Category Archives: Libertarian opinion

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.

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”

Eyes Wide Shutdown

The current government shutdown is moving into its third week as I write this and has now won the prize for longest shutdown in history – truly America is being made great again. The longer it goes on the more Americans it affects. Already we are seeing multi-hour queues at TSA checkpoints as more and more unpaid but “essential” federal employees are quitting or calling in sick. Many IRS agents have been furloughed and that agency is operating at minimal capacity (although I think that would bolster support for the shutdown!). And for the first time ever I have been personally impacted by one of these shutdowns insofar as my genealogical hobby has been halted by the shuttering of the doors at the National Archives.

The popular stereotype of anti-government libertarians might lead one to believe libertarians are rejoicing. Although there might be a wee bit of schadenfreude, for the most part that is not the case since (a) libertarians oppose the state, not government (a critical but important distinction that even many self-described libertarians are oblivious to) and (b) temporary disruptions do nothing to advance that goal for the same reason your employer doesn’t hire a replacement every time you go on vacation. But – when a poorly performing employee does go on vacation sometimes it provides an opportunity to demonstrate to management that a temporary replacement is actually doing a better job – or that maybe we don’t need that position after all (i.e. no one noticed that the job not getting done).

For example during this shutdown many local businesses around Yellowstone National Park have banded together and voluntarily taken over the duties of the local park service (removing trash, cleaning bathrooms, maintaining roads, etc).

Why? Because it is in their mutual self-interest – all those tourists coming to Yellowstone also spend their money at those local restaurants, hotels, and shops. Indeed, this is the model that answers the perennial “but who will build the roads?” question – businesses that want to make it easy for customers to find them, that’s who.

Likewise the TSA disruption should make all question why exactly airport security is an arm of the federal government? Do we really want air travel in this country to be held hostage by the whims of those bickering children in Washington? Up until the incidents of September 11 airport security was a completely private affair. 9-11 was certainly not a failure on the part of that private system (unless of course you believe a federal TSA agent would have (a) stopped the guys with the box cutters because (b) they knew box cutter = destroyed buildings). Again, airports and airlines have aligned incentives in that both would be culpable and liable if they allowed dangerous individuals on board a flight. They should be allowed to choose the best most competent agency to handle security, rather than being forced to accept a single monopolistic agency (TSA) that can’t be fired no matter how poorly they perform. Due to the “crowding out” effect caused by nationalization (as with the TSA) there exists no viable competitors that could take over during these short-term disruptions (because by their nature they are short term – who would start a business that could only get operate once every year or two for a week or two?).

Hopefully this current shutdown will serve as a “teachable moment” amongst the general public who will begin to question why the federal government must control endeavors that can quite easily be managed by the private sector.

On Property Rights and Poop

I recently had the opportunity to visit San Francisco for the first time. Coastal towns tend to be a bit more interesting in terms of cuisine (seafood being one of the more varied palate options) as well as architecture (steep hill structures are ever a testament to human ingenuity) and San Francisco scores high in both categories. However one area where it currently scores quite low is in the aroma zone. At first I thought perhaps they had a very inefficient sewer system near the shoreline retail sector, but as we explored deeper toward the city center it became clear something was amiss. I learned shortly thereafter that San Francisco has a poop crisis. To be blunt – people are literally crapping on the sidewalks. Not the tourists mind you but the local homeless population. The situation has come to a head (or to the head to employ a nautical metaphor) primarily as a result of progressive conservatism primed with the power of centralized (governmental) authority.

The outside leftist narrative of course is that this poop crisis is inevitable results of unmitigated capitalism, which drives the eternal boogeyman of income inequality. This inequality fuels gentrification of the San Francisco housing market (no, actually property taxes are the prime driver of gentrification – if you own your home absent property tax you would never need to sell due to rising prices). So as housing becomes ever more “unaffordable” people are forced out of their homes and onto the street. This is of course complete nonsense. Prices only go up if supply is constrained while demand is rising. So in order to discover why supply is constrained we turn our attention toward the “inside” leftists (that is, the progressive liberals who live there). It turns out those that live there are in fact quit conservative (even if they don’t realize it). Any attempted new housing project must pass not only governmental hurdles but also the “local input” of current residents. These residents walk and talk like social progressives but because one of their core tenets is that they do not want the flavor, character, or architecture of the area in which they live to change – that is, they want to conserve it in perpetuity  – this by definition makes them conservatives in that arena. Their dual desire to not only keep San Francisco locked in an eternal snow globe style stasis but to also not erode the value of their homes drives them to engage in this very destructive economic protectionism: keeping new comers out by making it virtually impossible (or more costly than necessary) to build, keeps the value of their own homes artificially elevated while preserving the Norman Rockwell character of their town.

To fully appreciate the extent of the damage they are causing and why perhaps more than anywhere else in the country the homeless problem is so acute is that the median price of a modest single family home now stands at $1.6 million. A family of four with a household income of $100k is considered at the poverty line and actually qualifies for assistance from HUD (let that sink in – taxpayers across the country are subsidizing the housing of people making a $100k/year).

So what is the solution? Always the same and likewise always decried as “unrealistic” – remove all housing regulations and obstacles and let anyone build anything anywhere (works just fine in Houston, TX thank you very much). Your neighbor has no right to say what you can do with your property. Progressives (yes, I’m looking at you “townies” in Athens) should stop blocking progress when it comes to housing and development.

 

 

Private Critic

One of the central tenants of leftist-progressive ideology is that private concentrations of power are to be feared whereas similar public concentrations (the state) is of relatively minor concern. This indifference is the result of the mistaken belief that “we” can control the state because democracy. But, private actors might do something we don’t like, and without a formal (legal) framework to force them to bend to our will there’s no limit to their potential diabolic deeds. The obvious leftist solution to this quandary then is to unleash the power of that entity we believe we control (the state) so that it may exert its monopoly on the use of violence in order to achieve those ends we find desirable. Just because one can train a lion, tiger, or shark to do their bidding does not mean one is in control of the beast; like the state, they will tolerate you as long as you are useful, and when you are not, well, it’s dinnertime.

Those of us adhering to the tenants of individual freedom and free markets, however, believe the opposite. We fear the state exerting control precisely because we recognize its monolithic power. We can control the state as much as we can push back a tidal wave. Private “power” is not a concern, as private entities can’t use violence to force you to buy their services. If they do something people don’t, like then the market will correct the situation – given enough time (and a lack of state imposed barriers preventing such corrections).

So what is the point of this prologue? Well in the past few weeks we’ve seen the narrative flip somewhat. There has been a widespread move to “deplatform” a variety of right leaning (comedian Gavin McGinnes, The Proud Boys, Stefan Molyneux, etc) and other malcontents (Alex Jones/InfoWars) among the social media giants (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc). So what is this? This is private actors using their power to silence voices. This is private actors refusing to serve certain customers. This is private actors discriminating on the basis of thoughts and words.

This is perfectly fine from a rights perspective.

Those (the left) who are normally up in arms over private actors “abusing” their power (e.g. cake bakers) are conspicuously silent. Apparently refusing service to those you disagree with (e.g. Sarah Huckabee Sanders) adheres to the core leftist belief of it should only be legal if I agree with it.

It is now instead the free market libertarians having the loud and vocal conversation about private actors engaging in socially undesirable (censorship) behavior. Yes, these are private companies and they can include or exclude anyone from their platform. No one (libertarians anyway) is calling for some kind of regulation to force them to include everyone. But, just because some one or some group has the right to do something (that is, they should not be thrown in a cage for doing so) doesn’t mean someone who respects that right has to agree with how that right is exercised. One may still rightly criticize how or why some action was taken. Criticizing actions and saying there should be a law against such actions are a universe apart. Criticism is that murmur that can start an avalanche of (non-coerced, voluntary) change.

Say My Name

Say My Name

This past week CNN’s Jim Acosta got into a somewhat heated (for a press conference) exchange with Sarah Sanders (Trump’s press secretary). This brouhaha centered on President Trump’s recent comments on Twitter (where else?) that cast the press (“Fake News Media”) as the “real enemy of the people.”

Apparently this assertion is something poor Jim Acosta could not abide. He all but demanded that Ms. Sanders retract the claim by proxy by passive-aggressively asking her if that too was her stance. Since those who adhere to “goodthink” would never agree to such a sentiment then Ms. Sanders would have no choice but to contravene her boss. But, if she does what the job requires, that is to only promulgate the President’s position, then she is backed into a corner and can’t contradict the claim, even if personally she does not adhere to it. It’s the classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

After Mr. Acosta’s extended monologue-cum-question she did eventually answer the question as best she could within the constraints of her position. This was not to Jim’s liking. Again he persisted – he simply would not relent until he heard the words “the press is not the enemy of the people” come out of her mouth. But they never did.

Whether Trump’s remarks are a valid or invalid point of view is not the point of this article however. What I found far more interesting was the left’s reaction (in this case embodied by CNN) to Ms. Sander’s refusal to disavow the enemy-of-the-people notion. Later in the day Mr. Acosta had an “interview” with a CNN anchor concerning the events earlier at the press conference. He was approaching apoplexy as the sympathetic anchor nodded in unison to his bewilderment and then anger about such remarks. You see, she just refused to say “radical Islamic terrorism”, oh whoops, sorry, that is, “the press is not the enemy of the people.”

Yes the left too can rival the right in the exercise of elevating inane phrases as the “good American” litmus test. The “Thinkpol” have been alerted, watch out! And of course both sides only ever have the interests of Americans at heart. Trump insisted Obama was putting this country at risk by refusing to say “radical Islamic terrorism” as it failed to address the terrorism problem where it originated. Today the press insists Trump is putting the country at risk by refusing to disavow, “the press is the enemy of the people” because apparently somehow Joe citizen will interpret that phrase as permission to start The Purge™ on all journalists.

Both are patently absurd positions. Those who yearn to create such “loyalty oaths” that must be uttered in order to prove oneself to be a good upstanding American are engaged in a performative contradiction. The very act of expecting or demanding or requiring such utterances annihilates any connection you may be claiming to the putative ideals of America: freedom and liberty. Those words mean the following: I don’t owe you a thing and you don’t owe me a thing, but if we want to mind our business and stop worrying about what other people are doing or thinking or saying then maybe we can all just get down to the business of living together and treating each other with the same level of respect we desire in return.

 

Words Speak Louder Than Actions?

Why so much hate for the Donald? If we look only at his actual policies they are in fact no different than any of his predecessors. Differences that may exist are in degree, not kind. Or non-existant at all. For example ICE deportations are both up and down under Trump when compared to Obama. They are up from FY2016 (61,094 vs 44,512) but dramatically lower under Trump than under Obama’s first years (averaging over 225,000 from 2008-2012). The point being before you start jumping up and down about what a monster some president is in comparison to “your guy” chances are high that “your guy” at some point did the exact the same thing or far worse. That goes both ways my Democrat and Republican friends. That’s because they are all the same. Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump – they’ve all been responsible for murdering innocent civilians in other countries by the truck load. But nobody cares because we wave the flag and chant “US interests” or “national defense” as if somehow that incantation is supposed to bring absolution. We’re all too eager to protest the president over something he said (mere words) but then stand silent with respect to their horrendous actions (murdering innocents). I guess actions don’t speak louder than words when it comes to Presidential concerns, at least where it concerns Trump.

Clinton, Bush, Obama, and now Trump have all escalated the drug war. They have all been responsible for caging millions of people for the “crime” of having in their possession something that some other people think they shouldn’t have in their possession. If we threw people in cages for owning certain books there would be a groundswell of public outcry; yet change that word from “book” to “drug” and somehow it all makes perfect sense. There is no constitutional amendment (like alcohol prohibition had supporting it) mandating a drug war, so any of these presidents with the stroke of a pen could have ended this senseless and costly “war” on drugs. That not one of them has serves as a testament to their cowardice and wickedness.

So it is not Trump’s policies that the left finds so objectionable but rather his delivery. Indeed when he shuts up and bombs people the press fall all over themselves praising how “presidential” he is. For shame. Killing people is presidential? Trump is crude and blunt when he speaks. Not at all how we picture our Hollywood presidents to be. The press and the left would like someone from central casting (like Obama) filling the role – someone who just “seems” presidential. This crudeness is perhaps Trumps only redeeming quality. It puts the lie to the notion that presidents are somehow better, smarter, and wiser, than the rest of us and are worthy of the power we bestow upon them. They are not. With Trump we see the Everyman President. And it scares us. And it should. But it should scare us no matter who occupies that office. Do not be so easily duped by the silver tongue of the professional politician. If you focus on their deeds and not their words then perhaps we might one day reign in their power.

Quora post: Libertarians, why should I lean libertarian?

Here’s my reply:

It comes down to one simple question: do you believe that sometimes it is ok to initiate (that is, you are not responding to violence initiated against you) or threaten to initiate violence against others in order to achieve some end? Or stated differently, do you believe that sometimes the ends justify the means?

if you answer “yes” then you are not a libertarian but in order to not also be a hypocrite you should also happily accept whatever is done to you by the state in order that the state may achieve its putatively meritorious ends. Any objection to any state action in this situation would be hypocritical.

On the other hand if you answer “no” to this question then you are a libertarian and following this one simple rule in life will yield the correct answer whenever it is asked “”should the state do X?”

The Blame Train

The blame train continues its journey. First the democrats blamed racist angry whites for Clinton’s loss. But it turns out white’s preference for the R over the D candidate was statistically no different in this election than in those of recent memory. Indeed Clinton lost ground among blacks and Hispanics against the putatively “racist” Trump. Next came the “fake news” canard which suggested that overtly absurd “news” stories with limited ideological appeal somehow swayed the decision making process of those completely unplugged from the inside baseball of politics. Now the latest attempt at diverting blame for Hillary’s historic loss is the narrative that Russia tried to influence the outcome of the election by “helping” Trump by exposing to the public the sordid underbelly of the DNC and their candidate. The source of this narrative? None other than the CIA. You know, the folks that brought us “trust us, there really are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” The agency with a decades long history of interfering in the internal affairs of other nations (see Iran coup of 1953), whose sole purpose is to manipulate foreign nationals into doing their bidding so as to gain a political outcome favorable to US interests, they are now the ones crying foul that the US was the victim of the exact same shenanigan they routinely engage in. Well sort of. The Washington Post article citing this revelation only refers to anonymous sources indirectly briefed by the agency. Yep, sounds ironclad to me.

What evidence that has been released is laughable at best. It is the real world equivalent of citing as proof of an Indian attack the fact that the attackers wore headdress and threw tomahawks. Because no one ever has ever thought to cast a false appearance in order to shift blame. In other words, if Russia actually did decide to engage in such a hack they would not be stupid enough to actually use tools with a clear Russian fingerprint. That alone basically tells you it was NOT Russia.

Then again it doesn’t really matter if Russia was involved. They aren’t being accused of actually physically hacking vote tallies. They are being accused of playing a role in the release of truthful information. It is indeed a crazy world where the former heart of the Soviet empire is the vanguard of truth while the American government seeks to bury it. Notice none of those on the left deny the information that was released. They can’t, because it’s all true. The best they can hope for is some sort of Cold War era McCarthy-esque ties-to-Russia smear campaign against Trump in order to undermine or delegitimize his presidency. But it won’t work because at the end of the day the people only care about the information, not how it was obtained. To wit, even with all of the recent revelations of Russian “hacking” a Pew Research poll shows 99% of Trump voters and 97% of Clinton voters would cast the exact same vote today as they did on November 8.

Phantom Menace

I voted for Johnson. Trump was not my guy, but… moving past the initial shock of his win, I am both cautiously optimistic and filled with schadenfreude. The schadenfreude is directed at Hillary supporters. Donald Trump is the perfect vessel for wiping that conceited smugness from their soul. As the saying goes, if you live by the sword, don’t act all shocked when someone uses the sword to vanquish you. That sword is democracy and she is indeed a fickle mistress. If you abuse her power she will flee you and indeed that is exactly what happened to the left. For 8 long years they crammed tax increases, Obamacare, pro-Union rules, and a tidal wave of new regulations down our throats. They thought it would improve our lives. I’m sure they meant well. But they were wrong (economic ignorance will do that n.b. Bernie supporters).

People ultimately vote their pocket book, which is why it was not a wave of “white racism” that elected Trump (indeed he carried less of the white vote than Romney and the same as Bush) but rather economic self-interest. Yes, Trump is a boorish loudmouth, but people don’t care as long as they think he’s the most likely to improve their lot. Do you poll your plumber about his relationships with women or do you just want him to fix your toilet? I’m not hiring Donald Trump to teach manners or to babysit my kids. People voted for Trump not because of the things he said, but in spite of them. That takes real courage.

But you wouldn’t know it to witness the outpouring of apocalyptic hyperbole from the left on social media and the airwaves. The hypocrisy is astounding. Not two weeks ago after the third debate the liberal media was all a twitter about Trump’s unprecedented remarks about reserving his acceptance of the results until after the election and what this would mean for our democracy. Gasp! The liberal media predicted possible violence and turmoil from trigger-happy right wing nut-jobs. Well guess what? The left lost and then behaved exactly as they had predicted the right would! Indeed, it is their behavior that is unprecedented. Never before have elections results in the US been openly and violently contested. Then right on cue (see we were right!) the prophecies came true. Stories started coming in of pro-Trump violence against minorities. But this boy has cried wolf one too many times. The left has a track record of such false flags. Thanks to Wikileaks we learned the Clinton campaign paid people to incite violence at Trump rallies. Likewise we soon found that most if not all of these stories were either fabricated from whole cloth or were grossly misrepresented. https://goo.gl/Q269bv

But so far these protests aren’t about anything Trump has done, merely their fear of what he might do. He is today but a phantom menace. I suppose that fear is understandable given the mantle of unchallenged executive authority he is inheriting from Obama. Perhaps if the left had not been so indifferent to the pleas of libertarians and constitutional conservatives about executive abuses of power they would have less to fear now. But, I guess when it’s your guy doing stuff you approve of it’s no big deal. I don’t know what you’re afraid of though, it’s not like Trump is going to round up all the Muslims or Mexicans and put them in internment camps. Only a Democrat (FDR) would do something like that.