Let us be clear. We are living, right now, in a time of emotional fear, hysterical anger, illogical demands, and dangerous temptations. In other words, liberty and prosperity are at risk. A decent and tolerant society is threatened. Common principles of humanity are being undermined.
All of this is concentrated and has been brought to a head in the rhetorical clamor and campaign conflagrations of a presidential election year. To try to understand what is going on, a mountain of words have been spoken by serious think tank scholars, by Sunday morning talk show pundits, or by evening television news 15-second “in-depth” interpreters, as well as miles of written commentaries that have been offered in hardcopy or on the online media and blog sites.
Pandering and Plundering Politicians, Left and Right
On the Democrat Party side, how can a corrupt, manipulative, lying, life-long power-lusting insider like Hillary Clinton be taken seriously and to be, seemingly, riding high to her party’s presidential candidate? How can a self-proclaimed “democratic” socialist, who has praised and apologized for communist dictatorships in Latin America and who chose to honeymoon with his bride in the former Soviet Union, arouse the mass enthusiasm of millions who see him as the deliverer of a transformative “political revolution” in America?
On the Republican Party side, how can a bombastic, rude and crude user of government privilege and favoritism for his business interests, like Donald Trump, who speaks most of the time in empty phrases and wrong-headed illogic on numerous economic and social issues, victoriously steamroll through state primaries and garner the support of millions merely because, many of those multitudes say, “he says it like it is”?
How can we explain the fate of the field of other Republican candidates, heralded in the summer of 2015 as the finest group of minds offered by the GOP for the office of the presidency in several decades? As the autumn began, one of them after another, first in the debates and the public opinion polls, and then in the primaries, failed to inspire or distinguish themselves. Each fell victim to voter indifference and then to Donald Trump’s meat grinder. Until, now, hardly any remain standing.
And what of the voters? Facing an uncertain employment future, experiencing seeming stagnant or low wage improvements, disoriented by a changing cultural environment; angered by political promises unfulfilled by those elected to high political office, as well as burdensome taxation and heavy-handed regulation; frustrated by crony “insiders” close to politicians and bureaucrats who “rig the game” for the benefit of special interests while leaving the costs and lost opportunities on the shoulders of ordinary citizens Sam and Sally, who have none of the “pull” to influence things their way, now insist: “We’ve had enough and we’re not going to take it any more.”
Broken Constitutions and Noses to Get What You Want
This is the sentiment and insistence of a sizable number of voters. And if it takes a socialist with utopian dreams dancing in his head, or a boorish billionaire who says he knows how to fix a broken system because he’s been playing it for decades for all its worth, then so be it. Put the “strongman” in charge to shake things up and give the ordinary guy an even break.
If it takes bending the Constitution or tearing down the wealth and position of some, well, those insiders and fat cats, those “establishment” types, have been rigging the rules for as long as can be remembered. So its time someone stuck it to them with some of the same political power, just in “the people’s” direction for a change.
And if some people have to be “roughed up,” if their words need to be shouted down or shut up, again, we’ve had enough of what they have had to say. Of course, who the “we” are and who the “they” are all depends upon who the “you” is.
Are you referring to the radical college professor who calls for some “muscle” to drive away a news reporter covering a campus demonstration against freedom of speech? Or a presidential candidate who gets cheers from his followers when he suggests that a physical altercation against protesters at their meeting is a lot more fun than listening to a boring campaign speech?
What we are witnessing are the latest episodes in the continuing bankruptcy of the modern American political system. These millions of voters all along the political spectrum wrap their frustrations and demands in rhetoric of either restoring or establishing “real” and “true” American values.
Long Down the Road of Lost Liberty
The fact is the original or traditional premises and values of the American system have been eroding away for almost a century, now. Several decades ago, the libertarian social analyst and critic, Garet Garrett, penned an essay with the title, “The Revolution Was.” He pointed out that too many people concerned with the preservation of the American constitutional system of government and a free society failed to appreciate how much of the ideas and institutions for a society of liberty had already been eroded away by forces opposed to its preservation.
We are a lot further along this path today from when Garet Garrett tried to point out how far away from a free society we had already moved. To appreciate this, we must first remind ourselves what are the premises and institutions upon which a free society ultimately stands or falls.
The philosophical foundations were expressed, of course, in the Declaration of Independence, when the authors in 1776 insisted that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that government is formed among men to secure these rights from their violation by private individuals and groups or from government itself.
To guard against such violations by government, the very political institution meant to secure liberty is formally restrained in how it may use and apply its legitimized use of force in human affairs by constitutional rules. The American Constitution was meant to clearly demarcate the limited and enumerated functions of the federal government, with the additional restraining device of “divided government” between the branches of the federal government and then between the federal government and the duties and responsibilities of the individual state governments.
The restraining of government was meant to assure that political power remained a servant of the citizenry and their individual rights, and not a threatening master taking away or reducing their liberty. Secondly, federal government in terms of divided responsibility among national, state and local political decision-making was meant to reflect functions needing to be performed at different horizons of importance to the citizens, and to keep government control and decision-making as close to those citizens as those different governmental tasks allowed.
Freedom Needs Habits of the Heart and Mind
But pieces of paper upon which are written the administrative duties and responsibilities of different levels and branches of government is not sufficient in itself to maintain a society of individuals secure and protected in their rights. As the famous French social philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, pointed out in his Democracy in America, written after his extended visit to the United States in the 1830s, the free society is more than elections, and legislative procedures, or a written constitution. It is based upon “habits of the heart” and “character of the mind.”
That is, it is dependent upon a wide network of “structures of shared meaning” and values among the members of a society. They must believe in human worth, that is, the dignity of each individual, and a respect for and tolerance of the diversity of men’s dreams, wishes, hopes and values. And most importantly, that each and every individual has a “natural” or inviolable right to their own life, to be lived peacefully and honestly in whatever manner and form that the individual considers most likely to bring him meaning, happiness and fulfillment of the goals and purposes that he sets for himself.
There must be a shared view that human relationships should be based on voluntary consent and mutual agreement. Coercion and physical threat or intimidation in any and all forms should form no part in the patterns of human association and relationship. And that government’s own use of force should be reserved and restricted to its “negative” application, that is, always and only in defensively protecting people’s rights to their life, liberty and honestly acquired property and not any types of violation or weakening of these rights.
There needs to be at least an implicit agreement among the members of such a free society that what a man has honestly and peacefully earned through his mental and physical labors and his voluntary exchanges with others is rightfully his. Accumulated wealth and income, as long as it has been honesty and peacefully acquired, is not a mark of injustice or unfairness or unethical conduct, but rather an indication of the industry, energy, and successful effort in improving an individual’s own circumstances through mutually beneficial production, trade and association with others.
And more broadly, there needs to be a spirit and sense that whatever differences may exist among individuals due to accident of birth or social and historical circumstances, the idea and ideal is that each person is looked at, judged and evaluated as an individual in terms of his distinct qualities, characteristics, talents, abilities and achievements as an human being and not as a member of a collective group. Political and economic individualism should be matched with ethical and social individualism as we look at, interact and treat others in the community of mankind.
These principles and ideals when shared in common, again to use de Tocqueville’s phrases, the “habits of the heart” and “character of the mind,” gives unity to the members of a free society, while at the same time providing the respect, tolerance and “space” for diversities of among men as expressed in their individual and social interactive goals, purposes, ends, values and meanings for life and happiness.
American History an Incomplete Reflection of Its Own Ideals
America, of course, has never fully lived up to this conception of man, society and government. Slavery deprived humanity to millions during the first half of the country’s history; this was followed by legally imposed discrimination laws and practices that contemptuously treated those who were equal citizens of the nation as less than fully human as peaceful associative relationships and economic opportunities were closed to them in the name of explicit and implicit racial inequality.
Government, even in the early days of the nation’s history, never confined itself within the constraint of protecting rights rather than plundering them. Corruption, political special interest pandering, and misuse of the fiscal purse strings resulted in state and federal regulations and favoritism benefiting some at the expense of many others. Tariffs, subsidies, land grants, monopolies, and financial contracts awarding government money to companies undertaking “internal improvements” (public works projects in the more modern language) assured that the peacefully and productively earned income and wealth of many were politically transferred into the hands of those close to and influential over those holding political office.
However Incomplete, American Practice Gave Liberty to Multitudes
But however imperfect and hypocritical in practice, it remained nonetheless the fact that the idea and ideal of political, economic and social individualism were more believed in and implemented in the United States in the nineteenth century and into the 20th century than anywhere else on the face of the globe.
It generated a spirit of optimism, hope and effort that fostered multitudes to live and experience the fruits of those ideas and ideals to a degree never known before in human history. It gave Americans – even with the contradictions, inconsistencies and corruptions – a higher standard of living and a greater degree of actual individual freedom and opportunity than in any other part of the world.
The older or “classical” liberalism of the nineteenth century had called for the end of these various political privileges and forms of favoritism, that is, to abolish these remaining governmental inconsistences and exceptions. And it called for the social spirit of individualism and free market competition to overcome those attitudes and actions by people in contradiction with a full respect and tolerance of the dignity of men as individuals.The Collectivist Counter-Revolution Against Liberty
But before these forces of liberal individualism could complete the liberation of humanity from plunder and prejudice, a counter-revolution emerged, a counter-revolution of new forms of collectivism, statism, and socialism. They rejected the individualist ideal and insisted that the group and the tribe came before the individual human being; that any person’s sense of identity and position in society was determined by and dependent upon into what “social class,” or racial group, or nation-state the individual was born and lived.
Any hardship, disappointment and sense of mistreatment or frustration experienced by an individual was the result of the exploitive, or oppressive, or “socially unjust” actions of those in some other social or racial group or nation-state other than the one to which he belonged.
Individual responsibility was replaced by group status and privilege. Rights were not something unalienable and belonging to individuals; instead, “rights” were “entitlements” belonging to members of a categorized group, and for the provision of which individuals in other groups were obligated to provide and supply.
The idea of a common humanity among all men as individuals was slowly but surely replaced with the notion of group “identities” based upon which the individual’s sense of self-esteem or social position and belonging was dependent.
Politics and the political process was not a restrained and limited institutional method for finding the most effective and efficient ways of delineating, protecting and enforcing the individual rights of each citizen to their life, liberty and honestly acquired property. Instead, politics and the political process was conceived as the arena in which the power of the government was captured and used to “redress grievances” by using legal force to redistribute wealth, reorder social and other status positions of privilege and favor for the benefit of “deserving” groups in place of “undeserving” groups.
Freedoms Curtailed for Controlled Entitlement
Freedom of speech and the press, the right of peaceful assembly and association were no longer considered the avenues through which each individual’s right to express, share, debate and manifest his ideas and ideals was guaranteed by limiting government’s ability to interfere with such peaceful acts and interactions.
Instead, freedom of speech and the press and freedom of association came to be considered tools of intellectual and ideological control and exploitation by the “powerful” against the social, racial or gender “under-privileged.” And as such, the spoken and written word and any forms and types of permitted association had to be modified, molded and controlled to assure collective social, racial and gender equity and balanced access and privilege through governmental regulation and planning.
Collectivist “Rights” Through Political Action
The individual was, now, portrayed as too weak and inconsequential to find his own way to betterment and happiness in such a setting of social, racial and gender oppression. Personal liberty and free association in the marketplace and other voluntary settings were declared to be “illusionary” notions of freedom.
“True” freedom and opportunity could only come through the advancement of the social, racial and gender group to which one belonged in a political competition for entitlement “rights.” In this circumstance, each group had to have leaders and leaderships that expressed and represented the “real” and “just” interests of the group for which they claimed the right, duty and responsibility to speak and act.
This road from political, economic and social individualism to collectivist identity and privilege through group competition for political power is what has brought us to our current political crisis as captured in this year’s presidential campaign.
Your job security is uncertain? Your income has not increased the way you had wished and desired? Your social status and acceptance by others has not matched your expectations and personal sense of deservedness? The ideas you want accepted by others and the actions and attitudes you want others to follow and express have not materialized?
Then the task is to use the government to give you what you want, and to force and compel others in society to conform to your vision of the good, right and just. If mouths have to be shut when you consider them to be speaking evil or “hurtful” words, if people must be coerced to act in the way you want them to, if wealth and opportunities of life must be redistributed by government’s police power so you and others in our group may have what you consider that which you rightful deserve, then so be it. That is the means and methods of “true” democracy, since if you and your group do not use government to get what you want, some other groups will do so at your expense.
This is the new America system: a democratic politics of power, plunder and privilege in a perpetual social conflict of social classes, racial groups and gender identities. It is a system in which the individual seems weak, small and powerless; and needing “leaders” who will use politics to bring them to the social, economic, racial and gender “promised lands” that are laid before the constituent-voters, if only this or that political candidate is elected to set the world right for the benefit of a coalition of collective groups who want certain things and to which they are told they are entitled.
This the outcome of the journey from liberal individualism to political collectivism that has placed before us Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and a cast of other remaining candidates who sometimes speak the language of liberty but do so interwoven with inconsistencies and contradictions that leave the message of freedom with no fully principled spokesman in this year’s race to the White House.
The path back to and forward towards liberty, therefore, will have to be journeyed far beyond the outcome of this November’s election.
There is fresh evidence indicating that attempts to prohibit youth access to e-cigarettes increase youth smoking rates.
Last November, I discussed a Yale research finding that smoking increased significantly among teens aged 12-17 in states that banned e-cigarette sales to minors compared with states with no bans (here). Now this from researchers at Cornell University: “We document a concerning trend of cigarette smoking among adolescents increasing when [e-cigarettes] become more difficult to purchase.”
Michael Pesko and colleagues at the Cornell medical school compared adolescent smoking in states that implemented e-cigarette purchasing restrictions during the period 2007 to 2013, compared with states that had no restrictions. Using federal Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System surveys, they examined smoking rates over the past 30 days: recent (smoked at least 1 day), casual (1-19 days), regular (20+ days) and heavy (all 30 days). They also accounted for state differences in cigarette taxes and indoor use laws, and they included a fixed effects variable to account for additional unmeasured differences in states’ smoking norms and anti-smoking sentiments. The study was published in Preventive Medicine (abstract here).
Pesko et al. found “…that [e-cigarette] age purchasing restrictions are associated with a 3.1 percentage point (17.9% of the mean) increase in adolescent cigarette use (p < 0.05) in the period of implementation. Most of this effect is accounted for within casual cigarette using adolescents… Our results suggest that adolescents are willing to substitute [e-cigarettes] for cigarettes depending on legal purchasing opportunities of [e-cigarettes].”
The researchers’ finding that e-cigs had no effect on use of cigars, smokeless tobacco or marijuana provides confidence about the specificity of the e-cig effect.
While the Cornell researchers do not claim that the restrictions caused smoking to increase, they note that their results are consistent with those of the Yale study, and they add: “All policymaking bodies should be aware of a potential increase in cigarette use following [e-cigarette] age purchasing restrictions.” They recommend raising cigarette excise taxes and they endorse the Yale researchers’ support for setting the e-cig sales age lower than the cigarette age in order to take advantage of the substitution effect.
This is Pesko’s second notable paper this year. Earlier, he published an experimental study (abstract here) concluding that: “Increased taxes, a proposed US Food and Drug Administration warning label for [e-cigarettes] and a more severe warning label may discourage adult smokers from switching to [e-cigarettes]. Reducing the availability of flavours may reduce [e-cigarette] use by young adult smokers.”
It is important to note that none of these studies were funded by the National Institutes of Health. The NIH predominantly funds researchers who endorse the federal government’s vision of a tobacco-free society.
By Nancy Thorner & Bonnie O’Neil –
There has always been a struggle to keep our freedom and, it is the responsibility of each generation to do what is necessary to retain this most valuable asset. Today our battle for that basic right is happening at the most unlikely of places: college campuses. Few parents, even the ones who pay massive college tuition bills, may not know their children are being challenged by an unprecedented dose of liberal indoctrination by teachers, professors, school administrators, and outside political activists who use intimidating tactics to persuade students to their viewpoint.
These people decide what speech is politically correct and most often the verdict is liberal speeches are welcome and those expressing conservative values are rejected. Thus, students are left without the advantage of even hearing, let alone considering, opposing facts and/or credible arguments about key controversial issues of our day.
It is time for American taxpayers to demand that classrooms present both points of views equally and that outside groups from both political spectrums be treated equally and fairly regarding requests for speaking on college campuses, especially those that receive federal or state funding.
An example of the imbalance can be seen when examining the college commencement speaker circuit. Among the top 100 campuses in the nation, liberal speakers outnumber conservatives 6-to-1. Among the top 50, the ratio increases to nine liberals for every one conservative. Among the elite top ten universities, there were no conservatives invited to speak whatsoever.
Condeleezza Rice uninvited at Rutgers
A particularly unfortunate example of college administrators allowing their liberal staff and aggressive liberal students to dictate which speakers are acceptable happened at Rutgers. Upon learning that former Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice was invited to give the commencement speech/ liberals on and off campus initiated a highly charged negative campaign to embroil the campus into a nasty controversy that maligned the Secretary and demanded she be rejected. Rutgers did little to stop the antagonistic agenda. Rather than allow her visit to be a catalyst for further liberal propaganda and to put an end to the negativity on campus, Secretary Rice graciously rescinded the invite. She had the best interests of the graduates in mind and is to be commended, but the result was liberal agitators were invigorated by their victory. Is this what colleges are teaching our children: the loudest and most rude among us win? Unfortunately, it is the students who ultimately lose because they are not allowed to hear messages from other points of view. This is a Marxist tactic and astonishing to know it is flourishing in America. It should be a wake-up call to every American patriot to get involved and demand an investigation as to its sources and legality.
Ironically, Rutger graduates were deprived of hearing from a brilliant Black woman, born during the days of segregation, whose hard work, diligence, and exemplary moral ethics allowed her to become America’s Secretary of State. What an amazing example for students whatever their ethnicity. Why wouldn’t the Black community want to promote the success of this amazing woman? The obvious answer is she is a living testimony that Blacks can and do succeed on their own merits; they do not need Black Lives Matter antagonists to tell them they cannot achieve success without the tactics employed by their group.
Secretary Rice was not the only victim of Black Lives Matter at Rutgers. With the help of feminist fascists they also disrupted Milo Yiannopoulos by smearing fake blood on their faces and acting exceedingly obnoxious in their attempt to shut down his conservative message. Leftists are known to intentionally silent opposition with their aggressive behavior and they particularly dislike and attack speakers who are Black or gay conservatives like Milo.
Lack of discipline fosters radical behavior
Shame on the Rutger administration for its timidity in disciplining radical behavior on their campus, thus depriving students of differing viewpoints on subjects of substance, but Rutgers is just one of many schools that promote liberal speech on its campus while muzzling conservative ideas. Recently, a student senator at U.S.C. became a victim of those who are unwilling to entertain any differing views. Jacob Ellenhorn faces impeachment for the crime of publicly expressing his conservative opinions and inviting high-profile conservative speakers to campus. Ellenhorn complained “freedom of speech and freedom to express your views are not allowed by the University of Southern California student government right now.” He might have added “if your message is politically conservative.” Interestingly, U.S.C. just topped all American Universities for its yearly tuition sticker price. Could this be due to wealthy conservative donors who have decided the school has become too liberal to be considered a good investment, and thus USC must find other sources to pay the high wages of their liberal staff?
It has been said that “The struggle for freedom at universities is one of the defining struggles of our age.” It may surprise people to know it is a struggle that has been in progress for decades, but has become exceedingly more evident in recent years. The question is how and what can be done to stop our children and future leaders from being indoctrinated with a specific political viewpoint?
Poll indicate students want free speech
Young Americans Foundation conducted polls on college campuses throughout America and asked the question “How important do you think it is to protect free speech at colleges and universities? 93% polled said it was important. Asked if political correctness and over-sensitivity make it difficult to openly talk about culture, gender, race, ethnicity, discrimination, or racism at their college, 64% said it was difficult. These statistics seem to indicate students want free speech, but why then are so many frightened to discuss it? Perhaps because groups like Black Lives Matter bully students and liberal professors punish those who express conservative ideals. Unless you are a liberal, your views are not welcome on college campuses today. This bias must stop; a more politically balanced staff must be hired, and parents and all citizens need to become watchdogs to assure political neutrality and fairness. Anything less is a form of indoctrination and unacceptable.
There should not be a need for school “safe zones” where one is relegated to express or hear controversial issues. Such places send a message that controversial subjects are unhealthy, unsafe, and to be avoided.
Infantilized college students need “safe spaces”
As Judith Shulevitz wrote in the New York Times, infantilized college students are indulging their need for insulation by demanding “safe spaces” where any speech that could hurt their feelings would be forbidden.
Following is an egregious example among those noted by Ms. Shulevitz which verges on the incredible.
When a student group at Brown University called the Sexual Assault Task Force discovered that a debate was to be held where one participant, a libertarian, would slam the term ‘rape culture’,” the group protested to the administration. That prompted Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, to schedule a talk concurrent with the debate that would provide research and facts about the role of culture in sexual assault. A “safe space” was created for students upset by the debate; the space included cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of puppies.
In an essay for Inside Higher Ed, Judith Shapiro, the former president of Barnard College, called the prevailing attitude that students should not be offended “self-infantilization.” Eric Posner, from the University of Chicago Law School,wrote on Slate that today’s undergraduates are more childish than undergraduates of previous eras.
Have we raised a nation of self-centered, easily frightened, wimps? Maybe they need to be reminded of this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
President Piper of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, an exception
A pleasant exception to liberals dominating our places of higher learning is Oklahoma Wesleyan University President, Everett Piper. Piper’s analysis of this problem was summed up with this statement:
“This is a university, not a day care. I’m not here to make you comfortable or feel safe. I’m here to confront your character.”
Hopefully, there are other sensible college officials like President Piper, dedicated to restoring campuses with more balanced political thought, equal representation, tolerance, and respect for others who have differing opinions, whether on the campus or in the classroom. Free speech must be protected in a free country, rather than be protected from it.
How best to serve students
Students will be best served after leaving college if they know more than just facts and figures, because the success of a person is often determined by how well they interact with others in the workplace and home. Skills such as purposing to listen to information from others and knowing how to evaluate its accuracy, considering others viewpoints, learning to disagree without being offensive, practicing the art of informative conversations, all become as important as any other skill they learn in life.
The exchange of ideas is a valuable learning tool that should be a part of every school experience. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who stated: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” One-sided viewpoints that are not allowed to be challenged cannot be beneficial. Professors more interested in brainwashing their students have no place in the classroom.
It benefits both the student and society when boys and girls graduate as adults; challenging themselves to consider all they have learned and how best to apply it to their lives. These young people are America’s future. We must hope there are other sensible college officials like President Piper, who understand colleges are not to be used to coddle students, but to ready them to the World in which they will need to function and succeed. Therefore, it is essential a more balanced political climate is restored to our school campuses. Tolerance and respect for others’ viewpoints is not an option; it must be learned through example and then strictly enforced inside and outside of the classroom by students, professors, administrators, and guests to each college campus.
Thorner/O’Neil: Campus Radicals Attempt to Stifle Free Speech
There is a warped Inside-the-Beltway fetish with “getting things done.” Warped – because of what many of those “things” consist. Most members of both political Parties (and the bulk of the Chattering Classes) want things – that most of We the People do not. So DC tries to distract from their terrible products – by obsessively fixating on the process.
Behold but one heinous example. Chattering Class-member The Washington Post on December 17, 2015 extruded Paul Ryan Notches a Big Victory, but the True Test May Come Next Year: “The House is expected to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill Friday that will remove any threat of a government shutdown, keep the government funded into the fall of 2016, and notch a signature win for new House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.)”
This “big victory” blew up the “Sequester” spending caps – the only (tiny) such constraint placed on DC in decades. And it funded President Barack Obama for basically the rest of his administration – which means the illegal unilateral actions in which he has endlessly engaged will be from now on unimpeded by Congress’ power of the purse.
That’s a DC “signature win.” Remember this – and an endless cavalcade of similar “signature wins” – when you next hear how important it is for DC to “get things done.” (Remember it all – when you wonder how Donald Trump is doing what he’s doing.)
It is this Bizarro World fetishist definition of “getting things done” that is set to undermine our patent system – a fundamental, foundational component of our free market economy. How fundamental and foundational? President Abraham Lincoln“called the introduction of patent laws one of the three most important developments ‘in the world’s history,’ along with the discovery of America and the perfection of printing.”
What things patent does DC claim need getting done? Slaying the “patent troll.” But what exactly does that mean? Again, there’s the DC definition – and then the one we hold out here in Reality.
Here’s the Bizarro World definition – courtesy of (accidentally?) anti-patent Lee Cheng: “2015 was a huge year for trolls….(A)t one level are the ‘big game hunters’ that go after large corporations like Microsoft, Apple and Google using patents that are often technically valid….Then there are the ‘ankle biters’ or ‘nuisance’ trolls that file …lawsuits…with patents that are often pathetically weak. ”
Get that? Whatever Cheng may think of them, he begrudgingly admits the patents these people hold – are valid. But they’re “trolls” anyway. Bizarro. And incredibly dangerous.
If you want to undermine valid patents – you want to undermine the entire patent system. That, to me, is fairly patent “troll”-ish. In other words: When You Hear ‘Patent Trolls’ – Think ‘People Protecting Their Private Property’.
But DC, unfortunately, is looking to “get something done.” Behold the Innovation Act – Virginia House Republican Bob Goodlatte’s awful bipartisan effort. About which he anxiously says: “(T)he Congress must act to curb abusive patent litigation.” And the Senate has a just about equally terrible bill: “A bipartisan group of senators introduced the PATENT Act…an important step toward stopping abusive patent litigation.”
As usual, DC is in bipartisan fashion doing the wrong thing – and making matters worse, not better.
Again, the patents involved in these allegedly “troll” lawsuits – are valid. So if Congress undermines patent litigation – they undermine the ability of these valid patent holders to defend their valid patents.
Which undermines the entire patent system.
Which Abe Lincoln would loathe. As should anyone who ever wants any new idea ever to be transmogrified from thought – into something we can purchase.
Because before anyone with an idea can put together a plan, test market interest, garner investor interest, hire people, manufacture and then deliver their idea – they have to be able to protect it.
DC has to continue to allow them to do that. And, in this instance, nothing else.
So, DC: When it comes to terrible legislation like the Innovation and PATENT Acts – don’t just do something, stand there.
The Tomorrow’s Cures Today Foundation (TCTF) says FDA regulations deprive terminally ill patients and their family members of hope.
In a video posted February 6, TCTF tells the story of former U.S. Navy pilot Matt Bellina’s battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, which causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to degenerate.
ALS is a terminal diagnosis. In 2015, Bellina and 800,000 supporters unsuccessfully petitioned FDA to approve experimental use of a drug reported to yield positive results for ALS patients, the video states.
TCTF’s website (TomorrowsCuresToday.com) calls for replacing FDA’s cumbersome regulations, which includes a long clinical trials process, with a market-based policy known as Free to Choose Medicine (FTCM).
FTCM “addresses the key constraint to improving the drugs-to-patients system: the lack of consumer choice and competition due to the FDA’s monopoly over access to new drugs,” the site states.
More information: FreeToChooseMedicine.com
In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, we listen in as H. Sterling Burnett, Managing Editor of Environment & Climate News joins the nationally syndicated radio show, An Economy of One, with Host Gary Rathbun. Burnett joins the show to talk about the environmental agenda of President Obama’s last year in office.
It is Obama’s last year in office, so he is trying to ram through as many regulations as possible to secure his environmental legacy. Rathbun and Burnett talk about a discussed plan to regulate methane emissions, the recently imposed ban on offshore drilling on the Atlantic Coast, and Obama’s proposed $10 tax per barrel of oil.
This week, Heartland Institute President and CEO Joseph Bast joined the Unbiased America show to talk about the new book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming. Unbiased America is a weekly video podcast featuring a panel of several liberty-minded individuals who strive to “create a platform for discussion and debate.” While talking with panel members Will Ricciardella, Kevin Ryan, Mike Lee, and Grant Phillips, Bast dismantles the claim that 97% or scientists have arrived at a consensus that man is causing catastrophic global warming.
Along with clearing up many of the false claims surrounding the climate change debate, Bast also addresses the frequently repeated accusations that The Heartland Institute is funded by the Koch brothers and works with the Phillip Morris tobacco company.
If you wish to get a clear view of the current state of the global warming debate, watch the video above.
In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, we listen in as Research Fellow and Managing Editor of Budget & Tax News Jesse Hathaway joins AM Tampa Bay radio with Hosts Jack Harris and Tedd Webb. Hathaway joins the show to talk about the Apple vs. FBI encryption debate.
Hathaway explains that while people instinctually side with the FBI in this case, compromising encryption of the Iphone will set a dangerous precedent.
President Barack Obama’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court has a history in health care-related cases, Modern Healthcare reports.
Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, on Wednesday, March 16.
A number of cases currently or recently before the Supreme Court have passed through Garland’s court in one form or another.
Among them is Zubik v. Burwell, more commonly known as the “Little Sisters” case, Modern Healthcare states:
“A majority of judges on that court recently denied a petition for rehearing in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. In that case, a three-judge panel of the court, that did not include Garland, ruled against religious not-for-profits’ assertion that they shouldn’t have to take any action to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide birth control coverage to employees. The religious not-for-profit Priests for Life then asked the court to re-hear the matter before a full panel of judges, but a majority of the judges turned down their request.”
Health Care News (HCN) will cover the oral arguments for Zubik v. Burwell, scheduled to begin Wednesday, March 23. Multiple legal scholars have told HCN the petitioners in Little Sisters would likely receive a favorable ruling were Scalia still on the Court.
Garland has a connection to a more famous health care case, King v. Burwell, a landmark victory for Obama and the Affordable Care Act, Modern Healthcare states:
“Garland was also head of the court when a majority of its judges decided in September 2014 to re-hear Halbig v. Burwell, a case in which a three-judge panel of the court initially ruled that insurance premium tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act should not be offered to Americans in states without their own exchanges. The court never actually re-heard the case, however, instead deferring to the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell last year. In King v. Burwell, the nation’s high court upheld the premium subsidies for Americans in all states.”
In his dissent in King v. Burwell, Scalia wrote, “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”
I discussed the far-reaching impact of King v. Burwell, and read from Scalia’s dissent, in this week’s podcast with Sally Pipes, executive director the Pacific Research Institute, who covers the case in the beginning of her new (and mercifully short) paperback The Way Out of Obamacare (Encounter Books, 2016).
Not all health care-related cases Garland has taken have gone all the way to the Supreme Court, Modern Healthcare reports:
“Garland was also part of a three-judge panel that partially sided with hospitals in a case over Medicare outlier payments. In that case, 186 hospitals alleged that Medicare underpaid them by more than $3 billion in outlier payments. Outlier payments are extra payments made to hospitals when the estimated cost of treating a patient exceeds the standard Medicare payment.”
For health care policy free and clear, visit news.heartland.org/health.
Simon Davis-Cohen of In These Times magazine authored an article last week claiming that “corporate America” is the source of the ongoing push for an Article V convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. The article was written days before West Virginia became the 28th state to enact a resolution calling for a convention that would require the national government to live under a balanced budget requirement.
Mr. Davis-Cohen says the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the real mastermind behind the movement in favor of an Article V convention, but this is not the case. ALEC is not responsible for much of the lobbying efforts for an Article V convention. These endeavors have been taken on numerous organizations, including the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force (BBATF), Compact for America (CFA), and Convention of States. These three organizations conduct completely separate lobbying efforts, although all are members of ALEC.
Mr. Davis-Cohen further accused ALEC of attempting to devastate the economy and preventing the national government from using Keynesian stimulus programs that he believes would improve the U.S. economy, despite a wealth of evidence that clearly shows these kinds of programs cost a great deal and produce very little.
The truth is many labor organizations, such as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, have long been opposed to a balanced budget amendment. The BBATF’s recent victory in West Virginia has given AFSCME and its big-labor allies more reasons to fear an Article V convention. Congress can call a convention when they receive applications from at least 34 state legislatures on a particular amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The recent victory in West Virginia has given new hope to states such as Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin that are considering applications for a convention.
Another false assertion reported in the story is that a convention cannot be limited, a claim made by groups on both the right and left. While the thought of a “runaway convention” may make for a good novel, the reality is states can limit the conduct and scope of a constitutional convention through “faithful delegate” laws.
One example of such a law was recently offered in Indiana. State Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne) authored legislation that details delegate selection procedures, along with placing checks and balances on appointees to a convention. Seven states have already enacted the legislation, and an additional five states are considering the law this year. Some of the key limitations are that federal office holders and lobbyists are banned from being selected as delegates. Violators risk facing criminal penalties on any appointee who violates convention rules.
Despite much rhetoric, an Article V convention offers a powerful opportunity for the American people to rein in the out-of-control spending practices of the federal government, brining fiscal sanity back to the United States.
Researchers have found that some buyers are willing to pay for environmentally friendly products because those products are “status symbols.” A report in the Atlantic states: “Environmentally-friendly behaviors typically go unseen; there’s no public glory in shortened showers or diligent recycling. But when people can use their behavior to broadcast their own goodness, their incentives shift. The people who buy Priuses and solar panels still probably care about the environment—it’s just that researchers have found that a portion of their motivation might come from a place of self-promotion, much like community service does good and fits on a résumé.”
With “green” having become a status symbol, the affluent can afford it. Yet, their desire to “broadcast their own goodness” actually results in higher costs to those who can least afford it.
Solar power is a great example. On the website for SunRun, a solar panel leasing company, through the story of customer “Pat,” they even encourage the “green status symbol” as a sales feature. While Pat may be happy with her solar panels and “hopes that all her neighbors will go solar, too,” her “green status symbol” costs all the utility’s customers who mostly can’t afford to “go solar.”
As I’ve written on many times, the idea of solar leasing works because of tax incentives and a system called “net metering.” First, those tax incentives are paid for by all taxpayers. Anytime the government gives something away, everyone pays for it. Net metering is a little harder to understand. In short, the utility is required by state laws to purchase the extra electricity generated by rooftop solar panels at the full retail rate—even though they could purchase it at a fraction of the cost from the power plant. As more and more people sign up for these programs, it increases the overall cost of electricity. Remember, however, those with solar panels could have a zero dollar utility bill but they are still using electricity from the utility company at night and generate additional customer service costs such as transmission lines. Ultimately, the cost of electricity goes up on the bills of non-solar customers. Due to this “cost shifting,” many states are changing the net metering policies so solar customers cover the unpaid grid costs. However, as has happened recently in Nevada, the revised programs change the economics and make it unprofitable for companies to operate in the state.
This is clear to see in overall rising electric costs—about 3 percent per year according to the Institute for Energy Research—despite the main fuel costs (coal and natural gas) being at all-time lows.
Earlier this month, Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) addressed another interesting angle: “Green energy can’t compete with $30 oil.” The only way for “green” energy to survive, it says, is: “by the government forcing people to buy them and jacking up electricity and heating prices to families and businesses.”
A new study from the University of Chicago, referenced by IBD, concludes that for an electric vehicle to be cheaper to operate than the modern internal combustion engine, “the price of oil would need to exceed $350 a barrel.” The IBD states: “without massive additional taxpayer subsidies to companies such as Tesla, the price of oil would have to not just double or triple, but rocket more than 10-fold before battery-operated cars make financial sense.”
Yet, sales for the Tesla Model S, the International Business Times (IBT), reports: “actually rose 16 percent last year, in part because they serve as status symbols or appeal to the environmental concerns of well-to-do drivers.”
On March 11, in the Wall Street Journal, columnist Holman Jenkins writes: “Voters should be mad at electric cars.” Why? Because, as he explains: “how thoroughly Tesla’s business model depends on taxpayer largess.” Jenkins states: “Tesla’s cars have status cachet, yes. Even some middle-class customers might be attracted, notwithstanding low gas prices, as long as helped by an enormous dollop of taxpayer favoritism.” As he lays out for the reader the “absurdity of their subsidy regime,” Jenkins concludes: “And you wonder why, on some level voters sense that our political class has led America into a dead-end where the only people doing well are the ones who have subsidies, regulation and political influence stacked in their favor.”
Alternative fuels have also taken a hit with low oil prices. According to IBT: “corn ethanol and algae-based diesel need oil prices at around double today’s levels—or higher—to compete with fossil fuels.”
Another fixture of the “green” social movement that has taken a toll in the low oil-priced environment is, surprisingly, recycling. Calling recycling a “$100-billion-a-year business,” National Public Radio reporter Stacy Venek Smith, points out: “Plastic is made from oil, so when oil gets cheap, it gets really cheap to make fresh plastic. When the price of oil gets really low, using recycled plastic can actually be more expensive because it has to be sorted and cleaned.” In Salt Lake City, KUTV reported: “Many businesses are finding it cheaper to manufacture new plastic than to use recycled materials.” In Montana, according to the Philipsburg Mail, plastics are no longer being picked up for recycling “because the price per pound was so low, it didn’t cover the cost of gas and mileage to make the trip.”
The problem is international. Germany has a reputation as a recycling model with a goal of 36 percent of its plastic production coming from recycled materials and “German consumers finance recycling via licensing fees, which are added on to the price of the products they purchase,” says Deutsche Welle, Germany’s leading organization for international media development, in a report titled: “Low oil prices threaten Germany’s plastics recycling.” It states: “For manufacturers with eyes firmly fixed on costs, opting for cheaper new plastics would be the more economically attractive option.” However, many companies, wanting to appear “environmentally friendly” will still “pay up for recycled plastics, despite higher costs”—meaning higher consumer prices for the plastics they produce.
Addressing the recycling problem, The Guardian states: “Recycling only works when there’s someone on the other side of the equation, someone who wants to buy the recycled material.”
Fortunately for the recycling industry, but bad for consumers who pay higher prices for plastic products, the Philipsburg Mail concludes: “A lot of Fortune 500 Companies still want to purchase recyclables to meet sustainability goals.”
Despite claims of “green prosperity” that implies such policies can “fight poverty and raise living standards,” the opposite is true. Everyone pays more—even those who can least afford it—so the elites, seeking green status symbols, can feel good and appear to be community leaders.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.
Anything with “Big” in it means Big Money, whether it’s Big Pharma, Big Oil, or whatever. The Big industry will have skyscrapers, plush executive suites, and a battalion of managers with million-dollar compensation packages.
Big Healthcare is no exception, and it is important to understand just what healthcare is. The trillions of dollars of revenue sucked in by Big Healthcare are not just for medical care. “Healthcare” is mainly concerned with collecting and distributing the money. Perhaps half of the money gushing through the system pays nurses, doctors, orderlies, receptionists, or therapists, or buys medications, oxygen concentrators, wheelchairs, bandages, or x-ray machines. The rest is diverted to something else. It’s hard to figure out just how much because insurers may, in calculating the “medical loss ratio,” call a lot of things “healthcare” that you might call “administration.”
Big Healthcare makes money from the difference between insurance premiums, government payments, and other sources of revenue, and the outgo to workers and suppliers. This may be called a “profit” if distributed to shareholders such as your pension plan, or an “excess” if the enterprise is tax-exempt (“non-profit”). The non-profit can use it for self-promotion, executive pay, or a luxury condominium such as the one bought by the American Board of Internal Medicine for its dignitaries.
Big Data is an essential component of Big Healthcare. Most of Big Data, even if it is supposed to be about “quality,” is related to filing claims for payment. Big Healthcare has vast number-crunching and data-mining capacity, and is acquiring an excellent understanding of what is profitable what isn’t. This information is incorporated into “best practices,” “guidelines,” and the options that appear in the drop-down menus of the proprietary electronic health record.
Big Healthcare can identify low-risk enrollees and those likely to need expensive treatment. It knows which doctors are compliant about following the guidelines, and which care enough about their patients to think independently.
Big Data itself is a lucrative revenue source. It sells patients’ medical data to insurers, banks, government agencies, and enterprises of all types, to be used for scoring people—perhaps for targeted ads, perhaps for making employment decisions, perhaps for rationing or denying care. Do not imagine that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents this. It in fact enables access by millions of “business associates,” researchers, law enforcers, planners, etc. HIPAA may prove an inconvenience to your family or doctor—but not to hackers.
Big Healthcare has one potential vulnerability: patients may figure out what is going on. They may ask themselves why they should pour thousands of dollars every year into “health plans,” where it is gone forever, instead of saving it to buy the medical care of their choice if and when they need it. Why should they see a “provider” owned by a health plan, who will plug their “protected” health information into the electronic health record and follow the health plan protocol? Why should they not see a doctor who is working for them, who cares about them, who will keep their data confidential, and who will prescribe according to his own best judgment?
Why not refuse to enroll? There is an ObamaCare penalty, but it might be much less expensive than the plan, and there are many ways to avoid it, including hardship waivers or joining a health-sharing ministry.
Big Healthcare is behaving like monopolies and cartels everywhere: trying to obliterate the competition, generally with the help of Big Government. The latest ploy, now being rammed through legislatures in more than a dozen states, is called the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. The pretext is to solve the physician shortage and improve access to telemedicine. The effect is to create a special class of physicians, who meet the Compact’s nine criteria and will be licensed in multiple states. This will enable Big Healthcare to enforce narrow networks, forcing patients to accept telemedicine consultation from a remote specialist (who follows the plan’s protocol) instead of seeing a local physician face to face.
Once the independent physicians are gone, patients will have no choice. “The system will see you now”—or not.
I’ve heard the following quote ascribed to National Basketball Association (NBA) player, coach and executive Pat Riley – but the Internet is not giving up the ghost on provenance to him or anyone else. As I recall, the recitation is: “That player is drowning in Lake Me.”
Meaning a person who is totally self-absorbed. Transfixed by their own navel (which actually has a name – Omphaloskepsis). A person who finds himself endlessly fascinating – and utterly invaluable.
We are all this to some degree – it’s human nature. But some of us are less capable of tamping it down – or masking its all-encompassing nature. Some of us take the occasional dip in Lake Me – others are completely submerged and sinking therein.
Many, MANY of the latter – run for political office. It’s as if the Coast Guard began its Search and Rescue division – to save politicians from themselves.
Over the weekend I started listening to a podcast of the February 24 edition of C-Span’s “The Communicators.” I say I started – because Massachusetts Democrat Senator Ed Markey’s opening salvo was SO Drowning-in-Lake-Me obnoxious I couldn’t continue subjecting myself to it.
The topic of discussion was the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Which was the last time Congress addressed law pertaining to things communications and information – including the then-nascent Internet. The point of the law – and the subsequent policies of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations – was to get and keep the government out of the way of the Web.
As nigh always happens when the government leaves something alone – the Internet exploded and proliferated into the free speech-free market Xanadu we all now enjoy. Government stepping aside made room for trillions of dollars of private sector investment – and the endless invention, innovation and reinvention that follows.
Anyone over the age of forty remembers the awful slowness of dial-up connection speeds (for Millennials – it was this). From which the private sector has delivered us – to ridiculously fast broadband speeds. So fast we can now seamlessly watch HD movies wirelessly – either on phone company networks or our own wi-fi set-ups.
This warp-speed increase has made possible a whole host of now-ubiquitous companies that ride these high-tech rails – Google, Netflix, Facebook, Amazon and on, and on, and….
These trillions in private investment have created a trillion-dollar-a-year economy. This amazing, all-time-in-human-history success story is the result of intentional government inaction – not government action.
Yet somehow Senator Markey has a bizarrely different perspective on what has transpired these last twenty years. Asked “What did you get right in 1996?” – Markey launched:
“Well, we reinvented the world we live in, for all intents and purposes.”
No, Senator – you and your government cohorts did no such thing. You got the heck out of the way – which allowed the private sector to reinvent the world. Because that’s what the private sector does. Government does – ObamaCare, the Post Office, the Veterans Administration, Benghazi,.…
“Not one house in America had broadband when that bill was signed by President Clinton. Today for a twelve-year-old boy or girl in America they believe it’s a Constitutional right to have a 50-inch HD screen in their living room and that they would be left behind.”
A bit of idea-and-thus-word-salad there. You aren’t left behind anything if you are bereft of a 50-inch HD screen. But “left behind” is a government-Internet talking point – so he in-artfully, inaccurately threw it in here. (Let’s leave aside the uber-government-school-failure that is 12-year-olds thinking a TV is a Constitutional right – and a United States Senator’s willingness to accommodate and pander to this inanity.)
“Before the Act passed we lived in an analog world, we lived in a dial-up world. We had to move. We had to move to broadband, we had to move to digital. So what we did was we created a digital free-for-all in that bill. Where every company could do everything.”
In the private sector, every company can do everything – unless and until government says they can’t. All the Act did was stay out of the company-limiting business. (A practice the Barack Obama Administration is most unfortunately, most violently reversing – in direct violation of the Act.)
“And that telescoped the timeframe that it took in order to deploy fiber all across our country – to create the capacity so that all of these new companies could be created. So that words like Google and Hulu and YouTube are part of the culture today. But they were impossible to be created before the Act.”
Yes, because the Act cleared out of the way most of the existing government impediments to the private sector. Government only accelerated the deployment of fiber and its capacity – by removing itself from the equation. And thereby allowing the private sector to accelerate the deployment of fiber and its capacity.
“So we got a lot right. Nothing is perfect.”
Correct – there is almost always more government you can make less.
“But one thing we did do was we moved not only our own country but the world from analog to digital. And if you’re living in India or China you’re now using the words that were created – including Twitter and Facebook – that would not be possible without that bill.”
No, Senator, the private sector that invested trillions here – invested trillions more everywhere else. Thereby exporting to the world the magic they themselves created here.
Senator Markey and his government ilk did nothing for the Internet – except leave it alone. But now wants to take all the credit – for doing absolutely nothing. And simply allowing the private sector to do what the private sector does.
In auto racing, there is a speed-limiting device placed on engines – called a governor. Government is little more than a speed-limiter of the private sector. The bigger the government – the bigger the governor, the slower the economy.
Limiting as much as possible the governor – is certainly important. Then taking near-complete credit for the cars and drivers subsequently winning the Daytona and Indianapolis 500s, and races all over the world – is delusional Drowning-in-Lake-Me bizarre-ness.
I would really like a piece of the concession on Capitol Hill life preservers.
In this edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Research Fellow and Health Care News Managing Editor Michael Hamilton interviews Sally Pipes, executive director and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute about her plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Pipes laid out her plan in her newest book, The Way Out of Obamacare (Encounter, 2016). Pipes’ mercifully slim, and crystal clear, paperback tells how the Unied States Supreme Court’s decision in the infamous King v. Burwell (2015) gave new life to the floundering ACA. Had the Court ruled differently, the federal health insurance exchange at Healthcare.gov would have folded, and the ACA with it.
After discussing the case’s impact on America’s health care system, Hamilton and Pipes look to the future. Pipes says Republicans’ problem is not lack of a replacement plan, but an overabundance of plans. Ultimately, the ones that work are like Pipes’ plan, which would enact a health care law that empowers consumers (patients) and doctors (providers) rather than the federal government.
Over the past 25 years, parents and children have won many hard-fought battles for the right to choose the best schools, public or private, to meet their educational needs. A majority of states now have programs providing some degree of access to K–12 private schools.
Political victories would not have come without the backing of the U.S. Supreme Court, and no justice was a greater stalwart for the school-choice cause over the past three decades than liberty-loving Antonin Scalia, who died in February at age 79.
Scalia’s eventual replacement could open the door wider for full-scale school choice programs by voting to uphold parents’ right to send their children to private secular or religious schools, or he or she could slam the door shut by narrowing choice options to secular, government-backed schools. The stakes for full-scale school choice are simply enormous.
The key constitutional issue currently being debated by choice advocates and opponents of choice is whether making publicly funded scholarships available for use at religiously affiliated schools violates the prohibition of an official “establishment of religion” contained within the First Amendment.
Scalia was part of the 5–4 majority in the landmark case Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), which found Cleveland’s tuition voucher program to be constitutional, even though 82 percent of participating private schools had a religious affiliation. The voucher program provided parents with up to $2,250 a year for education-related expenses.
The Zelman majority created a five-part private choice test that programs facilitating access to religious schools must pass to be considered constitutional: (1) It must have a valid secular purpose; (2) send aid to parents, not to the schools; (3) cover a broad class of beneficiaries; (4) be neutral with regard to religion; and (5) provide ample non-religious options.
In regards to concerns about the large number of voucher students enrolling in parochial schools, the majority opinion stated, “The incidental advancement of a religious mission is reasonably attributable to the individual aid recipients not the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits.”
The Court’s bench has changed quite a bit since 2002. With Scalia’s passing, only Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy remain from the pro-voucher majority. Current Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer were dissenters in Zelman.
Despite the Court’s changing faces, the 5–4 split in choice cases has been maintained over the past decade. In Arizona Christian School v. Winn (2011), Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy joined with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito in defending an Arizona tax-credit scholarship program from the preposterous liberal assertion that all income belongs to the government, even if it never reaches a tax collector’s hands. The dissenters were Ginsburg and Breyer, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, both of whom were appointed by President Barack Obama.
The Zelman precedent has thwarted many challenges to private school choice, often led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), over the past 14 years. For instance, in Oliver v. Hofmeister, decided on February 16, the Oklahoma Supreme Court cited Zelman in its unanimous decision to uphold a voucher program for disabled kids against the contention that a lopsided parental preference for religious schools rendered it unconstitutional. The enrollment pattern is “the sole result of the parent’s independent decision completely free from state influence,” the Court countered.
Oklahoma’s High Court batted down a cynical effort by choice foes to use a bigoted, anti-Catholic Blaine amendment, which still exists in three-dozen state constitutions, to deny families access to full-scale school choice. Blaine amendments are the rotten remnant of a 19th century political effort to go far beyond the U.S. Constitution in imposing barriers against any sort of aid helping “sectarian” schools, even indirectly.
Unfortunately, Blaine is still an insidious obstacle to choice in some state courthouses. In June 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court, in a 4–3 vote, sided with the ACLU’s lawyers, who argued the state’s Blaine amendment must prevail over a pilot voucher program started by the Douglas County School Board.
In December 2015, lawyers representing parents in Douglas County and the school board petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a review of the constitutionality of the religious discrimination inherent in the Blaine laws. A decision could come any day.
If Scalia were still alive, the passionate advocate for the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause would most assuredly vote in favor of the Douglas County parents and school board, making it very likely the Blaine amendments would finally be struck down, thereby enabling millions more schoolchildren to enjoy the benefits of school choice. Without Scalia, the pro-Blaine stance of the Colorado jurists will likely be affirmed in a 4–4 vote, or, even worse, it could be affirmed as a binding precedent in a 5–4 vote if Obama chooses an anti-choice nominee and successfully has him or her confirmed by the Senate.
Elections do have consequences. The question is which election should determine the future of school choice: 2012 or 2016?
In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Nick Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, joins managing editor of Environment & Climate News H. Sterling Burnett. Loris joins the podcast to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the energy provisions proposed in President Obama’s final budget in the bipartisan energy bill being negotiated in the Senate.
Less is not more. That’s real “common sense.”
While the FCC obviously complied with President Obama’s call for regulating broadband as a Title II utility, the FCC obviously ignored President Obama’s 2011 call for a 21st century regulatory system, where he said we are “making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or are just plain dumb.”
When the FCC reclassified broadband to be a Title II telephone utility last year in its Open Internet Order, the FCC trumpeted one of the great net benefits would be increased consumer privacy protection.
Well over a year later, the FCC is just getting around to proposing these new Title II privacy protections, and the evidence shows consumers’ privacy protection is worse off with the FCC’s Open Internet Order.
In their self-serving lust for Title II authority, the FCC cavalierly left American consumers with no ISP privacy protection, i.e. no FTC privacy protection and no “modern” FCC privacy protection. What! How could that nonsensical outcome happen?
When the FCC reclassified broadband as a telephone utility, the FCC willfully triggered the Title II FTC exemption which means that ISPs were not subject to FTC authority, and the FCC made clear that they understood they had to modernize the Title II section 222 CPNI rules because broadband networks are architected completely different than a telephone network and create different list of potential info that could be considered “proprietary.”
So American ISP consumers have no privacy protection now and still won’t until the FCC passes final rules over eighteen months after the FCC eliminated their FTC privacy protections.
It is telling that neither the FCC nor the FTC have done anything to notify consumers that they have no Internet service privacy protections at all because of their bureaucratic turf war. That’s because no consumer could understand such “regulations that conflict.”
The FCC also knows that their pending section 222 CPNI protections depend on the FCC’s Open Internet Order being upheld on appeal in the DC Circuit and the Supreme Court, overall and for wireless, which is the most at risk legally. If the FCC order is overturned overall, or in part, some or all ISP consumers would have gone without any ISP privacy protection for naught.
The FCC also did not do a cost-benefit analysis as the President’s 2011 Executive Order 13563 requires. The FCC was supposed to use “the least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends,” and to “adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that its benefits justify its costs.” Simply, there is no cost-benefit analysis that these conflicting regulations “are worth the cost.”
One of the biggest problems with these ISP privacy rules is that are based on a “just plain dumb” FCC reclassification legal decision in the FCC’s Open Internet order that ensures that the FCC’s privacy rules arbitrarily can apply to only one half of the traffic an ISP handles.
That’s because at the last minute, and over the best judgment of the FCC’s legal team, the FCC ceded to a petition from Google, which wanted the FCC to legally split the Internet effectively into different two legal halves, upstream communications traffic and downstream communications traffic, where the FCC would be responsible for utility regulation of the upstream communications traffic half of Internet service coming from the consumer to “edge providers” (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), while the FTC apparently would be responsible for the downstream communications traffic half coming from the edge providers to the consumer.
That’s “just plain dumb” in any analysis.
In short, these FCC ISP privacy regulations are neither additive, nor “common sense” as the FCC claims.
Sadly, they actually are subtractive, in that they violate the President’s regulatory “mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or are just plain dumb.”
Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.
Every time a north wind blows hot air over Adelaide, some Chicken Little cries “Global Warming”. And when an El Nino predictably causes a hot year like 1998 or 2015/16, some sensation-seeker croaks “hottest year eevah”.
They are watching weather ripples and waves and ignoring the underlying climate tide. Daily, monthly and yearly temperature records will always be equalled or broken by extreme weather – that is what weather does. But to see what the climate is doing we must look long-term.
There are many signs that Earth’s climate is gradually cooling. Snow is accumulating. In the Antarctic, Mawson’s Hut and the Colbeck Hut are being progressively buried in ice. In Greenland, “The Lost Squadron”, which was forced to land on the Greenland Ice sheet in 1942, was rediscovered 50 years later buried under 268 feet of ice. Many glaciers are just a few thousand years old.
We live in the Holocene warm interval within the Pleistocene Ice Age – a time of recurring cycles of ice separated by brief warm interludes. Earth’s climate is driven by solar system cycles, and climate changes appear first in the Northern Hemisphere which has more land in the sensitive sub-polar regions. The GRIP ice core from Greenland shows the long-term average temperature there peaked 7,000 years ago and has trended down for 3,000 years.
We will still have hot days and heat waves but the climate mid-summer has passed and the temperature tide is going out. Spreading alarm about short-term temperature fluctuations of a fraction of a degree is a distraction.
And promoting damaging energy policies designed to prevent warming just as the next climate winter approaches will be seen by future generations as bizarre.
“Natural gas is a good, cheap alternative to fossil fuels,” former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi famously intoned. (Psssst. Ms. Nancy, natural gas is a fossil fuel.)
“If I thought there was any evidence that drilling could save people money, I would consider it. But it won’t,” President Obama said in 2008. “We can’t drill our way out of the problem” of high energy prices and disappearing supplies, he still insisted two years later. How shocked he must be now.
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – aka, fracking – has unleashed a gusher of oil and natural gas, sent oil prices plunging $100 a barrel since 2008, dropped US oil imports to their lowest level in 45 years, and saved American families tens of billions of dollars annually in lower energy costs.
But if price and “peak oil” rationales fail, there is always “dangerous manmade global warming” to justify carbon-based energy and fracking bans, and renewable energy mandates and subsidies.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton contend that climate change is an “existential threat” to people and planet. Senator Sanders says bluntly, “I do not support fracking.” He also wants legislation that would keep America’s abundant oil, gas and coal “in the ground.”
Mrs. Clinton opposes all fossil fuel energy extraction on federal lands. She rejects fracking if “any locality or state is against it,” any methane is released or water contaminated, or companies don’t reveal “exactly what chemicals they are using.” Under her watch, there won’t be “many places in America where fracking will continue.” She will “stop fossil fuels” and ensure 50% renewable energy by 2030.
One senses that these folks inhabit a parallel universe, cling like limpets to anti-hydrocarbon ideologies, or perhaps embody Mark Twain’s admonition that “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you’re a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
One also senses that as president the two Democrat candidates will continue Mr. Obama’s imperial practices. If Congress resists their policy initiatives, they will simply issue more Executive Branch diktats, and ignore their impacts on jobs and the economy, the absence of evidence that fracking harms human health or water quality, the reality that renewable energy “alternatives” also cause serious problems – and scientists’ continuing inability to separate human from natural influences on climate and weather events and trends that are essentially the same as during the twentieth century.
Officially, 7.8 million Americans are still unemployed. But add the long-term unemployed, those who looked for a job once in the past year but not in recent weeks, and those who are working involuntarily in low-pay, part-time positions – and the total swells to 16.8 million. Over 46 million are on food stamps.
The federal debt hit $19 trillion in February and is projected to reach $23 trillion by 2020. In FY2015, the US Treasury collected $3.2 trillion in taxes and other revenues, but spent $3.7 trillion. Profligate state and local spending has swollen these deficits by tens of billions more, for the same reason: politicians are in cahoots with unions, crony capitalist rent seekers, and assorted grievance, victim and welfare groups.
Mountains of federal regulations cost businesses and families $1.9 trillion annually – half of our national budget. They drag down investment, job creation and tax revenues. State and local rules add more pain.
To borrow the Greens and Democrats’ favorite term, this is unsustainable.
Oil, gas and coal account for 82% of all US energy and 78% of US electricity generation – reliably and affordably. Producing this abundant energy also generates positive cash-flow: fossil fuel bonuses, rents and royalties from federal lands totaled $126 billion between 2003 and 2013; corporate and personal taxes resulting from the jobs and activities powered by that energy added tens of billions more.
Wind, solar and biofuel programs, by contrast, are black holes for hard-earned taxpayer subsidies – and rarely work unless consumers are required to use that energy, and pay premium prices for doing so.
Even getting to 50% “carbon-free” energy fifteen years from now will require: vastly more subsidies and mandates; turning entire forests into fuel; blanketing croplands and habitats with enormous biofuel plantations, wind farms and solar installations; and killing millions of birds, bats and other wildlife in the process. However, biomass and biofuels are also carbon-based and also release carbon dioxide – and their energy per volume is paltry, their energy efficiency deplorable, compared to hydrocarbons.
A renewable energy future means scenic, wild and agricultural lands become industrial zones and high voltage transmission corridors – feeding urban centers where people will have lower living standards.
Environmentalists used to tell poor countries they could never have the lifestyles of people in developed nations, as it wouldn’t be sustainable. Now they say our living standards are unsustainable and aren’t fair to the world’s poor. Therefore, their lives should be improved a little via wind, solar and biofuel energy, while ours are knocked down a peg via climate and sustainability regulations (except for ruling elites).
Environmentalists and other liberals are also hardwired to be incapable of acknowledging the countless health, welfare and technological blessings that creative free enterprise capitalism has bestowed on humanity – or to recognize the dearth of innovation by repressive socialist regimes.
Liberals like to say Republicans want to control what you do in your bedroom. But Democrats want to control everything you do outside your bedroom – but for the noble, exalted purpose of changing genetically coded human behavior, to Save the Planet for future generations. That means unelected Earth Guardians must control the lives, livelihoods, living standards, liberties and life spans of commoners and peasants, especially in “flyover country.”
Fossil fuel and fracking bans are part of that “fundamental transformation.” They will force us to use less oil and gas, but they also mean we will import more petroleum from Saudi Arabia and Iran, though not from Canada via the Keystone pipeline. Energy prices will again climb into the stratosphere, more jobs will disappear, manufacturing will shrivel, and royalty and tax revenues will evaporate.
The billionaire bounties that Hillary, Bernie and their supporters also need to pay for all the free college, ObamaCare, renewable energy subsidies, income redistribution and other “entitlements” will likewise be devoured quickly, while millions more people end up on welfare and unemployment rolls. The bills will simply be forwarded to our children and grandchildren.
Meanwhile, despite any US bans, other countries will continue using fossil fuels to create jobs and grow their economies. So total atmospheric CO2 and greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise.
Of course, “climate deniers” and other members of The Resistance will have to be dealt with. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse will pave the way on that. In the process, as Obama and Clinton mentor Saul Alinsky put it in his Rules for Radicals, the ruling elites will pick, freeze, personalize and polarize their targets. They will repeat their allegations and maintain their pressure until all resistance crumbles. Facts will be irrelevant. Power and perceptions will rule.
Blue collar, middle class and minority families feel they are fighting for their very survival, against policies and regulations that profoundly impair their jobs, incomes and futures. Indeed, the governing classes are actively harming the very people they claim to care the most about – and actually killing people in the world’s poorest nations, by denying them access to energy and other modern technologies.
That’s why Trump, Cruz, Carson and other “outsider” candidates have resonates. People are fed up.
Perhaps it’s time to borrow a page from Alinsky – Rule Four, to be precise – and make “the enemy,” the ruling elites, live up to their own rules. Watching them scream and squeal would be most entertaining.
Political campaign years are filled with candidates’ promises to solve people’s problems. Government policies will “create jobs,” will reduce or even block the “unfair” competition of market rivals in foreign lands, will restore or create prosperity for all, and will assure “fairness” for everyone, even if it means imposing regulatory or special tax burdens on some to guarantee politically provided privileges and benefits for others who are deemed “deserving.”
All of these promises are premised on the fundamental idea that governments and, more precisely, those who hold political office and power can successfully redesign and “plan” aspects of society considered more “socially just” or economically “fair.”
These are old ideas, tried many times in many places. And everywhere they have created corruption, favoritism, and stagnation or at least slower growth and less material improvement than otherwise might have been the case.
What actually makes for a more just society experiencing greater opportunity, improved conditions and rising standards of living for virtually all over the long run? In a nutshell, three words: freedom, competition and trade. These are the “open sesame” to alleviate poverty, privilege, and inequity in society.
All of this was first explained with clarity, some times eloquence, and always logical and historical insight and wisdom by the Scottish moral philosopher and political economist, Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his great book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which was published 240 years ago on March 5, 1776.
Government Regulation and Crony Capitalism
The economic and political system then prevailing during Adam Smith’s lifetime was known as Mercantilism. Its underlying premise was that it was the duty, responsibility and, indeed, the right of governments to micro-manage the economic affairs of society through domestic regulations over prices, wages and production, and controls and restrictions on international trade through import taxes, export subsidies, and outright prohibitions on the importing or exporting of some goods or services. Virtually nothing was considered outside of the orbit of government oversight and command.
Adam Smith’s contention was that the greater the degree of such a government hand in social and economic affairs of society and people’s lives that less wealth and material betterment will follow. While he has often been mislabeled and disparaged as an “apologist” for businessmen there were few voices, then or since, who have been as vocal in warning of the dangers from what today we call “crony capitalism,” that is, the network of privileges and favors received by private enterprises at the cost of their existing or potential competitors and always at the expense of the consuming public.
Said Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations:
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
“It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law that either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies, much less to render them necessary.”
Government regulation and oversight of business, Adam Smith argued, ended up perversely and paradoxically serving as just such a vehicle for such manipulations by special business interests against the buying public as a whole. “It connects individuals who might never otherwise be known to one another, and gives every man of the trade a direction where to find every other man of it.”
The most effective control over the production and pricing decisions of private enterprisers, Smith, insisted, was free and open competition that gives ultimate control over the direction of business to the consumers of the society.
Adam Smith was born on June 5, 1723 in the small village of Kirkcaldy, Scotland, and died on July 17, 1790. He was as a professor of moral philosophy for over twelve years at the University of Glasgow. He left the university to serve as the tutor of a British nobleman’s son for three years, after which he was awarded a lifetime private pension that gave him the time and leisure to work on the book for which he is most famous, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
A “System of Natural Liberty”
A primary motive for writing the book was to refute that then existing regime of pervasive government controls and regulations known as Mercantilism. Adam Smith stated that if government management of the marketplace were to be repealed there would arise in its place what he called a “system of natural liberty.”
Every individual, as long as he did not violate the “laws of justice” – a respect for every other person’s right to their life, liberty and honestly acquired property – would then be “left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man” or group of men.
What, then, are the functions of government in this “system of natural liberty”? Adam Smith assigned a small, but what he considered essential, set of responsibilities to the political authority:
First, national defense to protect against the aggressive attacks of other countries that would threaten the citizens’ freedom and security;
Second, police and courts to secure each citizens life, liberty and property from domestic thieves and bandits, and to adjudicate the disputes that might arise among men;
And, third, the provision of a small handful of “public works” such as roads, bridges, the dredging of harbors, and the like. Except for a few other limited and narrow activities, in Adam Smith’s view all other matters should be left up to the choices and decisions of individuals, either on their own or in voluntary association with others in society.
Smith’s system of natural liberty, therefore, came very close to the free market ideal of laissez-faire.
The Dangers from the Social Engineer
He was fearful of extending government’s control much beyond these narrow duties because political power easily was used and abused by the type of person that he called, “the man of system.” This is the individual who today we would refer to as the “social engineer” or the “paternalistic planner” who presumes to know better how men should live than those people, themselves.
The social engineer views the members of society as mere pawns on a “great chess board of society,” to be moved about with little thought or consideration that each of those “pawns” is a living, thinking, valuing and planning individual, who would much prefer to make his own decisions concerning how he will live and act.
As Adam Smith expressed it in his earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759):
“The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit, and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.
“He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it; he seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard;
“He does not consider that the pieces upon the chessboard have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.”
The “man of system” considers himself far above and superior to others, who are to be compelled to conform to his political design for them. As Smith observed:
“To insist upon establishing, and upon establishing all at once, and in spite of all opposition, every thing which that idea may require, must often be the highest degree of arrogance. It is to erect his own judgment into the supreme standard of right and wrong. It is to fancy himself the only wise and worthy man in the commonwealth, and that his fellow citizens should accommodate themselves to him, and not him to them.”
The Division of Labor and Human Association
But if governments and social engineers are not to plan and direct how and where people will go about the economic affairs of everyday life, how can it be assured that the goods and services that people both need and want for their survival and desires will be produced and supplied to meet their demands?
Adam Smith was insistent that the economic relationships in society need no guiding and commanding hand from government. They arise quite naturally and spontaneously among people, without political orders or directives.
Because of people’s inherent and acquired talents and abilities, there has emerged in every society a system of division of labor. People begin to specialize in what they discover they are comparatively better at producing than their neighbors and offer to sell their specialized wares to others who, in turn, can produce and supply something they want in a better quality or at a lower cost than if they attempted to produce it for themselves. Explained Adam Smith:
“It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy. The tailor does not attempt to make his own shoes, but buys them of the shoemaker. The shoemaker does not attempt to make his own clothes, but employs a tailor. The farmer attempts to make neither the one nor the other, but employs those different artificers.
“All of them find it for their interest to employ their whole industry in a way in which they have some advantage over their neighbors, and to purchase with a part of its produce, or what is the same thing, with the price of a part of it, whatever else they have occasion for.
“What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom. If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better to buy if of them with some part of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage.”
Rational Self-interest and the “Invisible Hand”
This division of labor creates an inescapable network of human interdependency in which each person specializes in producing one or a small handful of goods, and uses it as his means of payment to purchase from others in society all the other things that he wants, but which they are better at supplying than himself.
If this network of division of labor exists and operates within a “system of natural liberty,” each man will soon find that it is in his own self-interest to apply his own activities in ways that serve and improve the conditions of his fellow human beings as the surest means of attaining his own desired goals and ends.
Precisely because the “system of natural liberty” excludes violence, theft, or fraud, the only way any individual can acquire from others what he desires is by applying his own knowledge, abilities, and resources in a manner that enables him to produce and offer to others what they desire, so they will give in trade what that first individual wants to obtain.
Thus, though it is no part of their motivating intention to improve the conditions of life of others, in their own self-interest each individual must devote his efforts to serving the wants of those others as a means to achieving his own ends. And, thus, while it is no part of the individual’s intention, the cumulative effect for society, Adam Smith argued, was that those goods most valued by others in society were the ones produced and offered on the market.
These outcomes were far superior to any attempt by those in political power to consciously and purposely try to guide production into various directions. Those in political authority possess neither the knowledge nor wisdom nor ability to do so better than each man in his own corner of society, who is most familiar with the surrounding circumstances and opportunities.
Thus, as if by an “invisible hand,” each individual is led through pursuit of his own personal gain and betterment to simultaneously improve the conditions of others in society. Or as Adam Smith famously stated it:
“As every individual, therefore, endeavors as much as he can both to employ capital in support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can.
“He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it . . . By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”
Government Lacks the Knowledge to Plan Society
Not only was this general betterment in the human condition the unintended result of each individual following his own self-interest in the market arena of voluntary and competitive exchange, Adam Smith considered it far superior to any attempt by government and those in political power to design and impose an order and coordination in the actions of the members of society.
Echoing his earlier warnings about the social engineer, that “man of system,” Smith said in The Wealth of Nations:
“By pursuing his own interest [the individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good . . .
“What is the specie of domestic industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his own situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him.
“The statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which can safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”
It is not that Adam Smith believed that people always knew enough to never make a mistake, or that their speculative judgments about an uncertain future would always be correct so disappoints or losses would never be suffered.
He reasoned that each man, in his own corner of society, has a better understanding of his own circumstances and opportunities in the context of his own wants, desires and goals. And that each individual has the strongest motive and incentive to try to make his decisions wisely since failures experienced fell upon him. He who bears the costs and reaps the potential benefits has the greatest incentive to minimize the former and maximize the latter.
The same does not apply, Smith argued, when those in political power make the decisions. The “statesman” in a faraway capital can never know and understand things the way each individual can evaluate and judge them in their own unique surroundings. No legislator bears the cost of the wrong decisions he imposes on others; after all, he continues to live off compulsory taxes collected from those upon whom he has imposed harm.
Freedom of Trade at Home and Abroad
Adam Smith believed that international trade should be left to the free market as much as domestic economic activity.
For the same self-interested reasons, Adam Smith argued that it was superfluous and counterproductive for government to attempt to manage and direct the importing or exporting of goods and services to maintain a presumed “favorable” balance of trade, or to prevent a feared balance of trade “deficit.”
Each individual tries to minimize the costs that must be incurred in achieving his goals and ends. He only makes at home what is less expensive to make than to buy from others. And he buys desired goods from others only when those others can provide them at a lower cost in resources and labor and time, than if the individual attempted to produce that good through his own self-sufficient efforts.
Thus, goods are purchased from producers in other countries only when they can offer them at a lower cost than manufacturing them in one’s own country. And, in turn, one purchases those foreign produced goods by supplying the foreign seller with some good or service at a lower cost than if he tried to produce it in his own country.
When governments, through regulations and controls, force a product to be produced at home that could be less expensively purchased from abroad, it is misdirecting scarce resources and labor into wasteful and inefficient uses.
The result must be that the wealth of that nation – and the material wellbeing of its citizens — is reduced by the amount by which more resources and labor must be devoted to making wanted goods than could be obtained through a free system of international division of labor and peaceful, mutually beneficial exchange.
Hence, it is more prudent for the prosperity of one’s own nation to leave production and trade to the self-interested actions of the citizenry.
Commerce Fosters a Good and Civil Society
Finally, Adam Smith argued that the benefits from free and competitive commerce and trade were not only the material improvements in man’s condition. It also served as a method for civilizing men, if by civilization is meant, at least partly, courtesy, and respect for others, and an allegiance to honesty and fulfillment of promises.
When men deal with each other on a daily and regular basis, they soon learn that their own wellbeing requires of them sensitivity for those with whom they trade. Losing the confidence or the trust of one’s trading partners can result in social and economic injury to oneself.
The self-interest that guides a man to demonstrate courtesy and thoughtfulness for his customers, under the fear of losing their business to some rival with superior manners or etiquette to his own, tends over time to be internalized as habituated “proper behavior” to others in general and in most circumstances.
And through this social process, the otherorientedness that voluntary exchange requires of each individual in his own self-interest if he is to attain his own personal ends, fosters the institutionalization of interpersonal conduct that is usually considered essential to a well-mannered society and cultured civilization.
Again, in Adam Smith’s own words, from his Lectures on Jurisprudence:
“Whenever commerce is introduced into any country, probity and punctuality always accompany it . . . It is far more reducible to self-interest, that general principle which regulates the actions of every man, and which leads men to act in a certain manner from views of advantage, and is as deeply implanted in an Englishman as a Dutchman.
“A dealer is afraid of losing his character, and is scrupulous in observing every engagement. When a person makes perhaps 20 contracts in a day, he cannot gain so much by endeavoring to impose on his neighbors, as the very appearance of a cheat would make him lose.
“When people seldom deal with one another, we find that they are somewhat disposed to cheat, because they can gain more by a smart trick than they can lose by the injury that it does to their character . . .
“Wherever dealing are frequent, a man does not expect to gain so much by any one contract as by probity and punctuality in the whole, and a prudent dealer, who is sensible of his real interest, would rather choose to lose what he has a right to than give any ground for suspicion . . .
“When the greater part of people are merchants they always bring probity and punctuality into fashion, and these therefore are the principle virtues of a commercial nation.”
Difficulties in Establishing a System of Natural Liberty
Adam Smith was well aware that deregulating commerce and industry, and freeing domestic and foreign trade from government control was not an easy matter. In The Wealth of Nations he referred to two obstacles in the way of establishing that “system of natural liberty.”
First, what he called “the prejudices of the public,” by which he meant the often-difficult task of getting ordinary citizens to see and understand the beneficial workings of and the logic behind a free competitive market.
And, second, what he referred to as the “power of the interests,” that is, those special interest groups that lobby and pressure government to provide them with anticompetitive regulations and restrictions, protections for foreign rivals, and subsidies and tax funded redistributions to the harm of and the cost to consumers, taxpayers, and potential competitors locked out of the marketplace.
Indeed, when Adam Smith died in 1790 at the age of 67, it seemed highly unlikely that his idea and ideal of individual freedom and economic liberty would ever triumph. He believed it was utopian to ever expect the achievement of a regime of freedom of trade and enterprise.
The Power of Ideas for Freedom
Yet, in the equivalent of one lifetime after his death, by the middle of the nineteenth century, freedom of enterprise prevailed not only in the United States, but had been established in his own country of Great Britain, and soon was spreading in varying degrees to other parts of Europe and then other areas of the world.
The threats to economic freedom today are no greater than during Adam Smith’s own time 240 years ago. The same “prejudices of the public” and “power of the interests” stand in the way.
In spite of Adam Smith’s own pessimism, his arguments and their eventual triumph for a good part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries demonstrates the power of ideas.
If we take to heart and apply the logic of Adam Smith’s own explanation of the workings of a free market system to our own times, we, too, can triumph and establish a even better and more consistent “system of natural liberty” for ourselves and for the world that we will leave to our children and grandchildren.