities as travel.? Retired people also have to worry about growing health care costs.? Others claim that retirees can use their greater time to live a more economical lifestyle: saving the money once spent on business clothes, taking the time to shop carefully and prepare meals at home, and taking advantage of senior discounts.

We do not take a strong position on this debate, but consider a few points.? It seems clear that the costs of saving too little are greater than the costs of saving too much.? There are many ways to cope with having saved too much?from retiring earlier than expected, to taking up golf, to traveling to Europe, to spoiling the grandchildren.? Coping in the opposite direction is less pleasant.? Second, we can say for sure that some people in our society are definitely saving too little?namely, those employees who are not participating at all in their retirement plan….? These folks could clearly use a nudge.

It is worth noting that the authors? language assumes that there are objective answers to the problem of savings (?how much saving is appropriate?, ?people should aim?, ?the costs of saving too little are greater?, ?for sure some are saving too little?).? This might be waved aside as a linguistic concession to readers perhaps unfamiliar with subjective preferences, were it not for the paternalistic proposal that followed.

Instead of taking an absolute objective position (that people should say X amount), Thaler and Sunstein pretend to abstain from judgment (?We do not take a strong position on this debate?), then immediately change gears and take a relative objective position!? Instead of arguing that people should say a specific amount, they argue that people should be subjected to incentives that will induce them to save more than they are currently saving.

This conclusion is absurd.? The authors are rightly unwilling to specify some ?correct amount? of retirement savings.? But absent any objective reference point, it is impossible to say whether people as a whole are spending too little.? Relative position is impossible to determine except in reference to an objective point.

Thaler and Sunstein attempt to pad their argument by referencing employer matching programs (pages 109-110):

For example, a common plan feature is that the employer will match 50 percent of the employee?s contributions up to some threshold, such as 6 percent of salary.

This match is virtually free money….

Some older American workers are also turning down ?free money??.? For such employees, joining the plan is a sure profit opportunity because they can join, then immediately withdraw their contributions without any penalty, yet keep the employer match.? Nonetheless, a study finds that up to 40 percent of eligible workers either do not join the plan at all or do not save enough to get the full match.

The existence of this ?free money? cannot, of course, justify further government intervention in savings.? Any aggregate windfall will vanish, like a mirage, if people attempt to capture it en masse.? As any economist will tell you, wages are determined by productivity.? Whether or not employees collect ?free money? is a salient factor in wages.? If more people claim the ?free money?, employers must lower wages for the elderly as a group to keep them equal to (an unchanged level of) productivity.

Moreover, these ?free money? programs likely only exist because governments have strong-armed businesses into offering them!? Thaler and Sunstein blithely accept this legislative bullying ? and nearly every regulation mentioned in the book.? But this begs the very question that the authors leave unanswered in the first place ? how much should people be saving?

Libertarian paternalism ought to reject government decisions to subsidize savers at the greater expense of consumers, if these decisions are based merely on the preferences of government bureaucrats (and we have not yet established other grounds for these programs).? The authors waste little time (for once) objecting to our government?s (non-libertarian paternalistic?) starting point in marriage laws, when they conflict with the obvious progressive goal of gay rights.? Yet more, not fewer, regulations are somehow warranted in retirement laws by consumers? ?irrational? decision not to adequately adjust to pre-existing costly (un-libertarian) government regulations that the authors never bother to justify in the first place.

The only reference Thaler and Sunstein make to consumers? retirement preferences, beyond their central appeal to the emotionally ?obvious?, is a halfhearted reference to survey data.? The authors elevate thin, aggregated poll responses into a demonstrated goal of all employees (page 108):

For what it?s worth, many employees say that they ?should? be saving more?.? It is easy to say that you ?should? be doing many good things?dieting, exercising, spending more time with your children?and people?s actions may tell us more than their words?.? But such statements are not meaningless or random.? Many people announce an intention to eat less and exercise more next year, but few say they hope to smoke more next year or watch more sitcom reruns.? We interpret the statement ?I should be saving (or dieting, or exercising) more? to imply that people would be open to strategies that would help them achieve these goals.

Of course, the authors do much more than ?offer strategies?.? They use consequence-free surveys conducted in artificial environments as a mandate for costly and inescapable regulation that will affect everyone.? And they could not do otherwise ? nothing but thin survey data could serve as an alternative to human action in determining subjective human preferences.? And a program of paternalism must reject human action as a valid basis of demonstrated preference.

This is the fundamental dilemma facing libertarian paternalists.? The paternalist must figure out what people want without reference to what people actually choose to do.? What method could possibly suffice for this?? The planner could suppose himself to simply know all preferences by virtue of his common humanity.? I expect that any program of well-intentioned paternalism will eventually regress to this level ? and the authors seem to concede this point.? But a shared human perspective does not, in itself, put a paternalist in a superior position to those he is regulating.? And, moreover, this sort of justification does not take seriously Thaler and Sunstein?s injunction that regulators make consumers better off as judged by themselves.

The only possible alternative to observed action (i.e., the market) is the survey.? It is perhaps not surprising that leftist intellectuals will favor programs that transfer authority from the market to the university psych study.? But whenever I see these proposals, I begin to suspect, as Megan McArdle likes to say, that somebody missed the socialist calculation debates.? The difficulties faced in determining preferences by poll are intractable.

As a warm-up, we have the problem of the contrapositive.? Any group of retiring consumers evaluating their position for a survey are ignorant of the opinion that they would have in some conceivable alternative position.? For example, consumers who save for their retirement cannot know the relative life satisfaction they would have if they had not saved for retirement.? Conversely, those who do not save are ignorant of the satisfaction that they would experience in the hypothetical alternative where they had saved.? Even if consumers in both situations agreed that one of the situations was preferable (for example, if both the spendthrift and the miser agreed, upon retirement, that being miserly were better) this would simply be agreement between two ignorant parties.? Their agreement would lack the objectivity reserved for the impossible individual who simultaneously experienced both alternatives (whose own judgment could yet be assailed as dynamically inconsistent!).

In any event, if the choice is made by those who have already retired, it cannot represent the preferences of those who have not yet retired.? Thaler and Sunstein avoid this and the above problem by reporting prospective, rather than retrospective, survey data.? Individuals choosing for their future remain ignorant of their actual future satisfaction, but they at least avoid the bias of uneven ignorance of outcomes inherent to the retiring, retrospective choosers. ?In this sense, the surveys are more like human action and the market.? But insurmountable difficulty remains.

Nudge recognizes that the answers that individuals give in a survey are strongly influenced by the circumstances in which the survey is conducted.? The authors? paternalistic program is, in fact, supposedly justified by this inconsistency.? On page 24, the authors note that survey respondents rated their overall happiness lower if they were first asked about their dating lives.? On page 36, they note that decisions and assessments are strongly influenced by ?framing effects? ? e.g. whether a glass is portrayed as half-full or half-empty.

So what environment is most appropriate for conducting surveys?? Should they be result-oriented?? Should the government ask questions about savings in environments aimed at encouraging support for retirement programs, as the authors encourage corporations to do throughout the book?? But this would simply assume as objective the preference that surveys are supposed to determine.? Should surveys occur in some sort of ?neutral? setting, with the pollee isolated, listing and ranking preferences as they occur to him, without any input from the pollers?? Aside from the difficulty there would be in aggregating this sort of data, why would we expect a complete and careful result from this low-pressure survey?? Why would we even expect a lack of bias ? wouldn?t the individual simply bring in with him whatever biases that clung to him the particular day of the survey?

Is the idea of a ?neutral? polling methodology coherent?? Thaler and Sunstein give no indication that it is.? So what exactly are they trying to accomplish?? Do mutable survey results give them license to simply cherry pick the one whose results they like and then ?nudge? people in a direction that was never really anything other than their own subjective preference?? If surveys ever did manage to become truly objective and comprehensive, they would likely need to be as long and onerous as those that interwar socialists of the economic calculation debates imagined would replace markets as a preference transmitting device in the Soviets? communist paradise.

Lest this piece become a novella, I want to comment on only one more problematic feature of surveys.? There is one inescapable difference between decisions made for a psych study and decisions made in the market.? You might call it a ?framing effect?, and it is one that seriously undermines the authority of all survey results.? Survey respondents do not conceive of their answers to surveys as being actual life choices. The most fundamental difference between surveys and action makes the former an unacceptable substitute for the latter.? Paternalists can only make their surveys like actual choice by discarding the surveys altogether and just permitting the market to run its course.? Instead, Thaler and Sunstein seem ready to tilt the playing field whenever a survey yields a result different from the market, as if unaware that this might simply reveal a deficiency in surveys.

A final, perhaps ill-placed, note.? Some readers may object to my use of the terms ?interference? and ?regulation? throughout this piece.? Thaler and Sunstein pretend or imply, for most of Nudge, that their interventions are ?costless? or ?nearly costless? (?nearly? being another arbitrary term open to interpretation by ? who else? ? the paternalist).? But they confess as early as page 8, in a footnote, that their interventions are not actually costless:

Alert readers will notice that incentives can come in different forms.? If steps are taken to increase people?s cognitive effort?as by placing fruit at eye level and candy in a more obscure place?it might be said that the ?cost? of choosing candy is increased.

This puts the matter too tentatively.? It must be said that increasing cognitive effort increases costs!? All costs ? from hard physical labor to selecting food in a cafeteria are ultimately experienced by individuals in terms of ?cognitive effort?.? Imposing costs in terms that are not monetized obscures but does not reduce them.? It does, of course, deny citizens a quite useful measuring heuristic: prices.? In World War II, for example, governments hid the monetary costs of maintaining large standing armies by drafting millions of men, instead of hiring them at the market wage.? In advocating for the imposition of non-monetary costs, Thaler and Sunstein merely join a storied bureaucratic tradition of dissimulation.

The Monopoly Power of Government

If you dislike the service and selection provided at your local Borders book store, you can use another merchant.? You can go to Barnes and Noble, or a small independent book-seller, or buy from Amazon.? If you don?t like the cheeseburgers at McDonald?s, you can go to Five Guys for lunch instead.? If your apartment is lousy, you can search around for a new one.? If you don?t like your doctor, you can get referred to a different one.? If you don?t like your employer, you can switch jobs.? If you don?t like your friends, you can hang out with other people.? If you don?t like your girlfriend, you can break up with her.

But if you don?t like your current government, you have to find a new country and a new bookstore, burger place, apartment, doctor, job, friends, girlfriend, and more.? You may have to learn a new language, and you will have to make expensive travel arrangements and pay shipping costs for whatever possessions you want to bring along.

This is the monopoly power of government.? There are high costs to shifting the system of laws under which we live, costs that allow our government to charge us far more for the security it provides than the cost of providing it.? These costs are exacerbated by our uncertainty, risk aversion, and limited individual knowledge of our alternatives.? The ?shareholders? of government ? some members of the controlling majority ? may benefit from the profit created by this monopoly power.? Or they may not,? if multiple overlapping majorities simultaneously extract different ?profits? from different groups.? But as a whole, society always suffers.? Economists would say that there is a ?dead-weight loss?.

From this monopoly point of view, the efficient government is one that is not able to price above its cost.? This might be achieved by states so small that people could hop between them without having to change the other circumstances of their lives.? Or it might be fostered by radical decreases in transportation costs.? If a man could live in London and work in New York without suffering any travel costs (time or money), both countries would have less leverage over him.

It is hard to predict what types of laws and regulations would be adopted by the competitive state.? But one thing seems clear.? The redistributive burden thrown on the most productive citizens of a state represents no competitive pricing of the services it provides them.? It is a monopolistic extraction of profit and odious to any person who would have a state treat its citizens equally.


Up Frum Conservatism pt. I

Conservatism is in disarray; not so much because Conservatives don?t know what to believe, but because Conservatives feel betrayed and marginalized.? This conversation has been going on now for the past two years, and in all honesty, is a bit hackneyed.? Nevertheless, one needs to just visit David Frum?s New Majority and see the constant debate between different ?Conservatives? espousing different agendas.? Debate really rages when the many liberal cowans and ease-droppers that populate the boards dedicated to ?building a Conservatism that can when again? take their pot shots at the plethora of contributors.? I bring up Frum?s website because I admire the man for his intellectual vigor and his general ability to adapt the principles of Conservatism into public policy.

I have been in many debates, in the days of my youth (what I tend to call my Rousseauian days, or less ?lucid moments? as Burke said of Rousseau), with my professors in college regarding Conservatism.? The basic debates, as I was a sophomoric chap hell bent on anything ?freedom? and ?free-market.?? I find that high-school and collegiate Conservatives tend to be such a way; much more libertarian-leaning to counter the hordes of their liberal-leaning peers.? My favorite professor, and the one who molded me into what he calls an ?Aristotelian Conservative,? argued that Conservatives have to calm down on the ?hate the government? mantra.? I of course would respond with a typical talking point of some sort, but he would elaborate concisely by explaining to me the difficulty in asking people to ?vote for my side to run the entity I despise.?? Like asking for the reigns of a wagon, but hating horses, Conservatisms degradation from respect for a government (albeit one that is smaller and more efficient), into total malice for government on all levels no matter what.? Let?s clear some things up, true Conservatism respects government and power, it is this respect that drives us to remain vigilant when it comes to those in power.? We can want a smaller and more efficient republic without promulgating total disdain for government.?

This is where the likes of Mr. Frum, and other Republicans come in.? They can take the principles of Conservatism, and turn them into policies that are much more pragmatic and less utopian than much of the liberal welfare state?s programs.? I remember reading Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again while in college and being particularly struck by his chapter on education.? It was mind-altering for me, because as I was enjoying the splendors of a small state college, I was unaware that my learning (among other things) was being subsidized on as many levels as it was (including my loving and generous parents).? I remembered being a bit upset after reading the book in its entirety because it was not as Conservative as I?d hoped.? Yet, I learned to appreciate those who could use a Conservative foundation to build programs with less adverse consequences.

My disagreement with Mr. Frum has been on the rise as of late.? To many Conservatives it feels like they are laying on the hardened floor of the political structure, gasping for air, and David Frum seems to offer a helping hand while simultaneously slipping a kick in the ribs.? I don?t mean to say that Mr. Frum does not want to see Conservatism rise ?phoenix-like? from the ashes, but his antics have led him all over the political spectrum in recent months, almost as if he were holding a witch?s guiding stick in an effort to find more voters.? It feels like it is not about Conservatism, it is about the Republican Party.? What Mr. Frum seems to neglect in his political pontificating, is that Conservatives did congeal into the Republican Party in an effort to win elections, and the Republican Party screwed them.? Gerrymandering districts was a ?Republican? thing, not what Conservatives advocated.? Wreckless spending was a Republican problem (in an effort to keep getting votes) not a Conservative one, et cetera.? Mr. Frum is advocating a Party allegiance before principled interest in my book.? I cannot say that I am all for that, though I would rather see Republicans win, because the ?good? democrats that once existed seem to be an extinct species (except in very few cases).? We need to concentrate more on articulating Conservatism, and arguing against the stereotype that Conservatism is an ideology.? This, I believe, is what Mr. Frum means to do; but he is doing it in a way that marginalizes Conservatives.? We must explain that Conservatism is a reference of mind, the anti-ideal.? Within the ranks of Conservatism does true Socratic discussion lie; and it is when we turn to Party politics that we allow the slandering to occur.? The ?if you don?t support this then you are anti-American? or ?if you Conservatives don?t support the war without question then I am writing you out of the movement? is a prime example of party over principle and country.? I believe that the Republican majority can win and would be better for the country if they stay true, but I respectfully implore Mr. Frum to stop taking pages out of the Obama Administration play book.? Conservatives are starting to feel like we?re being treated like Obama treated his ?racist? grandmother; you know the one that supported him and his mother as he grew up, only to be thrown under the bus during his campaign so he could look like he transcended racism.? It feels like Mr. Frum is not acknowledging the importance of the movement that brought the Republicans to their most powerful culmination in history, and we do not want to end up under a Greyhound as well?

There is a post of David Frum’s from The Week that initiated this thought.? More to come…


Reminder: “States’ Rights” is Not a Position on Abortion

My center-right friends frequently try to avoid taking a position on abortion.? “It should be decided by the states,” they say – and then refuse to elaborate.? I understand why they want this to pass for a fully fleshed position.? They agree with social conservatives that Roe v. Wade is an atrocious decision and don’t want to alienate party allies by explicitly rejecting their substantive claims (that abortion is like the holocaust, that life begins at conception).? They don’t care much about abortion either way – so they don’t want to debate it.

It is as if we have been transported to the 1850s, and Stephen Douglas is preaching the doctrine of “popular sovereignty” once more.? But it should be clear that this is not a position on the substance of the issue.? If and when Roe v. Wade is overturned, people will be forced to talk about the morality of the abortion.? “States’ rights” do not end the debate – they just shift it to a new forum.? So when the states are legislating again, which side will you be on?? Here my friends try to refuse to answer, as if state politics were so insignificant that people with fully formed political ideologies could still afford to ignore them.

I sympathize with my friends.? Like them, I’m fairly ambivalent about abortion but hate Roe v. Wade.? Overturning it may even have some value to the pro-choice community.? As long as the decision is controlling precedent, anti-abortionists can pass the most absurdly expansive laws (prohibiting abortion in the case of rape, prohibiting it in the first trimester, etc.) without confronting their reality.? But once their laws are real, many in the pro-life movement will blanch at the consequences of what they advocate – who wants widespread murder prosecutions against poor, single, teen-aged girls?? Meanwhile, the sizable center will be satisfied when they pass laws against mostly irrelevant procedures like partial-birth abortions.

But obfuscation should not be a conservative goal.? When we convince the religious that states’ rights is an abortion position, they assume that we support their total-abolition agenda and ramp up their intransigence.? Progressives make the same assumption and react by doubling down on Roe.? We cannot move forward with states’ rights until we have convinced people that states’ rights is not a position on abortion.


Thou Shalt Not Worship False Idols? says Pres. Obama

I cannot blame this particular incident on President Obama personally. We do not know for certain who specifically asked the administration of Georgetown University to cover what is being described as religious iconography. According to Karen Travers at ABC news, the White House is denying that they ever requested any religious icon or the letters representing Christ?s name (IHS ? iota eta sigma) in Greek translated into Latin.

“Decisions made about the backdrop for the speech were made to have a consistent background of American flags, which is standard for many presidential events. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply false,? White House spokesman Shin Inouye told ABC News.

Georgetown University explained their side, not as an argument against the White House?s portrayal of events, but when they were asked by ABC news.

?In coordinating the logistical arrangements for the event, Georgetown honored the White House staff’s request to cover all of the Georgetown University signage and symbols behind the Gaston Hall stage in order to accommodate a backdrop of American flags, consistent with other policy speeches,?

Georgetown refused to answer when they were asked if the same request was made by previous Presidential staff members. I am going to refrain from treading down this slippery slope, because I feel our peer Tom addressed this issue rather intrepidly in his Fukuyama-esque post. Something to consider, is that liberalism in her modern form, denies and rejects the importance of religion and tradition. In doing so, where should the people turn when they are in need? The state. I believe that Webster?s Dictionary talks about a particular political regime that seeks the people?s reverence on a level equal to religion? but I won?t be the one to say it.