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.

The Same Old Arguments…

By Mike Cronin

I have been accused of being a conservative. I am not, though I could more easily ally with conservatives than with liberals, and I find conservatism less objectionable than liberalism.  Here is my take on the tenets of each movement.

Progressivism/Liberalism/Socialism: A corrupt philosophy that promises…what, exactly? A “more just, verdant, and peaceful world?”  Some of its key tenets:

Greedy politicians can protect us from “selfish” business people.

Wealth is not created by productive effort; it is magically distributed unfairly and must therefore be redistributed until it reaches some undisclosed ratio to be determined by the (greedy) politicians mentioned above. Similarly, outcomes are not the products of input, but of luck. In order to achieve equality, those with better luck (i.e. more wealth/higher income) must give to those with worse luck until parity is achieved.  The “fortunate” are to be penalized for productivity, while the “less fortunate” can, of course, be forgiven for certain criminal activities meant to register their displeasure or to make the transfer (as long as the greedy politicians gets their cut).

Group identity is more important than individual rights – so you can gain synthetic sympathy proportionate to the number aggrieved populations you can “identify” with. For example, if you’re merely female, or of a minority race, you are just a run-of-the-mill potential Progressive. On the other hand, can you identify as a minority, transgendered, homosexual, handicapped, low-income, single-parent, Muslim illegal-immigrant? Hallelujah! Mazel-tov! (But be careful – if you become too unique, then you’re an individual, a pity party of one, and therefore the enemy.)

Free speech only exists for the benefit of fellow Progressives – and includes the power to force everyone else to listen. Publicly-funded broadcast systems are built for this purpose.

The purpose of government is to shape society. The law must be interpreted to reflect the rule of the majority over the minority (especially the minority of one – the individual). To that end, public schooling exists to create a mass of people smart enough to operate machines, but not skilled enough in the arts of critical thinking to question their shepherds. School choice, charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, and merit-based teacher advancement threaten the agenda, so they are to be resisted. Since they do exist, we must spend more on public schools to counter their influence.

Reality is a collective illusion created in the minds of the masses, so morality is pliant and facts don’t matter.  We’ll fund science that promotes our agenda, and quash science that does not. If we all wish for and work towards the same Shangri-La hard enough, evil and inequality will go away!

In contrast…

Conservatism is a movement that seeks to preserve (or restore) what it perceives to be the founding principles of the country. To that end, the actions of the conservative movement suggest the following Conservative tenets:

Conservative politicians are “right,” all other politicians are evil.

Wealth is created by productive effort. The most productive among us are “blessed.”  The government will help them “give back.”

Individual rights are more important than group identity…unless we are talking about the right to do something immoral, like using illegal intoxicants or engaging in prostitution.

Some free speech that opposes conservative values can be tolerated, but only late at night, or behind a pay-wall, or in a walled-off part of the store, or in special zoning areas…while some publicly-funded places, such as schools and courthouses, are legitimate venues to promote Judeo-Christian values.

That the purpose of government is to shape society, and the law should promote Judeo-Christian morality, not just protect individual rights. To that end, schools must be allowed to promote religious concepts.

Reality was made by God, and the Lord works in mysterious ways. Science is the realm of Progressives/Liberals/Socialists – our political enemies, so it often contradicts Biblical truth and is mostly to be discounted…unless it can be used to refute our leftist colleagues.

You can’t get there from here

By Mike Cronin

I recently read an article that chronicled the lamentation of employers that college graduates today are not well versed in critical thinking skills. On the other hand, the graduates themselves thought they had a good understanding of critical thinking.  If employers and graduates disagree on graduates’ thinking skills, who is correct?  Turns out it depends on your definition of critical thinking.

The employers relied on the classical understanding of critical thinking: Objectivity, evidence, logic, reason.  The grads’ understanding of critical thinking tended towards “… opposition to the existing ‘system,’ encompassing political, economic, and social orders, deemed to privilege some and penalize others. In essence, critical thinking is equated with political, economic, and social critique.” Huh. Critical thinking has become “critique-al” thinking. That explains how an ever-growing segment of our population seems to fall for every “feel-good” con for giving up freedom and liberty in the name of “social justice” or “diversity” or “environmentalism” or “wealth redistribution” or any other socialist trap.

For the record:

You cannot cure poverty by taking wealth from others, because poverty is not only a financial condition, it is also often a mindset.  Consider that most millionaires in this country are entrepreneurs. Most business start-ups fail, and many of the successful entrepreneurs have been “poor” at some point.  They earned, then lost, a fortune and became “poor,” only to earn and keep a bigger fortune by applying what they learned from their original mistakes.  On the flip side, many “poor” people would, given sudden wealth, blow it all on luxuries and trappings, then fall back into poverty when the wealth dried up.

You cannot cure hunger in other parts of the world by decrying food excess here.  Wasted food here cannot change the conditions causing starvation elsewhere.  If you want to cure world hunger, you must first rid humanity of power lust and superstition and territoriality.

You cannot eliminate racism and bigotry and hatred by hating and being racist and bigoted. You cannot end “discrimination” by changing which group is “discriminated” against. You cannot avenge long-dead victims of a crime by punishing the descendants of the long-dead criminals. Change the words “crime” and “criminals” to “oppression” and “oppressors,” and the same truth obtains. (The old adage “fight fire with fire” works…in very few contexts. Fighting injustice with more injustice isn’t one of them.)

You cannot change reality by smuggling new meaning into old worlds. “Unemployment” comes to mind.  The most widely used unemployment figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been around 5% for some months (4.7% as of February 2017).  But that number uses a very narrow definition of “unemployed” and a very generous definition of “employed.”  If you are out of work and haven’t been looking for four weeks, you are no longer counted as “unemployed;” you are counted as “out of the labor market.” On the other hand, if you are out of work but exchanged at least one hour of labor for at least $20.00, you are counted as “employed.”  The real unemployment rate, i.e. the number of working-age adults that are not working and earning regular paychecks, is more like 40%!

You cannot build a Utopian health care system that relies on doctors (and other providers) whom you dis-incentivize.  Doctors have spent a lot of time and money to earn their degrees, and they expect to be able to run their practices and make good money.  Take that away from them, and all of a sudden there will be less doctors working and less people going to medical school. The doctors that do stay will be of lower caliber, and the quality of care will diminish greatly.

Likewise, you cannot produce a well-educated populace with a public school system purposely designed to prevent critical thinking by producing critique-al thinkers!

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.

Another Crack at Illegal Immigration

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Mike Cronin

This is a revision of my post dated November 23, 2014.

President Trump has partially fulfilled one of his most controversial campaign promises.  Earlier this week, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his administration floated the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.  The mainstream media is predictably up in arms.

While I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s attention to the illegal immigration issue, I find myself in disagreement that a wall is the right solution – but not for the same reasons as the crowds of critics assailing the president.  I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s untangle the knot a little first:

If you are an elected Democrat, the illegal immigration “problem” is: how to make it legal for illegal immigrants to vote? There are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally participate in national elections. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that simultaneously paint the illegal immigrants as victims who need rescuing and those who see things differently as racists. Then legalize the immigrants (or some portion of them) somehow, and/or prevent the passing of laws that require voters to produce a photo ID proving their eligibility.

If you are in one camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that there are millions of potential Democratic voters out there who might vote illegally or who might become legal voters at the stroke of a pen. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals just for being here, and who steal jobs from American citizens, who vote illegally, and who cost us a lot of money in “stolen” benefits and entitlements.

If you are in another camp of Republican lawmakers, the problem of illegal immigration is that you are fearful of alienating constituents of Latino or Hispanic origin, so you go along with Democrats on immigration issues.

If you are in yet a third camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that you receive significant campaign funds from donors who employ illegal immigrants, so you also tend to vote along Democratic lines on immigration.

If you run a manual-labor intensive business that can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, paying an illegal immigrant in cash under the table is an attractive option.

If you are a desperate person from Mexico or an impoverished country to our south, getting to America for the opportunities and freebies is an attractive option.

If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

I believe the real problem with illegal immigration is: too much government.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Our federal and state governments blatantly disregard current immigration law via policies like “Catch and Release,” “sanctuary cities,” and the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” directive (i.e. President Obama’s executive order that established the so-called “Dreamers”). Our federal government maintains at least two federal police agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol) charged with enforcing those same laws. In so doing, our lawmakers are essentially telling our protectors: “Your written job description says ‘enforce the law,’ but your real job is just to have a job so that I can tell voters I did my job by creating your job.” How dysfunctional is that?
  2. In addition, our current immigration law is too byzantine and restrictive. Currently, it’s fairly easy to visit the US, but unless one can claim to be one of the “Three R’s” (Related to a citizen, Rich, or Remarkable), it is extremely difficult to attain a green card or citizenship.

I think Mr. Trump’s actions show promise for resolving the dysfunctional aspect of immigration enforcement, but a wall is too dystopian, sinister, and unnecessary. Functional enforcement policies and increased presence all along the border will reduce the flood of illegal immigrants to a trickle. On the other hand, the bureaucratic burden to those aspiring to remain here longer than a visa allows still remains to be addressed.

So how do we solve such a multi-faceted problem?  With a multi-pronged strategy that is consistent with limited government:

  1. Enforce existing law
  2. Control the border via increased presence
  3. Update the law to minimize bureaucracy and maximize freedom – by addressing all of the competing interests and reducing or eliminating the motivations that lure our government into violating its own laws:
    • Make it much easier to become a legal “permanent resident” and moderately easier to become a citizen. This benefits immigrants wishing to live and work here permanently, and it would benefit lawmakers in both parties who represent immigrant constituencies.
    • Create a migrant worker visa AND migrant worker wage scale & tax status. This legitimizes hiring migrant workers and paying them less-than-minimum wages. This would benefit migrant workers by making it legal (and safer) to do what they are already doing, and it would benefit industries that can’t be profitable paying the regular minimum wage to unskilled workers. It will be perceived and promoted as a threat to citizen minimum-wage earners…but that is another Gordian knot – which I addressed here.