Immoral Beyond Redemption
Walter E. Williams
Benjamin Franklin, statesman and signer of our Declaration of Independence, said: "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." John Adams, another signer, echoed a similar statement: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Are today's Americans virtuous and moral, or have we become corrupt and vicious? Let's think it through with a few questions.
Suppose I saw an elderly woman painfully huddled on a heating grate in the dead of winter. She's hungry and in need of shelter and medical attention. To help the woman, I walk up to you using intimidation and threats and demand that you give me $200. Having taken your money, I then purchase food, shelter and medical assistance for the woman. Would I be guilty of a crime? A moral person would answer in the affirmative. I've committed theft by taking the property of one person to give to another.
Most Americans would agree that it would be theft regardless of what I did with the money. Now comes the hard part. Would it still be theft if I were able to get three people to agree that I should take your money? What if I got 100 people to agree -- 100,000 or 200 million people? What if instead of personally taking your money to assist the woman, I got together with other Americans and asked Congress to use Internal Revenue Service agents to take your money? In other words, does an act that's clearly immoral and illegal when done privately become moral when it is done legally and collectively? Put another way, does legality establish morality? Before you answer, keep in mind that slavery was legal; apartheid was legal; the Nazi's Nuremberg Laws were legal; and the Stalinist and Maoist purges were legal. Legality alone cannot be the guide for moral people. The moral question is whether it's right to take what belongs to one person to give to another to whom it does not belong.
Don't get me wrong. I personally believe that assisting one's fellow man in need by reaching into one's own pockets is praiseworthy and laudable. Doing the same by reaching into another's pockets is despicable, dishonest and worthy of condemnation. Some people call governmental handouts charity, but charity and legalized theft are entirely two different things. But as far as charity is concerned, James Madison, the acknowledged father of our Constitution, said, "Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government." To my knowledge, the Constitution has not been amended to include charity as a legislative duty of Congress.
Our current economic crisis, as well as that of Europe, is a direct result of immoral conduct. Roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of our federal budget can be described as Congress' taking the property of one American and giving it to another. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid account for nearly half of federal spending. Then there are corporate welfare and farm subsidies and thousands of other spending programs, such as food stamps, welfare and education. According to a 2009 Census Bureau report, nearly 139 million Americans -- 46 percent -- receive handouts from one or more federal programs, and nearly 50 percent have no federal income tax obligations.
In the face of our looming financial calamity, what are we debating about? It's not about the reduction or elimination of the immoral conduct that's delivered us to where we are. It's about how we pay for it -- namely, taxing the rich, not realizing that even if Congress imposed a 100 percent tax on earnings higher than $250,000 per year, it would keep the government running for only 141 days.
Ayn Rand, in her novel "Atlas Shrugged," reminded us that "when you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good."
The Upside of the Downside
One of my heroes, Irving Kristol, used to say that there's nothing wrong with the country a bad recession couldn't fix.
Kristol (father of the more famous Bill, by the way) wasn't hoping for a recession, he was merely making the point that so many of the problems with our culture, both popular and political, were the sorts of challenges that come with affluence.
Wealth makes it easier to abandon the old customs, rituals and habits of the heart that generated the wealth in the first place.
For instance, I always love reading about irresolute rich families that lose their mojo within a generation or two. When the illiterate shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt died, he had amassed a personal fortune larger than the U.S. Treasury. Within a few generations, his family had squandered it all. Vastly better educated and more refined than their tobacco-juice-spitting patriarch, they also lacked his entrepreneurial drive and financial thrift because they never needed it. It's a pattern that repeats itself in countless families. Billionaires so often raise their children to be playboys or poets.
Edward Gibbon's theory of the fall of the Roman Empire has come in for some revision over the years, but his basic thesis still has merit. The Romans became so wealthy they lost the civic and martial virtues that built the empire in the first place. They in effect contracted out the hard work of civilization that allows civilization to continue.
And then, of course, there's the universally recognized lesson of Rocky Balboa, who learned the hard way from Clubber Lang (aka Mr. T) that success can make you lose the eye of the tiger more than failure can.
Anyway, you get the point.
And while I hope we can get back to having the problems of a rich country really soon, it's worth pausing to appreciate America's capacity for self-correction and the fact that many of the problems we had over the last couple decades were good problems to have.
Illegal immigration is a great example of a rich country's problem. (For instance, no one but terrorists are sneaking into Somalia in search of work.) After years of screaming over what to do about it, the rate of illegal immigration has suddenly plummeted. Some say it has actually stopped entirely, as many illegal immigrants have started going home. Yes, there are other issues at work, but no one denies that if the U.S. economy were in good shape, we wouldn't be seeing what we're seeing.
In terms of self-correction, the examples are all over the place. In 2005, America had the lowest personal savings rate since 1933. In fact it was outright negative -- i.e., consumers spent more money than they made. Today it's at 3.4 percent.
For years intellectuals looked enviously at the way the Japanese live in multigenerational homes. Grandma and grandpa looked after the grandkids, and everyone looked after grandma and grandpa. From 2008 to 2010, American multigenerational households increased at a faster rate of growth than in the previous eight years combined, according to AARP.
In perhaps the most welcome news, laser tattoo removals have increased by 32 percent from 2011 to 2012 alone. "Employment reasons" are cited as the new No. 1 reason for the procedure. It turns out that in an era of austerity, having a Chinese-character tattoo that translates into "I have Kung Pao chicken pants" is an act of unnecessary self-indulgence rather than glorious self-expression.
It also turns out that our politics have a capacity for self-correction that few experts anticipated. When President Obama came into office, his administration's mantra was "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste." This little prayer to cynicism masquerading as an idealistic insight was used to justify vast expansions of government. The social scientists even told us this was to be expected. After all, they explained, during times of economic hardship, voters rally around the government.
Except that's not true. Yes, it happened during the Great Depression. But ever since, liberalism has been a luxury thriving on prosperity, not austerity. The Great Society was a byproduct of the so-called Affluent Society.
Instead of a tsunami of political support for ObamaCare and government unions, we got the Tea Party and the rollback of public-sector collective bargaining. Instead of massive support for Obama's green agenda, the air is thick with calls for more drilling, more fracking and more Keystone pipelines. It turns out the "new progressive era" was just too pricey.
Hopefully, the interminable winter of Obama's "Summer of Recovery" will soon end. And when it does, I hope we take the lessons to heart.
Obama's Clinton problem
Back in 2008, after a hard-fought primary battle against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., then-Sen. Barack Obama had a choice: he could put her on the ticket as his vice presidential nominee, thereby healing the rift that had torn apart the Democratic Party or he could go another direction. He chose Joe Biden over Clinton -- a move for which comics everywhere will forever thank him -- and relegated Clinton to a figurehead secretary of state.
The question at the time was: Why?
Pundits then settled on two answers. The first was ego: Obama didn't want to be outshone by his second-in-command, especially with regard to national security issues. The second was more nefarious: Obama feared having Hillary Clinton as the second-in-line to the presidency. Conspiracy theorists suggested that the Clintons weren't beyond Shakespearian action to obtain the highest office in the land once again; less kooky commentators theorized that a Clinton vice presidency would motivate her to undercut him in order to get a shot at the big chair.
It all seemed a bit overblown at the time. Not anymore.
This week, a desperate President Obama called on former President Clinton to help him reinvigorate his base. They held a joint fundraiser in New York City that netted the president some $3 million.
It also netted him some good old-fashioned Arkansas ass-whuppin' from the prospective first gentleman. "I care about the long-term debt of the country a lot," Clinton told the crowd. "Remember me, I'm the only guy that gave you four surplus budgets out of the eight I sent." Ouch. The only way the moment could have been more uncomfortable for Obama is if he'd been wearing something low-cut at the time, so Clinton could undress him visually as well as verbally.
Obama should have seen it coming. The week before the event, Clinton completely undercut Obama's central strategy of attacking Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, calling that record "sterling." "I think he had a good business career," said Bill. "A man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold."
But Clinton wasn't done. He also declared the American economy in a "recession" and suggested that President Obama re-up President Bush's tax rates.
Bill Clinton may be petty and vindictive, but that doesn't mean he's stupid. Backstabbing President Obama is a concerted strategy, not an emotional revenge tactic.
If Obama loses his re-election bid, Clinton will still be seen as the greatest Democratic president since FDR; no one-term president can challenge that title. If Obama loses, Hillary can also claim that he lost because she was isolated from central administration decisions and prepare to run as a moderate in 2016.
And so Bill has leapt into action. Driven by pride and opportunism, he's got President Obama right where he wants him. And yet, like a deer transfixed by headlights, Obama has no choice but to stand pat and hope that the Clinton bus doesn't run him down.
Every day, that hope seems less and less realistic.
Austrian economics explain what Keynes cannot
Most of my classes at UNLV were very forgettable, but classes with Rothbard changed my mindset. He made me understand that peace and prosperity can only come from free markets and liberty. It is a message that will save the world.
Although Murray is no longer with us, his colleagues and students are here to pass his wisdom on to a whole new generation of students each year at Mises University. "There exists nothing as comprehensive, learned, or world-class as Mises U," Amherst College's Gregory Campeau wrote about MU a couple years ago. "If taken seriously, it can be a life-changing week in your intellectual life."
The mainstream financial press calls this the worst economic recovery in history. Bernanke's Fed and the Obama administration have thrown everything at the economy but the kitchen sink, and even the phony government numbers are punk. GDP grew 3 percent in 2010, 1.7 percent in 2011, and 2012 doesn't look any better. Millions are unemployed and many more millions have given up. Uncle Sam provides groceries for 46 million Americans.
While government and its captive press desperately want to characterize the current economy as a recovery, it is anything but. And for young people it is a tragedy. "I've never seen the world so bad for young people. The only way I can describe it is as a Great Depression," said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Boston's Northeastern University, who has studied young-adult unemployment in depth.
The number of young adults in their 20s without jobs is the highest since recordkeeping began after World War II, and the bleak outlook has barely improved even as the broader US economy has seen new hiring in recent months.
Only 55 percent of Americans in the 16-to-29 age bracket were working in 2010, which is down dramatically from 67 percent in 2000. However, the situation is even worse than those numbers indicate. That's because millions of young adults are also underemployed, working part time while looking for a full-time job — the modern term for that being "mal-employed," which means holders of college degrees working low-end jobs.
The average young college graduates don't know what hit them. They've done everything they were told. They went to good universities, persevered, earned their diplomas, and collectively piled up a trillion dollars in debt doing it. Now, depending on their major, they're tending bar or waiting tables.
Northeastern's Sum is outraged that the Obama administration hasn't created a stimulus plan to employ college graduates. "We've betrayed our young people badly," he said.
However, government has betrayed young people with its continuous meddling in the economy. The future is cloudy because of the endless stimulus plans, high taxation, and overregulation by government busybodies. The Federal Reserve continuously prints money, bailing out bankrupt businesses, allowing these capital wasters to destroy the resources that could spur job growth.
The Fed-induced booms and busts have decimated the retirement savings of older Americans, at the same time that price inflation keeps those hoping to retire from saving enough. Instead, they must remain on the job rather than enjoy retirement, denying positions to young people.
The worst of it is, Ben Bernanke has every intention of making matters worse. He believes it when people call him the foremost authority on the Great Depreciation. The Fed chair believes he must flood the world with money to eradicate deflation. He holds the dangerous notion in his head that he knows just the right amount of money to inject and just the proper interest rate to fix in order to centrally plan the economy.
He told a 60 Minutes TV audience a couple years ago that he was 100 percent certain of being able to control inflation. But the nation's high unemployment bothers him, and he thinks he can fix it with more money. He's wrong, but he doesn't understand that he's wrong.
Students question the authorities and the government's quashing of personal and economic freedoms. They know something is wrong when day-to-day economic news bears no relation to the state of the real economy. They don't believe the mainstream babble, because their job prospects are abysmal and they want to know what caused this mess. At Mises University they gain an academic understanding of the diabolical effects of this government tyranny. The education they receive has relevance each and every day.
Mises, Rothbard, and the rest of the great Austrian thinkers taught us that meddling by Washington and the Federal Reserve will not create economic riches. The malinvestments of the boom must be liquidated, and that liquidation process will continue despite Obama and Bernanke claiming they can reinflate the bubble prosperity. They can't.
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)