Anchors Away!

Donald Trump has finally brought up a legitimate point in the ongoing debate over illegal immigration (as opposed to his usual economically illiterate xenophobic racially-tinged fear mongering). The courts have long used the 14th Amendment as a justification for birthright citizenship, that is, the notion that one instantaneously acquires US citizenship merely by being birthed within US territory. This interpretation has created the phenomenon known as “anchor babies”, that is, the children of immigrant women (legal or otherwise) who enter the US merely to give birth. By virtue of the citizenship status of the newly birthed, the entire extended family may to varying degrees be granted residency status. Unconditional birthright citizenship (‘Jus soli’, right of the soil) is a peculiarity of the New World. It is almost exclusively found in the Americas. Everywhere else it is unknown or exists only with many conditions. The rest of the world follows a system of ‘jus sanguinis’ (right of the blood) which means that citizenship flows from the citizenship status of the parents. On its face this does seem to be the more practical approach. Would you want your child saddled with the citizenship of some foreign land you just happened to be travelling through at the time of her birth? Indeed that has happened to a number of “accidental Americans” who have never lived in the US but are labeled as tax cheats by the IRS because of an accident of birth location.  Birthright citizenship seems to be primarily a legal artifact found among those former New World countries that sought to rapidly increase populations. In the US the amendment merely codified what was already common law practice at the time while also unambiguously establishing citizenship for former slaves.

Contrary to popular opinion, birthright citizenship in the US is not entirely unconditional. The condition it hinges on is normally ignored as its meaning in modern parlance is somewhat opaque to those without a legal or history background. The amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and The States wherein they reside.” The key clause here is “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” So citizenship requires not only that you be born within US territory but that you also be subject to the jurisdiction of the US government at that time. You could only be subject to such jurisdiction if your parents (your legal guardians) were subject to such jurisdiction. At first glance it would seem that applies to anyone in the US, citizen or not. After all, anyone who kills someone or rob them, is “subject” to US laws against it, right? Well yes that is true, but the key word our modern ears need is the one that was obvious and thus unspoken for those in the 19th century. The latent word is “complete” as in “the complete jurisdiction thereof”. “Complete jurisdiction” is redundantly the same thing as “jurisdiction” because both stand in contrast to “partial jurisdiction”. Partial jurisdiction means one is subject to laws against murder, theft, etc., but likewise are not subject to laws related to the obligations of citizens. A foreigner (or more legally precise, an alien) is a citizen of another state and thus by virtue of that foreign allegiance cannot be subject to the complete jurisdiction of the US. (e.g. an alien is not required to serve on a jury, may not vote, may not be drafted, etc).

So, in short this means the proper interpretation of the “citizenship” clause of the 14th amendment is that if both parents are already citizens of another state (owe allegiance to another state, thus not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the US) then one does not acquire US citizenship at birth. If the parents are stateless (or one is orphaned) then one could acquire US citizenship. The proof that this is the proper interpretation is found both in practice and via first hand accounts on the drafting of this amendment. In practice, American Indians, who were not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the US but who were nevertheless born in US territory, were not made citizens after this amendment was passed. Indeed it was not until 1924 that the Indian Citizenship Act made them US citizens. If the 14th amendment were interpreted the way it is today then no such law should have been necessary. Clearly there has been a change in interpretation. But don’t take my word for it, let’s hear what the author of the citizenship clause, Senator Jacob M. Howard (MI) had to say on it in 1866: “This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, that every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.”

August 24 / 2015
Author Greg Morin
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Murphy vs. Block: May Libertarians Accept Government Money?

Tom Woods recently had a debate between Bob Murphy and Walter Block on whether or not libertarians should accept government money (through employment, services rendered, or welfare). You can listen here.

My take on this question takes a bit from both of their arguments as I think they both make good points, however I think Murphy edged Block out just a bit in this debate. Walter’s reductio absurdum don’t really work (roads, currency, etc) because with those things we have no choice It’s like arguing the slave gives his imprimatur of approval to the slaveowner because the slave accepts food, clothing, and shelter from the slaveowner. He doesn’t, he has no choice in the matter (technically there is a choice in the sense that yes one can choose to die, but that’s not a practical nor principled choice).

I think what it comes down to is choice. If one has no choice in the matter then it is acceptable to use such government monopolized service. However, when there is a choice then one can debate principle vs outcome and neither is really “wrong”. Walter makes a good point in that if one can undermine the core mission of the state by working for it/with it then that can be a net gain for liberty (Ron Paul being the most notable example). But Bob also makes a good point in that if everyone withheld their services from the state, it would cease to exist. Of course getting 100% of people to simultaneously withdraw their consent is never going to happen so in the real world we have to make decisions about whether our actions on balance harm or help more people. Now yes, that utilitarian principle is one you can drive a bus through and use it to justify anything practically. But I’m saying we are only concerned with applying that principle in the very narrow question of “should a libertarian participate in state actions voluntarily?”. One can choose to be entirely pacifist when it comes to the state and simply accept all its abuses and never try to get anything back, there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also nothing wrong with defending oneself from the transgressions of the state – proportionate reciprocal responses to aggression being permissible are a cornerstone of libertarian philosophy.

Simply taking money from the state for the sake of doing so such that it has less serves no purpose whether they give it to you for performing a service or you steal it directly. The state is a thief and will simply thieve some more to get back whatever it wants. Thus your taking indirectly harms others via the state as your proxy. So I disagree with Walter on this one. There is no amount you can take that will weaken it, they will always just take more. However, to the extent the state has taken from you, then you are fully in your rights to take an equal amount back (or to be very principled about it, an amount that equals the difference between what the state took and what you believe you would otherwise have paid a free market entity performing the same functions as the state.) So if one can get tax credits, government aid, grants, etc that offset the excess amount robbed from one in taxes, that is ok. If one exceeds what they had stolen from them, then that would be wrong and one must stop.

So in a practical example, Bob should feel fine about accepting payment to give a lecture at a state school if his remuneration never exceeds what he paid in taxes (or should have paid for services received). But Bob should not set up a lecture business that accepts billions of dollars from the state to give lectures. That zero boundary between net tax payer vs tax receiver demarcates one’s transition from capitalist to crony-capitalist.

So in summary, here is the decision tree:

  1. Do I have a choice? If “no”, then it is permissible to use such service, since after all, you have no choice.
  2. If you have a choice then is the amount you are getting less than the excess amount robbed from you in taxes for a given time frame? If yes, then go right ahead, nothing wrong with taking from the thief that took from you
  3. If the amount exceeds the amount robbed from you in taxes then here is where it gets speculative and subjective: on balance are you advancing the cause of liberty by receiving more than you lose in taxes? If yes then this is ok, but… this is a very difficult thing to determine, be cautious. If no, then you should not engage in such activity if you want to remain principled and not open yourself up to the charge of being a hypocrite.
August 20 / 2015

You can lead a horse to a carousel, but you can’t make him eat a free lunch

A persistent myth in this country is that even though the government may do things we do not approve of, We the People ultimately have control of the reigns. We elect representatives, senators, and a President and it is they that decide how this country is run. So the theory is that if we don’t like what they do we can “vote the bums” out. That Congress’ approval rating is perennially in the low teens and yet incumbents are re-elected at a rate exceeding 80% speaks volumes about how successful that strategy has been. However, the dirty little secret is that most government functions originate not from elected officials but rather faceless bureaucrats who write, approve, and enforce what is known as “administrative law.” This process proceeds quietly in the dark underbelly of Washington, completely immune from “outsider” (that is, “the peoples”) influence. Like the static animals and chariots of a carousel, the unchanging bureaucracy provides support to our elected officials, who come and go like so many children believing they are driving when in fact they are merely passengers.

Case in point: The Department of Labor. Last month President Obama announced that the Department of Labor would be implementing a doubling of the white-collar salary threshold for overtime exception to $50,440. Although there is a request for comments period from the public, ultimately none of that really matters. The DOL committee voting on the change is in no way bound by those comments. President Obama knows that getting a minimum wage increase through Congress is likely to fail. However he can unilaterally ramrod a change to the overtime rules with little oversight if he employs the autonomous rule making authority of the DOL. Such changes do not require a new law or public debate. Only a handful of bureaucrats need to simply decide “ok, let’s just change this” and that’s it.

The shockingly sad part about all of this is not so much that a handful of people get to substitute their personal opinion of acceptable work conditions for the opinions of 120 million employees and employers but rather that they actually think this change will, in the words of Obama “help promote higher take-home pay… and shore up the middle class.” You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. These people seem to labor under the fairy tale that employers are just sitting on a big pile of cash that they selfishly refuse to share with their employees. So to rectify this we need the government to step in and force them to share. Employee wages are a business transaction just like any other. Each transaction is negotiated between both parties to a level that is acceptable, otherwise were it not acceptable there would be no exchange. If these transaction costs are externally forced upward then employers will respond just as anyone else would, cut back in other areas to compensate.

There is no free lunch. Newly overtime-eligible employees will find their base hourly rate decreased so that at the end of the year they still have made the same dollar figure. Employers will also cut back on discretionary bonuses and benefits or simply cut back on hours so that there is no overtime. This will force such employees to become more efficient with their time and those that can’t will find themselves demoted or unemployed. Another way employers may respond is to reduce the number of managerial positions, which ultimately makes it harder for people to climb the corporate ladder into solidly middle class wage territory.

Another aspect often overlooked by the ivory tower elite is that many employees do not want to be classified as overtime eligible. A job requiring clocking in and out is viewed by employees as a job that is “not important.” Somebody with a college degree making $45k a year feels demeaned if they are told they must now clock in and out like some pimply-faced fry cook. Being on salary is a point of pride for these employees who feel they have worked quite hard to earn that status. That the government is now condescendingly informing them that this is for their own protection reflects the magnitude by which those in government are out of touch with the real world. As with all government interventions, conditions are made worse, not better. Employees either lose benefits and bonuses, get demoted, or end up making the exact same as before but not without first being made to feel less important due to their new status as “just” hourly.

Job! 2016

With the 2016 Presidential election season in full swing it seems nearly every candidate (from far right Trump to far left Sanders) is falling all over themselves to do “something” about illegal immigration. Problem is, the top three economic reasons cited in favor of “closing the border” are utterly fallacious despite their unquestioning acceptance by the media and voters alike.

 

Fallacy#1: Immigrants force wages down making Americans poorer.

Reality: Wages have two parts: a money part (the number) and a real part (the buying power). The money wage is arbitrary and irrelevant because all that matters is the real wage – how much that arbitrary amount will buy. Lower money wages (like lower prices) reflect a concomitant increase in production and should be welcomed. Yes, the money wage is lower, but there is more “stuff” available to buy at lower prices than before, thus real wages increase. Where would you rather live, in a town with a population of ten or one thousand? How much more must everyone work to produce everything needed in the town of ten vs the town of one thousand? Many hands make light work – on this principal alone we should be welcoming more, not fewer, immigrants into this country.

 

Fallacy#2: Immigrants steal jobs.

Reality: This fallacy is rooted in the mistaken notion that “jobs” are a form of fixed resource welfare. It views jobs like soup at a soup kitchen; there’s only so much to go around (see Fallacy#3 below). This view sees jobs as a completely one-sided affair when in fact it is of course a mutual exchange; you can’t be “stealing” if you are giving something in return. So jobs “given” to immigrants are not welfare – they produce something in exchange. Ah, but you say a job “given” to an immigrant was thus “stolen” from an American. This rests upon the assumption that there is some ideal level of workers and we must not exceed that. Well if that is true than how can we have this totally unregulated system of childbearing in this country? There is no control over how many children are born and who ultimately enter the work force only to “steal” jobs from other Americans. Should we restrict births in order to ensure just the right amount of jobs in this country? Shall we soon face the specter of the “illegally birthed”?

It is not possible to “steal” a job because one cannot own their job. The term “stealing” is a red herring that misdirects us into thinking a crime of sorts has been committed when in fact the real issue is one of competition. Competition lowers prices or increases quality. Normally we welcome that…when we are the buyer of a good. But when we are the seller, well then the story changes doesn’t it? Immigration control is simply another flavor of protectionism intended to limit competition. It is no different than tariffs or other import restrictions. The seen benefits accrue to the sectors of the economy so protected (whether that be agriculture, steel, or labor) while the unseen harms inflicted upon the consumer paying higher amounts are ignored.

 

Fallacy#3: There are only so many jobs so more immigrants means fewer for everyone else.

Reality: Jobs are unlimited. They are unlimited because humanity will never quench its desire to alter the world. We create our own jobs when we perform work for our own benefit. Others can create jobs for us if they are allowed to save that which they do not consume (profit) and use it to entice others to perform work on their behalf. Since the creation of jobs by others is a direct function of the amount of money they have saved and the amount of money saved is a direct function of profit, then it follows that decreased profit (through higher taxes or costs) will necessarily reduce the quantity of jobs at a given money wage. If one could pay any wage that both parties agreed upon there would be no limit on the quantity of jobs available. Jobs could be doubled overnight if everyone paid one-half the prevailing wage.

Now you may be aghast in horror at the thought of making one-half what you do now. And therein lies the problem. We have becomes so fixated on the money wage we ignore the reality staring us in the face, which is that with twice the number of people employed, output would increase far beyond two-fold (owing to the synergy of combined resources). Honestly, would you really care if you made one-half the money wage you do today if it bought five-times as many goods than your current wage does?

 

The blind spot that infects every conversation about immigration vis-à-vis jobs is this central fact: we are all buyers and sellers in the economy. You cannot simultaneously protect yourself as a seller without harming yourself as a buyer. Decreasing money wages, when driven by the competition originating from increased production, are reflective of a necessary growth in real wages.

August 11 / 2015

Paddling Upstream

“We kept losing our men, they kept escaping from the factory life from a pesthole–till we had nothing left except the men of need, but none of the men of ability.” Atlas Shrugged, Chapter 10

 

This quote from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” highlights the ultimate outcome of a “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability” pay scale at the fictional Twentieth Century Motor Works. That this novel has been so eerily prescient on so many topics is a testament not so much to Ms. Rand’s prose but rather to her ability to recognize cyclical patterns that emerge in society due to those that succumb to ideas driven by emotion rather than reason. One of the most common fallacies is to conflate the value of one’s humanity (which is equal for all) with the value placed on what one produces. It is an easy error to make; after all it certainly seems “fair” that if two people work equally long and equally “hard” they deserve equal remuneration. Even though this fallacy (the labor theory of value) is easily overturned by considering the case of a mud-pie baker in comparison to an apple pie baker, it continues to infect the minds of all too many. When our leaders are infected with this nostrum, their position of power permits them to spread the damage far and wide. Governmental implementations of this idea include the minimum wage coupled with welfare. Such policies with one hand make it illegal for those with low experience or skills to work while with the other hand pays those same people to not work, crushing their spirit and the motivation to improve themselves.

Private implementation of this idea is more rare, but it does happen. The most recent and well-publicized example is that of Gravity Payments located in Seattle. The company’s CEO, Dan Price, apparently took a page from Atlas Shrugged and announced they would implement a new $70,000 minimum salary pay scale (that’s a $33.65 minimum wage).

Those on the left predictably rejoiced at this news – here was someone finally doing privately what they have been insisting for so long government must force everyone to do. Irrespective of who implements such a plan (public or private) it is doomed to failure on psychological grounds. The first signs of that failure harkens back to the Atlas Shrugged quote above – “we kept losing our men.” Early on two of Gravity Payment’s key employees quit citing the inequity of a pay scale they saw as rewarding the least productive at the expense of the more productive. Like a talent sieve there is nothing to retain or attract the more productive employee when it is need, and not effort, that is rewarded. Likewise, like an anti-talent magnet only those with the lowest drive and skillset will be attracted, for where else could they have any hope of earning such a high wage?

The irony here is that Mr. Price started his company in order to provide the lowest cost alternative in the payment processing industry. He saw others charging too much and he knew he could do the same for less (that is, be more efficient and hence more productive). Now he claims he will not raise prices in order to support this new wage scale (he’s already lost some customers over this fear). But, it seems, if he is going to be consistent it would be perfectly acceptable to raise prices and lay a guilt trip on his customers if they were reluctant to pay the higher rates. After all, his company “needs” the money to pay his employees who “need” their high wages.

Wages, like everything else, are a function of supply and demand. Demand is a function of the subjective valuations humans place on things. Supply is a function of the uneven distribution of varying talents. We can no more expect uniformity in wages than we can expect solidarity in opinion or an equal distribution of talents. One can paddle up stream only for so long; eventually nature will overpower our feeble attempts to counter to it.

August 03 / 2015

Kate’s Law: Smoke and Mirrors

Politicians are nothing if not predictable. Whenever a tragedy occurs they are all too eager to pronounce how their proposed law will ensure such things never happen again. Unfortunately this is never the case. Whatever “law” they have proposed, were it in place at the time of the tragedy, actually would have done nothing to prevent it. For example in the wake of the Newtown Connecticut shootings there were calls to ban “assault rifles” and increase waiting periods. Even if one is inclined to believe such measures can reduce violence they have to admit it would have done nothing to have stopped that particular shooting: no “assault” rifles were used and the perpetrator used the legally acquired weapons owned by mother (whom he killed to get at them). Perhaps a law that makes it illegal to kill someone and take their guns could have prevented that tragedy. Why has no one thought of that yet!

Another recent tragedy has sparked yet another wave of legislative inanity. The tragic death of Kate Steinle this past July in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant (an apparent accidental shooting) has prompted several new proposed laws in Congress, the most prominent one being “Kate’s Law” (of interest: no gun laws are proposed because the weapon used was stolen from a federal agent’s car and subsequently found in the trash by the shooter). This law seeks to increase jail time to a minimum of 5 years for illegal immigrants who re-enter after deportation. The suspect in the case (Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez) is a 5 time deportee. He has been described as a “convicted felon” but the only “felonies” committed are entering the US illegally after being deported as well as some low level non-violent drug offenses. A model citizen he is not, but he’s hardly Tony Montana.

People believe a 5-year sentence would have prevented this tragedy because he was released in March 2015 after having served 4 years for re-entering the US after being deported. So yes, I suppose technically had the 5-year minimum been in place this tragic shooting would not have occurred. But this is just playing games on the margins. Who’s to say had he been released 1 year later that the same thing would not have occurred then? People would be beating their chests for mandatory 6-year sentences! Yes, that will solve it. If extending jail time is an effective method to prevent violent deaths then why not also argue that all convicted felons (irrespective of immigration/citizenship status) have a year added to their sentence? Or two? Or ten? Or perhaps life in jail? There is no logical divide between “Kate’s Law” and a proposal for perpetual jail time as a method to prevent crime.

The real problem here is not the length of the prison sentence but rather a disconnect between the duties of local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement (ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Legally Francisco should have been deported after his sentence was up, however San Francisco County denied the request to turn him over and he was released. This is where cities like San Francisco get the moniker of “sanctuary cities.” Unsurprisingly such simple labels do not tell the whole story. “Sanctuary cities” as such do not exist (in that they harbor actual violent criminals). Whenever a case involves an actual violent felon all such cities have complied with ICE requests for detention. But violent convicted felons who are also illegal immigrants are quite rare. Most immigrants who find themselves temporarily locked up are guilty of low-level misdemeanors or less. Local authorities simply do not have the manpower, resources or money to cooperate with ICE on every single arrest of someone who may possibly have a questionable immigration status. ICE basically expects local agencies to feed, house, and manage every single person they arrest who might possibly be an illegal immigrant while providing zero monetary compensation for such efforts. This is what is known as an “unfunded mandate.” And if the city does hold someone for ICE for days on end and they turn out to not be an illegal then quite often the city gets sued. Do you think ICE is there to help them defend against that suit? There’s no free lunch. If the Feds want help in enforcing immigration laws they need to pay for that help.

The irony here is that the Federal government poisoned our neighbor’s well and now feigns outrage when those neighbors come here to use our well. The US created this immigration “crisis” through their policies of agricultural subsidies that allow US farmers to dump cheap goods into Latin America. This destroyed those agricultural markets, put their farmers out of work, and ultimately leads to the unemployed looking for work in the US. Interventionism, whether domestic (subsidies) or international, always results in unintended outcomes (blowback). The solution is not more interventionism but to undo the original intervention.

July 28 / 2015
Author Greg Morin
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I Don’t Hope

I have a confession to make. I play the lottery. Yes, I understand math implies I have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of winning the jackpot, but it’s only a couple of bucks a week and ultimately somebody has to win, so who knows. I reveal this dark secret in order to set the stage for a demonstration of the ineptitude of government agency running a business: The Georgia Lottery Commission. Although to be fair it would appear the Georgia Legislature had an equal hand in the stupidity I am about to reveal.

A few years ago the GLC actually did something beneficial for their customers, they added the ability to buy lottery tickets on line. You can buy nearly everything else on line, why not lottery tickets? The process itself was a bit convoluted, you couldn’t just pay with a credit card or Paypal, you had to open a pseudo-Discover debit card called the “iHope Card” that you had to first fund from a bank account before you could play. However the card acted like a debit card so you could in theory get at your money whenever you needed it. More on that later.

In the beginning the process worked well. Every 3 months I’d buy 26 draws of the same number and then not think about it for another 3 months. Click and forget, very easy. Occasionally if jackpots got huge I might pick up a few more tickets from the comfort of home. Unfortunately that has all ended. In the past few months either a new law was passed or the GLC simply got around to enforcing an existing law. The upshot is that one must now be physically located in the state of Georgia to buy a Georgia lottery ticket. This is where we enter the Twilight Zone. Only government would craft its business model around the ideal of striving toward FEWER sales and LESS revenue by artificially restricting its customer base. I thought the revenue raised by the lottery was for funding in-state education. If people in other states want to send money to Georgia voluntarily to help educate children here, exactly what is the problem with that?

In any event, in order to ensure this asinine edict is upheld the GLC implemented a new software check that attempts to determine one’s computer location based on a combination of IP address and local Wi-Fi networks. Sounds simple enough to the uninitiated, but for those who work in IT like myself it is evident that such an approach will be fraught with false negatives. I know because I was caught up in their net and became intimately familiar with the methods they are using. One must have two (or possibly many more, they really don’t know) Wi-Fi networks nearby (this cuts out anyone not living in a dense urban environment). Likewise, one can’t be running the Mac OS because the GLC software mistakes a core function of OS X (Remote Management) as something that might interfere in location determination (it can’t). The GLC even laughably suggests one buy a Wi-Fi extender to find more networks – that’s like suggesting one buy stronger binoculars to see better in the dark. GLC’s new motto: It is better that a thousand Georgians be inconvenienced than for one Alabaman near the border to buy a lotto ticket. Brilliant.

The second act in this drama gets even more interesting (all lawyers pay close attention to this one). Seeing as how I could not use my account to buy tickets on line anymore, I opted to transfer funds back to my bank account and close the iHope account. Alas, I soon discovered you are only allowed to transfer WINNINGS out of an iHope account to a bank account (this fact confirmed by calling support when I was unable to transfer all funds). Any money that you originally transferred to it from a bank account cannot subsequently be transferred back. So what’s the problem? Well, first, that is an idiotic artificial limitation, but secondly, that information is not disclosed anywhere. I scoured the account agreement (where it should have been) and do not see any mention of this fact. Astoundingly enough their website FAQ clearly contradicts their policy by stating that

 

“CAN I TRANSFER MY WINNINGS FROM MY IHOPECARD ACCOUNT TO MY BANK ACCOUNT? Yes. Transfer your winnings, or any funds originating from your bank account, to your registered bank account.”

 

Repeated attempts to inform their tech support their FAQ was wrong resulted only them parroting the FAQ back to me. I would characterize this blatant omission and ongoing contradiction of a material fact regarding how the iHope account functions as fraud. Any interested class action attorneys – I will leave you to it.

July 24 / 2015

Symbols

Shortly after the horrific Charleston church shooting an arrest was made of the execrable Dylann Roof. The media quickly set about digging into his social media resumé (as it were) and soon discovered photos where he is either posing with a Confederate flag or paying homage to the former flag of apartheid era South Africa. This man-child monster was a hater. He posed with things that (in his mind) were a reflection of hatred. Upon tasting something vile or bitter you immediately spit it out; that was the same reaction society had to everything (well, not Gold’s Gym) associated pictographically with this person (and I use the term “person” loosely).

There not being any strong historical connection in the American psyche with apartheid era flags attention naturally turned to the Confederate flag (or more properly the Confederate “battle flag”  – the actual national flag of the Confederacy resembled America’s revolutionary flag). For simplicity I will refer to it as “the flag.” This flag (until recently) flew in numerous places all across the American south, from both government property and private property. National attention quickly turned focus on this fact and demands were made that these flags be removed — permanently. If ever proof were needed that this flag was a symbol of hate we certainly had it now given Dylan Roof’s deployment of it as a backdrop to his angry-white-trash-loner memes.

As a white man with no cultural connection to the American south (as close as one can get to neutrality on this issue) I’ll offer my perspective. On the one hand, I have friends who I believe are truly sincere when they say for them the flag is not a symbol of hate, that it is a reminder of their heritage, in the same way immigrants might cleave to cultural symbology of “the old country”. For others it is a way to honor their direct ancestors who sacrificed their lives to protect their family from attack. These people are not closet racists just looking for a pretext to trot out passive-aggressive symbols of racism. But – I can see where the other side is coming from. After all, this flag WAS the battle emblem of a nation founded upon the principal that it is perfectly acceptable for one man to own another. Yes, secession was the result of many differences between the south and the Federal government but that doesn’t change the fact that the Confederate States of America’s constitution explicitly protected the practice of slavery. Saying the CSA was about much more than slavery, it was about a way of life, about state’s rights, etc. is all well and good, but that’s like a progressive/socialist arguing that the swastika should not offend anyone because Nazi Germany was about much more than just killing Jews… it was about deploying state programs to put people to work, swelling national pride behind a unified purpose of German greatness, and keeping people safe by outlawing private gun ownership – if but for the Holocaust that Hitler guy wasn’t so bad! (for the tone-deaf, this is sarcasm to make a point)

So to my southern friends I say this: yes, you have the right to display any symbol of your heritage you want, but you can’t feign ignorance about why some people might be offended or upset by it – the CSA’s pro-slavery stance has pooped in the punch bowl that is serving up symbols of your heritage. Sorry – feel free to commiserate with Hindus or Buddhists who had their beloved swastika ruined by the Nazi’s.

To all those that clamored, petitioned, and finally achieved the removal of the flag from state government grounds – congratulations. But now please stop. You’ve won. The movement is now getting ridiculous. People are calling for buildings, roads, and other public spaces to be renamed because they are named after someone who was openly racist, or who might have been racist, or who watched something racist on TV. People are even calling to have the corpses of former Confederate generals and soldiers dug up and removed from state-run grounds. People are also calling for the removal of the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson! They have a term for this: cultural genocide.

If the general rule used for honoring the dead is that that person never did or said anything bad or that might offend the sensibilities of someone in the future, well then I guess only saints need apply. Who shall cast the first stone? I dare say everyone who has done something memorable or praiseworthy also has had their share of dark moments. Let sleeping dogs lie and move on. You can’t change the past. It is equally important to recall the bad and the good in people – as the saying goes, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

July 13 / 2015
Author Greg Morin
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I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday – Not!

Jimmy enjoyed life. To more fully enjoy it Jimmy needed some money. Jimmy could have worked and saved and worked and saved – but that takes too long. Jimmy wanted to enjoy life NOW. So Jimmy borrowed money from Bob and promised to repay it later – he was a young man; he had plenty of time to pay it back. But Jimmy quickly burned through that loan and was unwilling to suffer the indignation of giving up his carefree lifestyle. So he asked to borrow some more – and he was given more, but at a higher interest rate that reflected Bob’s growing uncertainty about Jimmy’s ability to pay him back. This cycle continued for a while until the interest rate got high enough that Jimmy started to borrow less and less. Then came along Jimmy’s wealthier, older brother Timmy who agreed to co-sign all future loans with Jimmy. Knowing how wealthy Timmy was, Bob felt a lot better about his prospects for getting repaid, so he agreed to a lower interest rate. With this new found credit-worthiness Jimmy went on a binge of borrowing that vastly exceeded what he had done up to that point. This cycle of new Timmy-guaranteed loans continued until one day Timmy said “no more.” To help his brother out Timmy convinced Bob (owing to their strong business relationship) to take a “haircut” on the outstanding loans (that is, write down the amount owed) if Jimmy promised to get his financial affairs in order. Jimmy agreed and Bob complied. But after only a few years Jimmy was back to his old borrow and spend ways and Timmy and Bob had had enough. No more loans until Jimmy paid his loans on time. Jimmy was capable of doing this, but only by drastically cutting back his expenditures. Predictably Jimmy balked. He insisted he would not pay back anything unless Bob once again took a “haircut” and gave him more time to repay. The moral of the story? Don’t live beyond your means by borrowing from tomorrow to pay for today’s luxuries. Also, don’t lend money to those that obviously are unable or unwilling to repay it. This advice applies equally to individuals as well as to countries.

For those unfamiliar with the details of the current Greek debt crisis this little tale above illustrates in the abstract how Greece has behaved over the years. All the details are true, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Jimmy is Greece (Jimmy the Greek, get it?), Bob represents all those banks that have lent money to the Greek government over the years, first by buying Drachma based bonds and now EU-based Greek debt, and lastly, Timmy represents the EU itself. After the Euro was fully adopted in 2002 in the EU all member nations retired their national currency in favor of the Euro. The economically more productive countries imbued the Euro with a fiscal resilience that the economically weaker countries (such as Greece) have exploited. Like a reckless teenager using daddy’s credit card, under the Euro regime Greece has been able to borrow more and at a better rate than they ever could have under their Drachma.

Some have suggested if only the EU were more like the US Greece would not be in this bind. In the US the wealthy states subsidize the poorer states via federalized tax transfers (Social Security, welfare, infrastructure projects etc) without the poorer states “owing” anything. That, however, is in invalid comparison. Those are federal programs forced upon all the states. Greece is not in financial straights because of EU mandates. Greece is in trouble because of its own internal government spending. A more apt comparison would be the looming pension crisis in US states (e.g. California, Illinois, New Jersey, etc) where the governments of those states made promises to public worker retirees that are impossible to keep. Citizens of Georgia will be no more interested in bailing out Californian public sector pensioners than are citizens of Germany interested in bailing out a similarly profligate Greece. The pattern is universal in democracy: a gullible public showers with the most votes those politicians who promises them financial security with one hand by robbing their children’s piggy bank with the other.

Although we rubbernecking Americans may feel secure atop the perch of our SUV-sized economy while we idle past the spectacle of Keynesian-influenced deficit spending and Socialism that is Greece, our time is coming. When debt is measured in relation to a country’s tax revenue (that is, the ability to repay it) the US comes in third  – right behind Japan… and Greece. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

July 06 / 2015

Supreme Kool-Aid

The Supreme Court rendered two landmark decisions this past week. For those short on time I will parse them in the simplest of terms. In King v. Burwell (the “Obamacare” case) the Court decided that “established by the States” can mean exactly the same thing as “not established by the States.” This ranks right up there with Bill Clinton’s inability to parse the meaning of the word “is.” This linguistic pretzel betrays the court’s predilection to save Congress from themselves. The court regards Congress as a parent would a child who keeps getting into trouble: “aw, shucks silly rabbit, you mean you didn’t anticipate that a poison pill clause aimed at punishing the citizens of recalcitrant states might blow up in your face if those states remained recalcitrant? – well, don’t you worry, old Uncle Roberts will fix that right up for you with his magical judicial word-redefiner.”

In the next decision, Obergefell v. Hodges (the “gay marriage” case) the Court affirmed the principle that we should heap accolades upon our wise overlords when they deign to stop interfering in our lives. Apparently we need the state to stop other states from doing bad things – but who will protect us when the federal state does bad things? State regulation of marriage makes about as much sense as state regulation of healthcare.

Right about now the left is feeling pretty smug and self-satisfied with these decisions. But the right has had their day, and they will once again. That’s just how our system works – the lives of 300 million people must conform to the opinion of nine random people in black robes while each side cheers for their “team.” Both sides trumpet the merits of democracy – until their side loses. When that happens they are both all too happy to jettison the “democratic” results and substitute it with the opinion of 9 monarchs.

The fact that so many wait in eager anticipation for a sign of white or black smoke wafting from the judicial chimney of the Supreme Palace betrays something rather sinister. Nearly all of us are part of a cult: the cult of the State. The figurative “kool-aid” of state-love is doled out year after year at, gasp!, state run schools. There is nearly no defense against this mountain of propaganda. We grow up believing our rights come from government and therefore when the wise sages of that august institution speak, we must pay heed.

Consider a different perspective: The US Government is the functional equivalent of a private corporation that has monopolized certain segments of the economy. It maintains its market dominance and its customer base (us) through a combination of brainwashing during childhood, the illusion of control in adulthood (voting), and the for those that would rebel against paying for products it forces upon us, the overt threat of violence from a massive military complex. Cast in that light we should see that the internal policy making procedures of this company should have as much relevance to one’s life as would the operational policy decisions made at Apple, Walmart or Payless Shoe Stores. Who cares what 9 random people think? How is it that we not only allow – we welcome – other people, (the President, Congress, or the Supreme Court) telling us how to run our lives? If you want to participate in a socialized insurance system called “Obamacare” fine, be my guest. That has as much relevance to my life as does your decision to buy car insurance from Progressive and not State Farm. However, I choose to not purchase the products of U.S. Government, Inc – Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare. I also see no need to ask permission from one of its wholly owned subsidiaries (Georgia, Inc.) to get married, get a job, start a business or educate my children.

Now some might argue that I have a “social responsibility” to purchase some products (“public goods”) and that gosh-darn someone must force me to do so if I won’t. In reality, there is no such thing as “public goods” – this is simply a name that emerges from sloppy and lazy thinking from those that can’t fathom how anything other than violence could bring such products to market. And for those inclined to cite “the roads” please bear in mind it only constitutes about 1% of government spending.

I will close with this one tidbit of irony. The determination of the constitutionality of laws by the Supreme Court (“judicial review”) is itself unconstitutional. You can scour the Constitution but you will not find the authority for the court to engage in this practice.  This notion of “judicial review” was born out of the court’s ruling in Marbury v. Madison in 1803 as a matter of expediency and we’ve suffered the consequences ever since. That the dictum “the ends justify the means” guides this court’s decision should come as no surprise considering its power to render these decisions flowed from the same principle.

June 30 / 2015
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