Friday, July 24, 2009

Legislating Morality

Proponents of less stringent restrictions on abortion will typically say that they are personally opposed to abortion, but do not want to impose their morality on others. This position is invalid on two counts.

Firstly, legislation of any kind involves imposing the legislators view of morality on others. Try to think of any legislation that doesn't involve either encouraging actions that are perceived as good or discouraging things that are bad. Murder is perceived as wrong, and is outlawed. Entitlement programs are enacted on the moral principle that the poor need assistance, and that the more well off ought to provide for them. Even with the most amoral legislation, the act of legislating says that our elected officials have a moral right to pass legislation regulating the lives of others. People have no problems legislating their morality on others. It is our legislators' job. We elect them to do precisely what, in the case of abortion, they say that they have no right to do.

Secondly, particularly in the case of abortion, the position that a person opposes an issue personally and yet does not want to impose his morality on others makes little sense. The position begs the question, "why do you oppose abortion personally?" If the answer is that he believes that a fetus is a human being and terminating a pregnancy is thus murder, then he really has to impose his morality on others, just as he feels free to do with ordinary murder. If he does not believe that a fetus is a human being, there is literally no reason to oppose destroying one. You may as well oppose destroying cancerous tumors, or amputating legs, or any other sort of tissue killing activity.

The fact of the matter is that the abortion question revolves around one critical question, "at what point does a fetus become a human being?" The proverbial "everyone" agrees that killing human beings is wrong. Therefore, whether your answer is at conception, or at any other time than conception, you must provide legal protection for those human beings. The only reason to be personally opposed to abortion is if you feel that a fetus is a human being. So let's stop letting our gutless legislators get away with sophistry like Hillary Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare" and hold them accountable to being our enforcers of morality. Because that is precisely what they are every time they pass a law.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Strange Bedfellows

I imagine that some people find the notion of government and big business being in collusion to be sort of strange. Indeed, it is decidedly out of the realm of some peoples' paradigms to consider that big business actually likes government regulation. Sometimes it is true that government regulation harms big business. The primary effect of government intervention into the economy is, however, to make it easier for big business to gain a competitive advantage over smaller businesses. Many times, government regulations grant big businesses a virtual monopoly in the market.

Take for instance, the recent legislation to switch all television signals from analog to digital, which my father calls "No Couch Potato Left Behind". It is a little difficult to come up with a rational justification for this law. After all, why can't I watch analog TV if I want to, and some TV station wants to provide it to me? And yet, government does it. In response to this legislation, my family, long-time viewers of analog TV, switched over to cable. We figured that rather than go through the hassle of picking up and installing our converter box, we should just go get cable (and it was probably about time to get cable anyway). I'm certain that other families made similar decisions. Thanks to government intervention, the cable companies benefit, the people get better TV, and virtually everyone is happy. And yet, someone has to pay. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Those people like my family paid for cable. And everyone paid the taxes to produce those converter boxes that were being given out, the television advertising for the converter box (some on digital cable stations, ironically), the bureaucrat salaries to administer everything, and who knows what else. Also in the category of those government actions which promote monopolies are the so-called "economic development strategies" carried out by all of the states. States give money to companies to relocate their businesses to the state. Keep in mind that this money is not free. This is money that is taken from the pockets of all of the tax-payers to give to businesses that can compete on their own. These actions are theft of our hard-earned tax dollars and punish businesses who are already in the state by giving new businesses subsidies. How can an existing store compete against a Wal-Mart if the Wal-Mart has low prices subsidized by the tax-payers? If Wal-Mart wants to come to a town to compete fairly without dipping into the tax-payers pockets, they should be allowed to do so. But giving them a competitive advantage at the expense of everyone is an outrage to capitalism and a free society.

Not only can government regulations grant increased market shares for certain companies at the expense of everyone, they also make it very difficult for small businesses to start up. I am certain that many excellent entrepreneurs have been squashed by the heavily imprecise hand of government. Large companies have the capital to ensure that the seemingly endless checklist of tasks to obtain government's ok can be completed. Often, small businesses do not. Without these onerous regulations, we would certainly have a more diverse and fair economy, as well as one with lower prices for consumers.

In the end, individual government interventions into the economy do not directly harm us to a large extent. But when considered together, they hurt us a great deal. They limit our economic options, reward incompetence (think bailouts), and destroy a competitive economy. Why do these things happen, then? Remember the lesson that Friedman taught us in Free to Choose. When a greatly interested minority with much to gain stands opposed to a largely disinterested majority with only a little to lose, the minority will win. That disinterested majority needs to understand the things that are at stake when government intervenes in the market. The disinterested majority needs to become an interested and passionate majority.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Problem With Capitalism

Capitalism is built on the very simple premise that left alone, individuals will engage in mutually beneficial exchange. For instance, when a man buys a box of golf balls at a store for fifteen dollars, he values the box more than the fifteen dollars. Because the store was willing to part with one of its boxes for fifteen dollars, the owner of that store values the fifteen dollars more than the box. As such, their preferences are arranged so that both parties are willing to make the exchange. Capitalism is, therefore, built on the satisfaction of individual preferences. Entrepreneurs predict consumer demand for certain goods, produce those goods, and consumers trade their money in exchange for those goods. Capitalism has proven to be marvelously effective at satisfying the needs and desires of people. The areas of the world in which individual economic action are less encumbered by government regulations and taxes are the areas in which people enjoy the most luxurious standard of living. If you doubt it, check out the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom at

Human beings, however, have shown themselves over the course of history to be a particularly wicked lot. Perhaps a system in which the preferences of individuals are satisfied is not as glorious a success as some conservatives claim that it is. Truly free market Capitalism would open the door for goods and services which many people desire such as narcotics and prostitution. These things are rightly illegal in (most parts of) the U.S., because left to their own devices, people would contract to obtain these goods. However, even the level of freedom which we enjoy in this country has resulted in what some cultural observers have called the "me generation". The "me generation" (now having been replicated in future generations) is understandably narcissistic, having grown up in an economic system which tells them that their desires are vastly important, and that many businesses and institutions exist to satisfy their every desire. As a consumer, they are literally the center of the economic universe.

A wise man once said that "The problem with Capitalism is capitalists, the problem with Socialism is Socialism." I could not agree more. Capitalism is an economic system best suited for angels, but it is frankly the best thing we have. Having the freedom to make good or poor choices strikes me as far superior to starvation. Proponents of Capitalism need to be aware, however, of the shortcomings of the capitalists that make up a Capitalist system. Any good system of government will rightly protect the freedom of individuals to engage in business and consumption as they choose. Yet remember that a virtuous people is necessary for a free market to be a truly excellent system.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Take America Back

I had the unusual experience of being able to attend a conservative political rally, called "Take America Back", on the Fourth of July. It was estimated that about 1,100 individuals came to the rally. It was rife with comical episodes, as would be expected at a rally promoting any sort of political views. The best of these episodes were the recurring Thoreau-esque Biblical parodies, including my favorite, "As for me and my house, we will fight for Liberty". The organizers of the event intended the event as a call for a return to Constitutionally limited government.

This event got me to thinking about the Constitution and the astounding ability of the American government to ignore it. This is not a new phenomenon. Almost as soon as the Constitution was ratified, the Federal Government passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which gave the Federalists sweeping power to censor political protests. This seems decidedly opposed to the First Amendment to the Constitution. And now our elected officials run amok, doing whatever they feel is best, with no regard for the enumerated powers of Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution.

The big problem with Constitutions is that they can not enforce themselves. They must be enforced by elected representatives, who have very little incentive to limit their own power. Anyone who has observed children knows that limits without enforcement are no limits at all. Only presidential veto and judicial review (despite the latter's questionable Constitutionality) serve to enforce Constitutional limits on the Legislature. These, it can safely be said, are rarely used for this purpose.

Therefore, Constitutionally limited government appears to be in a bad state. There exists no reason to abide by it (other than principle) and no punishment for ignoring it. It is, however, incredibly important. The rally, despite its flaws and comical moments, was heartening because it showed that some people still care about their liberty and are willing to fight for it. The people themselves can be a check on the powers of government, by being willing to punish legislators who fail to follow their oath to defend the Constitution by voting them out of office. As Samuel Adams once said, "It does not take a majority to prevail... but rather an irate, tireless minority keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men." Hopefully "Take America Back" set some brushfires of freedom.