Anything Goes!

This past week Trump’s Energy Department announced a relaxation of a set of light-bulb energy efficiency standards (EISA) first implemented under George W. Bush and finalized under Obama. The standards were set to go into full effect in January 2020 (eliminating incandescent versions of three-way bulbs, candle-shaped, globe-shaped and reflector bulbs). 

The autistic screeching from the corporate press and leftist “public policy” lackeys only underscores the lengths to which “the Cathedral” will go to in order to maintain the hell-fire of climate alarmism. For Cathedral adherents the sky is quite literally falling. It is because of their prescient guidance that the rest of us are corralled into doing “the right thing” – namely spending $10 on a bulb to save $15 in electricity – over the next 30 years. Even though the market has always deprecated older technology in favor of newer, we just can’t wait when it comes to energy efficiency. In the words of New York Times columnist John Schwartz, we need the federal government to “force(d) Americans to use more energy-efficient light bulbs.” Please note that “force” here is a politically correct euphemism for “threaten with initiatory violence”. Now it is true, force can solve problems quickly. All the mugger needs to do is to wave his gun in my face and moments later his monetary problems are solved. One would like to believe that in the “land of the free” such state sponsored aggression would not be so readily lauded as the primary method deployed against perceived societal problems. Of course I do not expect the state to abjure this special power it has any time soon, it is the qua sine non of every state/government. When a such a body dictates to the citizenry what they may or may not manufacturer and buy, then that country is no longer entitled to call itself “the land of the free” or claim “liberty and justice for all.”

One of the more vocal critics of this rollback, an Andrew deLaski of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project went on record with some rather eyebrow-raising comments. For example

“The Trump administration is trying to protect technology that was first invented in the 1800s. It’s like trying to protect the horse and buggy from the automobile technology.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I recall the government did not OUTLAW the sale or manufacture of the horse and buggy in favor of promoting the automobile. Consumers transitioned to the newer technology over time at a rate mediated by both the cost and advantages of the new technology.

To imply that removing regulations that are annihilating an industry is equivalent to “protecting” said industry makes about as much sense as saying someone who was in the process of knifing you to death but then pauses and begins to only punch you in the face is actually now “protecting” you. The truth is the polar opposite. The manufacturers of fluorescent and LED bulbs are the ones receiving state protection insofar as competing technology have being outlawed. But we’re “protecting” the planet so greater good trumps all. Makes one wonder what the left is capable of when they eventually hold power and the climate apostates are in their cross hairs. In the words of Cole Porter I suspect it will be “anything goes!”

Trash Talk

Given Oconee County’s proximity to Athens we often can’t help but be aware of the political landscape within the People’s Republic of Athens. The powers that be in Athens are exploring the possibility of re-municipalizing trash service because a handful of residents have complained about “too many trucks on their street” because multiple providers are permitted to serves within the city. Apparently if the market does not provide a service deemed essential, then that is proof of “market failure.” Likewise, if the market provides too much of a service deemed essential, that too is “market failure.” Heads I win, tails you lose. 

The justification to proceed down this path adheres to the socialist doctrine of better societal outcomes through the increased efficiency of a monopoly provider. Apparently competition is wasteful and inefficient. Perhaps. But putting political lackeys with zero experience, unlimited budgets and little to no oversight in charge is not exactly a recipe for optimal outcomes either. The efficiency argument is not satisfied until a complete takeover by the government of all business. In other words, state run monopolies are a-ok because enlightened omniscient angels run them. Of course the trust busters come out of the woodwork the second two firms try to merge for purposes of efficiency gains through consolidation of resources.  

Sure, government run services can appear to “work” because they are propped up with tax money taken at gunpoint (fail to pay your taxes and you’ll see how quickly the guns come out). The extent to which they are subsidized is directly proportional to their operational losses. Losses represent massive inefficiencies insofar as they have taken resources of a higher value and transformed them into products of a lower value. We want profits – profits mean lower valued inputs were transformed into something regarded as more valuable.

Efficiency is a measure of how many resources are needed to meet some particular end. There are many paths to reach some end but since none of us are omniscient there is no way to know a priori which is the shortest (most efficient) path. It is an iterative process. We start with assumptions and use the profit/loss test to give us feedback. Profit means you’re headed in the right direction; losses the opposite. The desire to make more money drives us toward seeking out efficiency gains. The part people (i.e. busybodies who know nothing of how an industry operates) object to is the time component. It takes time for many individual firms to experiment and sort out what works best, with the successful firms thriving and the inefficient firms going out of business. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does eventually happen.

Maybe that will happen with the trash pickup and in a few years (or months) there will be far fewer providers. Or maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, the present arrangement is the most efficient. Maybe some carriers compete on price while others compete on service. I can understand why it might seem more efficient to have fewer providers, but when has a government backed monopoly ever been regarded as the most efficient arrangement (i.e. performing so well it did not require subsidies through taxes). I’ll wait. 

Monopolies have no incentive to improve and become more efficient. But even a company that dominates a sector at least tangentially has some incentives to provide the best service they can as they know a new company could arise and gain market share. But a government backed monopoly? That is the worst of all worlds since that provider knows it is ILLEGAL for anyone to compete with them. They can literally sit back and provide the worst service possible and they’ll still receive the same income stream. 

Government run systems incorporate the human instinct toward laziness and magnify it’s vice-like qualities because self-interest can’t be rewarded via work but rather only through social ladder climbing in the state apparatus (not what you do, but who you know). The free market, in contrast, takes that same human inclination toward laziness and transforms it into a virtue. The desire to do more work with less energy is the definition of seeking greater efficiency. This drive flourishes only because self-interest is rewarded and not outlawed. This drive toward greater efficiency and profit benefits both the producer and the consumer. 

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Adam Smith

iMonopoly?

This past May the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Apple on the question of whether a group of iPhone users could file an antitrust lawsuit against Apple arising from their contention that Apple’s App Store constitutes a monopoly and thus has harmed consumers. Their primary argument is that Apple’s 30% fee on every app store sale constitutes a “tax.” Consumers are “harmed” because most developers simply pass that additional cost onto the consumer. So apparently if some entity is construed to hold a monopoly market position and imposes a “tax”, that is a bad thing. But if the government does precisely the same thing that is just a-ok. On the precedent of this ruling it should now be possible to overturn the taxing authority of every level of government! But I won’t hold my breath.

In point of fact, Apple does not hold a monopoly position in the market. To suggest so quickly leads to absurd wrongheaded conclusions such as Ford is a monopoly because only they can sell Ford cars or that Robert Di Niro is a monopolist because he is the only one that can star as Robert Di Niro in a movie. The obvious rejoinder to such claims would be that “well that’s silly, there are other manufacturers of cars and other actors, so the consumer can simply substitute the good if they find the supply too constrained or the price too high.” Exactly. Last time I checked Apple does not have the only “App Store” in town. Google has their equivalent and there are number of other independent “Android” app stores as well. But even if Apple did have the only App store platform they would still not be in a monopoly position. Anything that can be done in mobile apps can be done through a desktop or web interface.But even if that were not true, Apple would still not be a monopolist. Why? Because no company in a free market can become a monopoly (other than governments themselves which exert their monopoly provision of certain market goods (security, courts, roads, regulation) through coercive violence). Just as Ford competes with other automakers to sell cars, they are also competing with every other market entrant. Everyone is vying for the consumer’s dollar and so everyone is competing against everyone.Apple competes against pet stores, Ford competes against Apple, pet stores compete against shoe sellers, and so on. 

Every consumer, no matter how wealthy, has a limited supply of funds. When they use those funds they economize them, that is, they rank those things they desire in order of importance and spend their money on the most important items first (food, shelter) and then work their way down the list until at some point they only have enough for one more thing. The next entrant on that list lost out to the one just before, so in that sense they were competing with them head to head. So the App Store could lose out to someone who chose to go to the movies or to buy their dog a treat, or it could be vice versa. If the consumer has a choice (even if a difficult one) then there is no monopoly power. If you hate big oil you can choose to go electric.If you hate all cell phone carriers you can choose to not have a cell phone. It may be a difficult choice that imposes other costs on you, but you are free to do so. No one will throw you in a cage if you don’t sign up for cell service. But they will if you don’t pay your taxes.

In the broader context though this case was rather amusing. That a company can be sued for providing to the consumer this thing that literally didn’t even exist 15 years ago demonstrates an utter lack of comprehension by the public at large of the benefits bestowed on them by the market economy aka capitalism. You should rejoice that there are so many greedy SOB’s seeking to take your money and giving you in return the most incredible, standard of living enhancing tools in human history… things you could not create yourself if you had a hundred years to figure it out. Very sad. Many people agree. 

Blowing the Sails

President Trump continues on his shortsighted warpath of ever escalating tariffs on Chinese goods. “Tariffs will make our Country MUCH STRONGER, not weaker. Just sit back and watch!” he tweeted recently. Well, yes, I suppose if you jump off a bridge and break both your legs those bones will be stronger once healed, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. Tariffs are a self-imposed burden; the exporter of a good does not pay them – the importer does (i.e. the domestic business, employing domestic workers, selling to a domestic market). It is the economic equivalent of me insisting I pay an extra 25% to the grocery store because I’m so upset there is a trade imbalance between the grocer and myself. Trump is either being willfully dishonest (and to be fair, what politician isn’t – ‘if you like your plan you can keep your plan’), or, he is entirely ignorant of how tariffs actually work. If Importer ABC is buying widget A from a Chinese exporter for $1 and there is a new 25% tariff imposed, the cost goes from $1 to $1.25 – paid for entirely by the importer. The cost is either passed on to the American consumer or expenses in other areas are reduced (i.e. layoffs of American workers) in order to stay price competitive. 

            Perplexingly, Trump actually acknowledged the potential harm to some sectors (i.e. US farmers, whose sales of exported goods to China have dropped off due to in-kind retaliatory tariffs by China on the US) and rather than extinguishing the dumpster-fire he has created he has doubled down on an even more ludicrous plan. He is proposing that we take the proceeds from the tariffs and use it to offset declining agricultural sales by purchasing the unsold goods – and get this – donating it to foreign countries! So, it is bad for the US if China “dumps” low cost goods into our market, yet somehow it’s a-ok if the US in turn dumps totally free goods into other countries’ markets? Nah, that won’t totally disrupt their domestic agricultural market driving them to cross a border in order to find work… there is some country where that has happened before but the name escapes me right now. This Rube Goldberg scheme is tantamount to using a fan to blow the sail of a sailboat. Yes, it works, but it is incredibly inefficient; just remove the sail and turn the fan around. In other words, an actual free market in trade (not managed trade á la NAFTA or TPP) is maximally efficient and beneficial to all.

            The only utility to be gained from this scheme is to encourage Trump-hating-leftists to closely examine the idiocy of this scheme. Perhaps once Trump is out of office they will recognize the lunacy of this scheme in future government polices. For example, all foreign aid works on this principle. Take money from some Americans and give it to others to buy their goods in order to give them to a third party for free. Or, take money from some Americans and give it to a third party with the stipulation they can only use it to buy goods from some other Americans.Carbon taxes, if imposed, would work the same way. Impose a tax (on Americans) then turn around and refund the just collected funds to other Americans to offset the fact they are paying more for energy. 

            Perhaps in the end that will be the silver lining of the Trump presidency; to awaken the American electorate to the fact that the idiotic schemes implemented by Trump are identical to every past presidential administration in their execution. These programs and schemes are counter-productive and inefficient on their face regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. 

Quora: Social Contract question

Someone asked this question below, you can see it on Quora here

My reply is below

According to some libertarians, the idea of a social contract is invalid. If so, on what basis do they argue that I can’t steal, as I have never explicitly committed myself to respect their property?

The social contract is a cudgel that says one MUST act i.e. forcing one to engage in an activity one would otherwise avoid (eg taxation toward some putative communal good).

Not stealing compels no action. Not stealing is inaction. Not acting costs nothing. Acting carries a cost (opportunity cost e.g. I want to do x but the social contract forced me to do y). So forced or required action not explicitly agreed to carries with it an outside imposed burden.

The social contract is invalid not because it is imaginary but because it imposes costs not agreed to. So even if you believe basic tenets of morality (such as theft is wrong or murder and rape are wrong) are imaginary, it costs nothing to not engage in those activities. Indeed it is advantageous to not do so insofar as it creates additional opportunity to engage in other more productive activities.

Social contract limits choices. Morality expands them. Perhaps both are imaginary constructs but positive obligations are inherently more limiting than negative obligations.

Reparations Roller Coaster

The political landscape in the Democratic Party has become so chaotic that in order for a presidential candidate to distinguish him or herself it is no longer sufficient to engage in safe, conservative levels of vote pandering e.g. free healthcare for all. Now one must step up with über-insane policy positions like slavery reparations. Several candidates have put forth pro-reparations platform positions recently. Any self-respecting black person should reject such talk outright. The whole notion is preposterously insulting. Why? Ok, hold up your hand (any race) if you think your “success” today is even marginally affected by the life events of one or more of your sixteen to thirty-two second-great or third-great grandparents? Can you even name a single one of them? The argument is basically that all succeeding generations over 150+ years have been entirely impotent to advance in life because they lacked a check from the federal government – all other forms of welfare and assistance not withstanding (12 years of free schooling be the main one). Perhaps you could make that argument (as with apartheid in South Africa) if every single black person were dirt poor today. But that’s not the case. In fact there are numerous highly successful black individuals today (doctors, lawyers, business owners, actors, politicians, athletes, etc.). This alone should conclusively prove that race no longer plays a meaningful role in holding anyone back. While the poverty rate for blacks as a whole vs. whites is higher, it is not earth-shatteringly so (20% vs 8%). To hear the pro-reparations people talk you’d think black poverty was 90%+ in this country.

The time for reparations was immediately after emancipation, to the actual slaves. That is how reparations have operated for more recent state-level atrocities (Germany, South Africa, etc). Locate the victim and compensate them. That is correct and just (although monetary compensation can never truly make one whole for these kinds of state sponsored crimes). Reparations should have been made in the US shortly after the Civil War (and indeed this was done for a short period, General Sherman’s Special Order 15 was quickly reversed by President Johnson). That this did not occur is a crime against those former slaves. However, there is nothing that can be done to fix that now. History is like that. Bad people did horrible things, but navel gazing hundreds of years later isn’t going to put the toothpaste back in the tube. If my grandmother were raped but the culprit never served time nothing is served by putting that guy’s grandson in prison today. However that is exactly what reparations would do, only worse (it would be like grabbing some random person off the street and putting him in prison merely because he’s a man). Were reparations to come to pass it would be funded by some new tax. But many millions of Americans (like myself) are recent generation Americans. All of my great-grandparents entered this country over 50 years after the end of the civil war – why should I be taxed to pay for something that neither I nor them could ever have conceivably benefited from? Indeed, these great grandparents were initially treated harshly (yes, the Klan hates Catholics too) by the “nativist” populations they emigrated to. Should I get reparations too for how they were held back by such incipient hatred on arrival? (In case you were wondering the  answer is “no” to this rhetorical question).

Some would argue that even post Civil War emigrants enjoyed the privilege of all the wealth brought about in this country through the labor of former slaves who built this country. Ok. Except that is totally backwards. This country was made poorer, not wealthier, because of slavery. The reason for this is simple: automation. Cheap slave labor meant there was no incentive to explore more efficient means of production. Without slavery the south would have been pushed economically to explore efficiency improving automation that much sooner. As we recall from high school history, the north was regarded as wealthy while the south was considered poor. The primary reason for this was the difference in automation. The highly industrialized north was highly automated in its output. Just as paper beats rock so to do machines beat humans every time in the output Olympics.

Even if we were to pay reparations there is no practical “fair” way to do so. The whole thing quickly spirals out of control into a general welfare check. Such a check would be far out of proportion to what those individuals might have had had actual reparations been paid in 1865 to the forefathers. If it were in proportion it would amount to only a few hundred dollars and politically such a small amount would be a non-starter. So it will have to be disproportionately larger. So how does this idea go from only for descendants of slaves to everyone? Well, first if it were constrained to only those that could prove a genealogical connection to a slave, accusations would fly of unfairness for all those unable to claim their rightful inheritance because of paperwork lost to the ages. Ok, so now anyone who is black (DNA test) gets it, but how much “blackness”? 90%? 50% 25%? No matter where you draw an arbitrary line someone will complain so just make it 1% or more then no one will complain. And of course the DNA tests will have to be free, otherwise this too would be deemed as unfairly keeping those most in need from obtaining their due. Next is the problem of payment ratio. Should it be a ratio of your DNA %, e.g. you are 10% black so you get 10% of the reparations payment? Or what if you can only prove one out of 32 ancestors was a slave; do you get 1/32ndof the payment? The mind boggles with the logistics of handling this all. Even if you assume a generous $100k reparations payment to each former slave this would be rapidly diluted to only a few hundred dollars today after applying the various race and generational dilution heuristics. Is a few hundred dollars really going to change anyone’s life?

And lastly, this must be a one-time payment. Anything other than that is not reparations but simply welfare. If you have made each “victim” whole, then there is no more reason to continue payment to them or their progeny. So under the only possible “fair” model of reparations Barack Obama would qualify. That’s a good thing, just think of what he could have accomplished had he not been black!

CON Job

There are a myriad of reasons that health care costs are sky high. Every cause shares a common genesis – government. From the World War II era tax benefit of allowing tax-free employer sponsored plans to state imposed price controls (Medicare/Medicaid) to today’s outright subsidies (Obamacare), it has been a 70+ year slow motion train wreck that has annihilated anything remotely resembling a “free” market in health care. However, today I want to focus on but one sliver of that regulatory quagmire: Certificate of Need (CON) laws. When I first learned about these I honestly thought I was reading satire – this is America after all! How can such monstrosities of law exist? And yet they do. For those unaware, CON laws basically allow one or more local hospitals to have a say in whether a prospective hospital may be permitted in their “backyard.” It’s like if McDonalds had a vote in whether any new fast food restaurants could be built within say 30 miles of their location. What do you think McDonalds’ choice would be? This is nothing but state backed protectionism, pure and simple. And like all protectionism it harms consumers while benefiting the protected class (unions, taxi drivers, any tariff protected industry, etc.) But please, tell me more about this free market in health care we have.

Supporters of CON laws try to appeal to ones sense of “fairness” by claiming that if these mean old private hospitals come in why they’ll “steal” patients from our poor old public hospital by only offering the most lucrative and profitable services leaving the extant hospital with money losing care and indigent patients. Hogwash. In other words they are saying that in terms of those “lucrative” services they can’t compete because they are in fact overcharging for their “lucrative” services in order to subsidize the money losing services.  In other words they don’t know how to properly run a (hospital) business and are afraid of someone coming in and competing with them that does. 

Ludicrously, these same people will turn around and decry the “monopoly” of a company like AT&T or Microsoft or Google or Apple and claim “why we need to break them up, don’t you know monopolies are bad and that competition lowers prices and helps consumers?” But then will unironically tell you that monopolies in hospital services makes perfect sense and why don’t you just trust the guy telling you he doesn’t need competition to give you a fair price? I guess state backed monopolies are “a ok” (schools, courts, police, utilities, roads, etc.)

Ironically many of these people who support CON laws are “conservative” Republicans! Indeed there was a recent Bill 198 in the Georgia House that died in that Republican dominated chamber. One representative quipped in a local paper

“I was very happy to help kill the elimination of the CON process that would hurt local hospitals.”

David Belton
R – Buckhead, GA, District 112

Wow, give that man a Bernie Sanders medal, he is a Democratic Socialist and doesn’t even know it. Socialism claims the right of the “people” (aka the State) to own the means of production. Ownership conveys a right to control, you don’t own it, you can’t control it and vice versa. Well if the state can tell prospective investors in a new hospital what they can’t do with their own money, then what is the state doing other than asserting an ownership (control) claim over those investors’ property? I’m sorry Republicans; I must have missed the part in the Constitution (Federal or State) where it says we have a right to a livelihood unfettered by nettlesome competition. Repeat after me, just because a violation of rights can be harmful doesn’t mean anything deemed harmful is a rights violation.

Climate Morality?

It has been suggested that combating climate change is now a moral imperative. The argument is as follows: man-made climate change will obviously lead to more frequent and intense weather events that will disproportionately impact those with fewer resources. This is a rather transparent attempt at shaming those who have not drunk the Klimate Kool-Aid. Right up there with sticking “children” or “freedom” in a bill’s name to deflect criticism.

To dismantle this argument we shall start with the premise: man-made climate change is real. This is false. Climate change is real, but the extent to which man is contributing is an open question ex cathedra proclamations by the UN notwithstanding. CO2 does not correlate well with rising and falling global mean temperatures. The Medieval Warm Period was much warmer than today and yet CO2levels were lower than now. Likewise climate change (warming) would be expected absent any human influence as we have been climbing out of the “Little Ice Age” since around 1600-1700 (well before the onset of the Industrial Revolution). In short, if man’s primary contribution is from pumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, then the lack of correlation of CO2with global temperature changes undermines that premise.

Irrespective of man’s contribution, the planet is indeed slowly warming. What might we expect then? It does seem superficially plausible that warmer air would hold more water vapor and so storm intensity/frequency would rise. Unfortunately that analysis crumbles when faced with actual data and an equally valid interpretation, namely that overall global warming reduces temperature differentials and thus the strength of storms.  It is temperature (energy) differentials that drive storms, e.g. we get rainstorms when warm and cold fronts collide. This premise is supported by an NOAA study of Atlantic hurricanes: “the warming projected for the tropical Atlantic in the models is not very different from that projected for the tropics as a whole.” The NOAA recently concluded that,

“neither our model projections for the 21st century nor our analyses of trends in Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm activity support the notion that greenhouse gas-induced warming leads to large increases in either tropical storm or overall hurricane numbers in the Atlantic.”

In other words the frequency and size of hurricanes today or projected this century is not statistically different than that which occurred over the 20thcentury. Therefore, since climate change doesn’t result in more damaging storms, we can’t use the costs arising from such storms as a justification for “investments” to combat climate change. The other side of this equation is sea-level rise. Yes, the earth is warming and the sea is rising. However the rise from 1880 to 1900 is nearly identical to the change seen from 1980 to 2000: about 2 inches. Seems like something other than man is driving this change. Although the rate is now 3.3 mm per year it’s safe to say, “we have some time” to adapt. The Dutch have successfully overcome the challenges of sea level rise for the past fifteen hundred years or so; I think we’ll be ok. If you choose to build or buy real estate on the coast today knowing full well the current rate of rise, well, that is on you, not on society. 

The conclusion that climate change is a moral imperative crumbles once we conclude man is no more responsible for it than he is for the rising and falling of the tides. Climate change as a movement does not “work” if it is not caused by man. It is the means by which the masses will be hypnotized into willingly ceding control of their rights and living standards to a monolithic unaccountable bureaucratic state. Every now and then the elites tip their hand: 

“Our aim is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to change the global economic system…”

– UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres (Feb 2015)

“The common enemy of humanity is Man. In searching for a common enemy against whom we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like, would fit the bill..”.”

– The Club of Rome Premier environmental think-tank and consultants to the United Nations. 

Although there are well-intentioned people that genuinely believe the climate propaganda and want to “save the planet” they are what Lenin would describe as “useful idiots.” They are climatic Typhoid Mary’s, unwittingly spreading a disease that will lead to global totalitarianism and declining living standards. The global elites don’t care about the environment; all they care about is their own power and wealth.  Any movement that accrues power to the sociopaths in power will not be abandoned easily.  

tl;dr –  Climate change is a flimsy pretext used to justify increasing levels of taxation to further the left’s goal of economic “justice”

Slippery Slope

It seems the Democrats are hell-bent on losing to Trump in 2020. Americans do not like taxes. They tolerate them because they’ve been conditioned to accept the fiction that society can’t function without top down central planning. But when given a choice of more or fewer, they’ll opt for fewer. Consider the candidacies of Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush. The former promised new taxes while the latter broke his promise to avoid them; they both were beaten badly. Perhaps an oversimplification, but the point is, don’t lead with “more dental work for all”. The near success of Bernie Sander’s prior candidacy has nearly every Democrat tripping over themselves to ironically capitalize on their perception of his voter appeal: envy. The message from the Democrats now is one of simple, base envy. Those people have stuff, we want it, let’s take it. The trite slogan of “making America work for everyone” can be parsed into “making” = “armed thugs will force you”, “America work” = “productive Americans to hand over your property”, “for everyone” = “to the unwilling, unskilled, and envious.” 

The irony is they may succeed as they take a page from Trump’s political playbook. Trump used fear and vilification of “the other,” the illegal immigrant, to bolster support for his cause. The Democrats too vilify “the other,” except theirs is “the wealthy” or “the capitalists.” They make indulgent promises that rest on a bedrock of theft. Just raise their taxes to the roof and empty the pockets of the Kulaks, after all it’s our fair share right? 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s plan of a 70% tax rates is built upon a foundation of either downright stupidity or deliberate misrepresentations. Neither are good options. Tax rates were at that level and higher in the past but so were allowable deductions! For example, if gross income were $10 then net AGI was only $3 when rates were 70%, but today the rules yield an AGI of $6 but at 35%. Obviously the tax obtained is identical. No matter the tax rate, the government only manages to bring in about 17% of GDP give or take since 1930. I’m sure the current plan is to raise rates and not deductions … but to equate the current goal as being equivalent to past policy is disingenuous – high deductions in the past means nobody paid those high rates. 

Elizabeth Warren has an even more ghastly proposal – a direct wealth tax on assets. Settings aside the constitutional issues with such a tax any student of history should see where this is going. When the income tax was first implemented it was but a mere 1% on income over $50k in today’s dollars, and 6% on income over $8 million. We know how that went. Warren’s proposal has equally high thresholds of 2% on assets over $50 million and 3% over $1 billion. Only a fool would believe those rates will not rise and the thresholds fall in short order. But the big reveal for those thinking this would not affect them is the fact that even those not owing the tax will still have a filing burden. Everyone would in perpetuity endure the annual burden of submitting to our overlords a complete accounting of all that one owns in order to prove no tax is owed. Think property tax on steroids.  

Those who may be persuaded that they will be better off if “others” are punished should be wary of the collateral damage from these financial grenades. When it comes to taxes, slippery slopes are the rule.

In Pursuit of Exceptionalism

What is the origin of the idea “American Exceptionalism”? Most Americans’ belief in this is based on a reflexive veneration of the revolutionary war coupled with good old-fashioned team spirit. If pushed further to justify their feelings they may fall back on the claim that this exceptionalism comes from the many and superior accomplishments of its citizens in sports, science, business, warfare, and on and on. But to paraphrase Yoda, “zip codes not make one great.” History is replete with individuals from all over the globe who have achieved great deeds. 

America is not exceptional because our neighbors are nice folk or because its residents have achieved laudable feats, but rather it is exceptional because it is more than a mere country – it is an idea and ideal. It is the political incarnation of the concept that the negative rights of the individual trump all other concerns. Period. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness exist only to the extent that ideal is respected. Governments and constitutions do not GRANT negative rights. They are inherent and inalienable to our being. Constitutions/governments are but mere tools to protect these rights. One does not protect something by injuring it. Regrettably the United States government has been injuring the very thing it was established to protect since its inception (see: Alien & Sedition Acts, slavery, etc.). It has only gotten worse since – “like sands through the hourglass”, so are the injuries against liberty.

Some will insist that despite these failures it is still the freest country in the world, although that is demonstrably false based on its ever-falling rank (17th) in the Cato Human Freedom Index (and similar indices). Freedom should be graded on an absolute scale, not a curve. A country that permits the practice of civil asset forfeiture, criminalizes victimless activities, requires state permission to employ or be employed, confiscates wealth solely for the punitive goal of ensuring “fairness”, and that pre-emptively invades other countries resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent civilians; such a country is not the ideal and is far from being great. 

 Indeed, even one of the most basic cherished freedoms, the freedom of speech, is under attack from the left and the right. Congress is presently trying to make it a criminal offense to boycott Israel. That pesky 1stamendment was in the way but they seem to have found a work around. Stay tuned. Meanwhile in New York City it is now a criminal offense ($250k fine) to repeatedly “mis-gender” someone by using the “wrong” pronoun when addressing them. Sure, people should be nice and respectful, but likewise it should not be a criminal offense to say mean things. Allowing speech to be criminalized because someone else does not like its content or it hurts someone’s feelings utterly disembowels the 1stAmendment.

“We don’t have freedom of speech so we can talk about the weather.  We have the 1st Amendment so that we can say very controversial things.” – Ron Paul

The greatness of the American ideal exists anywhere people acknowledge that what their neighbor does is none of their business and that when conflict arises it should be dealt with by an equivalent level of reciprocal force or mediation. Respecting this ideal means acknowledging that all interactions must be voluntary. Wherever this ideal is respected can rightfully be called “American”. In such places “America” will firmly take root and those that live there will enjoy the promise of what America should have been: a place where one is free to pursue their own happiness free of authoritarian busybodies. 

P.S. And no, the fantasy of the “social contract” does not magically make every state intrusion into our lives “voluntary”