FREEDOM FROM FREEDOM

By Mike Cronin

Today we celebrate our nations’ birthday, codified by the Declaration of Independence.  It is one of the watershed documents of human history – not for its eloquence (though it is wonderfully written), but for what it accomplishes. In modern parlance, it is the “vision statement” of a new country (the preamble of the Constitution is the “mission statement,” while the body and the Bill of Rights are the “operating manual”) – one founded on the concept that the purpose of government is to protect the individual rights of the citizens – and not much else.

The kind of freedom espoused in the Declaration does not come freely.  An individual free from government oppression must by definition also be “free” from dependence on government – he or she must be self-reliant.  He or she must produce what they need to survive, either directly, through the hard physical work of living off the land, or indirectly, by doing the hard physical or mental work of producing something worthy of exchanging for the food, water, shelter, clothes, and other goods and services one needs to survive.  Under this vision of freedom, survival is the basic underlying motivation for producing: either you make your own shelter and grow/kill your own food, or you make something to sell to others, or work for someone else in exchange for money so you can buy those things, or you don’t eat and don’t have a roof over your head!

Basic survival is the foundational motivation, but it is not the only one.  Since any surplus produced belongs to the producer who created it, it can be saved for a rainy day, or exchanged for something else – a luxury, perhaps, or something that will make the future effort of producing “a living” go a little easier, i.e. an investment. In this manner, the “rugged individualists” are producers of wealth.  They have no expectation that anything will be given to them, and they demand that nothing be taken from them – but they trade value for value amongst each other. All economic exchanges are conducted voluntarily to mutual benefit. This is how wealth can be created.  It is the essence of Capitalism.

Critics either cannot or will not see this creation of wealth, this “enlargement of the pie.”  To those folks, the “pie” is finite. There is only so much wealth, and if someone has more if than another, they must have stolen the excess, or received it unfairly.  The “pie” (wealth) is distributed, not produced!  They also argue that no one, not even the “rugged individualist,” can go it alone, that each of us must depend on the benevolence of others, or of the state (i.e. the same thing) – under the threat of force, if necessary.  They use that formulation to argue for and justify all manner of violations of our rights by the government (that is supposed to defend those rights), and then point to the artifacts of those intrusions (roads and railways and schools are favorite examples) as proof of their assertions – as if those things have not been and could not be made by private parties.  This is the essence of all forms of Collectivism.

To make it work, they have to cram the word freedom through the Orwellian doublespeak machine. What comes out the other end is all but unrecognizable. To this crowd, freedom means the absence of want or need or responsibility for one’s choices. Since they “can’t” handle the requirements of individualism, they must first hook as many people as possible onto the drug of state dependency, and then they must vilify and penalize those who insist on being individualists.  Therefore, you must want government regulation and government assistance for everything, right? It’s what’s best for you.  Surely, then, you‘ll understand and appreciate the tax man taking 40-50% or more of everything you produce, right? And when that doesn’t cover the costs of all the “benefits” and “entitlements” the government is “bestowing” upon your neighbor, you’ll understand when the bureaucrats will take even more of your wealth by manipulating the value of the currency, right? (Oh, wait, they forgot to teach that part at the government –run schools they “bestowed” upon you.) Thus, the 1800 square foot house your parent’s bought in the Denver area in the 1960’s for $18,000 goes for $350,000 to $400,000 today. The value of the house might have gone up – it might have even doubled or tripled, based on the popularity of the city and the neighborhood, but it didn’t go up 22 times. Rather the dollar has been devalued that much or more over 50 years – and salaries haven’t kept up.  An $18,000 house was an affordable investment for an engineer with ~3 years’ experience, making a $7K or $8K annual salary in the sixties.  How does the salary of an engineer with ~3 years’ experience compare now, relative to the house that has “gone up in value” 22 times? The median pay for an electrical engineer in Denver, CO is $76K per year now.  The value of the house “went up” 22 times, but the pay of an engineer only “went up” 10 times during the intervening 50 years. The lag between rising prices and rising salaries is the stolen wealth zone.

The Collectivists don’t want you to look behind the curtain. They don’t want you to realize that their formula requires you to be a producer so that more and more people who won’t produce can ride on your back – until it gives out and you beg for assistance yourself – but at that point there won’t be anyone left to provide assistance, and we will have become Venezuela…or worse.

When you celebrate our independence today, will you be celebrating independence from tyranny, or independence from reality?

BAD MEDICINE: A DEBATE ON QUORA

Mike Cronin (M.C.):

Yes:

  1. Everyone has the right to life, but not at the expense of other’s rights, such as their right to dispose of their time, skills, knowledge, and materials as they see fit.
  2. Socialized medicine, AKA “universal healthcare,” violates those rights by demanding that others must pay for my care (or vice versa), and it violates the rights of providers by coercing them to to give said care to me at government prescribed rates vice market rates, which means: at a loss.

My World View, Pt. 2

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By Mike Cronin

I left off last week by asking, “…how can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future?”  In my world view, the answer lies in the opposite direction from what most politicians, pontificators, and pundits would have us follow. The answer lies in treating human beings as individuals first and foremost, not as mere units of whatever contrived victim or oppressor collectives the “divide and conquer” crowd has tried to bin us into. In other words, quite often the pathological power seekers in this world seek to divide us in the name of diversity, while the way to a just, peaceful, and united society is by recognizing and protecting individual rights and liberty.

That means tolerating all kinds of behavior and relationships one might find personally distasteful – so long as such behavior violates no one else’s rights.  In my view, there simply should be no government purview to ban any intoxicants a competent adult might chooses to use – but neither should it allow intoxication to mitigate any criminal or negligent act taken while intoxicated.  It also means the government should have no interest in regulating consensual activities between competent adults.  That means there should be no laws against – nor any kind of tax breaks for – any kind of consensual domestic relationships. The only role government should play is in the realm of contract enforcement: Those who choose to register their relationship and codify any such agreements in writing may turn to the government for dispute resolution if necessary.

Of course, that would also mean the tax code would have to be reformed. As well it should be.  There is only one reason for the government to levy taxes:  to pay for the legitimate, Constitutional functions of government. Likewise, there is only one morally acceptable way to apportion taxes: According to how much government one “consumes,” not according to how much income one earns.  Of course, collecting taxes via income confiscation is right out.  A consumption tax, such as The Fair Tax, is the way to go in my book.

Speaking of books, when did the United States of America become a democracy?  According to more than one of the social studies text books my kids have used over the years, the US is just that: a democracy.  That can be taken in two related ways. The first is simply common usage. At some point in the past, the term “democracy” was corrupted from its original meaning to accommodate nearly any government that has adopted some form of constitution, has separation of powers, leaders chosen by elections, and has a more-or-less open market.  The other way to take it is that some of the same corrupt people who want to chivy us into collectives are in charge of the education-industrial complex.  They want to smuggle into our heads the idea that our government operates according to the concept of majority rule (i.e. pure democracy) vs. the rule of law (i.e. as a republic) – with the ultimate goal being to amass enough of a collectivized majority to gain control of all three branches of government at the same time, undo the Constitution, and turn the US into a Venezuela – all the while believing they are making it into a Sweden (or at least, what they imagine Sweden to be like).

Indeed, one such lament we are always hearing from such quarters is that our “public” school system is failing, always accompanied by the clamor for more and more money to fix it. What if our government schools are not failing?  What if they are doing exactly what they are designed to do?  Given the model our school system is based on (Prussia’s) and the sentiments expressed by many of its promoters and pioneers, (e.g. “The role of the schoolmaster is to collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneading board.” Edward Ross, Sociologist, and “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” –Woodrow Wilson) a strong case can be made that our school system is just fine: It is not designed to produce critical thinkers; it is designed to produce compliant mass consumers, and it does.  When the most pious prophets of the public school systems tell you the system is failing, they mean that it hasn’t yet succeeded in removing all independent thought from the labor and middle-management classes quite yet!

Now don’t go thinking that because I’m critical of government schools that I must be a snob for a snob for parochial schools.  Faith-based private schools, at least of the Catholic variety (of which I have some passing familiarity) may have a better record of producing literate, college-bound graduates than government schools, but they are very comfortable following the Prussian model as well, in some ways to an even greater degree than government schools (case in point: Uniforms and corporal punishment).  It just would not do to give your flock too great a taste of independent thinking, lest they come to question their faith, and ultimately the Church!

My World View, Pt. 1

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By Mike Cronin

Every so often it helps to re-examine one’s goals and purposes.  My goal and purpose for this blog is to help others learn to look at the world through the lenses of reason and liberty.  Sometimes that means offering dry descriptions of how things are vs how they ought to be, other times it means promoting an independent viewpoint on a hot-button political issue. No doubt I have appeared to be a right-wing radical to someone on the left, while I might seem to be a leftist to the right-winger. To others, it might seem like I’m simply sitting on the fence and refusing to take sides.

I have never claimed to be unbiased.  In fact, I have described my bias on more than one occasion, but I haven’t ever really described my full worldview.  I thought I might do so now:

It starts with reality. As Ayn Rand said: “Existence exists, and only existence exists.”  Carl Sagan said that the cosmos is “all that is, all that was, and all there ever will be.”  The evidence that existence exists is axiomatic:  If it did not exist, there would be no one to ponder its nature – there would be no nature.

Speaking of nature: Humans are part of nature. Everything humans have ever made, from bone tools and mud huts to spaceships and iPhones, and every action humans have ever taken, from procreating to mass destruction, is ipso-facto natural. That is not to say it is good or bad.

Evil exists.  There are good people and bad. Context matters: good people are sometimes capable of bad things, and evil people may sometimes perform a benevolent act.  Hitler might have treated a pet well, for instance…but that cannot begin to atone for the fact that he inspired and led the industrialized murder of millions. Because Hitler was human, his actions were natural…but because he failed to credit whole segments of humans with having any humanity, he dehumanized himself. He became a monster of natural, not supernatural origin.

Nor was he the only one. Stalin. Pol Pot. Mao Tse-tung. Saddam Hussein. Every era of history has its brutal dictators and ruthless rulers who don’t hesitate to bathe in the blood of millions.  The rational failing of all of these monsters is their inability or refusal to recognize the worth of other humans as humans, or to even recognize other individuals as human at all.  They have actualized the ultimate expression of collectivism: the subsuming of the individual human being into a collective. Collectives that can be branded sub-human and disposed of at whim.

Humans have been ruled by such men as could take control of the levers of power since we were clans of hunter-gatherers.  Every so often, a breakthrough would occur and the building blocks of civilization were laid, even if technology advanced at much more stately pace. The Mesopotamians or other earliest civilizations gave us agriculture and the division of labor.  The Egyptians gave us paper and the concept of a massive library to store the sum of human knowledge.  The Greeks gave us the concepts of reasoned philosophical debate, and democratic and republican forms of government, and more.  The Arabs gave us Algebra, the concept of zero, and names for many stars we see in the night sky. The Persians or their predecessors gave us Indo-European languages, the wheel, chess (probably by way of India), and more. Largely unbeknownst to the west, the Chinese developed many of these same foundations earlier, or at roughly the same time, as their Western counterparts.

All throughout history, threads bind early developments to later ones.  The Greek concepts of democracy and republicanism found a circuitous path that eventually led to the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights…and the United States of America. An imperfect country, established with imperfect, yet eloquent documents, written by imperfect, yet remarkable men…the first country ever founded on the basis of an ideal: recognition of individual rights, liberty, and the rule of law, protected by a government chartered for that sole purpose. Imperfect though it is, via the combination of the freest form of government, ample natural resources, and the best geographical location, the US rose to become the most dominant economic and military power in the world, and to raise the standard of living for more people than any other nation, empire, or civilization in human history. That much power attracts pathological personalities –both to wield it, and to destroy it.  Thus it became inevitable that the US would make enemies. No matter how benevolent the US might be or might have been, our very existence as de-facto world hegemon is a threat to those who aspire to great power, such as Hussein or Osama bin Laden. To wit: something like 9/11 was inevitable.

As beautiful as the founders’ vision of the US was, the implementation of their vision was flawed from the start by four major areas of dysfunction, which I examined in five posts in 2014.

Slavery was chief among those, as it was incompatible with the spirit of the Charters of Freedom.  Our earliest Congress partook of the same sin as Hitler, if perhaps to a slightly lesser degree and without the nationalistic zeal: they justified slavery by willfully neglecting to grant the status of “human being” to slaves. It took nearly 3/4 of a century from the founding to end slavery, and nearly 200 years to reverse most of the direct damage of that failure. We are still dealing with the indirect damage to this day.

This is not to say that things can be put right by going the other direction. Dehumanizing and hating whites, especially white, middle class males, cannot free the long-dead slaves of times past, nor can it improve the lot of the descendants of slaves living today. Holding inter-generational grudges leads to incessant conflict – such as that between the Israelis and Palestinians, which is but a proxy for the much older conflict between Arabs and Jews.

How can we overcome the pain of the past without inflicting all new pains now and in the future?  More on that next week.

Conventional Wisdom?

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By Mike Cronin

A million people can’t be wrong.  Oh, yes they can.  Look no farther than religion. There are dozens, if not hundreds in existence now, and there have been thousands throughout history.  Each believes that all the others are wrong.  They certainly can’t all be right. Don’t go there?  OK, how about: Environmentalists vs. global warming “deniers,” the medical community vs “anti-vaxers,”or “the moon landings were fake” crowd vs NASA?”   Would you believe there are still people who think the earth is flat?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  As an adage for leaving things alone that are working well enough and focusing on genuine problems, this is not bad advice.  However, when it morphs into an attitude it becomes counter-productive.  If humans all held this attitude, we’d still be sleeping in caves, picking lice off our neighbors, and dying of old age or tooth decay in our twenties and thirties.

It’s a free country.  Not as free as it’s supposed to be.  Want to open or run a business?  Get a license, or two, or ten.  Comply with state and local compensation and workmen’s comp laws. Pay estimated taxes every quarter. Want to drill a well or build an addition on your own property?  Do you have the water and mineral rights?  Got a permit? Have you thought about homeschooling your kids?  Again: do you have the right permits?  Are you following the prescribed curriculum? On and on: permits, regulations, licenses, red tape.

The police will protect me.  They don’t have to.  They have to protect society as a whole, not you as an individual. If the police had to protect all of us individually, each of us individuals would have to be a police officer.

Teachers deserve more money. The good ones do. The mediocre ones don’t.  The bad ones should be fired.  Regardless, school districts have no economically compelling reason to pay more.  It’s a simple case of supply and demand.  The overall supply of trained teachers and freshly-minted teaching candidates is roughly double the demand.

Pro athletes don’t deserve million-dollar salaries.  Then stop paying them. Once again, supply and demand is at work.  Professional-caliber athletes are exceedingly rare and highly sought-after, so they command dream-come-true salaries.  If you refuse to buy sports packages on cable, stop buying fan gear, and stop going to games, the teams will lose money and athlete salaries will drop.

We’re fighting a war on __(drugs, poverty, terrorism, obesity, etc…) No, we are not.  Wars are fought against enemies, not chemicals, circumstances, tactics, or conditions.  Generating a “war-fighting” mindset is a tactic used by people who want you to give up some of your freedom in exchange for a little more security – which they can’t really provide.

Not wanting to pay your fair share of taxes is greedy.  1. How much is a “fair share?”  Who gets to decide? 2.  If I am “greedy” solely for wanting to keep what I earn, what word applies to those who think they have even more right to take my money than I have to keep it?

I have a Constitutional right to__.  Nope.  The Constitution protects our rights by establishing a limited government; it does not grant rights.  It seems like a subtle distinction, but it is the thing that made the fledgling United States of America unique in the history of the world:  the first nation established based on the principle of limited, rights-protecting government established in the service of a free people.

Electric cars don’t emit carbon dioxide.  Not directly, but indirectly, the power plant that produced the electricity to charge the car’s batteries most likely did (unless it was nuclear)…and the industrial activity used to mine the ores and smelt the metals to make the batteries themselves sure did.

Recycling is good for the environment. Really? How much energy is saved when you have to produce double the number of plastic bins and operate twice the number of fuel-guzzling, traffic-congesting big trucks to service them? What about the recycling plant itself?

Everyone hates Congress. Then why do Congress members have such high re-election rates over time?  Apparently, we love our own Senators and Representatives and only hate the rest of Congress.

The Philosophy of Invincible Ignorance

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By Mike Cronin

I once heard an anecdote about a female engineering student who spoke up in the classroom and opined that 50% of engineers should be women.  The professor requested that the student take a look at the class make up. (It was overwhelmingly male.) The professor then observed that before 50% of engineers could be women, 50% of engineering students would have to be women.

A quick web search indicates science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) are still largely male-dominated fields of work…and college study, with engineering being extremely so – to the tune of roughly 80% male to 20% female. (There was no accounting for any “alternately gendered” engineers/students.)

I don’t know how to get more females into STEM programs, or even if gender parity in STEM is a must-do, but I do know that destroying scientific rigor is not the answer.

Apparently, that is a misogynist attitude on my part.  According to a study by Laura Parson of the University of North Dakota, STEM course syllabi (and by extension all of STEM) alienate women because of the way they are worded. Her study was undertaken through the lens of “poststructuralist feminist thought.” For those of us uninitiated in the arcana of ivory-tower academician-speak,   “Poststructuralism ‘rejects objectivity and the notions of an absolute truth and single reality.’” Ahh, now that explains a few things.

Under such a system of thought, you can do or say anything you want, because in your subjective reality you’ve decided it’s OK.  That kind of junk philosophy may be the foundation (or the excuse) for the pervasiveness of what the late William F. Buckley, Jr. called “invincible ignorance.”  Imagine a world underpinned by such mental guidance: People could do whatever they felt like and get away with it…as long as they were of the anointed class approved by the elite, who could do or say whatever they felt like in their own little realities.

I mean, under such a regime you could have a central bank pump funny money into the big investment banks and the stock market even as the rest of the government taxes the bejesus out of the people’s real earnings and accumulated wealth, and call it “economic stimulus” or “quantitative easing.” Or you could have members of the elite who think the laws don’t apply to them, or that when they are caught breaking the laws, claim they made a “mistake” and not even get charged with a crime, let alone tried or convicted. Or you could wage endless wars against conditions and actions like obesity, poverty, drugs, and terrorism instead of naming your enemies and destroying them.  Or wealth could be distributed and redistributed, instead of earned and taken. Or the Supreme Court could call the Constitution a “living document” and interpret it to mean anything they liked, vice what it actually says.

I wonder how soon it will be before travelers will have to fly in an airplane designed by an engineer who went to the “Laura Parson School of Subjective Sciences and Mathematics,” who “felt” her math was correct under her own alternative understanding of the laws of physics?

 

Testing our Constitution

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By Mike Cronin

Today ought to be a national holiday.  229 years ago today, the Constitution was created.  It was ratified and became the highest law of the land two years later in March of 1789.  Contrary to popular opinion, or even popular “fact” taught in many of our schools, the Constitution didn’t give us a democracy, even though it specified certain democratic processes for electing the president and members of Congress and for proposing and enacting legislation.  It gave us a republic – a form of government where the people’s rights were protected by law and could not be voted away at the whim of the majority.  It gave us the first country in the history of mankind founded on the ideal of individual liberty and personal freedom.

The Constitution, and our republic, has been under attack, either literally or rhetorically, ever since.  Some, like Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, would have us believe the Constitution is a “living document,” i.e. open to re-interpretation through whatever cultural lens exists at a given time.  The Framers knew better than that.  They knew America would not be the same in 1887 or 1987 as it was in 1787, so they crafted a mechanism into the Constitution that would allow for it to be changed: via amendments. They deliberately made the amendment process challenging, but not impossible.  It has worked just fine at least 17 times over the last 229 years.  The most recent, the 27th Amendment, was ratified in 1992.  (Yes, there are 27 amendments, but the first ten were enacted simultaneously as the Bill of Rights, hence 17 instances the amendment process has been carried out.)

One of those amendments, the first in fact, is being tested right before our eyes today. There is a public controversy over several NFL players who are refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  As a veteran, I am in the curious position of both feeling pained and proud.  It pains me to see people disdain the anthem, because so many have fought and died to protect the freedom and liberty the flag stands for. And yet, the very first freedom protected by the Bill of Rights is the freedom of expression.  As much as it galls me to admit it, our country has not always acted in accord with its own highest law.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, for nearly a century after the Constitution was ratified, men could own other men in this country…if they were black. Our history has other examples of its failure to abide by the Constitution and the principles of individual freedom it protects: Confiscatory income taxes. The draft. Excessive bureaucracy and scandalous deficits and debt. Spying on citizens. Obamacare. Failures to hold officials accountable for their transgressions in office. The list is not short.

So when an NFL player refuses to stand for the National Anthem, and no government sanction ensues, I can be proud to witness an instance where the Constitution itself is being honored by the government, even if those who have given everything in its defense are being dishonored.

Of course that works both ways.  Just as those few players have the right not to stand, the fans, the teams, and the league have the right to express their displeasure at the offending players.  It would not pain me at all to see the league fine, or the teams discharge, the players in question!