Of liberty, libertarians, and charity 0

A nice column by John Stossel at Townhall explains what a libertarian is/believes.

We think it likely that most of our regular readers are, like ourselves, libertarians, and need no such explanation.

Still, the column is a good read. Here’s a taste of it:

Libertarians want government to leave people alone — in both the economic and personal spheres. Leave us free to pursue our hopes and dreams, as long as we don’t hurt anybody else.

Ironically, that used to be called “liberal,” which has the same root as “liberty.” Several hundred years ago, liberalism was a reaction against the stifling rules imposed by aristocracy and established religion.

I wish I could call myself “liberal” now. But the word has been turned on its head. It now means health police, high taxes, speech codes and so forth. …

When I first explained libertarianism to my wife, she said: “That’s cruel! What about the poor and the weak? Let them starve?”

For my FBN [Fox Business Network] show tomorrow, I ask some prominent libertarians that question, including Jeffrey Miron, who teaches economics at Harvard.

“It might in some cases be a little cruel,” Miron said. “But it means you’re not taking from people who’ve worked hard to earn their income (in order) to give it to people who have not worked hard.”

But isn’t it wrong for people to suffer in a rich country?

“The number of people who will suffer is likely to be very small. Private charity … will provide support for the vast majority who would be poor in the absence of some kind of support. When government does it, it creates an air of entitlement that leads to more demand for redistribution, till everyone becomes a ward of the state.” …

David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, took the discussion to a deeper level.

“Instead of asking, ‘What should we do about people who are poor in a rich country?’ The first question is, ‘Why is this a rich country?’ …

“Five hundred years ago, there weren’t rich countries in the world. There are rich countries now because part of the world is following basically libertarian rules: private property, free markets, individualism.” …

Before the New Deal, people of modest means banded together to help themselves. These organizations were crowded out when government co-opted their insurance functions, which included inexpensive medical care.

Boaz indicts the welfare state for the untold harm it’s done in the name of the poor.

“What we find is a system that traps people into dependency. … You should be asking advocates of that system, ‘Why don’t you care about the poor?'”

I agree. It appears that when government sets out to solve a problem, not only does it violate our freedom, it also accomplishes the opposite of what it set out to do.

It should be taken as a general rule that everything government does it does badly. Even the one thing it alone can and must do – protect the nation and the individual – it messes up. The less we allow government to do, the better for all of us.

As for helping the helpless (other than privately), here’s an idea. Why not shift all responsibility for welfare on to the churches? After all, Christians claim that their earthly mission is indiscriminate loving, giving, caring. The churches will need much more money than their congregations willingly give, but they can easily raise it from liberals, from innumerable Bill Clinton types who say they feel the pain of others, from all who sigh for the poor because it makes them feel they’re good persons –  a numerous crowd in every Western nation. Let the churches have the honor of being the soul distributors of such prospectively vast funds to those condemned to be, through no fault of their own, at the receiving end of charity; and also – because they’ll not be able to avoid it – to those who’ll demand a share whether they need it or not.

The colossal shipwreck of Europe 2

Socialism doesn’t work.

Mark Steyn explains the colossal shipwreck of Europe, and observes that the Democrats are hell-bent on steering America on to the same rocks.

Here’s part of what he writes:

For Germany an Obama-sized stimulus was out of the question simply because its foreign creditors know there are not enough young Germans around ever to repay it. Over 30 percent of German women are childless; among German university graduates, it’s over 40 percent. And for the ever-dwindling band of young Germans who make it out of the maternity ward there’s precious little reason to stick around. Why be the last handsome blond lederhosen-clad Aryan lad working the late shift at the beer garden in order to prop up singlehandedly entire retirement homes? And that’s before the EU decides to add the Greeks to your burdens. Germans, who retire at 67, are now expected to sustain the unsustainable 14 monthly payments per year of Greeks who retire at 58.

Think of Greece as California: Every year an irresponsible and corrupt bureaucracy awards itself higher pay and better benefits paid for by an ever-shrinking wealth-generating class. And think of Germany as one of the less-profligate, still-just-about-functioning corners of America such as my own state of New Hampshire: Responsibility doesn’t pay. You’ll wind up bailing out, anyway. The problem is there are never enough of “the rich” to fund the entitlement state, because in the end it disincentivizes everything from wealth creation to self-reliance to the basic survival instinct, as represented by the fertility rate. In Greece, they’ve run out of Greeks, so they’ll stick it to the Germans, like French farmers do. In Germany, the Germans have only been able to afford to subsidize French farming because they stick Americans with their defense tab. And, in America, Obama, Pelosi and Reid are saying we need to paddle faster to catch up with the Greeks and Germans. What could go wrong?

The phony compassion of the left 0

Roger Scruton sets out the opposing ethical-political views of conservatives and liberals in his article Totalitarian Sentimentality in The American Spectator. It is well worth reading in full.

In part he writes:

The USA has descended from its special position as the principled guardian of Western civilization and joined the club of sentimentalists who have until now depended on American power. In the administration of President Obama we see the very same totalitarian sentimentality that has been at work in Europe, and which has replaced civil society with the state, the family with the adoption agency, work with welfare, and patriotic duty with universal “rights”. The lesson of postwar Europe is that it is easy to flaunt compassion, but harder to bear the cost of it. Far preferable to the hard life in which disciplined teaching, costly charity, and responsible attachment are the ruling principles is the life of sentimental display, in which others are encouraged to admire you for virtues you do not possess. This life of phony compassion is a life of transferred costs. Liberals who wax lyrical on the sufferings of the poor do not, on the whole, give their time and money to helping those less fortunate than themselves. On the contrary, they campaign for the state to assume the burden. The inevitable result of their sentimental approach to suffering is the expansion of the state and the increase in its power both to tax us and to control our lives.

As the state takes charge of our needs, and relieves people of the burdens that should rightly be theirs — the burdens that come from charity and neighborliness — serious feeling retreats. In place of it comes an aggressive sentimentality that seeks to dominate the public square. I call this sentimentality “totalitarian” since — like totalitarian government — it seeks out opposition and carefully extinguishes it, in all the places where opposition might form. Its goal is to “solve” our social problems, by imposing burdens on responsible citizens, and lifting burdens from the “victims,” who have a “right” to state support. The result is to replace old social problems, which might have been relieved by private charity, with the new and intransigent problems fostered by the state: for example, mass illegitimacy, the decline of the indigenous birthrate, and the emergence of the gang culture among the fatherless youth. We have seen this everywhere in Europe, whose situation is made worse by the pressure of mass immigration, subsidized by the state. The citizens whose taxes pay for the flood of incoming “victims” cannot protest, since the sentimentalists have succeeded in passing “hate speech” laws and in inventing crimes like “Islamophobia” which place their actions beyond discussion. This is just one example of a legislative tendency that can be observed in every area of social life: family, school, sexual relations, social initiatives, even the military — all are being deprived of their authority and brought under the control of the “soft power” that rules from above.

This is how we should understand the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. … The prize is an endorsement from the European elite, a sigh of collective relief that America has at last taken the decisive step toward the modern consensus, by exchanging real for fake emotion, hard power for soft power, and truth for lies. What matters in Europe is the great fiction that things will stay in place forever, that peace will be permanent and society stable, just so long as everybody is “nice.” Under President Bush … America maintained its old image, of national self-confidence and belligerent assertion of the right to be successful. Bush was the voice of a property-owning democracy, in which hard work and family values still achieved a public endorsement. As a result he was hated by the European elites, and hated all the more because Europe needs America and knows that, without America, it will die. Obama is welcomed as a savior: the American president for whom the Europeans have been hoping — the one who will rescue them from the truth.

Live free or die 3

Here is part of a lecture given by Mark Steyn at Hillsdale College on March 9, 2009. If we had a laurel wreath to bestow we would crown Mark Steyn the greatest living journalist. 

“Live free or die!” sounds like a battle cry: We’ll win this thing or die trying, die an honorable death. But in fact it’s something far less dramatic: It’s a bald statement of the reality of our lives in the prosperous West. You can live as free men, but, if you choose not to, your society will die…

It seemed bizarre to find the progressive left making common cause with radical Islam. One half of the alliance profess to be pro-gay, pro-feminist secularists; the other half are homophobic, misogynist theocrats. Even as the cheap bus ‘n’ truck road-tour version of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, it made no sense. But in fact what they have in common overrides their superficially more obvious incompatibilities: Both the secular Big Government progressives and political Islam recoil from the concept of the citizen, of the free individual entrusted to operate within his own societal space, assume his responsibilities, and exploit his potential

In most of the developed world, the state has gradually annexed all the responsibilities of adulthood—health care, child care, care of the elderly—to the point where it’s effectively severed its citizens from humanity’s primal instincts, not least the survival instinct…

Europe’s addiction to big government, unaffordable entitlements, cradle-to-grave welfare, and a dependence on mass immigration needed to sustain it has become an existential threat to some of the oldest nation-states in the world.

And now the last holdout, the United States, is embarking on the same grim path: After the President unveiled his budget, I heard Americans complain, oh, it’s another Jimmy Carter, or LBJ’s Great Society, or the new New Deal. You should be so lucky. Those nickel-and-dime comparisons barely begin to encompass the wholesale Europeanization that’s underway. The 44th president’s multi-trillion-dollar budget, the first of many, adds more to the national debt than all the previous 43 presidents combined, from George Washington to George Dubya. The President wants Europeanized health care, Europeanized daycare, Europeanized education, and, as the Europeans have discovered, even with Europeanized tax rates you can’t make that math add up…

These programs … deform the relationship between the citizen and the state. Even if there were no financial consequences, the moral and even spiritual consequences would still be fatal. That’s the stage where Europe is.

America is just beginning this process… “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” said Adam Smith, and America still has a long way to go. But it’s better to jump off the train as you’re leaving the station and it’s still picking up speed than when it’s roaring down the track and you realize you’ve got a one-way ticket on the Oblivion Express…

There are stages to the enervation of free peoples. America, which held out against the trend, is now at Stage One: The benign paternalist state promises to make all those worries about mortgages, debt, and health care disappear. Every night of the week, you can switch on the TV and see one of these ersatz “town meetings” in which freeborn citizens of the republic (I use the term loosely) petition the Sovereign to make all the bad stuff go away…

If you’re a business, when government gives you 2% of your income, it has a veto on 100% of what you do. If you’re an individual, the impact is even starker. Once you have government health care, it can be used to justify almost any restraint on freedom: After all, if the state has to cure you, it surely has an interest in preventing you needing treatment in the first place. That’s the argument behind, for example, mandatory motorcycle helmets, or the creepy teams of government nutritionists currently going door to door in Britain and conducting a “health audit” of the contents of your refrigerator. They’re not yet confiscating your Twinkies; they just want to take a census of how many you have. So you do all this for the “free” health care—and in the end you may not get the “free” health care anyway. Under Britain’s National Health Service, for example, smokers in Manchester have been denied treatment for heart disease, and the obese in Suffolk are refused hip and knee replacements. Patricia Hewitt, the British Health Secretary, says that it’s appropriate to decline treatment on the basis of “lifestyle choices.” Smokers and the obese may look at their gay neighbor having unprotected sex with multiple partners, and wonder why his “lifestyle choices” get a pass while theirs don’t. But that’s the point: Tyranny is always whimsical.

And if they can’t get you on grounds of your personal health, they’ll do it on grounds of planetary health. Not so long ago in Britain it was proposed that each citizen should have a government-approved travel allowance. If you take one flight a year, you’ll pay just the standard amount of tax on the journey. But, if you travel more frequently, if you take a second or third flight, you’ll be subject to additional levies—in the interest of saving the planet for Al Gore’s polar bear documentaries and that carbon-offset palace he lives in in Tennessee.

Isn’t this the very definition of totalitarianism-lite? The Soviets restricted the movement of people through the bureaucratic apparatus of “exit visas.” The British are proposing to do it through the bureaucratic apparatus of exit taxes—indeed, the bluntest form of regressive taxation. As with the Communists, the nomenklatura—the Prince of Wales, Al Gore, Madonna—will still be able to jet about hither and yon. What’s a 20% surcharge to them? Especially as those for whom vast amounts of air travel are deemed essential—government officials, heads of NGOs, environmental activists—will no doubt be exempted from having to pay the extra amount. But the ghastly masses will have to stay home…

That’s Stage Two of societal enervation—when the state as guarantor of all your basic needs becomes increasingly comfortable with regulating your behavior. Free peoples who were once willing to give their lives for liberty can be persuaded very quickly to relinquish their liberties for a quiet life. When President Bush talked about promoting democracy in the Middle East, there was a phrase he liked to use: “Freedom is the desire of every human heart.” Really?… The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government “security,” large numbers of people vote to dump freedom every time—the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, and a ton of other stuff. It’s ridiculous for grown men and women to say: I want to be able to choose from hundreds of cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies from Netflix, millions of songs to play on my iPod—but I want the government to choose for me when it comes to my health care. A nation that demands the government take care of all the grown-up stuff is a nation turning into the world’s wrinkliest adolescent, free only to choose its record collection.

And don’t be too sure you’ll get to choose your record collection in the end. That’s Stage Three: When the populace has agreed to become wards of the state, it’s a mere difference of degree to start regulating their thoughts…

A distressing number of Western journalists see no conflict between attending lunches for World Press Freedom Day every month and agreeing to be micro-regulated by the state…

And then comes Stage Four, in which dissenting ideas and even words are labeled as “hatred.” In effect, the language itself becomes a means of control. Despite the smiley-face banalities, the tyranny becomes more naked: In Britain, a land with rampant property crime, undercover constables nevertheless find time to dine at curry restaurants on Friday nights to monitor adjoining tables lest someone in private conversation should make a racist remark. An author interviewed on BBC Radio expressed, very mildly and politely, some concerns about gay adoption and was investigated by Scotland Yard’s Community Safety Unit for Homophobic, Racist and Domestic Incidents. A Daily Telegraph columnist is arrested and detained in a jail cell over a joke in a speech. A Dutch legislator is invited to speak at the Palace of Westminster by a member of the House of Lords, but is banned by the government, arrested on arrival at Heathrow and deported.

America, Britain, and even Canada are not peripheral nations: They’re the three anglophone members of the G7. They’re three of a handful of countries that were on the right side of all the great conflicts of the last century. But individual liberty flickers dimmer in each of them. The massive expansion of government under the laughable euphemism of “stimulus” (Stage One) comes with a quid pro quo down the line (Stage Two): Once you accept you’re a child in the government nursery, why shouldn’t Nanny tell you what to do? And then—Stage Three—what to think? And—Stage Four—what you’re forbidden to think …

Which brings us to the final stage: As I said at the beginning, Big Government isn’t about the money. It’s more profound than that…

The key word here is “give.” When the state “gives” you plenty—when it takes care of your health, takes cares of your kids, takes care of your elderly parents, takes care of every primary responsibility of adulthood—it’s not surprising that the citizenry cease to function as adults: Life becomes a kind of extended adolescence…

Every Democrat running for election tells you they want to do this or that “for the children.” If America really wanted to do something “for the children,” it could try not to make the same mistake as most of the rest of the Western world and avoid bequeathing the next generation a leviathan of bloated bureaucracy and unsustainable entitlements that turns the entire nation into a giant Ponzi scheme. That’s the real “war on children” (to use another Democrat catchphrase)—and every time you bulk up the budget you make it less and less likely they’ll win it…

Small government gives you big freedoms—and big government leaves you with very little freedom. The bailout and the stimulus and the budget and the trillion-dollar deficits are not merely massive transfers from the most dynamic and productive sector to the least dynamic and productive. When governments annex a huge chunk of the economy, they also annex a huge chunk of individual liberty. You fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state into something closer to that of junkie and pusher—and you make it very difficult ever to change back. Americans face a choice: They can rediscover the animating principles of the American idea—of limited government, a self-reliant citizenry, and the opportunities to exploit your talents to the fullest—or they can join most of the rest of the Western world in terminal decline.

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, May 13, 2009

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Point of no return? 2

 Mark Steyn thinks there may be no recovery for America from the choice of  Big Government Welfare Statism that a majority of the electorate has made:

I disagree with my fellow conservatives who think the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Frank liberal behemoth will so obviously screw up that they’ll be routed in two or four years’ time. The president-elect’s so-called "tax cut" will absolve 48 percent of Americans from paying any federal income tax at all, while those who are left will pay more. Just under half the population will be, as Daniel Henninger pointed out in The Wall Street Journal, on the dole.

By 2012, it will be more than half on the dole, and this will be an electorate where the majority of the electorate will be able to vote itself more lollipops from the minority of their compatriots still dumb enough to prioritize self-reliance, dynamism and innovation over the sedating cocoon of the Nanny State. That is the death of the American idea – which, after all, began as an economic argument: "No taxation without representation" is a great rallying cry. "No representation without taxation" has less mass appeal. For how do you tell an electorate living high off the entitlement hog that it’s unsustainable, and you’ve got to give some of it back?

At that point, America might as well apply for honorary membership in the European Union. It will be a nation at odds with the spirit of its founding, and embarking on decline from which there are few escape routes. In 2012, the least we deserve is a choice between the collectivist assumptions of the Democrats, and a candidate who stands for individual liberty – for economic dynamism not the sclerotic "managed capitalism" of Germany; for the First Amendment, not Canadian-style government regulation of approved opinion; for self-reliance and the Second Amendment, not the security state in which Britons are second only to North Koreans in the number of times they’re photographed by government cameras in the course of going about their daily business.

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Saturday, November 8, 2008

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On the eve of a probable Obaminable disaster 0

A Democratic presidency and Congress would turn America into a European-style welfare state in which millions are dependent on the government. It will be a different sort of government from that which the Founding Fathers intended. Government as the agent of forced redistribution becomes all-powerful. The principle of liberty is abandoned when economic equality is imposed. Such equality cannot co-exist with liberty; they are mutually exclusive. To choose dependence is to choose an equality of misery and bondage. 

 From an article in Townhall:

Ponder the words of the Scottish jurist and historian, Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler. Over 200 years ago, he provided a chilling observation on the fall of the Athenian Republic. America has been a beacon of liberty and hope for our citizens and the world for over 230 years. But Tytler warned of the natural rise and fall of every democracy:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence; from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependency back again into bondage."

 

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Monday, November 3, 2008

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